'Darbois,' said the old nobleman, 'have not I told you that Clos de Vougeot is always to be kept for Sir Ratcliffe Armine? It is his favourite wine. Clos de Vougeot directly to Sir Ratcliffe Armine. I do not think, my dear madam [turning to a fair neighbour], that I have yet had the pleasure of introducing you to my son-in-law, my favourite son-in-law, Sir Ratcliffe Armine. He married my daughter Constance, my favourite daughter, Constance. Only here for a few days, a very, very few days indeed. Quite a flying visit. I wish I could see the whole family oftener and longer. Passing through to Falmouth with his son, this young gentleman on my right, my grandson, my favourite grandson, Ferdinand. Just got his commission. Ordered for Malta immediately. He is in the Fusileers, the Royal Fusileers. Very difficult, my dear madam, in these days to obtain a commission, especially a commission in the Royal Fusileers. Very great interest required, very great interest, indeed. But the Armines are a most ancient family, very highly connected, very highly connected; and, between you and me, the Duke of——-would do anything for them.
Come, come, Captain Armine, take a glass of wine with your old grandfather.'
'How attached the old gentleman appears to be to his grandson!' whispered the lady to her neighbour.
'Delightful! yes!' was the reply, 'I believe he is the favourite grandson.'
In short, the old gentleman at last got so excited by the universal admiration lavished on his favourite grandson, that he finally insisted on seeing the young hero in his regimentals; and when Ferdinand took his leave, after a great many whimpering blessings, his domestic feelings were worked up to such a pitch of enthusiasm, that he absolutely presented his grandson with a hundred-pound note.
'Thank you, my dear grandpapa,' said the astonished Ferdinand, who really did not expect more than fifty, perhaps even a moiety of that more moderate sum; 'thank you, my dear grandpapa; I am very much obliged to you, indeed.'
'I wish I could do more for you; I do, indeed,' said Lord Grandison; 'but nobody ever thinks of paying his rent now. You are my grandson, my favourite grandson, my dear favourite daughter's only child. And you are an officer in his Majesty's service, an officer in the Royal Fusiliers, only think of that! It is the most unexpected thing that ever happened to me. To see you so well and so unexpectedly provided for, my dear child, has taken a very great load off my mind; it has indeed. You have no idea of a parent's anxiety in these matters, especially of a grandfather. You will some day, I warrant you,' continued the noble grandfather, with an expression between a giggle and a leer; 'but do not be wild, my dear Ferdinand, do not be too wild at least. Young blood must have its way; but be cautious; now, do; be cautious, my dear child. Do not get into any scrapes; at least, do not get into any serious scrapes; and whatever happens to you,' and here his lordship assumed even a solemn tone, 'remember you have friends; remember, my dear boy, you have a grandfather, and that you, my dear Ferdinand, are his favourite grandson.'
This passing visit to Grandison rather rallied the spirits of our travellers. When they arrived at Falmouth, they found, however, that the packet, which waited for government despatches, was not yet to sail. Sir Ratcliffe scarcely knew whether he ought to grieve or to rejoice at the reprieve; but he determined to be gay. So Ferdinand and himself passed their mornings in visiting the mines, Pendennis Castle, and the other lions of the neighbourhood; and returned in the evening to their cheerful hotel, with good appetites for their agreeable banquet, the mutton of Dartmoor and the cream of Devon.
At length, however, the hour of separation approached; a message awaited them at the inn, on their return from one of their rambles, that Ferdinand must be on board at an early hour on the morrow. That evening the conversation between Sir Ratcliffe and his son was of a graver nature than they usually indulged in. He spoke to him in confidence of his affairs. Dark hints, indeed, had before reached Ferdinand; nor, although his parents had ever spared his feelings, could his intelligent mind have altogether refrained from guessing much that had never been formally communicated. Yet the truth was worse even than he had anticipated. Ferdinand, however, was young and sanguine. He encouraged his father with his hopes, and supported him by his sympathy. He expressed to Sir Ratcliffe his confidence that the generosity of his grandfather would prevent him at present from becoming a burden to his own parent, and he inwardly resolved that no possible circumstance should ever induce him to abuse the benevolence of Sir Ratcliffe.
The moment of separation arrived. Sir Ratcliffe pressed to his bosom his only, his loving, and his beloved child. He poured over Ferdinand the deepest, the most fervid blessing that a father ever granted to a son. But, with all this pious consolation, it was a moment of agony.
Partly Retrospective, yet Very Necessary to be Perused.
EARLY five years had elapsed between the event which formed the subject of our last chapter and the recall to England of the regiment in which Captain Armine now commanded a company. This period of time had passed away not unfruitful of events in the experience of that family, in whose fate and feelings I have attempted to interest the reader. In this interval Ferdinand Armine had paid one short visit to his native land; a visit which had certainly been accelerated, if not absolutely occasioned, by the untimely death of his cousin Augustus, the presumptive heir of Grandison. This unforeseen event produced a great revolution in the prospects of the family of Armine; for although the title and an entailed estate devolved to a distant branch, the absolute property of the old lord was of great amount; and, as he had no male heir now living, conjectures as to its probable disposition were now rife among all those who could possibly become interested in it. Whatever arrangement the old lord might decide upon, it seemed nearly certain that the Armine family must be greatly benefited. Some persons even went so far as to express their conviction that everything would be left to Mr. Armine, who everybody now discovered to have always been a particular favourite with his grandfather. At all events, Sir Ratcliffe, who ever maintained upon the subject a becoming silence, thought it as well that his son should remind his grandfather personally of his existence; and it was at his father's suggestion that Ferdinand had obtained a short leave of absence, at the first opportunity, to pay a hurried visit to Grandison and his grandfather.
The old lord yielded him a reception which might have flattered the most daring hopes. He embraced Ferdinand, and pressed him to his heart a thousand times; he gave him his blessing in the most formal manner every morning and evening; and assured everybody that he now was not only his favourite but his only grandson. He did not even hesitate to affect a growing dislike for his own seat, because it was not in his power to leave it to Ferdinand; and he endeavoured to console that fortunate youth for his indispensable deprivation by mysterious intimations that he would, perhaps, find quite enough to do with his money in completing Armine Castle, and maintaining its becoming splendour. The sanguine Ferdinand returned to Malta with the conviction that he was his grandfather's heir; and even Sir Ratcliffe was almost disposed to believe that his son's expectations were not without some show of probability, when he found that Lord Grandison had absolutely furnished him with the funds for the purchase of his company.
Ferdinand was fond of his profession. He had entered it under favourable circumstances. He had joined a crack regiment in a crack garrison. Malta is certainly a delightful station. Its city, Valetta, equals in its noble architecture, if it even do not excel, any capital in Europe; and although it must be confessed that the surrounding region is little better than a rock, the vicinity, nevertheless, of Barbary, of Italy, and of Sicily, presents exhaustless resources to the lovers of the highest order of natural beauty. If that fair Valetta, with its streets of palaces, its picturesque forts and magnificent church, only crowned some green and azure island of the Ionian Sea, Corfu for instance, I really think that the ideal of landscape would be realised.
To Ferdinand, who was inexperienced in the world, the dissipation of Malta, too, was delightful. It must be confessed that, under all circumstances, the first burst of emancipation from domestic routine hath in it something fascinating. However you may be indulged at home, it is impossible to break the chain of childish associations; it is impossible to escape from the feeling of dependence and the habit of submission. Charming hour when you first order your own servants, and ride your own horses, instead of your father's! It is delightful even to kick about your own furniture; and there is something manly and magnanimous in paying our own taxes. Young, lively, kind, accomplished, good-looking, and well-bred, Ferdinand Armine had in him all the elements of popularity; and the novelty of popularity quite intoxicated a youth who had passed his life in a rural seclusion, where he had been appreciated, but not huzzaed. Ferdinand was not only popular, but proud of being popular. He was popular with the Governor, he was popular with his Colonel, he was popular with his mess, he was popular throughout the garrison. Never was a person so popular as Ferdinand Armine. He was the best rider among them, and the deadliest shot; and he soon became an oracle at the billiard-table, and a hero in the racquet-court. His refined education, however, fortunately preserved him from the fate of many other lively youths: he did not degenerate into a mere hero of sports and brawls, the genius of male revels, the arbiter of roistering suppers, and the Comus of a club. His boyish feelings had their play; he soon exuded the wanton heat of which a public school would have served as a safety-valve. He returned to his books, his music, and his pencil. He became more quiet, but he was not less liked. If he lost some companions, he gained many friends; and, on the whole, the most boisterous wassailers were proud of the accomplishments of their comrade; and often an invitation to a mess dinner was accompanied by a hint that Armine dined there, and that there was a chance of hearing him sing. Ferdinand now became as popular with the Governor's lady as with the Governor himself, was idolised by his Colonel's wife, while not a party throughout the island was considered perfect without the presence of Mr. Armine.
