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Part 1 Chapter 2

 Armine Described.

AFTER his marriage Sir Ratcliffe determined to reside at Armine. In one of the largest parks in England there yet remained a fragment of a vast Elizabethan pile, that in old days bore the name of Armine Place. When Sir Ferdinand had commenced building Armine Castle, he had pulled down the old mansion, partly for the sake of its site and partly for the sake of its materials. Long lines of turreted and many-windowed walls, tall towers, and lofty arches, now rose in picturesque confusion on the green ascent where heretofore old Sir Walsingham had raised the fair and convenient dwelling, which he justly deemed might have served the purpose of a long posterity. The hall and chief staircase of the castle and a gallery alone were finished, and many a day had Sir Ferdinand passed in arranging the pictures, the armour, and choice rarities of these magnificent apartments. The rest of the building was a mere shell; nor was it in all parts even roofed in. Heaps of bricks and stone and piles of timber appeared in every direction; and traces of the sudden stoppage of a great work might be observed in the temporary saw-pits still remaining, the sheds for the workmen, and the kilns and furnaces, which never had been removed. Time, however, that had stained the neglected towers with an antique tint, and had permitted many a generation of summer birds to build their sunny nests on all the coignes of vantage of the unfinished walls, had exercised a mellowing influence even on these rude accessories, and in the course of years they had been so drenched by the rain, and so buffeted by the wind, and had become so covered with moss and ivy, that they rather added to then detracted from the picturesque character of the whole mass.
A few hundred yards from the castle, but situate on the same verdant rising ground, and commanding, although well sheltered, an extensive view over the wide park, was the fragment of the old Place that we have noticed. The rough and undulating rent which marked the severance of the building was now thickly covered with ivy, which in its gamesome luxuriance had contrived also to climb up a remaining stack of tall chimneys, and to spread over the covering of the large oriel window. This fragment contained a set of pleasant chambers, which, having been occupied by the late baronet, were of course furnished with great taste and comfort; and there was, moreover, accommodation sufficient for a small establishment. Armine Place, before Sir Ferdinand, unfortunately for his descendants, determined in the eighteenth century on building a feudal castle, had been situate in famous pleasure-grounds, which extended at the back of the mansion over a space of some hundred acres. The grounds in the immediate vicinity of the buildings had of course suffered severely, but the far greater portion had only been neglected; and there were some indeed who deemed, as they wandered through the arbour-walks of this enchanting wilderness, that its beauty had been enhanced even by this very neglect. It seemed like a forest in a beautiful romance; a green and bowery wilderness where Boccaccio would have loved to woo, and Watteau to paint. So artfully had the walks been planned, that they seemed interminable, nor was there a single point in the whole pleasaunce where the keenest eye could have detected a limit. Sometimes you wandered in those arched and winding walks dear to pensive spirits; sometimes you emerged on a plot of turf blazing in the sunshine, a small and bright savannah, and gazed with wonder on the group of black and mighty cedars that rose from its centre, with their sharp and spreading foliage. The beautiful and the vast blended together; and the moment after you had beheld with delight a bed of geraniums or of myrtles, you found yourself in an amphitheatre of Italian pines. A strange exotic perfume filled the air: you trod on the flowers of other lands; and shrubs and plants, that usually are only trusted from their conservatories, like sultanas from their jalousies, to sniff the air and recall their bloom, here learning from hardship the philosophy of endurance, had struggled successfully even against northern winters, and wantoned now in native and unpruned luxuriance. Sir Ferdinand, when he resided at Armine, was accustomed to fill these pleasure-grounds with macaws and other birds of gorgeous plumage; but these had fled away with their master, all but some swans which still floated on the surface of a lake, which marked the centre of this paradise. In the remains of the ancient seat of his fathers, Sir Ratcliffe Armine and his bride now sought a home.
