Her uncle was ten years the senior of his sister, but not unlike her. Tall, graceful, with those bland and sympathising manners that easily win hearts, he entered the room with a smile of affection, yet with a composure of deportment that expressed at the same time how sincerely delighted he was at the meeting, and how considerately determined, at the same time, not to indulge in a scene. He embraced his sister with tenderness, assured her that she looked as young as ever, softly chided her for not making his house her home, and hoped that they should never part again; and he then turned to his niece. A fine observer, one less interested in the scene than the only witnesses, might have detected in the Earl, notwithstanding his experienced breeding, no ordinary surprise and gratification at the sight of the individual whose relationship he was now to claim for the first time.
'I must claim an uncle's privilege,' he said, in a tone of sweetness and some emotion, as he pressed with his own the beautiful lips of Venetia. 'I ought to be proud of my niece. Why, Annabel! if only for the honour of our family, you should not have kept this jewel so long enshrined in the casket of Cherbury.'
The Earl remained with them some hours, and his visit was really prolonged by the unexpected pleasure which he found in the society of his relations. He would not leave them until they promised to dine with him that day, and mentioned that he had prevented his wife from calling with him that morning, because he thought, after so long a separation, it might be better to meet thus quietly. Then they parted with affectionate cordiality on both sides; the Earl enchanted to find delightful companions where he was half afraid he might only meet tiresome relatives; Lady Annabel proud of her brother, and gratified by his kindness; and Venetia anxious to ascertain whether all her relations were as charming as her uncle.
When Lady Annabel and her daughter returned from their morning drive, they found the visiting ticket of the Countess on the table, who had also left a note, with which she had provided herself in case she was not so fortunate as to meet her relations. The note was affectionate, and expressed the great delight of the writer at again meeting her dear sister, and forming an acquaintance with her charming niece.
'More relations!' said Venetia, with a somewhat droll expression of countenance.
At this moment the Bishop of——, who had already called twice upon them unsuccessfully, entered the room. The sight of this old and dear friend gave great joy. He came to engage them to dine with him the next day, having already ineffectually endeavoured to obtain them for permanent guests. They sat chatting so long with him, that they were obliged at last to bid him an abrupt adieu, and hasten and make their toilettes for their dinner.
Their hostess received her relations with a warmth which her husband's praises of her sister-in-law and niece had originally prompted, but which their appearance and manners instantly confirmed. As all the Earl's children were married, their party consisted to-day only of themselves; but it was a happy and agreeable meeting, for every one was desirous of being amiable. To be sure they had not many recollections or associations in common, and no one recurred to the past; but London, and the history of its fleeting hours, was an inexhaustible source of amusing conversation; and the Countess seemed resolved that Venetia should have a brilliant season; that she should be much amused and much admired. Lady Annabel, however, put in a plea for moderation, at least until Venetia was presented; but that the Countess declared must be at the next drawing-room, which was early in the ensuing week. Venetia listened to glittering narratives of balls and routs, operas and theatres, breakfasts and masquerades, Ranelagh and the Pantheon, with the same smiling composure as if she had been accustomed to them all her life, instead of having been shut up in a garden, with no livelier or brighter companions than birds and flowers.
After dinner, as her aunt and uncle and Lady Annabel sat round the fire, talking of her maternal grandfather, a subject which did not at all interest her, Venetia stole from her chair to a table in a distant part of the room, and turned over some books and music that were lying upon it. Among these was a literary journal, which she touched almost by accident, and which opened, with the name of Lord Cadurcis on the top of its page. This, of course, instantly attracted her attention. Her eye passed hastily over some sentences which greatly astonished her, and, extending her arm for a chair without quitting the book, she was soon deeply absorbed by the marvels which rapidly unfolded themselves to her. The article in question was an elaborate criticism as well of the career as the works of the noble poet; for, indeed, as Venetia now learnt, they were inseparably blended. She gathered from these pages a faint and hasty yet not altogether unfaithful conception of the strange revolution that had occurred in the character, pursuits, and position of her former companion. In that mighty metropolis, whose wealth and luxury and power had that morning so vividly impressed themselves upon her consciousness, and to the history of whose pleasures and brilliant and fantastic dissipation she had recently been listening with a lively and diverted ear, it seemed that, by some rapid and magical vicissitude, her little Plantagenet, the faithful and affectionate companion of her childhood, whose sorrows she had so often soothed, and who in her pure and devoted love had always found consolation and happiness, had become 'the observed of all observers;' the most remarkable where all was striking, and dazzling where all were brilliant!
His last visit to Cherbury, and its strange consequences, then occurred to her; his passionate addresses, and their bitter parting. Here was surely matter enough for a maiden's reverie, and into a reverie Venetia certainly fell, from which she was roused by the voice of her uncle, who could not conceive what book his charming niece could find so interesting, and led her to feel what an ill compliment she was paying to all present. Venetia hastily closed the volume, and rose rather confused from her seat; her radiant smile was the best apology to her uncle: and she compensated for her previous inattention, by playing to him on the harpsichord. All the time, however, the image of Cadurcis flitted across her vision, and she was glad when her mother moved to retire, that she might enjoy the opportunity of pondering in silence and unobserved over the strange history that she had read.
London is a wonderful place! Four-and-twenty hours back, with a feeling of loneliness and depression amounting to pain, Venetia had fled to sleep as her only refuge; now only a day had passed, and she had both seen and heard many things that had alike startled and pleased her; had found powerful and charming friends; and laid her head upon her pillow in a tumult of emotion that long banished slumber from her beautiful eyes.
Venetia soon found that she must bid adieu for ever, in London, to her old habits of solitude. She soon discovered that she was never to be alone. Her aunt called upon them early in the morning, and said that the whole day must be devoted to their court dresses; and in a few minutes they were all whirled off to a celebrated milliner's. After innumerable consultations and experiments, the dress of Venetia was decided on; her aunt and Lady Annabel were both assured that it would exceed in splendour and propriety any dress at the drawing-room. Indeed, as the great artist added, with such a model to work from it would reflect but little credit on the establishment, if any approached Miss Herbert in the effect she must inevitably produce.
While her mother was undergoing some of those attentions to which Venetia had recently submitted, and had retired for a few minutes into an adjoining apartment, our little lady of Cherbury strolled about the saloon in which she had been left, until her attention was attracted by a portrait of a young man in an oriental dress, standing very sublimely amid the ruins of some desert city; a palm tree in the distance, and by his side a crouching camel, and some recumbent followers slumbering amid the fallen columns.
'That is Lord Cadurcis, my love,' said her aunt, who at the moment joined her, 'the famous poet. All the young ladies are in love with him. I dare say you know his works by heart.'
'No, indeed, aunt,' said Venetia; 'I have never even read them; but I should like very much.'
'Not read Lord Cadurcis' poems! Oh! we must go and get them directly for you. Everybody reads them. You will be looked upon quite as a little barbarian. We will stop the carriage at Stockdale's, and get them for you.'
At this moment Lady Annabel rejoined them; and, having made all their arrangements, they re-entered the carriage.
'Stop at Stockdale's,' said her ladyship to the servant; 'I must get Cadurcis' last poem for Venetia. She will be quite back in her learning, Annabel.'
'Cadurcis' last poem!' said Lady Annabel; 'do you mean Lord Cadurcis? Is he a poet?'
'To he sure! Well, you are countrified not to know Lord Cadurcis!'
'I know him very well,' said Lady Annabel, gravely; 'but I did not know he was a poet.'
The Countess laughed, the carriage stopped, the book was brought; Lady Annabel looked uneasy, and tried to catch her daughter's countenance, but, strange to say, for the first time in her life was quite unsuccessful. The Countess took the book, and immediately gave it Venetia. 'There, my dear,' said her aunt, 'there never was anything so charming. I am so provoked that Cadurcis is a Whig.'
'A Whig!' said Lady Annabel; 'he was not a Whig when I knew him.'
'Oh! my dear, I am afraid he is worse than a Whig. He is almost a rebel! But then he is such a genius! Everything is allowed, you know, to a genius!' said the thoughtless sister-in-law.
Lady Annabel was silent; but the stillness of her emotion must not be judged from the stillness of her tongue. Her astonishment at all she had heard was only equalled by what we may justly term her horror. It was impossible that she could have listened to any communication at the same time so astounding, and to her so fearful.
'We knew Lord Cadurcis when he was very young, aunt,' said Venetia, in a quiet tone. 'He lived near mamma, in the country.'
