It was the commencement of autumn. The verdure of summer still lingered on the trees; the sky, if not so cloudless, was almost as refulgent as Italy; and the pigeons, bright and glancing, clustered on the roof of the hall of Cherbury. The steward was in attendance; the household, all in deep mourning, were assembled; everything was in readiness for the immediate arrival of Lady Annabel Herbert.
”Tis nearly four years come Martinmas,’ said the grey-headed butler, ‘since my lady left us.’
‘And no good has come of it,’ said the housekeeper. ‘And for my part I never heard of good coming from going to foreign parts.’
‘I shall like to see Miss Venetia again,’ said a housemaid. ‘Bless her sweet face.’
‘I never expected to see her Miss Venetia again from all we heard,’ said a footman.
‘God’s will be done!’ said the grey-headed butler; ‘but I hope she will find happiness at home. ’Tis nigh on twenty years since I first nursed her in these arms.’
‘I wonder if there is any new Lord Cadurcis,’ said the footman. ‘I think he was the last of the line.’
‘It would have been a happy day if I had lived to have seen the poor young lord marry Miss Venetia,’ said the housekeeper. ‘I always thought that match was made in heaven.’
‘He was a sweet-spoken young gentleman,’ said the housemaid.
‘For my part,’ said the footman, ‘I should like to have seen our real master, Squire Herbert. He was a famous gentleman by all accounts.’
‘I wish they had lived quietly at home,’ said the housekeeper.
‘I shall never forget the time when my lord returned,’ said the grey-headed butler. ‘I must say I thought it was a match.’
‘Mistress Pauncefort seemed to think so,’ said the housemaid.
‘And she understands those things,’ said the footman.
‘I see the carriage,’ said a servant who was at a window in the hall. All immediately bustled about, and the housekeeper sent a message to the steward.
The carriage might be just discovered at the end of the avenue. It was some time before it entered the iron gates that were thrown open for its reception. The steward stood on the steps with his hat off, the servants were ranged in order at the entrance. Touching their horses with the spur, and cracking their whips, the postilions dashed round the circular plot and stopped at the hall-door. Under any circumstances a return home after an interval of years is rather an awful moment; there was not a servant who was not visibly affected. On the outside of the carriage was a foreign servant and Mistress Pauncefort, who was not so profuse as might have been expected in her recognitions of her old friends; her countenance was graver than of yore. Misfortune and misery had subdued even Mistress Pauncefort. The foreign servant opened the door of the carriage; a young man, who was a stranger to the household, but who was in deep mourning, alighted, and then Lady Annabel appeared. The steward advanced to welcome her, the household bowed and curtseyed. She smiled on them for a moment graciously and kindly, but her countenance immediately reassumed a serious air, and whispering one word to the strange gentleman, she entered the hall alone, inviting the steward to follow her.
‘I hope your ladyship is well; welcome home, my lady; welcome again to Cherbury; a welcome return, my lady; hope Miss Venetia is quite well; happy to see your ladyship amongst us again, and Miss Venetia too, my lady.’ Lady Annabel acknowledged these salutations with kindness, and then, saying that Miss Herbert was not very well and was fatigued with her journey, she dismissed her humble but trusty friends. Lady Annabel then turned and nodded to her fellow-traveller.
Upon this Lord Cadurcis, if we must indeed use a title from which he himself shrank, carried a shrouded form in his arms into the hall, where the steward alone lingered, though withdrawn to the back part of the scene; and Lady Annabel, advancing to meet him, embraced his treasured burden, her own unhappy child.
‘Now, Venetia! dearest Venetia!’ she said, ”tis past; we are at home.’
Venetia leant upon her mother, but made no reply.
‘Upstairs, dearest,’ said Lady Annabel: ‘a little exertion, a very little.’ Leaning on her mother and Lord Cadurcis, Venetia ascended the staircase, and they reached the terrace-room. Venetia looked around her as she entered the chamber; that scene of her former life, endeared to her by so many happy hours, and so many sweet incidents; that chamber where she had first seen Plantagenet. Lord Cadurcis supported her to a chair, and then, overwhelmed by irresistible emotion, she sank back in a swoon.
