'And so nicely dressed as you are too!' said Mrs. Cadurcis, rousing herself: 'I wonder how such an idea could enter your head!'
'It snows harder than ever,' said Venetia; 'I think, after all, I shall learn my French vocabulary.'
'If it snows to-morrow,' said Plantagenet, 'we will do our lessons as usual. Holidays, I find, are not so amusing as I supposed.'
The snow did continue, and the next day the children voluntarily suggested that they should resume their usual course of life. With their mornings occupied, they found their sources of relaxation ample; and in the evening they acted plays, and Lady Annabel dressed them up in her shawls, and Dr. Masham read Shakspeare to them.
It was about the fourth day of the visit that Plantagenet, loitering in the hall with Venetia, said to her, 'I saw your mamma go into the locked-up rooms last night. I do so wish that she would let us go there.'
'Last night!' said Venetia; 'when could you have seen her last night?'
'Very late: the fact is, I could not sleep, and I took it into my head to walk up and down the gallery. I often do so at the abbey. I like to walk up and down an old gallery alone at night. I do not know why; but I like it very much. Everything is so still, and then you hear the owls. I cannot make out why it is; but nothing gives me more pleasure than to get up when everybody is asleep. It seems as if one were the only living person in the world. I sometimes think, when I am a man, I will always get up in the night, and go to bed in the daytime. Is not that odd?'
'But mamma!' said Venetia, 'how came you to see mamma?'
'Oh! I am certain of it,' said the boy; 'for, to tell you the truth, I was rather frightened at first; only I thought it would not do for a Cadurcis to be afraid, so I stood against the wall, in the shade, and I was determined, whatever happened, not to cry out.'
'Oh! you frighten me so, Plantagenet!' said Venetia.
'Ah! you might well have been frightened if you had been there; past midnight, a tall white figure, and a light! However, there is nothing to be alarmed about; it was Lady Annabel, nobody else. I saw her as clearly as I see you now. She walked along the gallery, and went to the very door you showed me the other morning. I marked the door; I could not mistake it. She unlocked it, and she went in.'
'And then?' inquired Venetia, eagerly.
'Why, then, like a fool, I went back to bed,' said Plantagenet. 'I thought it would seem so silly if I were caught, and I might not have had the good fortune to escape twice. I know no more.'
Venetia could not reply. She heard a laugh, and then her mother's voice. They were called with a gay summons to see a colossal snow-ball, that some of the younger servants had made and rolled to the window of the terrace-room. It was ornamented with a crown of holly and mistletoe, and the parti-coloured berries looked bright in a straggling sunbeam which had fought its way through the still-loaded sky, and fell upon the terrace.
In the evening, as they sat round the fire, Mrs. Cadurcis began telling Venetia a long rambling ghost story, which she declared was a real ghost story, and had happened in her own family. Such communications were not very pleasing to Lady Annabel, but she was too well bred to interrupt her guest. When, however, the narrative was finished, and Venetia, by her observations, evidently indicated the effect that it had produced upon her mind, her mother took the occasion of impressing upon her the little credibility which should be attached to such legends, and the rational process by which many unquestionable apparitions might be accounted for. Dr. Masham, following this train, recounted a story of a ghost which had been generally received in a neighbouring village for a considerable period, and attested by the most veracious witnesses, but which was explained afterwards by turning out to be an instance of somnambulism. Venetia appeared to be extremely interested in the subject; she inquired much about sleep-walkers and sleepwalking; and a great many examples of the habit were cited. At length she said, 'Mamma, did you ever walk in your sleep?'
'Not to my knowledge,' said Lady Annabel, smiling; 'I should hope not.'
'Well, do you know,' said Plantagenet, who had hitherto listened in silence, 'it is very curious, but I once dreamt that you did, Lady Annabel.'
'Indeed!' said the lady.
'Yes! and I dreamt it last night, too,' continued Cadurcis. 'I thought I was sleeping in the uninhabited rooms here, and the door opened, and you walked in with a light.'
'No! Plantagenet,' said Venetia, who was seated by him, and who spoke in a whisper, 'it was not—'
'Hush!' said Cadurcis, in a low voice.
'Well, that was a strange dream,' said Mrs. Cadurcis; 'was it not, Doctor?'
'Now, children, I will tell you a very curious story,' said the Doctor; 'and it is quite a true one, for it happened to myself.'
The Doctor was soon embarked in his tale, and his audience speedily became interested in the narrative; but Lady Annabel for some time maintained complete silence.
The spring returned; the intimate relations between the two families were each day more confirmed. Lady Annabel had presented her daughter and Plantagenet each with a beautiful pony, but their rides were at first to be confined to the park, and to be ever attended by a groom. In time, however, duly accompanied, they were permitted to extend their progress so far as Cadurcis. Mrs. Cadurcis had consented to the wishes of her son to restore the old garden, and Venetia was his principal adviser and assistant in the enterprise. Plantagenet was fond of the abbey, and nothing but the agreeable society of Cherbury on the one hand, and the relief of escaping from his mother on the other, could have induced him to pass so little of his time at home; but, with Venetia for his companion, his mornings at the abbey passed charmingly, and, as the days were now at their full length again, there was abundance of time, after their studies at Cherbury, to ride together through the woods to Cadurcis, spend several hours there, and for Venetia to return to the hall before sunset. Plantagenet always accompanied her to the limits of the Cherbury grounds, and then returned by himself, solitary and full of fancies.
Lady Annabel had promised the children that they should some day ride together to Marringhurst, the rectory of Dr. Masham, to eat strawberries and cream. This was to be a great festival, and was looked forward to with corresponding interest. Her ladyship had kindly offered to accompany Mrs. Cadurcis in the carriage, but that lady was an invalid and declined the journey; so Lady Annabel, who was herself a good horsewoman, mounted her jennet with Venetia and Plantagenet.
Marringhurst was only five miles from Cherbury by a cross-road, which was scarcely passable for carriages. The rectory house was a substantial, square-built, red brick mansion, shaded by gigantic elms, but the southern front covered with a famous vine, trained over it with elaborate care, and of which, and his espaliers, the Doctor was very proud. The garden was thickly stocked with choice fruit-trees; there was not the slightest pretence to pleasure grounds; but there was a capital bowling-green, and, above all, a grotto, where the Doctor smoked his evening pipe, and moralised in the midst of his cucumbers and cabbages. On each side extended the meadows of his glebe, where his kine ruminated at will. It was altogether a scene as devoid of the picturesque as any that could be well imagined; flat, but not low, and rich, and green, and still.
His expected guests met as warm a reception as such a hearty friend might be expected to afford. Dr. Masham was scarcely less delighted at the excursion than the children themselves, and rejoiced in the sunny day that made everything more glad and bright. The garden, the grotto, the bowling-green, and all the novelty of the spot, greatly diverted his young companions; they visited his farmyard, were introduced to his poultry, rambled over his meadows, and admired his cows, which he had collected with equal care and knowledge. Nor was the interior of this bachelor's residence devoid of amusement. Every nook and corner was filled with objects of interest; and everything was in admirable order. The goddess of neatness and precision reigned supreme, especially in his hall, which, though barely ten feet square, was a cabinet of rural curiosities. His guns, his fishing-tackle, a cabinet of birds stuffed by himself, a fox in a glass-case that seemed absolutely running, and an otter with a real fish in its mouth, in turn delighted them; but chiefly, perhaps, his chimney-corner of Dutch tiles, all Scriptural subjects, which Venetia and Plantagenet emulated each other in discovering.
Then his library, which was rare and splendid, for the Doctor was one of the most renowned scholars in the kingdom, and his pictures, his prints, and his gold fish, and his canary birds; it seemed they never could exhaust such sources of endless amusement; to say nothing of every other room in the house, for, from the garret to the dairy, his guests encouraged him in introducing them to every thing, every person, and every place.
'And this is the way we old bachelors contrive to pass our lives,' said the good Doctor; 'and now, my dear lady, Goody Blount will give us some dinner.'
The Doctor's repast was a substantial one; he seemed resolved, at one ample swoop, to repay Lady Annabel for all her hospitality; and he really took such delight in their participation of it, that his principal guest was constrained to check herself in more than one warning intimation that moderation was desirable, were it only for the sake of the strawberries and cream. All this time his housekeeper, Goody Blount, as he called her, in her lace cap and ruffles, as precise and starch as an old picture, stood behind his chair with pleased solemnity, directing, with unruffled composure, the movements of the liveried bumpkin who this day was promoted to the honour of 'waiting at table.'
'Come,' said the Doctor, as the cloth was cleared, 'I must bargain for one toast, Lady Annabel: "Church and State."'
'What is Church and State?' said Venetia.
'As good things. Miss Venetia, as strawberries and cream,' said the Doctor, laughing; 'and, like them, always best united.'
After their repast, the children went into the garden to amuse themselves. They strolled about some time, until Plantagenet at length took it into his head that he should like to learn to play at bowls; and he said, if Venetia would wait in the grotto, where they then were talking, he would run back and ask the Doctor if the servant might teach him. He was not long absent; but appeared, on his return, a little agitated. Venetia inquired if he had been successful, but he shook his head, and said he had not asked.
'Why did you not?' said Venetia.
'I did not like,' he replied, looking very serious; 'something happened.'
'What could have happened?' said Venetia.
'Something strange,' was his answer.
'Oh, do tell me, Plantagenet!'
'Why,' said he, in a low voice, 'your mamma is crying.'
'Crying!' exclaimed Venetia; 'my dear mamma crying! I must go to her directly.'
'Hush!' said Plantagenet, shaking his head, 'you must not go.'
'No, you must not go, Venetia,' was his reply; 'I am sure she does not want us to know she is crying.'
'What did she say to you?'
'She did not see me; the Doctor did, and he gave me a nod to go away.'
'I never saw mamma cry,' said Venetia.
'Don't you say anything about it, Venetia,' said Plantagenet, with a manly air; 'listen to what I say.'
'I do, Plantagenet, always; but still I should like to know what mamma can be crying about. Do tell me all about it.'