'Oh! my dear Annabel, if you see him in town bring him to me; he is the most difficult person in the world to get to one's house, and I would give anything if he would come and dine with me.'
The Countess at last set her relations down at their hotel. When Lady Annabel was once more alone with her daughter, she said, 'Venetia, dearest, give me that book your aunt lent you.'
Venetia immediately handed it to her, but her mother did not open it; but saying, 'The Bishop dines at four, darling; I think it is time for us to dress,' Lady Annabel left the room.
To say the truth, Venetia was less surprised than disappointed by this conduct of her mother's; but she was not apt to murmur, and she tried to dismiss the subject from her thoughts.
It was with unfeigned delight that the kind-hearted Masham welcomed under his own roof his two best and dearest friends. He had asked nobody to meet them; it was settled that they were to be quite alone, and to talk of nothing but Cherbury and Marringhurst. When they were seated at table, the Bishop, who had been detained at the House of Lords, and been rather hurried to be in time to receive his guests, turned to his servant and inquired whether any one had called.
'Yes, my lord, Lord Cadurcis,' was the reply.
'Our old companion,' said the Bishop to Lady Annabel, with a smile. 'He has called upon me twice, and I have on both occasions unfortunately been absent.'
Lady Annabel merely bowed an assent to the Bishop's remark. Venetia longed to speak, but found it impossible. 'What is it that represses me?' she asked herself. 'Is there to be another forbidden subject insensibly to arise between us? I must struggle against this indefinable despotism that seems to pervade my life.'
'Have you met Lord Cadurcis, sir?' at length asked Venetia.
'Once; we resumed our acquaintance at a dinner party one day; but I shall soon see a great deal of him, for he has just taken his seat. He is of age, you know.'
'I hope he has come to years of discretion in every sense,' said Lady Annabel; 'but I fear not.'
'Oh, my dear lady!' said the Bishop, 'he has become a great man; he is our star. I assure you there is nobody in London talked of but Lord Cadurcis. He asked me a great deal after you and Cherbury. He will be delighted to see you.'
'I cannot say,' replied Lady Annabel, 'that the desire of meeting is at all mutual. From all I hear, our connections and opinions are very different, and I dare say our habits likewise.'
'My aunt lent us his new poem to-day,' said Venetia, boldly.
'Have you read it?' asked the Bishop.
'I am no admirer of modern poetry,' said Lady Annabel, somewhat tartly.
'Poetry of any kind is not much in my way,' said the Bishop, 'but if you like to read his poems, I will lend them to you, for he gave me a copy; esteemed a great honour, I assure you.'
'Thank you, my lord,' said Lady Annabel, 'both Venetia and myself are much engaged now; and I do not wish her to read while she is in London. When we return to Cherbury she will have abundance of time, if desirable.'
Both Venetia and her worthy host felt that the present subject of conversation was not agreeable to Lady Annabel, and it was changed. They fell upon more gracious topics, and in spite of this somewhat sullen commencement the meeting was quite as delightful as they anticipated. Lady Annabel particularly exerted herself to please, and, as was invariably the case under such circumstances with this lady, she was eminently successful; she apparently endeavoured, by her remarkable kindness to her daughter, to atone for any unpleasant feeling which her previous manner might for an instant have occasioned. Venetia watched her beautiful and affectionate parent, as Lady Annabel now dwelt with delight upon the remembrance of their happy home, and now recurred to the anxiety she naturally felt about her daughter's approaching presentation, with feelings of love and admiration, which made her accuse herself for the recent rebellion of her heart. She thought only of her mother's sorrows, and her devotion to her child; and, grateful for the unexpected course of circumstances which seemed to be leading every member of their former little society to honour and happiness, she resolved to persist in that career of duty and devotion to her mother, from which it seemed to her she had never deviated for a moment but to experience sorrow, misfortune, and remorse. Never did Venetia receive her mother's accustomed embrace and blessing with more responsive tenderness and gratitude than this night. She banished Cadurcis and his poems from her thoughts, confident that, so long as her mother approved neither of her continuing his acquaintance, nor perusing his writings, it was well that the one should be a forgotten tie, and the other a sealed book.
Among the intimate acquaintances of Lady Annabel's brother was the nobleman who had been a minister during the American war, and who had also been the guardian of Lord Cadurcis, of whom, indeed, he was likewise a distant relative. He had called with his wife on Lady Annabel, after meeting her and her daughter at her brother's, and had cultivated her acquaintance with great kindness and assiduity, so that Lady Annabel had found it impossible to refuse his invitation to dinner.
This dinner occurred a few days after the visit of the Herberts to the Bishop, and that excellent personage, her own family, and some others equally distinguished, but all of the ministerial party, were invited to meet her. Lady Annabel found herself placed at table between a pompous courtier, who, being a gourmand, was not very prompt to disturb his enjoyment by conversation, and a young man whom she found very agreeable, and who at first, indeed, attracted her attention by his resemblance to some face with which she felt she was familiar, and yet which she was not successful in recalling. His manners were remarkably frank and ingenuous, yet soft and refined. Without having any peculiar brilliancy of expression, he was apt and fluent, and his whole demeanour characterised by a gentle modesty that was highly engaging. Apparently he had travelled a great deal, for he more than once alluded to his experience of foreign countries; but this was afterwards explained by Lady Annabel discovering, from an observation he let fall, that he was a sailor. A passing question from an opposite guest also told her that he was a member of parliament. While she was rather anxiously wishing to know who he might be, and congratulating herself that one in whose favour she was so much prepossessed should be on the right side, their host saluted him from the top of the table, and said, 'Captain Cadurcis, a glass of wine.'
The countenance was now explained. It was indeed Lord Cadurcis whom he resembled, though his eyes were dark blue, and his hair light brown. This then was that cousin who had been sent to sea to make his fortune, and whom Lady Annabel had a faint recollection of poor Mrs. Cadurcis once mentioning. George Cadurcis had not exactly made his fortune, but he had distinguished himself in his profession, and especially in Rodney's victory, and had fought his way up to the command of a frigate. The frigate had recently been paid off, and he had called to pay his respects to his noble relative with the hope of obtaining his interest for a new command. The guardian of his cousin, mortified with the conduct of his hopeful ward, was not very favourably impressed towards any one who bore the name of Cadurcis; yet George, with no pretence, had a winning honest manner that made friends; his lordship took a fancy to him, and, as he could not at the moment obtain him a ship, he did the next best thing for him in his power; a borough was vacant, and he put him into parliament.
'Do you know,' said Lady Annabel to her neighbour, 'I have been fancying all dinner time that we had met before; but I find it is that you only resemble one with whom I was once acquainted.'
'My cousin!' said the Captain; 'he will be very mortified when I go home, if I tell him your ladyship speaks of his acquaintance as one that is past.'
'It is some years since we met,' said Lady Annabel, in a more reserved tone.
'Plantagenet can never forget what he owes to you,' said Captain Cadurcis. 'How often has he spoken to me of you and Miss Herbert! It was only the other night; yes! not a week ago; that he made me sit up with him all night, while he was telling stories of Cherbury: you see I am quite familiar with the spot,' he added, smiling.
'You are very intimate with your cousin, I see,' said Lady Annabel.
'I live a great deal with him,' said George Cadurcis. 'You know we had never met or communicated; and it was not Plantagenet's fault, I am sure; for of all the generous, amiable, lovable beings, Cadurcis is the best I ever met with in this world. Ever since we knew each other he has been a brother to me; and though our politics and opinions are so opposed, and we naturally live in such a different circle, he would have insisted even upon my having apartments in his house; nor is it possible for me to give you the slightest idea of the delicate and unceasing kindness I experience from him. If we had lived together all our lives, it would be impossible to be more united.'
This eulogium rather softened Lady Annabel's heart; she even observed, 'I always thought Lord Cadurcis naturally well disposed; I always hoped he would turn out well; but I was afraid, from what I heard, he was much changed. He shows, however, his sense and good feeling in selecting you for his friend; for you are his natural one,' she added, after a momentary pause.
'And then you know,' he continued, 'it is so purely kind of him; for of course I am not fit to be a companion for Cadurcis, and perhaps, as far as that, no one is. Of course we have not a thought in common. I know nothing but what I have picked up in a rough life; and he, you know, is the cleverest person that ever lived, at least I think so.'
Lady Annabel smiled.
'Well, he is very young,' she observed, 'much your junior, Captain Cadurcis; and I hope he will yet prove a faithful steward of the great gifts that God has given him.'
