LET us pause. We have endeavoured to trace, in the preceding portion of this history, the development of that passion which is at once the principle and end of our existence; that passion compared to whose delights all the other gratifications of our nature — wealth, and power, and fame, sink into insignificance; and which, nevertheless, by the ineffable beneficence of our Creator, is open to his creatures of all conditions, qualities, and climes. Whatever be the lot of man, however unfortunate, however oppressed, if he only love and be loved, he must strike a balance in favour of existence; for love can illumine the dark roof of poverty, and can lighten the fetters of the slave.
But, if the most miserable position of humanity be tolerable with its support, so also the most splendid situations of our life are wearisome without its inspiration. The golden palace requires a mistress as magnificent; and the fairest garden, besides the song of birds and the breath of flowers, calls for the sigh of sympathy. It is at the foot of woman that we lay the laurels that without her smile would never have been gained: it is her image that strings the lyre of the poet, that animates our voice in the blaze of eloquent faction, and guides our brain in the august toils of stately councils.
But this passion, so charming in its nature, so equal in its dispensation, so universal in its influence, never assumes a power so vast, or exerts an authority so captivating, as when it is experienced for the first time. Then it is truly irresistible and enchanting, fascinating and despotic; and, whatever may be the harsher feelings that life may develop, there is no one, however callous or constrained he may have become, whose brow will not grow pensive at the memory of first love.
The magic of first love is our ignorance that it can ever end. It is the dark conviction that feelings the most ardent may yet grow cold, and that emotions the most constant and confirmed are, nevertheless, liable to change, that taints the feebler spell of our later passions, though they may spring from a heart that has lost little of its original freshness, and be offered to one infinitely more worthy of the devotion than was our first idol. To gaze upon a face, and to believe that for ever we must behold it with the same adoration; that those eyes, in whose light we live, will for ever meet ours with mutual glances of rapture and devotedness; to be conscious that all conversation with others sounds vapid and spiritless, compared with the endless expression of our affection; to feel our heart rise at the favoured voice; and to believe that life must hereafter consist of a ramble through the world, pressing but one fond hand, and leaning but upon one faithful breast; oh! must this sweet credulity indeed be dissipated? Is there no hope for them so full of hope? no pity for them so abounding with love?
And can it be possible that the hour can ever arrive when the former votaries of a mutual passion so exquisite and engrossing can meet each other with indifference, almost with unconsciousness, and recall with an effort their vanished scenes of felicity, that quick yet profound sympathy, that ready yet boundless confidence, all that charming abandonment of self, and that vigilant and prescient fondness that anticipates all our wants and all our wishes? It makes the heart ache but to picture such vicissitudes to the imagination. They are images full of distress, and misery, and gloom. The knowledge that such changes can occur flits over the mind like the thought of death, obscuring all our gay fancies with its bat-like wing, and tainting the healthy atmosphere of our happiness with its venomous expirations. It is not so much ruined cities that were once the capital glories of the world, or mouldering temples breathing with oracles no more believed, or arches of triumph which have forgotten the heroic name they were piled up to celebrate, that fill the mind with half so mournful an expression of the instability of human fortunes, as these sad spectacles of exhausted affections, and, as it were, traditionary fragments of expired passion.
The morning, which broke sweet, and soft, and clear, brought Ferdinand, with its first glimmer, a letter from Henrietta.
Henrietta to Ferdinand.
Mine own! I have not lain down the whole night. What a terrible, what an awful night! To think that he was in the heart of that fearful storm! What did, what could you do? How I longed to be with you! And I could only watch the tempest from my window, and strain my eyes at every flash of lightning, in the vain hope that it might reveal him! Is he well, is he unhurt? Until my messenger return I can imagine only evil. How often I was on the point of sending out the household, and yet I thought it must be useless, and might displease him! I knew not what to do. I beat about my chamber like a silly bird in a cage. Tell me the truth, my Ferdinand; conceal nothing. Do not think of moving today. If you feel the least unwell, send immediately for advice. Write to me one line, only one line, to tell me you are well. I shall be in despair until I hear from you. Do not keep the messenger an instant. He is on my pony. He promises to return in a very, very short time. I pray for you, as I prayed for you the whole long night, that seemed as if it would never end. God bless you, my Ferdinand! Write only one word to your own
Ferdinand to Henrietta.
Sweetest, dearest Henrietta!
I am quite well, and love you, if that could be, more than ever. Darling, to send to see after her Ferdinand! A wet jacket, and I experienced no greater evil, does not frighten me. The storm was magnificent; I would not have missed it for the world. But I regret it now, because my Henrietta did not sleep. Sweetest love, let me come on to you! Your page is inexorable. He will not let me write another line. God bless you, my Henrietta, my beloved, my matchless Henrietta! Words cannot tell you how I love you, how I dote upon you, my darling. Thy
Henrietta to Ferdinand.
No! you must not come here. It would be unwise, it would be silly. We could only be together a moment, and, though a moment with you is heaven, I cannot endure again the agony of parting. O Ferdinand! what has that separation not cost me! Pangs that I could not conceive any human misery could occasion. My Ferdinand, may we some day be happy! It seems to me now that happiness can never come again. And yet I ought to be grateful that he was uninjured last night. I dared not confess to you before what evils I anticipated. Do you know I was so foolish that I thought every flash of lightning must descend on your head. I dare not now own how foolish I was. God be praised that he is well. But is he sure that he is quite well? If you have the slightest cold, dearest, do not move. Postpone that journey on which all our hopes are fixed. Colds bring fever. But you laugh at me; you are a man and a soldier; you laugh at a woman’s caution.
Oh! my Ferdinand, I am so selfish that I should not care if you were ill, if I might only be your nurse. What happiness, what exquisite happiness, would that be!
Do not be angry with your Henrietta, but I am nervous about concealing our engagement from papa. What I have promised I will perform, fear not that; I will never deceive you, no, not even for your fancied benefit; but I feel the burthen of this secrecy more than I can express, more than I wish to express. I do not like to say anything that can annoy you, especially at this moment, when I feel from my own heart how you must require all the support and solace of unbroken fondness. I have such confidence in your judgment, my Ferdinand, that I feel convinced you have acted wisely; but come back as soon as you can. I know it must be more than a week; I know that that prospect was only held out by your affection. Days must elapse before you can reach Bath; and I know, Ferdinand, I know your office is more difficult than you will confess. But come back, my own, as soon as you can, and write to me at the post-office, as you settled.
If you are well, as you say, leave the farm directly. The consciousness that you are so near makes me restless. Remember, in a few hours papa will be here. I wish to meet him with as much calmness as I can command.
Ferdinand, I must bid you adieu! My tears are too evident. See, they fall upon the page. Think of me always. Never let your Henrietta be absent from your thoughts. If you knew how desolate this house is! Your guitar is on the sofa; a ghost of departed joy!
Farewell, Ferdinand! I cannot write, I cannot restrain my tears. I know not what to do. I almost wish papa would return, though I dread to see him. I feel the desolation of this house, I am so accustomed to see you here!
Heaven be with you, and guard over you, and cherish you, and bless you. Think always of me. Would that this pen could express the depth and devotion of my feelings!
DEAREST! A thousand, thousand thanks, a thousand, thousand blessings, for your letter from Armine, dear, dear Armine, where some day we shall be so happy! It was such a darling letter, so long, so kind, and so clear. How could you for a moment fancy that your Henrietta would not be able to decipher that dear, dear handwriting! Always cross, dearest: your handwriting is so beautiful that I never shall find the slightest difficulty in making it out, if your letters were crossed a thousand times. Besides, to tell the truth, I should rather like to experience a little difficulty in reading your letters, for I read them so often, over and over again, till I get them by heart, and it is such a delight every now and then to find out some new expression that escaped me in the first fever of perusal; and then it is sure to be some darling word, fonder than all the rest!
Oh! my Ferdinand, how shall I express to you my love? It seems to me now that I never loved you until this separation, that I have never been half grateful enough to you for all your goodness. It makes me weep to remember all the soft things you have said, all the kind things you have done for me, and to think that I have not conveyed to you at the time a tithe of my sense of all your gentle kindness. You are so gentle, Ferdinand! I think that is the greatest charm of your character. My gentle, gentle love! so unlike all other persons that I have met with! Your voice is so sweet, your manner so tender, I am sure you have the kindest heart that ever existed: and then it is a daring spirit, too, and that I love!
Be of good cheer, my Ferdinand, all will go well. I am full of hope, and would be of joy, if you were here, and yet I am joyful, too, when I think of all your love. I can sit for hours and recall the past, it is so sweet. When I received your dear letter from Armine yesterday, and knew indeed that you had gone, I went and walked in our woods, and sat down on the very bank we loved so, and read your letter over and over again; and then I thought of all you had said. It is so strange; I think I could repeat every word you have uttered since we first knew each other. The morning that began so miserably wore away before I dreamed it could be noon.
Papa arrived about an hour before dinner. So kind and good! And why should he not be? I was ashamed of myself afterwards for seeming surprised that he was the same as ever. He asked me if your family had returned to Armine. I said that you had expected them daily. Then he asked me if I had seen you. I said very often, but that you had now gone to Bath, as their return had been prevented by the illness of a relative. Did I right in this? I looked as unconcerned as I could when I spoke of you, but my heart throbbed, oh! how it throbbed! I hope, however, I did not change colour; I think not; for I had schooled myself for this conversation. I knew it must ensue. Believe me, Ferdinand, papa really likes you, and is prepared to love you. He spoke of you in a tone of genuine kindness. I gave him your message about the shooting at Armine; that you regretted his unexpected departure had prevented you from speaking before, but that it was at his entire command, only that, after Ducie, all you could hope was, that the extent of the land might make up for the thinness of the game. He was greatly pleased. Adieu! All good angels guard over you. I will write every day to the post-office, Bath. Think of me very much. Your own faithful
Henrietta to Ferdinand.
O Ferdinand, what heaven it is to think of you, and to read your letters! This morning brought me two; the one from London, and the few lines you wrote me as the mail stopped on the road. Do you know, you will think me very ungrateful, but those dear few lines, I believe I must confess, I prefer them even to your beautiful long letter. It was so kind, so tender, so sweetly considerate, so like my Ferdinand, to snatch the few minutes that should have been given to rest and food to write to his Henrietta. I love you for it a thousand times more than ever! I hope you are really well: I hope you tell me truth. This is a great fatigue, even for you. It is worse than our mules that we once talked of. Does he recollect? Oh! what joyous spirits my Ferdinand was in that happy day! I love him when he laughs, and yet I think he won my heart with those pensive eyes of his!
Papa is most kind, and suspects nothing. Yesterday I mentioned you first. I took up your guitar, and said to whom it belonged. I thought it more natural not to be silent about you. Besides, dearest, papa really likes you, and I am sure will love you very much when he knows all, and it is such a pleasure to me to hear you praised and spoken of with kindness by those I love. I have, of course, little to say about myself. I visit my birds, tend my flowers, and pay particular attention to all those I remember that you admired or touched. Sometimes I whisper to them, and tell them that you will soon return, for, indeed, they seem to miss you, and to droop their heads like their poor mistress. Oh! my Ferdinand, shall we ever again meet? Shall I, indeed, ever again listen to that sweet voice, and will it tell me again that it loves me with the very selfsame accents that ring even now in my fascinated ear?
O Ferdinand! this love is a fever, a fever of health. I cannot sleep; I can scarcely countenance my father at his meals. I am wild and restless; but I am happy, happy in the consciousness of your fond devotion. To-morrow I purpose visiting our farm-house. I think papa will shoot tomorrow. My heart will throb, I fancy, when I see our porch. God bless my own love; the idol of his fond and happy
Henrietta to Ferdinand.
Dearest! No letter since the few lines on the road, but I suppose it was impossible. To-morrow will bring me one, I suppose, from Bath. I know not why I tremble when I write that word. All is well here, papa most kind, the same as ever. He went a little on your land today, a very little, but it pleased me. He has killed an Armine hare! Oh! what a morning have I spent; so happy, so sorrowful, so full of tears and smiles! I hardly know whether I laughed or wept most. That dear, dear farm-house! And then they all talked of you. How they do love my Ferdinand! But so must everyone. The poor woman has lost her heart to you, I suspect, and I am half inclined to be a little jealous. She did so praise you! So kind, so gentle, giving such little trouble, and, as I fear, so much too generous! Exactly like my Ferdinand; but, really, this was unnecessary. Pardon me, love, but I am learning prudence.
Do you know, I went into your room? I contrived to ascend alone; the good woman followed me, but I was there alone a moment, and, and, and, what do you think I did? I pressed my lips to your pillow. I could not help it; when I thought that his dear head had rested there so often and so lately, I could not refrain from pressing my lips to that favoured resting-place, and I am afraid I shed a tear besides.