Excited by his situation, Ferdinand was soon tempted to incur expenses which his income did not justify. The facility of credit afforded him not a moment to pause; everything he wanted was furnished him; and until the regiment quitted the garrison he was well aware that a settlement of accounts was never even desired. Amid this imprudence he was firm, however, in his resolution never to trespass on the resources of his father. It was with difficulty that he even brought himself to draw for the allowance which Sir Ratcliffe insisted on making him; and he would gladly have saved his father from making even this advance, by vague intimations of the bounty of Lord Grandison, had he not feared this conduct might have led to suspicious and disagreeable enquiries. It cannot be denied that his debts occasionally caused him anxiety, but they were not considerable; he quieted his conscience by the belief that, if he were pressed, his grandfather could scarcely refuse to discharge a few hundred pounds for his favourite grandson; and, at all events, he felt that the ultimate resource of selling his commission was still reserved for him. If these vague prospects did not drive away compunction, the qualms of conscience were generally allayed in the evening assembly, in which his vanity was gratified. At length he paid his first visit to England. That was a happy meeting. His kind father, his dear, dear mother, and the faithful Glastonbury, experienced some of the most transporting moments of their existence, when they beheld, with admiring gaze, the hero who returned to them. Their eyes were never satiated with beholding him; they hung upon his accents. Then came the triumphant visit to Grandison; and then Ferdinand returned to Malta, in the full conviction that he was the heir to fifteen thousand a year.
Among many other, there is one characteristic of capitals in which Valetta is not deficient: the facility with which young heirs apparent, presumptive, or expectant, can obtain any accommodation they desire. The terms; never mind the terms, who ever thinks of them? As for Ferdinand Armine, who, as the only son of an old baronet, and the supposed future inheritor of Armine Park, had always been looked upon by tradesmen with a gracious eye, he found that his popularity in this respect was not at all diminished by his visit to England, and its supposed consequences; slight expressions, uttered on his return in the confidence of convivial companionship, were repeated, misrepresented, exaggerated, and circulated in all quarters. We like those whom we love to be fortunate. Everybody rejoices in the good luck of a popular character; and soon it was generally understood that Ferdinand Armine had become next in the entail to thirty thousand a year and a peerage. Moreover, he was not long to wait for his inheritance. The usurers pricked up their ears, and such numerous proffers of accommodation and assistance were made to the fortunate Mr. Armine, that he really found it quite impossible to refuse them, or to reject the loans that were almost forced on his acceptance.
Ferdinand Armine had passed the Rubicon. He was in debt. If youth but knew the fatal misery that they are entailing on themselves the moment they accept a pecuniary credit to which they are not entitled, how they would start in their career! how pale they would turn! how they would tremble, and clasp their hands in agony at the precipice on which they are disporting! Debt is the prolific mother of folly and of crime; it taints the course of life in all its dreams. Hence so many unhappy marriages, so many prostituted pens, and venal politicians! It hath a small beginning, but a giant's growth and strength. When we make the monster we make our master, who haunts us at all hours, and shakes his whip of scorpions for ever in our sight. The slave hath no overseer so severe. Faustus, when he signed the bond with blood, did not secure a doom more terrific. But when we are young we must enjoy ourselves. True; and there are few things more gloomy than the recollection of a youth that has not been enjoyed. What prosperity of manhood, what splendour of old age, can compensate for it? Wealth is power; and in youth, of all seasons of life, we require power, because we can enjoy everything that we can command. What, then, is to be done? I leave the question to the schoolmen, because I am convinced that to moralise with the inexperienced availeth nothing.
The conduct of men depends upon their temperament, not upon a bunch of musty maxims. No one had been educated with more care than Ferdinand Armine; in no heart had stricter precepts of moral conduct ever been instilled. But he was lively and impetuous, with a fiery imagination, violent passions, and a daring soul. Sanguine he was as the day; he could not believe in the night of sorrow, and the impenetrable gloom that attends a career that has failed. The world was all before him; and he dashed at it like a young charger in his first strife, confident that he must rush to victory, and never dreaming of death.
Thus would I attempt to account for the extreme imprudence of his conduct on his return from England. He was confident in his future fortunes; he was excited by the applause of the men, and the admiration of the women; he determined to gratify, even to satiety, his restless vanity; he broke into profuse expenditure; he purchased a yacht; he engaged a villa; his racing-horses and his servants exceeded all other establishments, except the Governor's, in breeding, in splendour, and in number. Occasionally wearied with the monotony of Malta, he obtained a short leave of absence, and passed a few weeks at Naples, Palermo, and Rome, where he glittered in brilliant circles, and whence he returned laden with choice specimens of art and luxury, and followed by the report of strange and flattering adventures. Finally, he was the prime patron of the Maltese opera, and brought over a celebrated Prima Donna from San Carlo in his own vessel.
In the midst of his career, Ferdinand received intelligence of the death of Lord Grandison. Fortunately, when he received it he was alone; there was no one, therefore, to witness his blank dismay when he discovered that, after all, he was not his grandfather's heir! After a vast number of trifling legacies to his daughters, and their husbands, and their children, and all his favourite friends, Lord Grandison left the whole of his property to his grand-daughter Katherine, the only remaining child of his son, who had died early in life, and the sister of the lately deceased Augustus.
What was to be done now? His mother's sanguine mind, for Lady Armine broke to him the fatal intelligence, already seemed to anticipate the only remedy for this 'unjust will.' It was a remedy delicately intimated, but the intention fell upon a fine and ready ear. Yes! he must marry; he must marry his cousin; he must marry Katherine Grandison. Ferdinand looked around him at his magnificent rooms; the damask hangings of Tunis, the tall mirrors from Marseilles, the inlaid tables, the marble statues, and the alabaster vases that he had purchased at Florence and at Rome, and the delicate mats that he had himself imported from Algiers. He looked around and he shrugged his shoulders: 'All this must be paid for,' thought he; 'and, alas! how much more!' And then came across his mind a recollection of his father and his cares, and innocent Armine, and dear Glastonbury, and his sacrifice. Ferdinand shook his head and sighed.
'How have I repaid them,' thought he. 'Thank God, they know nothing. Thank God, they have only to bear their own disappointments and their own privations; but it is in vain to moralise. The future, not the past, must be my motto. To retreat is impossible; I may yet advance and conquer. Katherine Grandison: only think of my little cousin Kate for a wife! They say that it is not the easiest task in the world to fan a lively flame in the bosom of a cousin. The love of cousins is proverbially not of a very romantic character. 'Tis well I have not seen her much in my life, and very little of late. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. Will she dare to despise me?' He glanced at the mirror. The inspection was not unsatisfactory. Plunged in profound meditation, he paced the room.
In Which Captain Armine Achieves with Rapidity a Result Which Always Requires Great Deliberation.
It so happened that the regiment in which Captain Armine had the honour of commanding a company was at this time under orders of immediate recall to England; and within a month of his receipt of the fatal intelligence of his being, as he styled it, disinherited, he was on his way to his native land, This speedy departure was fortunate, because it permitted him to retire before the death of Lord Grandison became generally known, and consequently commented upon and enquired into. Previous to quitting the garrison, Ferdinand had settled his affairs for the time without the slightest difficulty, as he was still able to raise any money that he required.
On arriving at Falmouth, Ferdinand learnt that his father and mother were at Bath, on a visit to his maiden aunt, Miss Grandison, with whom his cousin now resided. As the regiment was quartered at Exeter, he was enabled in a very few days to obtain leave of absence and join them. In the first rapture of meeting all disappointment was forgotten, and in the course of a day or two, when this sentiment had somewhat subsided, Ferdinand perceived that the shock which his parents must have necessarily experienced was already considerably softened by the prospect in which they secretly indulged, and which various circumstances combined in inducing them to believe was by no means a visionary one.
His cousin Katherine was about his own age; mild, elegant, and pretty. Being fair, she looked extremely well in her deep mourning. She was not remarkable for the liveliness of her mind, yet not devoid of observation, although easily influenced by those whom she loved, and with whom she lived. Her maiden aunt evidently exercised a powerful control over her conduct and opinions; and Lady Armine was a favourite sister of this maiden aunt. Without, therefore, apparently directing her will, there was no lack of effort from this quarter to predispose Katherine in favour of her cousin. She heard so much of her cousin Ferdinand, of his beauty, and his goodness, and his accomplishments, that she had looked forward to his arrival with feelings of no ordinary interest. And, indeed, if the opinions and sentiments of those with whom she lived could influence, there was no need of any artifice to predispose her in favour of her cousin. Sir Ratcliffe and Lady Armine were wrapped up in their son. They seemed scarcely to have another idea, feeling, or thought in the world, but his existence and his felicity; and although their good sense had ever preserved them from the silly habit of uttering his panegyric in his presence, they amply compensated for this painful restraint when he was away. Then he was ever, the handsomest, the cleverest, the most accomplished, and the most kind-hearted and virtuous of his sex. Fortunate the parents blessed with such a son! thrice fortunate the wife blessed with such a husband!
