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Part 2 Chapter 6

In Which Captain Armine Pays His First Visit to Ducie.

YES! it is the morning. Is it possible? Shall he again behold her? That form of surpassing beauty: that bright, that dazzling countenance; again are they to bless his entranced vision? Shall he speak to her again? That musical and thrilling voice, shall it again sound and echo in his enraptured ear?

Ferdinand had reached Armine so many days before his calculated arrival, that he did not expect his family and the Grandisons to arrive for at least a week. What a respite did he not now feel this delay! if ever he could venture to think of the subject at all. He drove it indeed from his thoughts; the fascinating present completely engrossed his existence. He waited until the post arrived; it brought no letters, letters now so dreaded! He jumped upon his horse and galloped towards Ducie.

Mr. Temple was the younger son of a younger branch of a noble family. Inheriting no patrimony, he had been educated for the diplomatic service, and the influence of his family had early obtained him distinguished appointments. He was envoy to a German court when a change of ministry occasioned his recall, and he retired, after a long career of able and assiduous service, comforted by a pension and glorified by a privy-councillorship. He was an acute and accomplished man, practised in the world, with great self-control, yet devoted to his daughter, the only offspring of a wife whom he had lost early and loved much.

Deprived at a tender age of that parent of whom she would have become peculiarly the charge, Henrietta Temple found in the devotion of her father all that consolation of which her forlorn state was susceptible. She was not delivered over to the custody of a governess, or to the even less sympathetic supervision of relations. Mr. Temple never permitted his daughter to be separated from him; he cherished her life, and he directed her education. Resident in a city which arrogates to itself, not without justice, the title of the German Athens, his pupil availed herself of all those advantages which were offered to her by the instruction of the most skilful professors. Few persons were more accomplished than Henrietta Temple even at an early age; but her rare accomplishments were not her most remarkable characteristics. Nature, which had accorded to her that extraordinary beauty we have attempted to describe, had endowed her with great talents and a soul of sublime temper.

It was often remarked of Henrietta Temple (and the circumstance may doubtless be in some degree accounted for by the little interference and influence of women in her education) that she never was a girl. She expanded at once from a charming child into a magnificent woman. She had entered life very early, and had presided at her father’s table for a year before his recall from his mission. Few women in so short a period had received so much homage; but she listened to compliments with a careless though courteous ear, and received more ardent aspirations with a smile. The men, who were puzzled, voted her cold and heartless; but men should remember that fineness of taste, as well as apathy of temperament, may account for an unsuccessful suit. Assuredly Henrietta Temple was not deficient in feeling; she entertained for her father sentiments almost of idolatry, and those more intimate or dependent acquaintances best qualified to form an opinion of her character spoke of her always as a soul of infinite tenderness.

Notwithstanding their mutual devotion to each other, there were not many points of resemblance between the characters of Mr. Temple and his daughter; she was remarkable for a frankness of demeanour and a simplicity yet strength of thought which contrasted with the artificial manners and the conventional opinions and conversation of her sire. A mind at once thoughtful and energetic permitted Henrietta Temple to form her own judgments; and an artless candour, which her father never could eradicate from her habit, generally impelled her to express them. It was indeed impossible even for him long to find fault with these ebullitions, however the diplomatist might deplore them; for Nature had so imbued the existence of this being with that indefinable charm which we call grace, that it was not in your power to behold her a moment without being enchanted. A glance, a movement, a sunny smile, a word of thrilling music, and all that was left to you was to adore. There was indeed in Henrietta Temple that rare and extraordinary combination of intellectual strength and physical softness which marks out the woman capable of exercising an irresistible influence over mankind. In the good old days she might have occasioned a siege of Troy or a battle of Actium. She was one of those women who make nations mad, and for whom a man of genius would willingly peril the empire of the world.

