It seemed to Venetia that even before they met, from the very moment that his name had so strangely caught her eye in the volume on the first evening she had visited her relations, that her spirit suddenly turned to him. She had never heard that name mentioned since without a fluttering of the heart which she could not repress, and an emotion she could ill conceal. She loved to hear others talk of him, and yet scarcely dared speak of him herself. She recalled her emotion at unexpectedly seeing his portrait when with her aunt, and her mortification when her mother deprived her of the poem which she sighed to read. Day after day something seemed to have occurred to fix her brooding thoughts with fonder earnestness on his image. At length they met. Her emotion when she first recognised him at Ranelagh and felt him approaching her, was one of those tumults of the heart that form almost a crisis in our sensations. With what difficulty had she maintained herself! Doubtful whether he would even formally acknowledge her presence, her vision as if by fascination had nevertheless met his, and grew dizzy as he passed. In the interval that had elapsed between his first passing and then joining her, what a chaos was her mind! What a wild blending of all the scenes and incidents of her life! What random answers had she made to those with whom she had been before conversing with ease and animation! And then, when she unexpectedly found Cadurcis at her side, and listened to the sound of that familiar voice, familiar and yet changed, expressing so much tenderness in its tones, and in its words such deference and delicate respect, existence felt to her that moment affluent with a blissful excitement of which she had never dreamed!
Her life was a reverie until they met again, in which she only mused over his fame, and the strange relations of their careers. She had watched the conduct of her mother to him at dinner with poignant sorrow; she scarcely believed that she should have an opportunity of expressing to him her sympathy. And then what had followed? A conversation, every word of which had touched her heart; a conversation that would have entirely controlled her feelings even if he had not already subjected them. The tone in which he so suddenly had pronounced 'Venetia,' was the sweetest music to which she had ever listened. His allusion to her father had drawn tears, which could not be restrained even in a crowded saloon. Now she wept plenteously. It was so generous, so noble, so kind, so affectionate! Dear, dear Cadurcis, is it wonderful that you should be loved?
Then falling into a reverie of sweet and unbroken stillness, with her eyes fixed in abstraction on the fire, Venetia reviewed her life from the moment she had known Plantagenet. Not an incident that had ever occurred to them that did not rise obedient to her magical bidding. She loved to dwell upon the time when she was the consolation of his sorrows, and when Cherbury was to him a pleasant refuge! Oh! she felt sure her mother must remember those fond days, and love him as she once did! She pictured to herself the little Plantagenet of her childhood, so serious and so pensive when alone or with others, yet with her at times so gay and wild, and sarcastic; forebodings all of that deep and brilliant spirit, which had since stirred up the heart of a great nation, and dazzled the fancy of an admiring world. The change too in their mutual lots was also, to a degree, not free from that sympathy that had ever bound them together. A train of strange accidents had brought Venetia from her spell-bound seclusion, placed her suddenly in the most brilliant circle of civilisation, and classed her among not the least admired of its favoured members. And whom had she come to meet? Whom did she find in this new and splendid life the most courted and considered of its community, crowned as it were with garlands, and perfumed with the incense of a thousand altars? Her own Plantagenet. It was passing strange.
The morrow brought the verses from Cadurcis. They greatly affected her. The picture of their childhood, and of the singular sympathy of their mutual situations, and the description of her father, called forth her tears; she murmured, however, at the allusion to her other parent. It was not just, it could not be true. These verses were not, of course, shown to Lady Annabel. Would they have been shown, even if they had not contained the allusion? The question is not perplexing. Venetia had her secret, and a far deeper one than the mere reception of a poem; all confidence between her and her mother had expired. Love had stept in, and, before his magic touch, the discipline of a life expired in an instant.
From all this an idea may be formed of the mood in which, during the fortnight before alluded to, Venetia was in the habit of meeting Lord Cadurcis. During this period not the slightest conversation respecting him had occurred between her mother and herself. Lady Annabel never mentioned him, and her brow clouded when his name, as was often the case, was introduced. At the end of this fortnight, it happened that her aunt and mother were out together in the carriage, and had left her in the course of the morning at her uncle's house. During this interval, Lord Cadurcis called, and having ascertained, through a garrulous servant, that though his mistress was out, Miss Herbert was in the drawing-room, he immediately took the opportunity of being introduced. Venetia was not a little surprised at his appearance, and, conscious of her mother's feelings upon the subject, for a moment a little agitated, yet, it must be confessed, as much pleased. She seized this occasion of speaking to him about his verses, for hitherto she had only been able to acknowledge the receipt of them by a word. While she expressed without affectation the emotions they had occasioned her, she complained of his injustice to her mother: this was the cause of an interesting conversation of which her father was the subject, and for which she had long sighed. With what deep, unbroken attention she listened to her companion's enthusiastic delineation of his character and career! What multiplied questions did she not ask him, and how eagerly, how amply, how affectionately he satisfied her just and natural curiosity! Hours flew away while they indulged in this rare communion.
'Oh, that I could see him!' sighed Venetia.
'You will,' replied Plantagenet; 'your destiny requires it. You will see him as surely as you beheld that portrait that it was the labour of a life to prevent you beholding.'
Venetia shook her head; 'And yet,' she added musingly, 'my mother loves him.'
'Her life proves it,' said Cadurcis bitterly.
'I think it does,' replied Venetia, sincerely.
'I pretend not to understand her heart,' he answered; 'it is an enigma that I cannot solve. I ought not to believe that she is without one; but, at any rate, her pride is deeper than her love.'
'They were ill suited,' said Venetia, mournfully; 'and yet it is one of my dreams that they may yet meet.'
'Ah, Venetia!' he exclaimed, in a voice of great softness, 'they had not known each other from their childhood, like us. They met, and they parted, alike in haste.'
Venetia made no reply; her eyes were fixed in abstraction on a handscreen, which she was unconscious that she held.
'Tell me,' said Cadurcis, drawing his chair close to hers; 'tell me, Venetia, if—'
At this moment a thundering knock at the door announced the return of the Countess and her sister-in-law. Cadurcis rose from his seat, but his chair, which still remained close to that on which Venetia was sitting, did not escape the quick glance of her mortified mother. The Countess welcomed Cadurcis with extreme cordiality; Lady Annabel only returned his very courteous bow.
'Stop and dine with us, my dear lord,' said the Countess. 'We are only ourselves, and Lady Annabel and Venetia.'
'I thank you, Clara,' said Lady Annabel, 'but we cannot stop to-day.'
'Oh!' exclaimed her sister. 'It will be such a disappointment to Philip. Indeed you must stay,' she added, in a coaxing tone; 'we shall be such an agreeable little party, with Lord Cadurcis.'
'I cannot indeed, my dear Clara,' replied Lady Annabel; 'not to-day, indeed not to-day. Come Venetia!'
Lady Annabel was particularly kind to Venetia on their return to their hotel, otherwise her daughter might have fancied that she had offended her, for she was silent. Venetia did not doubt that the presence of Lord Cadurcis was the reason that her mother would not remain and dine at her uncle's. This conviction grieved Venetia, but she did not repine; she indulged the fond hope that time would remove the strong prejudice which Lady Annabel now so singularly entertained against one in whose welfare she was originally so deeply interested. During their simple and short repast Venetia was occupied in a reverie, in which, it must be owned, Cadurcis greatly figured, and answered the occasional though kind remarks of her mother with an absent air.
After dinner, Lady Annabel drew her chair towards the fire, for, although May, the weather was chill, and said, 'A quiet evening at home, Venetia, will be a relief after all this gaiety.' Venetia assented to her mother's observation, and nearly a quarter of an hour elapsed without another word being spoken. Venetia had taken up a book, and Lady Annabel was apparently lost in her reflections. At length she said, somewhat abruptly, 'It is more than three years, I think, since Lord Cadurcis left Cherbury?'
'Yes; it is more than three years,' replied Venetia.
'He quitted us suddenly.'
'Very suddenly,' agreed Venetia.
'I never asked you whether you knew the cause, Venetia,' continued her mother, 'but I always concluded that you did. I suppose I was not in error?'
This was not a very agreeable inquiry. Venetia did not reply to it with her previous readiness and indifference. That indeed was impossible; but, with her accustomed frankness, after a moment's hesitation, she answered, 'Lord Cadurcis never specifically stated the cause to me, mamma; indeed I was myself surprised at his departure, but some conversation had occurred between us on the very morning he quitted Cadurcis, which, on reflection, I could not doubt occasioned that departure.'
'Lord Cadurcis preferred his suit to you, Venetia, and you rejected him?' said Lady Annabel.
'It is as you believe,' replied Venetia, not a little agitated.
'You did wisely, my child, and I was weak ever to have regretted your conduct.'
'Why should you think so, dearest mamma?'
'Whatever may have been the cause that impelled your conduct then,' said Lady Annabel, 'I shall ever esteem your decision as a signal interposition of Providence in your favour. Except his extreme youth, there was apparently no reason which should not have induced you to adopt a different decision. I tremble when I think what might have been the consequences.'
'Tremble, dearest mother?'
