BY THE EARL OF BEACONSFIELD, K.G.
'Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child?'
'The child of love, though born in bitterness And nurtured in convulsion.'
In happier hours, when I first mentioned to you the idea of this Work, it was my intention, while inscribing it with your name, to have entered into some details as to the principles which had guided me in its composition, and the feelings with which I had attempted to shadow forth, though as 'in in a glass darkly,' two of the most renowned and refined spirits that have adorned these our latter days. But now I will only express a hope that the time may come when, in these pages, you may find some relaxation from the cares, and some distraction from the sorrows, of existence, and that you will then receive this dedication as a record of my respect and my affection.
This Work was first published in the year 1837.
Some ten years before the revolt of our American colonies, there was situate in one of our midland counties, on the borders of an extensive forest, an ancient hall that belonged to the Herberts, but which, though ever well preserved, had not until that period been visited by any member of the family, since the exile of the Stuarts. It was an edifice of considerable size, built of grey stone, much covered with ivy, and placed upon the last gentle elevation of a long ridge of hills, in the centre of a crescent of woods, that far overtopped its clusters of tall chimneys and turreted gables. Although the principal chambers were on the first story, you could nevertheless step forth from their windows on a broad terrace, whence you descended into the gardens by a double flight of stone steps, exactly in the middle of its length. These gardens were of some extent, and filled with evergreen shrubberies of remarkable overgrowth, while occasionally turfy vistas, cut in the distant woods, came sloping down to the south, as if they opened to receive the sunbeam that greeted the genial aspect of the mansion, The ground-floor was principally occupied by the hall itself, which was of great dimensions, hung round with many a family portrait and rural picture, furnished with long oaken seats covered with scarlet cushions, and ornamented with a parti-coloured floor of alternate diamonds of black and white marble. From the centre of the roof of the mansion, which was always covered with pigeons, rose the clock-tower of the chapel, surmounted by a vane; and before the mansion itself was a large plot of grass, with a fountain in the centre, surrounded by a hedge of honeysuckle.
This plot of grass was separated from an extensive park, that opened in front of the hall, by tall iron gates, on each of the pillars of which was a lion rampant supporting the escutcheon of the family. The deer wandered in this enclosed and well-wooded demesne, and about a mile from the mansion, in a direct line with the iron gates, was an old-fashioned lodge, which marked the limit of the park, and from which you emerged into a fine avenue of limes bounded on both sides by fields. At the termination of this avenue was a strong but simple gate, and a woodman's cottage; and then spread before you a vast landscape of open, wild lands, which seemed on one side interminable, while on the other the eye rested on the dark heights of the neighbouring forest.
This picturesque and secluded abode was the residence of Lady Annabel Herbert and her daughter, the young and beautiful Venetia, a child, at the time when our history commences, of very tender age. It was nearly seven years since Lady Annabel and her infant daughter had sought the retired shades of Cherbury, which they had never since quitted. They lived alone and for each other; the mother educated her child, and the child interested her mother by her affectionate disposition, the development of a mind of no ordinary promise, and a sort of captivating grace and charming playfulness of temper, which were extremely delightful. Lady Annabel was still young and lovely. That she was wealthy her establishment clearly denoted, and she was a daughter of one of the haughtiest houses in the kingdom. It was strange then that, with all the brilliant accidents of birth, and beauty, and fortune, she should still, as it were in the morning of her life, have withdrawn to this secluded mansion, in a county where she was personally unknown, distant from the metropolis, estranged from all her own relatives and connexions, and without resource of even a single neighbour, for the only place of importance in her vicinity was uninhabited. The general impression of the villagers was that Lady Annabel was a widow; and yet there were some speculators who would shrewdly remark, that her ladyship had never worn weeds, although her husband could not have been long dead when she first arrived at Cherbury. On the whole, however, these good people were not very inquisitive; and it was fortunate for them, for there was little chance and slight means of gratifying their curiosity. The whole of the establishment had been formed at Cherbury, with the exception of her ladyship's waiting-woman, Mistress Pauncefort, and she was by far too great a personage to condescend to reply to any question which was not made to her by Lady Annabel herself.
The beauty of the young Venetia was not the hereditary gift of her beautiful mother. It was not from Lady Annabel that Venetia Herbert had derived those seraphic locks that fell over her shoulders and down her neck in golden streams, nor that clear grey eye even, whose childish glance might perplex the gaze of manhood, nor that little aquiline nose, that gave a haughty expression to a countenance that had never yet dreamed of pride, nor that radiant complexion, that dazzled with its brilliancy, like some winged minister of Raffael or Correggio. The peasants that passed the lady and her daughter in their walks, and who blessed her as they passed, for all her grace and goodness, often marvelled why so fair a mother and so fair a child should be so dissimilar, that one indeed might be compared to a starry night, and the other to a sunny day.
It was a bright and soft spring morning: the dewy vistas of Cherbury sparkled in the sun, the cooing of the pigeons sounded around, the peacocks strutted about the terrace and spread their tails with infinite enjoyment and conscious pride, and Lady Annabel came forth with her little daughter, to breathe the renovating odours of the season. The air was scented with the violet, tufts of daffodils were scattered all about, and though the snowdrop had vanished, and the primroses were fast disappearing, their wild and shaggy leaves still looked picturesque and glad.
'Mamma,' said the little Venetia, 'is this spring?'
'This is spring, my child,' replied Lady Annabel, 'beautiful spring! The year is young and happy, like my little girl.'
'If Venetia be like the spring, mamma is like the summer!' replied the child; and the mother smiled. 'And is not the summer young and happy?' resumed Venetia.
'It is not quite so young as the spring,' said Lady Annabel, looking down with fondness on her little companion, 'and, I fear, not quite so happy.'
'But it is as beautiful,' said Venetia.
'It is not beauty that makes us happy,' said Lady Annabel; 'to be happy, my love, we must be good.'
'Am I good?' said Venetia.
'Very good,' said Lady Annabel
'I am very happy,' said Venetia; 'I wonder whether, if I be always good, I shall always be happy?'
'You cannot be happy without being good, my love; but happiness depends upon the will of God. If you be good he will guard over you.'
'What can make me unhappy, mamma?' inquired Venetia.
'An evil conscience, my love.'
'Conscience!' said Venetia: 'what is conscience?'
'You are not yet quite old enough to understand,' said Lady Annabel, 'but some day I will teach you. Mamma is now going to take a long walk, and Venetia shall walk with her.'
So saying, the Lady Annabel summoned Mistress Pauncefort, a gentlewoman of not more discreet years than might have been expected in the attendant of so young a mistress; but one well qualified for her office, very zealous and devoted, somewhat consequential, full of energy and decision, capable of directing, fond of giving advice, and habituated to command. The Lady Annabel, leading her daughter, and accompanied by her faithful bloodhound, Marmion, ascended one of those sloping vistas that we have noticed, Mistress Pauncefort following them about a pace behind, and after her a groom, at a respectful distance, leading Miss Herbert's donkey.
They soon entered a winding path through the wood which was the background of their dwelling. Lady Annabel was silent, and lost in her reflections; Venetia plucked the beautiful wild hyacinths that then abounded in the wood in such profusion, that their beds spread like patches of blue enamel, and gave them to Mistress Pauncefort, who, as the collection increased, handed them over to the groom; who, in turn, deposited them in the wicker seat prepared for his young mistress. The bright sun bursting through the tender foliage of the year, the clear and genial air, the singing of the birds, and the wild and joyous exclamations of Venetia, as she gathered her flowers, made it a cheerful party, notwithstanding the silence of its mistress.
When they emerged from the wood, they found themselves on the brow of the hill, a small down, over which Venetia ran, exulting in the healthy breeze which, at this exposed height, was strong and fresh. As they advanced to the opposite declivity to that which they had ascended, a wide and peculiar landscape opened before them. The extreme distance was formed by an undulating ridge of lofty and savage hills; nearer than these were gentler elevations, partially wooded; and at their base was a rich valley, its green meads fed by a clear and rapid stream, which glittered in the sun as it coursed on, losing itself at length in a wild and sedgy lake that formed the furthest limit of a widely-spreading park. In the centre of this park, and not very remote from the banks of the rivulet, was an ancient gothic building, that had once been an abbey of great repute and wealth, and had not much suffered in its external character, by having served for nearly two centuries and a half as the principal dwelling of an old baronial family.
Descending the downy hill, that here and there was studded with fine old trees, enriching by their presence the view from the abbey, Lady Annabel and her party entered the meads, and, skirting the lake, approached the venerable walls without crossing the stream.
It was difficult to conceive a scene more silent and more desolate. There was no sign of life, and not a sound save the occasional cawing of a rook. Advancing towards the abbey, they passed a pile of buildings that, in the summer, might be screened from sight by the foliage of a group of elms, too scanty at present to veil their desolation. Wide gaps in the roof proved that the vast and dreary stables were no longer used; there were empty granaries, whose doors had fallen from their hinges; the gate of the courtyard was prostrate on the ground; and the silent clock that once adorned the cupola over the noble entrance arch, had long lost its index. Even the litter of the yard appeared dusty and grey with age. You felt sure no human foot could have disturbed it for years. At the back of these buildings were nailed the trophies of the gamekeeper: hundreds of wild cats, dried to blackness, stretched their downward heads and legs from the mouldering wall; hawks, magpies, and jays hung in tattered remnants! but all grey, and even green, with age; and the heads of birds in plenteous rows, nailed beak upward, and so dried and shrivelled by the suns and winds and frosts of many seasons, that their distinctive characters were lost.
'Do you know, my good Pauncefort,' said Lady Annabel, 'that I have an odd fancy to-day to force an entrance into the old abbey. It is strange, fond as I am of this walk, that we have never yet entered it. Do you recollect our last vain efforts? Shall we be more fortunate this time, think you?'
