'At home?' enquired Lord Catchimwhocan, with a peculiarly confidential expression.
'To you, my lord,' responded the attendant.
'Jump out, Armine,' said his lordship; and they entered the house.
'Alone?' said his lordship.
'Not alone,' said the servant, ushering the friends into the dining-room, 'but he shall have your lordship's card immediately. There are several gentlemen waiting in the third drawing-room; so I have shown your lordship in here, and shall take care that he sees your lordship before anyone.'
'That's a devilish good fellow,' said Lord Catchimwhocan, putting his hand into his waistcoat pocket to give him a sovereign; but not finding one, he added, 'I shall remember you.'
The dining-room into which they were shown was at the back of the house, and looked into agreeable gardens. The apartment was in some little confusion at this moment, for their host gave a dinner to-day, and his dinners were famous. The table was arranged for eight guests; its appointments indicated refined taste. A candelabrum of Dresden china was the centre piece; there was a whole service of the same material, even to the handles of the knives and forks; and the choice variety of glass attracted Ferdinand's notice. The room was lofty and spacious; it was simply and soberly furnished; not an object which could distract the taste or disturb the digestion. But the sideboard, which filled a recess at the end of the apartment, presented a crowded group of gold plate that might have become a palace; magnificent shields, tall vases, ancient tankards, goblets of carved ivory set in precious metal, and cups of old ruby glass mounted on pedestals, glittering with gems. This accidental display certainly offered an amusing contrast to the perpetual splendour of Mr. Levison's buffet; and Ferdinand was wondering whether it would turn out that there was as marked a difference between the two owners, when his companion and himself were summoned to the presence of Mr. Bond Sharpe.
They ascended a staircase perfumed with flowers, and on each landing-place was a classic tripod or pedestal crowned with a bust. And then they were ushered into a drawing-room of Parisian elegance; buhl cabinets, marqueterie tables, hangings of the choicest damask suspended from burnished cornices of old carving. The chairs had been rifled from a Venetian palace; the couches were part of the spoils of the French revolution. There were glass screens in golden frames, and a clock that represented the death of Hector, the chariot wheel of Achilles conveniently telling the hour. A round table of mosaic, mounted on a golden pedestal, was nearly covered with papers; and from an easy-chair, supported by air cushions, half rose to welcome them Mr. Bond Sharpe. He was a man not many years the senior of Captain Armine and his friend; of elegant appearance, pale, pensive, and prepossessing. Deep thought was impressed upon his clear and protruding brow, and the expression of his grey sunken eyes, which were delicately arched, was singularly searching. His figure was slight but compact. His dress was plain, but a model in its fashion. He was habited entirely in black, and his only ornament were his studs, which were turquoise and of great size: but there never were such boots, so brilliant and so small!
He welcomed Lord Catchimwhocan in a voice scarcely above a whisper, and received Captain Armine in a manner alike graceful and dignified.
'My dear Sharpe,' said his lordship, 'I am going to introduce to you my most particular friend, and an old brother officer. This is Captain Armine, the only son of Sir Ratcliffe, and the heir of Armine Castle. He is going to be married very soon to his cousin, Miss Grandison, the greatest heiress in England.'
'Hush, hush,' said Ferdinand, shrinking under this false representation, and Mr. Sharpe with considerate delicacy endeavoured to check his lordship.
'Well, never mind, I will say nothing about that,' continued Lord Catchimwhocan. 'The long and the short of it is this, that my friend Armine is hard up, and we must carry on the war till we get into winter quarters. You are just the man for him, and by Jove, my dear Sharpe, if you wish sensibly to oblige me, who I am sure am one of your warmest friends, you will do everything for Armine that human energy can possibly effect.'
'What is the present difficulty that you have?' enquired Mr. Sharpe of our hero, in a calm whisper.
'Why, the present difficulty that he has,' said Lord Catchimwhocan, 'is that he wants 1,500L.'
'I suppose you have raised money, Captain Armine?' said Mr. Sharpe.
'In every way,' said Captain Armine.
'Of course,' said Mr. Sharpe, 'at your time of life one naturally does. And I suppose you are bothered for this 1,500L.'
'I am threatened with immediate arrest, and arrest in execution.'
'Who is the party?'
'Why, I fear an unmanageable one, even by you. It is a house at Malta.'
'Mr. Bolus, I suppose?'
'I thought so.'
'Well, what can be done?' said Lord Catchimwhocan.
'Oh! there is no difficulty,' said Mr. Sharpe quietly. 'Captain Armine can have any money he likes.'
'I shall be happy,' said Captain Armine, 'to pay any consideration you think fit.'
'Oh! my dear sir, I cannot think of that. Money is a drug now. I shall be happy to accommodate you without giving you any trouble. You can have the 1,500L., if you please, this moment.'
'Really, you are very generous,' said Ferdinand, much surprised, 'but I feel I am not entitled to such favours. What security can I give you?'
'I lend the money to you. I want no security. You can repay me when you like. Give me your note of hand.' So saying, Mr. Sharpe opened a drawer, and taking out his cheque-book drew a draft for the 1,500L. 'I believe I have a stamp in the house,' he continued, looking about. 'Yes, here is one. If you will fill this up, Captain Armine, the affair may be concluded at once.'
'Upon my honour, Mr. Sharpe,' said Ferdinand, very confused, 'I do not like to appear insensible to this extraordinary kindness, but really I came here by the merest accident, and without any intention of soliciting or receiving such favours. And my kind friend here has given you much too glowing an account of my resources. It is very probable I shall occasion you great inconvenience.'
'Really, Captain Armine,' said Mr. Sharpe with a slight smile, 'if we were talking of a sum of any importance, why, one might be a little more punctilious, but for such a bagatelle we have already wasted too much time in its discussion. I am happy to serve you.'
Ferdinand stared, remembering Mr. Levison and the coals. Mr. Sharpe himself drew up the note, and presented it to Ferdinand, who signed it and pocketed the draft.
'I have several gentlemen waiting,' said Mr. Bond Sharpe; 'I am sorry I cannot take this opportunity of cultivating your acquaintance, Captain Armine, but I should esteem it a great honour if you would dine with me to-day. Your friend Lord Catchimwhocan favours me with his company, and you might meet a person or two who would amuse you.'
'I really shall be very happy,' said Ferdinand.
And Mr. Bond Sharpe again slightly rose and bowed them out of the room.
'Well, is not he a trump?' said Lord Catchimwhocan, when they were once more in the cab.
'I am so astonished,' said Ferdinand, 'that I cannot speak. Who in the name of fortune is this great man?'
'A genius,' said Lord Catchimwhocan. 'Don't you think he is a deuced good-looking fellow?'
'The best-looking fellow I ever saw,' said the grateful Ferdinand.
'And capital manners?'
'Neatest dressed man in town!'
'What a house!'
'Did you ever see such furniture? It beats your rooms at Malta.'
'I never saw anything more complete in my life.'
'What plate!' 'Miraculous!' 'And, believe me, we shall have the best dinner in town.'
'Well, he has given me an appetite,' said Ferdinand. 'But who is he?'
'Why, by business he is what is called a conveyancer; that is to say, he is a lawyer by inspiration.'
'He is a wonderful man,' said Ferdinand. 'He must be very rich.'
'Yes; Sharpe must be worth his quarter of a million. And he has made it in such a deuced short time!'
'Why, he is not much older than we are!'
'Ten years ago that man was a prizefighter,' said Lord Catchimwhocan.
'A prizefighter!' exclaimed Ferdinand.
'Yes; and licked everybody. But he was too great a genius for the ring, and took to the turf.'
'Then he set up a hell.'
'And then he turned it into a subscription-house.'
'He keeps his hell still, but it works itself now. In the mean time he is the first usurer in the world, and will be in the next Parliament.'
'But if he lends money on the terms he accommodates me, he will hardly increase his fortune.'
'Oh! he can do the thing when he likes. He took a fancy to you. The fact is, my dear fellow, Sharpe is very rich and wants to get into society. He likes to oblige young men of distinction, and can afford to risk a few thousands now and then. By dining with him to-day you have quite repaid him for his loan. Besides, the fellow has a great soul; and, though born on a dung-hill, nature intended him for a palace, and he has placed himself there.'
'Well, this has been a remarkable morning,' said Ferdinand Armine, as Lord Catchimwhocan set him down at his club. 'I am very much obliged to you, dear Catch!'
'Not a word, my dear fellow. You have helped me before this, and glad am I to be the means of assisting the best fellow in the world, and that we all think you. Au revoir! We dine at eight.'
Miss Grandison Makes a Remarkable Discovery.
IN THE mean time, while the gloomy morning which Ferdinand had anticipated terminated with so agreeable an adventure, Henrietta and Miss Grandison, accompanied by Lord Montfort and Glastonbury, paid their promised visit to the British Museum.
'I am sorry that Captain Armine could not accompany us,' said Lord Montfort. 'I sent to him this morning early, but he was already out.'
'He has many affairs to attend to,' said Glastonbury.