No one was allowed to enter the room but Pauncefort. They revived her; Lord Cadurcis holding her hand, and touching, with a watchful finger, her pulse. Venetia opened her eyes, and looked around her. Her mind did not wander; she immediately recognised where she was, and recollected all that had happened. She faintly smiled, and said, in a low voice ‘You are all too kind, and I am very weak. After our trials, what is this, George?’ she added, struggling to appear animated; ‘you are at length at Cherbury.’
Once more at Cherbury! It was, indeed, an event that recalled a thousand associations. In the wild anguish of her first grief, when the dreadful intelligence was broken to her, if anyone had whispered to Venetia that she would yet find herself once more at Cherbury, she would have esteemed the intimation as mockery. But time and hope will struggle with the most poignant affliction, and their influence is irresistible and inevitable. From her darkened chamber in their Mediterranean villa, Venetia had again come forth, and crossed mountains, and traversed immense plains, and journeyed through many countries. She could not die, as she had supposed at first that she must, and therefore she had exerted herself to quit, and to quit speedily, a scene so terrible as their late abode. She was the very first to propose their return to England, and to that spot where she had passed her early life, and where she now wished to fulfil, in quiet and seclusion, the allotment of her remaining years; to meditate over the marvellous past, and cherish its sweet and bitter recollections. The native firmness of Lady Annabel, her long exercised control over her emotions, the sadness and subdued tone which the early incidents of her career had cast over her character, her profound sympathy with her daughter, and that religious consolation which never deserted her, had alike impelled and enabled her to bear up against the catastrophe with more fortitude than her child. The arrow, indeed, had struck Venetia with a double barb. She was the victim; and all the cares of Lady Annabel had been directed to soothe and support this stricken lamb. Yet perhaps these unhappy women must have sunk under their unparalleled calamities, had it not been for the devotion of their companion. In the despair of his first emotions, George Cadurcis was nearly plunging himself headlong into the wave that had already proved so fatal to his house. But when he thought of Lady Annabel and Venetia in a foreign land, without a single friend in their desolation, and pictured them to himself with the dreadful news abruptly communicated by some unfeeling stranger; and called upon, in the midst of their overwhelming agony, to attend to all the heart-rending arrangements which the discovery of the bodies of the beings to whom they were devoted, and in whom all their feelings were centred, must necessarily entail upon them, he recoiled from what he contemplated as an act of infamous desertion. He resolved to live, if only to preserve them from all their impending troubles, and with the hope that his exertions might tend, in however slight a degree, not to alleviate, for that was impossible; but to prevent the increase of that terrible woe, the very conception of which made his brain stagger. He carried the bodies, therefore, with him to Spezzia, and then prepared for that fatal interview, the commencement of which we first indicated. Yet it must be confessed that, though the bravest of men, his courage faltered as he entered the accustomed ravine. He stopped and looked down on the precipice below; he felt it utterly impossible to meet them; his mind nearly deserted him. Death, some great and universal catastrophe, an earthquake, a deluge, that would have buried them all in an instant and a common fate, would have been hailed by George Cadurcis, at that moment, as good fortune.
He lurked about the ravine for nearly three hours before he could summon up heart for the awful interview. The position he had taken assured him that no one could approach the villa, to which he himself dared not advance. At length, in a paroxysm of energetic despair, he had rushed forward, met them instantly, and confessed with a whirling brain, and almost unconscious of his utterance, that ‘they could not hope to see them again in this world.’