So at least deemed Ferdinand Armine, as he cantered through the park, talking to himself, apostrophising the woods, and shouting his passion to the winds. It was scarcely noon when he reached Ducie Bower. This was a Palladian pavilion, situated in the midst of beautiful gardens, and surrounded by green hills. The sun shone brightly, the sky was without a cloud; it appeared to him that he had never beheld a more graceful scene. It was a temple worthy of the divinity it enshrined. A fa?ade of four Ionic columns fronted an octagon hall, adorned with statues, which led into a salon of considerable size and fine proportion. Ferdinand thought that he had never in his life entered so brilliant a chamber. The lofty walls were covered with an Indian paper of vivid fancy, and adorned with several pictures which his practised eye assured him were of great merit. The room, without being inconveniently crowded, was amply stored with furniture, every article of which bespoke a refined and luxurious taste: easy chairs of all descriptions, most inviting couches, cabinets of choice inlay, and grotesque tables covered with articles of vertu; all those charming infinite nothings, which a person of taste might some time back have easily collected during a long residence on the continent. A large lamp of Dresden china was suspended from the painted and gilded ceiling. The three tall windows opened on the gardens, and admitted a perfume so rich and various, that Ferdinand could easily believe the fair mistress, as she told him, was indeed a lover of flowers. A light bridge in the distant wood, that bounded the furthest lawn, indicated that a stream was at hand. What with the beauty of the chamber, the richness of the exterior scene, and the bright sun that painted every object with its magical colouring, and made everything appear even more fair and brilliant, Ferdinand stood for some moments quite entranced. A door opened, and Mr. Temple came forward and welcomed him with cordiality.

After they had passed a half-hour in looking at the pictures and in conversation to which they gave rise, Mr. Temple, proposing an adjournment to luncheon, conducted Ferdinand into a dining-room, of which the suitable decorations wonderfully pleased his taste. A subdued tint pervaded every part of the chamber: the ceiling was painted in grey tinted frescoes of a classical and festive character, and the side table, which stood in a recess supported by four magnificent columns, was adorned with choice Etruscan vases. The air of repose and stillness which distinguished this apartment was heightened by the vast conservatory into which it led, blazing with light and beauty, groups of exotic trees, plants of radiant tint, the sound of a fountain, and gorgeous forms of tropic birds.

‘How beautiful!’ exclaimed Ferdinand.

”Tis pretty,’ said Mr. Temple, carving a pasty, ‘but we are very humble people, and cannot vie with the lords of Gothic castles.’

‘It appears to me,’ said Ferdinand, ‘that Ducie Bower is the most exquisite place I ever beheld.’

‘If you had seen it two years ago you would have thought differently,’ said Mr. Temple; ‘I assure you I dreaded becoming its tenant. Henrietta is entitled to all the praise, as she took upon herself the whole responsibility. There is not on the banks of the Brenta a more dingy and desolate villa than Ducie appeared when we first came; and as for the gardens, they were a perfect wilderness. She made everything. It was one vast, desolate, and neglected lawn, used as a sheep-walk when we arrived. As for the ceilings, I was almost tempted to whitewash them, and yet you see they have cleaned wonderfully; and, after all, it only required a little taste and labour. I have not laid out much money here. I built the conservatory, to be sure. Henrietta could not live without a conservatory.’

‘Miss Temple is quite right,’ pronounced Ferdinand. ‘It is impossible to live without a conservatory.’

At this moment the heroine of their conversation entered the room, and Ferdinand turned pale. She extended to him her hand with a graceful smile; as he touched it, he trembled from head to foot.

‘You were not fatigued, I hope, by your ride, Miss Temple?’ at length he contrived to say.

‘Not in the least! I am an experienced horsewoman. Papa and I take very long rides together.’

As for eating, with Henrietta Temple in the room, Ferdinand found that quite impossible. The moment she appeared, his appetite vanished. Anxious to speak, yet deprived of his accustomed fluency, he began to praise Ducie.

‘You must see it,’ said Miss Temple: ‘shall we walk round the grounds?’

‘My dear Henrietta,’ said her father, ‘I dare say Captain Armine is at this moment sufficiently tired; besides, when he moves, he will like perhaps to take his gun; you forget he is a sportsman, and that he cannot waste his morning in talking to ladies and picking flowers.’

