Five years had elapsed since Lord Cadurcis had quitted the seat of his fathers, nor did the fair inhabitants of Cherbury hear of his return without emotion. Although the intercourse between them during this interval had from the first been too slightly maintained, and of late years had entirely died off, his return was, nevertheless, an event which recalled old times and revived old associations. His visit to the hall was looked forward to with interest. He did not long keep his former friends in suspense; for although he was not uninfluenced by some degree of embarrassment from the consciousness of neglect on his side, rendered more keen now that he again found himself in the scene endeared by the remembrance of their kindness, he was, nevertheless, both too well bred and too warm-hearted to procrastinate the performance of a duty which the regulations of society and natural impulse alike assured him was indispensable. On the very morning, therefore, after his arrival, having sauntered awhile over the old abbey and strolled over the park, mused over his mother’s tomb with emotion, not the less deep because there was no outward and visible sign of its influence, he ordered his horses, and directed his way through the accustomed woods to Cherbury.
Five years had not passed away without their effects at least upon the exterior being of Cadurcis. Although still a youth, his appearance was manly. A thoughtful air had become habitual to a countenance melancholy even in his childhood. Nor was its early promise of beauty unfulfilled; although its expression was peculiar, and less pleasing than impressive. His long dark locks shaded a pale and lofty brow that well became a cast of features delicately moulded, yet reserved and haughty, and perhaps even somewhat scornful. His figure had set into a form of remarkable slightness and elegance, and distinguished for its symmetry. Altogether his general mien was calculated to attract attention and to excite interest.
His vacations while at Eton had been spent by Lord Cadurcis in the family of his noble guardian, one of the king’s ministers. Here he had been gradually initiated in the habits and manners of luxurious and refined society. Since he had quitted Eton he had passed a season, previous to his impending residence at Cambridge, in the same sphere. The opportunities thus offered had not been lost upon a disposition which, with all its native reserve, was singularly susceptible. Cadurcis had quickly imbibed the tone and adopted the usages of the circle in which he moved. Naturally impatient of control, he endeavoured by his precocious manhood to secure the respect and independence which would scarcely have been paid or permitted to his years. From an early period he never permitted himself to be treated as a boy; and his guardian, a man whose whole soul was concentred in the world, humoured a bent which he approved and from which he augured the most complete success. Attracted by the promising talents and the premature character of his ward, he had spared more time to assist the development of his mind and the formation of his manners than might have been expected from a minister of state. His hopes, indeed, rested with confidence on his youthful relative, and he looked forward with no common emotion to the moment when he should have the honour of introducing to public life one calculated to confer so much credit on his tutor, and shed so much lustre on his party. The reader will, therefore, not be surprised if at this then unrivalled period of political excitement, when the existence of our colonial empire was at stake, Cadurcis, with his impetuous feelings, had imbibed to their fullest extent all the plans, prejudices, and passions of his political connections. He was, indeed, what the circumstances of the times and his extreme youth might well excuse, if not justify, a most violent partisan. Bold, sanguine, resolute, and intolerant, it was difficult to persuade him that any opinions could be just which were opposed to those of the circle in which he lived; and out of that pale, it must be owned, he was as little inclined to recognise the existence of ability as of truth.
As Lord Cadurcis slowly directed his way through the woods and park of Cherbury, past years recurred to him like a faint yet pleasing dream. Among these meads and bowers had glided away the only happy years of his boyhood, the only period of his early life to which he could look back without disgust. He recalled the secret exultation with which, in company with his poor mother, he had first repaired to Cadurcis, about to take possession of what, to his inexperienced imagination, then appeared a vast and noble inheritance, and for the first time in his life to occupy a position not unworthy of his rank. For how many domestic mortifications did the first sight of that old abbey compensate! How often, in pacing its venerable galleries and solemn cloisters, and musing over the memory of an ancient and illustrious ancestry, had he forgotten those bitter passages of daily existence, so humbling to his vanity and so harassing to his heart! Ho had beheld that morn, after an integral of many years, the tomb of his mother. That simple and solitary monument had revived and impressed upon him a conviction that too easily escaped in the various life and busy scenes in which he had since moved, the conviction of his worldly desolation and utter loneliness. He had no parents, no relations; now that he was for a moment free from the artificial life in which he had of late mingled, he felt that he had no friends. The image of his mother came back to him, softened by the magical tint of years; after all she was his mother, and a deep sharer in all his joys and woes. Transported to the old haunts of his innocent and warm-hearted childhood. He sighed for a finer and a sweeter sympathy than was ever yielded by the roof which he had lately quitted; a habitation, but not a home. He conjured up the picture of his guardian, existing in a whirl of official bustle and social excitement. A dreamy reminiscence of finer impulses stole over the heart of Cadurcis. The dazzling pageant of metropolitan splendour faded away before the bright scene of nature that surrounded him. He felt the freshness of the fragrant breeze; he gazed with admiration on the still and ancient woods, and his pure and lively blood bubbled beneath the influence of the golden sunbeams. Before him rose the halls of Cherbury, that roof where he had been so happy, that roof to which he had appeared so ungrateful. The memory of a thousand acts of kindness, of a thousand soft and soothing traits of affection, recurred to him with a freshness which startled as much as it pleased him. Not to him only, but to his mother, that mother whose loss he had lived to deplore, had the inmates of Cherbury been ministering angels of peace and joy. Oh! that indeed had been a home; there indeed had been days of happiness; there indeed he had found sympathy, and solace, and succour! And now he was returning to them a stranger, to fulfil one of the formal duties of society in paying them his cold respects; an attention which he could scarcely have avoided offering had he been to them the merest acquaintance, instead of having found within those walls a home not merely in words, but friendship the most delicate and love the most pure, a second parent, and the only being whom he had ever styled sister!
The sight of Cadurcis became dim with emotion as the associations of old scenes and his impending interview with Venetia brought back the past with a power which he had rarely experienced in the playing-fields of Eton, or the saloons of London. Five years! It was an awful chasm in their acquaintance.
He despaired of reviving the kindness which had been broken by such a dreary interval, and broken on his side so wilfully; and yet he began to feel that unless met with that kindness he should be very miserable. Sooth to say, he was not a little embarrassed, and scarcely knew which contingency he most desired, to meet, or to escape from her. He almost repented his return to Cadurcis, and yet to see Venetia again he felt must be exquisite pleasure. Influenced by these feelings he arrived at the hall steps, and so, dismounting and giving his horse to his groom, Cadurcis, with a palpitating heart and faltering hand, formally rang the bell of that hall which in old days he entered at all seasons without ceremony.
Never perhaps did a man feel more nervous; he grew pale, paler even than usual, and his whole frame trembled as the approaching footstep of the servant assured him the door was about to open. He longed now that the family might not be at home, that he might at least gain four-and-twenty hours to prepare himself. But the family were at home and he was obliged to enter. He stopped for a moment in the hall under the pretence of examining the old familiar scene, but it was merely to collect himself, for his sight was clouded; spoke to the old servant, to reassure himself by the sound of his own voice, but the husky words seemed to stick in his throat; ascended the staircase with tottering steps, and leant against the banister as he heard his name announced. The effort, however, must be made; it was too late to recede; and Lord Cadurcis, entering the terrace-room, extended his hand to Lady Annabel Herbert. She was not in the least changed, but looked as beautiful and serene as usual. Her salutation, though far from deficient in warmth, was a little more dignified than that which Plantagenet remembered; but still her presence reassured him, and while he pressed her hand with earnestness he contrived to murmur forth with pleasing emotion, his delight at again meeting her. Strange to say, in the absorbing agitation of the moment, all thought of Venetia had vanished; and it was when he had turned and beheld a maiden of the most exquisite beauty that his vision had ever lighted on, who had just risen from her seat and was at the moment saluting him, that he entirely lost his presence of mind; he turned scarlet, was quite silent, made an awkward bow, and then stood perfectly fixed.
‘My daughter,’ said Lady Annabel, slightly pointing to Venetia; ‘will not you be seated?’
Cadurcis fell into a chair in absolute confusion. The rare and surpassing beauty of Venetia, his own stupidity, his admiration of her, his contempt for himself, the sight of the old chamber, the recollection of the past, the minutest incidents of which seemed all suddenly to crowd upon his memory, the painful consciousness of the revolution which had occurred in his position in the family, proved by his first being obliged to be introduced to Venetia, and then being addressed so formally by his title by her mother; all these impressions united overcame him; he could not speak, he sat silent and confounded; and had it not been for the imperturbable self-composure and delicate and amiable consideration of Lady Annabel, it would have been impossible for him to have remained in a room where he experienced agonising embarrassment.
Under cover, however, of a discharge of discreet inquiries as to when he arrived, how long he meant to stay, whether he found Cadurcis altered, and similar interrogations which required no extraordinary exertion of his lordship’s intellect to answer, but to which he nevertheless contrived to give inconsistent and contradictory responses, Cadurcis in time recovered himself sufficiently to maintain a fair though not very brilliant conversation, and even ventured occasionally to address an observation to Venetia, who was seated at her work perfectly composed, but who replied to all his remarks with the same sweet voice and artless simplicity which had characterised her childhood, though time and thought had, by their blended influence, perhaps somewhat deprived her of that wild grace and sparkling gaiety for which she was once so eminent.