'Why, I came to the room by the open windows, and your mamma was standing up, with her back to me, and leaning on the mantel-piece, with her face in her handkerchief; and the Doctor was standing up too, only his back was to the fireplace; and when he saw me, he made me a sign to go away, and I went directly.'
'Are you sure mamma was crying?'
'I heard her sob.'
'I think I shall cry,' said Venetia.
'You must not; you must know nothing about it. If you let your mamma know that I saw her crying, I shall never tell you anything again.'
'What do you think she was crying about, Plantagenet?'
'I cannot say; perhaps she had been talking about your papa. I do not want to play at bowls now,' added Plantagenet; 'let us go and see the cows.'
In the course of half an hour the servant summoned the children to the house. The horses were ready, and they were now to return. Lady Annabel received them with her usual cheerfulness.
'Well, dear children,' said she, 'have you been very much amused?'
Venetia ran forward, and embraced her mother with even unusual fondness. She was mindful of Plantagenet's injunctions, and was resolved not to revive her mother's grief by any allusion that could recall the past; but her heart was, nevertheless, full of sympathy, and she could not have rode home, had she not thus expressed her love for her mother.
With the exception of this strange incident, over which, afterwards, Venetia often pondered, and which made her rather serious the whole of the ride home, this expedition to Marringhurst was a very happy day.
This happy summer was succeeded by a singularly wet autumn. Weeks of continuous rain rendered it difficult even for the little Cadurcis, who defied the elements, to be so constant as heretofore in his daily visits to Cherbury. His mother, too, grew daily a greater invalid, and, with increasing sufferings and infirmities, the natural captiousness of her temper proportionally exhibited itself. She insisted upon the companionship of her son, and that he should not leave the house in such unseasonable weather. If he resisted, she fell into one of her jealous rages, and taunted him with loving strangers better than his own mother. Cadurcis, on the whole, behaved very well; he thought of Lady Annabel's injunctions, and restrained his passion. Yet he was not repaid for the sacrifice; his mother made no effort to render their joint society agreeable, or even endurable. She was rarely in an amiable mood, and generally either irritable or sullen. If the weather held up a little, and he ventured to pay a visit to Cherbury, he was sure to be welcomed back with a fit of passion; either Mrs. Cadurcis was angered for being left alone, or had fermented herself into fury by the certainty of his catching a fever. If Plantagenet remained at the abbey, she was generally sullen; and, as he himself was naturally silent under any circumstances, his mother would indulge in that charming monologue, so conducive to domestic serenity, termed 'talking at a person,' and was continually insinuating that she supposed he found it very dull to pass his day with her, and that she dared say that somebody could be lively enough if he were somewhere else.
Cadurcis would turn pale, and bite his lip, and then leave the room; and whole days would sometimes pass with barely a monosyllable being exchanged between this parent and child. Cadurcis had found some opportunities of pouring forth his griefs and mortification into the ear of Venetia, and they had reached her mother; but Lady Annabel, though she sympathised with this interesting boy, invariably counselled duty. The morning studies were abandoned, but a quantity of books were sent over from Cherbury for Plantagenet, and Lady Annabel seized every opportunity of conciliating Mrs. Cadurcis' temper in favour of her child, by the attention which she paid the mother. The weather, however, prevented either herself or Venetia from visiting the abbey; and, on the whole, the communications between the two establishments and their inmates had become rare.
Though now a continual inmate of the abbey, Cadurcis was seldom the companion of his mother. They met at their meals, and that was all. He entered the room every day with an intention of conciliating; but the mutual tempers of the mother and the son were so quick and sensitive, that he always failed in his purpose, and could only avoid a storm by dogged silence. This enraged Mrs. Cadurcis more even than his impertinence; she had no conduct; she lost all command over herself, and did not hesitate to address to her child terms of reproach and abuse, which a vulgar mind could only conceive, and a coarse tongue alone express. What a contrast to Cherbury, to the mild maternal elegance and provident kindness of Lady Annabel, and the sweet tones of Venetia's ever-sympathising voice. Cadurcis, though so young, was gifted with an innate fastidiousness, that made him shrink from a rude woman. His feelings were different in regard to men; he sympathised at a very early age with the bold and the energetic; his favourites among the peasantry were ever those who excelled in athletic sports; and, though he never expressed the opinion, he did not look upon the poacher with the evil eye of his class. But a coarse and violent woman jarred even his young nerves; and this woman was his mother, his only parent, almost his only relation; for he had no near relative except a cousin whom he had never even seen, the penniless orphan of a penniless brother of his father, and who had been sent to sea; so that, after all, his mother was the only natural friend he had. This poor little boy would fly from that mother with a sullen brow, or, perhaps, even with a harsh and cutting repartee; and then he would lock himself up in his room, and weep. But he allowed no witnesses of this weakness. The lad was very proud. If any of the household passed by as he quitted the saloon, and stared for a moment at his pale and agitated face, he would coin a smile for the instant, and say even a kind word, for he was very courteous to his inferiors, and all the servants loved him, and then take refuge in his solitary woe.
Relieved by this indulgence of his mortified heart, Cadurcis looked about him for resources. The rain was pouring in torrents, and the plash of the troubled and swollen lake might be heard even at the abbey. At night the rising gusts of wind, for the nights were always clear and stormy, echoed down the cloisters with a wild moan to which he loved to listen. In the morning he beheld with interest the savage spoils of the tempest; mighty branches of trees strewn about, and sometimes a vast trunk uprooted from its ancient settlement. Irresistibly the conviction impressed itself upon his mind that, if he were alone in this old abbey, with no mother to break that strange fountain of fancies that seemed always to bubble up in his solitude, he might be happy. He wanted no companions; he loved to be alone, to listen to the winds, and gaze upon the trees and waters, and wander in those dim cloisters and that gloomy gallery.
From the first hour of his arrival he had loved the venerable hall of his fathers. Its appearance harmonised with all the associations of his race. Power and pomp, ancestral fame, the legendary respect of ages, all that was great, exciting, and heroic, all that was marked out from the commonplace current of human events, hovered round him. In the halls of Cadurcis he was the Cadurcis; though a child, he was keenly sensible of his high race; his whole being sympathised with their glory; he was capable of dying sooner than of disgracing them; and then came the memory of his mother's sharp voice and harsh vulgar words, and he shivered with disgust.
Forced into solitude, forced to feed upon his own mind, Cadurcis found in that solitude each day a dearer charm, and in that mind a richer treasure of interest and curiosity. He loved to wander about, dream of the past, and conjure up a future as glorious. What was he to be? What should be his career? Whither should he wend his course? Even at this early age, dreams of far lands flitted over his mind; and schemes of fantastic and adventurous life. But now he was a boy, a wretched boy, controlled by a vulgar and narrow-minded woman! And this servitude must last for years; yes! years must elapse before he was his own master. Oh! if he could only pass them alone, without a human voice to disturb his musings, a single form to distract his vision!
Under the influence of such feelings, even Cherbury figured to his fancy in somewhat faded colours. There, indeed, he was loved and cherished; there, indeed, no sound was ever heard, no sight ever seen, that could annoy or mortify the high pitch of his unconscious ideal; but still, even at Cherbury, he was a child. Under the influence of daily intercourse, his tender heart had balanced, perhaps even outweighed, his fiery imagination. That constant yet delicate affection had softened all his soul: he had no time but to be grateful and to love. He returned home only to muse over their sweet society, and contrast their refined and gentle life with the harsh rude hearth that awaited him. Whatever might be his reception at home, he was thrown, back for solace on their memory, not upon his own heart; and he felt the delightful conviction that to-morrow would renew the spell whose enchantment had enabled him to endure the present vexation. But now the magic of that intercourse had ceased; after a few days of restlessness and repining, he discovered that he must find in his desolation sterner sources of support than the memory of Venetia, and the recollections of the domestic joys of Cherbury. It astonishing with what rapidity the character of Cadurcis developed itself in solitude; and strange was the contrast between the gentle child who, a few weeks before, had looked forward with so much interest to accompanying Venetia to a childish festival, and the stern and moody being who paced the solitary cloisters of Cadurcis, and then would withdraw to his lonely chamber and the amusement of a book. He was at this time deeply interested in Purchas's Pilgrimage, one of the few books of which the late lord had not despoiled him. Narratives of travels and voyages always particularly pleased him; he had an idea that he was laying up information which might be useful to him hereafter; the Cherbury collection was rich in this class of volumes, and Lady Annabel encouraged their perusal.
In this way many weeks elapsed at the abbey, during which the visits of Plantagenet to Cherbury were very few. Sometimes, if the weather cleared for an hour during the morning, he would mount his pony, and gallop, without stopping, to the hall. The rapidity of the motion excited his mind; he fancied himself, as he embraced Venetia, some chieftain who had escaped for a moment from his castle to visit his mistress; his imagination conjured up a war between the opposing towers of Cadurcis and Cherbury; and when his mother fell into a passion on his return, it passed with him only, according to its length and spirit, as a brisk skirmish or a general engagement.
One afternoon, on his return from Cherbury, Plantagenet found the fire extinguished in the little room which he had appropriated to himself, and where he kept his books. As he had expressed his wish to the servant that the fire should be kept up, he complained to him of the neglect, but was informed, in reply, that the fire had been allowed to go out by his mother's orders, and that she desired in future that he would always read in the saloon. Plantagenet had sufficient self-control to make no observation before the servant, and soon after joined his mother, who looked very sullen, as if she were conscious that she had laid a train for an explosion.
Dinner was now served, a short and silent meal. Lord Cadurcis did not choose to speak because he felt aggrieved, and his mother because she was husbanding her energies for the contest which she believed impending. At length, when the table was cleared, and the servant departed, Cadurcis said in a quiet tone, 'I think I shall write to my guardian to-morrow about my going to Eton.'
'You shall do no such thing,' said Mrs. Cadurcis, bristling up; 'I never heard such a ridiculous idea in my life as a boy like you writing letters on such subjects to a person you have never yet seen. When I think it proper that you should go to Eton, I shall write.'
'I wish you would think it proper now then, ma'am.'
'I won't be dictated to,' said Mrs. Cadurcis, fiercely.