'I would stake all I hold dear,' said the Captain, with great animation, 'that Cadurcis turns out well. He has such a good heart. Ah! Lady Annabel, if he be now and then a little irregular, only think of the temptations that assail him. Only one-and-twenty, his own master, and all London at his feet. It is too much for any one's head. But say or think what the world may, I know him better than they do; and I know there is not a finer creature in existence. I hope his old friends will not desert him,' added Captain Cadurcis, with a smile which, seemed to deprecate the severity of Lady Annabel; 'for in spite of all his fame and prosperity, perhaps, after all, this is the time when he most needs them.'
'Very possibly,' said her ladyship rather dryly.
While the mother was engaged in this conversation with her neighbour respecting her former interesting acquaintance, such was the fame of Lord Cadurcis then in the metropolis, that he also formed the topic of conversation at another part of the table, to which the daughter was an attentive listener. The tone in which he was spoken of, however, was of a very different character. While no one disputed his genius, his principles, temper, and habits of life were submitted to the severest scrutiny; and it was with blended feelings of interest and astonishment that Venetia listened to the detail of wild opinions, capricious conduct, and extravagant and eccentric behaviour ascribed to the companion of her childhood, who had now become the spoiled child of society. A shrewd gentleman, who had taken an extremely active part in this discussion, inquired of Venetia, next to whom he was seated, whether she had read his lordship's last poem. He was extremely surprised when Venetia answered in the negative; but he seized the opportunity of giving her an elaborate criticism on the poetical genius of Cadurcis. 'As for his style,' said the critic, 'no one can deny that is his own, and he will last by his style; as for his philosophy, and all these wild opinions of his, they will pass away, because they are not genuine, they are not his own, they are borrowed. He will outwrite them; depend upon it, he will. The fact is, as a friend of mine observed the other day, Herbert's writings have turned his head. Of course you could know nothing about them, but there are wonderful things in them, I can tell you that.'
'I believe it most sincerely,' said Venetia.
The critic stared at his neighbour. 'Hush!' said he, 'his wife and daughter are here. We must not talk of these things. You know Lady Annabel Herbert? There she is; a very fine woman too. And that is his daughter there, I believe, that dark girl with a turned-up nose. I cannot say she warrants the poetical address to her:
My precious pearl the false and glittering world Has ne'er polluted with, its garish light!
She does not look much like a pearl, does she? She should keep in solitude, eh?'
The ladies rose and relieved Venetia from her embarrassment.
After dinner Lady Annabel introduced George Cadurcis to her daughter; and, seated by them both, he contrived without effort, and without the slightest consciousness of success, to confirm the pleasing impression in his favour which he had already made, and, when they parted, it was even with a mutual wish that they might meet again.
It was the night after the drawing-room. Lord Cadurcis was at Brookes' dining at midnight, having risen since only a few hours. Being a malcontent, he had ceased to attend the Court, where his original reception had been most gracious, which he had returned by some factious votes, and a caustic lampoon.
A party of young men entered, from the Court Ball, which in those days always terminated at midnight, whence the guests generally proceeded to Ranelagh; one or two of them seated themselves at the table at which Cadurcis was sitting. They were full of a new beauty who had been presented. Their violent and even extravagant encomiums excited his curiosity. Such a creature had never been seen, she was peerless, the most radiant of acknowledged charms had been dimmed before her. Their Majesties had accorded to her the most marked reception. A Prince of the blood had honoured her with his hand. Then they began to expatiate with fresh enthusiasm on her unparalleled loveliness.
'O Cadurcis,' said a young noble, who was one of his extreme admirers, 'she is the only creature I ever beheld worthy of being one of your heroines.'
'Whom are you talking about?' asked Cadurcis in a rather listless tone.
'The new beauty, of course.'
'And who may she be?'
'Miss Herbert, to be sure. Who speaks or thinks of any one else?'
'What, Ve——, I mean Miss Herbert?' exclaimed Cadurcis, with no little energy.
'Yes. Do you know her?'
'Do you mean to say—' and Cadurcis stopped and rose from the table, and joined the party round the fire. 'What Miss Herbert is it?' he added, after a short pause.
'Why the Miss Herbert; Herbert's daughter, to be sure. She was presented to-day by her mother.
'Presented to-day!' said Cadurcis audibly, yet speaking as it were to himself. 'Presented to-day! Presented! How strange!'
'So every one thinks; one of the strangest things that ever happened,' remarked a bystander.
'And I did not even know they were in town,' continued Cadurcis, for, from his irregular hours, he had not seen his cousin since the party of yesterday. He began walking up and down the room, muttering, 'Masham, Weymouth, London, presented at Court, and I know nothing. How life changes! Venetia at Court, my Venetia!' Then turning round and addressing the young nobleman who had first spoken to him, he asked 'if the ball were over.'
'Yes; all the world are going to Ranelagh. Are you inclined to take a round?'
'I have a strange fancy,' said Cadurcis, 'and if you will go with me, I will take you in my vis-a-vis. It is here.'
This was an irresistible invitation, and in a few minutes the companions were on their way; Cadurcis, apparently with no peculiar interest in the subject, leading the conversation very artfully to the presentation of Miss Herbert. His friend was heartily inclined to gratify his curiosity. He gave him ample details of Miss Herbert's person: even of her costume, and the sensation both produced; how she was presented by her mother, who, after so long an estrangement from the world, scarcely excited less impression, and the remarkable cordiality with which both mother and daughter were greeted by the sovereign and his royal consort.
The two young noblemen found Ranelagh crowded, but the presence of Lord Cadurcis occasioned a sensation the moment he was recognised. Everywhere the whisper went round, and many parties crowded near to catch a glimpse of the hero of the day. 'Which is he? That fair, tall young man? No, the other to be sure. Is it really he? How distinguished! How melancholy! Quite the poet. Do you think he is really so unhappy as he looks? I would sooner see him than the King and Queen. He seems very young, but then he has seen so much of the world! Fine eyes, beautiful hair! I wonder who is his friend? How proud he must be! Who is that lady he bowed to? That is the Duke of —— speaking to him,' Such were the remarks that might be caught in the vicinity of Lord Cadurcis as he took his round, gazed at by the assembled crowd, of whom many knew him only by fame, for the charm of Ranelagh was that it was rather a popular than a merely fashionable assembly. Society at large blended with the Court, which maintained and renewed its influence by being witnessed under the most graceful auspices. The personal authority of the aristocracy has decreased with the disappearance of Ranelagh and similar places of amusement, where rank was not exclusive, and luxury by the gratification it occasioned others seemed robbed of half its selfism.
In his second round, Lord Cadurcis recognised the approach of the Herberts. They formed the portion of a large party. Lady Annabel was leaning on her brother, whom Cadurcis knew by sight; Venetia was at the side of her aunt, and several gentlemen were hovering about them; among them, to his surprise, his cousin, George Cadurcis, in his uniform, for he had been to Court and to the Court Ball. Venetia was talking with animation. She was in her Court dress and in powder. Her appearance was strange to him. He could scarcely recognise the friend of his childhood; but without any doubt in all that assembly, unrivalled in the whole world for beauty, grace, and splendour, she was without a parallel; a cynosure on which all eyes were fixed.
So occupied were the ladies of the Herbert party by the conversation of their numerous and brilliant attendants, that the approach of any one else but Lord Cadurcis might have been unnoticed by them, but a hundred tongues before he drew nigh had prepared Venetia for his appearance. She was indeed most anxious to behold him, and though she was aware that her heart fluttered not slightly as the moment was at hand, she commanded her gaze, and her eyes met his, although she was doubtful whether he might choose or care to recognise her. He bowed almost to the ground; and when Venetia had raised her responsive head he had passed by.
'Why, Cadurcis, you know Miss Herbert?' said his friend in a tone of some astonishment.
'Well; but it is a long time since I have seen her.'
'Is she not beautiful?'
'I never doubted on that subject; I tell you, Scrope, we must contrive to join her party. I wish we had some of our friends among them. Here comes the Monteagle; aid me to escape her.'
The most fascinating smile failed in arresting the progress of Cadurcis; fortunately, the lady was the centre of a brilliant band; all that he had to do, therefore, was boldly to proceed.
'Do you think my cousin is altered since you knew him?' inquired George Cadurcis of Venetia.
'I scarcely had time to observe him,' she replied.
'I wish you would let me bring him to you. He did not know until this moment you were in town. I have not seen him since we met yesterday.'
'Oh, no,' said Venetia. 'Do not disturb him.'
In time, however, Lord Cadurcis was again in sight; and now without any hesitation he stopped, and falling into the line by Miss Herbert, he addressed her: 'I am proud of being remembered by Miss Herbert,' he said.