What ensued must neither be attempted to be described, nor even remembered. It was one of those tragedies of life which enfeeble the most faithful memories at a blow shatter nerves beyond the faculty of revival, cloud the mind for ever, or turn the hair grey in an instant. They carried Venetia delirious to her bed. The very despair, and almost madness, of her daughter forced Lady Annabel to self-exertion, of which it was difficult to suppose that even she was capable. And George, too, was obliged to leave them. He stayed only the night. A few words passed between Lady Annabel and himself; she wished the bodies to be embalmed, and borne to England. There was no time to be lost, and there was no one to be entrusted except George. He had to hasten to Genoa to make all these preparations, and for two days he was absent from the villa. When he returned, Lady Annabel saw him, but Venetia was for a long time invisible. The moment she grew composed, she expressed a wish to her mother instantly to return to Cherbury. All the arrangements necessarily devolved upon George Cadurcis. It was his study that Lady Annabel should be troubled upon no point. The household were discharged, all the affairs were wound up, the felucca hired which was to bear them to Genoa, and in readiness, before he notified to them that the hour of departure had arrived. The most bitter circumstance was looking again upon the sea. It seemed so intolerable to Venetia, that their departure was delayed more than one day in consequence; but it was inevitable; they could reach Genoa in no other manner. George carried Venetia in his arms to the boat, with her face covered with a shawl, and bore her in the same manner to the hotel at Genoa, where their travelling carriage awaited them.
They travelled home rapidly. All seemed to be impelled, as it were, by a restless desire for repose. Cherbury was the only thought in Venetia’s mind. She observed nothing; she made no remark during their journey; they travelled often throughout the night; but no obstacles occurred, no inconveniences. There was one in this miserable society whose only object in life was to support Venetia under her terrible visitation. Silent, but with an eye that never slept, George Cadurcis watched Venetia as a nurse might a child. He read her thoughts, he anticipated her wishes without inquiring them; every arrangement was unobtrusively made that could possibly consult her comfort.
They passed through London without stopping there. George would not leave them for an instant; nor would he spare a thought to his own affairs, though they urgently required his attention. The change in his position gave him no consolation; he would not allow his passport to be made out with his title; he shuddered at being called Lord Cadurcis; and the only reason that made him hesitate about attending them to Cherbury was its contiguity to his ancestral seat, which he resolved never to visit. There never in the world was a less selfish and more single-hearted man than George Cadurcis. Though the death of his cousin had invested him with one of the most ancient coronets in England, a noble residence and a fair estate, he would willingly have sacrificed his life to have recalled Plantagenet to existence, and to have secured the happiness of Venetia Herbert.
The reader must not suppose, from the irresistible emotion that overcame Venetia at the very moment of her return, that she was entirely prostrated by her calamities. On the contrary, her mind had been employed, during the whole of her journey to England, in a silent effort to endure her lot with resignation. She had resolved to bear up against her misery with fortitude, and she inherited from her mother sufficient firmness of mind to enable her to achieve her purpose. She came back to Cherbury to live with patience and submission; and though her dreams of happiness might be vanished for ever, to contribute as much as was in her power to the content of that dear and remaining relative who was yet spared to her, and who depended in this world only upon the affection of her child. The return to Cherbury was a pang, and it was over. Venetia struggled to avoid the habits of an invalid; she purposed resuming, as far as was in her power, all the pursuits and duties of her life; and if it were neither possible, nor even desirable, to forget the past, she dwelt upon it neither to sigh nor to murmur, but to cherish in a sweet and musing mood the ties and affections round which all her feelings had once gathered with so much enjoyment and so much hope.
She rose, therefore, on the morning after her return to Cherbury, at least serene; and she took an early opportunity, when George and her mother were engaged, and absent from the terrace-room, to go forth alone and wander amid her old haunts. There was not a spot about the park and gardens, which had been favourite resorts of herself and Plantagenet in their childhood, that she did not visit. They were unchanged; as green, and bright, and still as in old days, but what was she? The freshness, and brilliancy, and careless happiness of her life were fled for ever. And here he lived, and here he roamed, and here his voice sounded, now in glee, now in melancholy, now in wild and fanciful amusement, and now pouring into her bosom all his domestic sorrows. It was but ten years since he first arrived at Cherbury, and who could have anticipated that that little, silent, reserved boy should, ere ten years had passed, have filled a wide and lofty space in the world’s thought; that his existence should have influenced the mind of nations, and his death eclipsed their gaiety! His death! Terrible and disheartening thought! Plantagenet was no more. But he had not died without a record. His memory was embalmed in immortal verse, and he had breathed his passion to his Venetia in language that lingered in the ear, and would dwell for ever on the lips, of his fellow-men.