'Tremble, Venetia. My only thought in this life is the happiness of my child. It was in peril.
'Nay, I trust not that, mamma: you are prejudiced against Plantagenet. It makes me very unhappy, and him also.'
'He is again your suitor?' said Lady Annabel, with a scrutinising glance.
'Indeed he is not.'
'He will be,' said Lady Annabel. 'Prepare yourself. Tell me, then, are your feelings the same towards him as when he last quitted us?'
'Feelings, mamma!' said Venetia, echoing her mother's words; for indeed the question was one very difficult to answer; 'I ever loved Plantagenet; I love him still.'
'But do you love him now as then? Then you looked upon him as a brother. He has no soul now for sisterly affections. I beseech you tell me, my child, me, your mother, your friend, your best, your only friend, tell me, have you for a moment repented that you ever refused to extend to him any other affection?'
'I have not thought of the subject, mamma; I have not wished to think of the subject; I have had no occasion to think of it. Lord Cadurcis is not my suitor now.'
'Venetia!' said Lady Annabel, 'I cannot doubt you love me.'
'Dearest mother!' exclaimed Venetia, in a tone of mingled fondness and reproach, and she rose from her seat and embraced Lady Annabel.
'My happiness is an object to you, Venetia?' continued Lady Annabel.
'Mother, mother,' said Venetia, in a deprecatory tone. 'Do not ask such cruel questions? Whom should I love but you, the best, the dearest mother that ever existed? And what object can I have in life that for a moment can be placed in competition with your happiness?'
'Then, Venetia, I tell you,' said Lady Annabel, in a solemn yet excited voice, 'that that happiness is gone for ever, nay, my very life will be the forfeit, if I ever live to see you the bride of Lord Cadurcis.'
'I have no thought of being the bride of any one,' said Venetia. 'I am happy with you. I wish never to leave you.'
'My child, the fulfilment of such a wish is not in the nature of things,' replied Lady Annabel. 'The day will come when we must part; I am prepared for the event; nay, I look forward to it not only with resignation, but delight, when I think it may increase your happiness; but were that step to destroy it, oh! then, then I could live no more. I can endure my own sorrows, I can struggle with my own bitter lot, I have some sources of consolation which enable me to endure my own misery without repining; but yours, yours, Venetia, I could not bear. No! if once I were to behold you lingering in life as your mother, with blighted hopes and with a heart broken, if hearts can break, I should not survive the spectacle; I know myself, Venetia, I could not survive it.'
'But why anticipate such misery? Why indulge in such gloomy forebodings? Am I not happy now? Do you not love me?'
Venetia had drawn her chair close to that of her mother; she sat by her side and held her hand.
'Venetia,' said Lady Annabel, after a pause of some minutes, and in a low voice, 'I must speak to you on a subject on which we have never conversed. I must speak to you;' and here Lady Annabel's voice dropped lower and lower, but still its tones were distinct, although she expressed herself with evident effort: 'I must speak to you about—your father.'
Venetia uttered a faint cry, she clenched her mother's hand with a convulsive grasp, and sank upon her bosom. She struggled to maintain herself, but the first sound of that name from her mother's lips, and all the long-suppressed emotions that it conjured up, overpowered her. The blood seemed to desert her heart; still she did not faint; she clung to Lady Annabel, pallid and shivering.
Her mother tenderly embraced her, she whispered to her words of great affection, she attempted to comfort and console her. Venetia murmured, 'This is very foolish of me, mother; but speak, oh! speak of what I have so long desired to hear.'
'Not now, Venetia.'
'Now, mother! yes, now! I am quite composed. I could not bear the postponement of what you were about to say. I could not sleep, dear mother, if you did not speak to me. It was only for a moment I was overcome. See! I am quite composed.' And indeed she spoke in a calm and steady voice, but her pale and suffering countenance expressed the painful struggle which it cost her to command herself.
'Venetia,' said Lady Annabel, 'it has been one of the objects of my life, that you should not share my sorrows.'
Venetia pressed her mother's hand, but made no other reply.
'I concealed from you for years,' continued Lady Annabel, 'a circumstance in which, indeed, you were deeply interested, but the knowledge of which could only bring you unhappiness. Yet it was destined that my solicitude should eventually be baffled. I know that it is not from my lips that you learn for the first time that you have a father, a father living.'
'Mother, let me tell you all!' said Venetia, eagerly.
'I know all,' said Lady Annabel.
'But, mother, there is something that you do not know; and now I would confess it.'
'There is nothing that you can confess with which I am not acquainted, Venetia; and I feel assured, I have ever felt assured, that your only reason for concealment was a desire to save me pain.'
'That, indeed, has ever been my only motive,' replied Venetia, 'for having a secret from my mother.'
'In my absence from Cherbury you entered the chamber,' said Lady Annabel, calmly. 'In the delirium of your fever I became acquainted with a circumstance which so nearly proved fatal to you.'
Venetia's cheek turned scarlet.
'In that chamber you beheld the portrait of your father,' continued Lady Annabel. 'From our friend you learnt that father was still living. That is all?' said Lady Annabel, inquiringly.
'No, not all, dear mother; not all. Lord Cadurcis reproached me at Cherbury with, with, with having such a father,' she added, in a hesitating voice. 'It was then I learnt his misfortunes, mother; his misery.'
'I thought that misfortunes, that misery, were the lot of your other parent,' replied Lady Annabel, somewhat coldly.
'Not with my love,' said Venetia, eagerly; 'not with my love, mother. You have forgotten your misery in my love. Say so, say so, dearest mother.' And Venetia threw herself on her knees before Lady Annabel, and looked up with earnestness in her face.
The expression of that countenance had been for a moment stern, but it relaxed into fondness, as Lady Annabel gently bowed her head, and pressed her lips to her daughter's forehead. 'Ah, Venetia!' she said, 'all depends upon you. I can endure, nay, I can forget the past, if my child be faithful to me. There are no misfortunes, there is no misery, if the being to whom I have consecrated the devotion of my life will only be dutiful, will only be guided by my advice, will only profit by my sad experience.'
'Mother, I repeat I have no thought but for you,' said Venetia. 'My own dearest mother, if my duty, if my devotion can content you, you shall be happy. But wherein have I failed?'
'In nothing, love. Your life has hitherto been one unbroken course of affectionate obedience.'
'And ever shall be,' said Venetia. 'But you were speaking, mother, you were speaking of, of my, my father!'
'Of him!' said Lady Annabel, thoughtfully. 'You have seen his picture?'
Venetia kissed her mother's hand.
'Was he less beautiful than Cadurcis? Was he less gifted?' exclaimed Lady Annabel, with animation. 'He could whisper in tones as sweet, and pour out his vows as fervently. Yet what am I? O my child!' continued Lady Annabel, 'beware of such beings! They bear within them a spirit on which all the devotion of our sex is lavished in vain. A year, no! not a year, not one short year! and all my hopes were blighted! O Venetia! if your future should be like my bitter past! and it might have been, and I might have contributed to the fulfilment! can you wonder that I should look upon Cadurcis with aversion?'
'But, mother, dearest mother, we have known Plantagenet from his childhood. You ever loved him; you ever gave him credit for a heart, most tender and affectionate.'
'He has no heart.'
'He cannot have a heart. Spirits like him are heartless. It is another impulse that sways their existence. It is imagination; it is vanity; it is self, disguised with glittering qualities that dazzle our weak senses, but selfishness, the most entire, the most concentrated. We knew him as a child: ah! what can women know? We are born to love, and to be deceived. We saw him young, helpless, abandoned; he moved our pity. We knew not his nature; then he was ignorant of it himself. But the young tiger, though cradled at our hearths and fed on milk, will in good time retire to its jungle and prey on blood. You cannot change its nature; and the very hand that fostered it will be its first victim.'
'How often have we parted!' said Venetia, in a deprecating tone; 'how long have we been separated! and yet we find him ever the same; he ever loves us. Yes! dear mother, he loves you now, the same as in old days. If you had seen him, as I have seen him, weep when he recalled your promise to be a parent to him, and then contrasted with such sweet hopes your present reserve, oh! you would believe he had a heart, you would, indeed!'
'Weep!' exclaimed Lady Annabel, bitterly, 'ay! they can weep. Sensibility is a luxury which they love to indulge. Their very susceptibility is our bane. They can weep; they can play upon our feelings; and our emotion, so easily excited, is an homage to their own power, in which they glory.
'Look at Cadurcis,' she suddenly resumed; 'bred with so much care; the soundest principles instilled into him with such sedulousness; imbibing them apparently with so much intelligence, ardour, and sincerity, with all that fervour, indeed, with which men of his temperament for the moment pursue every object; but a few years back, pious, dutiful, and moral, viewing perhaps with intolerance too youthful all that differed from the opinions and the conduct he had been educated to admire and follow. And what is he now? The most lawless of the wild; casting to the winds every salutary principle of restraint and social discipline, and glorying only in the abandoned energy of self. Three years ago, you yourself confessed to me, he reproached you with your father's conduct; now he emulates it. There is a career which such men must run, and from which no influence can divert them; it is in their blood. To-day Cadurcis may vow to you eternal devotion; but, if the world speak truth, Venetia, a month ago he was equally enamoured of another, and one, too, who cannot be his. But grant that his sentiments towards you are for the moment sincere; his imagination broods upon your idea, it transfigures it with a halo which exists only to his vision. Yield to him; become his bride; and you will have the mortification of finding that, before six mouths have elapsed, his restless spirit is already occupied with objects which may excite your mortification, your disgust, even your horror!'