It was therefore with no ordinary emotion that Katherine Grandison heard that this perfect cousin Ferdinand had at length arrived. She had seen little of him even in his boyish days, and even then he was rather a hero in their Lilliputian circle.
Ferdinand Armine was always looked up to at Grandison, and always spoken of by her grandfather as a very fine fellow indeed; a wonderfully fine fellow, his favourite grandson, Ferdinand Armine: and now he had arrived. His knock was heard at the door, his step was on the stairs, the door opened, and certainly his first appearance did not disappoint his cousin Kate. So handsome, so easy, so gentle, and so cordial; they were all the best friends in a moment. Then he embraced his father with such fervour, and kissed his mother with such fondness: it was evident that he had an excellent heart. His arrival indeed, was a revolution. Their mourning days seemed at once to disappear; and although they of course entered society very little, and never frequented any public amusement, it seemed to Katherine that all of a sudden she lived in a round of delightful gaiety. Ferdinand was so amusing and so accomplished! He sang with her, he played with her; he was always projecting long summer rides and long summer walks. Then his conversation was so different from everything to which she had ever listened. He had seen so many things and so many persons; everything that was strange, and everybody that was famous. His opinions were so original, his illustrations so apt and lively, his anecdotes so inexhaustible and sparkling! Poor inexperienced, innocent Katherine! Her cousin in four-and-twenty hours found it quite impossible to fall in love with her; and so he determined to make her fall in love with him. He quite succeeded. She adored him. She did not believe that there was anyone in the world so handsome, so good, and so clever. No one, indeed, who knew Ferdinand Armine could deny that he was a rare being; but, had there been any acute and unprejudiced observers who had known him in his younger and happier hours, they would perhaps have remarked some difference in his character and conduct, and not a favourable one. He was indeed more brilliant, but not quite so interesting as in old days; far more dazzling, but not quite so apt to charm. No one could deny his lively talents and his perfect breeding, but there was a restlessness about him, an excited and exaggerated style, which might have made some suspect that his demeanour was an effort, and that under a superficial glitter, by which so many are deceived, there was no little deficiency of the genuine and sincere. Katherine Grandison, however, was not one of those profound observers. She was easily captivated. Ferdinand, who really did not feel sufficient emotion to venture upon a scene, made his proposals to her when they were riding in a green lane: the sun just setting, and the evening star glittering through a vista. The lady blushed, and wept, and sobbed, and hid her fair and streaming face; but the result was as satisfactory as our hero could desire. The young equestrians kept their friends in the crescent at least two hours for dinner, and then had no appetite for the repast when they had arrived.
Nevertheless the maiden aunt, although a very particular personage, made this day no complaint, and was evidently far from being dissatisfied with anybody or anything. As for Ferdinand, he called for a tumbler of champagne, and secretly drank his own health, as the luckiest fellow of his acquaintance, with a pretty, amiable, and high-bred wife, with all his debts paid, and the house of Armine restored.
Which Ferdinand Returns to Armine.
IT WAS settled that a year must elapse from the death of Lord Grandison before the young couple could be united: a reprieve which did not occasion Ferdinand acute grief. In the meantime the Grandisons were to pass at least the autumn at Armine, and thither the united families proposed soon to direct their progress. Ferdinand, who had been nearly two months at Bath, and was a little wearied of courtship, contrived to quit that city before his friends, on the plea of visiting London, to arrange about selling his commission; for it was agreed that he should quit the army.
On his arrival in London, having spoken to his agent, and finding town quite empty, he set off immediately for Armine, in order that he might have the pleasure of being there a few days without the society of his intended; celebrate the impending first of September; and, especially, embrace his dear Glastonbury. For it must not be supposed that Ferdinand had forgotten for a moment this invaluable friend; on the contrary, he had written to him several times since his arrival: always assuring him that nothing but important business could prevent him from instantly paying him his respects.
It was with feelings of no common emotion, even of agitation, that Ferdinand beheld the woods of his ancient home rise in the distance, and soon the towers and turrets of Armine Castle. Those venerable bowers, that proud and lordly house, were not then to pass away from their old and famous line? He had redeemed the heritage of his great ancestry; he looked with unmingled complacency on the magnificent landscape, once to him a source of as much anxiety as affection. What a change in the destiny of the Armines! Their glory restored; his own devoted and domestic hearth, once the prey of so much care and gloom, crowned with ease and happiness and joy; on all sides a career of splendour and felicity. And he had done all this! What a prophet was his mother! She had ever indulged the fond conviction that her beloved, son would be their restorer. How wise and pious was the undeviating confidence of kind old Glastonbury in their fate! With what pure, what heart-felt delight, would that faithful friend listen to his extraordinary communication!
His carriage dashed through the park gates as if the driver were sensible of his master's pride and exultation. Glastonbury was ready to welcome him, standing in the flower-garden, which he had made so rich and beautiful, and which had been the charm and consolation of many of their humbler hours.
'My dear, dear father!' exclaimed Ferdinand, embracing him, for thus he ever styled his old tutor.
But Glastonbury could not speak; the tears quivered in his eyes and trickled down his faded cheek. Ferdinand led him into the house.
'How well you look, dear father!' continued Ferdinand; 'you really look younger and heartier than ever. You received all my letters, I am sure; and yours, how kind of you to remember and to write to me! I never forgot you, my dear, dear friend. I never could forget you. Do you know I am the happiest fellow in the world? I have the greatest news in the world to tell my Glastonbury—and we owe everything to you, everything. What would Sir Ratcliffe have been without you? what should I have been? Fancy the best news you can, dear friend, and it is not so good as I have got to tell. You will rejoice, you will be delighted! We shall furnish a castle! by Jove we shall furnish a castle! We shall indeed, and you shall build it! No more gloom; no more care. The Armines shall hold their heads up again, by Jove they shall! Dearest of men, I dare say you think me mad. I am mad with joy. How that Virginian creeper has grown! I have brought you so many plants, my father! a complete Sicilian Hortus Siccus. Ah, John, good John, how is your wife? Take care of my pistol-case. Ask Louis; he knows all about everything. Well, dear Glastonbury, and how have you been? How is the old tower? How are the old books, and the old staff, and the old arms, and the old everything? Dear, dear Glastonbury!'
While the carriage was unpacking, and the dinner-table prepared, the friends walked in the garden, and from thence strolled towards the tower, where they remained some time pacing up and down the beechen avenue. It was evident, on their return, that Ferdinand had communicated his great intelligence. The countenance of Glastonbury was radiant with delight.
Indeed, although he had dined, he accepted with readiness Ferdinand's invitation to repeat the ceremony; nay, he quaffed more than one glass of wine; and, I believe, even drank the health of every member of the united families of Armine and Grandison. It was late before the companions parted, and retired for the night; and I think, before they bade each other good night, they must have talked over every circumstance that had occurred in their experience since the birth of Ferdinand.
In Which Some Light Is Thrown on the Title of This Work.
HOW delicious after a long absence to wake on a sunny morning and find ourselves at home! Ferdinand could scarcely credit that he was really again at Armine. He started up in his bed, and rubbed his eyes and stared at the unaccustomed, yet familiar sights, and for a moment Malta and the Royal Fusiliers, Bath and his betrothed, were all a dream; and then he remembered the visit of his dear mother to this very room on the eve of his first departure. He had returned; in safety had he returned, and in happiness, to accomplish all her hopes and to reward her for all her solicitude. Never felt anyone more content than Ferdinand Armine, more content and more grateful.
He rose and opened the casement; a rich and exhilarating perfume filled the chamber; he looked with a feeling of delight and pride over the broad and beautiful park; the tall trees rising and flinging their taller shadows over the bright and dewy turf, and the last mists clearing away from the distant woods and blending with the spotless sky. Everything was sweet and still, save, indeed, the carol of the birds, or the tinkle of some restless bellwether. It was a rich autumnal morn. And yet with all the excitement of his new views in life, and the blissful consciousness of the happiness of those he loved, he could not but feel that a great change had come over his spirit since the days he was wont to ramble in this old haunt of his boyhood. His innocence was gone. Life was no longer that deep unbroken trance of duty and of love from which he had been roused to so much care; and if not remorse, at least to so much compunction. He had no secrets then. Existence was not then a subterfuge, but a calm and candid state of serene enjoyment. Feelings then were not compromised for interests; and then it was the excellent that was studied, not the expedient. 'Yet such I suppose is life,' murmured Ferdinand; 'we moralise when it is too late; nor is there anything more silly than to regret. One event makes another: what we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expected generally happens; and time can only prove which is most for our advantage. And surely I am the last person who should look grave. Our ancient house rises from its ruins; the beings I love most in the world are not only happy, but indebted to me for their happiness; and I, I myself, with every gift of fortune suddenly thrown at my feet, what more can I desire? Am I not satisfied? Why do I even ask the question? I am sure I know not. It rises like a devil in my thoughts, and spoils everything. The girl is young, noble, and fair, and loves me. And her? I love her, at least I suppose I love her. I love her at any rate as much as I love, or ever did love, woman. There is no great sacrifice, then, on my part; there should be none; there is none; unless indeed it be that a man does not like to give up without a struggle all his chance of romance and rapture.