Among these woods, too, had Venetia first mused over her father; before her rose those mysterious chambers, whose secret she had penetrated at the risk of her life. There were no secrets now. Was she happier? Now she felt that even in her early mystery there was delight, and that hope was veiled beneath its ominous shadow. There was now no future to ponder over; her hope was gone, and memory alone remained. All the dreams of those musing hours of her hidden reveries had been realised. She had seen that father, that surpassing parent, who had satisfied alike her heart and her imagination; she had been clasped to his bosom; she had lived to witness even her mother yield to his penitent embrace. And he too was gone; she could never meet him again in this world; in this world in which they had experienced such exquisite bliss; and now she was once more at Cherbury! Oh! give her back her girlhood, with all its painful mystery and harassing doubt! Give her again a future!
She returned to the hall; she met George on the terrace, she welcomed him with a sweet, yet mournful smile. ‘I have been very selfish,’ she said, ‘for I have been walking alone. I mean to introduce you to Cherbury, but I could not resist visiting some old spots.’ Her voice faltered in these last words. They reentered the terrace-room together, and joined her mother.
‘Nothing is changed, mamma,’ said Venetia, in a more cheerful tone. ‘It is pleasant to find something that is the same.’
Several days passed, and Lord Cadurcis evinced no desire to visit his inheritance. Yet Lady Annabel was anxious that he should do so, and had more than once impressed upon him the propriety. Even Venetia at length said to him, ‘It is very selfish in us keeping you here, George. Your presence is a great consolation, and yet, yet, ought you not to visit your home?’ She avoided the name of Cadurcis.
‘I ought, dear Venetia.’ said George, ‘and I will. I have promised Lady Annabel twenty times, but I feel a terrible disinclination. To-morrow, perhaps.’
‘To-morrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,’ murmured Venetia to herself, ‘I scarcely comprehend now what tomorrow means.’ And then again addressing him, and with more liveliness, she said, ‘We have only one friend in the world now, George, and I think that we ought to be very grateful that he is our neighbour.’
‘It is a consolation to me,’ said Lord Cadurcis, ‘for I cannot remain here, and otherwise I should scarcely know how to depart.’
‘I wish you would visit your home, if only for one morning,’ said Venetia; ‘if only to know how very near you are to us.’
‘I dread going alone,’ said Lord Cadurcis. ‘I cannot ask Lady Annabel to accompany me, because —’ He hesitated.
‘Because?’ inquired Venetia.
‘I cannot ask or wish her to leave you.’
‘You are always thinking of me, dear George,’ said Venetia, artlessly. ‘I assure you, I have come back to Cherbury to be happy. I must visit your home some day, and I hope I shall visit it often. We will all go, soon,’ she added.
‘Then I will postpone my visit to that day,’ said George. ‘I am in no humour for business, which I know awaits me there. Let me enjoy a little more repose at dear Cherbury.’
‘I have become very restless of late, I think,’ said Venetia, ‘but there is a particular spot in the garden that I wish to see. Come with me, George.’
Lord Cadurcis was only too happy to attend her. They proceeded through a winding walk in the shrubberies until they arrived at a small and open plot of turf, where Venetia stopped. ‘There are some associations,’ she said, ‘of this spot connected with both those friends that we have lost. I have a fancy that it should be in some visible manner consecrated to their memories. On this spot, George, Plantagenet once spoke to me of my father. I should like to raise their busts here; and indeed it is a fit place for such a purpose; for poets,’ she added, faintly smiling, ‘should be surrounded with laurels.’
‘I have some thoughts on this head that I am revolving in my fancy myself,’ said Lord Cadurcis, ‘but I will not speak of them now.’
‘Yes, now, George; for indeed it is a satisfaction for me to speak of them, at least with you, with one who understood them so well, and loved them scarcely less than I did.’