These great disenchanters of humanity, if indeed they had stolen away some of the fascinating qualities of infancy, had amply recompensed Venetia Herbert for the loss by the additional and commanding charms which they had conferred on her. From a beautiful child she had expanded into a most beautiful woman. She had now entirely recovered from her illness, of which the only visible effect was the addition that it had made to her stature, already slightly above the middle height, but of exquisite symmetry. Like her mother, she did not wear powder, then usual in society; but her auburn hair, of the finest texture, descended in long and luxuriant tresses far over her shoulders, braided with ribands, perfectly exposing her pellucid brow, here and there tinted with an undulating vein, for she had retained, if possible with increased lustre, the dazzling complexion of her infancy. If the rose upon the cheek were less vivid than of yore, the dimples were certainly more developed; the clear grey eye was shadowed by long dark lashes, and every smile and movement of those ruby lips revealed teeth exquisitely small and regular, and fresh and brilliant as pearls just plucked by a diver.
Conversation proceeded and improved. Cadurcis became more easy and more fluent. His memory, which seemed suddenly to have returned to him with unusual vigour, wonderfully served him. There was scarcely an individual of whom he did not contrive to inquire, from Dr. Masham to Mistress Pauncefort; he was resolved to show that if he had neglected, he had at least not forgotten them. Nor did he exhibit the slightest indication of terminating his visit; so that Lady Annabel, aware that he was alone at the abbey and that he could have no engagement in the neighbourhood, could not refrain from inviting him to remain and dine with them. The invitation was accepted without hesitation. In due course of time Cadurcis attended the ladies in their walk; it was a delightful stroll in the park, though he felt some slight emotion when he found himself addressing Venetia by the title of ‘Miss Herbert.’ When he had exhausted all the topics of local interest, he had a great deal to say about himself in answer to the inquiries of Lady Annabel. He spoke with so much feeling and simplicity of his first days at Eton, and the misery he experienced on first quitting Cherbury, that his details could not fail of being agreeable to those whose natural self-esteem they so agreeably mattered. Then he dwelt upon his casual acquaintance with London society, and Lady Annabel was gratified to observe, from many incidental observations, that his principles were in every respect of the right tone; and that he had zealously enlisted himself in the ranks of that national party who opposed themselves to the disorganising opinions then afloat. He spoke of his impending residence at the university with the affectionate anticipations which might have been expected from a devoted child of the ancient and orthodox institutions of his country, and seemed perfectly impressed with the responsible duties for which he was destined, as an hereditary legislator of England. On the whole, his carriage and conversation afforded a delightful evidence of a pure, and earnest, and frank, and gifted mind, that had acquired at an early age much of the mature and fixed character of manhood, without losing anything of that boyish sincerity and simplicity too often the penalty of experience.
The dinner passed in pleasant conversation, and if they were no longer familiar, they were at least cordial. Cadurcis spoke of Dr. Masham with affectionate respect, and mentioned his intention of visiting Marringhurst on the following day. He ventured to hope that Lady Annabel and Miss Herbert might accompany him, and it was arranged that his wish should be gratified. The evening drew on apace, and Lady Annabel was greatly pleased when Lord Cadurcis expressed his wish to remain for their evening prayers. He was indeed sincerely religious; and as he knelt in the old chapel that had been the hallowed scene of his boyish devotions, he offered his ardent thanksgivings to his Creator who had mercifully kept his soul pure and true, and allowed him, after so long an estrangement from the sweet spot of his childhood, once more to mingle his supplications with his kind and virtuous friends.
Influenced by the solemn sounds still lingering in his ear, Cadurcis bade them farewell for the night, with an earnestness of manner and depth of feeling which he would scarcely have ventured to exhibit at their first meeting. ‘Good night, dear Lady Annabel,’ he said, as he pressed her hand; ‘you know not how happy, how grateful I feel, to be once more at Cherbury. Good night, Venetia!’
That last word lingered on his lips; it was uttered in a tone at once mournful and sweet, and her hand was unconsciously retained for a moment in his; but for a moment; and yet in that brief instant a thousand thoughts seemed to course through his brain.
Before Venetia retired to rest she remained for a few minutes in her mother’s room. ‘What do you think of him, mamma?’ she said; ‘is he not very changed?’
‘He is, my love,’ replied Lady Annabel; ‘what I sometimes thought he might, what I always hoped he would, be.’
‘He really seemed happy to meet us again, and yet how strange that for years he should never have communicated with us.’
‘Not so very strange, my love! He was but a child when we parted, and he has felt embarrassment in resuming connections which for a long interval had been inevitably severed. Remember what a change his life had to endure; few, after such an interval, would have returned with feelings so kind and so pure!’
‘He was always a favourite of yours, mamma!’
‘I always fancied that I observed in him the seeds of great virtues and great talents; but I was not so sanguine that they would have flourished as they appear to have done.’
In the meantime the subject of their observations strolled home on foot, for he had dismissed his horses, to the abbey. It was a brilliant night, and the white beams of the moon fell full upon the old monastic pile, of which massy portions were in dark shade while the light gracefully rested on the projecting ornaments of the building, and played, as it were, with the fretted and fantastic pinnacles. Behind were the savage hills, softened by the hour; and on the right extended the still and luminous lake. Cadurcis rested for a moment and gazed upon the fair, yet solemn scene. The dreams of ambition that occasionally distracted him were dead. The surrounding scene harmonised with the thoughts of purity, repose, and beauty that filled his soul. Why should he ever leave this spot, sacred to him by the finest emotions of his nature? Why should he not at once quit that world which he had just entered, while he could quit it without remorse? If ever there existed a being who was his own master, who might mould his destiny at his will, it seemed to be Cadurcis. His lone yet independent situation, his impetuous yet firm volition, alike qualified him to achieve the career most grateful to his disposition. Let him, then, achieve it here; here let him find that solitude he had ever loved, softened by that affection for which he had ever sighed, and which here only he had ever found. It seemed to him that there was only one being in the world whom he had ever loved, and that was Venetia Herbert: it seemed to him that there was only one thing in this world worth living for, and that was the enjoyment of her sweet heart. The pure-minded, the rare, the gracious creature! Why should she ever quit these immaculate bowers wherein she had been so mystically and delicately bred? Why should she ever quit the fond roof of Cherbury, but to shed grace and love amid the cloisters of Cadurcis? Her life hitherto had been an enchanted tale; why should the spell ever break? Why should she enter that world where care, disappointment, mortification, misery, must await her? He for a season had left the magic circle of her life, and perhaps it was well. He was a man, and so he should know all. But he had returned, thank Heaven! he had returned, and never again would he quit her. Fool that he had been ever to have neglected her! And for a reason that ought to have made him doubly her friend, her solace, her protector. Oh! to think of the sneers or the taunts of the world calling for a moment the colour from that bright cheek, or dusking for an instant the radiance of that brilliant eye! His heart ached at the thought of her unhappiness, and he longed to press her to it, and cherish her like some innocent dove that had flown from the terrors of a pursuing hawk.
‘Well, Pauncefort,’ said Lord Cadurcis, smiling, as he renewed his acquaintance with his old friend, ‘I hope you have not forgotten my last words, and have taken care of your young lady.’
‘Oh! dear, my lord,’ said Mistress Pauncefort, blushing and simpering. ‘Well to be sure, how your lordship has surprised us all! I thought we were never going to see you again!’
‘You know I told you I should return; and now I mean never to leave you again.’
‘Never is a long word, my lord,’ said Mistress Pauncefort, looking very archly.
‘Ah! but I mean to settle, regularly to settle here,’ said Lord Cadurcis.
‘Marry and settle, my lord,’ said Mistress Pauncefort, still more arch.
‘And why not?’ inquired Lord Cadurcis, laughing.
‘That is just what I said last night,’ exclaimed Mistress Pauncefort, eagerly. ‘And why not? for I said, says I, his lordship must marry sooner or later, and the sooner the better, say I: and to be sure he is very young, but what of that? for, says I, no one can say he does not look quite a man. And really, my lord, saving your presence, you are grown indeed.’
‘Pish!’ said Lord Cadurcis, turning away and laughing, ‘I have left off growing, Pauncefort, and all those sort of things.’
‘You have not forgotten our last visit to Marringhurst?’ said Lord Cadurcis to Venetia, as the comfortable mansion of the worthy Doctor appeared in sight.
‘I have forgotten nothing,’ replied Venetia with a faint smile; ‘I do not know what it is to forget. My life has been so uneventful that every past incident, however slight, is as fresh in my memory as if it occurred yesterday.’
‘Then you remember the strawberries and cream?’ said Lord Cadurcis.
‘And other circumstances less agreeable,’ he fancied Venetia observed, but her voice was low.
‘Do you know, Lady Annabel,’ said Lord Cadurcis, ‘that I was very nearly riding my pony today? I wish to bring back old times with the utmost possible completeness; I wish for a moment to believe that I have never quitted Cherbury.’
‘Let us think only of the present now,’ said Lady Annabel in a cheerful voice, ‘for it is very agreeable. I see the good Doctor; he has discovered us.’
‘I wonder whom he fancies Lord Cadurcis to be?’ said Venetia.
‘Have you no occasional cavalier for whom at a distance I may be mistaken?’ inquired his lordship in a tone of affected carelessness, though in truth it was an inquiry that he made not without anxiety.