'I am most happy to meet you,' replied Venetia, with unaffected sincerity.
'And Lady Annabel, I have not been able to catch her eye: is she quite well? I was ignorant that you were in London until I heard of your triumph this night.'
The Countess whispered her niece, and Venetia accordingly presented Lord Cadurcis to her aunt. This was a most gratifying circumstance to him. He was anxious, by some means or other, to effect his entrance into her circle; and he had an irresistible suspicion that Lady Annabel no longer looked upon him with eyes of favour. So he resolved to enlist the aunt as his friend. Few persons could be more winning than Cadurcis, when he willed it; and every attempt to please from one whom all emulated to gratify and honour, was sure to be successful. The Countess, who, in spite of politics, was a secret votary of his, was quite prepared to be enchanted. She congratulated herself on forming, as she had long wished, an acquaintance with one so celebrated. She longed to pass Lady Monteagle in triumph. Cadurcis improved his opportunity to the utmost. It was impossible for any one to be more engaging; lively, yet at the same time gentle, and deferential with all his originality. He spoke, indeed, more to the aunt than to Venetia, but when he addressed the latter, there was a melting, almost a mournful tenderness in his tones, that alike affected her heart and charmed her imagination. Nor could she be insensible to the gratification she experienced as she witnessed, every instant, the emotion his presence excited among the passers-by, and of which Cadurcis himself seemed so properly and so utterly unconscious. And this was Plantagenet!
Lord Cadurcis spoke of his cousin, who, on his joining the party, had assisted the arrangement by moving to the other side; and he spoke of him with a regard which pleased Venetia, though Cadurcis envied him his good fortune in having the advantage of a prior acquaintance with Miss Herbert in town; 'but then we are old acquaintances in the country,' he added, half in a playful, half in a melancholy tone, 'are we not?'
'It is a long time that we have known each other, and it is a long time since we have met,' replied Venetia.
'A delicate reproach,' said Cadurcis; 'but perhaps rather my misfortune than my fault. My thoughts have been often, I might say ever, at Cherbury.'
'And the abbey; have you forgotten the abbey?'
'I have never been near it since a morning you perhaps remember,' said his lordship in a low voice. 'Ah! Miss Herbert,' he continued, with a sigh, 'I was young then; I have lived to change many opinions, and some of which you then disapproved.'
The party stopped at a box just vacant, and in which the ladies seated themselves while their carriages were inquired for. Lord Cadurcis, with a rather faltering heart, went up to pay his respects to Venetia's mother. Lady Annabel received him with a courtesy, that however was scarcely cordial, but the Countess instantly presented him to her husband with an unction which a little astonished her sister-in-law. Then a whisper, but unobserved, passed between the Earl and his lady, and in a minute Lord Cadurcis had been invited to dine with them on the next day, and meet his old friends from the country. Cadurcis was previously engaged, but hesitated not a moment in accepting the invitation. The Monteagle party now passed by; the lady looked a little surprised at the company in which she found her favourite, and not a little mortified by his neglect. What business had Cadurcis to be speaking to that Miss Herbert? Was it not enough that the whole day not another name had scarcely crossed her ear, but the night must even witness the conquest of Lord Cadurcis by the new beauty? It was such bad ton, it was so unlike him, it was so underbred, for a person of his position immediately to bow before the new idol of the hour, and a Tory girl too! It was the last thing she could have expected from him. She should, on the contrary, have thought that the universal admiration which this Miss Herbert commanded, would have been exactly the reason why a man like Cadurcis would have seemed almost unconscious of her existence. She determined to remonstrate with him; and she was sure of a speedy opportunity, for he was to dine with her on the morrow.
Notwithstanding Lady Annabel's reserved demeanour, Lord Cadurcis, supported by the presence of his cousin, whom he had discovered to be a favourite of that lady, ventured to call upon her the next day, but she was out. They were to meet, however, at dinner, where Cadurcis determined to omit no opportunity to propitiate her. The Countess had a great deal of tact, and she contrived to make up a party to receive him, in which there were several of his friends, among them his cousin and the Bishop of——, and no strangers who were not, like herself, his great admirers; but if she had known more, she need not have given herself this trouble, for there was a charm among her guests of which she was ignorant, and Cadurcis went determined to please and to be pleased.
At dinner he was seated next to Lady Annabel, and it was impossible for any person to be more deferential, soft, and insinuating. He spoke of old days with emotion which he did not attempt to suppress; he alluded to the present with infinite delicacy. But it was very difficult to make way. Lady Annabel was courteous, but she was reserved. His lively reminiscences elicited from her no corresponding sentiment; and no art would induce her to dwell upon the present. If she only would have condescended to compliment him, it would have given him an opportunity of expressing his distaste of the life which he now led, and a description of the only life which he wished to lead; but Lady Annabel studiously avoided affording him any opening of the kind. She treated him like a stranger. She impressed upon him without effort that she would only consider him an acquaintance. How Cadurcis, satiated with the incense of the whole world, sighed for one single congratulation from Lady Annabel! Nothing could move her.
'I was so surprised to meet you last night,' at length he again observed. 'I have made so many inquiries after you. Our dear friend the Bishop was, I fear, almost wearied with my inquiries after Cherbury. I know not how it was, I felt quite a pang when I heard that you had left it, and that all these years, when I have been conjuring up so many visions of what was passing under that dear roof, you were at Weymouth.'
'Yes. We were at Weymouth some time.'
'But do not you long to see Cherbury again? I cannot tell you how I pant for it. For my part, I have seen the world, and I have seen enough of it. After all, the end of all our exertions is to be happy at home; that is the end of everything; don't you think so?'
'A happy home is certainly a great blessing,' replied Lady Annabel; 'and a rare one.'
'But why should it be rare?' inquired Lord Cadurcis.
'It is our own fault,' said Lady Annabel; 'our vanity drives us from our hearths.'
'But we soon return again, and calm and cooled. For my part, I have no object in life but to settle down at the old abbey, and never to quit again our woods. But I shall lead a dull life without my neighbours,' he added, with a smile, and in a tone half-coaxing.
'I suppose you never see Lord —— now?' said Lady Annabel, mentioning his late guardian. There was, as Cadurcis fancied, some sarcasm in the question, though not in the tone in which it was asked.
'No, I never see him,' his lordship answered firmly; 'we differ in our opinions, and I differ from him with regret; but I differ from a sense of duty, and therefore I have no alternative.'
'The claims of duty are of course paramount,' observed Lady Annabel.
'You know my cousin?' said Cadurcis, to turn the conversation.
'Yes, and I like him much; he appears to be a sensible, amiable person, of excellent principles.'
'I am not bound to admire George's principles,' said Lord Cadurcis, gaily; 'but I respect them, because I know that they are conscientious. I love George; he is my only relation, and he is my friend.'
'I trust he will always be your friend, for I think you will then, at least, know one person on whom you can depend.'
'I believe it. The friendships of the world are wind.'
'I am surprised to hear you say so,' said Lady Annabel.
'Why, Lady Annabel?'
'You have so many friends.'
Lord Cadurcis smiled. 'I wish,' he said, after a little hesitation, 'if only for "Auld lang syne," I might include Lady Annabel Herbert among them.'
'I do not think there is any basis for friendship between us, my lord,' she said, very dryly.
'The past must ever be with me,' said Lord Cadurcis, 'and I should have thought a sure and solid one.'
'Our opinions on all subjects are so adverse, that I must believe that there could be no great sympathy in our feelings.'
'My feelings are beyond my control,' he replied; 'they are, and must ever be, totally independent of my opinions.'
Lady Annabel did not reply. His lordship felt baffled, but he was resolved to make one more effort.
'Do you know,' he said, 'I can scarcely believe myself in London to-day? To be sitting next to you, to see Miss Herbert, to hear Dr. Masham's voice. Oh! does it not recall Cherbury, or Marringhurst, or that day at Cadurcis, when you were so good as to smile over my rough repast? Ah! Lady Annabel, those days were happy! those were feelings that can never die! All the glitter and hubbub of the world can never make me forget them, can never make you, I hope, Lady Annabel, quite recall them with an effort. We were friends then: let us be friends now.'
'I am too old to cultivate new friendships,' said Lady Annabel; 'and if we are to be friends, Lord Cadurcis, I am sorry to say that, after the interval that has occurred since we last parted, we should have to begin again.'