'I know not how it is, but there are moments I almost wish that I had no father and no mother; ay! not a single friend or relative in the world, and that Armine were sunk into the very centre of the earth. If I stood alone in the world methinks I might find the place that suits me; now everything seems ordained for me, as it were, beforehand. My spirit has had no play. Something whispers me that, with all its flush prosperity, this is neither wise nor well. God knows I am not heartless, and would be grateful; and yet if life can afford me no deeper sympathy than I have yet experienced, I cannot but hold it, even with all its sweet reflections, as little better than a dull delusion.'
While Ferdinand was thus moralising at the casement, Glastonbury appeared beneath; and his appearance dissipated this gathering gloom. 'Let us breakfast together,' proposed Ferdinand. 'I have breakfasted these two hours,' replied the hermit of the gate. 'I hope that on the first night of your return to Armine you have proved auspicious dreams.'
'My bed and I are old companions,' said Ferdinand, 'and we agreed very well. I tell you what, my dear Glastonbury, we will have a stroll together this morning and talk over our plans of last night. Go into the library and look over my sketch-books: you will find them on my pistol-case, and I will be with you anon.'
In due time the friends commenced their ramble. Ferdinand soon became excited by Glastonbury's various suggestions for the completion of the castle; and as for the old man himself, between his architectural creation and the restoration of the family to which he had been so long devoted, he was in a rapture of enthusiasm, which afforded an amusing contrast to his usual meek and subdued demeanour.
'Your grandfather was a great man,' said Glastonbury, who in old days seldom ventured to mention the name of the famous Sir Ferdinand: 'there is no doubt he was a very great man. He had great ideas. How he would glory in our present prospects! 'Tis strange what a strong confidence I have ever had in the destiny of your house. I felt sure that Providence would not desert us. There is no doubt we must have a portcullis.'
'Decidedly, a portcullis,' said Ferdinand; 'you shall make all the drawings yourself, my dear Glastonbury, and supervise everything. We will not have a single anachronism. It shall be perfect.'
'Perfect,' echoed Glastonbury; 'really perfect. It shall be a perfect Gothic castle. I have such treasures for the work. All the labours of my life have tended to this object. I have all the emblazonings of your house since the Conquest. There shall be three hundred shields in the hall. I will paint them myself. Oh! there is no place in the world like Armine!'
'Nothing,' said Ferdinand; 'I have seen a great deal, but after all there is nothing like Armine.'
'Had we been born to this splendour,' said Glastonbury, 'we should have thought little of it. We have been mildly and wisely chastened. I cannot sufficiently admire the wisdom of Providence, which has tempered, by such a wise dispensation, the too-eager blood of your race.'
'I should be sorry to pull down the old place,' said Ferdinand.
'It must not be,' said Glastonbury; 'we have lived there happily, though humbly.'
'I would we could move it to another part of the park, like the house of Loretto,' said Ferdinand with a smile.
'We can cover it with ivy,' observed Glastonbury, looking somewhat grave.
The morning stole away in these agreeable plans and prospects. At length the friends parted, agreeing to meet again at dinner. Glastonbury repaired to his tower, and Ferdinand, taking his gun, sauntered into the surrounding wilderness.
But he felt no inclination for sport. The conversation with Glastonbury had raised a thousand thoughts over which he longed to brood. His life had been a scene of such constant excitement since his return to England, that he had enjoyed little opportunity of indulging in calm self-communion; and now that he was at Armine, and alone, the contrast between his past and his present situation struck him so forcibly that he could not refrain from falling into a reverie upon his fortunes. It was wonderful, all wonderful, very, very wonderful. There seemed indeed, as Glastonbury affirmed, a providential dispensation in the whole transaction. The fall of his family, the heroic, and, as it now appeared, prescient firmness with which his father had clung, in all their deprivations, to his unproductive patrimony, his own education, the extinction of his mother's house, his very follies, once to him a cause of so much unhappiness, but which it now seemed were all the time compelling him, as it were, to his prosperity; all these and a thousand other traits and circumstances flitted over his mind, and were each in turn the subject of his manifold meditation. Willing was he to credit that destiny had reserved for him the character of restorer; that duty indeed he had accepted, and yet——
He looked around him as if to see what devil was whispering in his ear. He was alone. No one was there or near. Around him rose the silent bowers, and scarcely the voice of a bird or the hum of an insect disturbed the deep tranquillity. But a cloud seemed to rest on the fair and pensive brow of Ferdinand Armine. He threw himself on the turf, leaning his head on one hand, and with the other plucking the wild flowers, which he as hastily, almost as fretfully, flung away.
'Conceal it as I will,' he exclaimed, 'I am a victim; disguise them as I may, all the considerations are worldly. There is, there must be, something better in this world than power and wealth and rank; and surely there must be felicity more rapturous even than securing the happiness of a parent. Ah! dreams in which I have so oft and so fondly indulged, are ye, indeed, after all, but fantastical and airy visions? Is love indeed a delusion, or am I marked out from men alone to be exempted from its delicious bondage? It must be a delusion. All laugh at it, all jest about it, all agree in stigmatising it the vanity of vanities. And does my experience contradict this harsh but common fame? Alas! what have I seen or known to give the lie to this ill report? No one, nothing. Some women I have met more beautiful, assuredly, than Kate, and many, many less fair; and some have crossed my path with a wild and brilliant grace, that has for a moment dazzled my sight, and perhaps for a moment lured me from my way. But these shooting stars have but glittered transiently in my heaven, and only made me, by their evanescent brilliancy, more sensible of its gloom. Let me believe then, oh! let me of all men then believe, that the forms that inspire the sculptor and the painter have no models in nature; that that combination of beauty and grace, of fascinating intelligence and fond devotion, over which men brood in the soft hours of their young loneliness, is but the promise of a better world, and not the charm of this one.
'But, what terror in that truth! what despair! what madness! Yes! at this moment of severest scrutiny, how profoundly I feel that life without love is worse than death! How vain and void, how flat and fruitless, appear all those splendid accidents of existence for which men struggle, without this essential and pervading charm! What a world without a sun! Yes! without this transcendent sympathy, riches and rank, and even power and fame, seem to me at best but jewels set in a coronet of lead!
'And who knows whether that extraordinary being, of whose magnificent yet ruinous career this castle is in truth a fitting emblem—I say, who knows whether the secret of his wild and restless course is not hidden in this same sad lack of love? Perhaps while the world, the silly, superficial world, marvelled and moralised at his wanton life, and poured forth its anathemas against his heartless selfishness, perchance he all the time was sighing for some soft bosom whereon to pour his overwhelming passion, even as I am!
'O Nature! why art thou beautiful? My heart requires not, imagination cannot paint, a sweeter or a fairer scene than these surrounding bowers. This azazure vault of heaven, this golden sunshine, this deep and blending shade, these rare and fragrant shrubs, yon grove of green and tallest pines, and the bright gliding of this swan-crowned lake; my soul is charmed with all this beauty and this sweetness; I feel no disappointment here; my mind does not here outrun reality; here there is no cause to mourn over ungratified hopes and fanciful desires. Is it then my destiny that I am to be baffled only in the dearest desires of my heart?'
At this moment the loud and agitated barking of his dogs at some little distance roused Ferdinand from his reverie. He called them to him, and soon one of them obeyed his summons, but instantly returned to his companion with such significant gestures, panting and yelping, that Ferdinand supposed that Basto was caught, perhaps, in some trap: so, taking up his gun, he proceeded to the dog's rescue.
To his surprise, as he was about to emerge from a berceau on to a plot of turf, in the centre of which grew a large cedar, he beheld a lady in a riding-habit standing before the tree, and evidently admiring its beautiful proportions.
Her countenance was raised and motionless. It seemed to him that it was more radiant than the sunshine. He gazed with rapture on the dazzling brilliancy of her complexion, the delicate regularity of her features, and the large violet-tinted eyes, fringed with the longest and the darkest lashes that he had ever beheld. From her position her hat had fallen back, revealing her lofty and pellucid brow, and the dark and lustrous locks that were braided over her temples. The whole countenance combined that brilliant health and that classic beauty which we associate with the idea of some nymph tripping over the dew-bespangled meads of Ida, or glancing amid the hallowed groves of Greece. Although the lady could scarcely have seen eighteen summers, her stature was above the common height; but language cannot describe the startling symmetry of her superb figure.