When mine own love receives this he will be at Bath. How I pray that you may find all your family well and happy! I hope they will love me. I already love them, and dear, dear Armine. I shall never have courage to go there again until your return. It is night, and I am writing this in my own room. Perhaps the hour may have its influence, but I feel depressed. Oh, that I were at your side! This house is so desolate without you. Everything reminds me of the past. My Ferdinand, how can I express to you what I feel — the affection, the love, the rapture, the passionate joy, with which your image inspires me? I will not be miserable, I will be grateful to Heaven that I am loved by one so rare and gifted. Your portrait is before me; I call it yours; it is so like! ’Tis a great consolation. My heart is with you. Think of me as I think of you. Awake or asleep my thoughts are alike yours, and now I am going to pray for you. Thine own
My best beloved! The week is long past, but you say nothing of returning. Oh! my Ferdinand, your Henrietta is not happy. I read your dear letters over and over again. They ought to make me happy. I feel in the consciousness of your affection that I ought to be the happiest person in the world, and yet, I know not why, I am very depressed. You say that all is going well; but why do you not enter into detail? There are difficulties; I am prepared for them. Believe me, my Ferdinand, that your Henrietta can endure as well as enjoy. Your father, he frowns upon our affection? Tell me, tell me all, only do not leave me in suspense. I am entitled to your confidence, Ferdinand. It makes me hate myself to think that I do not share your cares as well as your delights. I am jealous of your sorrows, Ferdinand, if I may not share them.
Do not let your brow be clouded when you read this. I could kill myself if I thought I could increase your difficulties. I love you; God knows how I love you. I will be patient; and yet, my Ferdinand, I feel wretched when I think that all is concealed from papa, and my lips are sealed until you give me permission to open them.
Pray write to me, and tell me really how affairs are. Be not afraid to tell your Henrietta everything. There is no misery so long as we love; so long as your heart is mine, there is nothing which I cannot face, nothing which, I am persuaded, we cannot overcome. God bless you, Ferdinand. Words cannot express my love. Henrietta.
Mine own! I wrote to you yesterday a letter of complaints. I am so sorry, for your dear letter has come today, and it is so kind, so fond, so affectionate, that it makes me miserable that I should occasion you even a shade of annoyance. Dearest, how I long to prove my love! There is nothing that I would not do, nothing that I would not endure, to convince you of my devotion! I will do all that you wish. I will be calm, I will be patient, I will try to be content. You say that you are sure all will go right; but you tell me nothing. What said your dear father? your mother? Be not afraid to speak.
You bid me tell you all that I am doing. Oh! my Ferdinand, life is a blank without you. I have seen no one, I have spoken to no one, save papa. He is very kind, and yet somehow or other I dread to be with him. This house seems so desolate, so very desolate. It seems a deserted place since your departure, a spot that some good genius has quitted, and all the glory has gone. I never care for my birds or flowers now. They have lost their music and their sweetness. And the woods, I cannot walk in them, and the garden reminds me only of the happy past. I have never been to the farm-house again. I could not go now, dearest Ferdinand; it would only make me weep. I think only of the morning, for it brings me your letters. I feed upon them, I live upon them. They are my only joy and solace, and yet ——— but no complaints today, no complaints, dearest Ferdinand; let me only express my devoted love. Oh! that my weak pen could express a tithe of my fond devotion. Ferdinand, I love you with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my spirit’s strength. I have no thought but for you, I exist only on your idea. Write, write; tell me that you love me, tell me that you are unchanged. It is so long since I heard that voice, so long since I beheld that fond, soft eye! Pity me, my Ferdinand. This is captivity. A thousand, thousand loves. Your devoted
Ferdinand, dearest Ferdinand, the post today has brought me no letter. I cannot credit my senses. I think the postmaster must have thought me mad. No letter! I could not believe his denial. I was annoyed, too, at the expression of his countenance. This mode of correspondence, Ferdinand, I wish not to murmur, but when I consented to this clandestine method of communication, it was for a few days, a few, few days, and then ——— But I cannot write. I am quite overwhelmed. Oh! will tomorrow ever come?
Dearest Ferdinand, I wish to be calm. Your letter occasions me very serious uneasiness. I quarrel not with its tone of affection. It is fond, very fond, and there were moments when I could have melted over such expressions; but, Ferdinand, it is not candid. Why are we separated? For a purpose. Is that purpose effected? Were I to judge only from your letters, I should even suppose that you had not spoken to your father; but that is, of course, impossible. Your father disapproves of our union. I feel it; I know it; I was even prepared for it. Come, then, and speak to my father. It is due to me not to leave him any more in the dark; it will be better, believe me, for yourself, that he should share our confidence. Papa is not a rich man, but he loves his daughter. Let us make him our friend. Ah! why did I ever conceal anything from one so kind and good? In this moment of desolation, I feel, I keenly feel, my folly, my wickedness. I have no one to speak to, no one to console me. This constant struggle to conceal my feelings will kill me. It was painful when all was joy, but now, O Ferdinand! I can endure this life no longer. My brain is weak, my spirit perplexed and broken. I will not say if you love; but, Ferdinand, if you pity me, write, and write definitely, to your unhappy
You tell me that, in compliance with my wishes, you will write definitely. You tell me that circumstances have occurred, since your arrival at Bath, of a very perplexing and annoying nature, and that they retard that settlement with your father that you had projected and partly arranged; that it is impossible to enter into detail in letters; and assuring me of your love, you add that you have been anxious to preserve me from sharing your anxiety. O Ferdinand! what anxiety can you withhold like that you have occasioned me? Dearest, dearest Ferdinand, I will, I must still believe that you are faultless; but, believe me, a want of candour in our situation, and, I believe, in every situation, is a want of common sense. Never conceal anything from your Henrietta.
I now take it for granted that your father has forbidden our union; indeed this is the only conclusion that I can draw from your letter. Ferdinand, I can bear this, even this. Sustained by your affection, I will trust to time, to events, to the kindness of my friends, and to that overruling Providence, which will not desert affections so pure as ours, to bring about sooner or later some happier result. Confident in your love, I can live in solitude, and devote myself to your memory, I———
O Ferdinand! kneel to your father, kneel to your kind mother; tell them all, tell them how I love you, how I will love them; tell them your Henrietta will have no thought but for their happiness; tell them she will be as dutiful to them as she is devoted to you. Ask not for our union, ask them only to permit you to cherish our acquaintance. Let them return to Armine; let them cultivate our friendship; let them know papa; let them know me; let them know me as I am, with all my faults, I trust not worldly, not selfish, not quite insignificant, not quite unprepared to act the part that awaits a member of their family, either in its splendour or its proud humility; and, if not worthy of their son (as who can be?), yet conscious, deeply conscious of the value and blessing of his affection, and prepared to prove it by the devotion of my being. Do this, my Ferdinand, and happiness will yet come.
But, my gentle love, on whatever course you may decide, remember your Henrietta. I do not reproach you; never will I reproach you; but remember the situation in which you have placed me. All my happy life I have never had a secret from my father; and now I am involved in a private engagement and a clandestine correspondence. Be just to him; be just to your Henrietta! Return, I beseech you on my knees; return instantly to Ducie; reveal everything. He will be kind and gracious; he will be our best friend; in his hand and bosom we shall find solace and support. God bless you, Ferdinand! All will yet go well, mine own, own love. I smile amid my tears when I think that we shall so soon meet. Oh! what misery can there be in this world if we may but share it together?
Thy fond, thy faithful, thy devoted
IT WAS about three weeks after Ferdinand Armine had quitted Ducie that Mr. Temple entered the breakfast-room one morning, with an open note in his hand, and told Henrietta to prepare for visitors, as her old friend, Lady Bellair, had written to apprise him of her intention to rest the night at Ducie, on her way to the North.
‘She brings with her also the most charming woman in the world,’ added Mr. Temple, with a smile.
‘I have little doubt Lady Bellair deems her companion so at present,’ said Miss Temple, ‘whoever she may be; but, at any rate, I shall be glad to see her ladyship, who is certainly one of the most amusing women in the world.’
This announcement of the speedy arrival of Lady Bellair made some bustle in the household of Ducie Bower; for her ladyship was in every respect a memorable character, and the butler who had remembered her visits to Mr. Temple before his residence at Ducie, very much interested the curiosity of his fellow-servants by his intimations of her ladyship’s eccentricities.
‘You will have to take care of the parrot, Mary,’ said the butler; ‘and you, Susan, must look after the page. We shall all be well cross-examined as to the state of the establishment; and so I advise you to be prepared. Her ladyship is a rum one, and that’s the truth.’
In due course of time, a handsome travelling chariot, emblazoned with a viscount’s coronet, and carrying on the seat behind a portly man-servant and a lady’s maid, arrived at Ducie. They immediately descended, and assisted the assembled household of the Bower to disembark the contents of the chariot; but Mr. Temple and his daughter were too well acquainted with Lady Bellair’s character to appear at this critical moment. First came forth a stately dame, of ample proportions and exceedingly magnificent attire, being dressed in the extreme of gorgeous fashion, and who, after being landed on the marble steps, was for some moments absorbed in the fluttering arrangement of her plumage; smoothing her maroon pelisse, shaking the golden riband of her emerald bonnet, and adjusting the glittering pelerine of point device, that shaded the fall of her broad but well-formed shoulders. In one hand the stately dame lightly swung a bag that was worthy of holding the Great Seal itself, so rich and so elaborate were its materials and embroidery; and in the other she at length took a glass which was suspended from her neck by a chain-cable of gold, and glanced with a flashing eye, as dark as her ebon curls and as brilliant as her well-rouged cheek, at the surrounding scene.
The green parrot, in its sparkling cage, followed next, and then came forth the prettiest, liveliest, smallest, best-dressed, and, stranger than all, oldest little lady in the world. Lady Bellair was of childlike stature, and quite erect, though ninety years of age; the tasteful simplicity of her costume, her little plain white silk bonnet, her grey silk dress, her apron, her grey mittens, and her Cinderella shoes, all admirably contrasted with the vast and flaunting splendour of her companion, not less than her ladyship’s small yet exquisitely proportioned form, her highly-finished extremities, and her keen sarcastic grey eye. The expression of her countenance now, however, was somewhat serious. An arrival was an important moment that required all her practised circumspection; there was so much to arrange, so much to remember, and so much to observe.
The portly serving-man had advanced, and, taking his little mistress in his arms, as he would a child, had planted her on the steps. And then her ladyship’s clear, shrill, and now rather fretful voice was heard.
‘Here! where’s the butler? I don’t want you, stupid [addressing her own servant], but the butler of the house, Mister’s butler; what is his name, Mr. Twoshoes’ butler? I cannot remember names. Oh! you are there, are you? I don’t want you. How is your master? How is your charming lady? Where is the parrot? I don’t want it. Where’s the lady? Why don’t you answer? Why do you stare so? Miss Temple! no! not Miss Temple! The lady, my lady, my charming friend, Mrs. Floyd! To be sure so; why did not you say so before? But she has got two names. Why don’t you say both names? My dear,’ continued Lady Bellair, addressing her travelling companion, ‘I don’t know your name. Tell all these good people your name; your two names! I like people with two names. Tell them, my dear, tell them; tell them your name, Mrs. Thingabob, or whatever it is, Mrs. Thingabob Twoshoes.’
Mrs. Montgomery Floyd, though rather annoyed by this appeal, still contrived to comply with the request in the most dignified manner; and all the servants bowed to Mrs. Montgomery Floyd.
To the great satisfaction of this stately dame, Lady Bellair, after scanning everything and everybody with the utmost scrutiny, indicated some intention of entering, when suddenly she turned round:
‘Man, there’s something wanting. I had three things to take charge of. The parrot and my charming friend; that is only two. There is a third. What is it? You don’t know! Here, you man, who are you? Mr. Temple’s servant. I knew your master when he was not as high as that cage. What do you think of that?’ continued her ladyship, with a triumphant smile. ‘What do you laugh at, sir? Did you ever see a woman ninety years old before? That I would wager you have not. What do I want? I want something. Why do you tease me by not remembering what I want? Now, I knew a gentleman who made his fortune by once remembering what a very great man wanted. But then the great man was a minister of state. I dare say if I were a minister of state, instead of an old woman ninety years of age, you would contrive somehow or other to find out what I wanted. Never mind, never mind. Come, my charming friend, let me take your arm. Now I will introduce you to the prettiest, the dearest, the most innocent and charming lady in the world. She is my greatest favourite. She is always my favourite. You are my favourite, too; but you are only my favourite for the moment. I always have two favourites: one for the moment, and one that I never change, and that is my sweet Henrietta Temple. You see I can remember her name, though I couldn’t yours. But you are a good creature, a dear good soul, though you live in a bad set, my dear, a very bad set indeed; vulgar people, my dear; they may be rich, but they have no ton. This is a fine place. Stop, stop,’ Lady Bellair exclaimed, stamping her little foot and shaking her little arm, ‘Don’t drive away; I remember what it was. Gregory! run, Gregory! It is the page! There was no room for him behind, and I told him to lie under the seat. Poor dear boy! He must be smothered. I hope he is not dead. Oh! there he is. Has Miss Temple got a page? Does her page wear a feather? My page has not got a feather, but he shall have one, because he was not smothered. Here! woman, who are you? The housemaid. I thought so. I always know a housemaid. You shall take care of my page. Take him at once, and give him some milk and water; and, page, be very good, and never leave this good young woman, unless I send for you. And, woman, good young woman, perhaps you may find an old feather of Miss Temple’s page. Give it to this good little boy, because he was not smothered.’