'It is a long time,' said Cadurcis, mournfully, 'a very long time, and one, in spite of what the world may think, to which I cannot look back with any self-congratulation. I wished three years ago never to leave Cadurcis again. Indeed I did; and indeed it was not my fault that I quitted it.'
'It was no one's fault, I hope. Whatever the cause may have been, I have ever remained quite ignorant of it. I wished, and wish, to remain ignorant of it. I, for one, have ever considered it the wise dispensation of a merciful Providence.'
Cadurcis ground his teeth; a dark look came over him which, when once it rose on his brow, was with difficulty dispelled; and for the remainder of the dinner he continued silent and gloomy.
He was, however, not unobserved by Venetia. She had watched his evident attempts to conciliate her mother with lively interest; she had witnessed their failure with sincere sorrow. In spite of that stormy interview, the results of which, in his hasty departure, and the severance of their acquaintance, she had often regretted, she had always retained for him the greatest affection. During these three years he had still, in her inmost heart, remained her own Plantagenet, her adopted brother, whom she loved, and in whose welfare her feelings were deeply involved. The mysterious circumstances of her birth, and the discoveries to which they had led, had filled her mind with a fanciful picture of human nature, over which she had long brooded. A great poet had become her ideal of a man. Sometimes she had sighed, when musing over her father and Plantagenet on the solitary seashore at Weymouth, that Cadurcis, instead of being the merely amiable, and somewhat narrow-minded being that she supposed, had not been invested with those brilliant and commanding qualities which she felt could alone master her esteem. Often had she, in those abstracted hours, played with her imagination in combining the genius of her father with the soft heart of that friend to whom she was so deeply attached. She had wished, in her reveries, that Cadurcis might have been a great man; that he might have existed in an atmosphere of glory amid the plaudits and admiration of his race; and that then he might have turned from all that fame, so dear to them both, to the heart which could alone sympathise with the native simplicity of his childhood.
The ladies withdrew. The Bishop and another of the guests joined them after a short interval. The rest remained below, and drank their wine with the freedom not unusual in those days, Lord Cadurcis among them, although it was not his habit. But he was not convivial, though he never passed the bottle untouched. He was in one of those dark humours of which there was a latent spring in his nature, but which in old days had been kept in check by his simple life, his inexperienced mind, and the general kindness that greeted him, and which nothing but the caprice and perversity of his mother could occasionally develope. But since the great revolution in his position, since circumstances had made him alike acquainted with his nature, and had brought all society to acknowledge its superiority; since he had gained and felt his irresistible power, and had found all the world, and all the glory of it, at his feet, these moods had become more frequent. The slightest reaction in the self-complacency that was almost unceasingly stimulated by the applause of applauded men and the love of the loveliest women, instantly took the shape and found refuge in the immediate form of the darkest spleen, generally, indeed, brooding in silence, and, if speaking, expressing itself only in sarcasm. Cadurcis was indeed, as we have already described him, the spoiled child of society; a froward and petted darling, not always to be conciliated by kindness, but furious when neglected or controlled. He was habituated to triumph; it had been his lot to come, to see, and to conquer; even the procrastination of certain success was intolerable to him; his energetic volition could not endure a check. To Lady Annabel Herbert, indeed, he was not exactly what he was to others; there was a spell in old associations from which he unconsciously could not emancipate himself, and from which it was his opinion he honoured her in not desiring to be free. He had his reasons for wishing to regain his old, his natural influence, over her heart; he did not doubt for an instant that, if Cadurcis sued, success must follow the condescending effort. He had sued, and he had been met with coldness, almost with disdain. He had addressed her in those terms of tenderness which experience had led him to believe were irresistible, yet to which he seldom had recourse, for hitherto he had not been under the degrading necessity of courting. He had dwelt with fondness on the insignificant past, because it was connected with her; he had regretted, or affected even to despise, the glorious present, because it seemed, for some indefinite cause, to have estranged him from her hearth. Yes! he had humbled himself before her; he had thrown with disdain at her feet all that dazzling fame and expanding glory which seemed his peculiar and increasing privilege. He had delicately conveyed to her that even these would be sacrificed, not only without a sigh, but with cheerful delight, to find himself once more living, as of old, in the limited world of her social affections. Three years ago he had been rejected by the daughter, because he was an undistinguished youth. Now the mother recoiled from his fame. And who was this woman? The same cold, stern heart that had alienated the gifted Herbert; the same narrow, rigid mind that had repudiated ties that every other woman in the world would have gloried to cherish and acknowledge. And with her he had passed his prejudiced youth, and fancied, like an idiot, that he had found sympathy! Yes, so long as he was a slave, a mechanical, submissive slave, bowing his mind to all the traditionary bigotry which she adored, never daring to form an opinion for himself, worshipping her idol, custom, and labouring by habitual hypocrisy to perpetuate the delusions of all around her!
In the meantime, while Lord Cadurcis was chewing the cud of these bitter feelings, we will take the opportunity of explaining the immediate cause of Lady Annabel's frigid reception of his friendly advances. All that she had heard of Cadurcis, all the information she had within these few days so rapidly acquired of his character and conduct, were indeed not calculated to dispose her to witness the renewal of their intimacy with feelings of remarkable satisfaction. But this morning she had read his poem, the poem that all London was talking of, and she had read it with horror. She looked upon Cadurcis as a lost man. With her, indeed, since her marriage, an imaginative mind had become an object of terror; but there were some peculiarities in the tone of Cadurcis' genius, which magnified to excess her general apprehension on this head. She traced, in every line, the evidences of a raging vanity, which she was convinced must prompt its owner to sacrifice, on all occasions, every feeling of duty to its gratification. Amid all the fervour of rebellious passions, and the violence of a wayward mind, a sentiment of profound egotism appeared to her impressed on every page she perused. Great as might have been the original errors of Herbert, awful as in her estimation were the crimes to which they had led him, they might in the first instance be traced rather to a perverted view of society than of himself. But self was the idol of Cadurcis; self distorted into a phantom that seemed to Lady Annabel pregnant not only with terrible crimes, but with the basest and most humiliating vices. The certain degradation which in the instance of her husband had been the consequence of a bad system, would, in her opinion, in the case of Cadurcis, be the result of a bad nature; and when she called to mind that there had once been a probability that this individual might have become the husband of her Venetia, her child whom it had been the sole purpose of her life to save from the misery of which she herself had been the victim; that she had even dwelt on the idea with complacency, encouraged its progress, regretted its abrupt termination, but consoled herself by the flattering hope that time, with even more favourable auspices, would mature it into fulfilment; she trembled, and turned pale.
It was to the Bishop that, after dinner, Lady Annabel expressed some of the feelings which the reappearance of Cadurcis had occasioned her.
'I see nothing but misery for his future,' she exclaimed; 'I tremble for him when he addresses me. In spite of the glittering surface on which he now floats, I foresee only a career of violence, degradation, and remorse.'
'He is a problem difficult to solve,' replied Masham; 'but there are elements not only in his character, but his career, so different from those of the person of whom we were speaking, that I am not inclined at once to admit, that the result must necessarily be the same.'
'I see none,' replied Lady Annabel; 'at least none of sufficient influence to work any material change.'
'What think you of his success?' replied Masham. 'Cadurcis is evidently proud of it. With all his affected scorn of the world, he is the slave of society. He may pique the feelings of mankind, but I doubt whether he will outrage them.'
'He is on such a dizzy eminence,' replied Lady Annabel, 'that I do not believe he is capable of calculating so finely. He does not believe, I am sure, in the possibility of resistance. His vanity will tempt him onwards.'
'Not to persecution,' said Masham. 'Now, my opinion of Cadurcis is, that his egotism, or selfism, or whatever you may style it, will ultimately preserve him from any very fatal, from any irrecoverable excesses. He is of the world, worldly. All his works, all his conduct, tend only to astonish mankind. He is not prompted by any visionary ideas of ameliorating his species. The instinct of self-preservation will serve him as ballast.'
'We shall see,' said Lady Annabel; 'for myself, whatever may be his end, I feel assured that great and disgraceful vicissitudes are in store for him.'
'It is strange after what, in comparison with such extraordinary changes, must be esteemed so brief an interval,' observed Masham, with a smile, 'to witness such a revolution in his position. I often think to myself, can this indeed be our little Plantagenet?'
'It is awful!' said Lady Annabel; 'much more than strange. For myself, when I recall certain indications of his feelings when he was last at Cadurcis, and think for a moment of the results to which they might have led, I shiver; I assure you, my dear lord, I tremble from head to foot. And I encouraged him! I smiled with fondness on his feelings! I thought I was securing the peaceful happiness of my child! What can we trust to in this world! It is too dreadful to dwell upon! It must have been an interposition of Providence that Venetia escaped.'
