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Part 2 Chapter 4

In Which Some Light Is Thrown on the Title of This Work.

HOW delicious after a long absence to wake on a sunny morning and find ourselves at home! Ferdinand could scarcely credit that he was really again at Armine. He started up in his bed, and rubbed his eyes and stared at the unaccustomed, yet familiar sights, and for a moment Malta and the Royal Fusiliers, Bath and his betrothed, were all a dream; and then he remembered the visit of his dear mother to this very room on the eve of his first departure. He had returned; in safety had he returned, and in happiness, to accomplish all her hopes and to reward her for all her solicitude. Never felt anyone more content than Ferdinand Armine, more content and more grateful.

He rose and opened the casement; a rich and exhilarating perfume filled the chamber; he looked with a feeling of delight and pride over the broad and beautiful park; the tall trees rising and flinging their taller shadows over the bright and dewy turf, and the last mists clearing away from the distant woods and blending with the spotless sky. Everything was sweet and still, save, indeed, the carol of the birds, or the tinkle of some restless bellwether. It was a rich autumnal morn. And yet with all the excitement of his new views in life, and the blissful consciousness of the happiness of those he loved, he could not but feel that a great change had come over his spirit since the days he was wont to ramble in this old haunt of his boyhood. His innocence was gone. Life was no longer that deep unbroken trance of duty and of love from which he had been roused to so much care; and if not remorse, at least to so much compunction. He had no secrets then. Existence was not then a subterfuge, but a calm and candid state of serene enjoyment. Feelings then were not compromised for interests; and then it was the excellent that was studied, not the expedient. ‘Yet such I suppose is life,’ murmured Ferdinand; ‘we moralise when it is too late; nor is there anything more silly than to regret. One event makes another: what we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expected generally happens; and time can only prove which is most for our advantage. And surely I am the last person who should look grave. Our ancient house rises from its ruins; the beings I love most in the world are not only happy, but indebted to me for their happiness; and I, I myself, with every gift of fortune suddenly thrown at my feet, what more can I desire? Am I not satisfied? Why do I even ask the question? I am sure I know not. It rises like a devil in my thoughts, and spoils everything. The girl is young, noble, and fair, and loves me. And her? I love her, at least I suppose I love her. I love her at any rate as much as I love, or ever did love, woman. There is no great sacrifice, then, on my part; there should be none; there is none; unless indeed it be that a man does not like to give up without a struggle all his chance of romance and rapture.

‘I know not how it is, but there are moments I almost wish that I had no father and no mother; ay! not a single friend or relative in the world, and that Armine were sunk into the very centre of the earth. If I stood alone in the world methinks I might find the place that suits me; now everything seems ordained for me, as it were, beforehand. My spirit has had no play. Something whispers me that, with all its flush prosperity, this is neither wise nor well. God knows I am not heartless, and would be grateful; and yet if life can afford me no deeper sympathy than I have yet experienced, I cannot but hold it, even with all its sweet reflections, as little better than a dull delusion.’

While Ferdinand was thus moralising at the casement, Glastonbury appeared beneath; and his appearance dissipated this gathering gloom. ‘Let us breakfast together,’ proposed Ferdinand. ‘I have breakfasted these two hours,’ replied the hermit of the gate. ‘I hope that on the first night of your return to Armine you have proved auspicious dreams.’

‘My bed and I are old companions,’ said Ferdinand, ‘and we agreed very well. I tell you what, my dear Glastonbury, we will have a stroll together this morning and talk over our plans of last night. Go into the library and look over my sketch-books: you will find them on my pistol-case, and I will be with you anon.’

In due time the friends commenced their ramble. Ferdinand soon became excited by Glastonbury’s various suggestions for the completion of the castle; and as for the old man himself, between his architectural creation and the restoration of the family to which he had been so long devoted, he was in a rapture of enthusiasm, which afforded an amusing contrast to his usual meek and subdued demeanour.