THE Viscountess Dowager Bellair was the last remaining link between the two centuries. Herself born of a noble family, and distinguished both for her beauty and her wit, she had reigned for a quarter of a century the favourite subject of Sir Joshua; had flirted with Lord Carlisle, and chatted with Dr. Johnson. But the most remarkable quality of her ladyship’s destiny was her preservation. Time, that had rolled on nearly a century since her birth, had spared alike her physical and mental powers. She was almost as active in body, and quite as lively in mind, as when seventy years before she skipped in Marylebone Gardens, or puzzled the gentlemen of the Tuesday Night Club at Mrs. Cornely’s masquerades. These wonderful seventy years indeed had passed to Lady Bellair like one of those very masked balls in which she had formerly sparkled; she had lived in a perpetual crowd of strange and brilliant characters. All that had been famous for beauty, rank, fashion, wit, genius, had been gathered round her throne; and at this very hour a fresh and admiring generation, distinguished for these qualities, cheerfully acknowledged her supremacy, and paid to her their homage. The heroes and heroines of her youth, her middle life, even of her old age, had vanished; brilliant orators, profound statesmen, inspired bards, ripe scholars, illustrious warriors; beauties whose dazzling charms had turned the world mad; choice spirits, whose flying words or whose fanciful manners made every saloon smile or wonder — all had disappeared. She had witnessed revolutions in every country in the world; she remembered Brighton a fishing-town, and Manchester a village; she had shared the pomp of nabobs and the profusion of loan-mongers; she had stimulated the early ambition of Charles Fox, and had sympathised with the last aspirations of George Canning; she had been the confidant of the loves alike of Byron and Alfieri; had worn mourning for General Wolfe, and given a festival to the Duke of Wellington; had laughed with George Selwyn, and smiled at Lord Alvanley; had known the first macaroni and the last dandy; remembered the Gunnings, and introduced the Sheridans! But she herself was unchanged; still restless for novelty, still eager for amusement; still anxiously watching the entrance on the stage of some new stream of characters, and indefatigable in attracting the notice of everyone whose talents might contribute to her entertainment, or whose attention might gratify her vanity. And, really, when one recollected Lady Bel-lair’s long career, and witnessed at the same time her diminutive form and her unrivalled vitality, he might almost be tempted to believe, that if not absolutely immortal, it was at least her strange destiny not so much vulgarly to die, as to grow like the heroine of the fairy tale, each year smaller and smaller,
‘Fine by degrees, and beautifully less,’
until her ladyship might at length subside into airy nothingness, and so rather vanish than expire.
It was the fashion to say that her ladyship had no heart; in most instances an unmeaning phrase; in her case certainly an unjust one. Ninety years of experience had assuredly not been thrown away on a mind of remarkable acuteness; but Lady Bellair’s feelings were still quick and warm, and could be even profound. Her fancy was so lively, that her attention was soon engaged; her taste so refined, that her affection was not so easily obtained. Hence she acquired a character for caprice, because she repented at leisure those first impressions which with her were irresistible; for, in truth, Lady Bellair, though she had nearly completed her century, and had passed her whole life in the most artificial circles, was the very creature of impulse. Her first homage she always declared was paid to talent, her second to beauty, her third to blood. The favoured individual who might combine these three splendid qualifications, was, with Lady Bellair, a nymph, or a demi-god. As for mere wealth, she really despised it, though she liked her favourites to be rich.
Her knowledge of human nature, which was considerable, her acquaintance with human weaknesses, which was unrivalled, were not thrown away upon Lady Bellair. Her ladyship’s perception of character was fine and quick, and nothing delighted her so much as making a person a tool. Capable, where her heart was touched, of the finest sympathy and the most generous actions, where her feelings were not engaged she experienced no compunction in turning her companions to account, or, indeed, sometimes in honouring them with her intimacy for that purpose. But if you had the skill to detect her plots, and the courage to make her aware of your consciousness of them, you never displeased her, and often gained her friendship. For Lady Bellair had a fine taste for humour, and when she chose to be candid, an indulgence which was not rare with her, she could dissect her own character and conduct with equal spirit and impartiality. In her own instance it cannot be denied that she comprised the three great qualifications she so much prized: for she was very witty; had blood in her veins, to use her own expression; and was the prettiest woman in the world, for her years. For the rest, though no person was more highly bred, she could be very impertinent; but if you treated her with servility, she absolutely loathed you.
Lady Bellair, after the London season, always spent two or three months at Bath, and then proceeded to her great grandson’s, the present viscount’s, seat in the North, where she remained until London was again attractive. Part of her domestic diplomacy was employed each year, during her Bath visit, in discovering some old friend, or making some new acquaintance, who would bear her in safety, and save her harmless from all expenses and dangers of the road, to Northumberland; and she displayed often in these arrangements talents which Talleyrand might have envied. During the present season, Mrs. Montgomery Floyd, the widow of a rich East Indian, whose intention it was to proceed to her estate in Scotland at the end of the autumn, had been presented to Lady Bellair by a friend well acquainted with her ladyship’s desired arrangements. What an invaluable acquaintance at such a moment for Lady Bellair! Mrs. Montgomery Floyd, very rich and very anxious to be fashionable, was intoxicated with the flattering condescension and anticipated companionship of Lady Bellair. At first Lady Bellair had quietly suggested that they should travel together to Northumberland. Mrs. Montgomery Floyd was enchanted with the proposal. Then Lady Bellair regretted that her servant was very ill, and that she must send her to town immediately in her own carriage; and then Mrs. Montgomery Floyd insisted, in spite of the offers of Lady Bellair, that her ladyship should take a seat in her carriage, and would not for an instant hear of Lady Bellair defraying, under such circumstances, any portion of the expense. Lady Bellair held out to the dazzled vision of Mrs. Montgomery Floyd a brilliant perspective of the noble lords and wealthy squires whose splendid seats, under the auspices of Lady Bellair, they were to make their resting-places during their progress; and in time Lady Bellair, who had a particular fancy for her own carriage, proposed that her servants should travel in that of Mrs. Montgomery Floyd. Mrs. Montgomery Floyd smiled a too willing assent. It ended by Mrs. Montgomery Floyd’s servants travelling to Lord Bellair’s, where their mistress was to meet them, in that lady’s own carriage, and Lady Bellair travelling in her own chariot with her own servants, and Mrs. Montgomery Floyd defraying the expenditure of both expeditions.
LADY BELLAIR really loved Henrietta Temple. She was her prime and her permanent favourite, and she was always lamenting that Henrietta would not come and stay with her in London, and marry a duke. Lady Bellair was a great matchmaker. When, therefore, she was welcomed by the fair mistress of Ducie Bower, Lady Bellair was as genuine as she was profuse in her kind phrases. ‘My sweet, sweet young friend,’ she said, as Henrietta bowed her head and offered her lips to the little old lady, ‘it is something to have such a friend as you. What old woman has such a sweet friend as I have! Now let me look at you. It does my heart good to see you. I feel younger. You are handsomer than ever, I declare you are. Why will you not come and stay with me, and let me find you a husband? There is the Duke of Derandale, he is in love with you already; for I do nothing but talk of you. No, you should not marry him, he is not good enough. He is not good enough. He is not refined. I love a duke, but I love a duke that is refined more. You shall marry Lord Fitzwarrene.
He is my favourite; he is worthy of you. You laugh; I love to see you laugh. You are so fresh and innocent! There is your worthy father talking to my friend Mrs. Twoshoes; a very good creature, my love, a very worthy soul, but no ton; I hate French words, but what other can I use? And she will wear gold chains, which I detest. You never wear gold chains, I am sure. The Duke of ——— would not have me, so I came to you,’ continued her ladyship, returning the salutation of Mr. Temple. ‘Don’t ask me if I am tired; I am never tired. There is nothing I hate so much as being asked whether I am well; I am always well. There, I have brought you a charming friend; give her your arm; and you shall give me yours,’ said the old lady, smiling, to Henrietta. ‘We make a good contrast; I like a good contrast, but not an ugly one. I cannot bear anything that is ugly; unless it is a very ugly man indeed, who is a genius and very fashionable. I liked Wilkes, and I liked Curran; but they were famous, the best company in the world. When I was as young as you, Lady Lavington and I always hunted in couples, because she was tall, and I was called the Queen of the Fairies. Pretty women, my sweet child, should never be alone. Not that I was very pretty, but I was always with pretty women, and at last the men began to think that I was pretty too.’
‘A superbly pretty place,’ simpered the magnificent Mrs. Montgomery Floyd to Mr. Temple, ‘and of all the sweetly pretty persons I ever met, I assure you I think Miss Temple the most charming. Such a favourite too with Lady Bellair! You know she calls Miss Temple her real favourite,’ added the lady, with a playful smile.
The ladies were ushered to their apartments by Henrietta, for the hour of dinner was at hand, and Mrs. Montgomery Floyd indicated some anxiety not to be hurried in her toilet. Indeed, when she reappeared, it might have been matter of marvel how she could have effected such a complete transformation in so short a period. Except a train, she was splendid enough for a birthday at St. James’s, and wore so many brilliants that she glittered like a chandelier. However, as Lady Bellair loved a contrast, this was perhaps not unfortunate; for certainly her ladyship, in her simple costume which had only been altered by the substitution of a cap that should have been immortalised by Mieris or Gerard Douw, afforded one not a little startling to her sumptuous fellow-traveller.
‘Your dinner is very good,’ said Lady Bellair to Mr. Temple. ‘I eat very little and very plainly, but I hate a bad dinner; it dissatisfies everybody else, and they are all dull. The best dinners now are a new man’s; I forget his name; the man who is so very rich. You never heard of him, and she (pointing with her fork to Mrs. Montgomery) knows nobody. What is his name? Gregory, what is the name of the gentleman I dine with so often? the gentleman I send to when I have no other engagement, and he always gives me a dinner, but who never dines with me. He is only rich, and I hate people who are only rich; but I must ask him next year. I ask him to my evening parties, mind; I don’t care about them; but I will not have stupid people, who are only rich, at my dinners. Gregory, what is his name?’
‘Mr. Million de Stockville, my lady.’
‘Yes, that is the man, good Gregory. You have no deer, have you?’ enquired her ladyship of Mr. Temple. ‘I thought not. I wish you had deer. You should send a haunch in my name to Mr. Million de Stockville, and that would be as good as a dinner to him. If your neighbour, the duke, had received me, I should have sent it from thence. I will tell you what I will do; I will write a note from this place to the duke, and get him to do it for me. He will do anything for me. He loves me, the duke, and I love him; but his wife hates me.’
‘And you have had a gay season in town this year, Lady Bellair?’ enquired Miss Temple. ‘My dear, I always have a gay season.’ ‘What happiness!’ softly exclaimed Mrs. Montgomery Floyd. ‘I think nothing is more delightful than gaiety.’
‘And how is our friend Mr. Bonmot this year?’ said Mr. Temple.
‘My dear, Bonmot is growing very old. He tells the same stories over again, and therefore I never see him. I cannot bear wits that have run to seed: I cannot ask Bonmot to my dinners, and I told him the reason why; but I said I was at home every morning from two till six, and that he might come then, for he does not go out to evening parties, and he is huffy, and so we have quarrelled.’
‘Poor Mr. Bonmot,’ said Miss Temple.
‘My dear, there is the most wonderful man in the world, I forget his name, but everybody is mad to have him. He is quite the fashion. I have him to my parties instead of Bonmot, and it is much better. Everybody has Bonmot; but my man is new, and I love something new. Lady Frederick Berrington brought him to me. Do you know Lady Frederick Berrington? Oh! I forgot, poor dear, you are buried alive in the country; I must introduce you to Lady Frederick. She is charming, she will taste you, she will be your friend; and you cannot have a better friend, my dear, for she is very pretty, very witty, and has got blood in her veins. I won’t introduce you to Lady Frederick,’ continued Lady Bellair to. Mrs. Montgomery Floyd; ‘she is not in your way. I shall introduce you to Lady Splash and Dashaway; she is to be your friend.’
Mrs. Montgomery Floyd seemed consoled by the splendid future of being the friend of Lady Splash and Dashaway, and easily to endure, with such a compensation, the somewhat annoying remarks of her noble patroness.
‘But as for Bonmot,’ continued Lady Bellair, ‘I will have nothing to do with him. General Faneville, he is a dear good man, and gives me dinners. I love dinners: I never dine at home, except when I have company. General Faneville not only gives me dinners, but lets me always choose my own party. And he said to me the other day, “Now, Lady Bellair, fix your day, and name your party.” I said directly, “General, anybody but Bonmot.” You know Bonmot is his particular friend.’
‘But surely that is cruel,’ said Henrietta Temple, smiling.
‘I am cruel,’ said Lady Bellair, ‘when I hate a person I am very cruel, and I hate Bonmot. Mr. Fox wrote me a copy of verses once, and called me “cruel fair;” but I was not cruel to him, for I dearly loved Charles Fox; and I love you, and I love your father. The first party your father ever was at, was at my house. There, what do you think of that? And I love my grandchildren; I call them all my grand-children. I think great-grandchildren sounds silly; I am so happy that they have married so well. My dear Selina is a countess; you shall be a countess, too,’ added Lady Bellair, laughing. ‘I must see you a countess before I die. Mrs. Grenville is not a countess, and is rather poor; but they will be rich some day; and Grenville is a good name: it sounds well. That is a great thing. I hate a name that does not sound well.’