'Dear little Venetia,' exclaimed the good Bishop; 'for I believe I shall call her little Venetia to the day of my death. How well she looks to-night! Her aunt is, I think, very fond of her! See!'
'Yes, it pleases me,' said Lady Annabel; but I do wish my sister was not such an admirer of Lord Cadurcis' poems. You cannot conceive how uneasy it makes me. I am quite annoyed that he was asked here to-day. Why ask him?'
'Oh! there is no harm,' said Masham; 'you must forget the past. By all accounts, Cadurcis is not a marrying man. Indeed, as I understood, marriage with him is at present quite out of the question. And as for Venetia, she rejected him before, and she will, if necessary, reject him again. He has been a brother to her, and after that he can be no more. Girls never fall in love with those with whom they are bred up.'
'I hope, I believe there is no occasion for apprehension,' replied Lady Annabel; 'indeed, it has scarcely entered my head. The very charms he once admired in Venetia can have no sway over him, as I should think, now. I should believe him as little capable of appreciating Venetia now, as he was when last at Cherbury, of anticipating the change in his own character.'
'You mean opinions, my dear lady, for characters never change. Believe me, Cadurcis is radically the same as in old days. Circumstances have only developed his latent predisposition.'
'Not changed, my dear lord! what, that innocent, sweet-tempered, docile child—'
'Hush! here he comes.'
The Earl and his guests entered the room; a circle was formed round Lady Annabel; some evening visitors arrived; there was singing. It had not been the intention of Lord Cadurcis to return to the drawing-room after his rebuff by Lady Annabel; he had meditated making his peace at Monteagle House; but when the moment of his projected departure had arrived, he could not resist the temptation of again seeing Venetia. He entered the room last, and some moments after his companions. Lady Annabel, who watched the general entrance, concluded he had gone, and her attention was now fully engaged. Lord Cadurcis remained at the end of the room alone, apparently abstracted, and looking far from amiable; but his eye, in reality, was watching Venetia. Suddenly her aunt approached her, and invited the lady who was conversing with Miss Herbert to sing; Lord Cadurcis immediately advanced, and took her seat. Venetia was surprised that for the first time in her life with Plantagenet she felt embarrassed. She had met his look when he approached her, and had welcomed, or, at least, intended to welcome him with a smile, but she was at a loss for words; she was haunted with the recollection of her mother's behaviour to him at dinner, and she looked down on the ground, far from being at ease.
'Venetia!' said Lord Cadurcis.
'We are alone,' he said; 'let me call you Venetia when we are alone.'
She did not, she could not reply; she felt confused; the blood rose to her cheek.
'How changed is everything!' continued Cadurcis. 'To think the day should ever arrive when I should have to beg your permission to call you Venetia!'
She looked up; she met his glance. It was mournful; nay, his eyes were suffused with tears. She saw at her side the gentle and melancholy Plantagenet of her childhood.
'I cannot speak; I am agitated at meeting you,' she said with her native frankness. 'It is so long since we have been alone; and, as you say, all is so changed.'
'But are you changed, Venetia?' he said in a voice of emotion; 'for all other change is nothing.'
'I meet you with pleasure,' she replied; 'I hear of your fame with pride. You cannot suppose that it is possible I should cease to be interested in your welfare.'
'Your mother does not meet me with pleasure; she hears of nothing that has occurred to me with pride; your mother has ceased to take an interest in my welfare; and why should you be unchanged?'
'You mistake my mother.'
'No, no,' replied Cadurcis, shaking his head, 'I have read her inmost soul to-day. Your mother hates me; me, whom she once styled her son. She was a mother once to me, and you were my sister. If I have lost her heart, why have I not lost yours?'
'My heart, if you care for it, is unchanged,' said Venetia.
'O Venetia, whatever you may think, I never wanted the solace of a sister's love more than I do at this moment.'
'I pledged my affection to you when we were children,' replied Venetia; 'you have done nothing to forfeit it, and it is yours still.'
'When we were children,' said Cadurcis, musingly; 'when we were innocent; when we were happy. You, at least, are innocent still; are you happy, Venetia?'
'Life has brought sorrows even to me, Plantagenet.'
The blood deserted his heart when she called him Plantagenet; he breathed with difficulty.
'When I last returned to Cherbury,' he said, 'you told me you were changed, Venetia; you revealed to me on another occasion the secret cause of your affliction. I was a boy then, a foolish ignorant boy. Instead of sympathising with your heartfelt anxiety, my silly vanity was offended by feelings I should have shared, and soothed, and honoured. Ah, Venetia! well had it been for one of us that I had conducted myself more kindly, more wisely.'
'Nay, Plantagenet, believe me, I remember that interview only to regret it. The recollection of it has always occasioned me great grief. We were both to blame; but we were both children then. We must pardon each other's faults.'
'You will hear, that is, if you care to listen, Venetia, much of my conduct and opinions,' continued Lord Cadurcis, 'that may induce you to believe me headstrong and capricious. Perhaps I am less of both in all things than the world imagines. But of this be certain, that my feelings towards you have never changed, whatever you may permit them to be; and if some of my boyish judgments have, as was but natural, undergone some transformation, be you, my sweet friend, in some degree consoled for the inconsistency, since I have at length learned duly to appreciate one of whom we then alike knew little, but whom a natural inspiration taught you, at least, justly to appreciate: I need not say I mean the illustrious father of your being.'
Venetia could not restrain her tears; she endeavoured to conceal her agitated countenance behind the fan with which she was fortunately provided.
'To me a forbidden subject,' said Venetia, 'at least with them I could alone converse upon it, but one that my mind never deserts.'
'O Venetia!' exclaimed Lord Cadurcis with a sigh, 'would we were both with him!'
'A wild thought,' she murmured, 'and one I must not dwell upon.'
'We shall meet, I hope,' said Lord Cadurcis; 'we must meet, meet often. I called upon your mother to-day, fruitlessly. You must attempt to conciliate her. Why should we be parted? We, at least, are friends, and more than friends. I cannot exist unless we meet, and meet with the frankness of old days.'
'I think you mistake mamma; I think you may, indeed. Remember how lately she has met you, and after how long an interval! A little time, and she will resume her former feelings, and believe that you have never forfeited yours. Besides, we have friends, mutual friends. My aunt admires you, and here I naturally must be a great deal. And the Bishop, he still loves you; that I am sure he does: and your cousin, mamma likes your cousin. I am sure if you can manage only to be patient, if you will only attempt to conciliate a little, all will be as before. Remember, too, how changed your position is,' Venetia added with a smile; 'you allow me to forget you are a great man, but mamma is naturally restrained by all this wonderful revolution. When she finds that you really are the Lord Cadurcis whom she knew such a very little boy, the Lord Cadurcis who, without her aid, would never have been able even to write his fine poems, oh! she must love you again. How can she help it?'
Cadurcis smiled. 'We shall see,' he said. 'In the meantime do not you desert me, Venetia.'
'That is impossible,' she replied; 'the happiest of my days have been passed with you. You remember the inscription on the jewel? I shall keep to my vows.'
'That was a very good inscription so far as it went,' said Cadurcis; and then, as if a little alarmed at his temerity, he changed the subject.
'Do you know,' said Venetia, after a pause, 'I am treating you all this time as a poet, merely in deference to public opinion. Not a line have I been permitted to read; but I am resolved to rebel, and you must arrange it all.'
'Ah!' said the enraptured Cadurcis; 'this is fame!'
At this moment the Countess approached them, and told Venetia that her mother wished to speak to her. Lady Annabel had discovered the tete-a-tete, and resolved instantly to terminate it. Lord Cadurcis, however, who was quick as lightning, read all that was necessary in Venetia's look. Instead of instantly retiring, he remained some little time longer, talked to the Countess, who was perfectly enchanted with him, even sauntered up to the singers, and complimented them, and did not make his bow until he had convinced at least the mistress of the mansion, if not her sister-in-law, that it was not Venetia Herbert who was his principal attraction in this agreeable society.