‘Your grandfather was a great man,’ said Glastonbury, who in old days seldom ventured to mention the name of the famous Sir Ferdinand: ‘there is no doubt he was a very great man. He had great ideas. How he would glory in our present prospects! ’Tis strange what a strong confidence I have ever had in the destiny of your house. I felt sure that Providence would not desert us. There is no doubt we must have a portcullis.’

‘Decidedly, a portcullis,’ said Ferdinand; ‘you shall make all the drawings yourself, my dear Glastonbury, and supervise everything. We will not have a single anachronism. It shall be perfect.’

‘Perfect,’ echoed Glastonbury; ‘really perfect. It shall be a perfect Gothic castle. I have such treasures for the work. All the labours of my life have tended to this object. I have all the emblazonings of your house since the Conquest. There shall be three hundred shields in the hall. I will paint them myself. Oh! there is no place in the world like Armine!’

‘Nothing,’ said Ferdinand; ‘I have seen a great deal, but after all there is nothing like Armine.’

‘Had we been born to this splendour,’ said Glastonbury, ‘we should have thought little of it. We have been mildly and wisely chastened. I cannot sufficiently admire the wisdom of Providence, which has tempered, by such a wise dispensation, the too-eager blood of your race.’

‘I should be sorry to pull down the old place,’ said Ferdinand.

‘It must not be,’ said Glastonbury; ‘we have lived there happily, though humbly.’

‘I would we could move it to another part of the park, like the house of Loretto,’ said Ferdinand with a smile.

‘We can cover it with ivy,’ observed Glastonbury, looking somewhat grave.

The morning stole away in these agreeable plans and prospects. At length the friends parted, agreeing to meet again at dinner. Glastonbury repaired to his tower, and Ferdinand, taking his gun, sauntered into the surrounding wilderness.

But he felt no inclination for sport. The conversation with Glastonbury had raised a thousand thoughts over which he longed to brood. His life had been a scene of such constant excitement since his return to England, that he had enjoyed little opportunity of indulging in calm self-communion; and now that he was at Armine, and alone, the contrast between his past and his present situation struck him so forcibly that he could not refrain from falling into a reverie upon his fortunes. It was wonderful, all wonderful, very, very wonderful. There seemed indeed, as Glastonbury affirmed, a providential dispensation in the whole transaction. The fall of his family, the heroic, and, as it now appeared, prescient firmness with which his father had clung, in all their deprivations, to his unproductive patrimony, his own education, the extinction of his mother’s house, his very follies, once to him a cause of so much unhappiness, but which it now seemed were all the time compelling him, as it were, to his prosperity; all these and a thousand other traits and circumstances flitted over his mind, and were each in turn the subject of his manifold meditation. Willing was he to credit that destiny had reserved for him the character of restorer; that duty indeed he had accepted, and yet——

He looked around him as if to see what devil was whispering in his ear. He was alone. No one was there or near. Around him rose the silent bowers, and scarcely the voice of a bird or the hum of an insect disturbed the deep tranquillity. But a cloud seemed to rest on the fair and pensive brow of Ferdinand Armine. He threw himself on the turf, leaning his head on one hand, and with the other plucking the wild flowers, which he as hastily, almost as fretfully, flung away.

‘Conceal it as I will,’ he exclaimed, ‘I am a victim; disguise them as I may, all the considerations are worldly. There is, there must be, something better in this world than power and wealth and rank; and surely there must be felicity more rapturous even than securing the happiness of a parent. Ah! dreams in which I have so oft and so fondly indulged, are ye, indeed, after all, but fantastical and airy visions? Is love indeed a delusion, or am I marked out from men alone to be exempted from its delicious bondage? It must be a delusion. All laugh at it, all jest about it, all agree in stigmatising it the vanity of vanities. And does my experience contradict this harsh but common fame? Alas! what have I seen or known to give the lie to this ill report? No one, nothing. Some women I have met more beautiful, assuredly, than Kate, and many, many less fair; and some have crossed my path with a wild and brilliant grace, that has for a moment dazzled my sight, and perhaps for a moment lured me from my way. But these shooting stars have but glittered transiently in my heaven, and only made me, by their evanescent brilliancy, more sensible of its gloom. Let me believe then, oh! let me of all men then believe, that the forms that inspire the sculptor and the painter have no models in nature; that that combination of beauty and grace, of fascinating intelligence and fond devotion, over which men brood in the soft hours of their young loneliness, is but the promise of a better world, and not the charm of this one.