'I was not dictating,' replied her son, calmly.
'You would if you could,' said his mother.
'Time enough to find fault with me when I do, ma'am.'
'There is enough to find fault about at all times, sir.'
'On which side, Mrs. Cadurcis?' inquired Plantagenet, with a sneer.
'Don't aggravate me, Lord Cadurcis,' said his mother.
'How am I aggravating you, ma'am?'
'I won't be answered,' said the mother.
'I prefer silence myself,' said the son.
'I won't be insulted in my own room, sir,' said Mrs. Cadurcis.
'I am not insulting you, Mrs. Cadurcis,' said Plantagenet, rather fiercely; 'and, as for your own room, I never wish to enter it. Indeed I should not be here at this moment, had you not ordered my fire to be put out, and particularly requested that I should sit in the saloon.'
'Oh! you are a vastly obedient person, I dare say,' replied Mrs. Cadurcis, very pettishly. 'How long, I should like to know, have my requests received such particular attention? Pooh!'
'Well, then, I will order my fire to be lighted again,' said Plantagenet.
'You shall do no such thing,' said the mother; 'I am mistress in this house. No one shall give orders here but me, and you may write to your guardian and tell him that, if you like.'
'I shall certainly not write to my guardian for the first time,' said Lord Cadurcis, 'about any such nonsense.'
'Nonsense, sir! Nonsense you said, did you? Your mother nonsense! This is the way to treat a parent, is it? I am nonsense, am I? I will teach you what nonsense is. Nonsense shall be very good sense; you shall find that, sir, that you shall. Nonsense, indeed! I'll write to your guardian, that I will! You call your mother nonsense, do you? And where did you learn that, I should like to know? Nonsense, indeed! This comes of your going to Cherbury! So your mother is nonsense; a pretty lesson for Lady Annabel to teach you. Oh! I'll speak my mind to her, that I will.'
'What has Lady Annabel to do with it?' inquired Cadurcis, in a loud tone.
'Don't threaten me, sir,' said Mrs. Cadurcis, with violent gesture. 'I won't be menaced; I won't be menaced by my son. Pretty goings on, indeed! But I will put a stop to them; will I not? that is all. Nonsense, indeed; your mother nonsense!'
'Well, you do talk nonsense, and the greatest,' said Plantagenet, doggedly; 'you are talking nonsense now, you are always talking nonsense, and you never open your mouth about Lady Annabel without talking nonsense.'
'If I was not very ill I would give it you,' said his mother, grinding her teeth. 'O you brat! You wicked brat, you! Is this the way to address me? I have half a mind to shake your viciousness out of you, that I have!
You are worse than your father, that you are!' and here she wept with rage.
'I dare say my father was not so bad, after all!' said Cadurcis.
'What should you know about your father, sir?' said Mrs. Cadurcis. 'How dare you speak about your father!'
'Who should speak about a father but a son?'
'Hold your impudence, sir!'
'I am not impudent, ma'am.'
'You aggravating brat!' exclaimed the enraged woman, 'I wish I had something to throw at you!'
'Did you throw things at my father?' asked his lordship.
Mrs. Cadurcis went into an hysterical rage; then, suddenly jumping up, she rushed at her son. Lord Cadurcis took up a position behind the table, but the sportive and mocking air which he generally instinctively assumed on these occasions, and which, while it irritated his mother more, was in reality affected by the boy from a sort of nervous desire of preventing these dreadful exposures from assuming a too tragic tone, did not characterise his countenance on the present occasion; on the contrary, it was pale, but composed and very serious. Mrs. Cadurcis, after one or two ineffectual attempts to catch him, paused and panted for breath. He took advantage of this momentary cessation, and spoke thus, 'Mother, I am in no humour for frolics. I moved out of your way that you might not strike me, because I have made up my mind that, if you ever strike me again, I will live with you no longer. Now, I have given you warning; do what you please; I shall sit down in this chair, and not move. If you strike me, you know the consequences.' So saying, his lordship resumed his chair.
Mrs. Cadurcis simultaneously sprang forward and boxed his ears; and then her son rose without the slightest expression of any kind, and slowly quitted the chamber.
Mrs. Cadurcis remained alone in a savage sulk; hours passed away, and her son never made his appearance. Then she rang the bell, and ordered the servant to tell Lord Cadurcis that tea was ready; but the servant returned, and reported that his lordship had locked himself up in his room, and would not reply to his inquiries. Determined not to give in, Mrs. Cadurcis, at length, retired for the night, rather regretting her violence, but still sullen. Having well scolded her waiting-woman, she at length fell asleep.
The morning brought breakfast, but no Lord Cadurcis; in vain were all the messages of his mother, her son would make no reply to them. Mrs. Cadurcis, at length, personally repaired to his room and knocked at the door, but she was as unsuccessful as the servants; she began to think he would starve, and desired the servant to offer from himself to bring his meal. Still silence. Indignant at his treatment of these overtures of conciliation, Mrs. Cadurcis returned to the saloon, confident that hunger, if no other impulse, would bring her wild cub out of his lair; but, just before dinner, her waiting-woman came running into the room.
'Oh, ma'am, ma'am, I don't know where Lord Cadurcis has gone; but I have just seen John, and he says there was no pony in the stable this morning.'
'Mrs. Cadurcis sprang up, rushed to her son's chamber, found the door still locked, ordered it to be burst open, and then it turned out that his lordship had never been there at all, for the bed was unused. Mrs. Cadurcis was frightened out of her life; the servants, to console her, assured her that Plantagenet must be at Cherbury; and while she believed their representations, which were probable, she became not only more composed, but resumed her jealousy and sullenness. 'Gone to Cherbury, indeed! No doubt of it! Let him remain at Cherbury.' Execrating Lady Annabel, she flung herself into an easy chair, and dined alone, preparing herself to speak her mind on her son's return.
The night, however, did not bring him, and Mrs. Cadurcis began to recur to her alarm. Much as she now disliked Lady Annabel, she could not resist the conviction that her ladyship would not permit Plantagenet to remain at Cherbury. Nevertheless, jealous, passionate, and obstinate, she stifled her fears, vented her spleen on her unhappy domestics, and, finally, exhausting herself by a storm of passion about some very unimportant subject, again sought refuge in sleep.
She awoke early in a fright, and inquired immediately for her son. He had not been seen. She ordered the abbey bell to be sounded, sent messengers throughout the demesne, and directed all the offices to be searched. At first she thought he must have returned, and slept, perhaps in a barn; then she adopted the more probable conclusion, that he had drowned himself in the lake. Then she went into hysterics; called Plantagenet her lost darling; declared he was the best and most dutiful of sons, and the image of his poor father, then abused all the servants, and then abused herself.
About noon she grew quite distracted, and rushed about the house with her hair dishevelled, and in a dressing-gown, looked in all the closets, behind the screens, under the chairs, into her work-box, but, strange to say, with no success. Then she went off into a swoon, and her servants, alike frightened about master and mistress, mother and son, dispatched a messenger immediately to Cherbury for intelligence, advice, and assistance. In less than an hour's time the messenger returned, and informed them that Lord Cadurcis had not been at Cherbury since two days back, but that Lady Annabel was very sorry to hear that their mistress was so ill, and would come on to see her immediately. In the meantime, Lady Annabel added that she had sent to Dr. Masham, and had great hopes that Lord Cadurcis was at Marringhurst. Mrs. Cadurcis, who had now come to, as her waiting-woman described the returning consciousness of her mistress, eagerly embraced the hope held out of Plantagenet being at Marringhurst, poured forth a thousand expressions of gratitude, admiration, and affection for Lady Annabel, who, she declared, was her best, her only friend, and the being in the world whom she loved most, next to her unhappy and injured child.
After another hour of suspense Lady Annabel arrived, and her entrance was the signal for a renewed burst of hysterics from Mrs. Cadurcis, so wild and terrible that they must have been contagious to any female of less disciplined emotions than her guest.
Towards evening Dr. Masham arrived at Cadurcis. He could give no intelligence of Plantagenet, who had not called at Marringhurst; but he offered, and was prepared, to undertake his pursuit. The good Doctor had his saddle-bags well stocked, and was now on his way to Southport, that being the nearest town, and where he doubted not to gain some tidings of the fugitive. Mrs. Cadurcis he found so indisposed, that he anticipated the charitable intentions of Lady Annabel not to quit her; and after having bid them place their confidence in Providence and his humble exertions, he at once departed on his researches.
In the meantime let us return to the little lord himself. Having secured the advantage of a long start, by the device of turning the key of his chamber, he repaired to the stables, and finding no one to observe him, saddled his pony and galloped away without plan or purpose. An instinctive love of novelty and adventure induced him to direct his course by a road which he had never before pursued; and, after two or three miles progress through a wild open country of brushwood, he found that he had entered that considerable forest which formed the boundary of many of the views from Cadurcis. The afternoon was clear and still, the sun shining in the light blue sky, and the wind altogether hushed. On each side of the winding road spread the bright green turf, occasionally shaded by picturesque groups of doddered oaks. The calm beauty of the sylvan scene wonderfully touched the fancy of the youthful fugitive; it soothed and gratified him. He pulled up his pony; patted its lively neck, as if in gratitude for its good service, and, confident that he could not be successfully pursued, indulged in a thousand dreams of Robin Hood and his merry men. As for his own position and prospects, he gave himself no anxiety about them: satisfied with his escape from a revolting thraldom, his mind seemed to take a bound from the difficulty of his situation and the wildness of the scene, and he felt himself a man, and one, too, whom nothing could daunt or appal.
Soon the road itself quite disappeared and vanished in a complete turfy track; but the continuing marks of cartwheels assured him that it was a thoroughfare, although he was now indeed journeying in the heart of a forest of oaks and he doubted not it would lead to some town or village, or at any rate to some farmhouse. Towards sunset, he determined to make use of the remaining light, and pushed on apace; but it soon grew so dark, that he found it necessary to resume his walking pace, from fear of the overhanging branches and the trunks of felled trees which occasionally crossed his way.