The moment he had quitted Venetia, Lord Cadurcis returned home. He could not endure the usual routine of gaiety after her society; and his coachman, often waiting until five o'clock in the morning at Monteagle House, could scarcely assure himself of his good fortune in this exception to his accustomed trial of patience. The vis-a-vis stopped, and Lord Cadurcis bounded out with a light step and a lighter heart. His table was covered with letters. The first one that caught his eye was a missive from Lady Monteagle. Cadurcis seized it like a wild animal darting on its prey, tore it in half without opening it, and, grasping the poker, crammed it with great energy into the fire. This exploit being achieved, Cadurcis began walking up and down the room; and indeed he paced it for nearly a couple of hours in a deep reverie, and evidently under a considerable degree of excitement, for his gestures were violent, and his voice often audible. At length, about an hour after midnight, he rang for his valet, tore off his cravat, and hurled it to one corner of the apartment, called for his robe de chambre, soda water, and more lights, seated himself, and began pouring forth, faster almost than his pen could trace the words, the poem that he had been meditating ever since he had quitted the roof where he had met Venetia. She had expressed a wish to read his poems; he had resolved instantly to compose one for her solitary perusal Thus he relieved his heart:
Within a cloistered pile, whose Gothic towers Rose by the margin of a sedgy lake, Embosomed in a valley of green bowers, And girt by many a grove and ferny brake Loved by the antlered deer, a tender youth Whom Time to childhood's gentle sway of love Still spared; yet innocent as is the dove, Nor mounded yet by Care's relentless tooth; Stood musing, of that fair antique domain The orphan lord! And yet, no childish thought With wayward purpose holds its transient reign In his young mind, with deeper feelings fraught; Then mystery all to him, and yet a dream, That Time has touched with its revealing beam.
There came a maiden to that lonely boy, And like to him as is the morn to night; Her sunny face a very type of joy, And with her soul's unclouded lustre bright. Still scantier summers had her brow illumed Than that on which she threw a witching smile, Unconscious of the spell that could beguile His being of the burthen it was doomed By his ancestral blood to bear: a spirit, Rife with desponding thoughts and fancies drear, A moody soul that men sometimes inherit, And worse than all the woes the world may bear. But when he met that maiden's dazzling eye, He bade each gloomy image baffled fly.
Amid the shady woods and sunny lawns The maiden and the youth now wander, gay As the bright birds, and happy as the fawns, Their sportive rivals, that around them play; Their light hands linked in love, the golden hours Unconscious fly, while thus they graceful roam, And careless ever till the voice of home Recalled them from their sunshine find their flowers; For then they parted: to his lonely pile The orphan-chief, for though his woe to lull, The maiden called him brother, her fond smile Gladdened another hearth, while his was dull Yet as they parted, she reproved his sadness, And for his sake she gaily whispered gladness.
She was the daughter of a noble race, That beauteous girl, and yet she owed her name To one who needs no herald's skill to trace His blazoned lineage, for his lofty fame Lives in the mouth of men, and distant climes Re-echo his wide glory; where the brave Are honoured, where 'tis noble deemed to save A prostrate nation, and for future times Work with a high devotion, that no taunt, Or ribald lie, or zealot's eager curse, Or the short-sighted world's neglect can daunt, That name is worshipped! His immortal verse Blends with his god-like deeds, a double spell To bind the coming age he loved too well!
For, from his ancient home, a scatterling, They drove him forth, unconscious of their prize, And branded as a vile unhallowed thing, The man who struggled only to be wise. And even his hearth rebelled, the duteous wife, Whose bosom well might soothe in that dark hour, Swelled with her gentle force the world's harsh power, And aimed her dart at his devoted life. That struck; the rest his mighty soul might scorn, But when his household gods averted stood, 'Twas the last pang that cannot well be borne When tortured e'en to torpor: his heart's blood Flowed to the unseen blow: then forth he went, And gloried in his ruthless banishment.
A new-born pledge of love within his home, His alien home, the exiled father left; And when, like Cain, he wandered forth to roam, A Cain without his solace, all bereft, Stole down his pallid cheek the scalding tear, To think a stranger to his tender love His child must grow, untroubled where might rove His restless life, or taught perchance to fear Her father's name, and bred in sullen hate, Shrink from his image. Thus the gentle maid, Who with her smiles had soothed an orphan's fate, Had felt an orphan's pang; yet undismayed, Though taught to deem her sire the child of shame, She clung with instinct to that reverent name!
Time flew; the boy became a man; no more His shadow falls upon his cloistered hall, But to a stirring world he learn'd to pour The passion of his being, skilled to call From the deep caverns of his musing thought Shadows to which they bowed, and on their mind To stamp the image of his own; the wind, Though all unseen, with force or odour fraught, Can sway mankind, and thus a poet's voice, Now touched with sweetness, now inflamed with rage, Though breath, can make us grieve and then rejoice: Such is the spell of his creative page, That blends with all our moods; and thoughts can yield That all have felt, and yet till then were sealed.
The lute is sounding in a chamber bright With a high festival; on every side, Soft in the gleamy blaze of mellowed light, Fair women smile, and dancers graceful glide; And words still sweeter than a serenade Are breathed with guarded voice and speaking eyes, By joyous hearts in spite of all their sighs; But byegone fantasies that ne'er can fade Retain the pensive spirit of the youth; Reclined against a column he surveys His laughing compeers with a glance, in sooth, Careless of all their mirth: for other days Enchain him with their vision, the bright hours Passed with the maiden in their sunny bowers.
Why turns his brow so pale, why starts to life That languid eye? What form before unseen, With all the spells of hallowed memory rife, Now rises on his vision? As the Queen Of Beauty from her bed of sparkling foam Sprang to the azure light, and felt the air, Soft as her cheek, the wavy dancers bear To his rapt sight a mien that calls his home, His cloistered home, before him, with his dreams Prophetic strangely blending. The bright muse Of his dark childhood still divinely beams Upon his being; glowing with the hues That painters love, when raptured pencils soar To trace a form that nations may adore!
One word alone, within her thrilling ear, Breathed with hushed voice the brother of her heart, And that for aye is hidden. With a tear Smiling she strove to conquer, see her start, The bright blood rising to her quivering cheek, And meet the glance she hastened once to greet, When not a thought had he, save in her sweet And solacing society; to seek Her smiles his only life! Ah! happy prime Of cloudless purity, no stormy fame His unknown sprite then stirred, a golden time Worth all the restless splendour of a name; And one soft accent from those gentle lips Might all the plaudits of a world eclipse.
My tale is done; and if some deem it strange My fancy thus should droop, deign then to learn My tale is truth: imagination's range Its bounds exact may touch not: to discern Far stranger things than poets ever feign, In life's perplexing annals, is the fate Of those who act, and musing, penetrate The mystery of Fortune: to whose reign The haughtiest brow must bend; 'twas passing strange The youth of these fond children; strange the flush Of his high fortunes and his spirit's change; Strange was the maiden's tear, the maiden's blush; Strange were his musing thoughts and trembling heart, 'Tis strange they met, and stranger if they part!
When Lady Monteagle discovered, which she did a very few hours after the mortifying event, where Lord Cadurcis had dined the day on which he had promised to be her guest, she was very indignant, but her vanity was more offended than her self-complacency. She was annoyed that Cadurcis should have compromised his exalted reputation by so publicly dangling in the train of the new beauty: still more that he should have signified in so marked a manner the impression which the fair stranger had made upon him, by instantly accepting an invitation to a house so totally unconnected with his circle, and where, had it not been to meet this Miss Herbert, it would of course never have entered his head to be a visitor. But, on the whole, Lady Monteagle was rather irritated than jealous; and far from suspecting that there was the slightest chance of her losing her influence, such as it might be, over Lord Cadurcis, all that she felt was, that less lustre must redound to her from its possession and exercise, if it were obvious to the world that his attentions could be so easily attracted and commanded.
When Lord Cadurcis, therefore, having dispatched his poem to Venetia, paid his usual visit on the next day to Monteagle House, he was received rather with sneers than reproaches, as Lady Monteagle, with no superficial knowledge of society or his lordship's character, was clearly of opinion that this new fancy of her admirer was to be treated rather with ridicule than indignation; and, in short, as she had discovered that Cadurcis was far from being insensible to mockery, that it was clearly a fit occasion, to use a phrase then very much in vogue, for quizzing.
'How d'ye do?' said her ladyship, with an arch smile, 'I really could not expect to see you!'
Cadurcis looked a little confused; he detested scenes, and now he dreaded one.
'You seem quite distrait,' continued Lady Monteagle, after a moment's pause, which his lordship ought to have broken. 'But no wonder, if the world be right.'
'The world cannot be wrong,' said Cadurcis sarcastically.
'Had you a pleasant party yesterday?'
'Lady —— must have been quite charmed to have you at last,' said Lady Monteagle. 'I suppose she exhibited you to all her friends, as if you were one of the savages that went to Court the other day.'