'Ah, mother! it is not with Plantagenet as with my father; Plantagenet could not forget Cherbury, he could not forget our childhood,' said Venetia.
'On the contrary, while you lived together these recollections would be wearisome, common-place to him; when you had separated, indeed, mellowed by distance, and the comparative vagueness with which your absence would invest them, they would become the objects of his muse, and he would insult you by making the public the confidant of all your most delicate domestic feelings.'
Lady Annabel rose from her seat, and walked up and down the room, speaking with an excitement very unusual with her. 'To have all the soft secrets of your life revealed to the coarse wonder of the gloating multitude; to find yourself the object of the world's curiosity, still worse, their pity, their sympathy; to have the sacred conduct of your hearth canvassed in every circle, and be the grand subject of the pros and cons of every paltry journal, ah, Venetia! you know not, you cannot understand, it is impossible you can comprehend, the bitterness of such a lot.'
'My beloved mother!' said Venetia, with streaming eyes, 'you cannot have a feeling that I do not share.'
'Venetia, you know not what I had to endure!' exclaimed Lady Annabel, in a tone of extreme bitterness. 'There is no degree of wretchedness that you can conceive equal to what has been the life of your mother. And what has sustained me; what, throughout all my tumultuous troubles, has been the star on which I have ever gazed? My child! And am I to lose her now, after all my sufferings, all my hopes that she at least might be spared my miserable doom? Am I to witness her also a victim?' Lady Annabel clasped her hands in passionate grief.
'Mother! mother!' exclaimed Venetia, in agony, 'spare yourself, spare me!'
'Venetia, you know how I have doted upon you; you know how I have watched and tended you from your infancy. Have I had a thought, a wish, a hope, a plan? has there been the slightest action of my life, of which you have not been the object? All mothers feel, but none ever felt like me; you were my solitary joy.'
Venetia leant her face upon the table at which she was sitting and sobbed aloud.
'My love was baffled,' Lady Annabel continued. 'I fled, for both our sakes, from the world in which my family were honoured; I sacrificed without a sigh, in the very prime of my youth, every pursuit which interests woman; but I had my child, I had my child!'
'And you have her still!' exclaimed the miserable Venetia. 'Mother, you have her still!'
'I have schooled my mind,' continued Lady Annabel, still pacing the room with agitated steps; 'I have disciplined my emotions; I have felt at my heart the constant the undying pang, and yet I have smiled, that you might be happy. But I can struggle against my fate no longer. No longer can I suffer my unparalleled, yes, my unjust doom. What have I done to merit these afflictions? Now, then, let me struggle no more; let me die!'
Venetia tried to rise; her limbs refused their office; she tottered; she fell again into her seat with an hysteric cry.
'Alas! alas!' exclaimed Lady Annabel, 'to a mother, a child is everything; but to a child, a parent is only a link in the chain of her existence. It was weakness, it was folly, it was madness to stake everything on a resource which must fail me. I feel it now, but I feel it too late.'
Venetia held forth her arms; she could not speak; she was stifled with her emotion.
'But was it wonderful that I was so weak?' continued her mother, as it were communing only with herself. 'What child was like mine? Oh! the joy, the bliss, the hours of rapture that I have passed, in gazing upon my treasure, and dreaming of all her beauty and her rare qualities! I was so happy! I was so proud! Ah, Venetia! you know not how I have loved you!'
Venetia sprang from her seat; she rushed forward with convulsive energy; she clung to her mother, threw her arms round her neck, and buried her passionate woe in Lady Annabel's bosom.
Lady Annabel stood for some minutes supporting her speechless and agitated child; then, as her sobs became fainter, and the tumult of her grief gradually died away, she bore her to the sofa, and seated herself by her side, holding Venetia's hand in her own, and ever and anon soothing her with soft embraces, and still softer words.
At length, in a faint voice, Venetia said, 'Mother, what can I do to restore the past? How can we be to each other as we were, for this I cannot bear?'
'Love me, my Venetia, as I love you; be faithful to your mother; do not disregard her counsel; profit by her errors.'
'I will in all things obey you,' said Venetia, in a low voice; 'there is no sacrifice I am not prepared to make for your happiness.'
'Let us not talk of sacrifices, my darling child; it is not a sacrifice that I require. I wish only to prevent your everlasting misery.'
'What, then, shall I do?'
'Make me only one promise; whatever pledge you give, I feel assured that no influence, Venetia, will ever induce you to forfeit it.'
'Name it, mother.'
'Promise me never to marry Lord Cadurcis,' said Lady Annabel, in a whisper, but a whisper of which not a word was lost by the person to whom it was addressed.
'I promise never to marry, but with your approbation,' said Venetia, in a solemn voice, and uttering the words with great distinctness.
The countenance of Lady Annabel instantly brightened; she embraced her child with extreme fondness, and breathed the softest and the sweetest expressions of gratitude and love.
When Lady Monteagle discovered that of which her good-natured friends took care she should not long remain ignorant, that Venetia Herbert had been the companion of Lord Cadurcis' childhood, and that the most intimate relations had once subsisted between the two families, she became the prey of violent jealousy; and the bitterness of her feelings was not a little increased, when she felt that she had not only been abandoned, but duped; and that the new beauty, out of his fancy for whom she had flattered herself she had so triumphantly rallied him, was an old friend, whom he always admired. She seized the first occasion, after this discovery, of relieving her feelings, by a scene so violent, that Cadurcis had never again entered Monteagle House; and then repenting of this mortifying result, which she had herself precipitated, she overwhelmed him with letters, which, next to scenes, were the very things which Lord Cadurcis most heartily abhorred. These, now indignant, now passionate, now loading him with reproaches, now appealing to his love, and now to his pity, daily arrived at his residence, and were greeted at first only with short and sarcastic replies, and finally by silence. Then the lady solicited a final interview, and Lord Cadurcis having made an appointment to quiet her, went out of town the day before to Richmond, to a villa belonging to Venetia's uncle, and where, among other guests, he was of course to meet Lady Annabel and her daughter.
The party was a most agreeable one, and assumed an additional interest with Cadurcis, who had resolved to seize this favourable opportunity to bring his aspirations to Venetia to a crisis. The day after the last conversation with her, which we have noticed, he had indeed boldly called upon the Herberts at their hotel for that purpose, but without success, as they were again absent from home. He had been since almost daily in the society of Venetia; but London, to a lover who is not smiled upon by the domestic circle of his mistress, is a very unfavourable spot for confidential conversations. A villa life, with its easy, unembarrassed habits, its gardens and lounging walks, to say nothing of the increased opportunities resulting from being together at all hours, and living under the same roof, was more promising; and here he flattered himself he might defy even the Argus eye and ceaseless vigilance of his intended mother-in-law, his enemy, whom he could not propitiate, and whom he now fairly hated.
His cousin George, too, was a guest, and his cousin George was the confidant of his love. Upon this kind relation devolved the duty, far from a disagreeable one, of amusing the mother; and as Lady Annabel, though she relaxed not a jot of the grim courtesy which she ever extended to Lord Cadurcis, was no longer seriously uneasy as to his influence after the promise she had exacted from her daughter, it would seem that these circumstances combined to prevent Lord Cadurcis from being disappointed at least in the first object which he wished to obtain, an opportunity.
And yet several days elapsed before this offered itself, passed by Cadurcis, however, very pleasantly in the presence of the being he loved, and very judiciously too, for no one could possibly be more amiable and ingratiating than our friend. Every one present, except Lady Annabel, appeared to entertain for him as much affection as admiration: those who had only met him in throngs were quite surprised how their superficial observation and the delusive reports of the world had misled them. As for his hostess, whom it had ever been his study to please, he had long won her heart; and, as she could not be blind to his projects and pretensions, she heartily wished him success, assisted him with all her efforts, and desired nothing more sincerely than that her niece should achieve such a conquest, and she obtain so distinguished a nephew.
Notwithstanding her promise to her mother, Venetia felt justified in making no alteration in her conduct to one whom she still sincerely loved; and, under the immediate influence of his fascination, it was often, when she was alone, that she mourned with a sorrowing heart over the opinion which her mother entertained of him. Could it indeed be possible that Plantagenet, the same Plantagenet she had known so early and so long, to her invariably so tender and so devoted, could entail on her, by their union, such unspeakable and inevitable misery? Whatever might be the view adopted by her mother of her conduct, Venetia felt every hour more keenly that it was a sacrifice, and the greatest; and she still indulged in a vague yet delicious dream, that Lady Annabel might ultimately withdraw the harsh and perhaps heart-breaking interdict she had so rigidly decreed.