Miss Temple looked grave; she thought of poor Ferdinand and all his cares. She knew well what were those affairs to which Glastonbury alluded. The thought that perhaps at this moment he was struggling with rapacious creditors made her melancholy. The novelty and strangeness of the objects which awaited her, diverted, however, her mind from these painful reflections. Miss Grandison, who had never quitted England, was delighted with everything she saw; but the Egyptian gallery principally attracted the attention of Miss Temple. Lord Montfort, regardful of his promise to Henrietta, was very attentive to Miss Grandison.
'I cannot help regretting that your cousin is not here,' said his lordship, returning to a key that he had already touched. But Katherine made no answer.
'He seemed so much better for the exertion he made yesterday,' resumed Lord Montfort. 'I think it would do him good to be more with us.'
'He seems to like to be alone,' said Katherine.
'I wonder at that,' said Lord Montfort; 'I cannot conceive a happier life than we all lead.'
'You have cause to be happy, and Ferdinand has not,' said Miss Grandison, calmly.
'I should have thought that he had very great cause,' said Lord Montfort, enquiringly.
'No person in the world is so unhappy as Ferdinand,' said Katherine.
'But cannot we cure his unhappiness?' said his lordship. 'We are his friends; it seems to me, with such friends as Miss Grandison and Miss Temple one ought never to be unhappy.'
'Miss Temple can scarcely be called a friend of Ferdinand,' said Katherine.
'Indeed, a very warm one, I assure you.'
'Ah, that is your influence.'
'Nay, it is her own impulse.'
'But she only met him yesterday for the first time.'
'I assure you Miss Temple is an older friend of Captain Armine than I am,' said his lordship.
'Indeed!' said Miss Grandison, with an air of considerable astonishment.
'You know they were neighbours in the country.'
'In the country!' repeated Miss Grandison.
'Yes; Mr. Temple, you know, resided not far from Armine.'
'Not far from Armine!' still repeated Miss Grandison.
'Digby,' said Miss Temple, turning to him at this moment, 'tell Mr. Glastonbury about your sphinx at Rome. It was granite, was it not?'
'And most delicately carved. I never remember having observed an expression of such beautiful serenity. The discovery that, after all, they are male countenances is quite mortifying. I loved their mysterious beauty.'
What Lord Montfort had mentioned of the previous acquaintance of Henrietta and her cousin made Miss Grandison muse. Miss Temple's address to Ferdinand yesterday had struck her at the moment as somewhat singular; but the impression had not dwelt upon her mind. But now it occurred to her as very strange, that Henrietta should have become so intimate with the Armine family and herself, and never have mentioned that she was previously acquainted with their nearest relative. Lady Armine was not acquainted with Miss Temple until they met at Bellair House. That was certain. Miss Grandison had witnessed their mutual introduction. Nor Sir Ratcliffe. And yet Henrietta and Ferdinand were friends, warm friends, old friends, intimately acquainted: so said Lord Montfort, and Lord Montfort never coloured, never exaggerated. All this was very mysterious. And if they were friends, old friends, warm friends, and Lord Montfort said they were, and, therefore, there could be no doubt of the truth of the statement, their recognition of each other yesterday was singularly frigid.
It was not indicative of a very intimate acquaintance. Katherine had ascribed it to the natural disrelish of Ferdinand now to be introduced to anyone. And yet they were friends, old friends, warm friends. Henrietta Temple and Ferdinand Armine! Miss Grandison was so perplexed that she scarcely looked at another object in the galleries.
The ladies were rather tired when they returned from the Museum. Lord Montfort walked to the Travellers, and Henrietta agreed to remain and dine in Brook-street. Katherine and herself retired to Miss Grandison's boudoir, a pretty chamber, where they were sure of being alone. Henrietta threw herself upon a sofa, and took up the last new novel; Miss Grandison seated herself on an ottoman by her side, and worked at a purse which she was making for Mr. Temple.
'Do you like that book?' said Katherine.
'I like the lively parts, but not the serious ones,' replied Miss Temple; 'the author has observed but he has not felt.'
'It is satirical,' said Miss Grandison; 'I wonder why all this class of writers aim now at the sarcastic. I do not find life the constant sneer they make it.'
'It is because they do not understand life,' said Henrietta, 'but have some little experience of society. Therefore their works give a perverted impression of human conduct; for they accept as a principal, that which is only an insignificant accessory; and they make existence a succession of frivolities, when even the career of the most frivolous has its profounder moments.'
'How vivid is the writer's description of a ball or a dinner,' said Miss Grandison; 'everything lives and moves. And yet, when the hero makes love, nothing can be more unnatural. His feelings are neither deep, nor ardent, nor tender. All is stilted, and yet ludicrous.'
'I do not despise the talent which describes so vividly a dinner and a ball,' said Miss Temple. 'As far as it goes it is very amusing, but it should be combined with higher materials. In a fine novel, manners should be observed, and morals should be sustained; we require thought and passion, as well as costume and the lively representation of conventional arrangements; and the thought and passion will be the better for these accessories, for they will be relieved in the novel as they are relieved in life, and the whole will be more true.'
'But have you read that love scene, Henrietta? It appeared to me so ridiculous!'
'I never read love scenes,' said Henrietta Temple.
'Oh, I love a love story,' said Miss Grandison, smiling, 'if it be natural and tender, and touch my heart. When I read such scenes, I weep.'
'Ah, my sweet Katherine, you are soft-hearted.'
'And you, Henrietta, what are you?'
'Hard-hearted. The most callous of mortals.'
'Oh, what would Lord Montfort say?'
'Lord Montfort knows it. We never have love scenes.'
'And yet you love him?'
'Dearly; I love and esteem him.'
'Well,' said Miss Grandison, 'I may be wrong, but if I were a man I do not think I should like the lady of my love to esteem me.'
'And yet esteem is the only genuine basis of happiness, believe me, Kate. Love is a dream.'
'And how do you know, dear Henrietta?'
'All writers agree it is.'
'The writers you were just ridiculing?'
'A fair retort; and yet, though your words are the more witty, believe me, mine are the more wise.'
'I wish my cousin would wake from his dream,' said Katherine. 'To tell you a secret, love is the cause of his unhappiness. Don't move, dear Henrietta,' added Miss Grandison; 'we are so happy here;' for Miss Temple, in truth, seemed not a little discomposed.
'You should marry your cousin,' said Miss Temple.
'You little know Ferdinand or myself, when you give that advice,' said Katherine. 'We shall never marry; nothing is more certain than that. In the first place, to be frank, Ferdinand would not marry me, nothing would induce him; and in the second place, I would not marry him, nothing would induce me.'
'Why not?' said Henrietta, in a low tone, holding her book very near to her face.
'Because I am sure that we should not be happy,' said Miss Grandison. 'I love Ferdinand, and once could have married him. He is so brilliant that I could not refuse his proposal. And yet I feel it is better for me that we have not married, and I hope it may yet prove better for him, for I love him very dearly. He is indeed my brother.'
'But why should you not be happy?' enquired Miss Temple.
'Because we are not suited to each other. Ferdinand must marry some one whom he looks up to, somebody brilliant like himself, some one who can sympathise with all his fancies. I am too calm and quiet for him. You would suit him much better, Henrietta.'
'You are his cousin; it is a misfortune; if you were not, he would adore you, and you would sympathise with him.'
'I think not: I should like to marry a very clever man,' said Katherine. 'I could not endure marrying a fool, or a commonplace person; I should like to marry a person very superior in talent to myself, some one whose opinion would guide me on all points, one from whom I could not differ. But not Ferdinand; he is too imaginative, too impetuous; he would neither guide me, nor be guided by me.'
Miss Temple did not reply, but turned over a page of her book.
'Did you know Ferdinand before you met him yesterday at our house?' enquired Miss Grandison, very innocently.
'Yes!' said Miss Temple.
'I thought you did,' said Miss Grandison, 'I thought there was something in your manner that indicated you had met before. I do not think you knew my aunt before you met her at Bellair House?'
'I did not.'
'Nor Sir Ratclifle?'
'Nor Sir Ratclifle.'
'But you did know Mr. Glastonbury?'
'I did know Mr. Glastonbury.'
'How very odd!' said Miss Grandison.
'What is odd?' enquired Henrietta.
'That you should have known Ferdinand before.'
'Not at all odd. He came over one day to shoot at papa's. I remember him very well.'
'Oh,' said Miss Grandison. 'And did Mr. Glastonbury come over to shoot?'
'I met Mr. Glastonbury one morning that I went to see the picture gallery at Armine. It is the only time I ever saw him.'
'Oh!' said Miss Grandison again, 'Armine is a beautiful place, is it not?'
'You know the pleasaunce.'
'I did not see you when I was at Armine.'
'No; we had just gone to Italy.'
'How beautiful you look to-day, Henrietta!' said Miss Grandison. 'Who could believe that you ever were so ill!'
'I am grateful that I have recovered,' said Henrietta. 'And yet I never thought that I should return to England.'
'You must have been so very ill in Italy, about the same time as poor Ferdinand was at Armine. Only think, how odd you should both have been so ill about the same time, and now that we should all be so intimate!'
Miss Temple looked perplexed and annoyed. 'Is it so odd?' she at length said in a low tone.