Mistress Pauncefort smiled and smirked, and, advancing to the old gloomy porch, gave a determined ring at the bell. Its sound might be heard echoing through the old cloisters, but a considerable time elapsed without any other effect being produced. Perhaps Lady Annabel would have now given up the attempt, but the little Venetia expressed so much regret at the disappointment, that her mother directed the groom to reconnoitre in the neighbourhood, and see if it were possible to discover any person connected with the mansion.
'I doubt our luck, my lady,' said Mistress Pauncefort, 'for they do say that the abbey is quite uninhabited.'
''Tis a pity,' said Lady Annabel, 'for, with all its desolation, there is something about this spot which ever greatly interests me.'
'Mamma, why does no one live here?' said Venetia.
'The master of the abbey lives abroad, my child.'
'Why does he, mamma?'
'Never ask questions, Miss Venetia,' said Mistress Pauncefort, in a hushed and solemn tone; 'it is not pretty.' Lady Annabel had moved away.
The groom returned, and said he had met an old man, picking water-cresses, and he was the only person who lived in the abbey, except his wife, and she was bedridden. The old man had promised to admit them when he had completed his task, but not before, and the groom feared it would be some time before he arrived.
'Come, Pauncefort, rest yourself on this bench,' said Lady Annabel, seating herself in the porch; 'and Venetia, my child, come hither to me.'
'Mamma,' said Venetia, 'what is the name of the gentleman to whom this abbey belongs?'
'Lord Cadurcis, love.'
'I should like to know why Lord Cadurcis lives abroad?' said Venetia, musingly.
'There are many reasons why persons may choose to quit their native country, and dwell in another, my love,' said Lady Annabel, very quietly; 'some change the climate for their health.'
'Did Lord Cadurcis, mamma?' asked Venetia.
'I do not know Lord Cadurcis, dear, or anything of him, except that he is a very old man, and has no family.'
At this moment there was a sound of bars and bolts withdrawn, and the falling of a chain, and at length the massy door slowly opened, and the old man appeared and beckoned to them to enter.
''Tis eight years, come Martinmas, since I opened this door,' said the old man, 'and it sticks a bit. You must walk about by yourselves, for I have no breath, and my mistress is bedridden. There, straight down the cloister, you can't miss your way; there is not much to see.'
The interior of the abbey formed a quadrangle, surrounded by the cloisters, and in this inner court was a curious fountain, carved with exquisite skill by some gothic artist in one of those capricious moods of sportive invention that produced those grotesque medleys for which the feudal sculptor was celebrated. Not a sound was heard except the fall of the fountain and the light echoes that its voice called up.
The staircase led Lady Annabel and her party through several small rooms, scantily garnished with ancient furniture, in some of which were portraits of the family, until they at length entered a noble saloon, once the refectory of the abbey, and not deficient in splendour, though sadly soiled and worm-eaten. It was hung with tapestry representing the Cartoons of Raffael, and their still vivid colours contrasted with the faded hangings and the dingy damask of the chairs and sofas. A mass of Cromwellian armour was huddled together in a corner of a long monkish gallery, with a standard, encrusted with dust, and a couple of old drums, one broken. From one of the windows they had a good view of the old walled garden, which did not tempt them to enter it; it was a wilderness, the walks no longer distinguishable from the rank vegetation of the once cultivated lawns; the terraces choked up with the unchecked shrubberies; and here and there a leaden statue, a goddess or a satyr, prostrate, and covered with moss and lichen.
'It makes me melancholy,' said Lady Annabel; 'let us return.'
'Mamma,' said Venetia, 'are there any ghosts in this abbey?'
'You may well ask me, love,' replied Lady Annabel; 'it seems a spell-bound place. But, Venetia, I have often told you there are no such things as ghosts.'
'Is it naughty to believe in ghosts, mamma, for I cannot help believing in them?'
'When you are older, and have more knowledge, you will not believe in them, Venetia,' replied Lady Annabel.
Our friends left Cadurcis Abbey. Venetia mounted her donkey, her mother walked by her side; the sun was beginning to decline when they again reached Cherbury, and the air was brisk. Lady Annabel was glad to find herself by her fireside in her little terrace-room, and Venetia fetching her book, read to her mother until their dinner hour.
Two serene and innocent years had glided away at Cherbury since this morning ramble to Cadurcis Abbey, and Venetia had grown in loveliness, in goodness, and intelligence. Her lively and somewhat precocious mind had become greatly developed; and, though she was only nine years of age, it scarcely needed the affection of a mother to find in her an interesting and engaging companion. Although feminine education was little regarded in those days, that of Lady Annabel had been an exception to the general practice of society. She had been brought up with the consciousness of other objects of female attainment and accomplishment than embroidery, 'the complete art of making pastry,' and reading 'The Whole Duty of Man.' She had profited, when a child, by the guidance of her brother's tutor, who had bestowed no unfruitful pains upon no ordinary capacity. She was a good linguist, a fine musician, was well read in our elder poets and their Italian originals, was no unskilful artist, and had acquired some knowledge of botany when wandering, as a girl, in her native woods. Since her retirement to Cherbury, reading had been her chief resource. The hall contained a library whose shelves, indeed, were more full than choice; but, amid folios of theological controversy and civil law, there might be found the first editions of most of the celebrated writers of the reign of Anne, which the contemporary proprietor of Cherbury, a man of wit and fashion in his day, had duly collected in his yearly visits to the metropolis, and finally deposited in the family book-room.
The education of her daughter was not only the principal duty of Lady Annabel, but her chief delight. To cultivate the nascent intelligence of a child, in those days, was not the mere piece of scientific mechanism that the admirable labours of so many ingenious writers have since permitted it comparatively to become. In those days there was no Mrs. Barbauld, no Madame de Genlis, no Miss Edgeworth; no 'Evenings at Home,' no 'Children's Friend,' no 'Parent's Assistant.' Venetia loved her book; indeed, she was never happier than when reading; but she soon recoiled from the gilt and Lilliputian volumes of the good Mr. Newbury, and her mind required some more substantial excitement than 'Tom Thumb,' or even 'Goody Two-Shoes.' 'The Seven Champions' was a great resource and a great favourite; but it required all the vigilance of a mother to eradicate the false impressions which such studies were continually making on so tender a student; and to disenchant, by rational discussion, the fascinated imagination of her child. Lady Annabel endeavoured to find some substitute in the essays of Addison and Steele; but they required more knowledge of the every-day world for their enjoyment than an infant, bred in such seclusion, could at present afford; and at last Venetia lost herself in the wildering pages of Clelia and the Arcadia, which she pored over with a rapt and ecstatic spirit, that would not comprehend the warning scepticism of her parent. Let us picture to ourselves the high-bred Lady Annabel in the terrace-room of her ancient hall, working at her tapestry, and, seated at her feet, her little daughter Venetia, reading aloud the Arcadia! The peacocks have jumped up on the window-sill, to look at their friends, who love to feed them, and by their pecking have aroused the bloodhound crouching at Lady Annabel's feet. And Venetia looks up from her folio with a flushed and smiling face to catch the sympathy of her mother, who rewards her daughter's study with a kiss. Ah! there are no such mothers and no such daughters now!
Thus it will be seen that the life and studies of Venetia tended rather dangerously, in spite of all the care of her mother, to the development of her imagination, in case indeed she possessed that terrible and fatal gift. She passed her days in unbroken solitude, or broken only by affections which softened her heart, and in a scene which itself might well promote any predisposition of the kind; beautiful and picturesque objects surrounded her on all sides; she wandered, at it were, in an enchanted wilderness, and watched the deer reposing under the green shadow of stately trees; the old hall itself was calculated to excite mysterious curiosity; one wing was uninhabited and shut up; each morning and evening she repaired with her mother and the household through long galleries to the chapel, where she knelt to her devotions, illumined by a window blazoned with the arms of that illustrious family of which she was a member, and of which she knew nothing. She had an indefinite and painful consciousness that she had been early checked in the natural inquiries which occur to every child; she had insensibly been trained to speak only of what she saw; and when she listened, at night, to the long ivy rustling about the windows, and the wild owls hooting about the mansion, with their pining, melancholy voices, she might have been excused for believing in those spirits, which her mother warned her to discredit; or she forgot these mournful impressions in dreams, caught from her romantic volumes, of bright knights and beautiful damsels.
Only one event of importance had occurred at Cherbury during these two years, if indeed that be not too strong a phrase to use in reference to an occurrence which occasioned so slight and passing an interest. Lord Cadurcis had died. He had left his considerable property to his natural children, but the abbey had descended with the title to a very distant relative. The circle at Cherbury had heard, and that was all, that the new lord was a minor, a little boy, indeed very little older than Venetia herself; but this information produced no impression. The abbey was still deserted and desolate as ever.
Every Sunday afternoon, the rector of a neighbouring though still somewhat distant parish, of which the rich living was in the gift of the Herberts, came to perform divine service at Cherbury. It was a subject of deep regret to Lady Annabel that herself and her family were debarred from the advantage of more frequent and convenient spiritual consolation; but, at this time, the parochial discipline of the Church of England was not so strict as it fortunately is at present. Cherbury, though a vicarage, possessed neither parish church, nor a residence for the clergyman; nor was there indeed a village. The peasants on the estate, or labourers as they are now styled, a term whose introduction into our rural world is much to be lamented, lived in the respective farmhouses on the lands which they cultivated. These were scattered about at considerable distances, and many of their inmates found it more convenient to attend the church of the contiguous parish than to repair to the hall chapel, where the household and the dwellers in the few cottages scattered about the park and woods always assembled. The Lady Annabel, whose lot it had been in life to find her best consolation in religion, and who was influenced by not only a sincere but even a severe piety, had no other alternative, therefore, but engaging a chaplain; but this, after much consideration, she had resolved not to do. She was indeed her own chaplain, herself performing each day such parts of our morning and evening service whose celebration becomes a laic, and reading portions from the writings of those eminent divines who, from the Restoration to the conclusion of the last reign, have so eminently distinguished the communion of our national Church.