‘But, what terror in that truth! what despair! what madness! Yes! at this moment of severest scrutiny, how profoundly I feel that life without love is worse than death! How vain and void, how flat and fruitless, appear all those splendid accidents of existence for which men struggle, without this essential and pervading charm! What a world without a sun! Yes! without this transcendent sympathy, riches and rank, and even power and fame, seem to me at best but jewels set in a coronet of lead!

‘And who knows whether that extraordinary being, of whose magnificent yet ruinous career this castle is in truth a fitting emblem—I say, who knows whether the secret of his wild and restless course is not hidden in this same sad lack of love? Perhaps while the world, the silly, superficial world, marvelled and moralised at his wanton life, and poured forth its anathemas against his heartless selfishness, perchance he all the time was sighing for some soft bosom whereon to pour his overwhelming passion, even as I am!

‘O Nature! why art thou beautiful? My heart requires not, imagination cannot paint, a sweeter or a fairer scene than these surrounding bowers. This azazure vault of heaven, this golden sunshine, this deep and blending shade, these rare and fragrant shrubs, yon grove of green and tallest pines, and the bright gliding of this swan-crowned lake; my soul is charmed with all this beauty and this sweetness; I feel no disappointment here; my mind does not here outrun reality; here there is no cause to mourn over ungratified hopes and fanciful desires. Is it then my destiny that I am to be baffled only in the dearest desires of my heart?’

At this moment the loud and agitated barking of his dogs at some little distance roused Ferdinand from his reverie. He called them to him, and soon one of them obeyed his summons, but instantly returned to his companion with such significant gestures, panting and yelping, that Ferdinand supposed that Basto was caught, perhaps, in some trap: so, taking up his gun, he proceeded to the dog’s rescue.

To his surprise, as he was about to emerge from a berceau on to a plot of turf, in the centre of which grew a large cedar, he beheld a lady in a riding-habit standing before the tree, and evidently admiring its beautiful proportions.

[Illustration: page094.jpg]

Her countenance was raised and motionless. It seemed to him that it was more radiant than the sunshine. He gazed with rapture on the dazzling brilliancy of her complexion, the delicate regularity of her features, and the large violet-tinted eyes, fringed with the longest and the darkest lashes that he had ever beheld. From her position her hat had fallen back, revealing her lofty and pellucid brow, and the dark and lustrous locks that were braided over her temples. The whole countenance combined that brilliant health and that classic beauty which we associate with the idea of some nymph tripping over the dew-bespangled meads of Ida, or glancing amid the hallowed groves of Greece. Although the lady could scarcely have seen eighteen summers, her stature was above the common height; but language cannot describe the startling symmetry of her superb figure.

There is no love but love at first sight. This is the transcendent and surpassing offspring of sheer and unpolluted sympathy. All other is the illegitimate result of observation, of reflection, of compromise, of comparison, of expediency. The passions that endure flash like the lightning: they scorch the soul, but it is warmed for ever. Miserable man whose love rises by degrees upon the frigid morning of his mind! Some hours indeed of warmth and lustre may perchance fall to his lot; some moments of meridian splendour, in which he basks in what he deems eternal sunshine. But then how often overcast by the clouds of care, how often dusked by the blight of misery and misfortune! And certain as the gradual rise of such affection is its gradual decline and melancholy setting. Then, in the chill, dim twilight of his soul, he execrates custom; because he has madly expected that feelings could be habitual that were not homogeneous, and because he has been guided by the observation of sense, and not by the inspiration of sympathy.