IN THE evening Henrietta amused her guests with music. Mrs. Montgomery Floyd was enthusiastically fond of music, and very proud of her intimate friendship with Pasta. ‘Oh! you know her, do you?’ ‘Very well; you shall bring her to my house. She shall sing at all my parties; I love music at my evenings, but I never pay for it, never. If she will not come in the evening, I will try to ask her to dinner, once at least. I do not like singers and tumblers at dinner, but she is very fashionable, and young men like her; and what I want at my dinners are young men, young men of very great fashion. I rather want young men at my dinners. I have some; Lord Languid always comes to me, and he is very fine, you know, very fine indeed. He goes to very few places, but he always comes to me.’ Mrs. Montgomery Floyd quitted the piano, and seated herself by Mr. Temple. Mr. Temple was gallant, and Mrs. Montgomery Floyd anxious to obtain the notice of a gentleman whom Lady Bellair had assured her was of the first ton. Her ladyship herself beckoned Henrietta Temple to join her on the sofa, and, taking her hand very affectionately, explained to her all the tactics by which she intended to bring-about a match between her and Lord Fitzwarrene, very much regretting, at the same time, that her dear grandson, Lord Bellair, was married; for he, after all, was the only person worthy of her. ‘He would taste you, my dear; he would understand you. Dear Bellair! he is so very handsome, and so very witty. Why did he go and marry? And yet I love his wife. Do you know her? Oh! she is charming: so very pretty, so very witty, and such good blood in her veins. I made the match. Why were you not in England? If you had only come to England a year sooner, you should have married Bellair. How provoking!’
‘But, really, dear Lady Bellair, your grandson is very happy. What more can you wish?’
‘Well, my dear, it shall be Lord Fitzwarrene, then. I shall give a series of parties this year, and ask Lord Fitzwarrene to every one. Not that it is very easy to get him, my child. There is nobody so difficult as Lord Fitzwarrene. That is quite right. Men should always be difficult. I cannot bear men who come and dine with you when you want them.’
‘What a charming place is Ducie!’ sighed Mrs. Montgomery Floyd to Mr. Temple. ‘The country is so delightful.’
‘But you would not like to live in the country only,’ said Mr. Temple.
‘Ah! you do not know me!’ sighed the sentimental Mrs. Montgomery Floyd. ‘If you only knew how I love flowers! I wish you could but see my conservatory in Park-lane!’
‘And how did you find Bath this year, Lady Bellair?’ enquired Miss Temple.
‘Oh! my dear, I met a charming man there, I forget his name, but the most distinguished person I ever met; so very handsome, so very witty, and with blood in his veins, only I forget his name, and it is a very good name, too. My dear,’ addressing herself to Mrs. Montgomery Floyd, ‘tell me the name of my favourite.’
Mrs. Montgomery Floyd looked a little puzzled: ‘My great favourite!’ exclaimed the irritated Lady Bellair, rapping her fan against the sofa. ‘Oh! why do you not remember names! I love people who remember names. My favourite, my Bath favourite. What is his name? He is to dine with me in town. What is the name of my Bath favourite who is certainly to dine with me in town?’
‘Do you mean Captain Armine?’ enquired Mrs. Montgomery Floyd. Miss Temple turned pale. ‘That is the man,’ said Lady Bellair. ‘Oh! such a charming man. You shall marry him, my dear; you shall not marry Lord Fitzwarrene.’
‘But you forget he is going to be married,’ said Mrs. Montgomery Floyd.
Miss Temple tried to rise, but she could not. She held down her head. She felt the fever in her cheek. ‘Is our engagement, then, so notorious?’ she thought to herself.
‘Ah! yes, I forgot he was going to be married,’ said Lady Bellair. ‘Well, then, it must be Lord Fitzwarrene. Besides, Captain Armine is not rich, but he has got a very fine place though, and I will go and stop there some day. And, besides, he is over head-and-ears in debt, so they say. However, he is going to marry a very rich woman, and so all will be right. I like old families in decay to get round again.’
Henrietta dreaded that her father should observe her confusion; she had recourse to every art to prevent it. ‘Dear Ferdinand,’ she thought to herself, ‘thy very rich wife will bring thee, I fear, but a poor dower. Ah! would he were here!’
‘Whom is Captain Armine going to marry?’ enquired Mr. Temple.
‘Oh! a very proper person,’ said Lady Bellair. ‘I forget her name. Miss Twoshoes, or something. What is her name, my dear?’
‘You mean Miss Grandison, madam?’ responded Mrs. Montgomery Floyd.
‘To be sure, Miss Grandison, the great heiress. The only one left of the Grandisons. I knew her grandfather. He was my son’s schoolfellow.’
‘Captain Armine is a near neighbour of ours,’ said Mr. Temple.
‘Oh! you know him,’ said Lady Bellair. ‘Is not he charming?’
‘Are you certain he is going to be married to Miss Grandison?’ enquired Mr. Temple.
‘Oh! there is no doubt in the world,’ said Mrs. Montgomery Floyd. ‘Everything is quite settled. My most particular friend, Lady Julia Harteville, is to be one of the bridesmaids. I have seen all the presents. Both the families are at Bath at this very moment. I saw the happy pair together every day. They are related, you know. It is an excellent match, for the Armines have great estates, mortgaged to the very last acre. I have heard that Sir Ratcliffe Armine has not a thousand a year he can call his own. We are all so pleased,’ added Mrs. Montgomery Floyd, as if she were quite one of the family. ‘Is it not delightful?’
‘They are to be married next month,’ said Lady Bellair. ‘I did not quite make the match, but I did something. I love the Grandisons, because Lord Grandison was my son’s friend fifty years ago.’
‘I never knew a person so pleased as Lady Armine is,’ continued Mrs. Montgomery Floyd. ‘The truth is, Captain Armine has been wild, very wild indeed; a little of a roue; but then such a fine young man, so very handsome, so truly distinguished, as Lady Bellair says, what could you expect? But he has sown his wild oats now. They have been engaged these six months; ever since he came from abroad. He has been at Bath all the time, except for a fortnight or so, when he went to his Place to make the necessary preparations. We all so missed him. Captain Armine was quite the life of Bath I am almost ashamed to repeat what was said of him,’ added Mrs. Montgomery Floyd, blushing through her rouge; ‘but they said every woman was in love with him.’
‘Fortunate man!’ said Mr. Temple, bowing, but with a grave expression.
‘And he says, he is only going to marry because he is wearied of conquests,’ continued Mrs. Montgomery Floyd; ‘how impertinent, is it not? But Captain Armine says such things! He is quite a privileged person at Bath!’
Miss Temple rose and left the room. When the hour of general retirement had arrived, she had not returned. Her maid brought a message that her mistress was not very well, and offered her excuses for not again descending.
HENRIETTA, when she quitted the room, never stopped until she had gained her own chamber. She had no light but a straggling moonbeam revealed sufficient.
She threw herself upon her bed, choked with emotion. She was incapable of thought; a chaos of wild images flitted over her brain. Thus had she remained, perchance an hour, with scarcely self-consciousness, when her servant entered with a light to arrange her chamber, and nearly shrieked when, on turning round, she beheld her mistress.
This intrusion impressed upon Miss Temple the absolute necessity of some exertion, if only to preserve herself at this moment from renewed interruptions. She remembered where she was, she called back with an effort some recollection of her guests, and she sent that message to her father which we have already noticed. Then she was again alone. How she wished at that moment that she might ever be alone; that the form and shape of human being should no more cross her vision; that she might remain in this dark chamber until she died! There was no more joy for her; her sun was set, the lustre of her life was gone; the lute had lost its tone, the flower its perfume, the bird its airy wing. What a fleet, as well as fatal, tragedy! How swift upon her improvidence had come her heart-breaking pang! There was an end of faith, for he was faithless; there was an end of love, for love had betrayed her; there was an end of beauty, for beauty had been her bane. All that hitherto made life delightful, all the fine emotions, all the bright hopes, and the rare accomplishments of our nature, were dark delusions now, cruel mockeries, and false and cheating phantoms! What humiliation! what despair! And he had seemed so true, so pure, so fond, so gifted! What! could it be, could it be that a few short weeks back this man had knelt to her, had adored her? And she had hung upon his accents, and lived in the light of his enraptured eyes, and pledged to him her heart, dedicated to him her life, devoted to him all her innocent and passionate affections, worshipped him as an idol! Why, what was life that it could bring upon its swift wing such dark, such agonising vicissitudes as these? It was not life; it was frenzy!
Some one knocked gently at her door. She did not answer, she feigned sleep. Yet the door opened, she felt, though her eyes were shut and her back turned, that there was a light in the room. A tender step approached her bed. It could be but one person, that person whom she had herself deceived. She knew it was her father.
Mr. Temple seated himself by her bedside; he bent his head and pressed his lips upon her forehead. In her desolation some one still loved her. She could not resist the impulse; she held forth her hand without opening her eyes, her father held it clasped in his.
‘Henrietta,’ he at length said, in a tone of peculiar sweetness.
‘Oh! do not speak, my father. Do not speak. You alone have cause to reproach me. Spare me; spare your child.’
‘I came to console, not to reproach,’ said Mr. Temple. ‘But if it please you, I will not speak; let me, however, remain.’
‘Father, we must speak. It relieves me even to confess my indiscretion, my fatal folly. Father, I feel, yet why, I know not, I feel that you know all!’
‘I know much, my Henrietta, but I do not know all.’
‘And if you knew all, you would not hate me?’
‘Hate you, my Henrietta! These are strange words to use to a father; to a father, I would add, like me. No one can love you, Henrietta, as your father loves you; yet speak to me not merely as a father; speak to me as your earliest, your best, your fondest, your most faithful friend.’
She pressed his hand, but answer, that she could not.
‘Henrietta, dearest, dearest Henrietta, answer me one question.’
‘I tremble, sir.’
‘Then we will speak tomorrow.’
‘Oh! no, to-night. To-morrow may never come. There is no night for me; I cannot sleep. I should go mad if it were not for you. I will speak; I will answer any questions. My conscience is quite clear except to you; no one, no power on earth or heaven, can reproach me, except my father.’
‘He never will. But, dearest, tell me; summon up your courage to meet my question. Are you engaged to this person?’
‘Long ere this I had supposed we should have claimed your sanction. He left me only to speak to his father.’
‘This may be the idle tattle of women?’
‘No, no,’ said Henrietta, in a voice of deep melancholy; ‘my fears had foreseen this dark reality. This week has been a week of terror to me; and yet I hoped, and hoped, and hoped. Oh! what a fool have I been.’
‘I know this person was your constant companion in my absence; that you have corresponded with him. Has he written very recently?’
‘Within two days.’
‘And his letters?’
‘Have been of late most vague. Oh! my father, indeed, indeed I have not conducted myself so ill as you perhaps imagine. I shrunk from this secret engagement; I opposed by every argument in my power, this clandestine correspondence; but it was only for a week, a single week; and reasons, plausible and specious reasons, were plentiful. Alas! alas! all is explained now. All that was strange, mysterious, perplexed in his views and conduct, and which, when it crossed my mind, I dismissed with contempt — all is now too clear.’
‘Henrietta, he is unworthy of you.’
‘Hush! hush! dear father. An hour ago I loved him. Spare him, if you only wish to spare me.’
‘Cling to my heart, my child. A father’s love has comfort. Is it not so?’
‘I feel it is; I feel calmer since you came and we have spoken. I never can be happy again; my spirit is quite broken. And yet, I feel I have a heart now, which I thought I had not before you came. Dear, dear father,’ she said, rising and putting her arms round Mr. Temple’s neck and leaning on his bosom, and speaking in a sweet yet very mournful voice, ‘henceforth your happiness shall be mine. I will not disgrace you; you shall not see me grieve; I will atone, I will endeavour to atone, for my great sins, for sins they were towards you.’
‘My child, the time will come when we shall remember this bitterness only as a lesson. But I know the human heart too well to endeavour to stem your sorrow now; I only came to soothe it. My blessing is upon you, my child. Let us talk no more. Henrietta, I will send your maid to you. Try to sleep; try to compose yourself.’
‘These people — tomorrow — what shall I do?’
‘Leave all to me. Keep your chamber until they have gone. You need appear no more.’
‘Oh! that no human being might again see me!’
‘Hush! that is not a wise wish. Be calm; we shall yet be happy. To-morrow we will talk; and so good night, my child; good night, my own Henrietta.’
Mr. Temple left the room. He bade the maid go to her mistress, in as calm a tone as if indeed her complaint had been only a headache; and then he entered his own apartment. Over the mantel-piece was a portrait of his daughter, gay and smiling as the spring; the room was adorned with her drawings. He drew the chair near the fire, and gazed for some time abstracted upon the flame, and then hid his weeping countenance in his hands. He sobbed convulsively.
IT WAS a gusty autumnal night; Glastonbury sat alone in his tower; every now and then the wind, amid a chorus of groaning branches and hissing rain, dashed against his window; then its power seemed gradually lulled, and perfect stillness succeeded, until a low moan was heard again in the distance, which gradually swelled into storm. The countenance of the good old man was not so serene as usual. Occasionally his thoughts seemed to wander from the folio opened before him, and he fell into fits of reverie which impressed upon his visage an expression rather of anxiety than study.
The old man looked up to the portrait of the unhappy Lady Armine, and heaved a deep sigh. Were his thoughts of her or of her child? He closed his book, he replaced it upon its shelf, and, taking from a cabinet an ancient crucifix of carved ivory, he bent down before the image of his Redeemer.