'Henrietta Temple,' said Miss Grandison, with great earnestness, 'I have discovered a secret; you are the lady with whom my cousin is in love.'
In Which Ferdinand Has the Honour of Dining with Mr. Bond Sharpe.
WHEN Ferdinand arrived at Mr. Bond Sharpe's he was welcomed by his host in a magnificent suite of saloons, and introduced to two of the guests who had previously arrived. The first was a stout man, past middle age, whose epicurean countenance twinkled with humour. This was Lord Castlefyshe, an Irish peer of great celebrity in the world of luxury and play, keen at a bet, still keener at a dinner. Nobody exactly knew who the other gentleman, Mr. Bland-ford, really was, but he had the reputation of being enormously rich, and was proportionately respected. He had been about town for the last twenty years, and did not look a day older than at his first appearance. He never spoke of his family, was unmarried, and apparently had no relations; but he had contrived to identify himself with the first men in London, was a member of every club of great repute, and of late years had even become a sort of authority; which was strange, for he had no pretension, was very quiet, and but humbly ambitious; seeking, indeed, no happier success than to merge in the brilliant crowd, an accepted atom of the influential aggregate. As he was not remarkable for his talents or his person, and as his establishment, though well appointed, offered no singular splendour, it was rather strange that a gentleman who had apparently dropped from the clouds, or crept out of a kennel, should have succeeded in planting himself so vigorously in a soil which shrinks from anything not indigenous, unless it be recommended by very powerful qualities. But Mr. Bland-ford was good-tempered, and was now easy and experienced, and there was a vague tradition that he was immensely rich, a rumour which Mr. Blandford always contradicted in a manner which skilfully confirmed its truth.
'Does Mirabel dine with you, Sharpe?' enquired Lord Castlefyshe of his host, who nodded assent.
'You won't wait for him, I hope?' said his lordship. 'By-the-bye, Blandford, you shirked last night.'
'I promised to look in at the poor duke's before he went off,' said Mr. Blandford.
'Oh! he has gone, has he?' said Lord Castlefyshe. 'Does he take his cook with him?'
But here the servant ushered in Count Alcibiades de Mirabel, Charles Doricourt, and Mr. Bevil.
'Excellent Sharpe, how do you do?' exclaimed the Count. 'Castlefyshe, what betises have you been talking to Crocky about Felix Winchester? Good Blandford, excellent Blandford, how is my good Blandford?'
Mr. Bevil was a tall and handsome young man, of a great family and great estate, who passed his life in an imitation of Count Alcibiades de Mirabel. He was always dressed by the same tailor, and it was his pride that his cab or his vis-a-vis was constantly mistaken for the equipage of his model; and really now, as the shade stood beside its substance, quite as tall, almost as good-looking, with the satin-lined coat thrown open with the same style of flowing grandeur, and revealing a breastplate of starched cambric scarcely less broad and brilliant, the uninitiated might have held the resemblance as perfect. The wristbands were turned up with not less compact precision, and were fastened by jewelled studs that glittered with not less radiancy. The satin waistcoat, the creaseless hosen, were the same; and if the foot were not quite as small, its Parisian polish was not less bright. But here, unfortunately, Mr. Bevil's mimetic powers deserted him.
We start, for soul is wanting there!
The Count Mirabel could talk at all times, and at all times well; Mr. Bevil never opened his mouth. Practised in the world, the Count Mirabel was nevertheless the child of impulse, though a native grace, and an intuitive knowledge of mankind, made every word pleasing and every act appropriate; Mr. Bevil was all art, and he had not the talent to conceal it. The Count Mirabel was gay, careless, generous; Mr. Bevil was solemn, calculating, and rather a screw. It seemed that the Count Mirabel's feelings grew daily more fresh, and his faculty of enjoyment more keen and relishing; it seemed that Mr. Bevil could never have been a child, but that he must have issued to the world ready equipped, like Minerva, with a cane instead of a lance, and a fancy hat instead of a helmet. His essence of high breeding was never to be astonished, and he never permitted himself to smile, except in the society of intimate friends.
Charles Doricourt was another friend of the Count Mirabel, but not his imitator. His feelings were really worn, but it was a fact he always concealed. He had entered life at a remarkably early age, and had experienced every scrape to which youthful flesh is heir. Any other man but Charles Doricourt must have sunk beneath these accumulated disasters, but Charles Doricourt always swam. Nature had given him an intrepid soul; experience had cased his heart with iron. But he always smiled; and audacious, cool, and cutting, and very easy, he thoroughly despised mankind, upon whose weaknesses he practised without remorse. But he was polished and amusing, and faithful to his friends. The world admired him, and called him Charley, from which it will be inferred that he was a privileged person, and was applauded for a thousand actions, which in anyone else would have been met with decided reprobation.
'Who is that young man?' enquired the Count Mirabel of Mr. Bond Sharpe, taking his host aside, and pretending to look at a picture.
'He is Captain Armine, the only son of Sir Ratcliffe Armine. He has just returned to England after a long absence.'
'Hum! I like his appearance,' said the Count. 'It is very distinguished.'
Dinner and Lord Catchimwhocan were announced at the same moment; Captain Armine found himself seated next to the Count Mirabel. The dinners at Mr. Bond Sharpe's were dinners which his guests came to eat. Mr. Bond Sharpe had engaged for his club-house the most celebrated of living artists, a gentleman who, it was said, received a thousand a-year, whose convenience was studied by a chariot, and amusement secured by a box at the French play. There was, therefore, at first little conversation, save criticism on the performances before them, and that chiefly panegyrical; each dish was delicious, each wine exquisite; and yet, even in these occasional remarks, Ferdinand was pleased with the lively fancy of his neighbour, affording an elegant contrast to the somewhat gross unction with which Lord Castlefyshe, whose very soul seemed wrapped up in his occupation, occasionally expressed himself.
'Will you take some wine, Captain Armine?' said the Count Mirabel, with a winning smile. 'You have recently returned here?'
'Very recently,' said Ferdinand.
'And you are glad?'
'As it may be; I hardly know whether to rejoice or not.'
'Then, by all means rejoice,' said the Count; 'for, if you are in doubt, it surely must be best to decide upon being pleased.'
'I think this is the most infernal country there ever was,' said Lord Catchimwhocan.
'My dear Catch!' said the Count Mirabel, 'you think so, do you? You make a mistake, you think no such thing, my dear Catch. Why is it the most infernal? Is it because the women are the handsomest, or because the horses are the best? Is it because it is the only country where you can get a good dinner, or because it is the only country where there are fine wines? Or is it because it is the only place where you can get a coat made, or where you can play without being cheated, or where you can listen to an opera without your ears being destroyed? Now, my dear Catch, you pass your life in dressing and in playing hazard, in eating good dinners, in drinking good wines, in making love, in going to the opera, and in riding fine horses. Of what, then, have you to complain?'
'Oh! the damned climate!'
'On the contrary, it is the only good climate there is. In England you can go out every day, and at all hours; and then, to those who love variety, like myself, you are not sure of seeing the same sky every morning you rise, which, for my part, I think the greatest of all existing sources of ennui.'
'You reconcile me to my country, Count,' said Ferdinand, smiling.
'Ah! you are a sensible man; but that dear Catch is always repeating nonsense which he hears from somebody else. To-morrow,' he added, in a low voice, 'he will be for the climate.'
The conversation of men, when they congregate together, is generally dedicated to one of two subjects: politics or women. In the present instance the party was not political; and it was the fair sex, and particularly the most charming portion of it, in the good metropolis of England, that were subject to the poignant criticism or the profound speculation of these practical philosophers. There was scarcely a celebrated beauty in London, from the proud peeress to the vain opera-dancer, whose charms and conduct were not submitted to their masterly analysis. And yet it would be but fair to admit that their critical ability was more eminent and satisfactory than their abstract reasoning upon this interesting topic; for it was curious to observe that, though everyone present piqued himself upon his profound knowledge of the sex, not two of the sages agreed in the constituent principles of female character. One declared that women were governed by their feelings; another maintained that they had no heart; a third propounded that it was all imagination; a fourth that it was all vanity. Lord Castlefyshe muttered something about their passions; and Charley Doricourt declared that they had no passions whatever. But they all agreed in one thing, to wit, that the man who permitted himself a moment's uneasiness about a woman was a fool.
All this time Captain Armine spoke little, but ever to the purpose, and chiefly to the Count Mirabel, who pleased him. Being very handsome, and, moreover, of a distinguished appearance, this silence on the part of Ferdinand made him a general favourite, and even Mr. Bevil whispered his approbation to Lord Catchimwhocan.
'The fact is,' said Charles Doricourt, 'it is only boys and old men who are plagued by women. They take advantage of either state of childhood. Eh! Castlefyshe?'
'In that respect, then, somewhat resembling you, Charley,' replied his lordship, who did not admire the appeal. 'For no one can doubt you plagued your father; I was out of my teens, fortunately, before you played ecarte.'
'Come, good old Fyshe,' said Count Mirabel, 'take a glass of claret, and do not look so fierce. You know very well that Charley learned everything of you.'
