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VENETIA

BY THE EARL OF BEACONSFIELD, K.G.

1905







'Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child?'

'The child of love, though born in bitterness
And nurtured in convulsion.'




TO

LORD LYNDHURST.

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.




BOOK I.




CHAPTER I.


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.




CHAPTER II.


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.




CHAPTER III.


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.




CHAPTER IV.


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



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