Amid the gloom and travail of existence suddenly to behold a beautiful being, and as instantaneously to feel an overwhelming conviction that with that fair form for ever our destiny must be entwined; that there is no more joy but in her joy, no sorrow but when she grieves; that in her sigh of love, in her smile of fondness, hereafter all is bliss; to feel our flaunty ambition fade away like a shrivelled gourd before her vision; to feel fame a juggle and posterity a lie; and to be prepared at once, for this great object, to forfeit and fling away all former hopes, ties, schemes, views; to violate in her favour every duty of society; this is a lover, and this is love! Magnificent, sublime, divine sentiment! An immortal flame burns in the breast of that man who adores and is adored. He is an ethereal being. The accidents of earth touch him not. Revolutions of empire, changes of creed, mutations of opinion, are to him but the clouds and meteors of a stormy sky. The schemes and struggles of mankind are, in his thinking, but the anxieties of pigmies and the fantastical achievements of apes. Nothing can subdue him. He laughs alike at loss of fortune, loss of friends, loss of character. The deeds and thoughts of men are tor him equally indifferent. He does not mingle in their paths of callous bustle, or hold himself responsible to the airy impostures before which they bow down. He is a mariner who, on the sea of life, keeps his gaze fixedly on a single star; and if that do not shine, he lets go the rudder, and glories when his barque descends into the bottomless gulf.

Yes! it was this mighty passion that now raged in the heart of Ferdinand Armine, as, pale and trembling, he withdrew a few paces from the overwhelming spectacle, and leant against a tree in a chaos of emotion. What had he seen? What ravishing vision had risen upon his sight? What did he feel? What wild, what delicious, what maddening impulse now pervaded his frame? A storm seemed raging in his soul, a mighty wind dispelling in its course the sullen clouds and vapours of long years. Silent he was indeed, for he was speechless; though the big drop that quivered on his brow and the slight foam that played upon his lip proved the difficult triumph of passion over expression. But, as the wind clears the heaven, passion eventually tranquillises the soul. The tumult of his mind gradually subsided; the flitting memories, the scudding thoughts, that for a moment had coursed about in such wild order, vanished and melted away, and a feeling of bright serenity succeeded, a sense of beauty and of joy, and of hovering and circumambient happiness.

He advanced, and gazed again; the lady was still there. Changed indeed her position; she had gathered a flower and was examining its beauty.

‘Henrietta!’ exclaimed a manly voice from the adjoining wood. Before she could answer, a stranger came forward, a man of middle age but of an appearance remarkably prepossessing. He was tall and dignified, fair, with an aquiline nose. One of Ferdinand’s dogs followed him barking.

‘I cannot find the gardener anywhere,’ said the stranger; ‘I think we had better remount.’

‘Ah, me! what a pity!’ exclaimed the lady.

‘Let me be your guide,’ said Ferdinand, advancing.

The lady rather started; the gentleman, not at all discomposed, courteously welcomed Ferdinand, and said, ‘I feel that we are intruders, sir. But we were informed by the woman at the lodge that the family were not here at present, and that we should find her husband in the grounds.’

‘The family are not at Armine,’ replied Ferdinand; ‘I am sure, however, Sir Ratcliffe would be most happy for you to walk about the grounds as much as you please; and as I am well acquainted with them, I should feel delighted to be your guide.’

‘You are really too courteous, sir,’ replied the gentleman; and his beautiful companion rewarded Ferdinand with a smile like a sunbeam, that played about her countenance till it finally settled into two exquisite dimples, and revealed to him teeth that, for a moment, he believed to be even the most beautiful feature of that surpassing visage.

They sauntered along, every step developing new beauties in their progress and eliciting from his companions renewed expressions of rapture. The dim bowers, the shining glades, the tall rare trees, the luxuriant shrubs, the silent and sequestered lake, in turn enchanted them, until at length, Ferdinand, who had led them with experienced taste through all the most striking points of the pleasaunce, brought them before the walls of the castle.

‘And here is Armine Castle,’ he said; ‘it is little better than a shell, and yet contains something which you might like to see.’