'He never learned from me to spend a fortune upon an actress,' said his lordship. 'I ave spent a fortune, but, thank heaven, it was on myself.'
'Well, as for that,' said the Count, 'I think there is something great in being ruined for one's friends. If I were as rich as I might have been, I would not spend much on myself. My wants are few; a fine house, fine carriages, fine horses, a complete wardrobe, the best opera-box, the first cook, and pocket-money; that is all I require. I have these, and I get on pretty well; but if I had a princely fortune I would make every good fellow I know quite happy.'
'Well,' said Charles Doricourt, 'you are a lucky fellow, Mirabel. I have had horses, houses, carriages, opera-boxes, and cooks, and I have had a great estate; but pocket-money I never could get. Pocket-money was the thing which always cost me the most to buy of all.'
The conversation now fell upon the theatre. Mr. Bond Sharpe was determined to have a theatre. He believed it was reserved for him to revive the drama. Mr. Bond Sharpe piqued himself upon his patronage of the stage. He certainly had a great admiration of actresses. There was something in the management of a great theatre which pleased the somewhat imperial fancy of Mr. Bond Sharpe. The manager of a great theatre is a kind of monarch. Mr. Bond Sharpe longed to seat himself on the throne, with the prettiest women in London for his court, and all his fashionable friends rallying round their sovereign. He had an impression that great results might be obtained with his organising energy and illimitable capital. Mr. Bond Sharpe had unbounded confidence in the power of capital. Capital was his deity. He was confident that it could always produce alike genius and triumph. Mr. Bond Sharpe was right: capital is a wonderful thing, but we are scarcely aware of this fact until we are past thirty; and then, by some singular process, which we will not now stop to analyse, one's capital is in general sensibly diminished. As men advance in life, all passions resolve themselves into money. Love, ambition, even poetry, end in this.
'Are you going to Shropshire's this autumn, Charley?' said Lord Catchimwhocan.
'Yes, I shall go.'
'I don't think I shall,' said his lordship; 'it is such a bore.'
'It is rather a bore; but he is a good fellow.'
'I shall go,' said Count Mirabel.
'You are not afraid of being bored,' said Ferdinand, smiling.
'Between ourselves, I do not understand what this being bored is,' said the Count. 'He who is bored appears to me a bore. To be bored supposes the inability of being amused; you must be a dull fellow. Wherever I may be, I thank heaven that I am always diverted.'
'But you have such nerves, Mirabel,' said Lord Catchimwhocan. 'By Jove! I envy you. You are never floored.'
'Floored! what an idea! What should floor me? I live to amuse myself, and I do nothing that does not amuse me. Why should I be floored?'
'Why, I do not know; but every other man is floored now and then. As for me, my spirits are sometimes something dreadful.'
'When you have been losing.'
'Well, we cannot always win. Can we, Sharpe? That would not do. But, by Jove! you are always in good humour, Mirabel, when you lose.'
'Fancy a man ever being in low spirits,' said the Count Mirabel. 'Life is too short for such betises. The most unfortunate wretch alive calculates unconsciously that it is better to live than to die. Well, then, he has something in his favour. Existence is a pleasure, and the greatest. The world cannot rob us of that; and if it is better to live than to die, it is better to live in a good humour than a bad one. If a man be convinced that existence is the greatest pleasure, his happiness may be increased by good fortune, but it will be essentially independent of it. He who feels that the greatest source of pleasure always remains to him ought never to be miserable. The sun shines on all: every man can go to sleep: if you cannot ride a fine horse, it is something to look upon one; if you have not a fine dinner, there is some amusement in a crust of bread and Gruyere. Feel slightly, think little, never plan, never brood. Everything depends upon the circulation; take care of it. Take the world as you find it; enjoy everything. Vive la bagatelle!'
Here the gentlemen rose, took their coffee, and ordered their carriages.
'Come with us,' said Count Mirabel to Ferdinand.
Our hero accepted the offer of his agreeable acquaintance. There was a great prancing and rushing of cabs and vis-a-vis at Mr. Bond Sharpe's door, and in a few minutes the whole party were dashing up St. James'-street, where they stopped before a splendid building, resplendent with lights and illuminated curtains.
'Come, we will make you an honorary member, mon cher Captain Armine,' said the Count; 'and do not say Lasciate ogni speranza when you enter here.'
They ascended a magnificent staircase, and entered a sumptuous and crowded saloon, in which the entrance of Count Mirabel and his friends made no little sensation. Mr. Bond Sharpe glided along, dropping oracular sentences, without condescending to stop to speak to those whom he addressed. Charley Doricourt and Mr. Blandford walked away together, towards a further apartment. Lord Castlefyshe and Lord Catchimwhocan were soon busied with ecarte.
'Well, Faneville, good general, how do you do?' said Count Mirabel. 'Where have you dined to-day? at the Balcombes'? You are a very brave man, mon general! Ah! Stock, good Stock, excellent Stock!' he continued, addressing Mr. Million de Stockville, 'that Burgundy you sent me is capital. How are you, my dear fellow? Quite well? Fitzwarrene, I did that for you: your business is all right. Ah! my good Massey, mon cher, mon brave, Anderson will let you have that horse. And what is doing here? Is there any fun? Fitzwarrene, let me introduce you to my friend Captain Armine:' (in a lower tone) 'excellent garcon! You will like him very much. We have been all dining at Bond's.'
'A good dinner?'
'Of course a good dinner. I should like to see a man who would give me a bad dinner: that would be a betise,—to ask me to dine, and then give me a bad dinner.'
'I say, Mirabel,' exclaimed a young man, 'have you seen Horace Poppington about the match?'
'It is arranged; 'tis the day after to-morrow, at nine o'clock.'
'Well, I bet on you, you know.'
'Of course you bet on me. Would you think of betting on that good Pop, with that gun? Pah! Eh! bien! I shall go in the next room.' And the Count walked away, followed by Mr. Bevil.
Ferdinand remained talking for some time with Lord Fitzwarrene. By degrees the great saloon had become somewhat thinner: some had stolen away to the House, where a division was expected; quiet men, who just looked in after dinner, had retired; and the play-men were engaged in the contiguous apartments. Mr. Bond Sharpe approached Ferdinand, and Lord Fitzwarrene took this opportunity of withdrawing.
'I believe you never play, Captain Armine,' said Mr. Bond Sharpe.
'Never,' said Ferdinand.
'You are quite right.'
'I am rather surprised at your being of that opinion,' said Ferdinand, with a smile.
Mr. Bond Sharpe shrugged his shoulders. 'There will always be votaries enough,' said Mr. Bond Sharpe, 'whatever may be my opinion.'
'This is a magnificent establishment of yours,' said Ferdinand.
'Yes; it is a very magnificent establishment. I have spared no expense to produce the most perfect thing of the kind in Europe; and it is the most perfect thing of the kind. I am confident that no noble in any country has an establishment better appointed. I despatched an agent to the Continent to procure this furniture: his commission had no limit, and he was absent two years. My cook was with Charles X.; the cellar is the most choice and considerable that was ever collected. I take a pride in the thing, but I lose money by it.'
'I have made a fortune; there is no doubt of that; but I did not make it here.'
'It is a great thing to make a fortune,' said Ferdinand.
'Very great,' said Mr. Bond Sharpe. 'There is only one thing greater, and that is, to keep it when made.'
'Many men make fortunes; few can keep them,' said Mr. Bond Sharpe. 'Money is power, and rare are the heads that can withstand the possession of great power.'
'At any rate, it is to be hoped that you have discovered this more important secret,' said Ferdinand; 'though I confess to judge from my own experience, I should fear that you are too generous.'
'I had forgotten that to which you allude,' said his companion, quietly. 'But with regard to myself, whatever may be my end, I have not yet reached my acme.'
'You have at least my good wishes,' said Ferdinand.