There is no love but love at first sight. This is the transcendent and surpassing offspring of sheer and unpolluted sympathy. All other is the illegitimate result of observation, of reflection, of compromise, of comparison, of expediency. The passions that endure flash like the lightning: they scorch the soul, but it is warmed for ever. Miserable man whose love rises by degrees upon the frigid morning of his mind! Some hours indeed of warmth and lustre may perchance fall to his lot; some moments of meridian splendour, in which he basks in what he deems eternal sunshine. But then how often overcast by the clouds of care, how often dusked by the blight of misery and misfortune! And certain as the gradual rise of such affection is its gradual decline and melancholy setting. Then, in the chill, dim twilight of his soul, he execrates custom; because he has madly expected that feelings could be habitual that were not homogeneous, and because he has been guided by the observation of sense, and not by the inspiration of sympathy.
Amid the gloom and travail of existence suddenly to behold a beautiful being, and as instantaneously to feel an overwhelming conviction that with that fair form for ever our destiny must be entwined; that there is no more joy but in her joy, no sorrow but when she grieves; that in her sigh of love, in her smile of fondness, hereafter all is bliss; to feel our flaunty ambition fade away like a shrivelled gourd before her vision; to feel fame a juggle and posterity a lie; and to be prepared at once, for this great object, to forfeit and fling away all former hopes, ties, schemes, views; to violate in her favour every duty of society; this is a lover, and this is love! Magnificent, sublime, divine sentiment! An immortal flame burns in the breast of that man who adores and is adored. He is an ethereal being. The accidents of earth touch him not. Revolutions of empire, changes of creed, mutations of opinion, are to him but the clouds and meteors of a stormy sky. The schemes and struggles of mankind are, in his thinking, but the anxieties of pigmies and the fantastical achievements of apes. Nothing can subdue him. He laughs alike at loss of fortune, loss of friends, loss of character. The deeds and thoughts of men are tor him equally indifferent. He does not mingle in their paths of callous bustle, or hold himself responsible to the airy impostures before which they bow down. He is a mariner who, on the sea of life, keeps his gaze fixedly on a single star; and if that do not shine, he lets go the rudder, and glories when his barque descends into the bottomless gulf.
Yes! it was this mighty passion that now raged in the heart of Ferdinand Armine, as, pale and trembling, he withdrew a few paces from the overwhelming spectacle, and leant against a tree in a chaos of emotion. What had he seen? What ravishing vision had risen upon his sight? What did he feel? What wild, what delicious, what maddening impulse now pervaded his frame? A storm seemed raging in his soul, a mighty wind dispelling in its course the sullen clouds and vapours of long years. Silent he was indeed, for he was speechless; though the big drop that quivered on his brow and the slight foam that played upon his lip proved the difficult triumph of passion over expression. But, as the wind clears the heaven, passion eventually tranquillises the soul. The tumult of his mind gradually subsided; the flitting memories, the scudding thoughts, that for a moment had coursed about in such wild order, vanished and melted away, and a feeling of bright serenity succeeded, a sense of beauty and of joy, and of hovering and circumambient happiness.
He advanced, and gazed again; the lady was still there. Changed indeed her position; she had gathered a flower and was examining its beauty.
'Henrietta!' exclaimed a manly voice from the adjoining wood. Before she could answer, a stranger came forward, a man of middle age but of an appearance remarkably prepossessing. He was tall and dignified, fair, with an aquiline nose. One of Ferdinand's dogs followed him barking.
'I cannot find the gardener anywhere,' said the stranger; 'I think we had better remount.'
'Ah, me! what a pity!' exclaimed the lady.
'Let me be your guide,' said Ferdinand, advancing.
The lady rather started; the gentleman, not at all discomposed, courteously welcomed Ferdinand, and said, 'I feel that we are intruders, sir. But we were informed by the woman at the lodge that the family were not here at present, and that we should find her husband in the grounds.'
'The family are not at Armine,' replied Ferdinand; 'I am sure, however, Sir Ratcliffe would be most happy for you to walk about the grounds as much as you please; and as I am well acquainted with them, I should feel delighted to be your guide.'
'You are really too courteous, sir,' replied the gentleman; and his beautiful companion rewarded Ferdinand with a smile like a sunbeam, that played about her countenance till it finally settled into two exquisite dimples, and revealed to him teeth that, for a moment, he believed to be even the most beautiful feature of that surpassing visage.
They sauntered along, every step developing new beauties in their progress and eliciting from his companions renewed expressions of rapture. The dim bowers, the shining glades, the tall rare trees, the luxuriant shrubs, the silent and sequestered lake, in turn enchanted them, until at length, Ferdinand, who had led them with experienced taste through all the most striking points of the pleasaunce, brought them before the walls of the castle.
'And here is Armine Castle,' he said; 'it is little better than a shell, and yet contains something which you might like to see.'
'Oh! by all means,' exclaimed the lady.
'But we are spoiling your sport,' suggested the gentleman.
'I can always kill partridges,' replied Ferdinand, laying down his gun; 'but I cannot always find agreeable companions.'
So saying, he opened the massy portal of the castle and they entered the hall. It was a lofty chamber, of dimensions large enough to feast a thousand vassals, with a dais and a rich Gothic screen, and a gallery for the musicians. The walls were hung with arms and armour admirably arranged; but the parti-coloured marble floor was so covered with piled-up cases of furniture that the general effect of the scene, was not only greatly marred, but it was even difficult in some parts to trace a path.
'Here,' said Ferdinand, jumping upon a huge case and running to the wall, 'here is the standard of Ralph d'Ermyn, who came over with the Conqueror, and founded the family in England. Here is the sword of William d'Armyn, who signed Magna Carta. Here is the complete coat armour of the second Ralph, who died before Ascalon. This case contains a diamond-hilted sword, given by the Empress to the great Sir Ferdinand for defeating the Turks; and here is a Mameluke sabre, given to the same Sir Ferdinand by the Sultan for defeating the Empress.'
'Oh! I have heard so much of that great Sir Ferdinand,' said the lady. 'He must have been the most interesting character.'
'He was a marvellous being,' answered her guide, with a peculiar look, 'and yet I know not whether his descendants have not cause to rue his genius.'
'Oh! never, never!' said the lady; 'what is wealth to genius? How much prouder, were I an Armine, should I be of such an ancestor than of a thousand others, even if they had left me this castle as complete as he wished it to be!'
'Well, as to that,' replied Ferdinand, 'I believe I am somewhat of your opinion; though I fear he lived in too late an age for such order of minds. It would have been better for him perhaps if he had succeeded in becoming King of Poland.'
'I hope there is a portrait of him,' said the lady; 'there is nothing I long so much to see.'
'I rather think there is a portrait,' replied her companion, somewhat drily. 'We will try to find it out. Do not you think I make not a bad cicerone?'
'Indeed, most excellent,' replied the lady.
'I perceive you are a master of your subject,' replied the gentleman, thus affording Ferdinand an easy opportunity of telling them who he was. The hint, however, was not accepted.
'And now,' said Ferdinand, 'we will ascend the staircase.'
Accordingly they mounted a large spiral staircase which filled the space of a round tower, and was lighted from the top by a lantern of rich, coloured glass on which were emblazoned the arms of the family. Then they entered the vestibule, an apartment spacious enough for a salon; which, however, was not fitted up in the Gothic style, but of which the painted ceiling, the gilded panels, and inlaid floor were more suitable to a French palace. The brilliant doors of this vestibule opened in many directions upon long suites of state chambers, which indeed merited the description of shells. They were nothing more; of many the flooring was not even laid down; the walls of all were rough and plastered.
'Ah!' said the lady, 'what a pity it is not finished!'
'It is indeed desolate,' observed Ferdinand; 'but here perhaps is something more to your taste.' So saying, he opened another door and ushered them into the picture gallery.