'Cadurcis,' said his cousin to him one morning, 'we are all going to Hampton Court. Now is your time; Lady Annabel, the Vernons, and myself, will fill one carriage; I have arranged that. Look out, and something may be done. Speak to the Countess.'
Accordingly Lord Cadurcis hastened to make a suggestion to a friend always flattered by his notice. 'My dear friend,' he said in his softest tone, 'let you and Venetia and myself manage to be together; it will be so delightful; we shall quite enjoy ourselves.'
The Countess did not require this animating compliment to effect the object which Cadurcis did not express. She had gradually fallen into the unacknowledged conspiracy against her sister-in-law, whose prejudice against her friend she had long discovered, and had now ceased to combat. Two carriages, and one filled as George had arranged, accordingly drove gaily away; and Venetia, and her aunt, and Lord Cadurcis were to follow them on horseback. They rode with delight through the splendid avenues of Bushey, and Cadurcis was never in a lighter or happier mood.
The month of May was in its decline, and the cloudless sky and the balmy air such as suited so agreeable a season. The London season was approaching its close; for the royal birthday was, at the period of our history, generally the signal of preparation for country quarters. The carriages arrived long before the riding party, for they had walked their steeds, and they found a messenger who requested them to join their friends in the apartments which they were visiting.
'For my part,' said Cadurcis, 'I love the sun that rarely shines in this land. I feel no inclination to lose the golden hours in these gloomy rooms. What say you, ladies fair, to a stroll in the gardens? It will be doubly charming after our ride.'
His companions cheerfully assented, and they walked away, congratulating themselves on their escape from the wearisome amusement of palace-hunting, straining their eyes to see pictures hung at a gigantic height, and solemnly wandering through formal apartments full of state beds and massy cabinets and modern armour.
Taking their way along the terrace, they struck at length into a less formal path. At length the Countess seated herself on a bench. 'I must rest,' she said, 'but you, young people, may roam about; only do not lose me.'
'Come, Venetia!' said Lord Cadurcis.
Venetia was hesitating; she did not like to leave her aunt alone, but the Countess encouraged her, 'If you will not go, you will only make me continue walking,' she said. And so Venetia proceeded, and for the first time since her visit was alone with Plantagenet.
'I quite love your aunt,' said Lord Cadurcis.
'It is difficult indeed not to love her,' said Venetia.
'Ah, Venetia! I wish your mother was like your aunt,' he continued. It was an observation which was not heard without some emotion by his companion, though it was imperceptible. 'Venetia,' said Cadurcis, 'when I recollect old days, how strange it seems that we now never should be alone, but by some mere accident, like this, for instance.'
'It is no use thinking of old days,' said Venetia.
'No use! said Cadurcis. 'I do not like to hear you say that, Venetia. Those are some of the least agreeable words that were ever uttered by that mouth. I cling to old days; they are my only joy and my only hope.'
'They are gone,' said Venetia.
'But may they not return?' said Cadurcis.
'Never,' said Venetia, mournfully.
They had walked on to a marble fountain of gigantic proportions and elaborate workmanship, an assemblage of divinities and genii, all spouting water in fantastic attitudes.
'Old days,' said Plantagenet, 'are like the old fountain at Cadurcis, dearer to me than all this modern splendour.'
'The old fountain at Cadurcis,' said Venetia, musingly, and gazing on the water with an abstracted air, 'I loved it well!'
'Venetia,' said her companion, in a tone of extreme tenderness, yet not untouched with melancholy, 'dear Venetia, let us return, and return together, to that old fountain and those old days!'
Venetia shook her head. 'Ah, Plantagenet!' she exclaimed in a mournful voice, 'we must not speak of these things.'
'Why not, Venetia?' exclaimed Lord Cadurcis, eagerly. 'Why should we be estranged from each other? I love you; I love only you; never have I loved another. And you, have you forgotten all our youthful affection? You cannot, Venetia. Our childhood can never be a blank.'
'I told you, when first we met, my heart was unchanged,' said Venetia.
'Remember the vows I made to you when last at Cherbury,' said Cadurcis. 'Years have flown on, Venetia; but they find me urging the same. At any rate, now I know myself; at any rate, I am not now an obscure boy; yet what is manhood, and what is fame, without the charm of my infancy and my youth! Yes, Venetia! you must, you will he mine?'
'Plantagenet,' she replied, in a solemn tone, 'yours I never can be.'
'You do not, then, love me?' said Cadurcis reproachfully, and in a voice of great feeling.
'It is impossible for you to be loved more than I love you,' said Venetia.
'My own Venetia!' said Cadurcis; 'Venetia that I dote on! what does this mean? Why, then, will you not be mine?'
'I cannot; there is an obstacle, an insuperable obstacle.'
'Tell it me,' said Cadurcis eagerly; 'I will overcome it.'
'I have promised never to marry without the approbation of my mother; her approbation you never can obtain.'
Cadurcis' countenance fell; this was an obstacle which he felt that even he could not overcome.
'I told you your mother hated me, Venetia.' And then, as she did not reply, he continued, 'You confess it, I see you confess it. Once you flattered me I was mistaken; but now, now you confess it.'
'Hatred is a word which I cannot understand,' replied Venetia. 'My mother has reasons for disapproving my union with you; not founded on the circumstances of your life, and therefore removable (for I know what the world says, Plantagenet, of you), but I have confidence in your love, and that is nothing; but founded on your character, on your nature; they may be unjust, but they are insuperable, and I must yield to them.'
'You have another parent, Venetia,' said Cadurcis, in a tone of almost irresistible softness, 'the best and greatest of men! Once you told me that his sanction was necessary to your marriage. I will obtain it. O Venetia! be mine, and we will join him; join that ill-fated and illustrious being who loves you with a passion second only to mine; him who has addressed you in language which rests on every lip, and has thrilled many a heart that you even can never know. My adored Venetia! picture to yourself, for one moment, a life with him; resting on my bosom, consecrated by his paternal love! Let us quit this mean and miserable existence, which we now pursue, which never could have suited us; let us shun for ever this dull and degrading life, that is not life, if life be what I deem it; let us fly to those beautiful solitudes where he communes with an inspiring nature; let us, let us be happy!'
He uttered these last words in a tone of melting tenderness; he leant forward his head, and his gaze caught hers, which was fixed upon the water. Her hand was pressed suddenly in his; his eye glittered, his lip seemed still speaking; he awaited his doom.
The countenance of Venetia was quite pale, but it was disturbed. You might see, as it were, the shadowy progress of thought, and mark the tumultuous passage of conflicting passions. Her mind, for a moment, was indeed a chaos. There was a terrible conflict between love and duty. At length a tear, one solitary tear, burst from her burning eye-ball, and stole slowly down her cheek; it relieved her pain. She pressed Cadurcis hand, and speaking in a hollow voice, and with a look vague and painful, she said, 'I am a victim, but I am resolved. I never will desert her who devoted herself to me.'
Cadurcis quitted her hand rather abruptly, and began walking up and down on the turf that surrounded the fountain.
'Devoted herself to you!' he exclaimed with a fiendish laugh, and speaking, as was his custom, between his teeth. 'Commend me to such devotion. Not content with depriving you of a father, now forsooth she must bereave you of a lover too! And this is a mother, a devoted mother! The cold-blooded, sullen, selfish, inexorable tyrant!'
'Plantagenet!' exclaimed Venetia with great animation.
'Nay, I will speak. Victim, indeed! You have ever been her slave. She a devoted mother! Ay! as devoted as a mother as she was dutiful as a wife! She has no heart; she never had a feeling. And she cajoles you with her love, her devotion, the stern hypocrite!'
'I must leave you,' said Venetia; 'I cannot bear this.'
'Oh! the truth, the truth is precious,' said Cadurcis, taking her hand, and preventing her from moving. 'Your mother, your devoted mother, has driven one man of genius from her bosom, and his country. Yet there is another. Deny me what I ask, and to-morrow's sun shall light me to another land; to this I will never return; I will blend my tears with your father's, and I will publish to Europe the double infamy of your mother. I swear it solemnly. Still I stand here, Venetia; prepared, if you will but smile upon me, to be her son, her dutiful son. Nay! her slave like you. She shall not murmur. I will be dutiful; she shall be devoted; we will all be happy,' he added in a softer tone. 'Now, now, Venetia, my happiness is on the stake, now, now.'
'I have spoken,' said Venetia. 'My heart may break, but my purpose shall not falter.'
'Then my curse upon your mother's head?' said Cadurcis, with terrible vehemency. 'May heaven rain all its plagues upon her, the Hecate!'
'I will listen no more,' exclaimed Venetia indignantly, and she moved away. She had proceeded some little distance when she paused and looked back; Cadurcis was still at the fountain, but he did not observe her. She remembered his sudden departure from Cherbury; she did not doubt that, in the present instance, he would leave them as abruptly, and that he would keep his word so solemnly given. Her heart was nearly breaking, but she could not bear the idea of parting in bitterness with the being whom, perhaps, she loved best in the world. She stopt, she called his name in a voice low indeed, but in that silent spot it reached him. He joined her immediately, but with a slow step. When he had reached her, he said, without any animation and in a frigid tone, 'I believe you called me?'
