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Part 3 Chapter 2

A Day of Love.

MEANWHILE the beautiful Henrietta sat in her bower, her music neglected, her drawing thrown aside. Even her birds were forgotten, and her flowers untended. A soft tumult filled her frame: now rapt in reverie, she leaned her head upon her fair hand in charmed abstraction; now rising from her restless seat, she paced the chamber, and thought of his quick coming. What was this mighty revolution that a few short days, a few brief hours had occasioned? How mysterious, yet how irresistible, how overwhelming! Her father was absent, that father on whose fond idea she had alone lived; from whom the slightest separation had once been pain; and now that father claims not even her thoughts. Another, and a stranger’s, image is throned in her soul. She who had moved in the world so variously, who had received so much homage and been accustomed from her childhood to all that is considered accomplished and fascinating in man, and had passed through the ordeal with a calm clear spirit; behold, she is no longer the mistress of her thoughts or feelings; she had fallen before a glance, and yielded in an instant to a burning word!

But could she blame herself? Did she repent the rapid and ravishing past? Did regret mingle with her wonder? Was there a pang of remorse, however slight, blending its sharp tooth with all her bliss? No! Her love was perfect, and her joy was full. She offered her vows to that Heaven that had accorded her happiness so supreme; she felt only unworthy of a destiny so complete. She marvelled, in the meekness and purity of her spirit, why one so gifted had been reserved for her, and what he could recognise in her imperfect and inferior qualities to devote to them the fondness of his rare existence.

Ferdinand Armine! Did there indeed ever breathe, had the wit of poet ever yet devised, a being so choice? So young, so beautiful, so lively and accomplished, so deeply and variously interesting! Was that sweet voice, indeed, only to sound in her enchanted ear, that graceful form to move only for the pleasure of her watchful eye? That quick and airy fancy but to create for her delight, and that soft, gentle heart to own no solicitude but for her will and infinite gratification? And could it be possible that he loved her, that she was indeed his pledged bride, that the accents of his adoration still echoed in her ear, and his fond embrace still clung to her mute and trembling lips! Would he always love her? Would he always be so fond? Would he be as faithful as he was now devoted? Ah! she would not lose him. That heart should never escape her. Her life should be one long vigilant device to enchain his being.

What was she five days past? Is it possible that she lived before she met him? Of what did she think, what do? Could there be pursuits without this companion, plans or feelings without this sweet friend? Life must have been a blank, vapid and dull and weary. She could not recall herself before that morning ride to Armine. How rolled away the day! How heavy must have been the hours! All that had been uttered before she listened to Ferdinand seemed without point; all that was done before he lingered at her side, aimless and without an object.

O Love! in vain they moralise; in vain they teach us thou art a delusion; in vain they dissect thine inspiring sentiment, and would mortify us into misery by its degrading analysis. The sage may announce that gratified vanity is thine aim and end; but the lover glances with contempt at his cold-blooded philosophy. Nature assures him thou art a beautiful and sublime emotion; and, he answers, canst thou deprive the sun of its heat because its ray may be decomposed; or does the diamond blaze with less splendour because thou canst analyse its effulgence?

A gentle rustling sounded at the window: Henrietta looked up, but the sight deserted her fading vision, as Ferdinand seized with softness her softer hand, and pressed it to his lips.

A moment since, and she had longed for his presence as the infant for its mother; a moment since, and she had murmured that so much of the morn had passed without his society; a moment since, and it had seemed that no time could exhaust the expression of her feelings. How she had sighed for his coming! How she had hoped that this day she might convey to him what last night she had so weakly, so imperfectly attempted! And now she sat trembling and silent, with downcast eyes and changing countenance!

‘My Henrietta!’ exclaimed Ferdinand, ‘my beautiful Henrietta, it seemed we never should meet again, and yet I rose almost with the sun.’

‘My Ferdinand,’ replied Miss Temple, scarcely daring to meet his glance, ‘I cannot speak; I am so happy that I cannot speak.’

‘Ah! tell me, have you thought of me? Did you observe I stole your handkerchief last night? See! here it is; when I slept, I kissed it and wore it next my heart.’

‘Ah! give it me,’ she faintly murmured, extending her hand; and then she added, in a firmer and livelier tone, ‘and did you really wear it near your heart!’

‘Near thine; for thine it is, love! Sweet, you look so beautiful today! It seems to me you never yet looked half so fair. Those eyes are so brilliant, so very blue, so like the violet! There is nothing like your eyes!’

‘Except your own.’

‘You have taken away your hand. Give me back my hand, my Henrietta. I will not quit it. The whole day it shall be clasped in mine. Ah! what a hand! so soft, so very soft! There is nothing like your hand.’