Even while he was buried in his devotions, praying perchance for the soul of that sinning yet sainted lady whose memory was never absent from his thoughts, or the prosperity of that family to whom he had dedicated his faithful life, the noise of ascending footsteps was heard in the sudden stillness, and immediately a loud knocking at the door of his outer chamber.
Surprised at this unaccustomed interruption, Glastonbury rose, and enquired the object of his yet unseen visitor; but, on hearing a well-known voice, the door was instantly unbarred, and Ferdinand Armine, pale as a ghost and deluged to the skin, appeared before him. Glastonbury ushered his guest into his cell, replenished the fire, retrimmed the lamp, and placed Ferdinand in his own easy seat.
‘You are wet; I fear thoroughly?’
‘It matters not,’ said Captain Armine, in a hollow voice.
‘From Bath?’ enquired Glastonbury.
But his companion did not reply. At length he said, in a voice of utter wretchedness, ‘Glastonbury, you see before you the most miserable of human beings.’
The good father started.
‘Yes!’ continued Ferdinand; ‘this is the end of all your care, all your affection, all your hopes, all your sacrifices. It is over; our house is fated; my life draws to an end.’
‘Speak, my Ferdinand,’ said Glastonbury, for his pupil seemed to have relapsed into moody silence, ‘speak to your friend and father. Disburden your mind of the weight that presses on it. Life is never without hope, and, while this remains,’ pointing to the crucifix, ‘never without consolation.’
‘I cannot speak; I know not what to say. My brain sinks under the effort. It is a wild, a complicated tale; it relates to feelings with which you cannot sympathise, thoughts that you cannot share. O Glastonbury! there is no hope; there is no solace.’
‘Calm yourself, my Ferdinand; not merely as your friend, but as a priest of our holy church, I call upon you to speak to me. Even to me, the humblest of its ministers, is given a power that can sustain the falling and make whole the broken in spirit. Speak, and speak fearlessly; nor shrink from exposing the very inmost recesses of your breast; for I can sympathise with your passions, be they even as wild as I believe them.’
Ferdinand turned his eyes from the fire on which he was gazing, and shot a scrutinising glance at his kind confessor, but the countenance of Glastonbury was placid, though serious.
‘You remember,’ Ferdinand at length murmured, ‘that we met, we met unexpectedly, some six weeks back.’
‘I have not forgotten it,’ replied Glastonbury.
‘There was a lady,’ Ferdinand continued in a hesitating tone.
‘Whom I mistook for Miss Grandison,’ observed Glastonbury, ‘but who, it turned out, bore another name.’
‘You know it?’
‘I know all; for her father has been here.’
‘Where are they?’ exclaimed Ferdinand eagerly, starting from his seat and seizing the hand of Glastonbury. ‘Only tell me where they are, only tell me where Henrietta is, and you will save me, Glastonbury. You will restore me to life, to hope, to heaven.’
‘I cannot,’ said Glastonbury, shaking his head. ‘It is more than ten days ago that I saw this lady’s father for a few brief and painful moments; for what purpose your conscience may inform you. From the unexpected interview between ourselves in the gallery, my consequent misconception, and the conversation which it occasioned, I was not so unprepared for this interview with him as I otherwise might have been. Believe me, Ferdinand, I was as tender to your conduct as was consistent with my duty to my God and to my neighbour.’
‘You betrayed me, then,’ said Ferdinand.
‘Ferdinand!’ said Glastonbury reproachfully, ‘I trust that I am free from deceit of any kind. In the present instance I had not even to communicate anything. Your own conduct had excited suspicion; some visitors from Bath to this gentleman and his family had revealed everything; and, in deference to the claims of an innocent lady, I could not refuse to confirm what was no secret to the world in general, what was already known to them in particular, what was not even doubted, and alas! not dubitable.’
‘Oh! my father, pardon me, pardon me; pardon the only disrespectful expression that ever escaped the lips of your Ferdinand towards you; most humbly do I ask your forgiveness. But if you knew all ——— God!
God! my heart is breaking! You have seen her, Glastonbury; you have seen her. Was there ever on earth a being like her? So beautiful, so highly-gifted, with a heart as fresh, as fragrant as the dawn of Eden; and that heart mine; and all lost, all gone and lost! Oh! why am I alive?’ He threw himself back in his chair, and covered his face and wept.
‘I would that deed or labour of mine could restore you both to peace,’ said Glastonbury, with streaming eyes.
‘So innocent, so truly virtuous!’ continued Ferdinand. ‘It seemed to me I never knew what virtue was till I knew her. So frank, so generous! I think I see her now, with that dear smile of hers that never more may welcome me!’
‘My child, I know not what to say; I know not what advice to give; I know not what even to wish. Your situation is so complicated, so mysterious, that it passes my comprehension. There are others whose claims, whose feelings should be considered. You are not, of course, married?’
Ferdinand shook his head.
‘Does Miss Grandison know all?’
Ferdinand shook his head again.
‘What do you yourself wish? What object are you aiming at? What game have you yourself been playing? I speak not in harshness; but I really do not understand what you have been about. If you have your grandfather’s passions, you have his brain too. I did not ever suppose that you were “infirm of purpose.”’
‘I have only one wish, only one object. Since I first saw Henrietta, my heart and resolution have never for an instant faltered; and if I do not now succeed in them I am determined not to live.’
‘The God of all goodness have mercy on this distracted house!’ exclaimed Glastonbury, as he piously lifted his hands to heaven.
‘You went to Bath to communicate this great change to your father,’ he continued. ‘Why did you not? Painful as the explanation must be to Miss Grandison, the injustice of your conduct towards her is aggravated by delay.’
‘There were reasons,’ said Ferdinand, ‘reasons which I never intended anyone to know; but now I have no secrets. Dear Glastonbury, even amid all this overwhelming misery, my cheek burns when I confess to you that I have, and have had for years, private cares of my own of no slight nature.’
‘Debts?’ enquired Glastonbury.
‘Debts,’ replied Ferdinand, ‘and considerable ones.’
‘Poor child!’ exclaimed Glastonbury. ‘And this drove you to the marriage?’
‘To that every worldly consideration impelled me: my heart was free then; in fact, I did not know I had a heart; and I thought the marriage would make all happy. But now, so far as I am myself concerned, oh! I would sooner be the commonest peasant in this county, with Henrietta Temple for the partner of my life, than live at Armine with all the splendour of my ancestors.’
‘Honour be to them; they were great men,’ exclaimed Glastonbury.
‘I am their victim,’ replied Ferdinand. ‘I owe my ancestors nothing, nay, worse than nothing; I owe them ———’
‘Hush! hush!’ said Glastonbury. ‘If only for my sake, Ferdinand, be silent.’
‘For yours, then, not for theirs.’
‘But why did you remain at Bath?’ enquired Glastonbury.
‘I had not been there more than a day or two, when my principal creditor came down from town and menaced me. He had a power of attorney from an usurer at Malta, and talked of applying to the Horse Guards. The report that I was going to marry an heiress had kept these fellows quiet, but the delay and my absence from Bath had excited his suspicion. Instead, therefore, of coming to an immediate explanation with Katherine, brought about as I had intended by my coldness and neglect, I was obliged to be constantly seen with her in public, to prevent myself from being arrested. Yet I wrote to Ducie daily. I had confidence in my energy and skill. I thought that Henrietta might be for a moment annoyed or suspicious; I thought, however, she would be supported by the fervour of my love. I anticipated no other evil. Who could have supposed that these infernal visitors would have come at such a moment to this retired spot?’
‘And now, is all known now?’ enquired Glastonbury.
‘Nothing,’ replied Ferdinand; ‘the difficulty of my position was so great that I was about to cut the knot, by quitting Bath and leaving a letter addressed to Katherine, confessing all. But the sudden silence of Henrietta drove me mad. Day after day elapsed; two, three, four, five, six days, and I heard nothing. The moon was bright; the mail was just going off. I yielded to an irresistible impulse. I bid adieu to no one. I jumped in. I was in London only ten minutes. I dashed to Ducie. It was deserted. An old woman told me the family had gone, had utterly departed; she knew not where, but she thought for foreign parts. I sank down; I tottered to a seat in that hall where I had been so happy. Then it flashed across my mind that I might discover their course and pursue them. I hurried to the nearest posting town. I found out their route. I lost it for ever at the next stage. The clue was gone; it was market-day, and in a great city, where horses are changed every minute, there is so much confusion that my enquiries were utterly baffled. And here I am, Mr. Glastonbury,’ added Ferdinand, with a kind of mad smile. ‘I have travelled four days, I have not slept a wink, I have tasted no food; but I have drunk, I have drunk well. Here I am, and I have half a mind to set fire to that accursed pile called Armine Castle for my funeral pyre.’
‘Ferdinand, you are not well,’ said Mr. Glastonbury, grasping his hand. ‘You need rest. You must retire; indeed you must. I must be obeyed. My bed is yours.’
‘No! let me go to my own room,’ murmured Ferdinand, in a faint voice. ‘That room where my mother said the day would come — oh! what did my mother say? Would there were only mother’s love, and then I should not be here or thus.’
‘I pray you, my child, rest here.’
‘No! let us to the Place, for an hour; I shall not sleep more than an hour. I am off again directly the storm is over. If it had not been for this cursed rain I should have caught them. And yet, perhaps, they are in countries where there is no rain. Ah! who would believe what happens in this world? Not I, for one. Now, give me your arm. Good Glastonbury! you are always the same. You seem to me the only thing in the world that is unchanged.’
Glastonbury, with an air of great tenderness and anxiety, led his former pupil down the stairs. The weather was more calm. There were some dark blue rifts in the black sky which revealed a star or two. Ferdinand said nothing in their progress to the Place except once, when he looked up to the sky, and said, as it were to himself, ‘She loved the stars.’
Glastonbury had some difficulty in rousing the man and his wife, who were the inmates of the Place; but it was not very late, and, fortunately, they had not retired for the night. Lights were brought into Lady Armine’s drawing-room. Glastonbury led Ferdinand to a sofa, on which he rather permitted others to place him than seated himself. He took no notice of anything that was going on, but remained with his eyes open, gazing feebly with a rather vacant air.
Then the good Glastonbury looked to the arrangement of his sleeping-room, drawing the curtains, seeing that the bed was well aired and warmed, and himself adding blocks to the wood fire which soon kindled. Nor did he forget to prepare, with the aid of the good woman, some hot potion that might soothe and comfort his stricken and exhausted charge, who in this moment of distress and desolation had come, as it were, and thrown himself on the bosom of his earliest friend. When all was arranged Glastonbury descended to Ferdinand, whom he found in exactly the same position as that in which he left him. He offered no resistance to the invitation of Glastonbury to retire to his chamber. He neither moved nor spoke, and yet seemed aware of all they were doing. Glastonbury and the stout serving-man bore him to his chamber, relieved him from his wet garments, and placed him in his earliest bed. When Glastonbury bade him good night, Ferdinand faintly pressed his hand, but did not speak; and it was remarkable, that while he passively submitted to their undressing him, and seemed incapable of affording them the slightest aid, yet he thrust forth his hand to guard a lock of dark hair that was placed next to his heart.
THOSE quiet slumbers, that the regular life and innocent heart of the good Glastonbury generally ensured, were sadly broken this night, as he lay awake meditating over the distracted fortunes of the of Armine house. They seemed now to be most turbulent and clouded; and that brilliant and happy future, in which of late he had so fondly indulged, offered nothing but gloom and disquietude. Nor was it the menaced disruption of those ties whose consummation was to restore the greatness and splendour of the family, and all the pain and disappointment and mortification and misery that must be its consequence, that alone made him sorrowful. Glastonbury had a reverence for that passion which sheds such a lustre over existence, and is the pure and prolific source of much of our better conduct; the time had been when he, too, had loved, and with a religious sanctity worthy of his character and office; he had been for a long life the silent and hopeless votary of a passion almost ideal, yet happy, though ‘he never told his love;’ and, indeed, although the unconscious mistress of his affections had been long removed from that world where his fidelity was almost her only comfort, that passion had not waned, and the feelings that had been inspired by her presence were now cherished by her memory. His tender and romantic nature, which his venerable grey hairs had neither dulled nor hardened, made him deeply sympathise with his unhappy pupil; the radiant image of Henrietta Temple, too, vividly impressed on his memory as it was, rose up before him; he recollected his joy that the chosen partner of his Ferdinand’s bosom should be worthy of her destiny; he thought of this fair creature, perchance in solitude and sickness, a prey to the most mortifying and miserable emotions, with all her fine and generous feelings thrown back upon herself; deeming herself deceived, deserted, outraged, where she had looked for nothing but fidelity, and fondness, and support; losing all confidence in the world and the world’s ways; but recently so lively with expectation and airy with enjoyment, and now aimless, hopeless, wretched, perhaps broken-hearted. The tears trickled down the pale cheek of Glastonbury as he revolved in his mind these mournful thoughts; and almost unconsciously he wrung his hands as he felt his utter want of power to remedy these sad and piteous circumstances. Yet he was not absolutely hopeless. There was ever open to the pious Glastonbury one perennial source of trust and consolation. This was a fountain that was ever fresh and sweet, and he took refuge from the world’s harsh courses and exhausting cares in its salutary flow and its refreshing shade, when, kneeling before his crucifix, he commended the unhappy Ferdinand and his family to the superintending care of a merciful Omnipotence.
