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Part 2 Chapter 10

Evening Stroll.

IN SPITE of his perilous situation, an indefinable sensation of happiness pervaded the soul of Ferdinand Armine, as he made his hurried toilet, and hastened to the domestic board of Ducie, where he was now the solitary guest. His eye caught Miss Temple’s as he entered the room. It seemed to beam upon him with interest and kindness. His courteous and agreeable host welcomed him with polished warmth. It seemed that a feeling of intimacy was already established among them, and he fancied himself already looked upon as an habitual member of their circle. All dark thoughts were driven away. He was gay and pleasant, and duly maintained with Mr. Temple that conversation in which his host excelled. Miss Temple spoke little, but listened with evident interest to her father and Ferdinand. She seemed to delight in their society, and to be gratified by Captain Armine’s evident sense of her father’s agreeable qualities. When dinner was over they all rose together and repaired to the salon.

‘I wish Mr. Glastonbury were here,’ said Miss Temple, as Ferdinand opened the instrument. ‘You must bring him some day, and then our concert will be perfect.’

Ferdinand smiled, but the name of Glastonbury made him shudder. His countenance changed at the future plans of Miss Temple. ‘Some day,’ indeed, when he might also take the opportunity of introducing his betrothed! But the voice of Henrietta Temple drove all care from his bosom; he abandoned himself to the intoxicating present. She sang alone; and then they sang together; and as he arranged her books, or selected her theme, a thousand instances of the interest with which she inspired him developed themselves. Once he touched her hand, and he pressed his own, unseen, to his lips.

Though the room was lit up, the windows were open and admitted the moonlight. The beautiful salon was full of fragrance and of melody; the fairest of women dazzled Ferdinand with her presence; his heart was full, his senses ravished, his hopes were high. Could there be such a demon as care in such a paradise? Could sorrow ever enter here? Was it possible that these bright halls and odorous bowers could be polluted by the miserable considerations that reigned too often supreme in his unhappy breast? An enchanted scene had suddenly risen from the earth for his delight and fascination. Could he be unhappy? Why, if all went darker even than he sometimes feared, that man had not lived in vain who had beheld Henrietta Temple! All the troubles of the world were folly here; this was fairy-land, and he some knight who had fallen from a gloomy globe upon some starry region flashing with perennial lustre.

The hours flew on; the servants brought in that light banquet whose entrance in the country seems the only method of reminding our guests that there is a morrow.

[Illustration: frontis-page146.jpg]

”Tis the last night,’ said Ferdinand, smiling, with a sigh. ‘One more song; only one more. Mr. Temple, be indulgent; it is the last night. I feel,’ he added in a lower tone to Henrietta, ‘I feel exactly as I did when I left Armine for the first time.’

‘Because you are going to return to it? That is wilful.’

‘Wilful or not, I would that I might never see it again.’

‘For my part, Armine is to me the very land of romance.’

‘It is strange.’

‘No spot on earth ever impressed me more. It is the finest combination of art and nature and poetical associations I know; it is indeed unique.’

‘I do not like to differ with you on any subject.’

‘We should be dull companions, I fear, if we agreed upon everything.’

‘I cannot think it.’

‘Papa,’ said Miss Temple, ‘one little stroll upon the lawn; one little, little stroll. The moon is so bright; and autumn, this year, has brought us as yet no dew.’ And as she spoke, she took up her scarf and wound it round her head. ‘There,’ she said, ‘I look like the portrait of the Turkish page in Armine Gallery.’

There was a playful grace about Henrietta Temple, a wild and brilliant simplicity, which was the more charming because it was blended with peculiarly high breeding. No person in ordinary society was more calm, or enjoyed a more complete self-possession, yet no one in the more intimate relations of life indulged more in those little unstudied bursts of nature, which seemed almost to remind one of the playful child rather than the polished woman; and which, under such circumstances, are infinitely captivating. As for Ferdinand Armine, he looked upon the Turkish page with a countenance beaming with admiration; he wished it was Turkey wherein he then beheld her, or any other strange land, where he could have placed her on his courser, and galloped away in pursuit of a fortune wild as his soul.

Though the year was in decay, summer had lent this night to autumn, it was so soft and sweet. The moonbeam fell brightly upon Ducie Bower, and the illumined salon contrasted effectively with the natural splendour of the exterior scene. Mr. Temple reminded Henrietta of a brilliant fête which had been given at a Saxon palace, and which some circumstances of similarity recalled to his recollection. Ferdinand could not speak, but found himself unconsciously pressing Henrietta Temple’s arm to his heart. The Saxon palace brought back to Miss Temple a wild melody which had been sung in the gardens on that night. She asked her father if he recollected it, and hummed the air as she made the enquiry. Her gentle murmur soon expanded into song. It was one of those wild and natural lyrics that spring up in mountainous countries, and which seem to mimic the prolonged echoes that in such regions greet the ear of the pastor and the huntsman.

Oh! why did this night ever have an end!


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