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Part 1 Chapter 6

 Containing Another Domestic Scene.

 
LADY ARMINE and Glastonbury were both too much interested in the welfare of Sir Ratcliffe not to observe with deep concern that a great, although gradual, change had occurred in his character during the last five years. He had become moody and querulous, and occasionally even irritable. His constitutional melancholy, long diverted by the influence of a vigorous youth, the society of a charming woman, and the interesting feelings of a father, began to reassert its ancient and essential sway, and at times even to deepen into gloom. Sometimes whole days elapsed without his ever indulging in conversation; his nights, once tranquil, were now remarkable for their restlessness; his wife was alarmed at the sighs and agitation of his dreams. He abandoned also his field sports, and none of those innocent sources of amusement, in which it was once his boast their retirement was so rich, now interested him. In vain Lady Armine sought his society in her walks, or consulted him about her flowers. His frigid and monosyllabic replies discouraged all her efforts. No longer did he lean over her easel, or call for a repetition of his favourite song. At times these dark fits passed away, and if not cheerful, he was at least serene. But on the whole he was an altered man; and his wife could no longer resist the miserable conviction that he was an unhappy one.
 
She, however, was at least spared the mortification, the bitterest that a wife can experience, of feeling that this change in his conduct was occasioned by any indifference towards her; for, averse as Sir Ratcliffe was to converse on a subject so hopeless and ungrateful as the state of his fortune, still there were times in which he could not refrain from communicating to the partner of his bosom all the causes of his misery, and these, indeed, too truly had she divined.
 
‘Alas!’ she would sometimes say as she tried to compose his restless pillow; ‘what is this pride to which you men sacrifice everything? For me, who am a woman, love is sufficient. Oh! my Ratcliffe, why do you not feel like your Constance? What if these estates be sold, still we are Armines! and still our dear Ferdinand is spared to us! Believe me, love, that if deference to your feelings has prompted my silence, I have long felt that it would be wiser for us at once to meet a necessary evil. For God’s sake, put an end to the torture of this life, which is destroying us both. Poverty, absolute poverty, with you and with your love, I can meet even with cheerfulness; but indeed, my Ratcliffe, I can bear our present life no longer; I shall die if you be unhappy. And oh! dearest Ratcliffe, if that were to happen, which sometimes I fear has happened, if you were no longer to love me—’
 
But here Sir Ratcliffe assured her of the reverse.
 
‘Only think,’ she would continue, ‘if when we married we had voluntarily done that which we may now be forced to do, we really should have been almost rich people; at least we should have had quite enough to live in ease, and even elegance. And now we owe thousands to that horrible Bagster, who I am sure cheated your father out of house and home, and I dare say, after all, wants to buy Armine for himself.’
 
‘He buy Armine! An attorney buy Armine! Never, Constance, never! I will be buried in its ruins first. There is no sacrifice that I would not sooner make—’
 
‘But, dearest love, suppose we sell it to some one else, and suppose after paying every thing we have thirty thousand pounds left. How well we could live abroad on the interest of thirty thousand pounds?’
 
‘There would not be thirty thousand pounds left now!’
 
‘Well, five-and-twenty, or even twenty. I could manage on twenty. And then we could buy a commission for dear Ferdinand.’
 
‘But to leave our child!’
 
‘Could not he go into the Spanish service? Perhaps you could get a commission in the Spanish Guards for nothing. They must remember you there. And such a name as Armine! I have no doubt that the king would be quite proud to have another Armine in his guard. And then we could live at Madrid; and that would be so delightful, because you speak Spanish so beautifully, and I could learn it very quickly. I am very quick at learning languages, I am, indeed.’
 
‘I think you are very quick at everything, dear Constance. I am sure you are really a treasure of a wife; I have cause every hour to bless you; and, if it were not for my own sake, I should say that I wish you had made a happier marriage.’
 
‘Oh! do not say that, Ratcliffe; say anything but that, Ratcliffe. If you love me I am the happiest woman that ever lived. Be sure always of that.’
 
‘I wonder if they do remember me at Madrid!’
 
‘To be sure they do. How could they forget you; how could they forget my Ratcliffe? I daresay you go to this day by the name of the handsome Englishman.’
 
‘Pooh! I remember when I left England before, I had no wife then, no child, but I remembered who I was, and when I thought I was the last of our race, and that I was in all probability going to spill the little blood that was spared of us in a foreign soil, oh, Constance, I do not think I ever could forget the agony of that moment. Had it been for England, I would have met my fate without a pang. No! Constance, I am an Englishman: I am proud of being an Englishman. My fathers helped to make this country what it is; no one can deny that; and no consideration in the world shall ever induce me again to quit this island.’
 
‘But suppose we do not quit England. Suppose we buy a small estate and live at home.’
 
‘A small estate at home! A small, new estate! Bought of a Mr. Hopkins, a great tallow-chandler, or some stock-jobber about to make a new flight from a Lodge to a Park. Oh no! that would be too degrading.’
 
‘But suppose we keep one of our own manors?’
 
‘And be reminded every instant of every day of those we have lost; and hear of the wonderful improvements of our successors. I should go mad.’
 
‘But suppose we live in London?’
 
‘Where?’
 
‘I am sure I do not know; but I should think we might get a nice little house somewhere.’
 
‘In a suburb! a fitting lodgment for Lady Armine. No! at any rate we will have no witnesses to our fall.’
 
‘But could not we try some place near my father’s?’
 
‘And be patronised by the great family with whom I had the good fortune of being connected. No! my dear Constance, I like your father very well, but I could not stand his eleemosynary haunches of venison, and great baskets of apples and cream-cheeses sent with the housekeeper’s duty.’
 
‘But what shall we do, dear Ratcliffe?’
 
‘My love, there is no resisting fate. We must live or die at Armine, even if we starve.’
 
‘Perhaps something will turn up. I dreamed the other night that dear Ferdinand married an heiress. Suppose he should? What do you think?’
 
‘Why, even then, that he would not be as lucky as his father. Good night, love!’


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