‘Oh! by all means,’ exclaimed the lady.

‘But we are spoiling your sport,’ suggested the gentleman.

‘I can always kill partridges,’ replied Ferdinand, laying down his gun; ‘but I cannot always find agreeable companions.’

So saying, he opened the massy portal of the castle and they entered the hall. It was a lofty chamber, of dimensions large enough to feast a thousand vassals, with a dais and a rich Gothic screen, and a gallery for the musicians. The walls were hung with arms and armour admirably arranged; but the parti-coloured marble floor was so covered with piled-up cases of furniture that the general effect of the scene, was not only greatly marred, but it was even difficult in some parts to trace a path.

‘Here,’ said Ferdinand, jumping upon a huge case and running to the wall, ‘here is the standard of Ralph d’Ermyn, who came over with the Conqueror, and founded the family in England. Here is the sword of William d’Armyn, who signed Magna Carta. Here is the complete coat armour of the second Ralph, who died before Ascalon. This case contains a diamond-hilted sword, given by the Empress to the great Sir Ferdinand for defeating the Turks; and here is a Mameluke sabre, given to the same Sir Ferdinand by the Sultan for defeating the Empress.’

‘Oh! I have heard so much of that great Sir Ferdinand,’ said the lady. ‘He must have been the most interesting character.’

‘He was a marvellous being,’ answered her guide, with a peculiar look, ‘and yet I know not whether his descendants have not cause to rue his genius.’

‘Oh! never, never!’ said the lady; ‘what is wealth to genius? How much prouder, were I an Armine, should I be of such an ancestor than of a thousand others, even if they had left me this castle as complete as he wished it to be!’

‘Well, as to that,’ replied Ferdinand, ‘I believe I am somewhat of your opinion; though I fear he lived in too late an age for such order of minds. It would have been better for him perhaps if he had succeeded in becoming King of Poland.’

‘I hope there is a portrait of him,’ said the lady; ‘there is nothing I long so much to see.’

‘I rather think there is a portrait,’ replied her companion, somewhat drily. ‘We will try to find it out. Do not you think I make not a bad cicerone?’

‘Indeed, most excellent,’ replied the lady.

‘I perceive you are a master of your subject,’ replied the gentleman, thus affording Ferdinand an easy opportunity of telling them who he was. The hint, however, was not accepted.

‘And now,’ said Ferdinand, ‘we will ascend the staircase.’

Accordingly they mounted a large spiral staircase which filled the space of a round tower, and was lighted from the top by a lantern of rich, coloured glass on which were emblazoned the arms of the family. Then they entered the vestibule, an apartment spacious enough for a salon; which, however, was not fitted up in the Gothic style, but of which the painted ceiling, the gilded panels, and inlaid floor were more suitable to a French palace. The brilliant doors of this vestibule opened in many directions upon long suites of state chambers, which indeed merited the description of shells. They were nothing more; of many the flooring was not even laid down; the walls of all were rough and plastered.

‘Ah!’ said the lady, ‘what a pity it is not finished!’

‘It is indeed desolate,’ observed Ferdinand; ‘but here perhaps is something more to your taste.’ So saying, he opened another door and ushered them into the picture gallery.

It was a superb chamber nearly two hundred feet in length, and contained only portraits of the family, or pictures of their achievements. It was of a pale green colour, lighted from the top; and the floor, of oak and ebony, was partially covered with a single Persian carpet, of fanciful pattern and brilliant dye, a present from the Sultan to the great Sir Ferdinand. The earlier annals of the family were illustrated by a series of paintings by modern masters, representing the battle of Hastings, the siege of Ascalon, the meeting at Runnymede, the various invasions of France, and some of the most striking incidents in the Wars of the Roses, in all of which a valiant Armyn prominently figured. At length they stood before the first contemporary portrait of the Armyn family, one of Cardinal Stephen Armyn, by an Italian master. This great dignitary was legate of the Pope in the time of the seventh Henry, and in his scarlet robes and ivory chair looked a papal Jupiter, not unworthy himself of wielding the thunder of the Vatican. From him the series of family portraits was unbroken; and it was very interesting to trace, in this excellently arranged collection, the history of national costume. Holbein had commemorated the Lords Tewkesbury, rich in velvet, and golden chains, and jewels. The statesmen of Elizabeth and James, and their beautiful and gorgeous dames, followed; and then came many a gallant cavalier, by Vandyke. One admirable picture contained Lord Armine and his brave brothers, seated together in a tent round a drum, on which his lordship was apparently planning the operations of the campaign. Then followed a long series of unmemorable baronets, and their more interesting wives and daughters, touched by the pencil of Kneller, of Lely, or of Hudson; squires in wigs and scarlet jackets, and powdered dames in hoops and farthingales.