Venetia burst into tears. 'I cannot bear to part in anger, Plantagenet. I wished to say farewell in kindness. I shall always pray for your happiness. God bless you, Plantagenet!'
Lord Cadurcis made no reply, though for a moment he seemed about to speak; he bowed, and, as Venetia approached her aunt, he turned his steps in a different direction.
Venetia stopped for a moment to collect herself before she joined her aunt, but it was impossible to conceal her agitation from the Countess. They had not, however, been long together before they observed their friends in the distance, who had now quitted the palace. Venetia made the utmost efforts to compose herself, and not unsuccessful ones. She was sufficiently calm on their arrival, to listen, if not to converse. The Countess, with all the tact of a woman, covered her niece's confusion by her animated description of their agreeable ride, and their still more pleasant promenade; and in a few minutes the whole party were walking back to their carriages. When they had arrived at the inn, they found Lord Cadurcis, to whose temporary absence the Countess had alluded with some casual observation which she flattered herself was very satisfactory. Cadurcis appeared rather sullen, and the Countess, with feminine quickness, suddenly discovered that both herself and her niece were extremely fatigued, and that they had better return in the carriages. There was one vacant place, and some of the gentlemen must ride outside. Lord Cadurcis, however, said that he should return as he came, and the grooms might lead back the ladies' horses; and so in a few minutes the carriages had driven off.
Our solitary equestrian, however, was no sooner mounted than he put his horse to its speed, and never drew in his rein until he reached Hyde Park Corner. The rapid motion accorded with his tumultuous mood. He was soon at home, gave his horse to a servant, for he had left his groom behind, rushed into his library, tore up a letter of Lady Monteagle's with a demoniac glance, and rang his bell with such force that it broke. His valet, not unused to such ebullitions, immediately appeared.
'Has anything happened, Spalding?' said his lordship.
'Nothing particular, my lord. Her ladyship sent every day, and called herself twice, but I told her your lordship was in Yorkshire.'
'That was right; I saw a letter from her. When did it come?'
'It has been here several days, my lord.'
'Mind, I am at home to nobody; I am not in town.'
The valet bowed and disappeared. Cadurcis threw himself into an easy chair, stretched his legs, sighed, and then swore; then suddenly starting up, he seized a mass of letters that were lying on the table, and hurled them to the other end of the apartment, dashed several books to the ground, kicked down several chairs that were in his way, and began pacing the room with his usual troubled step; and so he continued until the shades of twilight entered his apartment. Then he pulled down the other bell-rope, and Mr. Spalding again appeared.
'Order posthorses for to-morrow,' said his lordship.
'Where to, my lord?'
'I don't know; order the horses.'
Mr. Spalding again bowed and disappeared.
In a few minutes he heard a great stamping and confusion in his master's apartment, and presently the door opened and his master's voice was heard calling him repeatedly in a very irritable tone.
'Why are there no bells in this cursed room?' inquired Lord Cadurcis.
'The ropes are broken, my lord.'
'Why are they broken?'
'I can't say, my lord,'
'I cannot leave this house for a day but I find everything in confusion. Bring me some Burgundy.'
'Yes, my lord. There is a young lad, my lord, called a few minutes back, and asked for your lordship. He says he has something very particular to say to your lordship. I told him your lordship was out of town. He said your lordship would wish very much to see him, and that he had come from the Abbey.'
'The Abbey!' said Cadurcis, in a tone of curiosity. 'Why did you not show him in?'
'Your lordship said you were not at home to anybody.'
'Idiot! Is this anybody? Of course I would have seen him. What the devil do I keep you for, sir? You seem to me to have lost your head.'
Mr. Spalding retired.
'The Abbey! that is droll,' said Cadurcis. 'I owe some duties to the poor Abbey. I should not like to quit England, and leave anybody in trouble at the Abbey. I wish I had seen the lad. Some son of a tenant who has written to me, and I have never opened his letters. I am sorry.'
In a few minutes Mr. Spalding again entered the room. 'The young lad has called again, my lord. He says he thinks your lordship has come to town, and he wishes to see your lordship very much.'
'Bring lights and show him up. Show him up first.'
Accordingly, a country lad was ushered into the room, although it was so dusky that Cadurcis could only observe his figure standing at the door.
'Well, my good fellow,' said Cadurcis; 'what do you want? Are you in any trouble?'
The boy hesitated.
'Speak out, my good fellow; do not be alarmed. If I can serve you, or any one at the Abbey, I will do it.'
Here Mr. Spalding entered with the lights. The lad held a cotton handkerchief to his face; he appeared to be weeping; all that was seen of his head were his locks of red hair. He seemed a country lad, dressed in a long green coat with silver buttons, and he twirled in his disengaged hand a peasant's white hat.
'That will do, Spalding,' said Lord Cadurcis. 'Leave the room. Now, my good fellow, my time is precious; but speak out, and do not be afraid.'
'Cadurcis!' said the lad in a sweet and trembling voice.
'Gertrude, by G—d!' exclaimed Lord Cadurcis, starting. 'What infernal masquerade is this?'
'Is it a greater disguise than I have to bear every hour of my life?' exclaimed Lady Monteagle, advancing. 'Have I not to bear a smiling face with a breaking heart?'
'By Jove! a scene,' exclaimed Cadurcis in a piteous tone.
'A scene!' exclaimed Lady Monteagle, bursting into a flood of indignant tears. 'Is this the way the expression of my feelings is ever to be stigmatised? Barbarous man!'
Cadurcis stood with his back to the fireplace, with his lips compressed, and his hands under his coat-tails. He was resolved that nothing should induce him to utter a word. He looked the picture of dogged indifference.
'I know where you have been,' continued Lady Monteagle. 'You have been to Richmond; you have been with Miss Herbert. Yes! I know all. I am a victim, but I will not be a dupe. Yorkshire indeed! Paltry coward!'
Cadurcis hummed an air.
'And this is Lord Cadurcis!' continued the lady. 'The sublime, ethereal Lord Cadurcis, condescending to the last refuge of the meanest, most commonplace mind, a vulgar, wretched lie! What could have been expected from such a mind? You may delude the world, but I know you. Yes, sir! I know you. And I will let everybody know you. I will tear away the veil of charlatanism with which you have enveloped yourself. The world shall at length discover the nature of the idol they have worshipped. All your meanness, all your falsehood, all your selfishness, all your baseness, shall be revealed. I may be spurned, but at any rate I will be revenged!'
Lord Cadurcis yawned.
'Insulting, pitiful wretch!' continued the lady. 'And you think that I wish to hear you speak! You think the sound of that deceitful voice has any charm for me! You are mistaken, sir! I have listened to you too long. It was not to remonstrate with you that I resolved to see you. The tones of your voice can only excite my disgust. I am here to speak myself; to express to you the contempt, the detestation, the aversion, the scorn, the hatred, which I entertain for you!'
Lord Cadurcis whistled.
The lady paused; she had effected the professed purport of her visit; she ought now to have retired, and Cadurcis would most willingly have opened the door for her, and bowed her out of his apartment. But her conduct did not exactly accord with her speech. She intimated no intention of moving. Her courteous friend retained his position, and adhered to his policy of silence. There was a dead pause, and then Lady Monteagle, throwing herself into a chair, went into hysterics.
Lord Cadurcis, following her example, also seated himself, took up a book, and began to read.
The hysterics became fainter and fainter; they experienced all those gradations of convulsive noise with which Lord Cadurcis was so well acquainted; at length they subsided into sobs and sighs. Finally, there was again silence, now only disturbed by the sound of a page turned by Lord Cadurcis.
Suddenly the lady sprang from her seat, and firmly grasping the arm of Cadurcis, threw herself on her knees at his side.
'Cadurcis!' she exclaimed, in a tender tone, 'do you love me?'
'My dear Gertrude,' said Lord Cadurcis, coolly, but rather regretting he had quitted his original and less assailable posture, 'you know I like quiet women.'
'Cadurcis, forgive me!' murmured the lady. 'Pity me! Think only how miserable I am!'
'Your misery is of your own making,' said Lord Cadurcis. 'What occasion is there for any of these extraordinary proceedings? I have told you a thousand times that I cannot endure scenes. Female society is a relaxation to me; you convert it into torture. I like to sail upon a summer sea; and you always will insist upon a white squall.'
'But you have deserted me!'
'I never desert any one,' replied Cadurcis calmly, raising her from her supplicating attitude, and leading her to a seat. 'The last time we met, you banished me your presence, and told me never to speak to you again. Well, I obeyed your orders, as I always do.'
'But I did not mean what I said,' said Lady Monteagle.
'How should I know that?' said Lord Cadurcis.
'Your heart ought to have assured you,' said the lady.
'The tongue is a less deceptive organ than the heart,' replied her companion.
'Cadurcis,' said the lady, looking at her strange disguise, 'what do you advise me to do?'
'To go home; and if you like I will order my vis-a-vis for you directly,' and he rose from his seat to give the order.