Notwithstanding the probable prospect of passing his night in the forest, our little adventurer did not lose heart. Cadurcis was an intrepid child, and when in the company of those with whom he was not familiar, and free from those puerile associations to which those who had known and lived with him long were necessarily subject, he would assume a staid and firm demeanour unusual with one of such tender years. A light in the distance was now not only a signal that the shelter he desired was at hand, but reminded him that it was necessary, by his assured port, to prove that he was not unused to travel alone, and that he was perfectly competent and qualified to be his own master.
As he drew nearer, the lights multiplied, and the moon, which now rose over the forest, showed to him that the trees, retiring on both sides to some little distance, left a circular plot of ground, on which were not only the lights which had at first attracted his attention, but the red flames of a watch-fire, round which some dark figures had hitherto been clustered. The sound of horses' feet had disturbed them, and the fire was now more and more visible. As Cadurcis approached, he observed some low tents, and in a few minutes he was in the centre of an encampment of gipsies. He was for a moment somewhat dismayed, for he had been brought up with the usual terror of these wild people; nevertheless, he was not unequal to the occasion. He was surrounded in an instant, but only with women and children; for the gipsy-men never immediately appear. They smiled with their bright eyes, and the flames of the watch-fire threw a lurid glow over their dark and flashing countenances; they held out their practised hands; they uttered unintelligible, but not unfriendly sounds. The heart of Cadurcis faltered, but his voice did not betray him.
'I am cold, good people,' said the undaunted boy; 'will you let me warm myself by your fire?'
A beautiful girl, with significant gestures, pressed her hand to her heart, then pointed in the direction of the tents, and then rushed away, soon reappearing with a short thin man, inclining to middle age, but of a compact and apparently powerful frame, lithe, supple, and sinewy. His complexion was dark, but clear; his eye large, liquid, and black; but his other features small, though precisely moulded. He wore a green jacket and a pair of black velvet breeches, his legs and feet being bare, with the exception of slippers. Round his head was twisted a red handkerchief, which, perhaps, might not have looked like a turban on a countenance less oriental.
'What would the young master?' inquired the gipsy-man, in a voice far from disagreeable, and with a gesture of courtesy; but, at the same time, he shot a scrutinising glance first at Plantagenet, and then at his pony.
'I would remain with you,' said Cadurcis; 'that is, if you will let me.'
The gipsy-man made a sign to the women, and Plantagenet was lifted by them off his pony, before he could be aware of their purpose; the children led the pony away, and the gipsy-man conducted Plantagenet to the fire, where an old woman sat, presiding over the mysteries of an enormous flesh-pot. Immediately his fellows, who had originally been clustered around it, re-appeared; fresh blocks and branches were thrown on, the flames crackled and rose, the men seated themselves around, and Plantagenet, excited by the adventure, rubbed his hands before the fire, and determined to fear nothing.
A savoury steam exuded from the flesh-pot.
'That smells well,' said Plantagenet.
'Tis a dimber cove,'[A] whispered one of the younger men to a companion.
[Footnote A: 'Tis a lively lad.]
'Our supper has but rough seasoning for such as you,' said the man who had first saluted him, and who was apparently the leader; 'but the welcome is hearty.'
The woman and girls now came with wooden bowls and platters, and, after serving the men, seated themselves in an exterior circle, the children playing round them.
'Come, old mort,' said the leader, in a very different tone to the one in which he addressed his young guest, 'tout the cobble-colter; are we to have darkmans upon us? And, Beruna, flick the panam.'[A]
[Footnote A: Come, old woman, took after the turkey. Are we to wait till night! And, Beruna, cut the bread.]
Upon this, that beautiful girl, who had at first attracted the notice of Cadurcis, called out in a sweet lively voice, 'Ay! ay! Morgana!' and in a moment handed over the heads of the women a pannier of bread, which the leader took, and offered its contents to our fugitive. Cadurcis helped himself, with a bold but gracious air. The pannier was then passed round, and the old woman, opening the pot, drew out, with a huge iron fork, a fine turkey, which she tossed into a large wooden platter, and cut up with great quickness. First she helped Morgana, but only gained a reproof for her pains, who immediately yielded his portion to Plantagenet. Each man was provided with his knife, but the guest had none. Morgana immediately gave up his own.
'Beruna!' he shouted, 'gibel a chiv for the gentry cove.'[A]
[Footnote A: Bring a knife for the gentleman.]
'Ay! ay! Morgana!' said the girl; and she brought the knife to Plantagenet himself, saying at the same time, with sparkling eyes, 'Yam, yam, gentry cove.'[A]
[Footnote A: Eat, eat, gentleman.]
Cadurcis really thought it was the most delightful meal he had ever made in his life. The flesh-pot held something besides turkeys. Rough as was the fare, it was good and plentiful. As for beverage, they drank humpty-dumpty, which is ale boiled with brandy, and which is not one of the slightest charms of a gipsy's life. When the men were satisfied, their platters were filled, and given to the women and children; and Beruna, with her portion, came and seated herself by Plantagenet, looking at him with a blended glance of delight and astonishment, like a beautiful young savage, and then turning to her female companions to stifle a laugh. The flesh-pot was carried away, the men lit their pipes, the fire was replenished, its red shadow mingled with the silver beams of the moon; around were the glittering tents and the silent woods; on all sides flashing eyes and picturesque forms. Cadurcis glanced at his companions, and gazed upon the scene with feelings of ravishing excitement; and then, almost unconscious of what he was saying, exclaimed, 'At length I have found the life that suits me!'
'Indeed, squire!' said Morgana. 'Would you be one of us?'
'From this moment,' said Cadurcis, 'if you will admit me to your band. But what can I do? And I have nothing to give you. You must teach me to earn my right to our supper.'
'We'll make a Turkey merchant[A] of you yet,' said an old gipsy, 'never fear that.'
[Footnote A: i.e. We will teach you to steal a turkey]
'Bah, Peter!' said Morgana, with an angry look, 'your red rag will never be still. And what was the purpose of your present travel?' he continued to Plantagenet.
'None; I was sick of silly home.'
'The gentry cove will be romboyled by his dam,' said a third gipsy. 'Queer Cuffin will be the word yet, if we don't tout.'[A]
[Footnote A: His mother will make a hue and cry after the gentleman yet; justice of the peace will be the word, if we don't look sharp.]
'Well, you shall see a little more of us before you decide,' said Morgana, thoughtfully, and turning the conversation. 'Beruna.'
'Ay! ay! Morgana!'
'Tip me the clank, like a dimber mort as you are; trim a ken for the gentry cove; he is no lanspresado, or I am a kinchin.'[A]
[Footnote A: Give me the tankard, like a pretty girl. Get a bed ready for the gentleman. He is no informer, or I am an infant.]
'Ay! ay! Morgana' gaily exclaimed the girl, and she ran off to prepare a bed for the Lord of Cadurcis.
Dr. Masham could gain no tidings of the object of his pursuit at Southport: here, however, he ascertained that Plantagenet could not have fled to London, for in those days public conveyances were rare. There was only one coach that ran, or rather jogged, along this road, and it went but once a week, it being expected that very night; while the innkeeper was confident that so far as Southport was concerned, his little lordship had not sought refuge in the waggon, which was more frequent, though somewhat slower, in its progress to the metropolis. Unwilling to return home, although the evening was now drawing in, the Doctor resolved to proceed to a considerable town about twelve miles further, which Cadurcis might have reached by a cross road; so drawing his cloak around him, looking to his pistols, and desiring his servant to follow his example, the stout-hearted Rector of Marringhurst pursued his way.
It was dark when the Doctor entered the town, and he proceeded immediately to the inn where the coach was expected, with some faint hope that the fugitive might be discovered abiding within its walls; but, to all his inquiries about young gentlemen and ponies, he received very unsatisfactory answers; so, reconciling himself as well as he could to the disagreeable posture of affairs, he settled himself in the parlour of the inn, with a good fire, and, lighting his pipe, desired his servant to keep a sharp look-out.
In due time a great uproar in the inn-yard announced the arrival of the stage, an unwieldy machine, carrying six inside, and dragged by as many horses. The Doctor, opening the door of his apartment, which led on to a gallery that ran round the inn-yard, leaned over the balustrade with his pipe in his mouth, and watched proceedings. It so happened that the stage was to discharge one of its passengers at this town, who had come from the north, and the Doctor recognised in him a neighbour and brother magistrate, one Squire Mountmeadow, an important personage in his way, the terror of poachers, and somewhat of an oracle on the bench, as it was said that he could take a deposition without the assistance of his clerk. Although, in spite of the ostler's lanterns, it was very dark, it was impossible ever to be unaware of the arrival of Squire Mountmeadow; for he was one of those great men who take care to remind the world of their dignity by the attention which they require on every occasion.
'Coachman!' said the authoritative voice of the Squire. 'Where is the coachman? Oh! you are there, sir, are you? Postilion! Where is the postilion? Oh! you are there, sir, are you? Host! Where is the host? Oh! you are there, sir, are you? Waiter! Where is the waiter? I say where is the waiter?'
'Coming, please your worship!'
'How long am I to wait? Oh! you are there, sir, are you? Coachman!'
'Yes, your worship!'
'Your worship's servant!'
'Your worship's honour's humble servant!'
'I am going to alight!'
All four attendants immediately bowed, and extended their arms to assist this very great man; but Squire Mountmeadow, scarcely deigning to avail himself of their proffered assistance, and pausing on each step, looking around him with his long, lean, solemn visage, finally reached terra firma in safety, and slowly stretched his tall, ungainly figure. It was at this moment that Dr. Masham's servant approached him, and informed his worship that his master was at the inn, and would be happy to see him. The countenance of the great Mountmeadow relaxed at the mention of the name of a brother magistrate, and in an audible voice he bade the groom 'tell my worthy friend, his worship, your worthy master, that I shall be rejoiced to pay my respects to an esteemed neighbour and a brother magistrate.'
With slow and solemn steps, preceded by the host, and followed by the waiter, Squire Mountmeadow ascended the staircase of the external gallery, pausing occasionally, and looking around him with thoughtful importance, and making an occasional inquiry as to the state of the town and neighbourhood during his absence, in this fashion: 'Stop! where are you, host? Oh! you are there, sir, are you? Well, Mr. Host, and how have we been? orderly, eh?'