It was a superb chamber nearly two hundred feet in length, and contained only portraits of the family, or pictures of their achievements. It was of a pale green colour, lighted from the top; and the floor, of oak and ebony, was partially covered with a single Persian carpet, of fanciful pattern and brilliant dye, a present from the Sultan to the great Sir Ferdinand. The earlier annals of the family were illustrated by a series of paintings by modern masters, representing the battle of Hastings, the siege of Ascalon, the meeting at Runnymede, the various invasions of France, and some of the most striking incidents in the Wars of the Roses, in all of which a valiant Armyn prominently figured. At length they stood before the first contemporary portrait of the Armyn family, one of Cardinal Stephen Armyn, by an Italian master. This great dignitary was legate of the Pope in the time of the seventh Henry, and in his scarlet robes and ivory chair looked a papal Jupiter, not unworthy himself of wielding the thunder of the Vatican. From him the series of family portraits was unbroken; and it was very interesting to trace, in this excellently arranged collection, the history of national costume. Holbein had commemorated the Lords Tewkesbury, rich in velvet, and golden chains, and jewels. The statesmen of Elizabeth and James, and their beautiful and gorgeous dames, followed; and then came many a gallant cavalier, by Vandyke. One admirable picture contained Lord Armine and his brave brothers, seated together in a tent round a drum, on which his lordship was apparently planning the operations of the campaign. Then followed a long series of un-memorable baronets, and their more interesting wives and daughters, touched by the pencil of Kneller, of Lely, or of Hudson; squires in wigs and scarlet jackets, and powdered dames in hoops and farthingales.
They stood before the crowning effort of the gallery, the masterpiece of Reynolds. It represented a full-length portrait of a young man, apparently just past his minority. The side of the figure was alone exhibited, and the face glanced at the spectator over the shoulder, in a favourite attitude of Vandyke. It was a countenance of ideal beauty. A profusion of dark brown curls was dashed aside from a lofty forehead of dazzling brilliancy. The face was perfectly oval; the nose, though small was high and aquiline, and exhibited a remarkable dilation of the nostril; the curling lip was shaded by a very delicate mustache; and the general expression, indeed, of the mouth and of the large grey eyes would have been perhaps arrogant and imperious, had not the extraordinary beauty of the whole countenance rendered it fascinating.
It was indeed a picture to gaze upon and to return to; one of those visages which, after having once beheld, haunt us at all hours and flit across our mind's eye unexpected and unbidden. So great was the effect that it produced upon the present visitors to the gallery, that they stood before it for some minutes in silence; the scrutinising glance of the gentleman was more than once diverted from the portrait to the countenance of his conductor, and the silence was eventually broken by our hero.
'And what think you,' he enquired, 'of the famous Sir Ferdinand?'
The lady started, looked at him, withdrew her glance, and appeared somewhat confused. Her companion replied, 'I think, sir, I cannot err in believing that I am indebted for much courtesy to his descendant?'
'I believe,' said Ferdinand, 'that I should not have much trouble in proving my pedigree. I am generally considered an ugly likeness of my grandfather.'
The gentleman smiled, and then said, 'I hardly know whether I can style myself your neighbour, for I live nearly ten miles distant. It would, however, afford me sincere gratification to see you at Ducie Bower. I cannot welcome you in a castle. My name is Temple,' he continued, offering his card to Ferdinand. 'I need not now introduce you to my daughter. I was not unaware that Sir Ratcliffe Armine had a son, but I had understood he was abroad.'
'I have returned to England within these two months,' replied Ferdinand, 'and to Armine within these two days. I deem it fortunate that my return has afforded me an opportunity of welcoming you and Miss Temple. But you must not talk of our castle, for that you know is our folly. Pray come now and visit our older and humbler dwelling, and take some refreshment after your long ride.'
This offer was declined, but with great courtesy. They quitted the castle, and Mr. Temple was about to direct his steps towards the lodge, where he had left his own and his daughter's horses; but Ferdinand persuaded them to return through the park, which he proved to them very satisfactorily must be the nearest way. He even asked permission to accompany them; and while his groom was saddling his horse he led them to the old Place and the flower-garden.
'You must be very fatigued, Miss Temple. I wish that I could persuade you to enter and rest yourself.'
'Indeed, no: I love flowers too much to leave them.'
'Here is one that has the recommendation of novelty as well as beauty,' said Ferdinand, plucking a strange rose, and presenting it to her. 'I sent it to my mother from Barbary.'
'You live amidst beauty.'
'I think that I never remember Armine looking so well as to-day.'
'A sylvan scene requires sunshine,' replied Miss Temple. 'We have been most fortunate in our visit.'
'It is something brighter than the sunshine that makes it so fair,' replied Ferdinand; but at this moment the horses appeared.
In Which Captain Armine Is Very Absent during Dinner.
YOU are well mounted,' said Mr. Temple to Ferdinand.
''Tis a barb. I brought it over with me.'
''Tis a beautiful creature,' said Miss Temple.
'Hear that, Selim,' said Ferdinand; 'prick up thine ears, my steed. I perceive that you are an accomplished horsewoman, Miss Temple. You know our country, I dare say, well?'
'I wish to know it better. This is only the second summer that we have passed at Ducie.'
'By-the-bye, I suppose you know my landlord, Captain Armine?' said Mr. Temple.
'No,' said Ferdinand; 'I do not know a single person in the county. I have myself scarcely been at Armine for these five years, and my father and mother do not visit anyone.'
'What a beautiful oak!' exclaimed Miss Temple, desirous of turning the conversation.
'It has the reputation of being planted by Sir Francis Walsingham,' said Ferdinand. 'An ancestor of mine married his daughter. He was the father of Sir Walsingham, the portrait in the gallery with the white stick. You remember it?'
'Perfectly: that beautiful portrait! It must be, at all events, a very old tree.'
'There are few things more pleasing to me than an ancient place,' said Mr. Temple.
'Doubly pleasing when in the possession of an ancient family,' added his daughter.
'I fear such feelings are fast wearing away,' said Ferdinand.
'There will be a reaction,' said Mr. Temple.
'They cannot destroy the poetry of time,' said the lady.
'I hope I have no very inveterate prejudices,' said Ferdinand; 'but I should be sorry to see Armine in any other hands than our own, I confess.'
'I never would enter the park again,' said Miss Temple.
'So far as worldly considerations are concerned,' continued Ferdinand, 'it would perhaps be much better for us if we were to part with it.'
'It must, indeed, be a costly place to keep up,' said Mr. Temple.
'Why, as for that,' said Ferdinand, 'we let the kine rove and the sheep browse where our fathers hunted the stag and flew their falcons. I think if they were to rise from their graves they would be ashamed of us.'
'Nay!' said Miss Temple, 'I think yonder cattle are very picturesque. But the truth is, anything would look well in such a park as this. There is such a variety of prospect.'
The park of Armine indeed differed materially from those vamped-up sheep-walks and ambitious paddocks which are now honoured with the title. It was, in truth, the old chase, and little shorn of its original proportions. It was many miles in circumference, abounding in hill and dale, and offering much variety of appearance. Sometimes it was studded with ancient timber, single trees of extraordinary growth, and rich clumps that seemed coeval with the foundation of the family. Tracts of wild champaign succeeded these, covered with gorse and fern. Then came stately avenues of sycamore or Spanish chestnut, fragments of stately woods, that in old days doubtless reached the vicinity of the mansion house; and these were in turn succeeded by modern coverts.
At length our party reached the gate whence Ferdinand had calculated that they should quit the park. He would willingly have accompanied them. He bade them farewell with regret, which was softened by the hope expressed by all of a speedy meeting.
'I wish, Captain Armine,' said Miss Temple, 'we had your turf to canter home upon.'
'By-the-bye, Captain Armine,' said Mr. Temple, 'ceremony should scarcely subsist between country neighbours, and certainly we have given you no cause to complain of our reserve. As you are alone at Armine, perhaps you would come over and dine with us to-morrow. If you can manage to come early, we will see whether we may not contrive to kill a bird together; and pray remember we can give you a bed, which I think, all things considered, it would be but wise to accept.'
'I accept everything,' said Ferdinand, smiling; 'all your offers. Good morning, my dearest sir; good morning, Miss Temple.'
'Miss Temple, indeed!' exclaimed Ferdinand, when he had watched them out of sight. 'Exquisite, enchanting, adored being! Without thee what is existence? How dull, how blank does everything even now seem! It is as if the sun had just set! Oh! that form! that radiant countenance! that musical and thrilling voice! Those tones still vibrate on my ear, or I should deem it all a vision! Will to-morrow ever come? Oh! that I could express to you my love, my overwhelming, my absorbing, my burning passion! Beautiful Henrietta! Thou hast a name, methinks, I ever loved. Where am I? what do I say? what wild, what maddening words are these? Am I not Ferdinand Armine, the betrothed, the victim? Even now, methinks, I hear the chariot-wheels of my bride. God! if she be there; if she indeed be at Armine on my return: I'll not see her; I'll not speak to them; I'll fly. I'll cast to the winds all ties and duties; I will not be dragged to the altar, a miserable sacrifice, to redeem, by my forfeited felicity, the worldly fortunes of my race. O Armine, Armine! she would not enter thy walls again if other blood but mine swayed thy fair demesne: and I, shall I give thee another mistress, Armine? It would indeed be treason! Without her I cannot live. Without her form bounds over this turf and glances in these arbours I never wish to view them. All the inducements to make the wretched sacrifice once meditated then vanish; for Armine, without her, is a desert, a tomb, a hell. I am free, then. Excellent logician! But this woman: I am bound to her. Bound? The word makes me tremble. I shiver: I hear the clank of my fetters. Am I indeed bound? Ay! in honour. Honour and love! A contest! Pah! The Idol must yield to the Divinity!'