'Ah!' you are sighing to get rid of me!' said the lady, in a reproachful, but still subdued tone.
'Why, the fact is, Gertrude, I prefer calling upon you, to your calling upon me. When I am fitted for your society, I seek it; and, when you are good-tempered, always with pleasure; when I am not in the mood for it, I stay away. And when I am at home, I wish to see no one. I have business now, and not very agreeable business. I am disturbed by many causes, and you could not have taken a step which could have given me greater annoyance than the strange one you have adopted this evening.'
'I am sorry for it now,' said the lady, weeping. 'When shall I see you again?'
'I will call upon you to-morrow, and pray receive me with smiles.'
'I ever will,' said the lady, weeping plenteously. 'It is all my fault; you are ever too good. There is not in the world a kinder and more gentle being than yourself. I shall never forgive myself for this exposure.
'Would you like to take anything?' said Lord Cadurcis: 'I am sure you must feel exhausted. You see I am drinking wine; it is my only dinner to-day, but I dare say there is some salvolatile in the house; I dare say, when my maids go into hysterics, they have it!'
'Ah, mocker!' said Lady Monteagle; 'but I can pardon everything, if you will only let me see you.'
'Au revoir! then,' said his lordship; 'I am sure the carriage must be ready. I hear it. Come, Mr. Gertrude, settle your wig; it is quite awry. By Jove! we might as well go to the Pantheon, as you are ready dressed. I have a domino.' And so saying, Lord Cadurcis handed the lady to his carriage, and pressed her lightly by the hand, as he reiterated his promise of calling at Monteagle House the next day.
Lord Cadurcis, unhappy at home, and wearied of the commonplace resources of society, had passed the night in every species of dissipation; his principal companion being that same young nobleman in whose company he had been when he first met Venetia at Ranelagh. The morn was breaking when Cadurcis and his friend arrived at his door. They had settled to welcome the dawn with a beaker of burnt Burgundy.
'Now, my dear Scrope,' said Cadurcis, 'now for quiet and philosophy. The laughter of those infernal women, the rattle of those cursed dice, and the oaths of those ruffians are still ringing in my ears. Let us compose ourselves, and moralise.'
Accustomed to their master's habits, who generally turned night into day, the household were all on the alert; a blazing fire greeted them, and his lordship ordered instantly a devil and the burnt Burgundy.
'Sit you down here, my Scrope; that is the seat of honour, and you shall have it. What is this, a letter? and marked "Urgent," and in a man's hand. It must be read. Some good fellow nabbed by a bailiff, or planted by his mistress. Signals of distress! We must assist our friends.'
The flame of the fire fell upon Lord Cadurcis' face as he read the letter; he was still standing, while his friend was stretched out in his easy chair, and inwardly congratulating himself on his comfortable prospects. The countenance of Cadurcis did not change, but he bit his lip, and read the letter twice, and turned it over, but with a careless air; and then he asked what o'clock it was. The servant informed him, and left the room.
'Scrope,' said Lord Cadurcis, quietly, and still standing, 'are you very drunk?'
'My dear fellow, I am as fresh as possible; you will see what justice I shall do to the Burgundy.'
'"Burgundy to-morrow," as the Greek proverb saith,' observed Lord Cadurcis. 'Read that.'
His companion had the pleasure of perusing a challenge from Lord Monteagle, couched in no gentle terms, and requesting an immediate meeting.
'Well, I never heard anything more ridiculous in my life,' said Lord Scrope. 'Does he want satisfaction because you have planted her?'
'D—n her!' said Lord Cadurcis. 'She has occasioned me a thousand annoyances, and now she has spoilt our supper. I don't know, though; he wants to fight quickly, let us fight at once. I will send him a cartel now, and then we can have our Burgundy. You will go out with me, of course? Hyde Park, six o'clock, and short swords.'
Lord Cadurcis accordingly sat down, wrote his letter, and dispatched it by Mr. Spalding to Monteagle House, with peremptory instructions to bring back an answer. The companions then turned to their devil.
'This is a bore, Cadurcis,' said Lord Scrope.
'It is. I cannot say I am very valorous in a bad cause. I do not like to fight "upon compulsion," I confess. If I had time to screw my courage up, I dare say I should do it very well. I dare say, for instance, if ever I am publicly executed, I shall die game.'
'God forbid!' said Lord Scrope. 'I say, Cadurcis, I would not drink any Burgundy if I were you. I shall take a glass of cold water.'
'Ah! you are only a second, and so you want to cool your valour,' said Cadurcis. 'You have all the fun.'
'But how came this blow-up?' inquired Lord Scrope. 'Letters discovered, eh? Because I thought you never saw her now?'
'By Jove! my dear fellow, she has been the whole evening here masquerading it like a very vixen, as she is; and now she has committed us both. I have burnt her letters, without reading them, for the last month. Now I call that honourable; because, as I had no longer any claim on her heart, I would not think of trenching on her correspondence. But honour, what is honour in these dishonourable days? This is my reward. She contrived to enter my house this evening, dressed like a farmer's boy, and you may imagine what ensued; rage, hysterics, and repentance. I am sure if Monteagle had seen me, he would not have been jealous. I never opened my mouth, but, like a fool, sent her home in my carriage; and now I am going to be run through the body for my politeness.'
In this light strain, blended, however, with more decorous feeling on the part of Lord Scrope, the young men conversed until the messenger's return with Lord Monteagle's answer. In Hyde Park, in the course of an hour, himself and Lord Cadurcis, attended by their friends, were to meet.
'Well, there is nothing like having these affairs over,' said Cadurcis; 'and to confess the truth, my dear Scrope, I should not much care if Monteagle were to despatch me to my fathers; for, in the whole course of my miserable life, and miserable, whatever the world may think, it has been, I never felt much more wretched than I have during the last four-and-twenty hours. By Jove! do you know I was going to leave England this morning, and I have ordered my horses, too.'
'Yes, leave England; and where I never intended to return.'
'Well, you are the oddest person I ever knew, Cadurcis. I should have thought you the happiest person that ever existed. Everybody admires, everybody envies you. You seem to have everything that man can desire. Your life is a perpetual triumph.'
'Ah! my dear Scrope, there is a skeleton in every house. If you knew all, you would not envy me.'
'Well, we have not much time,' said Lord Scrope; 'have you any arrangements to make?'
'None. My property goes to George, who is my only relative, without the necessity of a will, otherwise I should leave everything to him, for he is a good fellow, and my blood is in his veins. Just you remember, Scrope, that I will be buried with my mother. That is all; and now let us get ready.'
The sun had just risen when the young men went forth, and the day promised to be as brilliant as the preceding one. Not a soul was stirring in the courtly quarter in which Cadurcis resided; even the last watchman had stolen to repose. They called a hackney coach at the first stand they reached, and were soon at the destined spot. They were indeed before their time, and strolling by the side of the Serpentine, Cadurcis said, 'Yesterday morning was one of the happiest of my life, Scrope, and I was in hopes that an event would have occurred in the course of the day that might have been my salvation. If it had, by-the-bye, I should not have returned to town, and got into this cursed scrape. However, the gods were against me, and now I am reckless.'
Now Lord Monteagle and his friend, who was Mr. Horace Pole, appeared. Cadurcis advanced, and bowed; Lord Monteagle returned his bow, stiffly, but did not speak. The seconds chose their ground, the champions disembarrassed themselves of their coats, and their swords crossed. It was a brief affair. After a few passes, Cadurcis received a slight wound in his arm, while his weapon pierced his antagonist in the breast. Lord Monteagle dropped his sword and fell.
'You had better fly, Lord Cadurcis,' said Mr. Horace Pole. 'This is a bad business, I fear; we have a surgeon at hand, and he can help us to the coach that is waiting close by.'
'I thank you, sir, I never fly,' said Lord Cadurcis; 'and I shall wait here until I see your principal safely deposited in his carriage; he will have no objection to my friend, Lord Scrope, assisting him, who, by his presence to-day, has only fulfilled one of the painful duties that society imposes upon us.'
The surgeon gave an unfavourable report of the wound, which he dressed on the field. Lord Monteagle was then borne to his carriage, which was at hand, and Lord Scrope, the moment he had seen the equipage move slowly off, returned to his friend.
'Well Cadurcis,' he exclaimed in an anxious voice, 'I hope you have not killed him. What will you do now?'
'I shall go home, and await the result, my dear Scrope. I am sorry for you, for this may get you into trouble. For myself, I care nothing.'
'You bleed!' said Lord Scrope.
'A scratch. I almost wish our lots had been the reverse. Come, Scrope, help me on with my coat. Yesterday I lost my heart, last night I lost my money, and perhaps to-morrow I shall lose my arm. It seems we are not in luck.