'Quite orderly, your worship.'
'Hoh! Orderly! Hem! Well, very well! Never easy, if absent only four-and-twenty hours. The law must be obeyed.'
'Yes, your worship.'
'Lead on, sir. And, waiter; where are you, waiter? Oh, you are there, sir, are you? And so my brother magistrate is here?'
'Yes, your honour's worship.'
'Hem! What can he want? something in the wind; wants my advice, I dare say; shall have it. Soldiers ruly; king's servants; must be obeyed.'
'Yes, your worship; quite ruly, your worship,' said the host.
'As obliging and obstreperous as can be,' said the waiter.
'Well, very well;' and here the Squire had gained the gallery, where the Doctor was ready to receive him.
'It always gives me pleasure to meet a brother magistrate,' said Squire Mountmeadow, bowing with cordial condescension; 'and a gentleman of your cloth, too. The clergy must be respected; I stand or fall by the Church. After you, Doctor, after you.' So saying, the two magistrates entered the room.
'An unexpected pleasure, Doctor,' said the Squire; 'and what brings your worship to town?'
'A somewhat strange business,' said the Doctor; 'and indeed I am not a little glad to have the advantage of your advice and assistance.'
'Hem! I thought so,' said the Squire; 'your worship is very complimentary. What is the case? Larceny?'
'Nay, my good sir, 'tis a singular affair; and, if you please, we will order supper first, and discuss it afterwards. 'Tis for your private ear.'
'Oh! ho!' said the Squire, looking very mysterious and important. 'With your worship's permission,' he added, filling a pipe.
The host was no laggard in waiting on two such important guests. The brother magistrates despatched their rump-steak; the foaming tankard was replenished; the fire renovated. At length, the table and the room being alike clear, Squire Mountmeadow drew a long puff, and said, 'Now for business, Doctor.'
His companion then informed him of the exact object of his visit, and narrated to him so much of the preceding incidents as was necessary. The Squire listened in solemn silence, elevating his eyebrows, nodding his head, trimming his pipe, with profound interjections; and finally, being appealed to for his opinion by the Doctor, delivered himself of a most portentous 'Hem!'
'I question, Doctor,' said the Squire, 'whether we should not communicate with the Secretary of State. 'Tis no ordinary business. 'Tis a spiriting away of a Peer of the realm. It smacks of treason.'
'Egad!' said the Doctor, suppressing a smile, 'I think we can hardly make a truant boy a Cabinet question.'
The Squire glanced a look of pity at his companion. 'Prove the truancy, Doctor; prove it. 'Tis a case of disappearance; and how do we know that there is not a Jesuit at the bottom of it?'
'There is something in that,' said the Doctor.
'There is everything in it,' said the Squire, triumphantly. 'We must offer rewards; we must raise the posse comitatus.'
'For the sake of the family, I would make as little stir as necessary,' said Dr. Masham.
'For the sake of the family!' said the Squire. 'Think of the nation, sir! For the sake of the nation we must make as much stir as possible. 'Tis a Secretary of State's business; 'tis a case for a general warrant.'
'He is a well-meaning lad enough,' said the Doctor.
'Ay, and therefore more easily played upon,' said the Squire. 'Rome is at the bottom of it, brother Masham, and I am surprised that a good Protestant like yourself, one of the King's Justices of the Peace, and a Doctor of Divinity to boot, should doubt the fact for an instant.'
'We have not heard much of the Jesuits of late years,' said the Doctor.
'The very reason that they are more active,' said the Squire.
'An only child!' said Dr. Masham.
'A Peer of the realm!' said Squire Mountmeadow.
'I should think he must be in the neighbourhood.'
'More likely at St. Omer's.'
'They would scarely take him to the plantations with this war?'
'Let us drink "Confusion to the rebels!"' said the Squire. 'Any news?'
'Howe sails this week,' said the Doctor.
'May he burn Boston!' said the Squire.
'I would rather he would reduce it, without such extremities,' said Dr. Masham.
'Nothing is to be done without extremities,' said Squire Mountmeadow.
'But this poor child?' said the Doctor, leading back the conversation. 'What can we do?'
'The law of the case is clear,' said the Squire; 'we must move a habeas corpus.'
'But shall we be nearer getting him for that?' inquired the Doctor.
'Perhaps not, sir; but 'tis the regular way. We must proceed by rule.'
'I am sadly distressed,' said Dr. Masham. 'The worst is, he has gained such a start upon us; and yet he can hardly have gone to London; he would have been recognised here or at Southport.'
'With his hair cropped, and in a Jesuit's cap?' inquired the Squire, with a slight sneer. 'Ah! Doctor, Doctor, you know not the gentry you have to deal with!'
'We must hope,' said Dr. Masham. 'To-morrow we must organise some general search.'
'I fear it will be of no use,' said the Squire, replenishing his pipe. 'These Jesuits are deep fellows.'
'But we are not sure about the Jesuits, Squire.'
'I am,' said the Squire; 'the case is clear, and the sooner you break it to his mother the better. You asked me for my advice, and I give it you.'
It was on the following morning, as the Doctor was under the operation of the barber, that his groom ran into the room with a pale face and agitated air, and exclaimed,
'Oh! master, master, what do you think? Here is a man in the yard with my lord's pony.'
'Stop him, Peter,' exclaimed the Doctor. 'No! watch him, watch him; send for a constable. Are you certain 'tis the pony?'
'I could swear to it out of a thousand,' said Peter.
'There, never mind my beard, my good man,' said the Doctor. 'There is no time for appearances. Here is a robbery, at least; God grant no worse. Peter, my boots!' So saying, the Doctor, half equipped, and followed by Peter and the barber, went forth on the gallery. 'Where is he?' said the Doctor.
'He is down below, talking to the ostler, and trying to sell the pony,' said Peter.
'There is no time to lose,' said the Doctor; 'follow me, like true men:' and the Doctor ran downstairs in his silk nightcap, for his wig was not yet prepared.
'There he is,' said Peter; and true enough there was a man in a smock-frock and mounted on the very pony which Lady Annabel had presented to Plantagenet.
'Seize this man in the King's name,' said the Doctor, hastily advancing to him. 'Ostler, do your duty; Peter, be firm. I charge you all; I am a justice of the peace. I charge you arrest this man.'
The man seemed very much astonished; but he was composed, and offered no resistance. He was dressed like a small farmer, in top-boots and a smock-frock. His hat was rather jauntily placed on his curly red hair.
'Why am I seized?' at length said the man.
'Where did you get that pony?' said the Doctor.
'I bought it,' was the reply.
'A stranger at market.'
'You are accused of robbery, and suspected of murder,' said Dr. Masham. 'Mr. Constable,' said the Doctor, turning to that functionary, who had now arrived, 'handcuff this man, and keep him in strict custody until further orders.'
The report that a man was arrested for robbery, and suspected of murder, at the Red Dragon, spread like wildfire through the town; and the inn-yard was soon crowded with the curious and excited inhabitants.
Peter and the barber, to whom he had communicated everything, were well qualified to do justice to the important information of which they were the sole depositaries; the tale lost nothing by their telling; and a circumstantial narrative of the robbery and murder of no less a personage than Lord Cadurcis, of Cadurcis Abbey, was soon generally prevalent.
The stranger was secured in a stable, before which the constable kept guard; mine host, and the waiter, and the ostlers acted as a sort of supernumerary police, to repress the multitude; while Peter held the real pony by the bridle, whose identity, which he frequently attested, was considered by all present as an incontrovertible evidence of the commission of the crime.
In the meantime Dr. Masham, really agitated, roused his brother magistrate, and communicated to his worship the important discovery. The Squire fell into a solemn flutter. 'We must be regular, brother Masham; we must proceed by rule; we are a bench in ourselves. Would that my clerk were here! We must send for Signsealer forthwith. I will not decide without the statutes. The law must be consulted, and it must be obeyed. The fellow hath not brought my wig. 'Tis a case of murder no doubt. A Peer of the realm murdered! You must break the intelligence to his surviving parent, and I will communicate to the Secretary of State. Can the body be found? That will prove the murder. Unless the body be found, the murder will not be proved, save the villain confess, which he will not do unless he hath sudden compunctions. I have known sudden compunctions go a great way. We had a case before our bench last month; there was no evidence. It was not a case of murder; it was of woodcutting; there was no evidence; but the defendant had compunctions. Oh! here is my wig. We must send for Signsealer. He is clerk to our bench, and he must bring the statutes. 'Tis not simple murder this; it involves petty treason.'
By this time his worship had completed his toilet, and he and his colleague took their way to the parlour they had inhabited the preceding evening. Mr. Signsealer was in attendance, much to the real, though concealed, satisfaction of Squire Mountmeadow. Their worships were seated like two consuls before the table, which Mr. Signsealer had duly arranged with writing materials and various piles of calf-bound volumes. Squire Mountmeadow then, arranging his countenance, announced that the bench was prepared, and mine host was instructed forthwith to summon the constable and his charge, together with Peter and the ostler as witnesses. There was a rush among some of the crowd who were nighest the scene to follow the prisoner into the room; and, sooth to say, the great Mountmeadow was much too enamoured of his own self-importance to be by any means a patron of close courts and private hearings; but then, though he loved his power to be witnessed, he was equally desirous that his person should be reverenced. It was his boast that he could keep a court of quarter sessions as quiet as a church; and now, when the crowd rushed in with all those sounds of tumult incidental to such a movement, it required only Mountmeadow slowly to rise, and drawing himself up to the full height of his gaunt figure, to knit his severe brow, and throw one of his peculiar looks around the chamber, to insure a most awful stillness. Instantly everything was so hushed, that you might have heard Signsealer nib his pen.
The witnesses were sworn; Peter proved that the pony belonged to Lord Cadurcis, and that his lordship had been missing from home for several days, and was believed to have quitted the abbey on this identical pony. Dr. Masham was ready, if necessary, to confirm this evidence. The accused adhered to his first account, that he had purchased the animal the day before at a neighbouring fair, and doggedly declined to answer any cross-examination. Squire Mountmeadow looked alike pompous and puzzled; whispered to the Doctor; and then shook his head at Mr. Signsealer.