Each Sunday, after the performance of divine service, the Rev. Dr. Masham dined with the family, and he was the only guest at Cherbury Venetia ever remembered seeing. The Doctor was a regular orthodox divine of the eighteenth century; with a large cauliflower wig, shovel-hat, and huge knee-buckles, barely covered by his top-boots; learned, jovial, humorous, and somewhat courtly; truly pious, but not enthusiastic; not forgetful of his tithes, but generous and charitable when they were once paid; never neglecting the sick, yet occasionally following a fox; a fine scholar, an active magistrate, and a good shot; dreading the Pope, and hating the Presbyterians.
The Doctor was attached to the Herbert family not merely because they had given him a good living. He had a great reverence for an old English race, and turned up his nose at the Walpolian loanmongers. Lady Annabel, too, so beautiful, so dignified, so amiable, and highly bred, and, above all, so pious, had won his regard. He was not a little proud, too, that he was the only person in the county who had the honour of her acquaintance, and yet was disinterested enough to regret that he led so secluded a life, and often lamented that nothing would induce her to show her elegant person on a racecourse, or to attend an assize ball, an assembly which was then becoming much the fashion. The little Venetia was a charming child, and the kind-hearted Doctor, though a bachelor, loved children.
O! matre pulchra, filia pulchrior,
was the Rev. Dr. Masham's apposite and favourite quotation after his weekly visit to Cherbury.
Divine service was concluded; the Doctor had preached a capital sermon; for he had been one of the shining lights of his university until his rich but isolating preferment had apparently closed the great career which it was once supposed awaited him. The accustomed walk on the terrace was completed, and dinner was announced. This meal was always celebrated at Cherbury, where new fashions stole down with a lingering pace, in the great hall itself. An ample table was placed in the centre on a mat of rushes, sheltered by a large screen covered with huge maps of the shire and the neighbouring counties. The Lady Annabel and her good pastor seated themselves at each end of the table, while Venetia, mounted on a high chair, was waited on by Mistress Pauncefort, who never condescended by any chance attention to notice the presence of any other individual but her little charge, on whose chair she just leaned with an air of condescending devotion. The butler stood behind his lady, and two other servants watched the Doctor; rural bodies all, but decked on this day in gorgeous livery coats of blue and silver, which had been made originally for men of very different size and bearing. Simple as was the usual diet at Cherbury the cook was permitted on Sunday full play to her art, which, in the eighteenth century, indulged in the production of dishes more numerous and substantial than our refined tastes could at present tolerate. The Doctor appreciated a good dinner, and his countenance glistened with approbation as he surveyed the ample tureen of potage royal, with a boned duck swimming in its centre. Before him still scowled in death the grim countenance of a huge roast pike, flanked on one side by a leg of mutton a-la-daube, and on the other by the tempting delicacies of bombarded veal. To these succeeded that masterpiece of the culinary art, a grand battalia pie, in which the bodies of chickens, pigeons, and rabbits were embalmed in spices, cocks' combs, and savoury balls, and well bedewed with one of those rich sauces of claret, anchovy, and sweet herbs, in which our great-grandfathers delighted, and which was technically termed a Lear. But the grand essay of skill was the cover of this pasty, whereon the curious cook had contrived to represent all the once-living forms that were now entombed in that gorgeous sepulchre. A Florentine tourte, or tansy, an old English custard, a more refined blamango, and a riband jelly of many colours, offered a pleasant relief after these vaster inventions, and the repast closed with a dish of oyster loaves and a pompetone of larks.
Notwithstanding the abstemiousness of his hostess, the Doctor was never deterred from doing justice to her hospitality. Few were the dishes that ever escaped him. The demon dyspepsia had not waved its fell wings over the eighteenth century, and wonderful were the feats then achieved by a country gentleman with the united aid of a good digestion and a good conscience.
The servants had retired, and Dr. Masham had taken his last glass of port, and then he rang a bell on the table, and, I trust my fair readers will not be frightened from proceeding with this history, a servant brought him his pipe. The pipe was well stuffed, duly lighted, and duly puffed; and then, taking it from his mouth, the Doctor spoke.
'And so, my honoured lady, you have got a neighbour at last.'
'Indeed!' exclaimed Lady Annabel.
But the claims of the pipe prevented the good Doctor from too quickly satisfying her natural curiosity. Another puff or two, and he then continued.
'Yes,' said he, 'the old abbey has at last found a tenant.'
'A tenant, Doctor?'
'Ay! the best tenant in the world: its proprietor.'
'You quite surprise me. When did this occur?'
'They have been there these three days; I have paid them a visit. Mrs. Cadurcis has come to live at the abbey with the little lord.'
'This is indeed news to us,' said Lady Annabel; 'and what kind of people are they?'
'You know, my dear madam,' said the Doctor, just touching the ash of his pipe with his tobacco-stopper of chased silver, 'that the present lord is a very distant relative of the late one?'
Lady Annabel bowed assent.
'The late lord,' continued the Doctor, 'who was as strange and wrong-headed a man as ever breathed, though I trust he is in the kingdom of heaven for all that, left all his property to his unlawful children, with the exception of this estate entailed on the title, as all estates should be, 'Tis a fine place, but no great rental. I doubt whether 'tis more than a clear twelve hundred a-year.'
'And Mrs. Cadurcis?' inquired Lady Annabel.
'Was an heiress,' replied the Doctor, 'and the late Mr. Cadurcis a spendrift. He was a bad manager, and, worse, a bad husband. Providence was pleased to summon him suddenly from this mortal scene, but not before he had dissipated the greater part of his wife's means. Mrs. Cadurcis, since she was a widow, has lived in strict seclusion with her little boy, as you may, my dear lady, with your dear little girl. But I am afraid,' said the Doctor, shaking his head, 'she has not been in the habit of dining so well as we have to-day. A very limited income, my dear madam; a very limited income indeed. And the guardians, I am told, will only allow the little lord a hundred a-year; but, on her own income, whatever it may be, and that addition, she has resolved to live at the abbey; and I believe, I believe she has it rent-free; but I don't know.'
'Poor woman!' said Lady Annabel, and not without a sigh. 'I trust her child is her consolation.'
Venetia had not spoken during this conversation, but she had listened to it very attentively. At length she said, 'Mamma, is not a widow a wife that has lost her husband?'
'You are right, my dear,' said Lady Annabel, rather gravely.
Venetia mused a moment, and then replied, 'Pray, mamma, are you a widow?'
'My dear little girl,' said Dr. Masham, 'go and give that beautiful peacock a pretty piece of cake.'
Lady Annabel and the Doctor rose from the table with Venetia, and took a turn in the park, while the Doctor's horses were getting ready.
'I think, my good lady,' said the Doctor, 'it would be but an act of Christian charity to call upon Mrs. Cadurcis.'
'I was thinking the same,' said Lady Annabel; 'I am interested by what you have told me of her history and fortunes. We have some woes in common; I hope some joys. It seems that this case should indeed be an exception to my rule.'
'I would not ask you to sacrifice your inclinations to the mere pleasures of the world,' said the Doctor: 'but duties, my dear lady, duties; there are such things as duties to our neighbour; and here is a case where, believe me, they might be fulfilled.'
The Doctor's horses now appeared. Both master and groom wore their pistols in their holsters. The Doctor shook hands warmly with Lady Annabel, and patted Venetia on her head, as she ran up from a little distance, with an eager countenance, to receive her accustomed blessing. Then mounting his stout mare, he once more waived his hand with an air of courtliness to his hostess, and was soon out of sight. Lady Annabel and Venetia returned to the terrace-room.
'And so I would, my lady,' said Mistress Pauncefort, when Lady Annabel communicated to her faithful attendant, at night, the news of the arrival of the Cadurcis family at the abbey, and her intention of paying Mrs. Cadurcis a visit; 'and so I would, my lady,' said Mistress Pauncefort, 'and it would be but an act of Christian charity after all, as the Doctor says; for although it is not for me to complain when my betters are satisfied, and after all I am always content, if your ladyship be; still there is no denying the fact, that this is a terrible lonesome life after all. And I cannot help thinking your ladyship has not been looking so well of late, and a little society would do your ladyship good; and Miss Venetia too, after all, she wants a playfellow; I am certain sure that I was as tired of playing at ball with her this morning as if I had never sat down in my born days; and I dare say the little lord will play with her all day long.'
'If I thought that this visit would lead to what is understood by the word society, my good Pauncefort, I certainly should refrain from paying it,' said Lady Annabel, very quietly.
'Oh! Lord, dear my lady, I was not for a moment dreaming of any such thing,' replied Mistress Pauncefort; 'society, I know as well as any one, means grand balls, Ranelagh, and the masquerades. I can't abide the thought of them, I do assure your ladyship; all I meant was that a quiet dinner now and then with a few friends, a dance perhaps in the evening, or a hand of whist, or a game of romps at Christmas, when the abbey will of course be quite full, a—'
'I believe there is as little chance of the abbey being full at Christmas, or any other time, as there is of Cherbury.' said Lady Annabel. 'Mrs. Cadurcis is a widow, with a very slender fortune. Her son will not enjoy his estate until he is of age, and its rental is small. I am led to believe that they will live quite as quietly as ourselves; and when I spoke of Christian charity, I was thinking only of kindness towards them, and not of amusement for ourselves.'