They stood before the crowning effort of the gallery, the masterpiece of Reynolds. It represented a full-length portrait of a young man, apparently just past his minority. The side of the figure was alone exhibited, and the face glanced at the spectator over the shoulder, in a favourite attitude of Vandyke. It was a countenance of ideal beauty. A profusion of dark brown curls was dashed aside from a lofty forehead of dazzling brilliancy. The face was perfectly oval; the nose, though small was high and aquiline, and exhibited a remarkable dilation of the nostril; the curling lip was shaded by a very delicate mustache; and the general expression, indeed, of the mouth and of the large grey eyes would have been perhaps arrogant and imperious, had not the extraordinary beauty of the whole countenance rendered it fascinating.

It was indeed a picture to gaze upon and to return to; one of those visages which, after having once beheld, haunt us at all hours and flit across our mind’s eye unexpected and unbidden. So great was the effect that it produced upon the present visitors to the gallery, that they stood before it for some minutes in silence; the scrutinising glance of the gentleman was more than once diverted from the portrait to the countenance of his conductor, and the silence was eventually broken by our hero.

‘And what think you,’ he enquired, ‘of the famous Sir Ferdinand?’

The lady started, looked at him, withdrew her glance, and appeared somewhat confused. Her companion replied, ‘I think, sir, I cannot err in believing that I am indebted for much courtesy to his descendant?’

‘I believe,’ said Ferdinand, ‘that I should not have much trouble in proving my pedigree. I am generally considered an ugly likeness of my grandfather.’

The gentleman smiled, and then said, ‘I hardly know whether I can style myself your neighbour, for I live nearly ten miles distant. It would, however, afford me sincere gratification to see you at Ducie Bower. I cannot welcome you in a castle. My name is Temple,’ he continued, offering his card to Ferdinand. ‘I need not now introduce you to my daughter. I was not unaware that Sir Ratcliffe Armine had a son, but I had understood he was abroad.’

‘I have returned to England within these two months,’ replied Ferdinand, ‘and to Armine within these two days. I deem it fortunate that my return has afforded me an opportunity of welcoming you and Miss Temple. But you must not talk of our castle, for that you know is our folly. Pray come now and visit our older and humbler dwelling, and take some refreshment after your long ride.’

This offer was declined, but with great courtesy. They quitted the castle, and Mr. Temple was about to direct his steps towards the lodge, where he had left his own and his daughter’s horses; but Ferdinand persuaded them to return through the park, which he proved to them very satisfactorily must be the nearest way. He even asked permission to accompany them; and while his groom was saddling his horse he led them to the old Place and the flower-garden.

‘You must be very fatigued, Miss Temple. I wish that I could persuade you to enter and rest yourself.’

‘Indeed, no: I love flowers too much to leave them.’

‘Here is one that has the recommendation of novelty as well as beauty,’ said Ferdinand, plucking a strange rose, and presenting it to her. ‘I sent it to my mother from Barbary.’

‘You live amidst beauty.’

‘I think that I never remember Armine looking so well as today.’

‘A sylvan scene requires sunshine,’ replied Miss Temple. ‘We have been most fortunate in our visit.’

‘It is something brighter than the sunshine that makes it so fair,’ replied Ferdinand; but at this moment the horses appeared.



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