'I doubt whether there be satisfactory evidence of the murder, brother Masham,' said the Squire; 'what shall be our next step?'
'There is enough evidence to keep this fellow in custody,' said the Doctor. 'We must remand him, and make inquiries at the market town. I shall proceed there immediately, He is a strange-looking fellow,' added the Doctor: 'were it not for his carroty locks, I should scarcely take him for a native.'
'Hem!' said the Squire, 'I have my suspicions. Fellow,' continued his worship, in an awful tone, 'you say that you are a stranger, and that your name is Morgan; very suspicious all this: you have no one to speak to your character or station, and you are found in possession of stolen goods. The bench will remand you for the present, and will at any rate commit you for trial for the robbery. But here is a Peer of the realm missing, fellow, and you are most grievously suspected of being concerned in his spiriting away, or even murder. You are upon tender ground, prisoner; 'tis a case verging on petty treason, if not petty treason itself. Eh! Mr. Signsealer? Thus runs the law, as I take it? Prisoner, it would be well for you to consider your situation. Have you no compunctions? Compunctions might save you, if not a principal offender. It is your duty to assist the bench in executing justice. The Crown is merciful; you may be king's evidence.'
Mr. Signsealer whispered the bench; he proposed that the prisoner's hat should be examined, as the name of its maker might afford a clue to his residence.
'True, true, Mr. Clerk,' said Squire Mountmeadow, 'I am coming to that. 'Tis a sound practice; I have known such a circumstance lead to great disclosures. But we must proceed in order. Order is everything. Constable, take the prisoner's hat off.'
The constable took the hat off somewhat rudely; so rudely, indeed, that the carroty locks came off in company with it, and revealed a profusion of long plaited hair, which had been adroitly twisted under the wig, more in character with the countenance than its previous covering.
'A Jesuit, after all!' exclaimed the Squire.
'A gipsy, as it seems to me,' whispered the Doctor.
'Still worse,' said the Squire.
'Silence in the Court!' exclaimed the awful voice of Squire Mountmeadow, for the excitement of the audience was considerable. The disguise was generally esteemed as incontestable evidence of the murder. 'Silence, or I will order the Court to be cleared. Constable, proclaim silence. This is an awful business,' added the Squire, with a very long face. 'Brother Masham, we must do our duty; but this is an awful business. At any rate we must try to discover the body. A Peer of the realm must not be suffered to lie murdered in a ditch. He must have Christian burial, if possible, in the vaults of his ancestors.'
When Morgana, for it was indeed he, observed the course affairs were taking, and ascertained that his detention under present circumstances was inevitable, he relaxed from his doggedness, and expressed a willingness to make a communication to the bench. Squire Mountmeadow lifted up his eyes to Heaven, as if entreating the interposition of Providence to guide him in his course; then turned to his brother magistrate, and then nodded to the clerk.
'He has compunctions, brother Masham,' said his worship: 'I told you so; he has compunctions. Trust me to deal with these fellows. He knew not his perilous situation; the hint of petty treason staggered him. Mr. Clerk, take down the prisoner's confession; the Court must be cleared; constable, clear the Court. Let a stout man stand on each side of the prisoner, to protect the bench. The magistracy of England will never shrink from doing their duty, but they must be protected. Now, prisoner, the bench is ready to hear your confession. Conceal nothing, and if you were not a principal in the murder, or an accessory before the fact; eh, Mr. Clerk, thus runs the law, as I take it? there may be mercy; at any rate, if you be hanged, you will have the satisfaction of having cheerfully made the only atonement to society in your power.'
'Hanging be damned!' said Morgana.
Squire Mountmeadow started from his seat, his cheeks distended with rage, his dull eyes for once flashing fire. 'Did you ever witness such atrocity, brother Masham?' exclaimed his worship. 'Did you hear the villain? I'll teach him to respect the bench. I'll fine him before he is executed, that I will!'
'The young gentleman to whom this pony belongs,' continued the gipsy, 'may or may not be a lord. I never asked him his name, and he never told it me; but he sought hospitality of me and my people, and we gave it him, and he lives with us, of his own free choice. The pony is of no use to him now, and so I came to sell it for our common good.'
'A Peer of the realm turned gipsy!' exclaimed the Squire. 'A very likely tale! I'll teach you to come here and tell your cock-and-bull stories to two of his majesty's justices of the peace. 'Tis a flat case of robbery and murder, and I venture to say something else. You shall go to gaol directly, and the Lord have mercy on your soul!'
'Nay,' said the gipsy, appealing to Dr. Marsham; 'you, sir, appear to be a friend of this youth. You will not regain him by sending me to gaol. Load me, if you will, with irons; surround me with armed men, but at least give me the opportunity of proving the truth of what I say. I offer in two hours to produce to you the youth, and you shall find he is living with my people in content and peace.'
'Content and fiddlestick!' said the Squire, in a rage.
'Brother Mountmeadow,' said the Doctor, in a low tone, to his colleague, 'I have private duties to perform to this family. Pardon me if, with all deference to your sounder judgment and greater experience, I myself accept the prisoner's offer.'
'Brother Masham, you are one of his majesty's justices of the peace, you are a brother magistrate, and you are a Doctor of Divinity; you owe a duty to your country, and you owe a duty to yourself. Is it wise, is it decorous, that one of the Quorum should go a-gipsying? Is it possible that you can credit this preposterous tale? Brother Masham, there will be a rescue, or my name is not Mountmeadow.'
In spite, however, of all these solemn warnings, the good Doctor, who was not altogether unaware of the character of his pupil, and could comprehend that it was very possible the statement of the gipsy might be genuine, continued without very much offending his colleague, who looked upon, his conduct indeed rather with pity than resentment, to accept the offer of Morgana; and consequently, well-secured and guarded, and preceding the Doctor, who rode behind the cart with his servant, the gipsy soon sallied forth from the inn-yard, and requested the driver to guide his course in the direction of the forest.
It was the afternoon of the third day after the arrival of Cadurcis at the gipsy encampment, and nothing had yet occurred to make him repent his flight from the abbey, and the choice of life he had made. He had experienced nothing but kindness and hospitality, while the beautiful Beruna seemed quite content to pass her life in studying his amusement. The weather, too, had been extremely favourable to his new mode of existence; and stretched at his length upon the rich turf, with his head on Beruna's lap, and his eyes fixed upon the rich forest foliage glowing in the autumnal sunset, Plantagenet only wondered that he could have endured for so many years the shackles of his common-place home.
His companions were awaiting the return of their leader, Morgana, who had been absent since the preceding day, and who had departed on Plantagenet's pony. Most of them were lounging or strolling in the vicinity of their tents; the children were playing; the old woman was cooking at the fire; and altogether, save that the hour was not so late, the scene presented much the same aspect as when Cadurcis had first beheld it. As for his present occupation, Beruna was giving him a lesson in the gipsy language, which he was acquiring with a rapid facility, which quite exceeded all his previous efforts in such acquisitions.
Suddenly a scout sang out that a party was in sight. The men instantly disappeared; the women were on the alert; and one ran forward as a spy, on pretence of telling fortunes. This bright-eyed professor of palmistry soon, however, returned running, and out of breath, yet chatting all the time with inconceivable rapidity, and accompanying the startling communication she was evidently making with the most animated gestures. Beruna started up, and, leaving the astonished Cadurcis, joined them. She seemed alarmed. Cadurcis was soon convinced there was consternation in the camp.
Suddenly a horseman galloped up, and was immediately followed by a companion. They called out, as if encouraging followers, and one of them immediately galloped away again, as if to detail the results of their reconnaissance. Before Cadurcis could well rise and make inquiries as to what was going on, a light cart, containing several men, drove up, and in it, a prisoner, he detected Morgana. The branches of the trees concealed for a moment two other horsemen who followed the cart; but Cadurcis, to his infinite alarm and mortification, soon recognised Dr. Masham and Peter.
When the gipsies found their leader was captive, they no longer attempted to conceal themselves; they all came forward, and would have clustered round the cart, had not the riders, as well as those who more immediately guarded the prisoner, prevented them. Morgana spoke some words in a loud voice to the gipsies, and they immediately appeared less agitated; then turning to Dr. Masham, he said in English, 'Behold your child!'
Instantly two gipsy men seized Cadurcis, and led him to the Doctor.
'How now, my lord!' said the worthy Rector, in a stern voice, 'is this your duty to your mother and your friends?'
Cadurcis looked down, but rather dogged than ashamed.
'You have brought an innocent man into great peril,' continued the Doctor. 'This person, no longer a prisoner, has been arrested on suspicion of robbery, and even murder, through your freak. Morgana, or whatever your name may be, here is some reward for your treatment of this child, and some compensation for your detention. Mount your pony, Lord Cadurcis, and return to your home with me.'
'This is my home, sir,' said Plantagenet.
'Lord Cadurcis, this childish nonsense must cease; it has already endangered the life of your mother, nor can I answer for her safety, if you lose a moment in returning.'
'Child, you must return,' said Morgana.
'Child!' said Plantagenet, and he walked some steps away, and leant against a tree. 'You promised that I should remain,' said he, addressing himself reproachfully to Morgana.
'You are not your own master,' said the gipsy; 'your remaining here will only endanger and disturb us. Fortunately we have nothing to fear from laws we have never outraged; but had there been a judge less wise and gentle than the master here, our peaceful family might have been all harassed and hunted to the very death.'
He waved his hand, and addressed some words to his tribe, whereupon two brawny fellows seized Cadurcis, and placed him again, in spite of his struggling, upon his pony, with the same irresistible facility with which they had a few nights before dismounted him. The little lord looked very sulky, but his position was beginning to get ludicrous. Morgana, pocketing his five guineas, leaped over the side of the cart, and offered to guide the Doctor and his attendants through the forest. They moved on accordingly. It was the work of an instant, and Cadurcis suddenly found himself returning home between the Rector and Peter. Not a word, however, escaped his lips; once only he moved; the light branch of a tree, aimed with delicate precision, touched his back; he looked round; it was Beruna. She kissed her hand to him, and a tear stole down his pale, sullen cheek, as, taking from his breast his handkerchief, he threw it behind him, unperceived, that she might pick it up, and keep it for his sake.