'She was courteous.'
'Oh! I can fancy her flutter! For my part, if there be one character in the world more odious than another, I think it is a fussy woman. Lady ——, with Lord Cadurcis dining with her, and the new beauty for a niece, must have been in a most delectable state of bustle.'
'I thought she was rather quiet,' said her companion with provoking indifference. 'She seemed to me an agreeable person.'
'I suppose you mean Miss Herbert?' said Lady Monteagle.
'Oh! these are moderate expressions to use in reference to a person like Miss Herbert.'
'You know what they said of you two at Ranelagh?' said her ladyship.
'No,' said Lord Cadurcis, somewhat changing colour, and speaking through his teeth; 'something devilish pleasant, I dare say.'
'They call you Sedition and Treason,' said Lady Monteagle.
'Then we are well suited,' said Lord Cadurcis.
'She certainly is a beautiful creature,' said her ladyship.
'I think so,' said Lord Cadurcis.
'Rather too tall, I think.'
'Beautiful complexion certainly; wants delicacy, I think.'
'Fine eyes! Grey, I believe. Cannot say I admire grey eyes. Certain sign of bad temper, I believe, grey eyes?'
'I did not observe her hand. I dare say a little coarse. Fair people who are tall generally fail in the hand and arm. What sort of a hand and arm has she?'
'I did not observe anything coarse about Miss Herbert.'
'Ah! you admire her. And you have cause. No one can deny she is a fine girl, and every one must regret, that with her decidedly provincial air and want of style altogether, which might naturally be expected, considering the rustic way I understand she has been brought up (an old house in the country, with a methodistical mother), that she should have fallen into such hands as her aunt. Lady —— is enough to spoil any girl's fortune in London.'
'I thought that the —— were people of high consideration,' said Lord Cadurcis.
'Consideration!' exclaimed Lady Monteagle. 'If you mean that they are people of rank, and good blood, and good property, they are certainly people of consideration; but they are Goths, Vandals, Huns, Calmucks, Canadian savages! They have no fashion, no style, no ton, no influence in the world. It is impossible that a greater misfortune could have befallen your beauty than having such an aunt. Why, no man who has the slightest regard for his reputation would be seen in her company. She is a regular quiz, and you cannot imagine how everybody was laughing at you the other night.'
'I am very much obliged to them,' said Lord Cadurcis.
'And, upon my honour,' continued Lady Monteagle, 'speaking merely as your friend, and not being the least jealous (Cadurcis do not suppose that), not a twinge has crossed my mind on that score; but still I must tell you that it was most ridiculous for a man like you, to whom everybody looks up, and from whom the slightest attention is an honour, to go and fasten yourself the whole night upon a rustic simpleton, something between a wax doll and a dairymaid, whom every fool in London was staring at; the very reason why you should not have appeared to have been even aware of her existence.'
'We have all our moments of weakness, Gertrude,' said Lord Cadurcis, charmed that the lady was so thoroughly unaware and unsuspicious of his long and intimate connection with the Herberts. 'I suppose it was my cursed vanity. I saw, as you say, every fool staring at her, and so I determined to show that in an instant I could engross her attention.'
'Of course, I know it was only that; but you should not have gone and dined there, Cadurcis,' added the lady, very seriously, 'That compromised you; but, by cutting them in future in the most marked manner, you may get over it.'
'You really think I may?' inquired Lord Cadurcis, with some anxiety.
'Oh! I have no doubt of it,' said Lady Monteagle.
'What it is to have a friend like you, Gertrude,' said Cadurcis, 'a friend who is neither a Goth, nor a Vandal, nor a Hun, nor a Calmuck, nor a Canadian savage; but a woman of fashion, style, ton, influence in the world! It is impossible that a greater piece of good fortune could have befallen me than having you for a friend.'
'Ah, mechant! you may mock,' said the lady, triumphantly, for she was quite satisfied with the turn the conversation had taken; 'but I am glad for your sake that you take such a sensible view of the case.'
Notwithstanding, however, this sensible view of the case, after lounging an hour at Monteagle House, Lord Cadurcis' carriage stopped at the door of Venetia's Gothic aunt. He was not so fortunate as to meet his heroine; but, nevertheless, he did not esteem his time entirely thrown away, and consoled himself for the disappointment by confirming the favourable impression he had already made in this establishment, and cultivating an intimacy which he was assured must contribute many opportunities of finding himself in the society of Venetia. From this day, indeed, he was a frequent guest at her uncle's, and generally contrived also to meet her several times in the week at some great assembly; but here, both from the occasional presence of Lady Monteagle, although party spirit deterred her from attending many circles where Cadurcis was now an habitual visitant, and from the crowd of admirers who surrounded the Herberts, he rarely found an opportunity for any private conversation with Venetia. His friend the Bishop also, notwithstanding the prejudices of Lady Annabel, received him always with cordiality, and he met the Herberts more than once at his mansion. At the opera and in the park also he hovered about them, in spite of the sarcasms or reproaches of Lady Monteagle; for the reader is not to suppose that that lady continued to take the same self-complacent view of Lord Cadurcis' acquaintance with the Herberts which she originally adopted, and at first flattered herself was the just one. His admiration of Miss Herbert had become the topic of general conversation; it could no longer be concealed or disguised. But Lady Monteagle was convinced that Cadurcis was not a marrying man, and persuaded herself that this was a fancy which must evaporate. Moreover, Monteagle House still continued his spot of most constant resort; for his opportunities of being with Venetia were, with all his exertions, limited, and he had no other resource which pleased him so much as the conversation and circle of the bright goddess of his party. After some fiery scenes therefore with the divinity, which only led to his prolonged absence, for the profound and fervent genius of Cadurcis revolted from the base sentiment and mock emotions of society, the lady reconciled herself to her lot, still believing herself the most envied woman in London, and often ashamed of being jealous of a country girl.
The general result of the fortnight which elapsed since Cadurcis renewed his acquaintance with his Cherbury friends was, that he had become convinced of his inability of propitiating Lady Annabel, was devotedly attached to Venetia, though he had seldom an opportunity of intimating feelings, which the cordial manner in which she ever conducted herself to him gave him no reason to conclude desperate; at the same time that he had contrived that a day should seldom elapse, which did not under some circumstances, however unfavourable, bring them together, while her intimate friends and the circles in which she passed most of her life always witnessed his presence with favour.
We must, however, endeavour to be more intimately acquainted with the heart and mind of Venetia in her present situation, so strongly contrasting with the serene simplicity of her former life, than the limited and constrained opportunities of conversing with the companion of his childhood enjoyed by Lord Cadurcis could possibly enable him to become. Let us recur to her on the night when she returned home, after having met with Plantagenet at her uncle's, and having pursued a conversation with him, so unexpected, so strange, and so affecting! She had been silent in the carriage, and retired to her room immediately. She retired to ponder. The voice of Cadurcis lingered in her ear; his tearful eye still caught her vision. She leant her head upon her hand, and sighed! Why did she sigh? What at this instant was her uppermost thought? Her mother's dislike of Cadurcis. 'Your mother hates me.' These had been his words; these were the words she repeated to herself, and on whose fearful sounds she dwelt. 'Your mother hates me.' If by some means she had learnt a month ago at Weymouth, that her mother hated Cadurcis, that his general conduct had been such as to excite Lady Annabel's odium, Venetia might have for a moment been shocked that her old companion in whom she had once been so interested, had by his irregular behaviour incurred the dislike of her mother, by whom he had once been so loved. But it would have been a transient emotion. She might have mused over past feelings and past hopes in a solitary ramble on the seashore; she might even have shed a tear over the misfortunes or infelicity of one who had once been to her a brother; but, perhaps, nay probably, on the morrow the remembrance of Plantagenet would scarcely have occurred to her. Long years had elapsed since their ancient fondness; a considerable interval since even his name had met her ear. She had heard nothing of him that could for a moment arrest her notice or command her attention.
But now the irresistible impression that her mother disliked this very individual filled, her with intolerable grief. What occasioned this change in her feelings, this extraordinary difference in her emotions? There was, apparently, but one cause. She had met Cadurcis. Could then a glance, could even the tender intonations of that unrivalled voice, and the dark passion of that speaking eye, work in an instant such marvels? Could they revive the past so vividly, that Plantagenet in a moment resumed his ancient place in her affections? No, it was not that: it was less the tenderness of the past that made Venetia mourn her mother's sternness to Cadurcis, than the feelings of the future. For now she felt that her mother's heart was not more changed towards this personage than was her own.