'I may some day claim them,' said Mr. Bond Sharpe. 'My position,' he continued, 'is difficult. I have risen by pursuits which the world does not consider reputable, yet if I had not had recourse to them, I should be less than nothing. My mind, I think, is equal to my fortune; I am still young, and I would now avail myself of my power and establish myself in the land, a recognised member of society. But this cannot be. Society shrinks from an obscure foundling, a prizefighter, a leg, a hell-keeper, and an usurer. Debarred therefore from a fair theatre for my energy and capital, I am forced to occupy, perhaps exhaust, myself in multiplied speculations. Hitherto they have flourished, and perhaps my theatre, or my newspaper, may be as profitable as my stud. But I would gladly emancipate myself. These efforts seem to me, as it were, unnecessary and unnatural. The great object has been gained. It is a tempting of fate. I have sometimes thought myself the Napoleon of the sporting world; I may yet find my St. Helena.' 'Forewarned, forearmed, Mr. Sharpe.' 'I move in a magic circle: it is difficult to extricate myself from it. Now, for instance, there is not a man in the room who is not my slave. You see how they treat me. They place me upon an equality with them. They know my weakness; they fool me to the top of my bent. And yet there is not a man in that room who, if I were to break to-morrow, would walk down St. James'-street to serve me. Yes! there is one; there is the Count. He has a great and generous soul. I believe Count Mirabel sympathises with my situation. I believe he does not think, because a man has risen from an origin the most ignoble and obscure to a powerful position, by great courage and dexterity, and let me add also, by some profound thought, by struggling too, be it remembered, with a class of society as little scrupulous, though not so skilful as himself, that he is necessarily an infamous character. What if, at eighteen years of age, without a friend in the world, trusting to the powerful frame and intrepid spirit with which Nature had endowed me, I flung myself into the ring? Who should be a gladiator if I were not? Is that a crime? What if, at a later period, with a brain for calculation which none can rival, I invariably succeeded in that in which the greatest men in the country fail! Am I to be branded because I have made half a million by a good book? What if I have kept a gambling-house? From the back parlour of an oyster-shop my hazard table has been removed to this palace. Had the play been foul, this metamorphosis would never have occurred. It is true I am an usurer. My dear sir, if all the usurers in this great metropolis could only pass in procession before you at this moment, how you would start! You might find some Right Honourables among them; many a great functionary, many a grave magistrate; fathers of families, the very models of respectable characters, patrons and presidents of charitable institutions, and subscribers for the suppression of those very gaming-houses whose victims, in nine cases out of ten, are their principal customers. I speak not in bitterness. On the whole, I must not complain of the world, but I have seen a great deal of mankind, and more than most, of what is considered its worst portion. The world, Captain Armine, believe me, is neither so bad nor so good as some are apt to suppose. And after all,' said Mr. Bond Sharpe, shrugging up his shoulders, 'perhaps we ought to say with our friend the Count, Vive la bagatelle! Will you take some supper?'
Miss Grandison Piques the Curiosity of Lord Montfort, and Count Mirabel Drives Ferdinand Down to Richmond, Which Drive Ends in an Agreeable Adventure and an Unexpected Confidence.
THE discovery that Henrietta Temple was the secret object of Ferdinand's unhappy passion, was a secret which Miss Grandison prized like a true woman. Not only had she made this discovery, but from her previous knowledge and her observation during her late interview with Miss Temple, Katherine was persuaded that Henrietta must still love her cousin as before. Miss Grandison was attached to Henrietta; she was interested in her cousin's welfare, and devoted to the Armine family. All her thoughts and all her energies were engaged in counteracting, if possible, the consequences of those unhappy misconceptions which had placed them all in this painful position.
It was on the next day that she had promised to accompany the duchess and Henrietta on a water excursion. Lord Montfort was to be their cavalier. In the morning she found herself alone with his lordship in St. James'-square.
'What a charming day!' said Miss Grandison. 'I anticipate so much pleasure! Who is our party?'
'Ourselves alone,' said Lord Montfort. 'Lady Armine cannot come, and Captain Armine is engaged. I fear you will find it very dull, Miss Grandison.'
'Oh! not at all. By-the-bye, do you know I was surprised yesterday at finding that Ferdinand and Henrietta were such old acquaintances.'
'Were you?' said Lord Montfort, in a peculiar tone.
'It is odd that Ferdinand never will go with us anywhere. I think it is very bad taste.'
'I think so too,' said Lord Montfort.
'I should have thought that Henrietta was the very person he would have admired; that he would have been quite glad to be with us. I can easily understand his being wearied to death with a cousin,' said Miss Grandison; 'but Henrietta,—it is so strange that he should not avail himself of the delight of being with her.'
'Do you really think that such a cousin as Miss Grandison can drive him away?'
'Why, to tell you the truth, dear Lord Montfort, Ferdinand is placed in a very awkward position with me. You are our friend, and so I speak to you in confidence. Sir Ratcliffe and Lady Armine both expect that Ferdinand and myself are going to be married. Now, neither of us has the slightest intention of anything of the sort.'
'Very strange, indeed,' said Lord Montfort. 'The world will be much astonished, more so than myself, for I confess to a latent suspicion on the subject.'
'Yes, I was aware of that,' said Miss Grandison, 'or I should not have spoken with so much frankness. For my own part, I think we are very wise to insist upon having our own way, for an ill-assorted marriage must be a most melancholy business.' Miss Grandison spoke with an air almost of levity, which was rather unusual with her.
'An ill-assorted marriage,' said Lord Montfort. 'And what do you call an ill-assorted marriage, Miss Grandison?'
'Why, many circumstances might constitute such an union,' said Katherine; 'but I think if one of the parties were in love with another person, that would be quite sufficient to ensure a tolerable portion of wretchedness.'
'I think so too,' said Lord Montfort; 'an union, under such circumstances, would be ill-assorted. But Miss Grandison is not in that situation?' he added with a faint smile.
'That is scarcely a fair question,' said Katherine, with gaiety, 'but there is no doubt Ferdinand Armine is.'
'Yes; he is in love, desperately in love; that I have long discovered. I wonder with whom it can be!'
'I wonder!' said Lord Montfort.
'Do you?' said Miss Grandison. 'Well, I have sometimes thought that you might have a latent suspicion of that subject, too. I thought you were his confidant.'
'I!' said Lord Montfort; 'I, of all men in the world?'
'And why not you of all men in the world?' said Miss Grandison.
'Our intimacy is so slight,' said Lord Montfort.
'Hum!' said Miss Grandison. 'And now I think of it, it does appear to me very strange how we have all become suddenly such intimate friends. The Armines and your family not previously acquainted: Miss Temple, too, unknown to my aunt and uncle. And yet we never live now out of each other's sight. I am sure I am grateful for it; I am sure it is very agreeable, but still it does appear to me to be very odd. I wonder what the reason can be?'
'It is that you are so charming, Miss Grandison,' said Lord Montfort.
'A compliment from you!'
'Indeed, no compliment, dearest Miss Grandison,' said Lord Montfort, drawing near her. 'Favoured as Miss Temple is in so many respects, in none, in my opinion, is she more fortunate than in the possession of so admirable a friend.'
'Not even in the possession of so admirable a lover, my lord?'
'All must love Miss Temple who are acquainted with her,' said Lord Montfort, seriously.
'Indeed, I think so,' said Katherine, in a more subdued voice. 'I love her; her career fills me with a strange and singular interest. May she be happy, for happiness she indeed deserves!'
'I have no fonder wish than to secure that happiness, Miss Grandison,' said Lord Montfort; 'by any means,' he added.
'She is so interesting!' said Katherine. 'When you first knew her she was very ill?'
'She seems quite recovered.'
'I hope so.'
'Mr. Temple says her spirits are not what they used to be. I wonder what was the matter with her?'
Lord Montfort was silent.
'I cannot bear to see a fine spirit broken,' continued Miss Grandison. 'There was Ferdinand. Oh! if you had but known my cousin before he was unhappy. Oh! that was a spirit! He was the most brilliant being that ever lived. And then I was with him during all his illness. It was so terrible. I almost wish we could have loved each other. It is very strange, he must have been ill at Armine, at the very time Henrietta was ill in Italy. And I was with him in England, while you were solacing her. And now we are all friends. There seems a sort of strange destiny in our lots, does there not?'
'A happy lot that can in any way be connected with Miss Grandison,' said Lord Montfort.
At this moment her Grace and Henrietta entered; the carriage was ready; and in a few minutes they were driving to Whitehall Stairs, where a beautiful boat awaited them.
In the mean time, Ferdinand Armine was revolving the strange occurrences of yesterday. Altogether it was an exciting and satisfactory day. In the first place, he had extricated himself from his most pressing difficulties; in the next, he had been greatly amused; and thirdly, he had made a very interesting acquaintance, for such he esteemed Count Mirabel. Just at the moment when, lounging over a very late breakfast, he was thinking of Bond Sharpe and his great career, and then turning in his mind whether it were possible to follow the gay counsels of his friends of yesterday, and never plague himself about a woman again, the Count Mirabel was announced.
Mon cher Armine,' said the Count, 'you see I kept my promise, and would find you at home.'
The Count stood before him, the best-dressed man in London, fresh and gay as a bird, with not a care on his sparkling visage, and his eye bright with bonhomie. And yet Count Mirabel had been the very last to desert the recent mysteries of Mr. Bond Sharpe; and, as usual, the dappled light of dawn had guided him to his luxurious bed, that bed which always afforded him serene slumbers, whatever might be the adventures of the day, or the result of the night's campaign. How the Count Mirabel did laugh at those poor devils who wake only to moralise over their own folly with broken spirits and aching heads! Care he knew nothing about; Time he defied; indisposition he could not comprehend. He had never been ill in his life, even for five minutes.
Ferdinand was really very glad to see him; there was something in Count Mirabel's very presence which put everybody in good spirits. His lightheartedness was caught by all. Melancholy was a farce in the presence of his smile; and there was no possible combination of scrapes that could withstand his kind and brilliant raillery. At the present moment, Ferdinand was in a sufficiently good humour with his destiny, and he kept up the ball with effect; so that nearly an hour passed in amusing conversation.
'You were a stranger among us yesterday,' said Count Mirabel; 'I think you were rather diverted. I saw you did justice to that excellent Bond Sharpe. That shows that you have a mind above prejudice. Do you know he was by far the best man at the table except ourselves?'