It has been well observed, that no spectacle is so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality. In general, elopements, divorces, and family quarrels pass with little notice. We read the scandal, talk about it for a day, and forget it. But, once in six or seven years, our virtue becomes outrageous. We cannot suffer the laws of religion and decency to be violated. We must make a stand against vice. We must teach libertines that the English people appreciate the importance of domestic ties. Accordingly, some unfortunate man, in no respect more depraved than hundreds whose offences have been treated with lenity, is singled out as an expiatory sacrifice. If he has children, they are to be taken from him. If he has a profession, he is to be driven from it. He is cut by the higher orders, and hissed by the lower. He is, in truth, a sort of whipping boy, by whose vicarious agonies all the other transgressors of the same class are, it is supposed, sufficiently chastised. We reflect very complacently on our own severity, and compare, with great pride, the high standard of morals established in England, with the Parisian laxity. At length, our anger is satiated, our victim is ruined and heart-broken, and our virtue goes quietly to sleep for seven years more.
These observations of a celebrated writer apply to the instance of Lord Cadurcis; he was the periodical victim, the scapegoat of English morality, sent into the wilderness with all the crimes and curses of the multitude on his head. Lord Cadurcis had certainly committed a great crime: not his intrigue with Lady Monteagle, for that surely was not an unprecedented offence; not his duel with her husband, for after all it was a duel in self-defence; and, at all events, divorces and duels, under any circumstances, would scarcely have excited or authorised the storm which was now about to burst over the late spoiled child of society. But Lord Cadurcis had been guilty of the offence which, of all offences, is punished most severely: Lord Cadurcis had been overpraised. He had excited too warm an interest; and the public, with its usual justice, was resolved to chastise him for its own folly.
There are no fits of caprice so hasty and so violent as those of society. Society, indeed, is all passion and no heart. Cadurcis, in allusion to his sudden and singular success, had been in the habit of saying to his intimates, that he 'woke one morning and found himself famous.' He might now observe, 'I woke one morning and found myself infamous.' Before twenty-four hours had passed over his duel with Lord Monteagle, he found himself branded by every journal in London, as an unprincipled and unparalleled reprobate. The public, without waiting to think or even to inquire after the truth, instantly selected as genuine the most false and the most flagrant of the fifty libellous narratives that were circulated of the transaction. Stories, inconsistent with themselves, were all alike eagerly believed, and what evidence there might be for any one of them, the virtuous people, by whom they were repeated, neither cared nor knew. The public, in short, fell into a passion with their darling, and, ashamed of their past idolatry, nothing would satisfy them but knocking the divinity on the head.
Until Lord Monteagle, to the great regret of society, who really wished him to die in order that his antagonist might commit murder, was declared out of danger, Lord Cadurcis never quitted his house, and he was not a little surprised that scarcely a human being called upon him except his cousin, who immediately flew to his succour. George, indeed, would gladly have spared Cadurcis any knowledge of the storm that was raging against him, and which he flattered himself would blow over before Cadurcis was again abroad; but he was so much with his cousin, and Cadurcis was so extremely acute and naturally so suspicious, that this was impossible. Moreover, his absolute desertion by his friends, and the invectives and the lampoons with which the newspapers abounded, and of which he was the subject, rendered any concealment out of the question, and poor George passed his life in running about contradicting falsehoods, stating truth, fighting his cousin's battles, and then reporting to him, in the course of the day, the state of the campaign.
Cadurcis, being a man of infinite sensibility, suffered tortures. He had been so habituated to panegyric, that the slightest criticism ruffled him, and now his works had suddenly become the subject of universal and outrageous attack; having lived only in a cloud of incense, he suddenly found himself in a pillory of moral indignation; his writings, his habits, his temper, his person, were all alike ridiculed and vilified. In a word, Cadurcis, the petted, idolised, spoiled Cadurcis, was enduring that charming vicissitude in a prosperous existence, styled a reaction; and a conqueror, who deemed himself invincible, suddenly vanquished, could scarcely be more thunderstruck, or feel more impotently desperate.
The tortures of his mind, however, which this sudden change in his position and in the opinions of society, were of themselves competent to occasion to one of so impetuous and irritable a temperament, and who ever magnified both misery and delight with all the creative power of a brooding imagination, were excited in his case even to the liveliest agony, when he reminded himself of the situation in which he was now placed with Venetia. All hope of ever obtaining her hand had now certainly vanished, and he doubted whether even her love could survive the quick occurrence, after his ardent vows, of this degrading and mortifying catastrophe. He execrated Lady Monteagle with the most heartfelt rage, and when he remembered that all this time the world believed him the devoted admirer of this vixen, his brain was stimulated almost to the verge of insanity. His only hope of the truth reaching Venetia was through the medium of his cousin, and he impressed daily upon Captain Cadurcis the infinite consolation it would prove to him, if he could contrive to make her aware of the real facts of the case. According to the public voice, Lady Monteagle at his solicitation had fled to his house, and remained there, and her husband forced his entrance into the mansion in the middle of the night, while his wife escaped disguised in Lord Cadurcis' clothes. She did not, however, reach Monteagle House in time enough to escape detection by her lord, who had instantly sought and obtained satisfaction from his treacherous friend. All the monstrous inventions of the first week had now subsided into this circumstantial and undoubted narrative; at least this was the version believed by those who had been Cadurcis' friends. They circulated the authentic tale with the most considerate assiduity, and shook their heads, and said it was too bad, and that he must not be countenanced.
The moment Lord Monteagle was declared out of danger, Lord Cadurcis made his appearance in public. He walked into Brookes', and everybody seemed suddenly so deeply interested in the newspapers, that you might have supposed they had brought intelligence of a great battle, or a revolution, or a change of ministry at the least. One or two men spoke to him, who had never presumed to address him at any other time, and he received a faint bow from a distinguished nobleman, who had ever professed for him the greatest consideration and esteem.
Cadurcis mounted his horse and rode down to the House of Lords. There was a debate of some public interest, and a considerable crowd was collected round the Peers' entrance. The moment Lord Cadurcis was recognised, the multitude began hooting. He was agitated, and grinned a ghastly smile at the rabble. But he dismounted, without further annoyance, and took his seat. Not a single peer of his own party spoke to him. The leader of the Opposition, indeed, bowed to him, and, in the course of the evening, he received, from one or two more of his party, some formal evidences of frigid courtesy. The tone of his reception by his friends could not be concealed from the ministerial party. It was soon detected, and generally whispered, that Lord Cadurcis was cut. Nevertheless, he sat out the debate and voted. The house broke up. He felt lonely; his old friend, the Bishop of——, who had observed all that had occurred, and who might easily have avoided him, came forward, however, in the most marked manner, and, in a tone which everybody heard, said, 'How do you do, Lord Cadurcis? I am very glad to see you,' shaking his hand most cordially. This made a great impression. Several of the Tory Lords, among them Venetia's uncle, now advanced and sainted him. He received their advances with a haughty, but not disdainful, courtesy; but when his Whig friends, confused, now hurried to encumber him with their assistance, he treated them with the scorn which they well deserved.
'Will you take a seat in my carriage home, Lord Cadurcis?' said his leader, for it was notorious that Cadurcis had been mobbed on his arrival.
'Thank you, my lord,' said Cadurcis, speaking very audibly, 'I prefer returning as I came. We are really both of us such unpopular personages, that your kindness would scarcely be prudent.'
The house had been full; there was a great scuffle and confusion as the peers were departing; the mob, now considerable, were prepared for the appearance of Lord Cadurcis, and their demeanour was menacing. Some shouted out his name; then it was repeated with odious and vindictive epithets, followed by ferocious yells. A great many peers collected round Cadurcis, and entreated him not to return on horseback. It must be confessed that genuine and considerable feeling was now shown by all men of all parties. And indeed to witness this young, and noble, and gifted creature, but a few days back the idol of the nation, and from whom a word, a glance even, was deemed the greatest and most gratifying distinction, whom all orders, classes, and conditions of men had combined to stimulate with multiplied adulation, with all the glory and ravishing delights of the world, as it were, forced upon him, to see him thus assailed with the savage execrations of all those vile things who exult in the fall of everything that is great, and the abasement of everything that is noble, was indeed a spectacle which might have silenced malice and satisfied envy!
'My carriage is most heartily at your service, Lord Cadurcis,' said the noble leader of the government in the upper house; 'you can enter it without the slightest suspicion by these ruffians.' 'Lord Cadurcis; my dear lord; my good lord, for our sakes, if not for your own; Cadurcis, dear Cadurcis, my good Cadurcis, it is madness, folly, insanity; a mob will do anything, and an English mob is viler than all; for Heaven's sake!' Such were a few of the varied exclamations which resounded on all sides, but which produced on the person to whom they were addressed only the result of his desiring the attendant to call for his horses.
