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Part 1 Chapter 9

The Last Day and the Last Night

IN THE meantime, the approaching I departure of Ferdinand was the great topic of interest at Armine, It was settled that his father should accompany him to Falmouth, where he was to embark; and that they should pay a visit on their way to his grandfather, whose seat was situate in the west of England. This separation, now so near at hand, occasioned Lady Armine the deepest affliction; but she struggled to suppress her emotion. Yet often, while apparently busied with the common occupations of the day, the tears trickled down her cheek; and often she rose from her restless seat, while surrounded by those she loved, to seek the solitude of her chamber and indulge her overwhelming sorrow. Nor was Ferdinand less sensible of the bitterness of this separation. With all the excitement of his new prospects, and the feeling of approaching adventure and fancied independence, so flattering to inexperienced youth, he could not forget that his had been a very happy home. Nearly seventeen years of an innocent existence had passed, undisturbed by a single bad passion, and unsullied by a single action that he could regret. The river of his life had glided along, reflecting only a cloudless sky. But if he had been dutiful and happy, if at this moment of severe examination his conscience were serene, he could not but feel how much this enviable state of mind was to be attributed to those who had, as it were, imbued his life with love; whose never-varying affection had developed all the kindly feelings of his nature, had anticipated all his wants, and listened to all his wishes; had assisted him in difficulty and guided him in doubt; had invited confidence by kindness, and deserved it by sympathy; had robbed instruction of all its labour, and discipline of all its harshness.

It was the last day; on the morrow he was to quit Armine. He strolled about among the mouldering chambers of the castle, and a host of thoughts and passions, like clouds in a stormy sky, coursed over his hitherto serene and light-hearted breast. In this first great struggle of his soul some symptoms of his latent nature developed themselves, and, amid the rifts of the mental tempest, occasionally he caught some glimpses of self-knowledge. Nature, that had endowed him with a fiery imagination and a reckless courage, had tempered those dangerous, and, hitherto, those undeveloped and untried gifts, with a heart of infinite sensibility. Ferdinand Armine was, in truth, a singular blending of the daring and the soft; and now, as he looked around him and thought of his illustrious and fallen race, and especially of that extraordinary man, of whose splendid and ruinous career, that man’s own creation, the surrounding pile, seemed a fitting emblem, he asked himself if he had not inherited the energies with the name of his grandsire, and if their exertion might not yet revive the glories of his line. He felt within him alike the power and the will; and while he indulged in magnificent reveries of fame and glory and heroic action, of which career, indeed, his approaching departure was to be the commencement, the association of ideas led his recollection to those beings from whom he was about to depart. His fancy dropped like a bird of paradise in full wing, tumbling exhausted in the sky: he thought of his innocent and happy boyhood, of his father’s thoughtful benevolence, his sweet mother’s gentle assiduities, and Glastonbury’s devotion; and he demanded aloud, in a voice of anguish, whether Fate could indeed supply a lot more exquisite than to pass existence in these calm and beauteous bowers with such beloved companions.

His name was called: it was his mother’s voice. He dashed away a desperate tear, and came forth with a smiling face. His mother and father were walking together at a little distance.

‘Ferdinand,’ said Lady Armine, with an air of affected gaiety, ‘we have just been settling that you are to send me a gazelle from Malta.’ And in this strain, speaking of slight things, yet all in some degree touching upon the mournful incident of the morrow, did Lady Armine for some time converse, as if she were all this time trying the fortitude of her mind, and accustoming herself to a catastrophe which she was resolved to meet with fortitude.

While they were walking together, Glastonbury, who was hurrying from his rooms to the Place, for the dinner hour was at hand, joined them, and they entered their home together. It was singular at dinner, too, in what excellent spirits everybody determined to be. The dinner also, generally a simple repast, was almost as elaborate as the demeanour of the guests, and, although no one felt inclined to eat, consisted of every dish and delicacy which was supposed to be a favourite with Ferdinand. Sir Ratcliffe, in general so grave, was today quite joyous, and produced a magnum of claret which he had himself discovered in the old cellars, and of which even Glastonbury, an habitual water-drinker, ventured to partake. As for Lady Armine, she scarcely ever ceased talking; she found a jest in every sentence, and seemed only uneasy when there was silence. Ferdinand, of course, yielded himself to the apparent spirit of the party; and, had a stranger been present, he could only have supposed that they were celebrating some anniversary of domestic joy. It seemed rather a birth-day feast than the last social meeting of those who had lived together so long, and loved each other so dearly.

But as the evening drew on their hearts began to grow heavy, and every one was glad that the early departure of the travellers on the morrow was an excuse for speedily retiring.

‘No adieus to-night!’ said Lady Armine with a gay air, as she scarcely returned the habitual embrace of her son. ‘We shall be all up tomorrow.’

So wishing his last good night with a charged heart and faltering tongue, Ferdinand Armine took up his candle and retired to his chamber. He could not refrain from exercising an unusual scrutiny when he had entered the room. He held up the light to the old accustomed walls, and threw a parting glance of affection at the curtains. There was the glass vase which his mother had never omitted each day to fill with fresh flowers, and the counterpane that was her own handiwork. He kissed it; and, flinging off his clothes, was glad when he was surrounded with darkness and buried in his bed.

There was a gentle tap at his door. He started.

‘Are you in bed, my Ferdinand?’ inquired his mother’s voice.

Ere he could reply he heard the door open, and observed a tall white figure approaching him.