After proceeding two or three miles under the guidance of Morgana, the equestrians gained the road, though it still ran through the forest. Here the Doctor dismissed the gipsy-man, with whom he had occasionally conversed during their progress; but not a sound ever escaped from the mouth of Cadurcis, or rather, the captive, who was now substituted in Morgana's stead. The Doctor, now addressing himself to Plantagenet, informed him that it was of importance that they should make the best of their way, and so he put spurs to his mare, and Cadurcis sullenly complied with the intimation. At this rate, in the course of little more than another hour, they arrived in sight of the demesne of Cadurcis, where they pulled up their steeds.
They entered the park, they approached the portal of the abbey; at length they dismounted. Their coming was announced by a servant, who had recognised his lord at a distance, and had ran on before with the tidings. When they entered the abbey, they were met by Lady Annabel in the cloisters; her countenance was very serious. She shook hands with Dr. Masham, but did not speak, and immediately led him aside. Cadurcis remained standing in the very spot where Doctor Masham left him, as if he were quite a stranger in the place, and was no longer master of his own conduct. Suddenly Doctor Masham, who was at the end of the cloister, while Lady Annabel was mounting the staircase, looked round with a pale face, and said in an agitated voice, 'Lord Cadurcis, Lady Annabel wishes to speak to you in the saloon.'
Cadurcis immediately, but slowly, repaired to the saloon. Lady Annabel was walking up and down in it. She seemed greatly disturbed. When she saw him, she put her arm round his neck affectionately, and said in a low voice, 'My dearest Plantagenet, it has devolved upon me to communicate to you some distressing intelligence.' Her voice faltered, and the tears stole down her cheek.
'My mother, then, is dangerously ill?' he inquired in a calm but softened tone.
'It is even sadder news than that, dear child.'
Cadurcis looked about him wildly, and then with an inquiring glance at Lady Annabel:
'There can be but one thing worse than that,' he at length said.
'What if it have happened?' said Lady Annabel.
He threw himself into a chair, and covered his face with his hands. After a few minutes he looked up and said, in a low but distinct voice, 'It is too terrible to think of; it is too terrible to mention; but, if it have happened, let me be alone.'
Lady Annabel approached him with a light step; she embraced him, and, whispering that she should be found in the next room, she quitted the apartment.
Cadurcis remained seated for more than half an hour without changing in the slightest degree his position. The twilight died away; it grew quite dark; he looked up with a slight shiver, and then quitted the apartment.
In the adjoining room, Lady Annabel was seated with Doctor Masham, and giving him the details of the fatal event. It had occurred that morning. Mrs. Cadurcis, who had never slept a wink since her knowledge of her son's undoubted departure, and scarcely for an hour been free from violent epileptic fits, had fallen early in the morning into a doze, which lasted about half an hour, and from which her medical attendant, who with Pauncefort had sat up with her during the night, augured the most favourable consequences. About half-past six o'clock she woke, and inquired whether Plantagenet had returned. They answered her that Doctor Masham had not yet arrived, but would probably be at the abbey in the course of the morning. She said it would be too late. They endeavoured to encourage her, but she asked to see Lady Annabel, who was immediately called, and lost no time in repairing to her. When Mrs. Cadurcis recognised her, she held out her hand, and said in a dying tone, 'It was my fault; it was ever my fault; it is too late now; let him find a mother in you.' She never spoke again, and in the course of an hour expired.
While Lady Annabel and the Doctor were dwelling on these sad circumstances, and debating whether he should venture to approach Plantagenet, and attempt to console him, for the evening was now far advanced, and nearly three hours had elapsed since the fatal communication had been made to him, it happened that Mistress Pauncefort chanced to pass Mrs. Cadurcis' room, and as she did so she heard some one violently sobbing. She listened, and hearing the sounds frequently repeated, she entered the room, which, but for her candle, would have been quite dark, and there she found Lord Cadurcis kneeling and weeping by his mother's bedside. He seemed annoyed at being seen and disturbed, but his spirit was too broken to murmur. 'La! my lord,' said Mistress Pauncefort, 'you must not take on so; you must not indeed. I am sure this dark room is enough to put any one in low spirits. Now do go downstairs, and sit with my lady and the Doctor, and try to be cheerful; that is a dear good young gentleman. I wish Miss Venetia were here, and then she would amuse you. But you must not take on, because there is no use in it. You must exert yourself, for what is done cannot be undone; and, as the Doctor told us last Sunday, we must all die; and well for those who die with a good conscience; and I am sure the poor dear lady that is gone must have had a good conscience, because she had a good heart, and I never heard any one say the contrary. Now do exert yourself, my dear lord, and try to be cheerful, do; for there is nothing like a little exertion in these cases, for God's will must be done, and it is not for us to say yea or nay, and taking on is a murmuring against God's providence.' And so Mistress Pauncefort would have continued urging the usual topics of coarse and common-place consolation; but Cadurcis only answered with a sigh that came from the bottom of his heart, and said with streaming eyes, 'Ah! Mrs. Pauncefort, God had only given me one friend in this world, and there she lies.'
The first conviction that there is death in the house is perhaps the most awful moment of youth. When we are young, we think that not only ourselves, but that all about us, are immortal. Until the arrow has struck a victim round our own hearth, death is merely an unmeaning word; until then, its casual mention has stamped no idea upon our brain. There are few, even among those least susceptible of thought and emotion, in whose hearts and minds the first death in the family does not act as a powerful revelation of the mysteries of life, and of their own being; there are few who, after such a catastrophe, do not look upon the world and the world's ways, at least for a time, with changed and tempered feelings. It recalls the past; it makes us ponder over the future; and youth, gay and light-hearted youth, is taught, for the first time, to regret and to fear.
On Cadurcis, a child of pensive temperament, and in whose strange and yet undeveloped character there was, amid lighter elements, a constitutional principle of melancholy, the sudden decease of his mother produced a profound effect. All was forgotten of his parent, except the intimate and natural tie, and her warm and genuine affection. He was now alone in the world; for reflection impressed upon him at this moment what the course of existence too generally teaches to us all, that mournful truth, that, after all, we have no friends that we can depend upon in this life but our parents. All other intimacies, however ardent, are liable to cool; all other confidence, however unlimited, to be violated. In the phantasmagoria of life, the friend with whom we have cultivated mutual trust for years is often suddenly or gradually estranged from us, or becomes, from, painful, yet irresistible circumstances, even our deadliest foe. As for women, as for the mistresses of our hearts, who has not learnt that the links of passion are fragile as they are glittering; and that the bosom on which we have reposed with idolatry all our secret sorrows and sanguine hopes, eventually becomes the very heart that exults in our misery and baffles our welfare? Where is the enamoured face that smiled upon our early love, and was to shed tears over our grave? Where are the choice companions of our youth, with whom we were to breast the difficulties and share the triumphs of existence? Even in this inconstant world, what changes like the heart? Love is a dream, and friendship a delusion. No wonder we grow callous; for how few have the opportunity of returning to the hearth which they quitted in levity or thoughtless weariness, yet which alone is faithful to them; whose sweet affections require not the stimulus of prosperity or fame, the lure of accomplishments, or the tribute of flattery; but which are constant to us in distress, and console us even in disgrace!
Before she retired for the night, Lady Annabel was anxious to see Plantagenet. Mistress Pauncefort had informed her of his visit to his mother's room. Lady Annabel found Cadurcis in the gallery, now partially lighted by the moon which had recently risen. She entered with her light, as if she were on her way to her own room, and not seeking him.
'Dear Plantagenet,' she said, 'will you not go to bed?'
'I do not intend to go to bed to-night,' he replied.
She approached him and took him by the hand, which he did not withdraw from her, and they walked together once or twice up and down the gallery.
'I think, dear child,' said Lady Annabel, 'you had better come and sit with us.'
'I like to be alone,' was his answer; but not in a sullen voice, low and faltering.
'But in sorrow we should be with our friends,' said Lady Annabel.
'I have no friends,' he answered. 'I only had one.'
'I am your friend, dear child; I am your mother now, and you shall find me one if you like. And Venetia, have you forgotten your sister? Is she not your friend? And Dr. Masham, surely you cannot doubt his friendship?'
Cadurcis tried to stifle a sob. 'Ay, Lady Annabel,' he said, 'you are my friend now, and so are you all; and you know I love you much. But you were not my friends two years ago; and things will change again; they will, indeed. A mother is your friend as long as she lives; she cannot help being your friend.'
'You shall come to Cherbury and live with us,' said Lady Annabel.' You know you love Cherbury, and you shall find it a home, a real home.'
He pressed her hand to his lips; the hand was covered with his tears.
'We will go to Cherbury to-morrow, dear Plantagenet; remaining here will only make you sad.'
'I will never leave Cadurcis again while my mother is in this house,' he said, in a firm and serious voice. And then, after a moment's pause, he added, 'I wish to know when the burial is to take place.'
'We will ask Dr. Masham,' replied Lady Annabel. 'Come, let us go to him; come, my own child.'
He permitted himself to be led away. They descended to the small apartment where Lady Annabel had been previously sitting. They found the Doctor there; he rose and pressed Plantagenet's hand with great emotion. They made room for him at the fire between them; he sat in silence, with his gaze intently fixed upon the decaying embers, yet did not quit his hold of Lady Annabel's hand. He found it a consolation to him; it linked him to a being who seemed to love him. As long as he held her hand he did not seem quite alone in the world.
Now nobody spoke; for Lady Annabel felt that Cadurcis was in some degree solaced; and she thought it unwise to interrupt the more composed train of his thoughts. It was, indeed, Plantagenet himself who first broke silence.
'I do not think I can go to bed, Lady Annabel,' he said. 'The thought of this night is terrible to me. I do not think it ever can end. I would much sooner sit up in this room.'
'Nay! my child, sleep is a great consoler; try to go to bed, love.'
