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Part 1 Chapter 4

 Progress of Affairs at Armine.

 
LIFE is adventurous. Events are perpetually occurring, even in the calmness of domestic existence, which change in an instant the whole train and tenor of our thoughts and feelings, and often materially influence our fortunes and our character. It is strange, and sometimes as profitable as it is singular, to recall our state on the eve of some acquaintance which transfigures our being; with some man whose philosophy revolutionises our mind; with some woman whose charms metamorphose our career. These retrospective meditations are fruitful of self-knowledge.
 
The visit of Glastonbury was one of those incidents which, from the unexpected results that they occasion, swell into events. He had not been long a guest at Armine before Sir Ratcliffe and his lady could not refrain from mutually communicating to each other the gratification they should feel could Glastonbury be induced to cast his lot among them. His benevolent and placid temper, his many accomplishments, and the entire affection which he evidently entertained for everybody that bore the name, and for everything that related to the fortunes of Armine, all pointed him out as a friend alike to be cherished and to be valued. Under his auspices the garden of the fair Constance soon flourished: his taste guided her pencil, and his voice accompanied her lute. Sir Ratcliffe, too, thoroughly enjoyed his society: Glastonbury was with him the only link, in life, between the present and the past. They talked over old times together; and sorrowful recollections lost half their bitterness, from the tenderness of his sympathetic reminiscences. Sir Ratcliffe, too, was conscious of the value of such a companion for his gifted wife. And Glastonbury, moreover, among his many accomplishments, had the excellent quality of never being in the way. He was aware that young people, and especially young lovers, are not averse sometimes to being alone; and his friends, in his absence, never felt that he was neglected, because his pursuits were so various and his resources so numerous that they were sure he was employed and amused.
 
In the pleasaunce of Armine, at the termination of a long turfen avenue of purple beeches, there was a turreted gate, flanked by round towers, intended by Sir Ferdinand for one of the principal entrances of his castle. Over the gate were small but convenient chambers, to which you ascended by a winding stair-. case in one of the towers; the other was a mere shell. It was sunset; the long vista gleamed in the dying rays, that shed also a rich breadth of light over the bold and baronial arch. Our friends had been examining the chambers, and Lady Armine, who was a little wearied by the exertion, stood opposite the building, leaning on her husband and his friend.
 
‘A man might go far, and find a worse dwelling than that portal,’ said Glastonbury, musingly. ‘Me-thinks life might glide away pleasantly enough in those little rooms, with one’s books and drawings, and this noble avenue for a pensive stroll.’
 
‘I wish to heaven, my dear Glastonbury, you would try the experiment,’ said Sir Ratcliffe.
 
‘Ah! do, Mr. Glastonbury,’ added Lady Armine, ‘take pity upon us!’
 
‘At any rate, it is not so dull as a cloister,’ added Sir Ratcliffe; ‘and say what they like, there is nothing like living among friends.’
 
‘You would find me very troublesome,’ replied Glastonbury, with a smile; and then, turning the conversation, evidently more from embarrassment than distaste, he remarked the singularity of the purple beeches.
 
Their origin was uncertain; but one circumstance is sure: that, before another month had passed, Glastonbury was a tenant for life of the portal of Armine Castle, and all his books and collections were safely stowed and arranged in the rooms with which he had been so much pleased.
 