'Well, my lady, your la'ship knows best,' replied Mistress Pauncefort, evidently very disappointed; for she had indulged in momentary visions of noble visitors and noble valets; 'I am always content, you know, when your la'ship is; but, I must say, I think it is very odd for a lord to be so poor. I never heard of such a thing. I think they will turn out richer than you have an idea, my lady. Your la'ship knows 'tis quite a saying, "As rich as a lord."'
Lady Annabel smiled, but did not reply.
The next morning the fawn-coloured chariot, which had rarely been used since Lady Annabel's arrival at Cherbury, and four black long-tailed coach-horses, that from absolute necessity had been degraded, in the interval, to the service of the cart and the plough, made their appearance, after much bustle and effort, before the hall-door. Although a morning's stroll from Cherbury through the woods, Cadurcis was distant nearly ten miles by the road, and that road was in great part impassable, save in favourable seasons. This visit, therefore, was an expedition; and Lady Annabel, fearing the fatigue for a child, determined to leave Venetia at home, from whom she had actually never been separated one hour in her life. Venetia could not refrain from shedding a tear when her mother embraced and quitted her, and begged, as a last favour, that she might accompany her through the park to the avenue lodge. So Pauncefort and herself entered the chariot, that rocked like a ship, in spite of all the skill of the coachman and the postilion.
Venetia walked home with Mistress Pauncefort, but Lady Annabel's little daughter was not in her usual lively spirits; many a butterfly glanced around without attracting her pursuit, and the deer trooped by without eliciting a single observation. At length she said, in a thoughtful tone, 'Mistress Pauncefort, I should have liked to have gone and seen the little boy.'
'You shall go and see him another day, Miss,' replied her attendant.
'Mistress Pauncefort,' said Venetia, 'are you a widow?'
Mistress Pauncefort almost started; had the inquiry been made by a man, she would almost have supposed he was going to be very rude. She was indeed much surprised.
'And pray, Miss Venetia, what could put it in your head to ask such an odd question?' exclaimed Mistress Pauncefort. 'A widow! Miss Venetia; I have never yet changed my name, and I shall not in a hurry, that I can tell you.'
'Do widows change their names?' said Venetia.
'All women change their names when they marry,' responded Mistress Pauncefort.
'Is mamma married?' inquired Venetia.
'La! Miss Venetia. Well, to be sure, you do ask the strangest questions. Married! to be sure she is married,' said Mistress Pauncefort, exceedingly flustered.
'And whom is she married to?' pursued the unwearied Venetia.
'Your papa, to be sure,' said Mistress Pauncefort, blushing up to her eyes, and looking very confused; 'that is to say, Miss Venetia, you are never to ask questions about such subjects. Have not I often told you it is not pretty?'
'Why is it not pretty?' said Venetia.
'Because it is not proper,' said Mistress Pauncefort; 'because your mamma does not like you to ask such questions, and she will be very angry with me for answering them, I can tell you that.'
'I tell you what, Mistress Pauncefort,' said Venetia, 'I think mamma is a widow.'
'And what then, Miss Venetia? There is no shame in that.'
'Shame!' exclaimed Venetia. 'What is shame?'
'Look, there is a pretty butterfly!' exclaimed Mistress Pauncefort. 'Did you ever see such a pretty butterfly, Miss?'
'I do not care about butterflies to-day, Mistress Pauncefort; I like to talk about widows.'
'Was there ever such a child!' exclaimed Mistress Pauncefort, with a wondering glance.
'I must have had a papa,' said Venetia; 'all the ladies I read about had papas, and married husbands. Then whom did my mamma marry?'
'Lord! Miss Venetia, you know very well your mamma always tells you that all those books you read are a pack of stories,' observed Mistress Pauncefort, with an air of triumphant art.
'There never were such persons, perhaps,' said Venetia, 'but it is not true that there never were such things as papas and husbands, for all people have papas; you must have had a papa, Mistress Pauncefort?'
'To be sure I had,' said Mistress Pauncefort, bridling up.
'And a mamma too?' said Venetia.
'As honest a woman as ever lived,' said Mistress Pauncefort.
'Then if I have no papa, mamma must be a wife that has lost her husband, and that, mamma told me at dinner yesterday, was a widow.'
'Was the like ever seen!' exclaimed Mistress Pauncefort. 'And what then, Miss Venetia?'
'It seems to me so odd that only two people should live here, and both be widows,' said Venetia, 'and both have a little child; the only difference is, that one is a little boy, and I am a little girl.'
'When ladies lose their husbands, they do not like to have their names mentioned,' said Mistress Pauncefort; 'and so you must never talk of your papa to my lady, and that is the truth.'
'I will not now,' said Venetia.
When they returned home, Mistress Pauncefort brought her work, and seated herself on the terrace, that she might not lose sight of her charge. Venetia played about for some little time; she made a castle behind a tree, and fancied she was a knight, and then a lady, and conjured up an ogre in the neighbouring shrubbery; but these daydreams did not amuse her as much as usual. She went and fetched her book, but even 'The Seven Champions' could not interest her. Her eye was fixed upon the page, and apparently she was absorbed in her pursuit, but her mind wandered, and the page was never turned. She indulged in an unconscious reverie; her fancy was with her mother on her visit; the old abbey rose up before her: she painted the scene without an effort: the court, with the fountain; the grand room, with the tapestry hangings; that desolate garden, with the fallen statues; and that long, gloomy gallery. And in all these scenes appeared that little boy, who, somehow or other, seemed wonderfully blended with her imaginings. It was a very long day this; Venetia dined along with Mistress Pauncefort; the time hung very heavy; at length she fell asleep in Mistress Pauncefort's lap. A sound roused her: the carriage had returned; she ran to greet her mother, but there was no news; Mrs. Cadurcis had been absent; she had gone to a distant town to buy some furniture; and, after all, Lady Annabel had not seen the little boy.
A few days after the visit to Cadurcis, when Lady Annabel was sitting alone, a postchaise drove up to the hall, whence issued a short and stout woman with a rubicund countenance, and dressed in a style which remarkably blended the shabby with the tawdry. She was accompanied by a boy between eleven and twelve years of age, whose appearance, however, much contrasted with that of his mother, for he was pale and slender, with long curling black hair and large black eyes, which occasionally, by their transient flashes, agreeably relieved a face the general expression of which might be esteemed somewhat shy and sullen. The lady, of course, was Mrs. Cadurcis, who was received by Lady Annabel with the greatest courtesy.
'A terrible journey,' exclaimed Mrs. Cadurcis, fanning herself as she took her seat, 'and so very hot! Plantagenet, my love, make your bow! Have not I always told you to make a bow when you enter a room, especially where there are strangers? This is Lady Annabel Herbert, who was so kind as to call upon us. Make your bow to Lady Annabel.'
The boy gave a sort of sulky nod, but Lady Annabel received it so graciously and expressed herself so kindly to him that his features relaxed a little, though he was quite silent and sat on the edge of his chair, the picture of dogged indifference.
'Charming country, Lady Annabel,' said Mrs. Cadurcis, 'but worse roads, if possible, than we had in Northumberland, where, indeed, there were no roads at all. Cherbury a delightful place, very unlike the abbey; dreadfully lonesome I assure you I find it, Lady Annabel. Great change for us from a little town and all our kind neighbours. Very different from Morpeth; is it not, Plantagenet?'
'I hate Morpeth,' said the boy.
'Hate Morpeth!' exclaimed Mrs. Cadurcis; 'well, I am sure, that is very ungrateful, with so many kind friends as we always found. Besides, Plantagenet, have I not always told you that you are to hate nothing? It is very wicked. The trouble it costs me, Lady Annabel, to educate this dear child!' continued Mrs. Cadurcis, turning to Lady Annabel, and speaking in a semi-tone. 'I have done it all myself, I assure you; and, when he likes, he can be as good as any one. Can't you, Plantagenet?'
Lord Cadurcis gave a grim smile; seated himself at the very back of the deep chair and swung his feet, which no longer reached the ground, to and fro.
'I am sure that Lord Cadurcis always behaves well,' said Lady Annabel.
'There, Plantagenet,' exclaimed Mrs. Cadurcis, 'only listen to that. Hear what Lady Annabel Herbert says; she is sure you always behave well. Now mind, never give her ladyship cause to change her opinion.'
Plantagenet curled his lip, and half turned his back on his companions.
'I regretted so much that I was not at home when you did me the honour to call,' resumed Mrs. Cadurcis; 'but I had gone over for the day to Southport, buying furniture. What a business it is to buy furniture, Lady Annabel!' added Mrs. Cadurcis, with a piteous expression.
'It is indeed very troublesome,' said Lady Annabel.
'Ah! you have none of these cares,' continued Mrs. Cadurcis, surveying the pretty apartment. 'What a difference between Cherbury and the abbey! I suppose you have never been there?'
'Indeed, it is one of my favourite walks,' answered Lady Annabel; 'and, some two years ago, I even took the liberty of walking through the house.'
'Was there ever such a place!' exclaimed Mrs. Cadurcis. 'I assure you my poor head turns whenever I try to find my way about it. But the trustees offered it us, and I thought it my duty to my son to reside there. Besides, it was a great offer to a widow; if poor Mr. Cadurcis had been alive it would have been different. I hardly know what I shall do there, particularly in winter. My spirits are always dreadfully low. I only hope Plantagenet will behave well. If he goes into his tantarums at the abbey, and particularly in winter, I hardly know what will become of me!'
'I am sure Lord Cadurcis will do everything to make the abbey comfortable to you. Besides, it is but a short walk from Cherbury, and you must come often and see us.'
'Oh! Plantagenet can be good if he likes, I can assure you, Lady Annabel; and behaves as properly as any little boy I know. Plantagenet, my dear, speak. Have not I always told you, when you pay a visit, that you should open your mouth now and then. I don't like chattering children,' added Mrs. Cadurcis, 'but I like them to answer when they are spoken to.'