George tenderly put his arm into hers and led her away. As they walked along, he explained to her his plans, which yet were somewhat crude, but which greatly interested her; but they were roused from their conversation by the bell of the hall sounding as if to summon them, and therefore they directed their way immediately to the terrace. A servant running met them; he brought a message from Lady Annabel. Their friend the Bishop of —— had arrived.
‘Well, my little daughter,’ said the good Masham, advancing as Venetia entered the room, and tenderly embracing her. The kind-hearted old man maintained a conversation on indifferent subjects with animation for some minutes; and thus a meeting, the anticipation of which would have cost Venetia hours of pain and anxiety, occurred with less uneasy feelings.
Masham had hastened to Cherbury the moment he heard of the return of the Herberts to England. He did not come to console, but to enliven. He was well aware that even his eloquence, and all the influence of his piety, could not soften the irreparable past; and knowing, from experience, how in solitude the unhappy brood over sorrow, he fancied that his arrival, and perhaps his arrival only, might tend in some degree at this moment to their alleviation and comfort. He brought Lady Annabel and Venetia letters from their relations, with whom he had been staying at their country residence, and who were anxious that their unhappy kinsfolk should find change of scene under their roof.
‘They are very affectionate,’ said Lady Annabel, ‘but I rather think that neither Venetia nor myself feel inclined to quit Cherbury at present.’
‘Indeed not, mamma,’ said Venetia. ‘I hope we shall never leave home again.’
‘You must come and see me some day,’ said the Bishop; then turning to George, whom he was glad to find here, he addressed him in a hearty tone, and expressed his delight at again meeting him.
Insensibly to all parties this arrival of the good Masham exercised a beneficial influence on their spirits. They could sympathise with his cheerfulness, because they were convinced that he sympathised with their sorrow. His interesting conversation withdrew their minds from the painful subject on which they were always musing. It seemed profanation to either of the three mourners when they were together alone, to indulge in any topic but the absorbing one, and their utmost effort was to speak of the past with composure; but they all felt relieved, though at first unconsciously, when one, whose interest in their feelings could not be doubted, gave the signal of withdrawing their reflections from vicissitudes which it was useless to deplore. Even the social forms which the presence of a guest rendered indispensable, and the exercise of the courtesies of hospitality, contributed to this result. They withdrew their minds from the past. And the worthy Bishop, whose tact was as eminent as his good humour and benevolence, evincing as much delicacy of feeling as cheerfulness of temper, a very few days had elapsed before each of his companions was aware that his presence had contributed to their increased content.
‘You have not been to the abbey yet, Lord Cadurcis,’ said Masham to him one day, as they were sitting together after dinner, the ladies having retired. ‘You should go.’
‘I have been unwilling to leave them,’ said George, ‘and I could scarcely expect them to accompany me. It is a visit that must revive painful recollections.’
‘We must not dwell on the past,’ said Masham; ‘we must think only of the future.’
‘Venetia has no future, I fear,’ said Lord Cadurcis.
‘Why not?’ said Masham; ‘she is yet a girl, and with a prospect of a long life. She must have a future, and I hope, and I believe, it will yet be a happy one.’
‘Alas!’ said Lord Cadurcis, ‘no one can form an idea of the attachment that subsisted between Plantagenet and Venetia. They were not common feelings, or the feelings of common minds, my dear lord.’
‘No one knew them both better than I did,’ said Masham, ‘not even yourself: they were my children.’
‘I feel that,’ said George, ‘and therefore it is a pleasure to us all to see you, and to speak with you.’
‘But we must look for consolation,’ said Masham; ‘to deplore is fruitless. If we live, we must struggle to live happily. To tell you the truth, though their immediate return to Cherbury was inevitable, and their residence here for a time is scarcely to be deprecated, I still hope they will not bury themselves here. For my part, after the necessary interval, I wish to see Venetia once more in the world.’
Lord Cadurcis looked very mournful, and shook his head.