'It is true, he has a heart and a brain. Old Castlefyshe has neither. As for the rest of our friends, some have hearts without brains, and the rest brains without hearts. Which do you prefer?'
''Tis a fine question,' said Ferdinand; 'and yet I confess I should like to be callous.'
'Ah! but you cannot be,' said the Count, 'you have a soul of great sensibility; I see that in a moment.'
'You see very far, and very quickly, Count Mirabel,' said Ferdinand, with a little reserve.
'Yes; in a minute,' said the Count, 'in a minute I read a person's character. I know you are very much in love, because you changed countenance yesterday when we were talking of women.'
Ferdinand changed countenance again. 'You are a very extraordinary man, Count,' he at length observed.
'Of course; but, mon cher Armine, what a fine day this is! What are you going to do with yourself?'
'Nothing; I never do anything,' said Ferdinand, in an almost mournful tone.
'A melancholy man! Quelle betise! I will cure you. I will be your friend and put you all right. Now, we will just drive down to Richmond; we will have a light dinner, a flounder, a cutlet, and a bottle of champagne, and then we will go to the French play. I will introduce you to Jenny Vertpre. She is full of wit; perhaps she will ask us to supper. Allons, mon ami, mon cher Armine; allons, mon brave!' Ceremony was a farce with Alcibiades de Mirabel.
Ferdinand had nothing to do; he was attracted to his companion. The effervescence produced by yesterday's fortunate adventure had not quite subsided; he was determined to forget his sorrows, and, if only for a day, join in the lively chorus of Vive la bagatelle! So, in a few moments, he was safely ensconced in the most perfect cabriolet in London, whirled along by a horse that stepped out with a proud consciousness of its master.
The Count Mirabel enjoyed the drive to Richmond as if he had never been to Richmond in his life. The warm sun, the western breeze, every object he passed and that passed him called for his praise or observation. He inoculated Ferdinand with his gaiety, as Ferdinand listened to his light, lively tales, and his flying remarks, so full of merriment and poignant truth and daring fancy. When they had arrived at the Star and Garter, and ordered their dinner, they strolled into the Park, along the Terrace walk; and they had not proceeded fifty paces when they came up with the duchess and her party, who were resting on a bench and looking over the valley.
Ferdinand would gladly have bowed and passed on; but that was impossible. He was obliged to stop and speak to them, and it was difficult to disembarrass himself of friends who greeted him so kindly. Ferdinand presented his companion. The ladies were charmed to know so celebrated a gentleman, of whom they had heard so much. Count Mirabel, who had the finest tact in the world, but whose secret spell, after all, was perhaps only that he was always natural, adapted himself in a moment to the characters, the scene, and the occasion. He was quite delighted at these sources of amusement, that had so unexpectedly revealed themselves; and in a few minutes they had all agreed to walk together, and in due time the duchess was begging Ferdinand and his friend to dine with them. Before Ferdinand could frame an excuse, Count Mirabel had accepted the proposition. After passing the morning together so agreeably, to go and dine in separate rooms, it would be a betise. This word betise settled everything with Count Mirabel; when once he declared that anything was a betise, he would hear no more.
It was a charming stroll. Never was Count Mirabel more playful, more engaging, more completely winning. Henrietta and Katherine alike smiled upon him, and the duchess was quite enchanted. Even Lord Montfort, who might rather have entertained a prejudice against the Count before he knew him—though none could after—and who was prepared for something rather brilliant, but pretending, presumptuous, fantastic, and affected, quite yielded to his amiable gaiety, and his racy and thoroughly genuine and simple manner. So they walked and talked and laughed, and all agreed that it was the most fortunately fine day and the most felicitous rencontre that had ever occurred, until the dinner hour was at hand. The Count was at her Grace's side, and she was leaning on Miss Temple's arm. Lord Montfort and Miss Grandison had fallen back apace, as their party had increased. Ferdinand fluttered between Miss Temple and his cousin; but would have attached himself to the latter, had not Miss Temple occasionally addressed him. He was glad, however, when they returned to dinner.
'We have only availed ourselves of your Grace's permission to join our dinners,' said Count Mirabel, offering the duchess his arm. He placed himself at the head of the table; Lord Montfort took the other end. To the surprise of Ferdinand, Miss Grandison, with a heedlessness that was quite remarkable, seated herself next to the duchess, so that Ferdinand was obliged to sit by Henrietta Temple, who was thus separated from Lord Montfort.
The dinner was as gay as the stroll. Ferdinand was the only person who was silent.
'How amusing he is!' said Miss Temple, turning to Ferdinand, and speaking in an undertone.
'Yes; I envy him his gaiety.'
'I thank you; I dare say I shall in time. I have not yet quite embraced all Count Mirabel's philosophy. He says that the man who plagues himself for five minutes about a woman is an idiot. When I think the same, which I hope I may soon, I dare say I shall be as gay.'
Miss Temple addressed herself no more to Ferdinand.
They returned by water. To Ferdinand's great annoyance, the Count did not hesitate for a moment to avail himself of the duchess's proposal that he and his companion should form part of the crew. He gave immediate orders that his cabriolet should meet him at Whitehall Stairs, and Ferdinand found there was no chance of escape.
It was a delicious summer evening. The setting sun bathed the bowers of Fulham with refulgent light, just as they were off delicate Rosebank; but the air long continued warm, and always soft, and the last few miles of their pleasant voyage were tinted by the young and glittering moon.
'I wish we had brought a guitar,' said Miss Grandison; 'Count Mirabel, I am sure, would sing to us?' 'And you, you will sing to us without a guitar, will you not?' said the Count, smiling.
'Henrietta, will you sing?' said Miss Grandison. 'With you.'
'Of course; now you must,' said the Count: so they did.
This gliding home to the metropolis on a summer eve, so soft and still, with beautiful faces, as should always be the case, and with sweet sounds, as was the present—there is something very ravishing in the combination. The heart opens; it is a dangerous moment. As Ferdinand listened once more to the voice of Henrietta, even though it was blended with the sweet tones of Miss Grandison, the passionate past vividly recurred to him. Fortunately he did not sit near her; he had taken care to be the last in the boat. He turned away his face, but its stern expression did not escape the observation of the Count Mirabel.
'And now, Count Mirabel, you must really favour us,' said the duchess.
'Without a guitar?' said the Count, and he began thrumming on his arm for an accompaniment. 'Well, when I was with the Duc d'Angouleme in Spain, we sometimes indulged in a serenade at Seville. I will try to remember one.'
A SERENADE OF SEVILLE.
Come forth, come forth, the star we love Is high o'er Guadalquivir's grove, And tints each tree with golden light; Ah! Rosalie, one smile from thee were far more bright.
Come forth, come forth, the flowers that fear To blossom in the sun's career The moonlight with their odours greet; Ah! Rosalie, one sigh from thee were far more sweet!
Come forth, come forth, one hour of night, When flowers are fresh and stars are bright, Were worth an age of gaudy day; Then, Rosalie, fly, fly to me, nor longer stay!
'I hope the lady came,' said Miss Temple, 'after such a pretty song.'
'Of course,' said the Count, 'they always come.'
'Ferdinand, will you sing?' said Miss Grandison.
'I cannot, Katherine.'
'Henrietta, ask Ferdinand to sing,' said Miss Grandison; 'he makes it a rule never to do anything I ask him, but I am sure you have more influence.'
Lord Montfort came to the rescue of Miss Temple. 'Miss Temple has spoken so often to us of your singing, Captain Armine,' said his lordship; and yet Lord Montfort, in this allegation, a little departed front the habitual exactitude of his statements.
'How very strange!' thought Ferdinand; 'her callousness or her candour baffles me. I will try to sing,' he continued aloud, 'but it is a year, really, since I have sung.'
In a voice of singular power and melody, and with an expression which increased as he proceeded, until the singer seemed scarcely able to control his emotions, Captain Armine thus proceeded:—
CAPTAIN ARMINE'S SONG.
My heart is like a silent lute Some faithless hand has thrown aside; Those chords are dumb, those tones are mute, That once sent forth a voice of pride! Yet even o'er the lute neglected The wind of heaven will sometimes fly, And even thus the heart dejected, Will sometimes answer to a sigh!
And yet to feel another's power May grasp the prize for which I pine, And others now may pluck the flower I cherished for this heart of mine! No more, no more! The hand forsaking, The lute must fall, and shivered lie In silence: and my heart thus breaking, Responds not even to a sigh.
Miss Temple seemed busied with her shawl; perhaps she felt the cold. Count Mirabel, next whom she sat, was about to assist her. Her face was turned to the water; it was streaming with tears. Without appearing to notice her, Count Mirabel leant forward, and engaged everybody's attention; so that she was unobserved and had time to recover. And yet she was aware that the Count Mirabel had remarked her emotion, and was grateful for his quick and delicate consideration. It was fortunate that Westminster-bridge was now in sight, for after this song of Captain Armine, everyone became dull or pensive; even Count Mirabel was silent.
The ladies and Lord Montfort entered their britzka. They bid a cordial adieu to Count Mirabel, and begged him to call upon them in St. James'-square, and the Count and Ferdinand were alone.