‘Indeed, sir, I assure you,’ said Ferdinand, ‘there is nothing I like so much as talking to ladies and picking flowers; that is to say, when the ladies have as fine taste as Miss Temple, and the flowers are as beautiful as those at Ducie.’

‘Well, you shall see my conservatory, Captain Armine,’ said Miss Temple, ‘and you shall go and kill partridges afterwards.’ So saying, she entered the conservatory, and Ferdinand followed her, leaving Mr. Temple to his pasty.

‘These orange groves remind me of Palmero,’ said Ferdinand.

‘Ah!’ said Miss Temple, ‘I have never been in the sweet south.’

‘You seem to me a person born to live in a Sicilian palace,’ said Ferdinand, ‘to wander in perfumed groves, and to glance in a moonlight warmer than this sun.’

‘I see you pay compliments,’ said Miss Temple, looking at him archly, and meeting a glance serious and soft.

‘Believe me, not to you.’

‘What do you think of this flower?’ said Miss Temple, turning away rather quickly and pointing to a strange plant. ‘It is the most singular thing in the world: but if it be tended by any other person than myself it withers. Is it not droll?’

‘I think not,’ said Ferdinand.

‘I excuse you for your incredulity; no one does believe it; no one can; and yet it is quite true. Our gardener gave it up in despair. I wonder what it can be.’

‘I think it must be some enchanted prince,’ said Ferdinand.

‘If I thought so, how I should long for a wand to emancipate him!’ said Miss Temple.

‘I would break your wand, if you had one,’ said Ferdinand.

‘Why?’ said Miss Temple.

‘Oh! I don’t know,’ said Ferdinand; ‘I suppose because I believe you are sufficiently enchanting without one.’

‘I am bound to consider that most excellent logic,’ said Miss Temple.

‘Do you admire my fountain and my birds?’ she continued, after a short pause. ‘After Armine, Ducie appears a little tawdry toy.’

‘Ducie is Paradise,’ said Ferdinand. ‘I should like to pass my life in this conservatory.’

‘As an enchanted prince, I suppose?’ said Miss Temple.

‘Exactly,’ said Captain Armine; ‘I would willingly this instant become a flower, if I were sure that Miss Temple would cherish my existence.’

‘Cut off your tendrils and drown you with a watering-pot,’ said Miss Temple; ‘you really are very Sicilian in your conversation, Captain Armine.’

‘Come,’ said Mr. Temple, who now joined them, ‘if you really should like to take a stroll round the grounds, I will order the keeper to meet us at the cottage.’

‘A very good proposition,’ said Miss Temple.

‘But you must get a bonnet, Henrietta; I must forbid your going out uncovered.’

‘No, papa, this will do,’ said Miss Temple, taking a handkerchief, twisting it round her head, and tying it under her chin.

‘You look like an old woman, Henrietta,’ said her father, smiling.

‘I shall not say what you look like, Miss Temple,’ said Captain Armine, with a glance of admiration, ‘lest you should think that I was this time even talking Sicilian.’

‘I reward you for your forbearance with a rose,’ said Miss Temple, plucking a flower. ‘It is a return for your beautiful present of yesterday.’

Ferdinand pressed the gift to his lips.

They went forth; they stepped into a Paradise, where the sweetest flowers seemed grouped in every combination of the choicest forms; baskets, and vases, and beds of infinite fancy. A thousand bees and butterflies filled the air with their glancing shapes and cheerful music, and the birds from the neighbouring groves joined in the chorus of melody. The wood walks through which they now rambled admitted at intervals glimpses of the ornate landscape, and occasionally the view extended beyond the enclosed limits, and exhibited the clustering and embowered roofs of the neighbouring village, or some woody hill studded with a farmhouse, or a distant spire. As for Ferdinand, he strolled along, full of beautiful thoughts and thrilling fancies, in a dreamy state which had banished all recollection or consciousness but of the present. He was happy; positively, perfectly, supremely happy. He was happy for the first time in his life, He had no conception that life could afford such bliss as now filled his being. What a chain of miserable, tame, factitious sensations seemed the whole course of his past existence. Even the joys of yesterday were nothing to these; Armine was associated with too much of the commonplace and the gloomy to realise the ideal in which he now revelled. But now all circumstances contributed to enchant him. The novelty, the beauty of the scene, harmoniously blended with his passion. The sun seemed to him a more brilliant sun than the orb that illumined Armine; the sky more clear, more pure, more odorous. There seemed a magic sympathy in the trees, and every flower reminded him of his mistress. And then he looked around and beheld her. Was he positively awake? Was he in England? Was he in the same globe in which he had hitherto moved and acted? What was this entrancing form that moved before him? Was it indeed a woman?