With these wild words and wilder thoughts bursting from his lips and dashing through his mind; his course as irregular and as reckless as his fancies; now fiercely galloping, now pulling up into a sudden halt, Ferdinand at length arrived home; and his quick eye perceived in a moment that the dreaded arrival had not taken place. Glastonbury was in the flower-garden on one knee before a vase, over which he was training a creeper. He looked up as he heard the approach of Ferdinand. His presence and benignant smile in some degree stilled the fierce emotions of his pupil. Ferdinand felt that the system of dissimulation must now commence; besides, he was always careful to be most kind to Glastonbury. He would not allow that any attack of spleen, or even illness, could ever justify a careless look or expression to that dear friend.
'I hope, my dear father,' said Ferdinand, 'I am punctual to our hour?'
'The sun-dial tells me,' said Glastonbury, 'that you have arrived to the moment; and I rather think that yonder approaches a summons to our repast. I hope you have passed your morning agreeably?'
'If all days would pass as sweet, my father, I should indeed be blessed.'
'I, too, have had a fine morning of it. You must come to-morrow and see my grand emblazonry of the Ratcliffe and Armine coats; I mean it for the gallery.' With these words they entered the Place.
'You do not eat, my child,' said Glastonbury to his companion.
'I have taken too long a ride, perhaps,' said Ferdinand: who indeed was much too excited to have an appetite, and so abstracted that anyone but Glastonbury would have long before detected his absence.
'I have changed my hour to-day,' continued Glastonbury, 'for the pleasure of dining with you, and I think to-morrow you had better change your hour and dine with me.'
'By-the-bye, my dear father, you, who know everything, do you happen to know a gentleman of the name of Temple in this neighbourhood?'
'I think I heard that Mr. Ducie had let the Bower to a gentleman of that name.'
'Do you know who he is?'
'I never asked; for I feel no interest except about proprietors, because they enter into my County History. But I think I once heard that this Mr. Temple had been our minister at some foreign court. You give me a fine dinner and eat nothing yourself. This pigeon is savoury.'
'I will trouble you. I think there once was a Henrietta Armine, my father?'
'The beautiful creature!' said Glastonbury, laying down his knife and fork; 'she died young. She was a daughter of Lord Armine; and the Queen, Henrietta Maria, was her godmother. It grieves me much that we have no portrait of her. She was very fair, her eyes of a sweet light blue.'
'Oh! no; dark, my father; dark and deep as the violet.'
'My child, the letter-writer, who mentions her death, describes them as light blue. I know of no other record of her beauty.'
'I wish they had been dark,' said Ferdinand recovering himself; 'however, I am glad there was a Henrietta Armine; 'tis a beautiful name.'
'I think that Armine makes any name sound well,' said Glastonbury. 'No more wine indeed, my child. Nay! if I must,' continued he, with a most benevolent smile, 'I will drink to the health of Miss Grandison!'
'Ah!' exclaimed Ferdinand.
'My child, what is the matter?' inquired Glastonbury.
'A gnat, a fly, a wasp! something stung me,' said Ferdinand.
'Let me fetch my oil of lilies,' said Glastonbury; ''tis a specific'
'Oh, no! 'tis nothing, only a fly: sharp at the moment; nothing more.'
The dinner was over; they retired to the library. Ferdinand walked about the room restless and moody; at length he bethought himself of the piano, and, affecting an anxiety to hear some old favourite compositions of Glastonbury, he contrived to occupy his companion. In time, however, his old tutor invited him to take his violoncello and join him in a concerto. Ferdinand of course complied with his invitation, but the result was not satisfactory. After a series of blunders, which were the natural result of his thoughts being occupied on other subjects, he was obliged to plead a headache, and was glad when he could escape to his chamber.
Rest, however, no longer awaited him on his old pillow. It was at first delightful to escape from the restraint upon his reverie which he had lately experienced. He leant for an hour over his empty fireplace in mute abstraction. The cold, however, in time drove him to bed, but he could not sleep; his eyes indeed were closed, but the vision of Henrietta Temple was not less apparent to him. He recalled every feature of her countenance, every trait of her conduct, every word that she had expressed. The whole series of her observations, from the moment he had first seen her until the moment they had parted, were accurately repeated, her very tones considered, and her very attitudes pondered over. Many were the hours that he heard strike; he grew restless and feverish. Sleep would not be commanded; he jumped out of bed, he opened the casement, he beheld in the moonlight the Barbary rose-tree of which he had presented her a flower. This consoling spectacle assured him that he had not been, as he had almost imagined, the victim of a dream. He knelt down and invoked all heavenly and earthly blessings on Henrietta Temple and his love. The night air and the earnest invocation together cooled his brain, and Nature soon delivered him, exhausted, to repose.
In Which Captain Armine Pays His First Visit to Ducie.
YES! it is the morning. Is it possible? Shall he again behold her? That form of surpassing beauty: that bright, that dazzling countenance; again are they to bless his entranced vision? Shall he speak to her again? That musical and thrilling voice, shall it again sound and echo in his enraptured ear?
Ferdinand had reached Armine so many days before his calculated arrival, that he did not expect his family and the Grandisons to arrive for at least a week. What a respite did he not now feel this delay! if ever he could venture to think of the subject at all. He drove it indeed from his thoughts; the fascinating present completely engrossed his existence. He waited until the post arrived; it brought no letters, letters now so dreaded! He jumped upon his horse and galloped towards Ducie.
Mr. Temple was the younger son of a younger branch of a noble family. Inheriting no patrimony, he had been educated for the diplomatic service, and the influence of his family had early obtained him distinguished appointments. He was envoy to a German court when a change of ministry occasioned his recall, and he retired, after a long career of able and assiduous service, comforted by a pension and glorified by a privy-councillorship. He was an acute and accomplished man, practised in the world, with great self-control, yet devoted to his daughter, the only offspring of a wife whom he had lost early and loved much.
Deprived at a tender age of that parent of whom she would have become peculiarly the charge, Henrietta Temple found in the devotion of her father all that consolation of which her forlorn state was susceptible. She was not delivered over to the custody of a governess, or to the even less sympathetic supervision of relations. Mr. Temple never permitted his daughter to be separated from him; he cherished her life, and he directed her education. Resident in a city which arrogates to itself, not without justice, the title of the German Athens, his pupil availed herself of all those advantages which were offered to her by the instruction of the most skilful professors. Few persons were more accomplished than Henrietta Temple even at an early age; but her rare accomplishments were not her most remarkable characteristics. Nature, which had accorded to her that extraordinary beauty we have attempted to describe, had endowed her with great talents and a soul of sublime temper.
It was often remarked of Henrietta Temple (and the circumstance may doubtless be in some degree accounted for by the little interference and influence of women in her education) that she never was a girl. She expanded at once from a charming child into a magnificent woman. She had entered life very early, and had presided at her father's table for a year before his recall from his mission. Few women in so short a period had received so much homage; but she listened to compliments with a careless though courteous ear, and received more ardent aspirations with a smile. The men, who were puzzled, voted her cold and heartless; but men should remember that fineness of taste, as well as apathy of temperament, may account for an unsuccessful suit. Assuredly Henrietta Temple was not deficient in feeling; she entertained for her father sentiments almost of idolatry, and those more intimate or dependent acquaintances best qualified to form an opinion of her character spoke of her always as a soul of infinite tenderness.
Notwithstanding their mutual devotion to each other, there were not many points of resemblance between the characters of Mr. Temple and his daughter; she was remarkable for a frankness of demeanour and a simplicity yet strength of thought which contrasted with the artificial manners and the conventional opinions and conversation of her sire. A mind at once thoughtful and energetic permitted Henrietta Temple to form her own judgments; and an artless candour, which her father never could eradicate from her habit, generally impelled her to express them. It was indeed impossible even for him long to find fault with these ebullitions, however the diplomatist might deplore them; for Nature had so imbued the existence of this being with that indefinable charm which we call grace, that it was not in your power to behold her a moment without being enchanted. A glance, a movement, a sunny smile, a word of thrilling music, and all that was left to you was to adore. There was indeed in Henrietta Temple that rare and extraordinary combination of intellectual strength and physical softness which marks out the woman capable of exercising an irresistible influence over mankind. In the good old days she might have occasioned a siege of Troy or a battle of Actium. She was one of those women who make nations mad, and for whom a man of genius would willingly peril the empire of the world.