‘Yours is as soft, dear Ferdinand.’

‘O Henrietta! I do love you so! I wish that I could tell you how I love you! As I rode home last night it seemed that I had not conveyed to you a tithe, nay, a thousandth part of what I feel.’

‘You cannot love me, Ferdinand, more than I love you.’

‘Say so again! Tell me very often, tell me a thousand times, how much you love me. Unless you tell me a thousand times, Henrietta, I never can believe that I am so blessed.’

They went forth into the garden. Nature, with the splendid sky and the sweet breeze, seemed to smile upon their passion. Henrietta plucked the most beautiful flowers and placed them in his breast.

‘Do you remember the rose at Armine?’ said Ferdinand, with a fond smile.

‘Ah! who would have believed that it would have led to this?’ said Henrietta, with downcast eyes.

‘I am not more in love now than I was then,’ said Ferdinand.

‘I dare not speak of my feelings,’ said Miss Temple. ‘Is it possible that it can be but five days back since we first met! It seems another era.’

‘I have no recollection of anything that occurred before I saw you beneath the cedar,’ replied Ferdinand: ‘that is the date of my existence. I saw you, and I loved. My love was at once complete; I have no confidence in any other; I have no confidence in the love that is the creature of observation, and reflection, and comparison, and calculation. Love, in my opinion, should spring from innate sympathy; it should be superior to all situations, all ties, all circumstances.’

‘Such, then, we must believe is ours,’ replied Henrietta, in a somewhat grave and musing tone: ‘I would willingly embrace your creed. I know not why I should be ashamed of my feelings. They are natural, and they are pure. And yet I tremble. But so long as you do not think lightly of me, Ferdinand, for whom should I care?’

‘My Henrietta! my angel! my adored and beautiful! I worship you, I reverence you. Ah! my Henrietta, if you only knew how I dote upon you, you would not speak thus. Come, let us ramble in our woods.’

So saying, he withdrew her from the more public situation in which they were then placed, and entered, by a winding walk, those beautiful bowers that had given so fair and fitting a name to Ducie. Ah! that was a ramble of rich delight, as, winding his arm round her light waist, he poured into her palpitating ear all the eloquence of his passion. Each hour that they had known each other was analysed, and the feelings of each moment were compared. What sweet and thrilling confessions! Eventually it was settled, to the complete satisfaction of both, that both had fallen in love at the same time, and that they had been mutually and unceasingly thinking of each other from the first instant of their meeting.

The conversation of lovers is inexhaustible. Hour glided away after hour, as Ferdinand alternately expressed his passion and detailed the history of his past life. For the curiosity of woman, lively at all times, is never so keen, so exacting, and so interested, as in her anxiety to become acquainted with the previous career of her lover. She is jealous of all that he has done before she knew him; of every person to whom he has spoken. She will be assured a thousand times that he never loved before, yet she credits the first affirmation. She envies the mother who knew him as a child, even the nurse who may have rocked his cradle. She insists upon a minute and finished portraiture of his character and life.

Why did he not give it? More than once it was upon his lips to reveal all; more than once he was about to pour forth all his sorrows, all the entanglements of his painful situation; more than once he was about to make the full and mortifying confession, that, though his heart was hers, there existed another, who even at that moment might claim the hand that Henrietta clasped with so much tenderness. But he checked himself. He would not break the charm that surrounded him; he would not disturb the clear and brilliant stream in which his life was at this moment flowing; he had not courage to change by a worldly word the scene of celestial enchantment in which he now moved and breathed. Let us add, in some degree for his justification, that he was not altogether unmindful of the feelings of Miss Grandison. Sufficient misery remained, at all events, for her, without adding the misery of making her rival cognizant of her mortification. The deed must be done, and done promptly; but, at least, there should be no unnecessary witnesses to its harrowing achievement.

So he looked upon the radiant brow of his Henrietta, wreathed with smiles of innocent triumph, sparkling with unalloyed felicity, and beaming with unbroken devotion. Should the shade of a dark passion for a moment cloud that heaven, so bright and so serene? Should even a momentary pang of jealousy or distrust pain that pure and unsullied breast? In the midst of contending emotions, he pressed her to his heart with renewed energy, and, bending down his head, imprinted an embrace upon her blushing forehead.

They seated themselves on a bank, which, it would seem, Nature had created for the convenience of lovers. The softest moss, and the brightest flowers decked its elastic and fragrant side. A spreading beech tree shaded their heads from the sun, which now was on the decline; and occasionally its wide branches rustled with the soft breeze that passed over them in renovating and gentle gusts. The woods widened before them, and at the termination of a well-contrived avenue, they caught the roofs of the village and the tall grey tower of Ducie Church. They had wandered for hours without weariness, yet the repose was grateful, while they listened to the birds, and plucked wildflowers.