Lady Armine, without speaking, knelt down by his bedside and took him in her arms. She buried her face in his breast. He felt her tears upon his heart. He could not move; he could not speak. At length he sobbed aloud.

‘May our Father that is in heaven bless you, my darling child; may He guard over you; may He preserve you!’ Very weak was her still, solemn voice. ‘I would have spared you this, my darling. For you, not for myself, have I controlled my feelings. But I knew not the strength of a mother’s love. Alas! what mother has a child like thee? O! Ferdinand, my first, my only-born: child of love and joy and happiness, that never cost me a thought of sorrow; so kind, so gentle, and so dutiful! must we, oh! must we indeed part?’

‘It is too cruel,’ continued Lady Armine, kissing with a thousand kisses her weeping child. ‘What have I done to deserve such misery as this? Ferdinand, beloved Ferdinand, I shall die.’

‘I will not go, mother, I will not go,’ wildly exclaimed the boy, disengaging himself from her embrace and starting up in his bed. ‘Mother, I cannot go. No, no, it never can be good to leave a home like this.’

‘Hush! hush! my darling. What words are these? How unkind, how wicked it is of me to say all this! Would that I had not come! I only meant to listen at your door a minute, and hear you move, perhaps to hear you speak, and like a fool,—how naughty of me! never, never shall I forgive myself-like a miserable fool I entered.’

‘My own, own mother, what shall I say? what shall I do? I love you, mother, with all my heart and soul and spirit’s strength: I love you, mother. There is no mother loved as you are loved!’

”Tis that that makes me mad. I know it. Oh! why are you not like other children, Ferdinand? When your uncle left us, my father said, “Good-bye,” and shook his hand; and he—he scarcely kissed us, he was so glad to leave his home; but you-tomorrow; no, not tomorrow. Can it be tomorrow?’

‘Mother, let me get up and call my father, and tell him I will not go.’

‘Good God! what words are these? Not go! ’Tis all your hope to go; all ours, dear child. What would your father say were he to hear me speak thus? Oh! that I had not entered! What a fool I am!’

‘Dearest, dearest mother, believe me we shall soon meet.’

‘Shall we soon meet? God! how joyous will be the day.’

‘And I—I will write to you by every ship.’

‘Oh! never fail, Ferdinand, never fail.’

‘And send you a gazelle, and you shall call it by my name, dear mother.’

‘Darling child!’

‘You know I have often stayed a month at grand-papa’s, and once six weeks. Why! eight times six weeks, and I shall be home again.’

‘Home! home again! eight times six weeks; a year, nearly a year! It seems eternity. Winter, and spring, and summer, and winter again, all to pass away. And for seventeen years he has scarcely been out of my sight. Oh! my idol, my beloved, my darling Ferdinand, I cannot believe it; I cannot believe that we are to part.’

‘Mother, dearest mother, think of my father; think how much his hopes are placed on me; think, dearest mother, how much I have to do. All now depends on me, you know. I must restore our house.’

‘O! Ferdinand, I dare not express the thoughts that rise upon me; yet I would say that, had I but my child, I could live in peace; how, or where, I care not.’

‘Dearest mother, you unman me.’

‘It is very wicked. I am a fool. I never, no! never shall pardon myself for this night, Ferdinand.’

‘Sweet mother, I beseech you calm yourself. Believe me we shall indeed meet very soon, and somehow or other a little bird whispers to me we shall yet be very happy.’

‘But will you be the same Ferdinand to me as before? Ay! There it is, my child. You will be a man when you come back, and be ashamed to love your mother. Promise me now,’ said Lady Armine, with extraordinary energy, ‘promise me, Ferdinand, you will always love me. Do not let them make you ashamed of loving me. They will joke, and jest, and ridicule all home affections. You are very young, sweet love, very, very young, and very inexperienced and susceptible. Do not let them spoil your frank and beautiful nature. Do not let them lead you astray. Remember Armine, dear, dear Armine, and those who live there. Trust me, oh! yes, indeed believe me, darling, you will never find friends in this world like those you leave at Armine.’

‘I know it,’ exclaimed Ferdinand, with streaming eyes; ‘God be my witness how deeply I feel that truth. If I forget thee and them, dear mother, may God indeed forget me.’

‘My Ferdinand,’ said Lady Armine, in a calm tone, ‘I am better now. I hardly am sorry that I did come now. It will be a consolation to me in your absence to remember all you have said. Good night, my beloved child; my darling child, good night. I shall not come down tomorrow, dear. We will not meet again; I will say good-bye to you from the window. Be happy, my dear Ferdinand, and as you say indeed, we shall soon meet again. Eight-and-forty weeks! Why what are eight-and-forty weeks? It is not quite a year. Courage, my sweet boy! let us keep up each other’s spirits. Who knows what may yet come from this your first venture into the world? I am full of hope. I trust you will find all that you want. I packed up everything myself. Whenever you want anything write to your mother. Mind, you have eight packages; I have written them down on a card and placed it on the hall table. And take the greatest care of old Sir Ferdinand’s sword. I am very superstitious about that sword, and while you have it I am sure you will succeed. I have ever thought that had he taken it with him to France all would have gone right with him. God bless, God Almighty bless you, child. Be of good heart. I will write you everything that takes place, and, as you say, we shall soon meet. Indeed, after to-night,’ she added in a more mournful tone, ‘we have naught else to think of but of meeting. I fear it is very late. Your father will be surprised at my absence.’ She rose from his bed and walked up and down the room several times in silence; then again approaching him, she folded him in her arms and quitted the chamber without again speaking.



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