'Nobody has spoken to me,' said Lord Cadurcis, in a sullen tone.
'Plantagenet, my love!' said his mother in a solemn voice.
'Well, mother, what do you want?'
'Plantagenet, my love, you know you promised me to be good!'
'Well! what have I done?'
'Lord Cadurcis,' said Lady Annabel, interfering, 'do you like to look at pictures?'
'Thank you,' replied the little lord, in a more courteous tone; 'I like to be left alone.'
'Did you ever know such an odd child!' said Mrs. Cadurcis; 'and yet, Lady Annabel, you must not judge him by what you see. I do assure you he can behave, when he likes, as pretty as possible.'
'Pretty!' muttered the little lord between his teeth.
'If you had only seen him at Morpeth sometimes at a little tea party,' said Mrs. Cadurcis, 'he really was quite the ornament of the company.'
'No, I wasn't,' said Lord Cadurcis.
'Plantagenet!' said his mother again in a solemn tone, 'have I not always told you that you are never to contradict any one?'
The little lord indulged in a suppressed growl.
'There was a little play last Christmas,' continued Mrs. Cadurcis, 'and he acted quite delightfully. Now you would not think that, from the way he sits upon that chair. Plantagenet, my dear, I do insist upon your behaving yourself. Sit like a man.'
'I am not a man,' said Lord Cadurcis, very quietly; 'I wish I were.'
'Plantagenet!' said the mother, 'have not I always told you that you are never to answer me? It is not proper for children to answer! O Lady Annabel, if you knew what it cost me to educate my son. He never does anything I wish, and it is so provoking, because I know that he can behave as properly as possible if he likes. He does it to provoke me. You know you do it to provoke me, you little brat; now, sit properly, sir; I do desire you to sit properly. How vexatious that you should call at Cherbury for the first time, and behave in this manner! Plantagenet, do you hear me?' exclaimed Mrs. Cadurcis, with a face reddening to scarlet, and almost menacing a move from her seat.
'Yes, everybody hears you, Mrs. Cadurcis,' said the little lord.
'Don't call me Mrs. Cadurcis,' exclaimed the mother, in a dreadful rage. 'That is not the way to speak to your mother; I will not be called Mrs. Cadurcis by you. Don't answer me, sir; I desire you not to answer me. I have half a mind to get up and give you a good shake, that I have. O Lady Annabel,' sighed Mrs. Cadurcis, while a tear trickled down her cheek, 'if you only knew the life I lead, and what trouble it costs me to educate that child!'
'My dear madam,' said Lady Annabel, 'I am sure that Lord Cadurcis has no other wish but to please you. Indeed you have misunderstood him.'
'Yes! she always misunderstands me,' said Lord Cadurcis, in a softer tone, but with pouting lips and suffused eyes.
'Now he is going on,' said his mother, beginning herself to cry dreadfully. 'He knows my weak heart; he knows nobody in the world loves him like his mother; and this is the way he treats me.'
'My dear Mrs. Cadurcis,' said Lady Annabel, 'pray take luncheon after your long drive; and Lord Cadurcis, I am sure you must be fatigued.'
'Thank you, I never eat, my dear lady,' said Mrs. Cadurcis, 'except at my meals. But one glass of Mountain, if you please, I would just take the liberty of tasting, for the weather is so dreadfully hot, and Plantagenet has so aggravated me, I really do not feel myself.'
Lady Annabel sounded her silver hand-bell, and the butler brought some cakes and the Mountain. Mrs. Cadurcis revived by virtue of her single glass, and the providential co-operation of a subsequent one or two. Even the cakes and the Mountain, however, would not tempt her son to open his mouth; and this, in spite of her returning composure, drove her to desperation. A conviction that the Mountain and the cakes were delicious, an amiable desire that the palate of her spoiled child should be gratified, some reasonable maternal anxiety that after so long and fatiguing a drive he in fact needed some refreshment, and the agonising consciousness that all her own physical pleasure at the moment was destroyed by the mental sufferings she endured at having quarrelled with her son, and that he was depriving himself of what was so agreeable only to pique her, quite overwhelmed the ill-regulated mind of this fond mother. Between each sip and each mouthful, she appealed to him to follow her example, now with cajolery, now with menace, till at length, worked up by the united stimulus of the Mountain and her own ungovernable rage, she dashed down the glass and unfinished slice of cake, and, before the astonished Lady Annabel, rushed forward to give him what she had long threatened, and what she in general ultimately had recourse to, a good shake.
Her agile son, experienced in these storms, escaped in time, and pushed his chair before his infuriated mother; Mrs. Cadurcis, however, rallied, and chased him round the room; once more she flattered herself she had captured him, once more he evaded her; in her despair she took up Venetia's 'Seven Champions,' and threw the volume at his head; he laughed a fiendish laugh, as, ducking his head, the book flew on, and dashed through a pane of glass; Mrs. Cadurcis made a desperate charge, and her son, a little frightened at her almost maniacal passion, saved himself by suddenly seizing Lady Annabel's work-table, and whirling it before her; Mrs. Cadurcis fell over the leg of the table, and went into hysterics; while the bloodhound, who had long started from his repose, looked at his mistress for instructions, and in the meantime continued barking. The astonished and agitated Lady Annabel assisted Mrs. Cadurcis to rise, and led her to a couch. Lord Cadurcis, pale and dogged, stood in a corner, and after all this uproar there was a comparative calm, only broken by the sobs of the mother, each instant growing fainter and fainter.
At this moment the door opened, and Mistress Pauncefort ushered in the little Venetia. She really looked like an angel of peace sent from heaven on a mission of concord, with her long golden hair, her bright face, and smile of ineffable loveliness.
'Mamma!' said Venetia, in the sweetest tone.
'Hush! darling,' said Lady Annabel, 'this lady is not very well.'
Mrs. Cadurcis opened her eyes and sighed. She beheld Venetia, and stared at her with a feeling of wonder. 'O Lady Annabel,' she faintly exclaimed, 'what must you think of me? But was there ever such an unfortunate mother? and I have not a thought in the world but for that boy. I have devoted my life to him, and never would have buried myself in this abbey but for his sake. And this is the way he treats me, and his father before him treated me even worse. Am I not the most unfortunate woman you ever knew?'
'My dear madam,' said the kind Lady Annabel, in a soothing tone, 'you will be very happy yet; all will be quite right and quite happy.'
'Is this angel your child?' inquired Mrs. Cadurcis, in a low voice.
'This is my little girl, Venetia. Come hither, Venetia, and speak to Mrs. Cadurcis.'
'How do you do, Mrs. Cadurcis?' said Venetia. 'I am so glad you have come to live at the abbey.'
'The angel!' exclaimed Mrs. Cadurcis. 'The sweet seraph! Oh! why did not my Plantagenet speak to you, Lady Annabel, in the same tone? And he can, if he likes; he can, indeed. It was his silence that so mortified me; it was his silence that led to all. I am so proud of him! and then he comes here, and never speaks a word. O Plantagenet, I am sure you will break my heart.'
Venetia went up to the little lord in the corner, and gently stroked his dark cheek. 'Are you the little boy?' she said.
Cadurcis looked at her; at first the glance was rather fierce, but it instantly relaxed. 'What is your name?' he said in a low, but not unkind, tone.
'I like you, Venetia,' said the boy. 'Do you live here?'
'Yes, with my mamma.'
'I like your mamma, too; but not so much as you. I like your gold hair.'
'Oh, how funny! to like my gold hair!'
'If you had come in sooner,' said Cadurcis, 'we should not have had this row.'
'What is a row, little boy?' said Venetia.
'Do not call me little boy,' he said, but not in an unkind tone; 'call me by my name.'
'What is your name?'
'Lord Cadurcis; but you may call me by my Christian name, because I like you.'
'What is your Christian name?'
'Plantagenet! What a long name!' said Venetia. 'Tell me then, Plantagenet, what is a row?'
'What often takes place between me and my mother, but which I am sorry now has happened here, for I like this place, and should like to come often. A row is a quarrel.'
'A quarrel! What! do you quarrel with your mamma?'
'Why, then, you are not a good boy.'
'Ah! my mamma is not like yours,' said the little lord, with a sigh. 'It is not my fault. But now I want to make it up; how shall I do it?'
'Go and give her a kiss.'
'Poh! that is not the way.'
'Shall I go and ask my mamma what is best to do?' said Venetia; and she stole away on tiptoe, and whispered to Lady Annabel that Plantagenet wanted her. Her mother came forward and invited Lord Cadurcis to walk on the terrace with her, leaving Venetia to amuse her other guest.
Lady Annabel, though kind, was frank and firm in her unexpected confidential interview with her new friend. She placed before him clearly the enormity of his conduct, which no provocation could justify; it was a violation of divine law, as well as human propriety. She found the little lord attentive, tractable, and repentant, and, what might not have been expected, exceedingly ingenious and intelligent. His observations, indeed, were distinguished by remarkable acuteness; and though he could not, and indeed did not even attempt to vindicate his conduct, he incidentally introduced much that might be urged in its extenuation. There was indeed in this, his milder moment, something very winning in his demeanour, and Lady Annabel deeply regretted that a nature of so much promise and capacity should, by the injudicious treatment of a parent, at once fond and violent, afford such slight hopes of future happiness. It was arranged between Lord Cadurcis and Lady Annabel that she should lead him to his mother, and that he should lament the past, and ask her forgiveness; so they re-entered the room. Venetia was listening to a long story from Mrs. Cadurcis, who appeared to have entirely recovered herself; but her countenance assumed a befitting expression of grief and gravity when she observed her son.