‘Everything remains here exactly as you left it,’ replied Lady Annabel, with some quickness, yet in a lively tone.
‘Happy Cherbury!’ exclaimed Lord Cadurcis. ‘May it indeed never change!’
They rode briskly on; the Doctor was standing at his gate. He saluted Lady Annabel and Venetia with his accustomed cordiality, and then stared at their companion as if waiting for an introduction.
‘You forget an old friend, my dear Doctor,’ said Cadurcis.
‘Lord Cadurcis!’ exclaimed Dr. Masham. His lordship had by this time dismounted and eagerly extended his hand to his old tutor.
Having quitted their horses they all entered the house, nor was there naturally any want of conversation. Cadurcis had much information to give and many questions to answer. He was in the highest spirits and the most amiable mood; gay, amusing, and overflowing with kind-heartedness. The Doctor seldom required any inspiration, to be joyous, and Lady Annabel was unusually animated. Venetia alone, though cheerful, was calmer than pleased Cadurcis. Time, he sorrowfully observed, had occasioned a greater change in her manner than he could have expected. Youthful as she still was, indeed but on the threshold of womanhood, and exempted, as it seemed she had been, from anything to disturb the clearness of her mind, that enchanting play of fancy which had once characterised her, and which he recalled with a sigh, appeared in a great degree to have deserted her. He watched her countenance with emotion, and, supremely beautiful as it undeniably was, there was a cast of thoughtfulness or suffering impressed upon the features which rendered him mournful he knew not why, and caused him to feel as if a cloud had stolen unexpectedly over the sun and made him shiver.
But there was no time or opportunity for sad reflections; he had to renew his acquaintance with all the sights and curiosities of the rectory, to sing to the canaries, and visit the gold fish, admire the stuffed fox, and wonder that in the space of five years the voracious otter had not yet contrived to devour its prey. Then they refreshed themselves after their ride with a stroll in the Doctor’s garden; Cadurcis persisted in attaching himself to Venetia, as in old days, and nothing would prevent him from leading her to the grotto. Lady Annabel walked behind, leaning on the Doctor’s arm, narrating, with no fear of being heard, all the history of their friend’s return.
‘I never was so surprised in my life,’ said the Doctor; ‘he is vastly improved; he is quite a man; his carriage is very finished.’
‘And his principles,’ said Lady Annabel. ‘You have no idea, my dear Doctor, how right his opinions seem to be on every subject. He has been brought up in a good school; he does his guardian great credit. He is quite loyal and orthodox in all his opinions; ready to risk his life for our blessed constitution in Church and State. He requested, as a favour, that he might remain at our prayers last night. It is delightful for me to see him turn out so well!’
In the meantime Cadurcis and Venetia entered the grotto.
‘The dear Doctor!’ said Cadurcis: ‘five years have brought no visible change even to him; perhaps he may be a degree less agile, but I will not believe it. And Lady Annabel; it seems to me your mother is more youthful and beautiful than ever. There is a spell in our air,’ continued his lordship, with a laughing eye; ‘for if we have changed, Venetia, ours is, at least, an alteration that bears no sign of decay. We are advancing, but they have not declined; we are all enchanted.’
‘I feel changed,’ said Venetia gravely.
‘I left you a child and I find you a woman,’ said Lord Cadurcis, ‘a change which who can regret?’
‘I would I were a child again,’ said Venetia.
‘We were happy,’ said Lord Cadurcis, in a thoughtful tone; and then in an inquiring voice he added, ‘and so we are now?’
Venetia shook her head.
‘Can you be unhappy?’
‘To be unhappy would be wicked,’ said Venetia; ‘but my mind has lost its spring.’
‘Ah! say not so, Venetia, or you will make even me gloomy. I am happy, positively happy. There must not be a cloud upon your brow.’
‘You are joyous,’ said Venetia, ‘because you are excited. It is the novelty of return that animates you. It will wear off; you will grow weary, and when you go to the university you will think yourself happy again.’
‘I do not intend to go to the university,’ said Cadurcis.
‘I understood from you that you were going there immediately.’
‘My plans are changed,’ said Cadurcis; ‘I do not intend ever to leave home again.’
‘When you go to Cambridge,’ said Dr. Masham, who just then reached them, ‘I shall trouble you with a letter to an old friend of mine whose acquaintance you may find valuable.’
Venetia smiled; Cadurcis bowed, expressed his thanks, and muttered something about talking over the subject with the Doctor.
After this the conversation became general, and at length they all returned to the house to partake of the Doctor’s hospitality, who promised to dine at the hall on the morrow. The ride home was agreeable and animated, but the conversation on the part of the ladies was principally maintained by Lady Annabel, who seemed every moment more delighted with the society of Lord Cadurcis, and to sympathise every instant more completely with his frank exposition of his opinions on all subjects. When they returned to Cherbury, Cadurcis remained with them as a matter of course. An invitation was neither expected nor given. Not an allusion was made to the sports of the field, to enjoy which was the original purpose of his visit to the abbey; and he spoke of tomorrow as of a period which, as usual, was to be spent entirely in their society. He remained with them, as on the previous night, to the latest possible moment. Although reserved in society, no one could be more fluent with those with whom he was perfectly unembarrassed. He was indeed exceedingly entertaining, and Lady Annabel relaxed into conversation beyond her custom. As for Venetia, she did not speak often, but she listened with interest, and was evidently amused. When Cadurcis bade them good-night Lady Annabel begged him to breakfast with them; while Venetia, serene, though kind, neither seconded the invitation, nor seemed interested one way or the other in its result.
Except returning to sleep at the abbey, Lord Cadurcis was now as much an habitual inmate of Cherbury Hall as in the days of his childhood. He was there almost with the lark, and never quitted its roof until its inmates were about to retire for the night. His guns and dogs, which had been sent down from London with so much pomp of preparation, were unused and unnoticed; and he passed his days in reading Richardson’s novels, which he had brought with him from town, to the ladies, and then in riding with them about the country, for he loved to visit all his old haunts, and trace even the very green sward where he first met the gipsies, and fancied that he had achieved his emancipation from all the coming cares and annoyances of the world. In this pleasant life several weeks had glided away: Cadurcis had entirely resumed his old footing in the family, nor did he attempt to conceal the homage he was paying to the charms of Venetia. She indeed seemed utterly unconscious that such projects had entered, or indeed could enter, the brain of her old playfellow, with whom, now that she was habituated to his presence, and revived by his inspiriting society, she had resumed all her old familiar intimacy, addressing him by his Christian name, as if he had never ceased to be her brother. But Lady Annabel was not so blind as her daughter, and had indeed her vision been as clouded, her faithful minister, Mistress Pauncefort, would have taken care quickly to couch it; for a very short time had elapsed before that vigilant gentlewoman, resolved to convince her mistress that nothing could escape her sleepless scrutiny, and that it was equally in vain for her mistress to hope to possess any secrets without her participation, seized a convenient opportunity before she bid her lady good night, just to inquire ‘when it might be expected to take place?’ and in reply to the very evident astonishment which Lady Annabel testified at this question, and the expression of her extreme displeasure at any conversation on a circumstance for which there was not the slightest foundation, Mistress Pauncefort, after duly flouncing about with every possible symbol of pettish agitation and mortified curiosity, her cheek pale with hesitating impertinence, and her nose quivering with inquisitiveness, condescended to admit with a sceptical sneer, that, of course, no doubt her ladyship knew more of such a subject than she could; it was not her place to know anything of such business; for her part she said nothing; it was not her place, but if it were, she certainly must say that she could not help believing that my lord was looking remarkably sweet on Miss Venetia, and what was more, everybody in the house thought the same, though for her part, whenever they mentioned the circumstance to her, she said nothing, or bid them hold their tongues, for what was it to them; it was not their business, and they could know nothing; and that nothing would displease her ladyship more than chattering on such subjects, and many’s the match as good as finished, that’s gone off by no worse means than the chitter-chatter of those who should hold their tongues. Therefore she should say no more; but if her ladyship wished her to contradict it, why she could, and the sooner, perhaps, the better.
Lady Annabel observed to her that she wished no such thing, but she desired that Pauncefort would make no more observations on the subject, either to her or to any one else. And then Pauncefort bade her ladyship good night in a huff, catching up her candle with a rather impertinent jerk, and gently slamming the door, as if she had meant to close it quietly, only it had escaped out of her fingers.
Whatever might be the tone, whether of surprise or displeasure, which Lady Annabel thought fit to assume to her attendant on her noticing Lord Cadurcis’ attentions to her daughter, there is no doubt that his conduct had early and long engaged her ladyship’s remark, her consideration, and her approval. Without meditating indeed an immediate union between Cadurcis and Venetia, Lady Annabel pleased herself with the prospect of her daughter’s eventual marriage with one whom she had known so early and so intimately; who was by nature of a gentle, sincere, and affectionate disposition, and in whom education had carefully instilled the most sound and laudable principles and opinions; one apparently with simple tastes, moderate desires, fair talents, a mind intelligent, if not brilliant, and passions which at the worst had been rather ill-regulated than violent; attached also to Venetia from her childhood, and always visibly affected by her influence. All these moral considerations seemed to offer a fair security for happiness; and the material ones were neither less promising, nor altogether disregarded by the mother. It was an union which would join broad lands and fair estates; which would place on the brow of her daughter one of the most ancient coronets in England; and, which indeed was the chief of these considerations, would, without exposing Venetia to that contaminating contact with the world from which Lady Annabel recoiled, establish her, without this initiatory and sorrowful experience, in a position superior to which even the blood of the Herberts, though it might flow in so fair and gifted a form as that of Venetia, need not aspire.