The lobby was yet full; it was a fine thing in the light of the archway to see Cadurcis spring into his saddle. Instantly there was a horrible yell. Yet in spite of all their menaces, the mob were for a time awed by his courage; they made way for him; he might even have rode quickly on for some few yards, but he would not; he reined his fiery steed into a slow but stately pace, and, with a countenance scornful and composed, he continued his progress, apparently unconscious of impediment. Meanwhile, the hooting continued without abatement, increasing indeed, after the first comparative pause, in violence and menace. At length a bolder ruffian, excited by the uproar, rushed forward and seized Cadurcis' bridle. Cadurcis struck the man over the eyes with his whip, and at the same time touched his horse with his spur, and the assailant was dashed to the ground. This seemed a signal for a general assault. It commenced with hideous yells. His friends at the house, who had watched everything with the keenest interest, immediately directed all the constables who were at hand to rush to his succour; hitherto they had restrained the police, lest their interference might stimulate rather than repress the mob. The charge of the constables was well timed; they laid about them with their staves; you might have heard the echo of many a broken crown. Nevertheless, though they dispersed the mass, they could not penetrate the immediate barrier that surrounded Lord Cadurcis, whose only defence indeed, for they had cut off his groom, was the terrors of his horse's heels, and whose managed motions he regulated with admirable skill, now rearing, now prancing, now kicking behind, and now turning round with a quick yet sweeping motion, before which the mob retreated. Off his horse, however, they seemed resolved to drag him; and it was not difficult to conceive, if they succeeded, what must be his eventual fate. They were infuriate, but his contact with his assailants fortunately prevented their co-mates from hurling stones at him from the fear of endangering their own friends.
A messenger to the Horse Guards had been sent from the House of Lords; but, before the military could arrive, and fortunately (for, with their utmost expedition, they must have been too late), a rumour of the attack got current in the House of Commons. Captain Cadurcis, Lord Scrope, and a few other young men instantly rushed out; and, ascertaining the truth, armed with good cudgels and such other effective weapons as they could instantly obtain, they mounted their horses and charged the nearly-triumphant populace, dealing such vigorous blows that their efforts soon made a visible diversion in Lord Cadurcis' favour. It is difficult, indeed, to convey an idea of the exertions and achievements of Captain Cadurcis; no Paladin of chivalry ever executed such marvels on a swarm of Paynim slaves; and many a bloody coxcomb and broken limb bore witness in Petty France that night to his achievements. Still the mob struggled and were not daunted by the delay in immolating their victim. As long as they had only to fight against men in plain clothes, they were valorous and obstinate enough; but the moment that the crests of a troop of Horse Guards were seen trotting down Parliament Street, everybody ran away, and in a few minutes all Palace-yard was as still as if the genius of the place rendered a riot impossible.
Lord Cadurcis thanked his friends, who were profuse in their compliments to his pluck. His manner, usually playful with his intimates of his own standing, was, however, rather grave at present, though very cordial. He asked them home to dine with him; but they were obliged to decline his invitation, as a division was expected; so, saying 'Good-bye, George, perhaps I shall see you to-night,' Cadurcis rode rapidly off.
With Cadurcis there was but one step from the most exquisite sensitiveness to the most violent defiance. The experience of this day had entirely cured him of his previous nervous deference to the feelings of society. Society had outraged him, and now he resolved to outrage society. He owed society nothing; his reception at the House of Lords and the riot in Palace-yard had alike cleared his accounts with all orders of men, from the highest to the lowest. He had experienced, indeed, some kindness that he could not forget, but only from his own kin, and those who with his associations were the same as kin. His memory dwelt with gratification on his cousin's courageous zeal, and still more on the demonstration which Masham had made in his favour, which, if possible, argued still greater boldness and sincere regard. That was a trial of true affection, and an instance of moral courage, which Cadurcis honoured, and which he never could forget. He was anxious about Venetia; he wished to stand as well with her as he deserved; no better; but he was grieved to think she could believe all those infamous tales at present current respecting himself. But, for the rest of the world, he delivered them all to the most absolute contempt, disgust, and execration; he resolved, from this time, nothing should ever induce him again to enter society, or admit the advances of a single civilised ruffian who affected to be social. The country, the people, their habits, laws, manners, customs, opinions, and everything connected with them, were viewed with the same jaundiced eye; and his only object now was to quit England, to which he resolved never to return.
Venetia was, perhaps, not quite so surprised as the rest of her friends, when, on their return to Richmond, Lord Cadurcis was not again seen. She was very unhappy: she recalled the scene in the garden at Cherbury some years back; and, with the knowledge of the impetuosity of his temper, she believed she should never see him again. Poor Plantagenet, who loved her so much, and whose love she so fully returned! why might they not be happy? She neither doubted the constancy of his affection, nor their permanent felicity if they were united. She shared none of her mother's apprehensions or her prejudices, but she was the victim of duty and her vow. In the course of four-and-twenty hours, strange rumours were afloat respecting Lord Cadurcis; and the newspapers on the ensuing morning told the truth, and more than the truth. Venetia could not doubt as to the duel or the elopement; but, instead of feeling indignation, she attributed what had occurred to the desperation of his mortified mind; and she visited on herself all the fatal consequences that had happened. At present, however, all her emotions were quickly absorbed in the one terrible fear that Lord Monteagle would die. In that dreadful and urgent apprehension every other sentiment merged. It was impossible to conceal her misery, and she entreated her mother to return to town.
Very differently, however, was the catastrophe viewed by Lady Annabel. She, on the contrary, triumphed in her sagacity and her prudence. She hourly congratulated herself on being the saviour of her daughter; and though she refrained from indulging in any open exultation over Venetia's escape and her own profound discretion, it was, nevertheless, impossible for her to conceal from her daughter her infinite satisfaction and self-congratulation. While Venetia was half broken-hearted, her mother silently returned thanks to Providence for the merciful dispensation which had exempted her child from so much misery.
The day after their return to town, Captain Cadurcis called upon them. Lady Annabel never mentioned the name of his cousin; but George, finding no opportunity of conversing with Venetia alone, and being, indeed, too much excited to speak on any other subject, plunged at once into the full narrative; defended Lord Cadurcis, abused the Monteagles and the slanderous world, and, in spite of Lady Annabel's ill-concealed dissatisfaction, favoured her with an exact and circumstantial account of everything that had happened, how it happened, when it happened, and where it happened; concluding by a declaration that Cadurcis was the best fellow that ever lived; the most unfortunate, and the most ill-used; and that, if he were to be hunted down for an affair like this, over which he had no control, there was not a man in London who could be safe for ten minutes. All that George effected by his zeal, was to convince Lady Annabel that his cousin had entirely corrupted, him; she looked upon her former favourite as another victim; but Venetia listened in silence, and not without solace.
Two or three days after the riot at the House of Lords, Captain Cadurcis burst into his cousin's room with a triumphant countenance. 'Well, Plantagenet!' he exclaimed, 'I have done it; I have seen her alone, and I have put you as right as possible. Nothing can be better.'
'Tell me, my dear fellow,' said Lord Cadurcis, eagerly.
'Well, you know, I have called half-a-dozen times,' said George, 'but either Lady Annabel was there, or they were not at home, or something always occurred to prevent any private communication. But I met her to-day with her aunt; I joined them immediately, and kept with them the whole morning. I am sorry to say she, I mean Venetia, is devilish ill; she is, indeed. However, her aunt now is quite on your side, and very kind, I can tell you that. I put her right at first, and she has fought our battle bravely. Well, they stopped to call somewhere, and Venetia was so unwell that she would not get out, and I was left alone in the carriage with her. Time was precious, and I opened at once. I told her how wretched you were, and that the only thing that made you miserable was about her, because you were afraid she would think you so profligate, and all that. I went through it all; told her the exact truth, which, indeed, she had before heard; but now I assured her, on my honour, that it was exactly what happened; and she said she did not doubt it, and could not, from some conversation which you had together the day we were all at Hampton Court, and that she felt that nothing could have been premeditated, and fully believed that everything had occurred as I said; and, however she deplored it, she felt the same for you as ever, and prayed for your happiness. Then she told me what misery the danger of Lord Monteagle had occasioned her; that she thought his death must have been the forerunner of her own; but the moment he was declared out of danger seemed the happiest hour of her life. I told her you were going to leave England, and asked her whether she had any message for you; and she said, "Tell him he is the same to me that he has always been." So, when her aunt returned, I jumped out and ran on to you at once.'
'You are the best fellow that ever lived, George,' said Lord Cadurcis; 'and now the world may go to the devil!'
This message from Venetia acted upon Lord Cadurcis like a charm. It instantly cleared his mind. He shut himself up in his house for a week, and wrote a farewell to England, perhaps the most masterly effusion of his powerful spirit. It abounded in passages of overwhelming passion, and almost Satanic sarcasm. Its composition entirely relieved his long-brooding brain. It contained, moreover, a veiled address to Venetia, delicate, tender, and irresistibly affecting. He appended also to the publication, the verses he had previously addressed to her.
This volume, which was purchased with an avidity exceeding even the eagerness with which his former productions had been received, exercised extraordinary influence on public opinion. It enlisted the feelings of the nation on his side in a struggle with a coterie. It was suddenly discovered that Lord Cadurcis was the most injured of mortals, and far more interesting than ever. The address to the unknown object of his adoration, and the verses to Venetia, mystified everybody. Lady Monteagle was universally abused, and all sympathised with the long-treasured and baffled affection of the unhappy poet. Cadurcis, however, was not to be conciliated. He left his native shores in a blaze of glory, but with the accents of scorn still quivering on his lip.