'My dear madam,' said Lady Annabel, 'your son is unhappy that he should have offended you, and he has asked my kind offices to effect a perfect reconciliation between a child who wishes to be dutiful to a parent who, he feels, has always been so affectionate.'
Mrs. Cadurcis began crying.
'Mother,' said her son, 'I am sorry for what has occurred; mine was the fault. I shall not be happy till you pardon me.'
'No, yours was not the fault,' said poor Mrs. Cadurcis, crying bitterly. 'Oh! no, it was not! I was in fault, only I. There, Lady Annabel, did I not tell you he was the sweetest, dearest, most generous-hearted creature that ever lived? Oh! if he would only always speak so, I am sure I should be the happiest woman that ever breathed! He puts me in mind quite of his poor dear father, who was an angel upon earth; he was indeed, when he was not vexed. O my dear Plantagenet! my only hope and joy! you are the treasure and consolation of my life, and always will be. God bless you, my darling child! You shall have that pony you wanted; I am sure I can manage it: I did not think I could.'
As Lady Annabel thought it was as well that the mother and the son should not be immediately thrown together after this storm, she kindly proposed that they should remain, and pass the day at Cherbury; and, as Plantagenet's eyes brightened at the proposal, it did not require much trouble to persuade his mother to accede to it. The day, that had commenced so inauspiciously, turned out one of the most agreeable, both to Mrs. Cadurcis and her child. The two mothers conversed together, and, as Mrs. Cadurcis was a great workwoman, there was at least one bond of sympathy between her and the tapestry of her hostess. Then they all took a stroll in the park; and as Mrs. Cadurcis was not able to walk for any length of time, the children were permitted to stroll about together, attended by Mistress Pauncefort, while Mrs. Cadurcis, chatting without ceasing, detailed to Lady Annabel all the history of her life, all the details of her various complaints and her economical arrangements, and all the secrets of her husband's treatment of her, that favourite subject on which she ever waxed most eloquent. Plantagenet, equally indulging in confidence, which with him, however, was unusual, poured all his soul into the charmed ear of Venetia. He told her how he and his mother had lived at Morpeth, and how he hated it; how poor they had been, and how rich he should be; how he loved the abbey, and especially the old gallery, and the drums and armour; how he had been a day-scholar at a little school which he abhorred, and how he was to go some day to Eton, of which he was very proud.
At length they were obliged to return, and when dinner was over the postchaise was announced. Mrs. Cadurcis parted from Lady Annabel with all the warm expressions of a heart naturally kind and generous; and Plantagenet embraced Venetia, and promised that the next day he would find his way alone from Cadurcis, through the wood, and come and take another walk with her.
This settlement of Mrs. Cadurcis and her son in the neighbourhood was an event of no slight importance in the life of the family at Cherbury. Venetia at length found a companion of her own age, itself an incident which, in its influence upon her character and pursuits, was not to be disregarded. There grew up between the little lord and the daughter of Lady Annabel that fond intimacy which not rarely occurs in childhood. Plantagenet and Venetia quickly imbibed for each other a singular affection, not displeasing to Lady Annabel, who observed, without dissatisfaction, the increased happiness of her child, and encouraged by her kindness the frequent visits of the boy, who soon learnt the shortest road from the abbey, and almost daily scaled the hill, and traced his way through the woods to the hall. There was much, indeed, in the character and the situation of Lord Cadurcis which interested Lady Annabel Herbert. His mild, engaging, and affectionate manners, when he was removed from the injudicious influence of his mother, won upon her feelings; she felt for this lone child, whom nature had gifted with so soft a heart and with a thoughtful mind whose outbreaks not unfrequently attracted her notice; with none to guide him, and with only one heart to look up to for fondness; and that, too, one that had already contrived to forfeit the respect even of so young a child.
Yet Lady Annabel was too sensible of the paramount claims of a mother; herself, indeed, too jealous of any encroachment on the full privileges of maternal love, to sanction in the slightest degree, by her behaviour, any neglect of Mrs. Cadurcis by her son. For his sake, therefore, she courted the society of her new neighbour; and although Mrs. Cadurcis offered little to engage Lady Annabel's attention as a companion, though she was violent in her temper, far from well informed, and, from the society in which, in spite of her original good birth, her later years had passed, very far from being refined, she was not without her good qualities. She was generous, kind-hearted, and grateful; not insensible of her own deficiencies, and respectable from her misfortunes. Lady Annabel was one of those who always judged individuals rather by their good qualities than their bad. With the exception of her violent temper, which, under the control of Lady Annabel's presence, and by the aid of all that kind person's skilful management, Mrs. Cadurcis generally contrived to bridle, her principal faults were those of manner, which, from the force of habit, every day became less painful. Mrs. Cadurcis, who, indeed, was only a child of a larger growth, became scarcely less attached to the Herbert family than her son; she felt that her life, under their influence, was happier and serener than of yore; that there were less domestic broils than in old days; that her son was more dutiful; and, as she could not help suspecting, though she found it difficult to analyse the cause, herself more amiable. The truth was, Lady Annabel always treated Mrs. Cadurcis with studied respect; and the children, and especially Venetia, followed her example. Mrs. Cadurcis' self-complacency was not only less shocked, but more gratified, than before; and this was the secret of her happiness. For no one was more mortified by her rages, when they were past, than Mrs. Cadurcis herself; she felt they compromised her dignity, and had lost her all moral command over a child whom she loved at the bottom of her heart with a kind of wild passion, though she would menace and strike him, and who often precipitated these paroxysms by denying his mother that duty and affection which were, after all, the great charm and pride of her existence.
As Mrs. Cadurcis was unable to walk to Cherbury, and as Plantagenet soon fell into the habit of passing every morning at the hall, Lady Annabel was frequent in her visits to the mother, and soon she persuaded Mrs. Cadurcis to order the old postchaise regularly on Saturday, and remain at Cherbury until the following Monday; by these means both families united together in the chapel at divine service, while the presence of Dr. Masham, at their now increased Sunday dinner, was an incident in the monotonous life of Mrs. Cadurcis far from displeasing to her. The Doctor gave her a little news of the neighbourhood, and of the country in general; amused her with an occasional anecdote of the Queen and the young Princesses, and always lent her the last number of 'Sylvanus Urban.'
This weekly visit to Cherbury, the great personal attention which she always received there, and the frequent morning walks of Lady Annabel to the abbey, effectually repressed on the whole the jealousy which was a characteristic of Mrs. Cadurcis' nature, and which the constant absence of her son from her in the mornings might otherwise have fatally developed. But Mrs. Cadurcis could not resist the conviction that the Herberts were as much her friends as her child's; her jealousy was balanced by her gratitude; she was daily, almost hourly, sensible of some kindness of Lady Annabel, for there were a thousand services in the power of the opulent and ample establishment of Cherbury to afford the limited and desolate household at the abbey. Living in seclusion, it is difficult to refrain from imbibing even a strong regard for our almost solitary companion, however incompatible may be our pursuits, and however our tastes may vary, especially when that companion is grateful, and duly sensible of the condescension of our intimacy. And so it happened that, before a year had elapsed, that very Mrs. Cadurcis, whose first introduction at Cherbury had been so unfavourable to her, and from whose temper and manners the elegant demeanour and the disciplined mind of Lady Annabel Herbert might have been excused for a moment recoiling, had succeeded in establishing a strong hold upon the affections of her refined neighbour, who sought, on every occasion, her society, and omitted few opportunities of contributing to her comfort and welfare.
In the meantime her son was the companion of Venetia, both in her pastimes and studies. The education of Lord Cadurcis had received no further assistance than was afforded by the little grammar-school at Morpeth, where he had passed three or four years as a day-scholar, and where his mother had invariably taken his part on every occasion that he had incurred the displeasure of his master. There he had obtained some imperfect knowledge of Latin; yet the boy was fond of reading, and had picked up, in an odd way, more knowledge than might have been supposed. He had read 'Baker's Chronicle,' and 'The Old Universal History,' and 'Plutarch;' and had turned over, in the book room of an old gentleman at Morpeth, who had been attracted by his intelligence, not a few curious old folios, from which he had gleaned no contemptible store of curious instances of human nature. His guardian, whom he had never seen, and who was a great nobleman and lived in London, had signified to Mrs. Cadurcis his intention of sending his ward to Eton; but that time had not yet arrived, and Mrs. Cadurcis, who dreaded parting with her son, determined to postpone it by every maternal artifice in her power. At present it would have seemed that her son's intellect was to be left utterly uncultivated, for there was no school in the neighbourhood which he could attend, and no occasional assistance which could be obtained; and to the constant presence of a tutor in the house Mrs. Cadurcis was not less opposed than his lordship could have been himself.
It was by degrees that Lord Cadurcis became the partner of Venetia in her studies. Lady Annabel had consulted Dr. Masham about the poor little boy, whose neglected state she deplored; and the good Doctor had offered to ride over to Cherbury at least once a week, besides Sunday, provided Lady Annabel would undertake that his directions, in his absence, should be attended to. This her ladyship promised cheerfully; nor had she any difficulty in persuading Cadurcis to consent to the arrangement. He listened with docility and patience to her representation of the fatal effects, in his after-life, of his neglected education; of the generous and advantageous offer of Dr. Masham; and how cheerfully she would exert herself to assist his endeavours, if Plantagenet would willingly submit to her supervision. The little lord expressed to her his determination to do all that she desired, and voluntarily promised her that she should never repent her goodness. And he kept his word. So every morning, with the full concurrence of Mrs. Cadurcis, whose advice and opinion on the affair were most formally solicited by Lady Annabel, Plantagenet arrived early at the hall, and took his writing and French lessons with Venetia, and then they alternately read aloud to Lady Annabel from the histories of Hooke and Echard. When Venetia repaired to her drawing, Cadurcis sat down to his Latin exercise, and, in encouraging and assisting him, Lady Annabel, a proficient in Italian, began herself to learn the ancient language of the Romans. With such a charming mistress even these Latin exercises were achieved. In vain Cadurcis, after turning leaf over leaf, would look round with a piteous air to his fair assistant, 'O Lady Annabel, I am sure the word is not in the dictionary;' Lady Annabel was in a moment at his side, and, by some magic of her fair fingers, the word would somehow or other make its appearance. After a little exposure of this kind, Plantagenet would labour with double energy, until, heaving a deep sigh of exhaustion and vexation, he would burst forth, 'O Lady Annabel, indeed there is not a nominative case in this sentence.' And then Lady Annabel would quit her easel, with her pencil in her hand, and give all her intellect to the puzzling construction; at length, she would say, 'I think, Plantagenet, this must be our nominative case;' and so it always was.