Lord Cadurcis had not returned to Cherbury a week before this scheme entered into the head of Lady Annabel. She had always liked him; had always given him credit for good qualities; had always believed that his early defects were the consequence of his mother’s injudicious treatment; and that at heart he was an amiable, generous, and trustworthy being, one who might be depended on, with a naturally good judgment, and substantial and sufficient talents, which only required cultivation. When she met him again after so long an interval, and found her early prognostics so fairly, so completely fulfilled, and watched his conduct and conversation, exhibiting alike a well-informed mind, an obliging temper, and, what Lady Annabel valued even above all gifts and blessings, a profound conviction of the truth of all her own opinions, moral, political, and religious, she was quite charmed; she was moved to unusual animation; she grew excited in his praise; his presence delighted her; she entertained for him the warmest affection, and reposed in him unbounded confidence. All her hopes became concentred in the wish of seeing him her son-in-law; and she detected with lively satisfaction the immediate impression which Venetia had made upon his heart; for indeed it should not be forgotten, that although Lady Annabel was still young, and although her frame and temperament were alike promising of a long life, it was natural, when she reflected upon the otherwise lone condition of her daughter, that she should tremble at the thought of quitting this world without leaving her child a protector. To Doctor Masham, from whom Lady Annabel had no secrets, she confided in time these happy but covert hopes, and he was not less anxious than herself for their fulfilment. Since the return of Cadurcis the Doctor contrived to be a more frequent visitor at the hall than usual, and he lost no opportunity of silently advancing the object of his friend.
As for Cadurcis himself, it was impossible for him not quickly to discover that no obstacle to his heart’s dearest wish would arise on the part of the parent. The demeanour of the daughter somewhat more perplexed him. Venetia indeed had entirely fallen into her old habits of intimacy and frankness with Plantagenet; she was as affectionate and as unembarrassed as in former days, and almost as gay; for his presence and companionship had in a great degree insensibly removed that stillness and gravity which had gradually influenced her mind and conduct. But in that conduct there was, and he observed it with some degree of mortification, a total absence of the consciousness of being the object of the passionate admiration of another. She treated Lord Cadurcis as a brother she much loved, who had returned to his home after a long absence. She liked to listen to his conversation, to hear of his adventures, to consult over his plans. His arrival called a smile to her face, and his departure for the night was always alleviated by some allusion to their meeting on the morrow. But many an ardent gaze on the part of Cadurcis, and many a phrase of emotion, passed unnoticed and unappreciated. His gallantry was entirely thrown away, or, if observed, only occasioned a pretty stare at the unnecessary trouble he gave himself, or the strange ceremony which she supposed an acquaintance with society had taught him. Cadurcis attributed this reception of his veiled and delicate overtures to her ignorance of the world; and though he sighed for as passionate a return to his strong feelings as the sentiments which animated himself, he was on the whole not displeased, but rather interested, by these indications of a pure and unsophisticated spirit.
Cadurcis had proposed, and Lady Annabel had seconded the proposition with eager satisfaction, that they should seek some day at the abbey whatever hospitality it might offer; Dr. Masham was to be of the party, which was, indeed, one of those fanciful expeditions where the same companions, though they meet at all times without restraint and with every convenience of life, seek increased amusement in the novelty of a slight change of habits. With the aid of the neighbouring town of Southport, Cadurcis had made preparations for his friends not entirely unworthy of them, though he affected to the last all the air of a conductor of a wild expedition of discovery, and laughingly impressed upon them the necessity of steeling their minds and bodies to the experience and endurance of the roughest treatment and the most severe hardships.
The morning of this eventful day broke as beautifully as the preceding ones. Autumn had seldom been more gorgeous than this year. Although he was to play the host, Cadurcis would not deprive himself of his usual visit to the hall; and he appeared there at an early hour to accompany his guests, who were to ride over to the abbey, to husband all their energies for their long rambles through the demesne.
Cadurcis was in high spirits, and Lady Annabel scarcely less joyous. Venetia smiled with her usual sweetness and serenity. They congratulated each other on the charming season; and Mistress Pauncefort received a formal invitation to join the party and go a-nutting with one of her fellow-servants and his lordship’s valet. The good Doctor was rather late, but he arrived at last on his stout steed, in his accustomed cheerful mood. Here was a party of pleasure which all agreed must be pleasant; no strangers to amuse, or to be amusing, but formed merely of four human beings who spent every day of their lives in each other’s society, between whom there was the most complete sympathy and the most cordial good-will.
By noon they were all mounted on their steeds, and though the air was warmed by a meridian sun shining in a clear sky, there was a gentle breeze abroad, sweet and grateful; and moreover they soon entered the wood and enjoyed the shelter of its verdant shade. The abbey looked most picturesque when they first burst upon it; the nearer and wooded hills, which formed its immediate background, just tinted by the golden pencil of autumn, while the meads of the valley were still emerald green; and the stream, now lost, now winding, glittered here and there in the sun, and gave a life and sprightliness to the landscape which exceeded even the effect of the more distant and expansive lake.
They were received at the abbey by Mistress Pauncefort, who had preceded them, and who welcomed them with a complacent smile. Cadurcis hastened to assist Lady Annabel to dismount, and was a little confused but very pleased when she assured him she needed no assistance but requested him to take care of Venetia. He was just in time to receive her in his arms, where she found herself without the slightest embarrassment. The coolness of the cloisters was grateful after their ride, and they lingered and looked upon the old fountain, and felt the freshness of its fall with satisfaction which all alike expressed. Lady Annabel and Venetia then retired for a while to free themselves from their riding habits, and Cadurcis affectionately taking the arm of Dr. Masham led him a few paces, and then almost involuntarily exclaimed, ‘My dear Doctor, I think I am the happiest fellow that ever lived!’
‘That I trust you may always be, my dear boy,’ said Dr. Masham; ‘but what has called forth this particular exclamation?’
‘To feel that I am once more at Cadurcis; to feel that I am here once more with you all; to feel that I never shall leave you again.’
‘Never!’ said Cadurcis. ‘The experience of these last few weeks, which yet have seemed an age in my existence, has made me resolve never to quit a society where I am persuaded I may obtain a degree of happiness which what is called the world can never afford me.’
‘What will your guardian say?’
‘What care I?’
‘A dutiful ward!’
‘Poh! the relations between us were formed only to secure my welfare. It is secured; it will be secured by my own resolution.’
‘And what is that?’ inquired Dr. Masham.
‘To marry Venetia, if she will accept me.’
‘And that you do not doubt.’
‘We doubt everything when everything is at stake,’ replied Lord Cadurcis. ‘I know that her consent would ensure my happiness; and when I reflect, I cannot help being equally persuaded that it would secure hers. Her mother, I think, would not be adverse to our union. And you, my dear sir, what do you think?’
‘I think,’ said Dr. Masham, ‘that whoever marries Venetia will marry the most beautiful and the most gifted of God’s creatures; I hope you may marry her; I wish you to marry her; I believe you will marry her, but not yet; you are too young, Lord Cadurcis.’
‘Oh, no! my dear Doctor, not too young to marry Venetia. Remember I have known her all my life, at least so long as I have been able to form an opinion. How few are the men, my dear Doctor, who are so fortunate as to unite themselves with women whom they have known, as I have known Venetia, for more than seven long years!’
‘During five of which you have never seen or heard of her.’
‘Mine was the fault! And yet I cannot help thinking, as it may probably turn out, as you yourself believe it will turn out, that it is as well that we have been separated for this interval. It has afforded me opportunities for observation which I should never have enjoyed at Cadurcis; and although my lot either way could not have altered the nature of things, I might have been discontented, I might have sighed for a world which now I do not value. It is true I have not seen Venetia for five years, but I find her the same, or changed only by nature, and fulfilling all the rich promise which her childhood intimated. No, my dear Doctor, I respect your opinion more than that of any man living; but nobody, nothing, can persuade me that I am not as intimately acquainted with Venetia’s character, with all her rare virtues, as if we had never separated.’
‘I do not doubt it,’ said the Doctor; ‘high as you may pitch your estimate you cannot overvalue her.’
‘Then why should we not marry?’
‘Because, my dear friend, although you may be perfectly acquainted with Venetia, you cannot be perfectly acquainted with yourself.’
‘How so?’ exclaimed Lord Cadurcis in a tone of surprise, perhaps a little indignant.
‘Because it is impossible. No young man of eighteen ever possessed such precious knowledge. I esteem and admire you; I give you every credit for a good heart and a sound head; but it is impossible, at your time of life, that your character can be formed; and, until it be, you may marry Venetia and yet be a very miserable man.’
‘It is formed,’ said his lordship firmly; ‘there is not a subject important to a human being on which my opinions are not settled.’
‘You may live to change them all,’ said the Doctor, ‘and that very speedily.’