So at least deemed Ferdinand Armine, as he cantered through the park, talking to himself, apostrophising the woods, and shouting his passion to the winds. It was scarcely noon when he reached Ducie Bower. This was a Palladian pavilion, situated in the midst of beautiful gardens, and surrounded by green hills. The sun shone brightly, the sky was without a cloud; it appeared to him that he had never beheld a more graceful scene. It was a temple worthy of the divinity it enshrined. A facade of four Ionic columns fronted an octagon hall, adorned with statues, which led into a salon of considerable size and fine proportion. Ferdinand thought that he had never in his life entered so brilliant a chamber. The lofty walls were covered with an Indian paper of vivid fancy, and adorned with several pictures which his practised eye assured him were of great merit. The room, without being inconveniently crowded, was amply stored with furniture, every article of which bespoke a refined and luxurious taste: easy chairs of all descriptions, most inviting couches, cabinets of choice inlay, and grotesque tables covered with articles of vertu; all those charming infinite nothings, which a person of taste might some time back have easily collected during a long residence on the continent. A large lamp of Dresden china was suspended from the painted and gilded ceiling. The three tall windows opened on the gardens, and admitted a perfume so rich and various, that Ferdinand could easily believe the fair mistress, as she told him, was indeed a lover of flowers. A light bridge in the distant wood, that bounded the furthest lawn, indicated that a stream was at hand. What with the beauty of the chamber, the richness of the exterior scene, and the bright sun that painted every object with its magical colouring, and made everything appear even more fair and brilliant, Ferdinand stood for some moments quite entranced. A door opened, and Mr. Temple came forward and welcomed him with cordiality.
After they had passed a half-hour in looking at the pictures and in conversation to which they gave rise, Mr. Temple, proposing an adjournment to luncheon, conducted Ferdinand into a dining-room, of which the suitable decorations wonderfully pleased his taste. A subdued tint pervaded every part of the chamber: the ceiling was painted in grey tinted frescoes of a classical and festive character, and the side table, which stood in a recess supported by four magnificent columns, was adorned with choice Etruscan vases. The air of repose and stillness which distinguished this apartment was heightened by the vast conservatory into which it led, blazing with light and beauty, groups of exotic trees, plants of radiant tint, the sound of a fountain, and gorgeous forms of tropic birds.
'How beautiful!' exclaimed Ferdinand.
''Tis pretty,' said Mr. Temple, carving a pasty, 'but we are very humble people, and cannot vie with the lords of Gothic castles.'
'It appears to me,' said Ferdinand, 'that Ducie Bower is the most exquisite place I ever beheld.'
'If you had seen it two years ago you would have thought differently,' said Mr. Temple; 'I assure you I dreaded becoming its tenant. Henrietta is entitled to all the praise, as she took upon herself the whole responsibility. There is not on the banks of the Brenta a more dingy and desolate villa than Ducie appeared when we first came; and as for the gardens, they were a perfect wilderness. She made everything. It was one vast, desolate, and neglected lawn, used as a sheep-walk when we arrived. As for the ceilings, I was almost tempted to whitewash them, and yet you see they have cleaned wonderfully; and, after all, it only required a little taste and labour. I have not laid out much money here. I built the conservatory, to be sure. Henrietta could not live without a conservatory.'
'Miss Temple is quite right,' pronounced Ferdinand. 'It is impossible to live without a conservatory.'
At this moment the heroine of their conversation entered the room, and Ferdinand turned pale. She extended to him her hand with a graceful smile; as he touched it, he trembled from head to foot.
'You were not fatigued, I hope, by your ride, Miss Temple?' at length he contrived to say.
'Not in the least! I am an experienced horsewoman. Papa and I take very long rides together.'
As for eating, with Henrietta Temple in the room, Ferdinand found that quite impossible. The moment she appeared, his appetite vanished. Anxious to speak, yet deprived of his accustomed fluency, he began to praise Ducie.
'You must see it,' said Miss Temple: 'shall we walk round the grounds?'
'My dear Henrietta,' said her father, 'I dare say Captain Armine is at this moment sufficiently tired; besides, when he moves, he will like perhaps to take his gun; you forget he is a sportsman, and that he cannot waste his morning in talking to ladies and picking flowers.'
'Indeed, sir, I assure you,' said Ferdinand, 'there is nothing I like so much as talking to ladies and picking flowers; that is to say, when the ladies have as fine taste as Miss Temple, and the flowers are as beautiful as those at Ducie.'
'Well, you shall see my conservatory, Captain Armine,' said Miss Temple, 'and you shall go and kill partridges afterwards.' So saying, she entered the conservatory, and Ferdinand followed her, leaving Mr. Temple to his pasty.
'These orange groves remind me of Palmero,' said Ferdinand.
'Ah!' said Miss Temple, 'I have never been in the sweet south.'
'You seem to me a person born to live in a Sicilian palace,' said Ferdinand, 'to wander in perfumed groves, and to glance in a moonlight warmer than this sun.'
'I see you pay compliments,' said Miss Temple, looking at him archly, and meeting a glance serious and soft.
'Believe me, not to you.'
'What do you think of this flower?' said Miss Temple, turning away rather quickly and pointing to a strange plant. 'It is the most singular thing in the world: but if it be tended by any other person than myself it withers. Is it not droll?'
'I think not,' said Ferdinand.
'I excuse you for your incredulity; no one does believe it; no one can; and yet it is quite true. Our gardener gave it up in despair. I wonder what it can be.'
'I think it must be some enchanted prince,' said Ferdinand.
'If I thought so, how I should long for a wand to emancipate him!' said Miss Temple.
'I would break your wand, if you had one,' said Ferdinand.
'Why?' said Miss Temple.
'Oh! I don't know,' said Ferdinand; 'I suppose because I believe you are sufficiently enchanting without one.'
'I am bound to consider that most excellent logic,' said Miss Temple.
'Do you admire my fountain and my birds?' she continued, after a short pause. 'After Armine, Ducie appears a little tawdry toy.'
'Ducie is Paradise,' said Ferdinand. 'I should like to pass my life in this conservatory.'
'As an enchanted prince, I suppose?' said Miss Temple.
'Exactly,' said Captain Armine; 'I would willingly this instant become a flower, if I were sure that Miss Temple would cherish my existence.'
'Cut off your tendrils and drown you with a watering-pot,' said Miss Temple; 'you really are very Sicilian in your conversation, Captain Armine.'
'Come,' said Mr. Temple, who now joined them, 'if you really should like to take a stroll round the grounds, I will order the keeper to meet us at the cottage.'
'A very good proposition,' said Miss Temple.
'But you must get a bonnet, Henrietta; I must forbid your going out uncovered.'
'No, papa, this will do,' said Miss Temple, taking a handkerchief, twisting it round her head, and tying it under her chin.
'You look like an old woman, Henrietta,' said her father, smiling.
'I shall not say what you look like, Miss Temple,' said Captain Armine, with a glance of admiration, 'lest you should think that I was this time even talking Sicilian.'
'I reward you for your forbearance with a rose,' said Miss Temple, plucking a flower. 'It is a return for your beautiful present of yesterday.'
Ferdinand pressed the gift to his lips.
They went forth; they stepped into a Paradise, where the sweetest flowers seemed grouped in every combination of the choicest forms; baskets, and vases, and beds of infinite fancy. A thousand bees and butterflies filled the air with their glancing shapes and cheerful music, and the birds from the neighbouring groves joined in the chorus of melody. The wood walks through which they now rambled admitted at intervals glimpses of the ornate landscape, and occasionally the view extended beyond the enclosed limits, and exhibited the clustering and embowered roofs of the neighbouring village, or some woody hill studded with a farmhouse, or a distant spire. As for Ferdinand, he strolled along, full of beautiful thoughts and thrilling fancies, in a dreamy state which had banished all recollection or consciousness but of the present. He was happy; positively, perfectly, supremely happy. He was happy for the first time in his life, He had no conception that life could afford such bliss as now filled his being. What a chain of miserable, tame, factitious sensations seemed the whole course of his past existence. Even the joys of yesterday were nothing to these; Armine was associated with too much of the commonplace and the gloomy to realise the ideal in which he now revelled. But now all circumstances contributed to enchant him. The novelty, the beauty of the scene, harmoniously blended with his passion. The sun seemed to him a more brilliant sun than the orb that illumined Armine; the sky more clear, more pure, more odorous. There seemed a magic sympathy in the trees, and every flower reminded him of his mistress. And then he looked around and beheld her. Was he positively awake? Was he in England? Was he in the same globe in which he had hitherto moved and acted? What was this entrancing form that moved before him? Was it indeed a woman?
O dea certe!
That voice, too, now wilder than the wildest bird, now low and hushed, yet always sweet; where was he, what did he listen to, what did he behold, what did he feel? The presence of her father alone restrained him from falling on his knees and expressing to her his adoration.