The morning brought fresh anxieties. Glastonbury was at the Place at an early hour, and found Ferdinand in a high state of fever. He had not slept an instant, was very excited, talked of departing immediately, and rambled in his discourse. Glastonbury blamed himself for having left him a moment, and resolved to do so no more. He endeavoured to soothe him; assured him that if he would be calm all would yet go well; that they would consult together what was best to be done; and that he would make enquiries after the Temple family. In the meantime he despatched the servant for the most eminent physician of the county; but as hours must necessarily elapse before his arrival, the difficulty of keeping Ferdinand still was very great. Talk he would, and of nothing but Henrietta. It was really agonising to listen to his frantic appeals to Glastonbury to exert himself to discover her abode; yet Glastonbury never left his side; and with promises, expressions of confidence, and the sway of an affected calmness, for in truth dear Glastonbury was scarcely less agitated than his patient, Ferdinand was prevented from rising, and the physician at length arrived.
After examining Ferdinand, with whom he remained a very short space, this gentleman invited Glastonbury to descend, and they left the patient in charge of a servant.
‘This is a bad case,’ said the physician.
‘Almighty God preserve him!’ exclaimed the agitated Glastonbury. ‘Tell me the worst!’
‘Where are Sir Ratcliffe and Lady Armine?’
‘They must be sent for instantly.’
‘Is there any hope?’
‘There is hope; that is all. I shall now bleed him copiously, and then blister; but I can do little. We must trust to nature. I am afraid of the brain. I cannot account for his state by his getting wet or his rapid travelling. Has he anything on his mind?’
‘Much,’ said Glastonbury.
The physician shook his head.
‘It is a precious life!’ said Glastonbury, seizing his arm. ‘My dear doctor, you must not leave us.’
They returned to the bedchamber.
‘Captain Armine,’ said the physician, taking his hand and seating himself on the bed, ‘you have a bad cold and some fever; I think you should lose a little blood.’
‘Can I leave Armine today, if I am bled?’ enquired Ferdinand, eagerly, ‘for go I must!’
‘I would not move today,’ said the physician.
‘I must, indeed I must. Mr. Glastonbury will tell you I must.’
‘If you set off early tomorrow you will get over as much ground in four-and-twenty hours as if you went this evening,’ said the physician, fixing the bandage on the arm as he spoke, and nodding to Mr. Glastonbury to prepare the basin.
‘To-morrow morning?’ said Ferdinand.
‘Yes, tomorrow,’ said the physician, opening his lancet.
‘Are you sure that I shall be able to set off tomorrow?’ said Ferdinand.
‘Quite,’ said the physician, opening the vein.
The dark blood flowed sullenly; the physician exchanged an anxious glance with Glastonbury; at length the arm was bandaged up, a composing draught, with which the physician had been prepared, given to his patient, and the doctor and Glastonbury withdrew. The former now left Armine for three hours, and Glastonbury prepared himself for his painful office of communicating to the parents the imminent danger of their only child.
Never had a more difficult task devolved upon an individual than that which now fell to the lot of the good Glastonbury, in conducting the affairs of a family labouring under such remarkable misconceptions as to the position and views of its various members. It immediately occurred to him, that it was highly probable that Miss Grandison, at such a crisis, would choose to accompany the parents of her intended husband. What incident, under the present circumstances, could be more awkward and more painful? Yet how to prevent its occurrence? How crude to communicate the real state of such affairs at any time by letter! How impossible at the moment he was preparing the parents for the alarming, perhaps fatal illness of their child, to enter on such subjects at all, much more when the very revelation, at a moment which required all their energy and promptitude, would only be occasioning at Bath scenes scarcely less distracting and disastrous than those occurring at Armine. It was clearly impossible to enter into any details at present; and yet Glastonbury, while he penned the sorrowful lines, and softened the sad communication with his sympathy, added a somewhat sly postscript, wherein he impressed upon Lady Armine the advisability, for various reasons, that she should only be accompanied by her husband.
THE contingency which Glastonbury feared, surely happened; Miss Grandison insisted upon immediately rushing to her Ferdinand; and as the maiden aunt was still an invalid, and was incapable of enduring the fatigues of a rapid and anxious journey, she was left behind. Within a few hours of the receipt of Glastonbury’s letter, Sir Ratcliffe and Lady Armine, and their niece, were on their way. They found letters from Glastonbury in London, which made them travel to Armine even through the night.
In spite of all his remedies, the brain fever which the physician foresaw had occurred; and when his family arrived, the life of Ferdinand was not only in danger but desperate. It was impossible that even the parents could see their child, and no one was allowed to enter his chamber but his nurse, the physician, and occasionally Glastonbury; for this name, with others less familiar to the household, sounded so often on the frenzied lips of the sufferer, that it was recommended that Glastonbury should often be at his bedside. Yet he must leave it, to receive the wretched Sir Ratcliffe and his wife and their disconsolate companion. Never was so much unhappiness congregated together under one roof; and yet, perhaps Glastonbury, though the only one who retained the least command over himself, was, with his sad secret, the most woe-begone of the tribe.
As for Lady Armine, she sat without the door of her son’s chamber the whole day and night, clasping a crucifix in her hands, and absorbed in silent prayer. Sir Ratcliffe remained below prostrate. The unhappy Katherine in vain offered the consolation she herself so needed; and would have wandered about that Armine of which she had heard so much, and where she was to have been so happy, a forlorn and solitary being, had it not been for the attentions of the considerate Glastonbury, who embraced every opportunity of being her companion. His patience, his heavenly resignation, his pious hope, his vigilant care, his spiritual consolation, occasionally even the gleams of agreeable converse with which he attempted to divert her mind, consoled and maintained her. How often did she look at his benignant countenance, and not wonder that the Armines were so attached to this engaging and devoted friend?
For three days did the unhappy family expect in terrible anticipation that each moment would witness the last event in the life of their son. His distracted voice caught too often the vigilant and agonised ear of his mother; yet she gave no evidence of the pang, except by clasping her crucifix with increased energy. She had promised the physician that she would command herself, that no sound should escape her lips, and she rigidly fulfilled the contract on which she was permitted to remain.
On the eve of the fourth day Ferdinand, who had never yet closed his eyes, but who had become during the last twelve hours somewhat more composed, fell into a slumber. The physician lightly dropped the hand which he had scarcely ever quitted, and, stealing out of the room, beckoned, his finger pressed to his lips, to Lady Armine to follow him. Assured by the symbol that the worst had not yet happened, she followed the physician to the end of the gallery, and he then told her that immediate danger was past.
‘And now, my dear madam,’ said the physician to her, ‘you must breathe some fresh air. Oblige me by descending.’
Lady Armine no longer refused; she repaired with a slow step to Sir Ratcliffe; she leant upon her husband’s breast as she murmured to him her hopes. They went forth together. Katherine and Glastonbury were in the garden. The appearance of Lady Armine gave them hopes. There was a faint smile on her face which needed not words to explain it. Katherine sprang forward, and threw her arms round her aunt’s neck.
‘He may be saved! he may be saved,’ whispered the mother; for in this hushed house of impending death they had lost almost the power as well as the habit, of speaking in any other tone.
‘He sleeps,’ said the physician; ‘all present danger is past.’
‘It is too great joy,’ murmured Katherine; and Glastonbury advanced and caught in his arms her insensible form.
FROM the moment of this happy slumber Ferdinand continued to improve. Each day the bulletin was more favourable, until his progress, though slow, was declared certain, and even relapse was no longer apprehended. But his physician would not allow him to see any one of his family. It was at night, and during his slumbers, that Lady Armine stole into his room to gaze upon her beloved child; and, if he moved in the slightest degree, faithful to her promise and the injunction of the physician, she instantly glided behind his curtain, or a large Indian screen which she had placed there purposely. Often, indeed, did she remain in this fond lurking-place, silent and trembling, when her child was even awake, listening to every breath, and envying the nurse that might gaze on him undisturbed; nor would she allow any sustenance that he was ordered to be prepared by any but her own fair, fond hands; and she brought it herself even to his door. For Ferdinand himself, though his replies to the physician sufficiently attested the healthy calmness of his mind, he indeed otherwise never spoke, but lay on his bed without repining, and seemingly plunged in mild and pensive abstraction. At length, one morning he enquired for Glastonbury, who, with the sanction of the physician, immediately attended him.
When he met the eye of that faithful friend he tried to extend his hand. It was so wan that Glastonbury trembled while he touched it.
‘I have given you much trouble,’ he said, in a faint voice.
‘I think only of the happiness of your recovery,’ said Glastonbury.
‘Yes, I am recovered,’ murmured Ferdinand; ‘it was not my wish.’
‘Oh! be grateful to God for this great mercy, my Ferdinand.’
‘You have heard nothing?’ enquired Ferdinand.
Glastonbury shook his head.
‘Fear not to speak; I can struggle no more. I am resigned. I am very much changed.’
‘You will be happy, dear Ferdinand,’ said Glastonbury, to whom this mood gave hopes.
‘Never,’ he said, in a more energetic tone; ‘never.’
‘There are so many that love you,’ said Glastonbury, leading his thoughts to his family.
‘Love!’ exclaimed Ferdinand, with a sigh, and in a tone almost reproachful.
‘Your dear mother,’ said Glastonbury.
‘Yes! my dear mother,’ replied Ferdinand, musingly. Then in a quicker tone, ‘Does she know of my illness? Did you write to them?’
‘She knows of it.’
‘She will be coming, then. I dread her coming. I can bear to see no one. You, dear Glastonbury, you; it is a consolation to see you, because you have seen,’ and here his voice faltered, ‘you have seen — her.’
‘My Ferdinand, think only of your health; and happiness, believe me, will yet be yours.’
‘If you could only find out where she is,’ continued Ferdinand, ‘and go to her. Yes! my dear Glastonbury, good, dear, Glastonbury, go to her,’ he added in an imploring tone; ‘she would believe you; everyone believes you. I cannot go; I am powerless; and if I went, alas! she would not believe me.’
‘It is my wish to do everything you desire,’ said Glastonbury, ‘I should be content to be ever labouring for your happiness. But I can do nothing unless you are calm.’
‘I am calm; I will be calm; I will act entirely as you wish; only I beseech you see her.’
‘On that head let us at present say no more,’ replied Glastonbury, who feared that excitement might lead to relapse; yet anxious to soothe him, he added, ‘Trust in my humble services ever, and in the bounty of a merciful Providence.’
‘I have had frightful dreams,’ said Ferdinand. ‘I thought I was in a farm-house; everything was so clear, so vivid. Night after night she seemed to me sitting on this bed. I touched her; her hand was in mine; it was so burning hot! Once, oh! once, once I thought she had forgiven me!’
‘Hush! hush! hush!’
‘No more: we will speak of her no more. When comes my mother?’
‘You may see her tomorrow, or the day after.’
‘Ah! Glastonbury, she is here.’
‘Is she alone?’
‘Your father is with her.’
‘My mother and my father. It is well.’ Then, after a minute’s pause, he added with some earnestness, ‘Do not deceive me, Glastonbury; see what deceit has brought me to. Are you sure that they are quite alone?’
‘There are none here but your dearest friends; none whose presence should give you the slightest care.’
‘There is one,’ said Ferdinand.
‘Dear Ferdinand, let me now leave you, or sit by your side in silence. To-morrow you will see your mother.’
‘To-morrow! Ah! tomorrow. Once to me tomorrow was brighter even than today.’ He turned his back and spoke no more. Glastonbury glided out of the room.
IT WAS absolutely necessary that Lady Armine’s interview with her son be confined merely to observations about his health. Any allusion to the past might not only produce a relapse of his fever, but occasion explanations, at all times most painful, but at the present full of difficulty and danger. It was therefore with feelings of no common anxiety that Glastonbury prepared the mother for this first visit to her son, and impressed upon her the absolute necessity of not making any allusion at present to Miss Grandison, and especially to her presence in the house. He even made for this purpose a sort of half-confidant of the physician, who, in truth, had heard enough during the fever to excite his suspicions; but this is a class of men essentially discreet, and it is well, for few are the family secrets ultimately concealed from them.
The interview occurred without any disagreeable results. The next day, Ferdinand saw his father for a few minutes. In a short time, Lady Armine was established as nurse to her son; Sir Ratcliffe, easy in mind, amused himself with his sports; and Glastonbury devoted himself to Miss Grandison. The intimacy, indeed, between the tutor of Ferdinand and his intended bride became daily more complete, and Glastonbury was almost her inseparable companion. She found him a very interesting one. He was the most agreeable guide amid all the haunts of Armine and its neighbourhood, and drove her delightfully in Lady Armine’s pony phaeton. He could share, too, all her pursuits, and open to her many new ones. Though time had stolen something of its force from the voice of Adrian Glastonbury, it still was wondrous sweet; his musical accomplishments were complete; and he could guide the pencil or prepare the herbal, and indite fair stanzas in his fine Italian handwriting in a lady’s album. All his collections, too, were at Miss Grandison’s service. She handled with rising curiosity his medals, copied his choice drawings, and even began to study heraldry. His interesting conversation, his mild and benignant manners, his captivating simplicity, and the elegant purity of his mind, secured her confidence and won her heart. She loved him as a father, and he soon exercised over her an influence almost irresistible.