‘Impossible!’ said Lord Cadurcis. ‘My dear Doctor, I cannot understand you; you say that you hope, that you wish, even that you believe that I shall marry Venetia; and yet you permit me to infer that our union will only make us miserable. What do you wish me to do?’
‘Go to college for a term or two.’
‘Without Venetia! I should die.’
‘Well, if you be in a dying state you can return.’
‘You joke, my dear Doctor.’
‘My dear boy, I am perfectly serious.’
‘But she may marry somebody else?’
‘I am your only rival,’ said the Doctor, with a smile; ‘and though even friends can scarcely be trusted under such circumstances, I promise you not to betray you.’
‘Your advice is not very pleasant,’ said his lordship.
‘Good advice seldom is,’ said the Doctor.
‘My dear Doctor, I have made up my mind to marry her, and marry her at once. I know her well, you admit that yourself. I do not believe that there ever was a woman like her, that there ever will be a woman like her. Nature has marked her out from other women, and her education has not been less peculiar. Her mystic breeding pleases me. It is something to marry a wife so fair, so pure, so refined, so accomplished, who is, nevertheless, perfectly ignorant of the world. I have dreamt of such things; I have paced these old cloisters when a boy and when I was miserable at home, and I have had visions, and this was one. I have sighed to live alone with a fair spirit for my minister. Venetia has descended from heaven for me, and for me alone. I am resolved I will pluck this flower with the dew upon its leaves.’
‘I did not know I was reasoning with a poet,’ said the Doctor, with a smile. ‘Had I been conscious of it, I would not have been so rash.’
‘I have not a grain of poetry in my composition,’ said his lordship; ‘I never could write a verse; I was notorious at Eton for begging all their old manuscripts from boys when they left school, to crib from; but I have a heart, and I can feel. I love Venetia, I have always loved her, and, if possible, I will marry her, and marry her at once.’
The reappearance of the ladies at the end of the cloister terminated this conversation, the result of which was rather to confirm Lord Cadurcis in his resolution of instantly urging his suit, than the reverse. He ran forward to greet his friends with a smile, and took his place by the side of Venetia, whom, a little to her surprise, he congratulated in glowing phrase on her charming costume. Indeed she looked very captivating, with a pastoral hat, then much in fashion, and a dress as simple and as sylvan, both showing to admirable advantage her long descending hair, and her agile and springy figure.
Cadurcis proposed that they should ramble over the abbey, he talked of projected alterations, as if he really had the power immediately to effect them, and was desirous of obtaining their opinions before any change was made. So they ascended the staircase which many years before Venetia had mounted for the first time with her mother, and entered that series of small and ill-furnished rooms in which Mrs. Cadurcis had principally resided, and which had undergone no change. The old pictures were examined; these, all agreed, never must move; and the new furniture, it was settled, must be in character with the building. Lady Annabel entered into all the details with an interest and animation which rather amused Dr. Masham. Venetia listened and suggested, and responded to the frequent appeals of Cadurcis to her judgment with an unconscious equanimity not less diverting.
‘Now here we really can do something,’ said his lordship as they entered the saloon, or rather refectory; ‘here I think we may effect wonders. The tapestry must always remain. Is it not magnificent, Venetia? But what hangings shall we have? We must keep the old chairs, I think. Do you approve of the old chairs, Venetia? And what shall we cover them with? Shall it be damask? What do you think, Venetia? Do you like damask? And what colour shall it be? Shall it be crimson? Shall it be crimson damask, Lady Annabel? Do you think Venetia would like crimson damask? Now, Venetia, do give us the benefit of your opinion.’
Then they entered the old gallery; here was to be a great transformation. Marvels were to be effected in the old gallery, and many and multiplied were the appeals to the taste and fancy of Venetia.
‘I think,’ said Lord Cadurcis, ‘I shall leave the gallery to be arranged when I am settled. The rooms and the saloon shall be done at once, I shall give orders for them to begin instantly. Whom do you recommend, Lady Annabel? Do you think there is any person at Southport who could manage to do it, superintended by our taste? Venetia, what do you think?’
Venetia was standing at the window, rather apart from her companions, looking at the old garden. Lord Cadurcis joined her. ‘Ah! it has been sadly neglected since my poor mother’s time. We could not do much in those days, but still she loved this garden. I must depend upon you entirely to arrange my garden, Venetia. This spot is sacred to you. You have not forgotten our labours here, have you, Venetia? Ah! those were happy days, and these shall be more happy still. This is your garden; it shall always be called Venetia’s garden.’
‘I would have taken care of it when you were away, but —’
‘But what?’ inquired Lord Cadurcis anxiously.
‘We hardly felt authorised,’ replied Venetia calmly. ‘We came at first when you left Cadurcis, but at last it did not seem that our presence was very acceptable.’
‘The brutes!’ exclaimed Lord Cadurcis.
‘No, no; good simple people, they were unused to orders from strange masters, and they were perplexed. Besides, we had no right to interfere.’
‘No right to interfere! Venetia, my little fellow-labourer, no right to interfere! Why all is yours! Fancy your having no right to interfere at Cadurcis!’
Then they proceeded to the park and wandered to the margin of the lake. There was not a spot, not an object, which did not recall some adventure or incident of childhood. Every moment Lord Cadurcis exclaimed, ‘Venetia! do you remember this?’ ‘Venetia! have you forgotten that?’ and every time Venetia smiled, and proved how faithful was her memory by adding some little unmentioned trait to the lively reminiscences of her companion.
‘Well, after all,’ said Lord Cadurcis with a sigh, ‘my poor mother was a strange woman, and, God bless her! used sometimes to worry me out of my senses! but still she always loved you. No one can deny that. Cherbury was a magic name with her. She loved Lady Annabel, and she loved you, Venetia. It ran in the blood, you see. She would be happy, quite happy, if she saw us all here together, and if she knew —’
‘Plantagenet,’ said Lady Annabel, ‘you must build a lodge at this end of the park. I cannot conceive anything more effective than an entrance from the Southport road in this quarter.’
‘Certainly, Lady Annabel, certainly we must build a lodge. Do not you think so, Venetia?’
‘Indeed I think it would be a great improvement,’ replied Venetia; ‘but you must take care to have a lodge in character with the abbey.’
‘You shall make a drawing for it,’ said Lord Cadurcis; ‘it shall be built directly, and it shall be called Venetia Lodge.’
The hours flew away, loitering in the park, roaming in the woods. They met Mistress Pauncefort and her friends loaded with plunder, and they offered to Venetia a trophy of their success; but when Venetia, merely to please their kind hearts, accepted their tribute with cordiality, and declared there was nothing she liked better, Lord Cadurcis would not be satisfied unless he immediately commenced nutting, and each moment he bore to Venetia the produce of his sport, till in time she could scarcely sustain the rich and increasing burden. At length they bent their steps towards home, sufficiently wearied to look forward with welcome to rest and their repast, yet not fatigued, and exhilarated by the atmosphere, for the sun was now in its decline, though in this favoured season there were yet hours enough remaining of enchanting light.
In the refectory they found, to the surprise of all but their host, a banquet. It was just one of those occasions when nothing is expected and everything is welcome and surprising; when, from the unpremeditated air generally assumed, all preparation startles and pleases; when even ladies are not ashamed to eat, and formality appears quite banished. Game of all kinds, teal from the lake, and piles of beautiful fruit, made the table alike tempting and picturesque. Then there were stray bottles of rare wine disinterred from venerable cellars; and, more inspiriting even than the choice wine, a host under the influence of every emotion, and swayed by every circumstance that can make a man happy and delightful. Oh! they were very gay, and it seemed difficult to believe that care or sorrow, or the dominion of dark or ungracious passions, could ever disturb sympathies so complete and countenances so radiant.
At the urgent request of Cadurcis, Venetia sang to them; and while she sang, the expression of her countenance and voice harmonising with the arch hilarity of the subject, Plantagenet for a moment believed that he beheld the little Venetia of his youth, that sunny child so full of mirth and grace, the very recollection of whose lively and bright existence might enliven the gloomiest hour and lighten the heaviest heart.
Enchanted by all that surrounded him, full of hope, and joy, and plans of future felicity, emboldened by the kindness of the daughter, Cadurcis now ventured to urge a request to Lady Annabel, and the request was granted, for all seemed to feel that it was a day on which nothing was to be refused to their friend. Happy Cadurcis! The child had a holiday, and it fancied itself a man enjoying a triumph. In compliance, therefore, with his wish, it was settled that they should all walk back to the hall; even Dr. Masham declared he was competent to the exertion, but perhaps was half entrapped into the declaration by the promise of a bed at Cherbury. This consent enchanted Cadurcis, who looked forward with exquisite pleasure to the evening walk with Venetia.
Although the sun had not set, it had sunk behind the hills leading to Cherbury when our friends quitted the abbey. Cadurcis, without hesitation, offered his arm to Venetia, and whether from a secret sympathy with his wishes, or merely from some fortunate accident, Lady Annabel and Dr. Masham strolled on before without busying themselves too earnestly with their companions.
‘And how do you think our expedition to Cadurcis has turned out?’ inquired the young lord, of Venetia, ‘Has it been successful?’
‘It has been one of the most agreeable days I ever passed,’ was the reply.
‘Then it has been successful,’ rejoined his lordship; ‘for my only wish was to amuse you.’