‘Ah! I remember,’ said Ferdinand, ‘that it was not far from here, while slumbering indeed in the porch of my pretty farm-house, that the fairy of the spot dropped on my breast these beautiful flowers that I now wear. Did you not observe them, my sweet Henrietta? Do you know that I am rather mortified, that they have not made you at least a little jealous?’

‘I am not jealous of fairies, dear Ferdinand.’

‘And yet I half believe that you are a fairy, my Henrietta.’

‘A very substantial one, I fear, my Ferdinand. Is this a compliment to my form?’

‘Well, then, a sylvan nymph, much more, I assure you, to my fancy; perhaps the rosy Dryad of this fair tree; rambling in woods, and bounding over commons, scattering beautiful flowers, and dreams as bright.’

‘And were your dreams bright yesterday morning?’

‘I dreamed of you.’

‘And when you awoke?’

‘I hastened to the source of my inspiration.’

‘And if you had not dreamt of me?’

‘I should have come to have enquired the reason why.’

Miss Temple looked upon the ground; a blended expression of mirth and sentiment played over her features, and then looking up with a smile contending with her tearful eye, she hid her face in his breast and murmured, ‘I watched him sleeping. Did he indeed dream of me?’

‘Darling of my existence!’ exclaimed the enraptured Ferdinand, ‘exquisite, enchanting being! Why am I so happy? What have I done to deserve bliss so ineffable? But tell me, beauty, tell me how you contrived to appear and vanish without witnesses? For my enquiries were severe, and these good people must have been less artless than I imagined to have withstood them successfully.’

‘I came,’ said Miss Temple, ‘to pay them a visit, with me not uncommon. When I entered the porch I beheld my Ferdinand asleep. I looked upon him for a moment, but I was frightened and stole away unperceived. But I left the flowers, more fortunate than your Henrietta.’

‘Sweet love!’

‘Never did I return home,’ continued Miss Temple, ‘more sad and more dispirited. A thousand times I wished that I was a flower, that I might be gathered and worn upon your heart. You smile, my Ferdinand. Indeed I feel I am very foolish, yet I know not why, I am now neither ashamed nor afraid to tell you anything. I was so miserable when I arrived home, my Ferdinand, that I went to my room and wept. And he then came! Oh! what heaven was mine! I wiped the tears from my face and came down to see him. He looked so beautiful and happy!’

‘And you, sweet child, oh! who could have believed, at that moment, that a tear had escaped from those bright eyes!’

‘Love makes us hypocrites, I fear, my Ferdinand; for, a moment before, I was so wearied that I was lying on my sofa quite wretched. And then, when I saw him, I pretended that I had not been out, and was just thinking of a stroll. Oh, my Ferdinand! will you pardon me?’

‘It seems to me that I never loved you until this moment. Is it possible that human beings ever loved each other as we do?’

Now came the hour of twilight. While in this fond strain the lovers interchanged their hearts, the sun had sunk, the birds grown silent, and the star of evening twinkled over the tower of Ducie. The bat and the beetle warned them to return. They rose reluctantly and retraced their steps to Ducie, with hearts softer even than the melting hour.

‘Must we then part?’ exclaimed Ferdinand. ‘Oh! must we part! How can I exist even an instant without your presence, without at least the consciousness of existing under the same roof? Oh! would I were one of your serving-men, to listen to your footstep, to obey your bell, and ever and anon to catch your voice! Oh! now I wish indeed Mr. Temple were here, and then I might be your guest.’

‘My father!’ exclaimed Miss Temple, in a somewhat serious tone. ‘I ought to have written to him today! Oh! talk not of my father, speak only of yourself.’

They stood in silence as they were about to emerge upon the lawn, and then Miss Temple said, ‘Dear Ferdinand, you must go; indeed you must. Press me not to enter. If you love me, now let us part. I shall retire immediately, that the morning may sooner come. God bless you, my Ferdinand. May He guard over you, and keep you for ever and ever. You weep! Indeed you must not; you so distress me. Ferdinand, be good, be kind; for my sake do not this. I love you; what can I do more? The time will come we will not part, but now we must. Good night, my Ferdinand. Nay, if you will, these lips indeed are yours. Promise me you will not remain here. Well then, when the light is out in my chamber, leave Ducie. Promise me this, and early tomorrow, earlier than you think, I will pay a visit to your cottage. Now be good, and tomorrow we will breakfast together. There now!’ she added in a gay tone, ‘you see woman’s wit has the advantage.’ And so without another word she ran away.


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