Every morning as soon as he awoke, every evening before he composed himself again for the night’s repose, Ferdinand sent for Glastonbury, and always saw him alone. At first he requested his mother to leave the room, but Lady Armine, who attributed these regular visits to a spiritual cause, scarcely needed the expression of this desire. His first questions to Glastonbury were ever the same. ‘Had he heard anything? Were there any letters? He thought there might be a letter, was he sure? Had he sent to Bath; to London, for his letters?’ When he was answered in the negative, he usually dwelt no more upon the subject. One morning he said to Glastonbury, ‘I know Katherine is in the house.’
‘Miss Grandison is here,’ replied Glastonbury.
‘Why don’t they mention her? Is all known?’
‘Nothing is known,’ said Glastonbury.
‘Why don’t they mention her, then? Are you sure all is not known?’
‘At my suggestion, her name has not been mentioned. I was unaware how you might receive the intelligence; but the true cause of my suggestion is still a secret.’
‘I must see her,’ said Ferdinand, ‘I must speak to her.’
‘You can see her when you please,’ replied Glastonbury; ‘but I would not speak upon the great subject at present.’
‘But she is existing all this time under a delusion. Every day makes my conduct to her more infamous.’
‘Miss Grandison is a wise and most admirable young lady,’ said Glastonbury. ‘I love her from the bottom of my heart; I would recommend no conduct that could injure her, assuredly none that can disgrace you.’
‘Dear Glastonbury, what shall I do?’
‘Be silent; the time will come when you may speak. At present, however anxious she may be to see you, there are plausible reasons for your not meeting. Be patient, my Ferdinand.’
‘Good Glastonbury, good, dear Glastonbury, I am too quick and fretful. Pardon me, dear friend. You know not what I feel. Thank God, you do not; but my heart is broken.’
When Glastonbury returned to the library, he found Sir Ratcliffe playing with his dogs, and Miss Grandison copying a drawing.
‘How is Ferdinand?’ enquired the father.
‘He mends daily,’ replied Glastonbury. ‘If only May-day were at hand instead of Christmas, he would soon be himself again; but I dread the winter.’
‘And yet the sun shines.’ said Miss Grandison.
Glastonbury went to the window and looked at the sky. ‘I think, my dear lady, we might almost venture upon our promised excursion to the Abbey today. Such a day as this may not quickly be repeated. We might take our sketch-book.’
‘It would be delightful,’ said Miss Grandison; ‘but before I go, I must pick some flowers for Ferdinand.’ So saying, she sprang from her seat, and ran out into the garden.
‘Kate is a sweet creature,’ said Sir Ratcliffe to Glastonbury. ‘Ah! my dear Glastonbury, you know not what happiness I experience in the thought that she will soon be my daughter.’
Glastonbury could not refrain from sighing. He took up the pencil and touched her drawing.
‘Do you know, dear Glastonbury,’ resumed Sir Ratcliffe, ‘I had little hope in our late visitation. I cannot say I had prepared myself for the worst, but I anticipated it. We have had so much unhappiness in our family, that I could not persuade myself that the cup was not going to be dashed from our lips.’
‘God is merciful,’ said Glastonbury.
‘You are his minister, dear Glastonbury, and a worthy one. I know not what we should have done without you in this awful trial; but, indeed, what could I have done throughout life without you?’
‘Let us hope that everything is for the best,’ said Glastonbury.
‘And his mother, his poor mother, what would have become of her? She never could have survived his loss. As for myself, I would have quitted England for ever, and gone into a monastery.’
‘Let us only remember that he lives,’ said Glastonbury.
‘And that we shall soon all be happy,’ said Sir Ratcliffe, in a more animated tone. ‘The future is, indeed, full of solace. But we must take care of him; he is too rapid in his movements. He has my father’s blood in him, that is clear. I never could well make out why he left Bath so suddenly, and rushed down in so strange a manner to this place.’
‘Youth is impetuous,’ said Glastonbury.
‘It was lucky you were here, Glastonbury.’
‘I thank God that I was,’ said Glastonbury, earnestly; then checking himself, he added, ‘that I have been of any use.’
‘You are always of use. What should we do without you? I should long ago have sunk. Ah! Glastonbury, God in his mercy sent you to us.’
‘See here,’ said Katherine, entering, her fair cheek glowing with animation, ‘only dahlias, but they will look pretty, and enliven his room. Oh! that I might write him a little word, and tell him I am here! Do not you think I might, Mr. Glastonbury?’
‘He will know that you are here today,’ said Glastonbury. ‘To-morrow ———’
‘Ah! you always postpone it,’ said Miss Grandison, in a tone half playful, half reproachful; ‘and yet it is selfish to murmur. It is for his good that I bear this bereavement, and that thought should console me. Heigho!’
Sir Ratcliffe stepped forward and kissed his niece. Glastonbury was busied on the drawing: he turned away his face.
Sir Ratcliffe took up his gun. ‘God bless you, dear Kate,’ he said; ‘a pleasant drive and a choice sketch. We shall meet at dinner.’
‘At dinner, dear uncle; and better sport than yesterday.’
‘Ha! ha!’ said Sir Ratcliffe. ‘But Armine is not like Grandison. If I were in the old preserves, you should have no cause to jeer at my sportsmanship.’
Miss Grandison’s good wishes were prophetic: Sir Ratcliffe found excellent sport, and returned home very late, and in capital spirits. It was the dinner-hour, and yet Katherine and Glastonbury had not returned. He was rather surprised. The shades of evening were fast descending, and the distant lawns of Armine were already invisible; the low moan of the rising wind might be just distinguished; and the coming night promised to be raw and cloudy, perhaps tempestuous. Sir Ratcliffe stood before the crackling fire in the dining-room, otherwise in darkness, but the flame threw a bright yet glancing light upon the Snyders, so that the figures seemed really to move in the shifting shades, the eye of the infuriate boar almost to emit sparks of rage, and there wanted but the shouts of the huntsmen and the panting of the dogs to complete the tumult of the chase.
Just as Sir Ratcliffe was anticipating some mischance to his absent friends, and was about to steal upon tip-toe to Lady Armine, who was with Ferdinand, to consult her, the practised ear of a man who lived much in the air caught the distant sound of wheels, and he went out to welcome them.
‘Why, you are late,’ said Sir Ratcliffe, as the phaeton approached the house. ‘All right, I hope?’
He stepped forward to assist Miss Grandison. The darkness of the evening prevented him from observing her swollen eyes and agitated countenance. She sprang out of the carriage in silence, and immediately ran up into her room. As for Glastonbury, he only observed it was very cold, and entered the house with Sir Ratcliffe.
‘This fire is hearty,’ said Glastonbury, warming himself before it: ‘you have had good sport, I hope? We are not to wait dinner for Miss Grandison, Sir Ratcliffe. She will not come down this evening; she is not very well.’
‘Not very well: ah! the cold, I fear. You have been imprudent in staying so late. I must run and tell Lady Armine.’
‘Oblige me, I pray, by not doing so,’ said Glastonbury; ‘Miss Grandison most particularly requested that she should not be disturbed.’
It was with some difficulty that Glastonbury could contrive that Miss Grandison’s wishes should be complied with; but at length he succeeded in getting Sir Ratcliffe to sit down to dinner, and affecting a cheerfulness which was far from his spirit, the hour of ten at length arrived, and Glastonbury, before retiring to his tower, paid his evening visit to Ferdinand.
IF EVER there were a man who deserved a serene and happy life it was Adrian Glastonbury. He had pursued a long career without injuring or offending a human being; his character and conduct were alike spotless; he was void of guile; he had never told a falsehood, never been entangled in the slightest deceit; he was easy in his circumstances; he had no relations to prey upon his purse or his feelings; and, though alone in the world, was blessed with such a sweet and benignant temper, gifted with so many resources, and adorned with so many accomplishments, that he appeared to be always employed, amused, and contented. And yet, by a strange contrariety of events, it appeared that this excellent person was now placed in a situation which is generally the consequence of impetuous passions not very scrupulous in obtaining their ends. That breast, which heretofore would have shrunk from being analysed only from the refined modesty of its nature, had now become the depository of terrible secrets: the day could scarcely pass over without finding him in a position which rendered equivocation on his part almost a necessity, while all the anxieties inseparable from pecuniary embarrassments were forced upon his attention, and his feelings were racked from sympathy with individuals who were bound to him by no other tie, but to whose welfare he felt himself engaged to sacrifice all his pursuits, and devote all his time and labour. And yet he did not murmur, although he had scarcely hope to animate him. In whatever light he viewed coming events, they appeared ominous only of evil. All that he aimed at now was to soothe and support, and it was his unshaken confidence in Providence that alone forbade him to despair.
When he repaired to the Place in the morning he found everything in confusion. Miss Grandison was very unwell; and Lady Armine, frightened by the recent danger from which they had escaped, very alarmed. She could no longer conceal from Ferdinand that his Katherine was here, and perhaps Lady Armine was somewhat surprised at the calmness with which her son received the intelligence. But Miss Grandison was not only very unwell but very obstinate. She would not leave her room, but insisted that no medical advice should be called in. Lady Armine protested, supplicated, adjured; Miss Grandison appealed to Mr. Glastonbury; and Glastonbury, who was somewhat of a physician, was called in, and was obliged to assure Lady Armine that Miss Grandison was only suffering from a cold and only required repose. A warm friendship subsisted between Lady Armine and her niece. She had always been Katherine’s favourite aunt, and during the past year there had been urgent reasons why Lady Armine should have cherished this predisposition in her favour. Lady Armine was a fascinating person, and all her powers had been employed to obtain an influence over the heiress. They had been quite successful. Miss Grandi-son looked forward almost with as much pleasure to being Lady Armine’s daughter as her son’s bride. The intended mother-in-law was in turn as warmhearted as her niece was engaging; and eventually Lady Armine loved Katherine for herself alone.
In a few days, however, Miss Grandison announced that she was quite recovered, and Lady Armine again devoted her unbroken attention to her son, who was now about to rise for the first time from his bed. But although Miss Grandison was no longer an invalid, it is quite certain that if the attention of the other members of the family had not been so entirely engrossed, a very great change in her behaviour could not have escaped their notice. Her flowers and drawings seemed to have lost their relish; her gaiety to have deserted her. She passed a great portion of the morning in her room; and although it was announced to her that Ferdinand was aware of her being an inmate of the Place, and that in a day or two they might meet, she scarcely evinced, at this prospect of resuming his society, so much gratification as might have been expected; and though she daily took care that his chamber should still be provided with flowers, it might have been remarked that the note she had been so anxious to send him was never written. But how much, under the commonest course of circumstances, happens in all domestic circles that is never observed or never remarked till the observation is too late!
At length the day arrived when Lady Armine invited her niece to visit her son. Miss Grandison expressed her readiness to accompany her aunt, but took an opportunity of requesting Glastonbury to join them; and all three proceeded to the chamber of the invalid.
The white curtain of the room was drawn; but though the light was softened, the apartment was by no means obscure. Ferdinand was sitting in an easy-chair, supported by pillows. A black handkerchief was just twined round his forehead, for his head had been shaved, except a few curls on the side and front, which looked stark and lustreless. He was so thin and pale, and his eyes and cheeks were so wan and hollow, that it was scarcely credible that in so short a space of time a man could have become such a wreck. When he saw Katherine he involuntarily dropped his eyes, but extended his hand to her with some effort of earnestness. She was almost as pale as he, but she took his hand. It was so light and cold, it felt so much like death, that the tears stole down her cheek.
‘You hardly know me, Katherine,’ said Ferdinand, feebly. ‘This is good of you to visit a sick man.’
Miss Grandison could not reply, and Lady Armine made an observation to break the awkward pause.
‘And how do you like Armine?’ said Ferdinand. ‘I wish I could be your guide. But Glastonbury is so kind!’
A hundred times Miss Grandison tried to reply, to speak, to make the commonest observation, but it was in vain. She grew paler every moment; her lips moved, but they sent forth no sound.
‘Kate is not well,’ said Lady Armine. ‘She has been very unwell. This visit,’ she added in a whisper to Ferdinand, ‘is a little too much for her.’
‘Mother,’ he at length said, ‘you must ask Katherine to come and sit here with you; if indeed she will not feel the imprisonment.’
Miss Grandison turned in her chair, and hid her face with her handkerchief.
‘My sweet child,’ said Lady Armine, rising and kissing her, ‘this is too much for you. You really must restrain yourself. Ferdinand will soon be himself again; he will indeed.’
Miss Grandison sobbed aloud. Glastonbury was much distressed, but Ferdinand avoided catching his eye; and yet, at last, Ferdinand said with an effort, and in a very kind voice, ‘Dear Kate, come and sit by me.’
Miss Grandison went into hysterics; Ferdinand sprang from his chair and seized her hand; Lady Armine tried to restrain her son; Glastonbury held the agitated Katherine.
‘For God’s sake, Ferdinand, be calm,’ exclaimed Lady Armine. ‘This is most unfortunate. Dear, dear Katherine, but she has such a heart! All the women have in our family, and none of the men, ’tis so odd. Mr. Glastonbury, water if you please, that glass of water; sal volatile; where is the sal volatile? My own, own Katherine, pray, pray restrain yourself! Ferdinand is here; remember, Ferdinand is here, and he will soon be well; soon quite well. Believe me, he is already quite another thing. There, drink that, darling, drink that. You are better now?’