O dea certè!

That voice, too, now wilder than the wildest bird, now low and hushed, yet always sweet; where was he, what did he listen to, what did he behold, what did he feel? The presence of her father alone restrained him from falling on his knees and expressing to her his adoration.

At length our friends arrived at a picturesque and ivy-grown cottage, where the keeper, with their guns and dogs, awaited Mr. Temple and his guest. Ferdinand, although a keen sportsman, beheld the spectacle with dismay. He execrated, at the same time, the existence of partridges and the invention of gunpowder. To resist his fate, however, was impossible; he took his gun and turned to bid his hostess adieu.

‘I do not like to quit Paradise at all,’ he said in a low voice: ‘must I go?’

‘Oh! certainly,’ said Miss Temple. ‘It will do you a great deal of good.’

Never did anyone at first shoot more wildly. In time, however, Ferdinand sufficiently rallied to recover his reputation with the keeper, who, from his first observation, began to wink his eye to his son, an attendant bush-beater, and occasionally even thrust his tongue inside his cheek, a significant gesture perfectly understood by the imp. ‘For the life of me, Sam,’ he afterwards profoundly observed, ‘I couldn’t make out this here Captain by no manner of means whatsomever. At first I thought as how he was going to put the muzzle to his shoulder. Hang me if ever I see sich a gentleman. He missed everything; and at last if he didn’t hit the longest flying shots without taking aim. Hang me if ever I see sich a gentleman. He hit everything. That ere Captain puzzled me, surely.’

The party at dinner was increased by a neighbouring squire and his wife, and the rector of the parish. Ferdinand was placed at the right hand of Miss Temple. The more he beheld her the more beautiful she seemed. He detected every moment some charm before unobserved. It seemed to him that he never was in such agreeable society, though, sooth to say, the conversation was not of a very brilliant character. Mr. Temple recounted the sport of the morning to the squire, whose ears kindled at a congenial subject, and every preserve in the county was then discussed, with some episodes on poaching. The rector, an old gentleman, who had dined in old days at Armine Place, reminded Ferdinand of the agreeable circumstance, sanguine perhaps that the invitation might lead to a renewal of his acquaintance with that hospitable board. He was painfully profuse in his description of the public days of the famous Sir Ferdinand. From the service of plate to the thirty servants in livery, nothing was omitted.

‘Our friend deals in Arabian tales,’ whispered Ferdinand to Miss Temple; ‘you can be a witness that we live quietly enough now.’

‘I shall certainly never forget my visit to Armine,’ replied Miss Temple; ‘it was one of the agreeable days of life.’

‘And that is saying a great deal, for I think your life must have abounded in agreeable days.’

‘I cannot indeed lay any claim to that misery which makes many people interesting,’ said Miss Temple; ‘I am a very commonplace person, for I have been always happy.’

When the ladies withdrew there appeared but little inclination on the part of the squire and the rector to follow their example; and Captain Armine, therefore, soon left Mr. Temple to his fate, and escaped to the drawing-room. He glided to a seat on an ottoman, by the side of his hostess, and listened in silence to the conversation. What a conversation! At any other time, under any other circumstances, Ferdinand would have been teased and wearied with its commonplace current: all the dull detail of county tattle, in which the squire’s lady was a proficient, and with which Miss Temple was too highly bred not to appear to sympathise; and yet the conversation, to Ferdinand, appeared quite charming. Every accent of Henrietta’s sounded like wit; and when she bent her head in assent to her companion’s obvious deductions, there was about each movement a grace so ineffable, that Ferdinand could have sat in silence and listened, entranced, for ever: and occasionally, too, she turned to Captain Armine, and appealed on some point to his knowledge or his taste. It seemed to him that he had never listened to sounds so sweetly thrilling as her voice. It was a birdlike burst of music, that well became the sparkling sunshine of her violet eyes.