The principal chamber of Armine Place was a large irregular room, with a low but richly-carved oaken roof, studded with achievements. This apartment was lighted by the oriel window we have mentioned, the upper panes of which contained some ancient specimens of painted glass, and having been fitted up by Sir Ferdinand as a library, contained a collection of valuable books. From the library you entered through an arched door of glass into a small room, of which, it being much out of repair when the family arrived, Lady Armine had seized the opportunity of gratifying her taste in the adornment. She had hung it with some old-fashioned pea-green damask, that exhibited to a vantage several copies of Spanish paintings by herself, for she was a skilful artist. The third and remaining chamber was the dining-room, a somewhat gloomy chamber, being shadowed by a neighbouring chestnut. A portrait of Sir Ferdinand, when a youth, in a Venetian dress, was suspended over the old-fashioned fireplace; and opposite hung a fine hunting piece by Schneiders. Lady Armine was an amiable and accomplished woman. She had enjoyed the advantage of a foreign education under the inspection of a cautious parent: and a residence on the Continent, while it had afforded her many graces, had not, as unfortunately sometimes is the case, divested her of those more substantial though less showy qualities of which a husband knows the value. She was pious and dutiful: her manners were graceful, for she had visited courts and mixed in polished circles, but she had fortunately not learnt to affect insensibility as a system, or to believe that the essence of good breeding consists in showing your fellow-creatures that you despise them. Her cheerful temper solaced the constitutional gloom of Sir Ratcliffe, and indeed had originally won his heart, even more than her remarkable beauty: and while at the same time she loved a country life, she possessed in a lettered taste, in a beautiful and highly cultivated voice, and in a scientific knowledge of music and of painting, all those resources which prevent retirement from degenerating into loneliness. Her foibles, if we must confess that she was not faultless, endeared her to her husband, for her temper reflected his own pride, and she possessed the taste for splendour which was also his native mood, although circumstances had compelled him to stifle its gratification.
Love, pure and profound, had alone prompted the union between Ratcliffe Armine and Constance Grandison Doubtless, like all of her race, she might have chosen amid the wealthiest of the Catholic nobles and gentry one who would have been proud to have mingled his life with hers; but, with a soul not insensible to the splendid accidents of existence, she yielded her heart to one who could repay the rich sacrifice only with devotion. His poverty, his pride, his dangerous and hereditary gift of beauty, his mournful life, his illustrious lineage, his reserved and romantic mind, had at once attracted her fancy and captivated her heart. She shared all his aspirations and sympathised with all his hopes; and the old glory of the house of Armine, and its revival and restoration, were the object of her daily thoughts, and often of her nightly dreams.
With these feelings Lady Armine settled herself at her new home, scarcely with a pang that the whole of the park in which she lived was let out as grazing ground, and only trusting, as she beheld the groups of ruminating cattle, that the day might yet come for the antlered tenants of the bowers to resume their shady dwellings. The good man and his wife who hitherto had inhabited the old Place, and shown the castle and the pleasaunce to passing travellers, were, under the new order of affairs, promoted to the respective offices of serving-man and cook, or butler and housekeeper, as they styled themselves in the village. A maiden brought from Grandison to wait on Lady Armine completed the establishment, with her young brother, who, among numerous duties, performed the office of groom, and attended to a pair of beautiful white ponies which Sir Ratcliffe drove in a phaeton. This equipage, which was remarkable for its elegance, was the especial delight of Lady Armine, and certainly the only piece of splendour in which Sir Ratcliffe indulged. As for neighbourhood, Sir Ratcliffe, on his arrival, of course received a visit from the rector of his parish, and, by the courteous medium of this gentleman, he soon occasioned it to be generally understood that he was not anxious that the example of his rector should be followed. The intimation, in spite of much curiosity, was of course respected. Nobody called upon the Armines. This happy couple, however, were too much engrossed with their own society to require amusement from any other sources than themselves. The honeymoon was passed in wandering in the pleasure-grounds, and in wondering at their own marvellous happiness. Then Lady Armine would sit on a green bank and sing her choicest songs, and Sir Ratcliffe repaid her for her kindness with speeches softer even than serenades. The arrangement of their dwelling occupied the second month; each day witnessed some felicitous yet economical alteration of her creative taste. The third month Lady Armine determined to make a garden.
‘I wish,’ said her affectionate husband, as he toiled with delight in her service, ‘I wish, my dear Constance, that Glastonbury was here; he was such a capital gardener.’
‘Let us ask him, dear Ratcliffe; and, perhaps, for such a friend we have already allowed too great a space of time to elapse without sending an invitation.’
‘Why, we are so happy,’ said Sir Ratcliffe, smiling; ‘and yet Glastonbury is the best creature in the world. I hope you will like him, dear Constance.’
‘I am sure I shall, dear Ratcliffe. Give me that geranium, love. Write to him, today; write to Glastonbury today.’


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