‘I think we have all been equally amused,’ said Venetia. ‘I never knew mamma in such good spirits. I think ever since you returned she has been unusually light-hearted.’
‘And you: has my return lightened only her heart, Venetia?’
‘Indeed it has contributed to the happiness of every one.’
‘And yet, when I first returned, I heard you utter a complaint; the first that to my knowledge ever escaped your lips.’
‘Ah! we cannot be always equally gay.’
‘Once you were, dear Venetia.’
‘I was a child then.’
‘And I, I too was a child; yet I am happy, at least now that I am with you.’
‘Well, we are both happy now.’
‘Oh! say that again, say that again, Venetia; for indeed you made me miserable when you told me that you had changed. I cannot bear that you, Venetia, should ever change.’
‘It is the course of nature, Plantagenet; we all change, everything changes. This day that was so bright is changing fast.’
‘The stars are as beautiful as the sun, Venetia.’
‘And what do you infer?’
‘That Venetia, a woman, is as beautiful as Venetia, a little girl; and should be as happy.’
‘Is beauty happiness, Plantagenet?’
‘It makes others happy, Venetia; and when we make others happy we should be happy ourselves.’
‘Few depend upon my influence, and I trust all of them are happy.’
‘No one depends upon your influence more than I do.’
‘Well, then, be happy always.’
‘Would that I might! Ah, Venetia! can I ever forget old days? You were the solace of my dark childhood; you were the charm that first taught me existence was enjoyment. Before I came to Cherbury I never was happy, and since that hour — Ah, Venetia! dear, dearest Venetia! who is like to you?’
‘Dear Plantagenet, you were always too kind to me. Would we were children once more!’
‘Nay, my own Venetia! you tell me everything changes, and we must not murmur at the course of nature. I would not have our childhood back again, even with all its joys, for there are others yet in store for us, not less pure, not less beautiful. We loved each other then, Venetia, and we love each other now.’
‘My feelings towards you have never changed, Plantagenet; I heard of you always with interest, and I met you again with heartfelt pleasure.’
‘Oh, that morning! Have you forgotten that morning? Do you know, you will smile very much, but I really believe that I expected to see my Venetia still a little girl, the very same who greeted me when I first arrived with my mother and behaved so naughtily! And when I saw you, and found what you had become, and what I ought always to have known you must become, I was so confused I entirely lost my presence of mind. You must have thought me very awkward, very stupid?’
‘Indeed, I was rather gratified by observing that you could not meet us again without emotion. I thought it told well for your heart, which I always believed to be most kind, at least, I am sure, to us.’
‘Kind! oh, Venetia! that word but ill describes what my heart ever was, what it now is, to you. Venetia! dearest, sweetest Venetia! can you doubt for a moment my feelings towards your home, and what influence must principally impel them? Am I so dull, or you so blind, Venetia? Can I not express, can you not discover how much, how ardently, how fondly, how devotedly, I, I, I love you?’
‘I am sure we always loved each other, Plantagenet.’
‘Yes! but not with this love; not as I love you now!’
‘I thought we could not love each other more than we did, Plantagenet,’ at length she said. ‘Do you remember the jewel that you gave me? I always wore it until you seemed to forget us, and then I thought it looked so foolish! You remember what is inscribed on it: ‘TO VENETIA, FROM HER AFFECTIONATE BROTHER, PLANTAGENET.’ And as a brother I always loved you; had I indeed been your sister I could not have loved you more warmly and more truly.’
‘I am not your brother, Venetia; I wish not to be loved as a brother: and yet I must be loved by you, or I shall die.’
‘What then do you wish?’ inquired Venetia, with great simplicity.
‘I wish you to marry me,’ replied Lord Cadurcis.
‘Marry!’ exclaimed Venetia, with a face of wonder. ‘Marry! Marry you! Marry you, Plantagenet!’
‘Ay! is that so wonderful? I love you, and if you love me, why should we not marry?’
Venetia was silent and looked upon the ground, not from agitation, for she was quite calm, but in thought; and then she said, ‘I never thought of marriage in my life, Plantagenet; I have no intention, no wish to marry; I mean to live always with mamma.’
‘And you shall always live with mamma, but that need not prevent you from marrying me,’ he replied. ‘Do not we all live together now? What will it signify if you dwell at Cadurcis and Lady Annabel at Cherbury? Is it not one home? But at any rate, this point shall not be an obstacle; for if it please you we will all live at Cherbury.’
‘You say that we are happy now, Plantagenet; oh! let us remain as we are.’
‘My own sweet girl, my sister, if you please, any title, so it be one of fondness, your sweet simplicity charms me; but, believe me, it cannot be as you wish; we cannot remain as we are unless we marry.’
‘Because I shall be wretched and must live elsewhere, if indeed I can live at all.’
‘Oh, Plantagenet! indeed I thought you were my brother; when I found you after so long a separation as kind as in old days, and kinder still, I was so glad; I was so sure you loved me; I thought I had the kindest brother in the world. Let us not talk of any other love. It will, indeed it will, make mamma so miserable!’
‘I am greatly mistaken,’ replied Lord Cadurcis, who saw no obstacles to his hopes in their conversation hitherto, ‘if, on the contrary, our union would not prove far from disagreeable to your mother, Venetia; I will say our mother, for indeed to me she has been one.’
‘Plantagenet,’ said Venetia, in a very earnest tone, ‘I love you very much; but, if you love me, press me on this subject no more at present. You have surprised, indeed you have bewildered me. There are thoughts, there are feelings, there are considerations, that must be respected, that must influence me. Nay! do not look so sorrowful, Plantagenet. Let us be happy now. To-morrow, only tomorrow, and tomorrow we are sure to meet, we will speak further of all this; but now, now, for a moment let us forget it, if we can forget anything so strange. Nay! you shall smile!’
He did. Who could resist that mild and winning glance! And indeed Lord Cadurcis was scarcely disappointed, and not at all mortified at his reception, or, as he esteemed it, the progress of his suit. The conduct of Venetia he attributed entirely to her unsophisticated nature and the timidity of a virgin soul. It made him prize even more dearly the treasure that he believed awaited him. Silent, then, though for a time they both struggled to speak on different subjects, silent, and almost content, Cadurcis proceeded, with the arm of Venetia locked in his and ever and anon unconsciously pressing it to his heart. The rosy twilight had faded away, the stars were stealing forth, and the moon again glittered. With a soul softer than the tinted shades of eve and glowing like the heavens, Cadurcis joined his companions as they entered the gardens of Cherbury. When they had arrived at home it seemed that exhaustion had suddenly succeeded all the excitement of the day. The Doctor, who was wearied, retired immediately. Lady Annabel pressed Cadurcis to remain and take tea, or, at least to ride home; but his lordship, protesting that he was not in the slightest degree fatigued, and anticipating their speedy union on the morrow, bade her good night, and pressing with fondness the hand of Venetia, retraced his steps to the now solitary abbey.
Cadurcis returned to the abbey, but not to slumber. That love of loneliness which had haunted him from his boyhood, and which ever asserted its sway when under the influence of his passions, came over him now with irresistible power. A day of enjoyment had terminated, and it left him melancholy. Hour after hour he paced the moon-lit cloisters of his abbey, where not a sound disturbed him, save the monotonous fall of the fountain, that seems by some inexplicable association always to blend with and never to disturb our feelings; gay when we are joyful, and sad amid our sorrow.
Yet was he sorrowful! He was gloomy, and fell into a reverie about himself, a subject to him ever perplexing and distressing. His conversation of the morning with Doctor Masham recurred to him. What did the Doctor mean by his character not being formed, and that he might yet live to change all his opinions? Character! what was character? It must be will; and his will was violent and firm. Young as he was, he had early habituated himself to reflection, and the result of his musings had been a desire to live away from the world with those he loved. The world, as other men viewed it, had no charms for him. Its pursuits and passions seemed to him on the whole paltry and faint. He could sympathise with great deeds, but not with bustling life. That which was common did not please him. He loved things that were rare and strange; and the spell that bound him so strongly to Venetia Herbert was her unusual life, and the singular circumstances of her destiny that were not unknown to him. True he was young; but, lord of himself, youth was associated with none of those mortifications which make the juvenile pant for manhood. Cadurcis valued his youth and treasured it. He could not conceive love, and the romantic life that love should lead, without the circumambient charm of youth adding fresh lustre to all that was bright and fair, and a keener relish to every combination of enjoyment. The moonbeam fell upon his mother’s monument, a tablet on the cloister wall that recorded the birth and death of KATHERINE CADURCIS. His thoughts flew to his ancestry. They had conquered in France and Palestine, and left a memorable name to the annalist of his country. Those days were past, and yet Cadurcis felt within him the desire, perhaps the power, of emulating them; but what remained? What career was open in this mechanical age to the chivalric genius of his race? Was he misplaced then in life? The applause of nations, there was something grand and exciting in such a possession. To be the marvel of mankind what would he not hazard? Dreams, dreams! If his ancestors were valiant and celebrated it remained for him to rival, to excel them, at least in one respect. Their coronet had never rested on a brow fairer than the one for which he destined it. Venetia then, independently of his passionate love, was the only apparent object worth his pursuit, the only thing in this world that had realised his dreams, dreams sacred to his own musing soul, that even she had never shared or guessed. And she, she was to be his. He could not doubt it: but tomorrow would decide; tomorrow would seal his triumph.