'I should like to sleep in my mother's room,' was his strange reply. 'It seems to me that I could sleep there. And if I woke in the night, I should like to see her.'
Lady Annabel and the Doctor exchanged looks.
'I think,' said the Doctor, 'you had better sleep in my room, and then, if you wake in the night, you will have some one to speak to. You will find that a comfort.'
'Yes, that you will,' said Lady Annabel. 'I will go and have the sofa bed made up in the Doctor's room for you. Indeed that will be the very best plan.'
So at last, but not without a struggle, they persuaded Cadurcis to retire. Lady Annabel embraced him tenderly when she bade him good night; and, indeed, he felt consoled by her affection.
As nothing could persuade Plantagenet to leave the abbey until his mother was buried, Lady Annabel resolved to take up her abode there, and she sent the next morning for Venetia. There were a great many arrangements to make about the burial and the mourning; and Lady Annabel and Dr. Masham were obliged, in consequence, to go the next morning to Southport; but they delayed their departure until the arrival of Venetia, that Cadurcis might not be left alone.
The meeting between himself and Venetia was a very sad one, and yet her companionship was a great solace. Venetia urged every topic that she fancied could reassure his spirits, and upon the happy home he would find at Cherbury.
'Ah!' said Cadurcis, 'they will not leave me here; I am sure of that. I think our happy days are over, Venetia.'
What mourner has not felt the magic of time? Before the funeral could take place, Cadurcis had recovered somewhat of his usual cheerfulness, and would indulge with Venetia in plans of their future life. And living, as they all were, under the same roof, sharing the same sorrows, participating in the same cares, and all about to wear the same mournful emblems of their domestic calamity, it was difficult for him to believe that he was indeed that desolate being he had at first correctly estimated himself. Here were true friends, if such could exist; here were fine sympathies, pure affections, innocent and disinterested hearts! Every domestic tie yet remained perfect, except the spell-bound tie of blood. That wanting, all was a bright and happy vision, that might vanish in an instant, and for ever; that perfect, even the least graceful, the most repulsive home, had its irresistible charms; and its loss, when once experienced, might be mourned for ever, and could never be restored.
After the funeral of Mrs. Cadurcis, the family returned to Cherbury with Plantagenet, who was hereafter to consider it his home. All that the most tender solicitude could devise to reconcile him to the change in his life was fulfilled by Lady Annabel and her daughter, and, under their benignant influence, he soon regained his usual demeanour. His days were now spent as in the earlier period of their acquaintance, with the exception of those painful returns to home, which had once been a source to him of so much gloom and unhappiness. He pursued his studies as of old, and shared the amusements of Venetia. His allotted room was ornamented by her drawings, and in the evenings they read aloud by turns to Lady Annabel the volume which she selected. The abbey he never visited again after his mother's funeral.
Some weeks had passed in this quiet and contented manner, when one day Doctor Masham, who, since the death of his mother, had been in correspondence with his guardian, received a letter from that nobleman, to announce that he had made arrangements for sending his ward to Eton, and to request that he would accordingly instantly proceed to the metropolis. This announcement occasioned both Cadurcis and Venetia poignant affliction. The idea of separation was to both of them most painful; and although Lady Annabel herself was in some degree prepared for an arrangement, which sooner or later she considered inevitable, she was herself scarcely less distressed. The good Doctor, in some degree to break the bitterness of parting, proposed accompanying Plantagenet to London, and himself personally delivering the charge, in whose welfare they were so much interested, to his guardian. Nevertheless, it was a very sad affair, and the week which was to intervene before his departure found both himself and Venetia often in tears. They no longer took any delight in their mutual studies but passed the day walking about and visiting old haunts, and endeavouring to console each other for what they both deemed a great calamity, and which was indeed, the only serious misfortune Venetia had herself experienced in the whole course of her serene career.
'But if I were really your brother,' said Plantagenet, 'I must have quitted you the same, Venetia. Boys always go to school; and then we shall be so happy when I return.'
'Oh! but we are so happy now, Plantagenet. I cannot believe that we are going to part. And are you sure that you will return? Perhaps your guardian will not let you, and will wish you to spend your holidays at his house. His house will be your home now.'
It was impossible for a moment to forget the sorrow that was impending over them. There were so many preparations to be made for his departure, that every instant something occurred to remind them of their sorrow. Venetia sat with tears in her eyes marking his new pocket-handkerchiefs which they had all gone to Southport to purchase, for Plantagenet asked, as a particular favour, that no one should mark them but Venetia. Then Lady Annabel gave Plantagenet a writing-case, and Venetia filled it with pens and paper, that he might never want means to communicate with them; and her evenings were passed in working him a purse, which Lady Annabel took care should be well stocked. All day long there seemed something going on to remind them of what was about to happen; and as for Pauncefort, she flounced in and out the room fifty times a day, with 'What is to be done about my lord's shirts, my lady? I think his lordship had better have another dozen, your la'ship. Better too much than too little, I always say;' or, 'O! my lady, your la'ship cannot form an idea of what a state my lord's stockings are in, my lady. I think I had better go over to Southport with John, my lady, and buy him some;' or, 'Please, my lady, did I understand your la'ship spoke to the tailor on Thursday about my lord's things? I suppose your la'ship knows my lord has got no great-coat?'
Every one of these inquiries made Venetia's heart tremble. Then there was the sad habit of dating every coming day by its distance from the fatal one. There was the last day but four, and the last day but three, and the last day but two. The last day but one at length arrived; and at length, too, though it seemed incredible, the last day itself.
Plantagenet and Venetia both rose very early, that they might make it as long as possible. They sighed involuntarily when they met, and then they went about to pay last visits to every creature and object of which they had been so long fond. Plantagenet went to bid farewell to the horses and adieu to the cows, and then walked down to the woodman's cottage, and then to shake hands with the keeper. He would not say 'Good-bye' to the household until the very last moment; and as for Marmion, the bloodhound, he accompanied both of them so faithfully in this melancholy ramble, and kept so close to both, that it was useless to break the sad intelligence to him yet.
'I think now, Venetia, we have been to see everything,' said Plantagenet, 'I shall see the peacocks at breakfast time. I wish Eton was near Cherbury, and then I could come home on Sunday. I cannot bear going to Cadurcis again, but I should like you to go once a week, and try to keep up our garden, and look after everything, though there is not much that will not take care of itself, except the garden. We made that together, and I could not bear its being neglected.'
Venetia could not assure him that no wish of his should be neglected, because she was weeping.
'I am glad the Doctor,' he continued, 'is going to take me to town. I should be very wretched by myself. But he will put me in mind of Cherbury, and we can talk together of Lady Annabel and you. Hark! the bell rings; we must go to breakfast, the last breakfast but one.'
Lady Annabel endeavoured, by unusual good spirits, to cheer up her little friends. She spoke of Plantagenet's speedy return so much as a matter of course, and the pleasant things they were to do when he came back, that she really succeeded in exciting a smile in Venetia's April face, for she was smiling amid tears.
Although it was the last day, time hung heavily on their hands. After breakfast they went over the house together; and Cadurcis, half with genuine feeling, and half in a spirit of mockery of their sorrow, made a speech to the inanimate walls, as if they were aware of his intended departure. At length, in their progress, they passed the door of the closed apartments, and here, holding Venetia's hand, he stopped, and, with an expression of irresistible humour, making a low bow to them, he said, very gravely, 'And good-bye rooms that I have never entered; perhaps, before I come back, Venetia will find out what is locked up in you!'
Dr. Masham arrived for dinner, and in a postchaise. The unusual conveyance reminded them of the morrow very keenly. Venetia could not bear to see the Doctor's portmanteau taken out and carried into the hall. She had hopes, until then, that something would happen and prevent all this misery. Cadurcis whispered her, 'I say, Venetia, do not you wish this was winter?'
'Because then we might have a good snowstorm, and be blocked up again for a week.'
Venetia looked at the sky, but not a cloud was to be seen.
The Doctor was glad to warm himself at the hall-fire, for it was a fresh autumnal afternoon.
'Are you cold, sir?' said Venetia, approaching him.
'I am, my little maiden,' said the Doctor.
'Do you think there is any chance of its snowing, Doctor Masham?'
'Snowing! my little maiden; what can you be thinking of?'
The dinner was rather gayer than might have been expected. The Doctor was jocular, Lady Annabel lively, and Plantagenet excited by an extraordinary glass of wine. Venetia alone remained dispirited. The Doctor made mock speeches and proposed toasts, and told Plantagenet that he must learn to make speeches too, or what would he do when he was in the House of Lords? And then Plantagenet tried to make a speech, and proposed Venetia's health; and then Venetia, who could not bear to hear herself praised by him on such a day, the last day, burst into tears. Her mother called her to her side and consoled her, and Plantagenet jumped up and wiped her eyes with one of those very pocket-handkerchiefs on which she had embroidered his cipher and coronet with her own beautiful hair. Towards evening Plantagenet began to experience the reaction of his artificial spirits. The Doctor had fallen into a gentle slumber, Lady Annabel had quitted the room, Venetia sat with her hand in Plantagenet's on a stool by the fireside. Both were sad and silent. At last Venetia said, 'O Plantagenet, I wish I were your real sister! Perhaps, when I see you again, you will forget this,' and she turned the jewel that was suspended round her neck, and showed him the inscription.
'I am sure when I see you-again, Venetia,' he replied, 'the only difference will be, that I shall love you more than ever.'
'I hope so,' said Venetia.
'I am sure of it. Now remember what we are talking about. When we meet again, we shall see which of us two will love each other the most.'
'O Plantagenet, I hope they will be kind to you at Eton.'
'I will make them.'
'And, whenever you are the least unhappy, you will write to us?'
'I shall never be unhappy about anything but being away from you. As for the rest, I will make people respect me; I know what I am.'
'Because if they do not behave well to you, mamma could ask Dr. Masham to go and see you, and they will attend to him; and I would ask him too. I wonder,' she continued after a moment's pause, 'if you have everything you want. I am quite sure the instant you are gone, we shall remember something you ought to have; and then I shall be quite brokenhearted.'