Thus, when Wednesday came, the longest and most laborious morning of all Lord Cadurcis' studies, and when he neither wrote, nor read, nor learnt French with Venetia, but gave up all his soul to Dr. Masham, he usually acquitted himself to that good person's satisfaction, who left him, in general, with commendations that were not lost on the pupil, and plenty of fresh exercises to occupy him and Lady Annabel until the next week. When a year had thus passed away, the happiest year yet in Lord Cadurcis' life, in spite of all his disadvantages, he had contrived to make no inconsiderable progress. Almost deprived of a tutor, he had advanced in classical acquirement more than during the whole of his preceding years of scholarship, while his handwriting began to become intelligible, he could read French with comparative facility, and had turned over many a volume in the well-stored library at Cherbury.
When the hours of study were past, the children, with that zest for play which occupation can alone secure, would go forth together, and wander in the park. Here they had made a little world for themselves, of which no one dreamed; for Venetia had poured forth all her Arcadian lore into the ear of Plantagenet; and they acted together many of the adventures of the romance, under the fond names of Musidorus and Philoclea. Cherbury was Arcadia, and Cadurcis Macedon; while the intervening woods figured as the forests of Thessaly, and the breezy downs were the heights of Pindus. Unwearied was the innocent sport of their virgin imaginations; and it was a great treat if Venetia, attended by Mistress Pauncefort, were permitted to accompany Plantagenet some way on his return. Then they parted with an embrace in the woods of Thessaly, and Musidorus strolled home with a heavy heart to his Macedonian realm.
Parted from Venetia, the magic suddenly seemed to cease, and Musidorus was instantly transformed into the little Lord Cadurcis, exhausted by the unconscious efforts of his fancy, depressed by the separation from his sweet companion, and shrinking from the unpoetical reception which at the best awaited him in his ungenial home. Often, when thus alone, would he loiter on his way and seat himself on the ridge, and watch the setting sun, as its dying glory illumined the turrets of his ancient house, and burnished the waters of the lake, until the tears stole down his cheek; and yet he knew not why. No thoughts of sorrow had flitted through his mind, nor indeed had ideas of any description occurred to him. It was a trance of unmeaning abstraction; all that he felt was a mystical pleasure in watching the sunset, and a conviction that, if he were not with Venetia, that which he loved next best, was to be alone.
The little Cadurcis in general returned home moody and silent, and his mother too often, irritated by his demeanour, indulged in all the expressions of a quick and offended temper; but since his intimacy with the Herberts, Plantagenet had learnt to control his emotions, and often successfully laboured to prevent those scenes of domestic recrimination once so painfully frequent. There often, too, was a note from Lady Annabel to Mrs. Cadurcis, or some other slight memorial, borne by her son, which enlisted all the kind feelings of that lady in favour of her Cherbury friends, and then the evening was sure to pass over in peace; and, when Plantagenet was not thus armed, he exerted himself to be cordial; and so, on the whole, with some skill in management, and some trials of temper, the mother and child contrived to live together with far greater comfort than they had of old.
Bedtime was always a great relief to Plantagenet, for it secured him solitude. He would lie awake for hours, indulging in sweet and unconscious reveries, and brooding over the future morn, that always brought happiness. All that he used to sigh for, was to be Lady Annabel's son; were he Venetia's brother, then he was sure he never should be for a moment unhappy; that parting from Cherbury, and the gloomy evenings at Cadurcis, would then be avoided. In such a mood, and lying awake upon his pillow, he sought refuge from the painful reality that surrounded him in the creative solace of his imagination. Alone, in his little bed, Cadurcis was Venetia's brother, and he conjured up a thousand scenes in which they were never separated, and wherein he always played an amiable and graceful part. Yet he loved the abbey; his painful infancy was not associated with that scene; it was not connected with any of those grovelling common-places of his life, from which he had shrunk back with instinctive disgust, even at a very tender age. Cadurcis was the spot to which, in his most miserable moments at Morpeth, he had always looked forward, as the only chance of emancipation from the distressing scene that surrounded him. He had been brought up with a due sense of his future position, and although he had ever affected a haughty indifference on the subject, from his disrelish for the coarse acquaintances who were perpetually reminding him, with chuckling self-complacency, of his future greatness, in secret he had ever brooded over his destiny as his only consolation. He had imbibed from his own reflections, at a very early period of life, a due sense of the importance of his lot; he was proud of his hereditary honours, blended, as they were, with some glorious passages in the history of his country, and prouder of his still more ancient line. The eccentric exploits and the violent passions, by which his race had been ever characterised, were to him a source of secret exultation. Even the late lord, who certainly had no claims to his gratitude, for he had robbed the inheritance to the utmost of his power, commanded, from the wild decision of his life, the savage respect of his successor. In vain Mrs. Cadurcis would pour forth upon this, the favourite theme for her wrath and her lamentations, all the bitter expressions of her rage and woe. Plantagenet had never imbibed her prejudices against the departed, and had often irritated his mother by maintaining that the late lord was perfectly justified in his conduct.
But in these almost daily separations between Plantagenet and Venetia, how different was her lot to that of her companion! She was the confidante of all his domestic sorrows, and often he had requested her to exert her influence to obtain some pacifying missive from Lady Annabel, which might secure him a quiet evening at Cadurcis; and whenever this had not been obtained, the last words of Venetia were ever not to loiter, and to remember to speak to his mother as much as he possibly could. Venetia returned to a happy home, welcomed by the smile of a soft and beautiful parent, and with words of affection sweeter than music. She found an engaging companion, who had no thought but for her welfare, her amusement, and her instruction: and often, when the curtains were drawn, the candles lit, and Venetia, holding her mother's hand, opened her book, she thought of poor Plantagenet, so differently situated, with no one to be kind to him, with no one to sympathise with his thoughts, and perhaps at the very moment goaded into some unhappy quarrel with his mother.
The appearance of the Cadurcis family on the limited stage of her life, and the engrossing society of her companion, had entirely distracted the thoughts of Venetia from a subject to which in old days they were constantly recurring, and that was her father. By a process which had often perplexed her, and which she could never succeed in analysing, there had arisen in her mind, without any ostensible agency on the part of her mother which she could distinctly recall, a conviction that this was a topic on which she was never to speak. This idea had once haunted her, and she had seldom found herself alone without almost unconsciously musing over it. Notwithstanding the unvarying kindness of Lady Annabel, she exercised over her child a complete and unquestioned control. Venetia was brought up with strictness, which was only not felt to be severe, because the system was founded on the most entire affection, but, fervent as her love was for her mother, it was equalled by her profound respect, which every word and action of Lady Annabel tended to maintain.
In all the confidential effusions with Plantagenet, Venetia had never dwelt upon this mysterious subject; indeed, in these conversations, when they treated of their real and not ideal life, Venetia was a mere recipient: all that she could communicate, Plantagenet could observe; he it was who avenged himself at these moments for his habitual silence before third persons; it was to Venetia that he poured forth all his soul, and she was never weary of hearing his stories about Morpeth, and all his sorrows, disgusts, and afflictions. There was scarcely an individual in that little town with whom, from his lively narratives, she was not familiar; and it was to her sympathising heart that he confided all his future hopes and prospects, and confessed the strong pride he experienced in being a Cadurcis, which from all others was studiously concealed.
It had happened that the first Christmas Day after the settlement of the Cadurcis family at the abbey occurred in the middle of the week; and as the weather was severe, in order to prevent two journeys at such an inclement season, Lady Annabel persuaded Mrs. Cadurcis to pass the whole week at the hall. This arrangement gave such pleasure to Plantagenet that the walls of the abbey, as the old postchaise was preparing for their journey, quite resounded with his merriment. In vain his mother, harassed with all the mysteries of packing, indulged in a thousand irritable expressions, which at any other time might have produced a broil or even a fray; Cadurcis did nothing but laugh. There was at the bottom of this boy's heart, with all his habitual gravity and reserve, a fund of humour which would occasionally break out, and which nothing could withstand. When he was alone with Venetia, he would imitate the old maids of Morpeth, and all the ceremonies of a provincial tea party, with so much life and genuine fun, that Venetia was often obliged to stop in their rambles to indulge her overwhelming mirth. When they were alone, and he was gloomy, she was often accustomed to say, 'Now, dear Plantagenet, tell me how the old ladies at Morpeth drink tea.'
This morning at the abbey, Cadurcis was irresistible, and the more excited his mother became with the difficulties which beset her, the more gay and fluent were his quips and cranks. Puffing, panting, and perspiring, now directing her waiting-woman, now scolding her man-servant, and now ineffectually attempting to box her son's ears, Mrs. Cadurcis indeed offered a most ridiculous spectacle.
'John!' screamed Mrs. Cadurcis, in a voice of bewildered passion, and stamping with rage, 'is that the place for my cap-box? You do it on purpose, that you do!'
'John,' mimicked Lord Cadurcis, 'how dare you do it on purpose?'