‘As for her dear mother, she is habituated to sorrow and disappointment,’ said Masham. ‘As long as Venetia lives Lady Annabel will be content. Besides, deplorable as may be the past, there must be solace to her in the reflection that she was reconciled to her husband before his death, and contributed to his happiness. Venetia is the stricken lamb, but Venetia is formed for happiness, and it is in the nature of things that she will be happy. We must not, however, yield unnecessarily to our feelings. A violent exertion would be unwise, but we should habituate ourselves gradually to the exercise of our duties, and to our accustomed pursuits. It would be well for you to go to Cadurcis. If I were you I would go tomorrow. Take advantage of my presence, and return and give a report of your visit. Habituate Venetia to talk of a spot with which ultimately she must renew her intimacy.’
Influenced by this advice, Lord Cadurcis rose early on the next morning and repaired to the seat of his fathers, where hitherto his foot had never trod. When the circle at Cherbury assembled at their breakfast table he was missing, and Masham had undertaken the office of apprising his friends of the cause of his absence. He returned to dinner, and the conversation fell naturally upon the abbey, and the impressions he had received. It was maintained at first by Lady Annabel and the Bishop, but Venetia ultimately joined in it, and with cheerfulness. Many a trait and incident of former days was alluded to; they talked of Mrs. Cadurcis, whom George had never seen; they settled the chambers he should inhabit; they mentioned the improvements which Plantagenet had once contemplated, and which George must now accomplish.
‘You must go to London first,’ said the Bishop; ‘you have a great deal to do, and you should not delay such business. I think you had better return with me. At this time of the year you need not be long absent; you will not be detained; and when you return, you will find yourself much more at ease; for, after all, nothing is more harassing than the feeling, that there is business which must be attended to, and which, nevertheless, is neglected.’
Both Lady Annabel and Venetia enforced this advice of their friend; and so it happened that, ere a week had elapsed, Lord Cadurcis, accompanying Masham, found himself once more in London.
Venetia was now once more alone with her mother; it was as in old times. Their life was the same as before the visit of Plantagenet previous to his going to Cambridge, except indeed that they had no longer a friend at Marringhurst. They missed the Sabbath visits of that good man; for, though his successor performed the duties of the day, which had been a condition when he was presented to the living, the friend who knew all the secrets of their hearts was absent. Venetia continued to bear herself with great equanimity, and the anxiety which she observed instantly impressed on her mother’s countenance, the moment she fancied there was unusual gloom on the brow of her child, impelled Venetia doubly to exert herself to appear resigned. And in truth, when Lady Annabel revolved in her mind the mournful past, and meditated over her early and unceasing efforts to secure the happiness of her daughter, and then contrasted her aspirations with the result, she could not acquit herself of having been too often unconsciously instrumental in forwarding a very different conclusion than that for which she had laboured. This conviction preyed upon the mother, and the slightest evidence of reaction in Venetia’s tranquilised demeanour occasioned her the utmost remorse and grief. The absence of George made both Lady Annabel and Venetia still more finely appreciate the solace of his society. Left to themselves, they felt how much they had depended on his vigilant and considerate attention, and how much his sweet temper and his unfailing sympathy had contributed to their consolation. He wrote, however, to Venetia by every post, and his letters, if possible, endeared him still more to their hearts. Unwilling to dwell upon their mutual sorrows, yet always expressing sufficient to prove that distance and absence had not impaired his sympathy, he contrived, with infinite delicacy, even to amuse their solitude with the adventures of his life of bustle. The arrival of the post was the incident of the day; and not merely letters arrived; one day brought books, another music; continually some fresh token of his thought and affection reached them. He was, however, only a fortnight absent; but when he returned, it was to Cadurcis. He called upon them the next day, and indeed every morning found him at Cherbury; but he returned to his home at night; and so, without an effort, from their guest he had become their neighbour.
