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Part 1 Chapter 8

A Visit to Glastonbury’s Chamber

IT WAS arranged that Ferdinand should join his regiment by the next Mediterranean packet, which was not to quit Falmouth for a fortnight. Glastonbury and himself, therefore, lost no time in bidding adieu to their kind friends in London, and hastening to Armine. They arrived the day after the Gazette. They found Sir Ratcliffe waiting for them at the town, and the fond smile and cordial embrace with which he greeted Glastonbury more than repaid that good man for all his exertions. There was, notwithstanding, a perceptible degree of constraint both on the part of the baronet and his former tutor. It was evident that Sir Ratcliffe had something on his mind of which he wished to disburden himself; and it was equally apparent that Glastonbury was unwilling to afford him an opportunity. Under these rather awkward circumstances, it was perhaps fortunate that Ferdinand talked without ceasing, giving his father an account of all he had seen, done, and heard, and of all the friends he had made, from the good Duke of———to that capital fellow, the guard of the coach.

They were at the park gates: Lady Armine was there to meet them. The carriage stopped; Ferdinand jumped out and embraced his mother. She kissed him, and ran forward and extended both her hands to Mr. Glastonbury. ‘Deeds, not words, must show our feelings,’ she said, and the tears glittered in her beautiful eyes; Glastonbury, with a blush, pressed her hand to his lips. After dinner, during which Ferdinand recounted all his adventures, Lady Armine invited him, when she rose, to walk with her in the garden. It was then, with an air of considerable confusion, clearing his throat, and filling his glass at the same time, that Sir Ratcliffe said to his remaining guest,

‘My dear Glastonbury, you cannot suppose that I believe that the days of magic have returned. This commission, both Constance and myself feel, that is, we are certain, that you are at the bottom of it all. The commission is purchased. I could not expect the Duke, deeply as I feel his generous kindness, to purchase a commission for my son: I could not permit it. No! Glastonbury,’ and here Sir Ratcliffe became more animated, ‘you could not permit it, my honour is safe in your hands?’ Sir Ratcliffe paused for a reply.

‘On that score my conscience is clear,’ replied Glastonbury.

‘It is, then,—it must be then as I suspect,’ rejoined Sir Ratcliffe. ‘I am your debtor for this great service.’

‘It is easy to count your obligations to me,’ said Glastonbury, ‘but mine to you and yours are incalculable.’

‘My dear Glastonbury,’ said Sir Ratcliffe, pushing his glass away as he rose from his seat and walked up and down the room, ‘I may be proud, but I have no pride for you, I owe you too much; indeed, my dear friend, there is nothing that I would not accept from you, were it in your power to grant what you would desire. It is not pride, my dear Glastonbury; do not mistake me; it is not pride that prompts this explanation; but—but—had I your command of language I would explain myself more readily; but the truth is, I—I—I cannot permit that you should suffer for us, Glastonbury, I cannot indeed.’

Mr. Glastonbury looked at Sir Ratcliffe steadily; then rising from his seat he took the baronet’s arm, and without saying a word walked slowly towards the gates of the castle where he lodged, and which we have before described. When he had reached the steps of the tower he withdrew his arm, and saying, ‘Let me be pioneer,’ invited Sir Ratcliffe to follow him. They accordingly entered his chamber.

It was a small room lined with shelves of books, except in one spot, where was suspended a portrait of Lady Barbara, which she had bequeathed him in her will. The floor was covered with so many boxes and cases that it was not very easy to steer a course when you had entered. Glastonbury, however, beckoned to his companion to seat himself in one of his two chairs, while he unlocked a small cabinet, from a drawer of which he brought forth a paper.

‘It is my will,’ said Glastonbury, handing it to Sir Ratcliffe, who laid it down on the table.

‘Nay, I wish you, my dear friend, to peruse it, for it concerns yourself.’

‘I would rather learn its contents from yourself, if you positively desire me,’ replied Sir Ratcliffe.

‘I have left everything to our child,’ said Glastonbury; for thus, when speaking to the father alone, he would often style the son.

‘May it be long before he enjoys the ‘bequest,’ said Sir Ratcliffe, brushing away a tear; ‘long, very long.’

‘As the Almighty pleases,’ said Glastonbury, crossing himself. ‘But living or dead, I look upon all as Ferdinand’s, and hold myself but the steward of his inheritance, which I will never abuse.’

‘O! Glastonbury, no more of this I pray; you have wasted a precious life upon our forlorn race. Alas! how often and how keenly do I feel, that had it not been for the name of Armine your great talents and goodness might have gained for you an enviable portion of earthly felicity; yes, Glastonbury, you have sacrificed yourself to us.’

‘Would that I could!’ said the old man, with brightening eyes and an unaccustomed energy of manner. ‘Would that I could! would that any act of mine, I care not what, could revive the fortunes of the house of Armine. Honoured for ever be the name, which with me is associated with all that is great and glorious in man, and [here his voice faltered, and he turned away his face] exquisite and enchanting in woman!

‘No, Ratcliffe,’ he resumed, ‘by the memory of one I cannot name, by that blessed and saintly being from whom you derive your life, you will not, you cannot deny this last favour I ask, I entreat, I supplicate you to accord me: me, who have ever eaten of your bread, and whom your roof hath ever shrouded!’

‘My friend, I cannot speak,’ said Sir Ratcliffe, throwing himself back in the chair and covering his face with his right hand; ‘I know not what to say; I know not what to feel.’

Glastonbury advanced, and gently took his other hand. ‘Dear Sir Ratcliffe,’ he observed, in his usual calm, sweet voice, ‘if I have erred you will pardon me. I did believe that, after my long and intimate connection with your house; after having for nearly forty years sympathised as deeply with all your fortunes as if, indeed, your noble blood flowed in these old veins; after having been honoured on your side with a friendship which has been the consolation and charm of my existence; indeed, too great a blessing; I did believe, more especially when I reminded myself of the unrestrained manner in which I had availed myself of the advantages of that friendship, I did believe, actuated by feelings which perhaps I cannot describe, and thoughts to which I cannot now give utterance, that I might venture, without offence, upon this slight service: ay, that the offering might be made in the spirit of most respectful affection, and not altogether be devoid of favour in your sight.’

‘Excellent, kind-hearted man!’ said Sir Ratcliffe, pressing the hand of Glastonbury in his own; ‘I accept your offering in the spirit of perfect love. Believe me, dearest friend, it was no feeling of false pride that for a moment influenced me; I only felt-’

‘That in venturing upon this humble service I deprived myself of some portion of my means of livelihood: you are mistaken. When I cast my lot at Armine I sank a portion of my capital on my life; so slender are my wants here, and so little does your dear lady permit me to desire, that, believe me, I have never yet expended upon myself this apportioned income; and as for the rest, it is, as you have seen, destined for our Ferdinand. Yet a little time and Adrian Glastonbury must be gathered to his fathers. Why, then, deprive him of the greatest gratification of his remaining years? the consciousness that, to be really serviceable to those he loves, it is not necessary for him to cease to exist.’

‘May you never repent your devotion to our house!’ said Sir Ratcliffe, rising from his seat. ‘Time was we could give them who served us something better than thanks; but, at any rate, these come from the heart.’



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