'Cher Armine,' said the Count, as he was driving up Charing-cross, 'Catch told me you were going to marry your cousin. Which of those two young ladies is your cousin?'
'The fair girl; Miss Grandison.'
'So I understood. She is very pretty, but you are not going to marry her, are you?'
'No; I am not.'
'And who is Miss Temple?'
'She is going to be married to Lord Montfort.'
'Diable! But what a fortunate man! What do you think of Miss Temple?'
'I think of her as all, I suppose, must.'
'She is beautiful: she is the most beautiful woman I ever saw. She marries for money, I suppose?'
'She is the richest heiress in England; she is much richer than my cousin.'
'C'est drole. But she does not want to marry Lord Montfort.'
'Because, my dear fellow, she is in love with you.'
'By Jove, Mirabel, what a fellow you are! What do you mean?'
'Mon cher Armine, I like you more than anybody. I wish to be, I am, your friend. Here is some cursed contretemps. There is a mystery, and both of you are victims of it. Tell me everything. I will put you right.'
'Ah! my dear Mirabel, it is past even your skill. I thought I could never speak on these things to human being, but I am attracted to you by the same sympathy which you flatter me by expressing for myself. I want a confidant, I need a friend; I am most wretched.'
'Eh! bien! we will not go to the French play. As for Jenny Vertpre, we can sup with her any night. Come to my house, and we will talk over everything. But trust me, if you wish to marry Henrietta Temple, you are an idiot if you do not have her.'
So saying, the Count touched his bright horse, and in a few minutes the cabriolet stopped before a small but admirably appointed house in Berkeley-square.
'Now, mon cher,' said the Count, 'coffee and confidence.'
In Which the Count Mirabel Commences His Operations with Great Success.
IS THERE a more gay and graceful spectacle in the world than Hyde Park, at the end of a long sunny morning in the merry months of May and June? Where can we see such beautiful women, such gallant cavaliers, such fine horses, and such brilliant equipages? The scene, too, is worthy of such agreeable accessories: the groves, the gleaming waters, and the triumphal arches. In the distance, the misty heights of Surrey, and the bowery glades of Kensington.
It was the day after the memorable voyage from Richmond. Eminent among the glittering throng, Count Mirabel cantered along on his Arabian, scattering gay recognitions and bright words. He reined in his steed beneath a tree, under whose shade was assembled a knot of listless cavaliers. The Count received their congratulations, for this morning he had won his pigeon match.
'Only think of that old fool, Castlefyshe, betting on Poppington,' said the Count. 'I want to see him, old idiot! Who knows where Charley is?'
'I do, Mirabel,' said Lord Catchimwhocan. 'He has gone to Richmond with Blandford and the two little Furzlers.'
'That good Blandford! Whenever he is in love he always gives a dinner. It is a droll way to succeed.'
'Apropos, will you dine with me to-day, Mirabel?' said Mr. de Stockville.
'Impossible, my dear fellow; I dine with Fitz-warrene.'
'I say, Mirabel,' drawled out a young man, 'I saw you yesterday driving a man down to Richmond yourself. Who is your friend?'
'No one you know, or will know. 'Tis the best fellow that ever lived; but he is under my guidance, and I shall be very particular to whom he is introduced.'
'Lord! I wonder who he can be!' said the young man.
'I say, Mirabel, you will be done on Goshawk, if you don't take care, I can tell you that.'
'Thank you, good Coventry; if you like to bet the odds, I will take them.'
'No, my dear fellow, I do not want to bet, but at the same time———'
'You have an opinion that you will not back. That is a luxury, for certainly it is of no, use. I would advise you to enjoy it.'
'Well, I must say, Mirabel,' said Lord Catchimwhocan, 'I think the same about Goshawk.'
'Oh, no, Catch, you do not think so; you think you think. Go and take all the odds you can get upon Goshawk. Come, now, to-morrow you will tell me you have a very pretty book. Eh! mon cher Catch?'
'But do you really think Goshawk will win?' asked Lord Cathimwhocan, earnestly.
'Well, damned if I don't go and take the odds,' said his lordship.
'Mirabel,' said a young noble, moving his horse close to the Count, and speaking in a low voice, 'shall you be at home to-morrow morning?'
'Certainly. But what do you want?'
'I am in a devil of a scrape; I do not know what to do. I want you to advise me.'
'The Count moved aside with this cavalier. 'And what is it?' said he. 'Have you been losing?'
'No, no,' said the young man, shaking his head. 'Much worse. It is the most infernal business; I do not know what I shall do. I think I shall cut my throat.'
'Betise! It cannot be very bad, if it be not money.'
'Oh, my dear Mirabel, you do not know what trouble I am in.'
'Mon cher Henri, soyez tranquille,' said the Count, in a kind voice. 'I am your friend. Rest assured, I will arrange it. Think no more of it until to-morrow at one o'clock, and then call on me. If you like, I am at your service at present.'
'No, no, not here: there are letters.'
'Ha, ha! Well, to-morrow, at one. In the meantime, do not write any nonsense.'
At this moment, the duchess, with a party of equestrians, passed and bowed to the Count Mirabel.
'I say, Mirabel,' exclaimed a young man, 'who is that girl? I want to know. I have seen her several times lately. By Jove, she is a fine creature!'
'Do not you know Miss Temple?' said the Count. 'Fancy a man not knowing Miss Temple! She is the only woman in London to be looked at.'
Now there was a great flutter in the band, and nothing but the name of Miss Temple was heard. All vowed they knew her very well, at least by sight, and never thought of anybody else. Some asked the Count to present them, others meditated plans by which that great result might be obtained; but, in the midst of all this agitation, Count Mirabel rode away, and was soon by the very lady's side.
'What a charming voyage yesterday,' said the Count to Miss Temple. 'You were amused?'
'And to think you should all know my friend Armine so well! I was astonished, for he will never go anywhere, or speak to anyone.'
'You know him intimately?' said Miss Temple.
'He is my brother! There is not a human being in the world I love so much! If you only knew him as I know him. Ah! chere Miss Temple, there is not a man in London to be compared with him, so clever and so good! What a heart! so tender! and what talent! There is no one so spirituel.'
'You have known him long, Count?'
'Always; but of late I find a great change in him. I cannot discover what is the matter with him. He has grown melancholy. I think he will not live.'
'No, I am never wrong. That cher Armine will not live.'
'You are his friend, surely———'
'Ah! yes; but I do not know what it is. Even me he cares not for. I contrive sometimes to get him about a little; yesterday, for instance; but to-day, you see, he will not move. There he is, sitting alone, in a dull hotel, with his eyes fixed on the ground, dark as night. Never was a man so changed. I suppose something has happened to him abroad. When you first knew him, I daresay now, he was the gayest of the gay?'
'He was indeed very different,' said Miss Temple, turning away her face.
'You have known that dear Armine a long time?'
'It seems a long time,' said Miss Temple.
'If he dies, and die he must, I do not think I shall ever be in very good spirits again,' said the Count. 'It is the only thing that would quite upset me. Now do not you think, Miss Temple, that our cher Armine is the most interesting person you ever met?'
'I believe Captain Armine is admired by all those who know him.'
'He is so good, so tender, and so clever. Lord Montfort, he knows him very well?'
'They were companions in boyhood, I believe; but they have resumed their acquaintance only recently.'
'We must interest Lord Montfort in his case. Lord Montfort must assist in our endeavours to bring him out a little.'
'Lord Montfort needs no prompting, Count. We are all alike interested in Captain Armine's welfare.'
'I wish you would try to find out what is on his mind,' said Count Mirabel. 'After all, men cannot do much. It requires a more delicate sympathy than we can offer. And yet I would do anything for the cher Armine, because I really love him the same as if he were my brother.'
'He is fortunate in such a friend.'
'Ah! he does not think so any longer,' said the Count; 'he avoids me, he will not tell me anything. Chere Miss Temple, this business haunts me; it will end badly. I know that dear Armine so well; no one knows him like me; his feelings are too strong: no one has such strong feelings. Now, of all my friends, he is the only man I know who is capable of committing suicide.'
'God forbid!' said Henrietta Temple, with emphasis.
'I rise every morning with apprehension,' said the Count. 'When I call upon him every day, I tremble as I approach his hotel.'
'Are you indeed serious?'
'Most serious. I knew a man once in the same state. It was the Duc de Crillon. He was my brother friend, like this dear Armine. We were at college together; we were in the same regiment. He was exactly like this dear Armine, young, beautiful, and clever, but with a heart all tenderness, terrible passions. He loved Mademoiselle de Guise, my cousin, the most beautiful girl in France. Pardon me, but I told Armine yesterday that you reminded me of her. They were going to be married; but there was a contretemps. He sent for me; I was in Spain; she married the Viscount de Marsagnac. Until that dreadful morning he remained exactly in the same state as our dear Armine. Never was a melancholy so profound. After the ceremony he shot himself.'
'No, no!' exclaimed Miss Temple in great agitation.