His sleep was short and restless; he had almost out-watched the stars, and yet he rose with the early morn. His first thought was of Venetia; he was impatient for the interview, the interview she promised and even proposed. The fresh air was grateful to him; he bounded along to Cherbury, and brushed the dew in his progress from the tall grass and shrubs. In sight of the hall, he for a moment paused. He was before his accustomed hour; and yet he was always too soon. Not today, though, not today; suddenly he rushes forward and springs down the green vista, for Venetia is on the terrace, and alone!
Always kind, this morning she greeted him with unusual affection. Never had she seemed to him so exquisitely beautiful. Perhaps her countenance today was more pale than wont. There seemed a softness in her eyes usually so brilliant and even dazzling; the accents of her salutation were suppressed and tender.
‘I thought you would be here early,’ she remarked, ‘and therefore I rose to meet you.’
Was he to infer from this artless confession that his image had haunted her in her dreams, or only that she would not delay the conversation on which his happiness depended? He could scarcely doubt which version to adopt when she took his arm and led him from the terrace to walk where they could not be disturbed.
‘Dear Plantagenet,’ she said, ‘for indeed you are very dear to me; I told you last night that I would speak to you today on your wishes, that are so kind to me and so much intended for my happiness. I do not love suspense; but indeed last night I was too much surprised, too much overcome by what occurred, that exhausted as I naturally was by all our pleasure, I could not tell you what I wished; indeed I could not, dear Plantagenet.’
‘My own Venetia!’
‘So I hope you will always deem me; for I should be very unhappy if you did not love me, Plantagenet, more unhappy than I have even been these last two years; and I have been very unhappy, very unhappy indeed, Plantagenet.’
‘Unhappy, Venetia! my Venetia unhappy?’
‘Listen! I will not weep. I can control my feelings. I have learnt to do this; it is very sad, and very different to what my life once was; but I can do it.’
‘You amaze me!’
Venetia sighed, and then resumed, but in a tone mournful and low, and yet to a degree firm.
‘You have been away five years, Plantagenet.’
‘But you have pardoned that.’
‘I never blamed you; I had nothing to pardon. It was well for you to be away; and I rejoice your absence has been so profitable to you.’
‘But it was wicked to have been so silent.’
‘Oh! no, no, no! Such ideas never entered into my head, nor even mamma’s. You were very young; you did as all would, as all must do. Harbour not such thoughts. Enough, you have returned and love us yet.’
‘Five years are a long space of time, Plantagenet. Events will happen in five years, even at Cherbury. I told you I was changed.’
‘Yes!’ said Lord Cadurcis, in a voice of some anxiety, with a scrutinising eye.
‘You left me a happy child; you find me a woman, and a miserable one.’
‘Good God, Venetia! this suspense is awful. Be brief, I pray you. Has any one —’
Venetia looked at him with an air of perplexity. She could not comprehend the idea that impelled his interruption.
‘Go on,’ Lord Cadurcis added, after a short pause; ‘I am indeed all anxiety.’
‘You remember that Christmas which you passed at the hall and walking at night in the gallery, and —’
‘Well! Your mother, I shall never forget it.’
‘You found her weeping when you were once at Marringhurst. You told me of it.’
‘There is a wing of our house shut up. We often talked of it.’
‘Often, Venetia; it was a mystery.’
‘I have penetrated it,’ replied Venetia in a solemn tone; ‘and never have I known what happiness is since.’
‘Yes, yes!’ said Lord Cadurcis, very pale, and in a whisper.
‘Plantagenet, I have a father.’
Lord Cadurcis started, and for an instant his arm quitted Venetia’s. At length he said in a gloomy voice, ‘I know it.’
‘Know it!’ exclaimed Venetia with astonishment. ‘Who could have told you the secret?’
‘It is no secret,’ replied Cadurcis; ‘would that it were!’
‘Would that it were! How strange you speak, how strange you look, Plantagenet! If it be no secret that I have a father, why this concealment then? I know that I am not the child of shame!’ she added, after a moment’s pause, with an air of pride. A tear stole down the cheek of Cadurcis.
‘Plantagenet! dear, good Plantagenet! my brother! my own brother! see, I kneel to you; Venetia kneels to you! your own Venetia! Venetia that you love! Oh! if you knew the load that is on my spirit bearing me down to a grave which I would almost welcome, you would speak to me; you would tell me all. I have sighed for this; I have longed for this; I have prayed for this. To meet some one who would speak to me of my father; who had heard of him, who knew him; has been for years the only thought of my being, the only object for which I existed. And now, here comes Plantagenet, my brother! my own brother! and he knows all, and he will tell me; yes, that he will; he will tell his Venetia all, all!’
‘Is there not your mother?’ said Lord Cadurcis, in a broken tone.
‘Forbidden, utterly forbidden. If I speak, they tell me her heart will break; and therefore mine is breaking.’
‘Have you no friend?’
‘Are not you my friend?’
‘I have applied to him; he tells me that he lives, and then he shakes his head.’
‘You never saw your father; think not of him.’
‘Not think of him!’ exclaimed Venetia, with extraordinary energy. ‘Of what else? For what do I live but to think of him? What object have I in life but to see him? I have seen him, once.’
‘I know his form by heart, and yet it was but a shade. Oh, what a shade! what a glorious, what an immortal shade! If gods were upon earth they would be like my father!’
‘His deeds, at least, are not godlike,’ observed Lord Cadurcis dryly, and with some bitterness.
‘I deny it!’ said Venetia, her eyes sparkling with fire, her form dilated with enthusiasm, and involuntarily withdrawing her arm from her companion. Lord Cadurcis looked exceedingly astonished.
‘You deny it!’ he exclaimed. ‘And what should you know about it?’
‘Nature whispers to me that nothing but what is grand and noble could be breathed by those lips, or fulfilled by that form.’
‘I am glad you have not read his works,’ said Lord Cadurcis, with increased bitterness. ‘As for his conduct, your mother is a living evidence of his honour, his generosity, and his virtue.’
‘My mother!’ said Venetia, in a softened voice; ‘and yet he loved my mother!’
‘She was his victim, as a thousand others may have been.’
‘She is his wife!’ replied Venetia, with some anxiety.
‘Yes, a deserted wife; is that preferable to being a cherished mistress? More honourable, but scarcely less humiliating.’
‘She must have misunderstood him,’ said Venetia. ‘I have perused the secret vows of his passion. I have read his praises of her beauty. I have pored over the music of his emotions when he first became a father; yes, he has gazed on me, even though but for a moment, with love! Over me he has breathed forth the hallowed blessing of a parent! That transcendent form has pressed his lips to mine, and held me with fondness to his heart! And shall I credit aught to his dishonour? Is there a being in existence who can persuade me he is heartless or abandoned? No! I love him! I adore him! I am devoted to him with all the energies of my being! I live only on the memory that he lives, and, were he to die, I should pray to my God that I might join him without delay in a world where it cannot be justice to separate a child from a father.’
And this was Venetia! the fair, the serene Venetia! the young, the inexperienced Venetia! pausing, as it were, on the parting threshold of girlhood, whom, but a few hours since, he had fancied could scarcely have proved a passion; who appeared to him barely to comprehend the meaning of his advances; for whose calmness or whose coldness he had consoled himself by the flattering conviction of her unknowing innocence. Before him stood a beautiful and inspired Moenad, her eye flashing supernatural fire, her form elevated above her accustomed stature, defiance on her swelling brow, and passion on her quivering lip!
Gentle and sensitive as Cadurcis ever appeared to those he loved, there was in his soul a deep and unfathomed well of passions that had been never stirred, and a bitter and mocking spirit in his brain, of which he was himself unconscious. He had repaired this hopeful morn to Cherbury to receive, as he believed, the plighted faith of a simple and affectionate, perhaps grateful, girl. That her unsophisticated and untutored spirit might not receive the advances of his heart with an equal and corresponding ardour, he was prepared. It pleased him that he should watch the gradual development of this bud of sweet affections, waiting, with proud anxiety, her fragrant and her full-blown love. But now it appeared that her coldness or her indifference might be ascribed to any other cause than the one to which he had attributed it, the innocence of an inexperienced mind. This girl was no stranger to powerful passions; she could love, and love with fervency, with devotion, with enthusiasm. This child of joy was a woman of deep and thoughtful sorrows, brooding in solitude over high resolves and passionate aspirations. Why were not the emotions of such a tumultuous soul excited by himself? To him she was calm and imperturbable; she called him brother, she treated him as a child. But a picture, a fantastic shade, could raise in her a tempestuous swell of sentiment that transformed her whole mind, and changed the colour of all her hopes and thoughts. Deeply prejudiced against her father, Cadurcis now hated him, and with a fell and ferocious earnestness that few bosoms but his could prove. Pale with rage, he ground his teeth and watched her with a glance of sarcastic aversion.
‘You led me here to listen to a communication which interested me,’ he at length said. ‘Have I heard it?’
His altered tone, the air of haughtiness which he assumed, were not lost upon Venetia. She endeavoured to collect herself, but she hesitated to reply.
‘I repeat my inquiry,’ said Cadurcis. ‘Have you brought me here only to inform me that you have a father, and that you adore him, or his picture?’