His late companions entered. Ferdinand rose from his seat; the windows of the salon were open; he stepped forth into the garden. He felt the necessity of being a moment alone. He proceeded a few paces beyond the ken of man, and then leaning on a statue, and burying his face in his arm, he gave way to irresistible emotion. What wild thoughts dashed through his impetuous soul at that instant, it is difficult to conjecture. Perhaps it was passion that inspired that convulsive reverie; perchance it might have been remorse. Did he abandon himself to those novel sentiments which in a few brief hours had changed all his aspirations and coloured his whole existence; or was he tortured by that dark and perplexing future, from which his imagination in vain struggled to extricate him?

He was roused from his reverie, brief but tumultuous, by the note of music, and then by the sound of a human voice. The stag detecting the huntsman’s horn could not have started with more wild emotion. But one fair organ could send forth that voice. He approached, he listened; the voice of Henrietta Temple floated to him on the air, breathing with a thousand odours. In a moment he was at her side, the squire’s lady was standing by her; the gentlemen, for a moment arrested from a political discussion, formed a group in a distant part of the room, the rector occasionally venturing in a practised whisper to enforce a disturbed argument. Ferdinand glided in unobserved by the fair performer. Miss Temple not only possessed a voice of rare tone and compass, but this delightful gift of nature had been cultivated with refined art. Ferdinand, himself a musician, and passionately devoted to vocal melody, listened with unexaggerated rapture.

‘Oh! beautiful!’ exclaimed he, as the songstress ceased.

‘Captain Armine!’ cried Miss Temple, looking round with a wild, bewitching smile. ‘I thought you were meditating in the twilight.’

‘Your voice summoned me.’

‘You care for music?’

‘For little else.’

‘You sing?’

‘I hum.’

‘Try this.’

‘With you?’

Ferdinand Armine was not unworthy of singing with Henrietta Temple. His mother had been his able instructress in the art even in his childhood, and his frequent residence at Naples and other parts of the south had afforded him ample opportunities of perfecting a talent thus early cultivated. But to-night the love of something beyond his art inspired the voice of Ferdinand. Singing with Henrietta Temple, he poured forth to her in safety all the passion which raged in his soul. The squire’s lady looked confused; Henrietta herself grew pale; the politicians ceased even to whisper, and advanced from their corner to the instrument; and when the duet was terminated, Mr. Temple offered his sincere congratulations to his guest. Henrietta also turned with some words of commendation to Ferdinand; but the words were faint and confused, and finally requesting Captain Armine to favour them by singing alone, she rose and vacated her seat.

Ferdinand took up the guitar, and accompanied himself to a Neapolitan air. It was gay and festive, a Ritornella which might summon your mistress to dance in the moonlight. And then, amid many congratulations, he offered the guitar to Miss Temple.

‘No one will listen to a simple melody after anything so brilliant,’ said Miss Temple, as she touched a string, and, after a slight prelude, sang these words:—
The Deserted.
i.

Yes, weeping is madness,

Away with this tear,

Let no sign of sadness

Betray the wild anguish I fear.

When we meet him to-night,

Be mute then my heart!

And my smile be as bright,

As if we were never to part.
ii.

Girl! give me the mirror

That said I was fair;

Alas! fatal error,

This picture reveals my despair.

Smiles no longer can pass

O’er this faded brow,

And I shiver this glass,

Like his love and his fragile vow!

‘The music,’ said Ferdinand, full of enthusiasm, ‘is———’

‘Henrietta’s,’ replied her father.

‘And the words?’

‘Were found in my canary’s cage,’ said Henrietta Temple, rising and putting an end to the conversation.



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