‘I am so foolish,’ said Miss Grandison, in a mournful voice. ‘I never can pardon myself for this. Let me go.’
Glastonbury bore her out of the room; Lady Armine turned to her son. He was lying back in his chair, his hands covering his eyes. The mother stole gently to him, and wiped tenderly his brow, on which hung the light drops of perspiration, occasioned by his recent exertion.
‘We have done too much, my own dear Ferdinand. Yet who could have expected that dear girl would have been so affected? Glastonbury was indeed right in preventing you so long from meeting. And yet it is a blessing to see that she has so fond a heart. You are fortunate, my Ferdinand: you will indeed be happy with her.’
‘I shall never be happy,’ he murmured.
‘Never happy, my Ferdinand! Oh! you must not be so low-spirited. Think how much better you are; think, my Ferdinand, what a change there is for the better. You will soon be well, dearest, and then, my love, you know you cannot help being happy.’
‘Mother,’ said Ferdinand, ‘you are deceived; you are all deceived: I— I———’
‘No! Ferdinand, indeed we are not. I am confident, and I praise God for it, that you are getting better every day. But you have done too much, that is the truth. I will leave you now, love, and send the nurse, for my presence excites you. Try to sleep, love.’ And Lady Armine rang the bell, and quitted the room.
LADY ARMINE now proposed that the family should meet in Ferdinand’s room after dinner; but Glastonbury, whose opinion on most subjects generally prevailed, scarcely approved of this suggestion. It was therefore but once acted upon during the week that followed the scene described in our last chapter, and on that evening Miss Grandison had so severe a headache, that it was quite impossible for her to join the circle. At length, however, Ferdinand made his appearance below, and established himself in the library: it now, therefore, became absolutely necessary that Miss Grandison should steel her nerves to the altered state of her betrothed, which had at first apparently so much affected her sensibility, and, by the united influence of habit and Mr. Glastonbury, it is astonishing what progress she made. She even at last could so command her feelings, that she apparently greatly contributed to his amusement. She joined in the family concerts, once even read to him.
Every morning, too, she brought him a flower, and often offered him her arm. And yet Ferdinand could not resist observing a great difference in her behaviour towards him since he had last quitted her at Bath. Far from conducting herself, as he had nervously apprehended, as if her claim to be his companion were irresistible, her carriage, on the contrary, indicated the most retiring disposition; she annoyed him with no expressions of fondness, and listened to the kind words which he occasionally urged himself to bestow upon her with a sentiment of grave regard and placid silence, which almost filled him with astonishment.
One morning, the weather being clear and fine, Ferdinand insisted that his mother, who had as yet scarcely quitted his side, should drive out with Sir Ratcliffe; and, as he would take no refusal, Lady Armine agreed to comply. The carriage was ordered, was at the door; and as Lady Armine bade him adieu, Ferdinand rose from his seat and took the arm of Miss Grandison, who seemed on the point of retiring; for Glastonbury remained, and therefore Ferdinand was not without a companion.
‘I will see you go off,’ said Ferdinand.
‘Adieu!’ said Lady Armine. ‘Take care of him, dear Kate,’ and the phaeton was soon out of sight.
‘It is more like May than January,’ said Ferdinand to his cousin. ‘I fancy I should like to walk a little.’
‘Shall I send for Mr. Glastonbury?’ said Katherine.
‘Not if my arm be not too heavy for you,’ said Ferdinand. So they walked slowly on, perhaps some fifty yards, until they arrived at a garden-seat, very near the rose-tree whose flowers Henrietta Temple so much admired. It had no flowers now, but seemed as desolate as their unhappy loves.
‘A moment’s rest,’ said Ferdinand, and sighed. ‘Dear Kate, I wish to speak to you.’
Miss Grandison turned pale.
‘I have something on my mind, Katherine, of which I would endeavour to relieve myself.’
Miss Grandison did not reply, but she trembled. ‘It concerns you, Katherine.’
Still she was silent, and expressed no astonishment at this strange address.
‘If I were anything now but an object of pity, a miserable and broken-hearted man,’ continued Ferdinand, ‘I might shrink from this communication; I might delegate to another this office, humiliating as it then might be to me, painful as it must, under any circumstances, be to you. But,’ and here his voice faltered, ‘but I am far beyond the power of any mortification now. The world and the world’s ways touch me no more. There is a duty to fulfil; I will fulfil it. I have offended against you, my sweet and gentle cousin; grievously, bitterly, infamously offended.’
‘No, no, no!’ murmured Miss Grandison.
‘Katherine, I am unworthy of you; I have deceived you. It is neither for your honour nor your happiness that these ties which our friends anticipate should occur between us. But, Katherine, you are avenged.’
‘Oh! I want no vengeance!’ muttered Miss Grandison, her face pale as marble, her eyes convulsively closed. ‘Cease, cease, Ferdinand; this conversation is madness; you will be ill again.’
‘No, Katherine, I am calm. Fear not for me. There is much to tell; it must be told, if only that you should not believe that I was a systematic villain, or that my feelings were engaged to another when I breathed to you those vows.’
‘Oh! anything but that; speak of anything but that!’
Ferdinand took her hand.
‘Katherine, listen to me. I honour you, my gentle cousin, I admire, I esteem you; I could die content if I could but see you happy. With your charms and virtues I thought that we might be happy. My intentions were as sincere as my belief in our future felicity. Oh! no, dear Katherine, I could not trifle with so pure and gentle a bosom.’
‘Have I accused you, Ferdinand?’
‘But you will when you know all.’
‘I do know all,’ said Miss Grandison, in a hollow voice.
Her hand fell from the weak and trembling grasp of her cousin.
‘You do know all,’ he at length exclaimed. ‘And can you, knowing all, live under the same roof with me? Can you see me? Can you listen to me? Is not my voice torture to you? Do you not hate and despise me?’
‘It is not my nature to hate anything; least of all could I hate you.’
‘And could you, knowing all, still minister to my wants and watch my sad necessities? This gentle arm of yours; could you, knowing all, let me lean upon it this morning? O Katherine! a happy lot be yours, for you deserve one!’
‘Ferdinand, I have acted as duty, religion, and it may be, some other considerations prompted me. My feelings have not been so much considered that they need now be analysed.’
‘Reproach me, Katherine, I deserve your reproaches.’
‘Mine may not be the only reproaches that you have deserved, Ferdinand; but permit me to remark, from me you have received none. I pity you, I sincerely pity you.’
‘Glastonbury has told you?’ said Ferdinand.
‘That communication is among the other good offices we owe him,’ replied Miss Grandison.
‘He told you?’ said Ferdinand enquiringly.
‘All that it was necessary I should know for your honour, or, as some might think, for my own happiness; no more, I would listen to no more. I had no idle curiosity to gratify. It is enough that your heart is another’s; I seek not, I wish not, to know that person’s name.’
‘I cannot mention it,’ said Ferdinand; ‘but there is no secret from you. Glastonbury may — should tell all.’
‘Amid the wretched she is not the least miserable,’ said Miss Grandison.
‘O Katherine!’ said Ferdinand, after a moment’s pause, ‘tell me that you do not hate me; tell me that you pardon me; tell me that you think me more mad than wicked!’
‘Ferdinand,’ said Miss Grandison, ‘I think we are both unfortunate.’
‘I am without hope,’ said Ferdinand; ‘but you, Katherine, your life must still be bright and fair.’
‘I can never be happy, Ferdinand, if you are not. I am alone in the world. Your family are my only relations; I cling to them. Your mother is my mother; I love her with the passion of a child. I looked upon our union only as the seal of that domestic feeling that had long bound us all. My happiness now entirely depends upon your family; theirs I feel is staked upon you. It is the conviction of the total desolation that must occur if our estrangement be suddenly made known to them, and you, who are so impetuous, decide upon any rash course, in consequence, that has induced me to sustain the painful part that I now uphold. This is the reason that I would not reproach you, Ferdinand, that I would not quarrel with you, that I would not desert them in this hour of their affliction.’
‘Katherine, beloved Katherine!’ exclaimed the distracted Ferdinand, ‘why did we ever part?’
‘No! Ferdinand, let us not deceive ourselves. For me, that separation, however fruitful at the present moment in mortification and unhappiness, must not be considered altogether an event of unmingled misfortune. In my opinion, Ferdinand, it is better to be despised for a moment than to be neglected for a life.’
‘Despised! Katherine, for God’s sake, spare me; for God’s sake, do not use such language! Despised! Katherine, at this moment I declare most solemnly all that I feel is, how thoroughly, how infamously unworthy I am of you! Dearest Katherine, we cannot recall the past, we cannot amend it; but let me assure you that at this very hour there is no being on earth I more esteem, more reverence than yourself.’
‘It is well, Ferdinand. I would not willingly believe that your feelings towards me were otherwise than kind and generous. But let us understand each other. I shall remain at present under this roof. Do not misapprehend my views. I seek not to recall your affections. The past has proved to me that we are completely unfitted for each other. I have not those dazzling qualities that could enchain a fiery brain like yours. I know myself; I know you; and there is nothing that would fill me with more terror now than our anticipated union. And now, after this frank conversation, let our future intercourse be cordial and unembarrassed; let us remember we are kinsfolk. The feelings between us should by nature be amiable: no incident has occurred to disturb them, for I have not injured or offended you; and as for your conduct towards me, from the bottom of my heart I pardon and forget it.’
‘Katherine,’ said Ferdinand, with streaming eyes, ‘kindest, most generous of women! My heart is too moved, my spirit too broken, to express what I feel. We are kinsfolk; let us be more. You say my mother is your mother. Let me assert the privilege of that admission. Let me be a brother to you; you shall find me, if I live, a faithful one.’
FERDINAND felt much calmer in his mind after this conversation with his cousin. Her affectionate attention to him now, instead of filling him as it did before with remorse, was really a source of consolation, if that be not too strong a phrase to describe the state of one so thoroughly wretched as Captain Armine; for his terrible illness and impending death had not in the slightest degree allayed or affected his profound passion for Henrietta Temple. Her image unceasingly engaged his thoughts; he still clung to the wild idea that she might yet be his. But his health improved so slowly, that there was faint hope of his speedily taking any steps to induce such a result. All his enquiries after her, and Glastonbury, at his suggestion, had not been idle, were quite fruitless. He made no doubt that she had quitted England. What might not happen, far away from him, and believing herself betrayed and deserted? Often when he brooded over these terrible contingencies, he regretted his recovery.
Yet his family, thanks to the considerate conduct of his admirable cousin, were still contented and happy. His slow convalescence was now their only source of anxiety. They regretted the unfavourable season of the year; they looked forward with hope to the genial influence of the coming spring. That was to cure all their cares; and yet they might well suspect, when they watched his ever pensive, and often suffering countenance, that there were deeper causes than physical debility and bodily pain to account for that moody and woe-begone expression. Alas! how changed from that Ferdinand Armine, so full of hope, and courage, and youth, and beauty, that had burst on their enraptured vision on his return from Malta. Where was that gaiety now that made all eyes sparkle, that vivacious spirit that kindled energy in every bosom? How miserable to see him crawling about with a wretched stick, with his thin, pale face, and tottering limbs, and scarcely any other pursuit than to creep about the pleasaunce, where, when the day was fair, his servant would place a camp-stool opposite the cedar tree where he had first beheld Henrietta Temple; and there he would sit, until the unkind winter breeze would make him shiver, gazing on vacancy; yet peopled to his mind’s eye with beautiful and fearful apparitions.
And it is love, it is the most delightful of human passions, that can bring about such misery! Why will its true course never run smooth? Is there a spell over our heart, that its finest emotions should lead only to despair? When Ferdinand Armine, in his reveries, dwelt upon the past; when he recalled the hour that he had first seen her, her first glance, the first sound of her voice, his visit to Ducie, all the passionate scenes to which it led, those sweet wanderings through its enchanted bowers, those bright mornings, so full of expectation that was never baulked, those soft eyes, so redolent of tenderness that could never cease; when from the bright, and glowing, and gentle scenes his memory conjured up, and all the transport and the thrill that surrounded them like an atmosphere of love, he turned to his shattered and broken-hearted self, the rigid heaven above, and what seemed to his perhaps unwise and ungrateful spirit, the mechanical sympathy and common-place affection of his companions, it was as if he had wakened from some too vivid and too glorious dream, or as if he had fallen from some brighter and more favoured planet upon our cold, dull earth.
And yet it would seem the roof of Armine Place protected a family that might yield to few in the beauty and engaging qualities of its inmates, their happy accomplishments, their kind and cordial hearts. And all were devoted to him. It was on him alone the noble spirit of his father dwelt still with pride and joy: it was to soothe and gratify him that his charming mother exerted all her graceful care and all her engaging gifts. It was for him, and his sake, the generous heart of his cousin had submitted to mortification without a murmur, or indulged her unhappiness only in solitude; and it was for him that Glastonbury exercised a devotion that might alone induce a man to think with complacency both of his species and himself. But the heart, the heart, the jealous and despotic heart! It rejects all substitutes, it spurns all compromise, and it will have its purpose or it will break.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53