'Perfectly true. It is the terrible recollection of that dreadful adventure that overcomes me when I see our dear friend here, because I feel it must be love. I was in hopes it was his cousin. But it is not so; it must be something that has happened abroad. Love alone can account for it. It is not his debts that would so overpower him. What are his debts? I would pay them myself. It is a heart-rending business. I am going to him. How I tremble!' 'How good you are!' exclaimed Miss Temple, with streaming eyes. 'I shall ever be grateful; I mean, we all must. Oh! do go to him, go to him directly; tell him to be happy.'
'It is the song I ever sing,' said the Count. 'I wish some of you would come and see him, or send him a message. It is wise to show him that there are some who take interest in his existence. Now, give me that flower, for instance, and let me give it to him from you.'
'He will not care for it,' said Miss Temple. 'Try. It is a fancy I have. Let me bear it.' Miss Temple gave the flower to the Count, who rode off with his prize.
It was about eight o'clock: Ferdinand was sitting alone in his room, having just parted with Glastonbury, who was going to dine in Brook-street. The sun had set, and yet it was scarcely dark enough for artificial light, particularly for a person without a pursuit. It was just that dreary dismal moment, when even the most gay grow pensive, if they be alone. And Ferdinand was particularly dull; a reaction had followed the excitement of the last eight-and-forty hours, and he was at this moment feeling singularly disconsolate, and upbraiding himself for being so weak as to permit himself to be influenced by Mirabel's fantastic promises and projects, when his door flew open, and the Count, full dressed, and graceful as a Versailles Apollo, stood before him.
'Cher ami! I cannot stop one minute. I dine with Fitzwarrene, and I am late. I have done your business capitally. Here is a pretty flower! Who do you think gave it me? She did, pardy. On condition, however, that I should bear it to you, with a message; and what a message! that you should be happy.'
'Nonsense, my dear Count'
'It is true; but I romanced at a fine rate for it. It is the only way with women. She thinks we have known each other since the Deluge. Do not betray me. But, my dear fellow, I cannot stop now. Only, mind, all is changed. Instead of being gay, and seeking her society, and amusing her, and thus attempting to regain your influence, as we talked of last night; mind, suicide is the system. To-morrow I will tell you all. She has a firm mind and a high spirit, which she thinks is principle. If we go upon the tack of last night, she will marry Montfort, and fall in love with you afterwards. That will never do. So we must work upon her fears, her generosity, pity, remorse, and so on. Call upon me to-morrow morning, at half-past two; not before, because I have an excellent boy coming to me at one, who is in a scrape. At half-past two, cher, cher Armine, we will talk more. In the meantime, enjoy your flower; and rest assured that it is your own fault if you do not fling the good Montfort in a very fine ditch.'
In Which Mr. Temple Surprises His Daughter Weeping.
THE Count Mirabel proceeded with his projects with all the ardour, address, and audacity of one habituated to success. By some means or other he contrived to see Miss Temple almost daily. He paid assiduous court to the duchess, on whom he had made a favourable impression from the first; in St. James'-square he met Mr. Temple, who was partial to the society of a distinguished foreigner. He was delighted with Count Mirabel. As for Miss Grandison, the Count absolutely made her his confidante, though he concealed this bold step from Ferdinand. He established his intimacy in the three families, and even mystified Sir Ratcliffe and Lady Armine so completely that they imagined he must be some acquaintance that Ferdinand had made abroad; and they received him accordingly as one of their son's oldest and most cherished friends. But the most amusing circumstance of all was that the Count, who even in business never lost sight of what might divert or interest him, became great friends with Mr. Glastonbury. Count Mirabel comprehended and appreciated that good man's character.
All Count Mirabel's efforts were directed to restore the influence of Ferdinand Armine over Henrietta Temple; and with this view he omitted no opportunity of impressing the idea of his absent friend on that lady's susceptible brain. His virtues, his talents, his accomplishments, his sacrifices; but, above all, his mysterious sufferings, and the fatal end which the Count was convinced awaited him, were placed before her in a light so vivid that they engrossed her thought and imagination. She could not resist the fascination of talking about Ferdinand Armine to Count Mirabel. He was the constant subject of their discourse. All her feelings now clustered round his image. She had quite abandoned her old plan of marrying him to his cousin. That was desperate. Did she regret it? She scarcely dared urge to herself this secret question; and yet it seemed that her heart, too, would break were Ferdinand another's. But, then, what was to become of him? Was he to be left desolate? Was he indeed to die? And Digby, the amiable, generous Digby; ah! why did she ever meet him? Unfortunate, unhappy woman! And yet she was resolved to be firm; she could not falter; she would be the victim of her duty even if she died at the altar. Almost she wished that she had ceased to live, and then the recollection of Armine came back to her so vividly! And those long days of passionate delight! All his tenderness and all his truth; for he had been true to her, always had he been true to her. She was not the person who ought to complain of his conduct. And yet she was the person who alone punished him. How different was the generous conduct of his cousin! She had pardoned all; she sympathised with him, she sorrowed for him, she tried to soothe him. She laboured to unite him to her rival. What must he think of herself? How hard-hearted, how selfish must the contrast prove her! Could he indeed believe now that she had ever loved him? Oh, no! he must despise her. He must believe that she was sacrificing her heart to the splendour of rank. Oh! could he believe this! Her Ferdinand, her romantic Ferdinand, who had thrown fortune and power to the winds but to gain that very heart! What a return had she made him! And for all his fidelity he was punished; lone, disconsolate, forlorn, overpowered by vulgar cares, heart-broken, meditating even death———. The picture was too terrible, too harrowing. She hid her face in the pillow of the sofa on which she was seated, and wept bitterly.
She felt an arm softly twined round her waist; she looked up; it was her father.
'My child,' he said, 'you are agitated.'
'Yes; yes, I am agitated,' she said, in a low voice.
'You are unwell.'
'Worse than unwell.'
'Tell me what ails you, Henrietta.'
'Grief for which there is no cure.'
'Indeed! I am greatly astonished.'
His daughter only sighed.
'Speak to me, Henrietta. Tell me what has happened.'
'I cannot speak; nothing has happened; I have nothing to say.'
'To see you thus makes me quite unhappy,' said Mr. Temple; 'if only for my sake, let me know the cause of this overwhelming emotion.'
'It is a cause that will not please you. Forget, sir, what you have seen.'
'A father cannot. I entreat you tell me. If you love me, Henrietta, speak.'
'Sir, sir, I was thinking of the past.'
'Is it so bitter?'
'Ah! that I should live!' said Miss Temple.
'Henrietta, my own Henrietta, my child, I beseech you tell me all. Something has occurred; something must have occurred to revive such strong feelings. Has—has——— I know not what to say, but so much happens that surprises me; I know, I have heard, that you have seen one who once influenced your feelings, that you have been thrown in unexpected contact with him; he has not—he has not dared——-'
'Say nothing harshly of him,' said Miss Temple wildly; 'I will not bear it, even from you.'
'Ay! your daughter, but still a woman. Do I murmur? Do I complain? Have I urged you to compromise your honour? I am ready for the sacrifice. My conduct is yours, but my feelings are my own.'
'Sacrifice, Henrietta! What sacrifice? I have heard only of your happiness; I have thought only of your happiness. This is a strange return.'
'Father, forget what you have seen; forgive what I have said. But let this subject drop for ever.'
'It cannot drop here. Captain Armine prefers his suit?' continued Mr. Temple, in a tone of stern enquiry.
'What if he did? He has a right to do so.'
'As good a right as he had before. You are rich now, Henrietta, and he perhaps would be faithful.'
'O Ferdinand!' exclaimed Miss Temple, lifting, up her hands and eyes to heaven, 'and you must endure even this!'
'Henrietta,' said Mr. Temple in a voice of affected calmness, as he seated himself by her side, 'listen to me: I am not a harsh parent; you cannot upbraid me with insensibility to your feelings. They have ever engrossed my thought and care; and how to gratify, and when necessary how to soothe them, has long been the principal occupation of my life. If you have known misery, girl, you made that misery yourself. It was not I that involved you in secret engagements and clandestine correspondence; it was not I that made you, you, my daughter, on whom I have lavished all the solicitude of long years, the dupe of the first calculating libertine who dared to trifle with your affections, and betray your heart.'
''Tis false,' exclaimed Miss Temple, interrupting him; 'he is as true and pure as I am; more, much more,' she added, in a voice of anguish.
'No doubt he has convinced you of it,' said Mr. Temple, with a laughing sneer. 'Now, mark me,' he continued, resuming his calm tone, 'you interrupted me; listen to me. You are the betrothed bride of Lord Montfort; Lord Montfort, my friend, the man I love most in the world; the most generous, the most noble, the most virtuous, the most gifted of human beings. You gave him your hand freely, under circumstances which, even if he did not possess every quality that ought to secure the affection of a woman, should bind you to him with an unswerving faith. Falter one jot and I whistle you off for ever. You are no more daughter of mine. I am as firm as I am fond; nor would I do this, but that I know well I am doing rightly. Yes! take this Armine once more to your heart, and you receive my curse, the deepest, the sternest, the deadliest that ever descended on a daughter's head.'