‘I led you here,’ replied Venetia, in a subdued tone, and looking on the ground, ‘to thank you for your love, and to confess to you that I love another.’
‘Love another!’ exclaimed Cadurcis, in a tone of derision. Simpleton! The best thing your mother can do is to lock you up in the chamber with the picture that has produced such marvellous effects.’
‘I am no simpleton, Plantagenet,’ rejoined Venetia, quietly, ‘but one who is acting as she thinks right; and not only as her mind, but as her heart prompts her.’
They had stopped in the earlier part of this conversation on a little plot of turf surrounded by shrubs; Cadurcis walked up and down this area with angry steps, occasionally glancing at Venetia with a look of mortification and displeasure.
‘I tell you, Venetia,’ he at length said, ‘that you are a little fool. What do you mean by saying that you cannot marry me because you love another? Is not that other, by your own account, your father? Love him as much as you like. Is that to prevent you from loving your husband also?’
‘Plantagenet, you are rude, and unnecessarily so,’ said Venetia. ‘I repeat to you again, and for the last time, that all my heart is my father’s. It would be wicked in me to marry you, because I cannot love you as a husband should be loved. I can never love you as I love my father. However, it is useless to talk upon this subject. I have not even the power of marrying you if I wished, for I have dedicated myself to my father in the name of God; and I have offered a vow, to be registered in heaven, that thenceforth I would exist only for the purpose of being restored to his heart.’
‘I congratulate you on your parent, Miss Herbert.’
‘I feel that I ought to be proud of him, though, alas I can only feel it. But, whatever your opinion may be of my father, I beg you to remember that you are speaking to his child.’
‘I shall state my opinion respecting your father, madam, with the most perfect unreserve, wherever and whenever I choose; quite convinced that, however you esteem that opinion, it will not be widely different from the real sentiments of the only parent whom you ought to respect, and whom you are bound to obey.’
‘And I can tell you, sir, that whatever your opinion is on any subject it will never influence mine. If, indeed, I were the mistress of my own destiny, which I am not, it would have been equally out of my power to have acted as you have so singularly proposed. I do not wish to marry, and marry I never will; but were it in my power, or in accordance with my wish, to unite my fate for ever with another’s, it should at least be with one to whom I could look up with reverence, and even with admiration. He should be at least a man, and a great man; one with whose name the world rung; perhaps, like my father, a genius and a poet.’
‘A genius and a poet!’ exclaimed Lord Cadurcis, in a fury, stamping with passion; ‘are these fit terms to use when speaking of the most abandoned profligate of his age? A man whose name is synonymous with infamy, and which no one dares to breathe in civilised life; whose very blood is pollution, as you will some day feel; who has violated every tie, and derided every principle, by which society is maintained; whose life is a living illustration of his own shameless doctrines; who is, at the same time, a traitor to his king and an apostate from his God!’
Curiosity, overpowering even indignation, had permitted Venetia to listen even to this tirade. Pale as her companion, but with a glance of withering scorn, she exclaimed, ‘Passionate and ill-mannered boy! words cannot express the disgust and the contempt with which you inspire me.’ She spoke and she disappeared. Cadurcis was neither able nor desirous to arrest her flight. He remained rooted to the ground, muttering to himself the word ‘boy!’ Suddenly raising his arm and looking up to the sky, he exclaimed, ‘The illusion is vanished! Farewell, Cherbury! farewell, Cadurcis! a wider theatre awaits me! I have been too long the slave of soft affections! I root them out of my heart for ever!’ and, fitting the action to the phrase, it seemed that he hurled upon the earth all the tender emotions of his soul. ‘Woman! henceforth you shall be my sport! I have now no feeling but for myself. When she spoke I might have been a boy; I am a boy no longer. What I shall do I know not; but this I know, the world shall ring with my name; I will be a man, and a great man!’
The agitation of Venetia on her return was not unnoticed by her mother; but Lady Annabel ascribed it to a far different cause than the real one. She was rather surprised when the breakfast passed, and Lord Cadurcis did not appear; somewhat perplexed when her daughter seized the earliest opportunity of retiring to her own chamber; but, with that self-restraint of which she was so complete a mistress, Lady Annabel uttered no remark.
Once more alone, Venetia could only repeat to herself the wild words that had burst from Plantagenet’s lips in reference to her father. What could they mean? His morals might be misrepresented, his opinions might be misunderstood; stupidity might not comprehend his doctrines, malignity might torture them; the purest sages have been accused of immorality, the most pious philosophers have been denounced as blasphemous: but, ‘a traitor to his king,’ that was a tangible, an intelligible proposition, one with which all might grapple, which could be easily disproved if false, scarcely propounded were it not true. ‘False to his God!’ How false? Where? When? What mystery involved her life? Unhappy girl! in vain she struggled with the overwhelming burden of her sorrows. Now she regretted that she had quarrelled with Cadurcis; it was evident that he knew everything and would have told her all. And then she blamed him for his harsh and unfeeling demeanour, and his total want of sympathy with her cruel and perplexing situation. She had intended, she had struggled to be so kind to him; she thought she had such a plain tale to tell that he would have listened to it in considerate silence, and bowed to her necessary and inevitable decision without a murmur. Amid all these harassing emotions her mind tossed about like a ship without a rudder, until, in her despair, she almost resolved to confess everything to her mother, and to request her to soothe and enlighten her agitated and confounded mind. But what hope was there of solace or information from such a quarter? Lady Annabel’s was not a mind to be diverted from her purpose. Whatever might have been the conduct of her husband, it was evident that Lady Annabel had traced out a course from which she had resolved not to depart. She remembered the earnest and repeated advice of Dr. Masham, that virtuous and intelligent man who never advised anything but for their benefit. How solemnly had he enjoined upon her never to speak to her mother upon the subject, unless she wished to produce misery and distress! And what could her mother tell her? Her father lived, he had abandoned her, he was looked upon as a criminal, and shunned by the society whose laws and prejudices he had alike outraged. Why should she revive, amid the comparative happiness and serenity in which her mother now lived, the bitter recollection of the almost intolerable misfortune of her existence? No! Venetia was resolved to be a solitary victim. In spite of her passionate and romantic devotion to her father she loved her mother with perfect affection, the mother who had dedicated her life to her child, and at least hoped she had spared her any share in their common unhappiness. And this father, whoso image haunted her dreams, whose unknown voice seemed sometimes to float to her quick ear upon the wind, could he be that abandoned being that Cadurcis had described, and that all around her, and all the circumstances of her life, would seem to indicate? Alas! it might be truth; alas! it seemed like truth: and for one so lost, so utterly irredeemable, was she to murmur against that pure and benevolent parent who had cherished her with such devotion, and snatched her perhaps from disgrace, dishonour, and despair!
And Cadurcis, would he return? With all his violence, the kind Cadurcis! Never did she need a brother more than now; and now he was absent, and she had parted with him in anger, deep, almost deadly: she, too, who had never before uttered a harsh word to a human being, who had been involved in only one quarrel in her life, and that almost unconsciously, and which had nearly broken her heart. She wept, bitterly she wept, this poor Venetia!
By one of those mental efforts which her strange lot often forced her to practise, Venetia at length composed herself, and returned to the room where she believed she would meet her mother, and hoped she should see Cadurcis. He was not there: but Lady Annabel was seated as calm and busied as usual; the Doctor had departed. Even his presence would have proved a relief, however slight, to Venetia, who dreaded at this moment to be alone with her mother. She had no cause, however, for alarm; Lord Cadurcis never appeared, and was absent even from dinner; the day died away, and still he was wanting; and at length Venetia bade her usual good night to Lady Annabel, and received her usual blessing and embrace without his name having been even mentioned.
Venetia passed a disturbed night, haunted by painful dreams, in which her father and Cadurcis were both mixed up, and with images of pain, confusion, disgrace, and misery; but the morrow, at least, did not prolong her suspense, for just as she had joined her mother at breakfast, Mistress Pauncefort, who had been despatched on some domestic mission by her mistress, entered with a face of wonder, and began as usual: ‘Only think, my lady; well to be sure, who have thought it? I am quite confident, for my own part, I was quite taken aback when I heard it; and I could not have believed my ears, if John had not told me himself, and he had it from his lordship’s own man.’
‘Well, Pauncefort, what have you to say?’ inquired Lady Annabel, very calmly.
‘And never to send no note, my lady; at least I have not seen one come up. That makes it so very strange.’
‘Makes what, Pauncefort?’
‘Why, my lady, doesn’t your la’ship know his lordship left the abbey yesterday, and never said nothing to nobody; rode off without a word, by your leave or with your leave? To be sure he always was the oddest young gentleman as ever I met with; and, as I said to John: John, says I, I hope his lordship has not gone to join the gipsies again.’
Venetia looked into a teacup, and then touched an egg, and then twirled a spoon; but Lady Annabel seemed quite imperturbable, and only observed, ‘Probably his guardian is ill, and he has been suddenly summoned to town. I wish you would bring my knitting-needles, Pauncefort.’
The autumn passed, and Lord Cadurcis never returned to the abbey, and never wrote to any of his late companions. Lady Annabel never mentioned his name; and although she seemed to have no other object in life but the pleasure and happiness of her child, this strange mother never once consulted Venetia on the probable occasion of his sudden departure, and his strange conduct.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07