Plantagenet had left the whole of his property to his cousin: his mother’s fortune, which, as an accessory fund, was not inconsiderable, besides the estate. And George intended to devote a portion of this to the restoration of the abbey. Venetia was to be his counsellor in this operation, and therefore there were ample sources of amusement for the remainder of the year. On a high ridge, which was one of the beacons of the county, and which, moreover, marked the junction of the domains of Cherbury and Cadurcis, it was his intention to raise a monument to the united memories of Marmion Herbert and Plantagenet Lord Cadurcis. He brought down a design with him from London, and this was the project which he had previously whispered to Venetia. With George for her companion, too, Venetia was induced to resume her rides. It was her part to make him acquainted with the county in which he was so important a resident. Time therefore, at Cherbury, on the whole, flowed on in a tide of tranquil pleasure; and Lady Annabel observed, with interest and fondness, the continual presence beneath her roof of one who, from the first day she had met him, had engaged her kind feelings, and had since become intimately endeared to her.
The end of November was, however, now approaching, and Parliament was about to reassemble. Masham had written more than once to Lord Cadurcis, impressing upon him the propriety and expediency of taking his seat. He had shown these letters, as he showed everything, to Venetia, who was his counsellor on all subjects, and Venetia agreed with their friend.
‘It is right,’ said Venetia; ‘you have a duty to perform, and you must perform it. Besides, I do not wish the name of Cadurcis to sink again into obscurity. I shall look forward with interest to Lord Cadurcis taking the oaths and his seat. It will please me; it will indeed.’
‘But Venetia,’ said George, ‘I do not like to leave this place. I am happy, if we may be happy. This life suits me. I am a quiet man. I dislike London. I feel alone there.’
‘You can write to us; you will have a great deal to say. And I shall have something to say to you now. I must give you a continual report how they go on at the abbey. I will be your steward, and superintend everything.’
‘Ah!’ said George, ‘what shall I do in London without you, without your advice? There will be something occurring every day, and I shall have no one to consult. Indeed I shall feel quite miserable; I shall indeed.’
‘It is quite impossible that, with your station, and at your time of life, you should bury yourself in the country,’ said Venetia. ‘You have the whole world before you, and you must enjoy it. It is very well for mamma and myself to lead this life. I look upon ourselves as two nuns. If Cadurcis is an abbey, Cherbury is now a convent.’
‘How can a man wish to be more than happy? I am quite content here,’ said George, ‘What is London to me?’
‘It may be a great deal to you, more than you think,’ said Venetia. ‘A great deal awaits you yet. However, there can be no doubt you should take your seat. You can always return, if you wish. But take your seat, and cultivate dear Masham. I have the utmost confidence in his wisdom and goodness. You cannot have a friend more respectable. Now mind my advice, George.’
‘I always do, Venetia.’
Time and Faith are the great consolers, and neither of these precious sources of solace were wanting to the inhabitants of Cherbury. They were again living alone, but their lives were cheerful; and if Venetia no longer indulged in a worldly and blissful future, nevertheless, in the society of her mother, in the resources of art and literature, in the diligent discharge of her duties to her humble neighbours, and in cherishing the memory of the departed, she experienced a life that was not without its tranquil pleasures. She maintained with Lord Cadurcis a constant correspondence; he wrote to her every day, and although they were separated, there was not an incident of his life, and scarcely a thought, of which she was not cognisant. It was with great difficulty that George could induce himself to remain in London; but Masham, who soon obtained over him all the influence which Venetia desired, ever opposed his return to the abbey. The good Bishop was not unaware of the feelings with which Lord Cadurcis looked back to the hall of Cherbury, and himself of a glad and sanguine temperament, he indulged in a belief in the consummation of all that happiness for which his young friend, rather sceptically, sighed. But Masham was aware that time could alone soften the bitterness of Venetia’s sorrow, and prepare her for that change of life which he felt confident would alone ensure the happiness both of herself and her mother. He therefore detained Lord Cadurcis in London the whole of the sessions that, on his return to Cherbury, his society might be esteemed a novel and agreeable incident in the existence of its inhabitants, and not be associated merely with their calamities.
It was therefore about a year after the catastrophe which had so suddenly changed the whole tenor of their lives, and occasioned so unexpected a revolution in his own position, that Lord Cadurcis arrived at his ancestral seat, with no intention of again speedily leaving it. He had long and frequently apprised his friends of his approaching presence, And, arriving at the abbey late at night, he was at Cherbury early on the following morning.