The course of time for some years flowed on happily at Armine. In the second year of their marriage Lady Armine presented her husband with a son. Their family was never afterwards increased, but the proud father was consoled by the sex of his child for the recollection that the existence of his line depended upon the precious contingency of a single life. The boy was christened Ferdinand. With the exception of an annual visit to Lord Grandison, the Armine family never quitted their home. Necessity as well as taste induced this regularity of life. The affairs of Sir Ratcliffe did not improve. His mortgagees were more strict in their demands of interest than his tenants in payment of their rents. His man of business, who had made his fortune in the service of the family, was not wanting in accommodation to his client; but he was a man of business; he could not sympathise with the peculiar feelings and fancies of Sir Ratcliffe, and he persisted in seizing every opportunity of urging on him the advisability of selling his estates. However, by strict economy and temporary assistance from his lawyer, Sir Ratcliffe, during the first ten years of his marriage, managed to carry on affairs; and though occasional embarrassments sometimes caused him fits of gloom and despondency, the sanguine spirit of his wife, and the confidence in the destiny of their beautiful child which she regularly enforced upon him, maintained on the whole his courage. All their hopes and joys were indeed centred in the education of the little Ferdinand. At ten years of age he was one of those spirited and at the same time docile boys, who seem to combine with the wild and careless grace of childhood the thoughtfulness and self-discipline of maturer age. It was the constant and truthful boast of his parents, that, in spite of all his liveliness, he had never in the whole course of his life disobeyed them. In the village, where he was idolised, they called him ‘the little prince;’ he was so gentle and so generous, so kind and yet so dignified in his demeanour. His education was remarkable; for though he never quitted home, and lived in such extreme seclusion, so richly gifted were those few persons with whom he passed his life, that it would have been difficult to have fixed upon a youth, however favoured by fortune, who enjoyed greater advantages for the cultivation of his mind and manners. From the first dawn of the intellect of the young Armine, Glastonbury had devoted himself to its culture; and the kind scholar, who had not shrunk from the painful and patient task of impregnating a young mind with the seeds of knowledge, had bedewed its budding promise with all the fertilising influence of his learning and his taste. As Ferdinand advanced in years, he had participated in the accomplishments of his mother; from her he derived not only a taste for the fine arts, but no unskilful practice. She, too, had cultivated the rich voice with which Nature had endowed him, and it was his mother who taught him not only to sing, but to dance. In more manly accomplishments, Ferdinand could not have found a more skilful instructor than his father, a consummate sportsman, and who, like all his ancestors, was remarkable for his finished horsemanship and the certainty of his aim. Under a roof, too, whose inmates were distinguished for their sincere piety and unaffected virtue, the higher duties of existence were not forgotten; and Ferdinand Armine was early and ever taught to be sincere, dutiful, charitable, and just; and to have a deep sense of the great account hereafter to be delivered to his Creator. The very foibles of his parents which he imbibed tended to the maintenance of his magnanimity. His illustrious lineage was early impressed upon him, and inasmuch as little now was left to them but their honour, so it was doubly incumbent upon him to preserve that chief treasure, of which fortune could not deprive them, unsullied.
 
This much of the education of Ferdinand Armine. With great gifts of nature, with lively and highly cultivated talents, and a most affectionate and disciplined temper, he was adored by the friends who nevertheless had too much sense to spoil him. But for his character, what was that? Perhaps, with all their anxiety and all their care, and all their apparent opportunities for observation, the parent and the tutor are rarely skilful in discovering the character of their child or charge. Custom blunts the fineness of psychological study: those with whom we have lived long and early are apt to blend our essential and our accidental qualities in one bewildering association. The consequences of education and of nature are not sufficiently discriminated. Nor is it, indeed, marvellous, that for a long time temperament should be disguised and even stifled by education; for it is, as it were, a contest between a child and a man.
 
There were moments when Ferdinand Armine loved to be alone, when he could fly from all the fondness of his friends, and roam in solitude amid the wild and desolate pleasure-grounds, or wander for hours in the halls and galleries of the castle, gazing on the pictures of his ancestors. He ever experienced a strange satisfaction in beholding the portrait of his grandfather. He would sometimes stand abstracted for many minutes before the portrait of Sir Ferdinand in the gallery, painted by Reynolds, before his grandfather left England, and which the child already singularly resembled. But was there any other resemblance between them than form and feature? Did the fiery imagination and the terrible passions of that extraordinary man lurk in the innocent heart and the placid mien of his young descendant? No matter now! Behold, he is a light-hearted and airy child! Thought passes over his brow like a cloud in a summer sky, or the shadow of a bird over the sunshiny earth; and he skims away from the silent hall and his momentary reverie to fly a kite or chase a butterfly!


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