'Take that, you brat,' shrieked the mother, and she struck her own hand against the doorway. 'Oh! I'll give it you, I'll give it you,' she bellowed under the united influence of rage and pain, and she pursued her agile child, who dodged her on the other side of the postchaise, which he persisted in calling the family carriage.
'Oh! ma'am, my lady,' exclaimed the waiting-woman, sallying forth from the abbey, 'what is to be done with the parrot when we are away? Mrs. Brown says she won't see to it, that she won't; 'taynt her place.'
This rebellion of Mrs. Brown was a diversion in favour of Plantagenet. Mrs. Cadurcis waddled down the cloisters with precipitation, rushed into the kitchen, seized the surprised Mrs. Brown by the shoulder, and gave her a good shake; and darting at the cage, which held the parrot, she bore it in triumph to the carriage. 'I will take the bird with me,' said Mrs. Cadurcis.
'We cannot take the bird inside, madam,' said Plantagenet, 'for it will overhear all our conversation, and repeat it. We shall not be able to abuse our friends.'
Mrs. Cadurcis threw the cage at her son's head, who, for the sake of the bird, dexterously caught it, but declared at the same time he would immediately throw it into the lake. Then Mrs. Cadurcis began to cry with rage, and, seating herself on the open steps of the chaise, sobbed hysterically. Plantagenet stole round on tip-toe, and peeped in her face: 'A merry Christmas and a happy new year, Mrs. Cadurcis,' said her son.
'How can I be merry and happy, treated as I am?' sobbed the mother. 'You do not treat Lady Annabel so. Oh! no; it is only your mother whom you use in this manner! Go to Cherbury. Go by all means, but go by yourself; I shall not go: go to your friends, Lord Cadurcis; they are your friends, not mine, and I hope they are satisfied, now that they have robbed me of the affections of my child. I have seen what they have been after all this time. I am not so blind as some people think. No! I see how it is. I am nobody. Your poor mother, who brought you up, and educated you, is nobody. This is the end of all your Latin and French, and your fine lessons. Honour your father and your mother, Lord Cadurcis; that's a finer lesson than all. Oh! oh! oh!'
This allusion to the Herberts suddenly calmed Plantagenet. He felt in an instant the injudiciousness of fostering by his conduct the latent jealousy which always lurked at the bottom of his mother's heart, and which nothing but the united talent and goodness of Lady Annabel could have hitherto baffled. So he rejoined in a kind yet playful tone, 'If you will be good, I will give you a kiss for a Christmas-box, mother; and the parrot shall go inside if you like.'
'The parrot may stay at home, I do not care about it: but I cannot bear quarrelling; it is not my temper, you naughty, very naughty boy.'
'My dear mother,' continued his lordship, in a soothing tone, 'these scenes always happen when people are going to travel. I assure you it is quite a part of packing up.'
'You will be the death of me, that you will,' said the mother, 'with all your violence. You are worse than your father, that you are.'
'Come, mother,' said her son, drawing nearer, and just touching her shoulder with his hand, 'will you not have my Christmas-box?'
The mother extended her cheek, which the son slightly touched with his lip, and then Mrs. Cadurcis jumped up as lively as ever, called for a glass of Mountain, and began rating the footboy.
At length the postchaise was packed; they had a long journey before them, because Cadurcis would go round by Southport, to call upon a tradesman whom a month before he had commissioned to get a trinket made for him in London, according to the newest fashion, as a present for Venetia. The commission was executed; Mrs. Cadurcis, who had been consulted in confidence by her son on the subject, was charmed with the result of their united taste. She had good-naturedly contributed one of her own few, but fine, emeralds to the gift; upon the back of the brooch was engraved:—
TO VENETIA, FROM HER AFFECTIONATE BROTHER, PLANTAGENET.
'I hope she will be a sister, and more than a sister, to you,' said Mrs. Cadurcis.
'Why?' inquired her son, rather confused.
'You may look farther, and fare worse,' said Mrs. Cadurcis. Plantagenet blushed; and yet he wondered why he blushed: he understood his mother, but he could not pursue the conversation; his heart fluttered.
A most cordial greeting awaited them at Cherbury; Dr. Masham was there, and was to remain until Monday. Mrs. Cadurcis would have opened about the present immediately, but her son warned her on the threshold that if she said a word about it, or seemed to be aware of its previous existence, even when it was shown, he would fling it instantly away into the snow; and her horror of this catastrophe bridled her tongue. Mrs. Cadurcis, however, was happy, and Lady Annabel was glad to see her so; the Doctor, too, paid her some charming compliments; the good lady was in the highest spirits, for she was always in extremes, and at this moment she would willingly have laid down her life if she had thought the sacrifice could have contributed to the welfare of the Herberts.
Cadurcis himself drew Venetia aside, and then, holding the brooch reversed, he said, with rather a confused air, 'Read that, Venetia.'
'Oh! Plantagenet!' she said, very much astonished.
'You see, Venetia,' he added, leaving it in her hand, 'it is yours.'
Venetia turned the jewel; her eye was dazzled with its brilliancy.
'It is too grand for a little girl, Plantagenet,' she exclaimed, a little pale.
'No, it is not,' said Plantagenet, firmly; 'besides, you will not always be a little girl; and then, if ever we do not live together as we do now, you will always remember you have a brother.'
'I must show it mamma; I must ask her permission to take it, Plantagenet.'
Venetia went up to her mother, who was talking to Mrs. Cadurcis. She had not courage to speak before that lady and Dr. Masham, so she called her mother aside.
'Mamma,' she said, 'something has happened.'
'What, my dear?' said Lady Annabel, somewhat surprised at the seriousness of her tone.
'Look at this, mamma!' said Venetia, giving her the brooch.
Lady Annabel looked at the jewel, and read the inscription. It was a more precious offering than the mother would willingly have sanctioned, but she was too highly bred, and too thoughtful of the feelings of others, to hesitate for a moment to admire it herself, and authorise its acceptance by her daughter. So she walked up to Cadurcis and gave him a mother's embrace for his magnificent present to his sister, placed the brooch itself near Venetia's heart, and then led her daughter to Mrs. Cadurcis, that the gratified mother might admire the testimony of her son's taste and affection. It was a most successful present, and Cadurcis felt grateful to his mother for her share in its production, and the very proper manner in which she received the announcement of its offering.
This was Christmas Eve; the snow was falling briskly. After dinner they were glad to cluster round the large fire in the green drawing-room. Dr. Masham had promised to read the evening service in the chapel, which was now lit up, and the bell was sounding, that the cottagers might have the opportunity of attending.
Plantagenet and Venetia followed the elders to the chapel; they walked hand-in-hand down the long galleries.
'I should like to go all over this house,' said Plantagenet to his companion. 'Have you ever been?'
'Never,' said Venetia; 'half of it is shut up. Nobody ever goes into it, except mamma.'
In the night there was a violent snowstorm; not only was the fall extremely heavy, but the wind was so high, that it carried the snow off the hills, and all the roads were blocked up, in many places ten or twelve feet deep. All communication was stopped. This was an adventure that amused the children, though the rest looked rather grave. Plantagenet expressed to Venetia his wish that the snow would never melt, and that they might remain at Cherbury for ever.
The children were to have a holiday this week, and they had planned some excursions in the park and neighbourhood, but now they were all prisoners to the house. They wandered about, turning the staircase into mountains, the great hall into an ocean, and the different rooms into so many various regions. They amused themselves with their adventures, and went on endless voyages of discovery. Every moment Plantagenet longed still more for the opportunity of exploring the uninhabited chambers; but Venetia shook her head, because she was sure Lady Annabel would not grant them permission.
'Did you ever live at any place before you came to Cherbury?' inquired Lord Cadurcis of Venetia.
'I know I was not born here,' said Venetia; 'but I was so young that I have no recollection of any other place.'
'And did any one live here before you came?' said Plantagenet.
'I do not know,' said Venetia; 'I never heard if anybody did. I, I,' she continued, a little constrained, 'I know nothing.'
'Do you remember your papa?' said Plantagenet.
'No,' said Venetia.
'Then he must have died almost as soon as you were born, said Lord Cadurcis.
'I suppose he must,' said Venetia, and her heart trembled.
'I wonder if he ever lived here!' said Plantagenet.
'Mamma does not like me to ask questions about my papa,' said Venetia, 'and I cannot tell you anything.'
'Ah! your papa was different from mine, Venetia,' said Cadurcis; 'my mother talks of him often enough. They did not agree very well; and, when we quarrel, she always says I remind her of him. I dare say Lady Annabel loved your papa very much.'
'I am sure mamma did,' replied Venetia.
The children returned to the drawing-room, and joined their friends: Mrs. Cadurcis was sitting on the sofa, occasionally dozing over a sermon; Dr. Masham was standing with Lady Annabel in the recess of a distant window. Her ladyship's countenance was averted; she was reading a newspaper, which the Doctor had given her. As the door opened, Lady Annabel glanced round; her countenance was agitated; she folded up the newspaper rather hastily, and gave it to the Doctor.
'And what have you been doing, little folks?' inquired the Doctor of the new comers.
'We have been playing at the history of Rome,' said Venetia, 'and now that we have conquered every place, we do not know what to do.'
'The usual result of conquest,' said the Doctor, smiling.
'This snowstorm is a great trial for you; I begin to believe that, after all, you would be more pleased to take your holidays at another opportunity.'
'We could amuse ourselves very well,' said Plantagenet, 'if Lady Annabel would be so kind as to permit us to explore the part of the house that is shut up.'
'That would be a strange mode of diversion,' said Lady Annabel, quietly, 'and I do not think by any means a suitable one. There cannot be much amusement in roaming over a number of dusty unfurnished rooms.'