Although no inconsiderable interval had elapsed since Lord Cadurcis had parted from the Herberts, the continual correspondence that had been maintained between himself and Venetia, divested his visit of the slightest embarrassment. They met as if they had parted yesterday, except perhaps with greater fondness. The chain of their feelings was unbroken. He was indeed welcomed, both by Lady Annabel and her daughter, with warm affection; and his absence had only rendered him dearer to them by affording an opportunity of feeling how much his society contributed to their felicity. Venetia was anxious to know his opinion of the improvements at the abbey, which she had superintended; but he assured her that he would examine nothing without her company, and ultimately they agreed to walk over to Cadurcis.
It was a summer day, and they walked through that very wood wherein we described the journey of the child Venetia, at the commencement of this very history. The blue patches of wild hyacinths had all disappeared, but there were flowers as sweet. What if the first feelings of our heart fade, like the first flowers of spring, succeeding years, like the coming summer, may bring emotions not less charming, and, perchance, far more fervent!
‘I can scarcely believe,’ said Lord Cadurcis, ‘that I am once more with you. I know not what surprises me most, Venetia, that we should be walking once more together in the woods of Cherbury, or that I ever should have dared to quit them.’
‘And yet it was better, dear George,’ said Venetia. ‘You must now rejoice that you have fulfilled your duty, and yet you are here again. Besides, the abbey never would have been finished if you had remained. To complete all our plans, it required a mistress.’
‘I wish it always had one,’ said George. ‘Ah, Venetia! once you told me never to despair.’
‘And what have you to despair about, George?’
‘Heigh ho!’ said Lord Cadurcis, ‘I never shall be able to live in this abbey alone.’
‘You should have brought a wife from London,’ said Venetia.
‘I told you once, Venetia, that I was not a marrying man,’ said Lord Cadurcis; ‘and certainly I never shall bring a wife from London.’
‘Then you cannot accustom yourself too soon to a bachelor’s life,’ said Venetia.
‘Ah, Venetia!’ said George, ‘I wish I were clever; I wish I were a genius; I wish I were a great man.’
‘Because, Venetia, perhaps,’ and Lord Cadurcis hesitated, ‘perhaps you would think differently of me? I mean perhaps your feelings towards me might; ah, Venetia! perhaps you might think me worthy of you; perhaps you might love me.’
‘I am sure, dear George, if I did not love you, I should be the most ungrateful of beings: you are our only friend.’
‘And can I never be more than a friend to you, Venetia?’ said Lord Cadurcis, blushing very deeply.
‘I am sure, dear George, I should be very sorry for your sake, if you wished to be more,’ said Venetia.
‘Why?’ said Lord Cadurcis.
‘Because I should not like to see you unite your destiny with that of a very unfortunate, if not a very unhappy, person.’
‘The sweetest, the loveliest of women!’ said Lord Cadurcis. ‘O Venetia! I dare not express what I feel, still less what I could hope. I think so little of myself, so highly of you, that I am convinced my aspirations are too arrogant for me to breathe them.’
‘Ah! dear George, you deserve to be happy,’ said Venetia. ‘Would that it were in my power to make you!’
‘Dearest Venetia! it is, it is,’ exclaimed Lord Cadurcis; then checking himself, as if frightened by his boldness, he added in a more subdued tone, ‘I feel I am not worthy of you.’
They stood upon the breezy down that divided the demesnes of Cherbury and the abbey. Beneath them rose, ‘embosomed in a valley of green bowers,’ the ancient pile lately renovated under the studious care of Venetia.
‘Ah!’ said Lord Cadurcis, ‘be not less kind to the master of these towers, than to the roof that you have fostered. You have renovated our halls, restore our happiness! There is an union that will bring consolation to more than one hearth, and baffle all the crosses of adverse fate. Venetia, beautiful and noble-minded Venetia, condescend to fulfil it!’
Perhaps the reader will not be surprised that, within a few months of this morning walk, the hands of George, Lord Cadurcis, and Venetia Herbert were joined in the chapel at Cherbury by the good Masham. Peace be with them.
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53