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see our Paulo. He gained a prize at the academy, and his father begged
the master to be present when it was conferred on him; he said it
would do his son so much good! So the master went, though it is the
only time he has quitted Quâ since he came to reside here.'

'And how long has he resided here?' inquired Venetia.

''Tis the second autumn,' said the guide, 'and he came in the spring.
If the signora would only wait, we expect the master home to-night or
to-morrow, and he would be glad to see her.'

'We cannot wait, my friend,' said Lady Annabel, rewarding the guide;
'but you will thank your master in our names, for the kindness we have
experienced. You are all happy in such a friend.'

'I must write my name in Petrarch's house,' said Venetia. 'Adieu,
happy Arquâ! Adieu, happy dwellers in this happy valley!'




CHAPTER IV.


Just as Lady Annabel and her daughter arrived at Rovigo, one of those
sudden and violent storms that occasionally occur at the termination
of an Italian autumn raged with irresistible fury. The wind roared
with a noise that overpowered the thunder; then came a rattling shower
of hail, with stones as big as pigeons' eggs, succeeded by rain, not
in showers, but literally in cataracts. The only thing to which
a tempest of rain in Italy can be compared is the bursting of a
waterspout. Venetia could scarcely believe that this could be the same
day of which the golden morning had found her among the sunny hills of
Arquâ. This unexpected vicissitude induced Lady Annabel to alter her
plans, and she resolved to rest at Rovigo, where she was glad to find
that they could be sheltered in a commodious inn.

The building had originally been a palace, and in its halls and
galleries, and the vast octagonal vestibule on which the principal
apartments opened, it retained many noble indications of the purposes
to which it was formerly destined.

At present, a lazy innkeeper who did nothing; his bustling wife,
who seemed equally at home in the saloon, the kitchen, and even the
stable; and a solitary waiter, were the only inmates, except the
Herberts, and a travelling party, who had arrived shortly after them,
and who, like them, had been driven by stress of weather to seek
refuge at a place where otherwise they had not intended to remain.

A blazing fire of pine wood soon gave cheerfulness to the vast and
somewhat desolate apartment into which our friends had been ushered;
their sleeping-room was adjoining, but separated. In spite of the
lamentations of Pauncefort, who had been drenched to the skin, and who
required much more waiting upon than her mistress, Lady Annabel and
Venetia at length produced some degree of comfort. They drew the table
near the fire; they ensconced themselves behind an old screen; and,
producing their books and work notwithstanding the tempest, they
contrived to domesticate themselves at Rovigo.

'I cannot help thinking of Arquâ and its happy tenants, mamma,' said
Venetia.

'And yet, perhaps, they may have their secret sorrows,' said
Lady Annabel. 'I know not why, I always associate seclusion with
unhappiness.'

Venetia remembered Cherbury. Their life at Cherbury was like the life
of the German at Arquâ. A chance visitor to Cherbury in their absence,
viewing the beautiful residence and the fair domain, and listening to
the tales which they well might hear of all her mother's grace and
goodness, might perhaps too envy its happy occupiers. But were they
happy? Had they no secret sorrows? Was their seclusion associated with
unhappiness? These were reflections that made Venetia grave; but she
opened her journal, and, describing the adventures and feelings of the
morning, she dissipated some mournful reminiscences.

The storm still raged, Venetia had quitted the saloon in which her
mother and herself had been sitting, and had repaired to the adjoining
chamber to fetch a book. The door of this room opened, as all the
other entrances of the different apartments, on to the octagonal
vestibule. Just as she was quitting the room, and about to return to
her mother, the door of the opposite chamber opened, and there came
forward a gentleman in a Venetian dress of black velvet. His stature
was much above the middle height, though his figure, which was
remarkably slender, was bowed; not by years certainly, for his
countenance, though singularly emaciated, still retained traces
of youth. His hair, which he wore very long, descended over his
shoulders, and must originally have been of a light golden colour, but
now was severely touched with grey. His countenance was very pallid,
so colourless indeed that its aspect was almost unearthly; but his
large blue eyes, that were deeply set in his majestic brow, still
glittered with fire, and their expression alone gave life to a visage,
which, though singularly beautiful in its outline, from its faded and
attenuated character seemed rather the countenance of a corpse than of
a breathing being.

The glance of the stranger caught that of Venetia, and seemed to
fascinate her. She suddenly became motionless; wildly she stared at
the stranger, who, in his turn, seemed arrested in his progress, and
stood still as a statue, with his eyes fixed with absorbing interest
on the beautiful apparition before him. An expression of perplexity
and pain flitted over the amazed features of Venetia; and then it
seemed that, by some almost supernatural effort, confusion amounting
to stupefaction suddenly brightened and expanded into keen and
overwhelming intelligence. Exclaiming in a frenzied tone, 'My father!'
Venetia sprang forward, and fell senseless on the stranger's breast.

Such, after so much mystery, so many aspirations, so much anxiety, and
so much suffering, such was the first meeting of Venetia Herbert with
her father!

Marmion Herbert, himself trembling and speechless, bore the apparently
lifeless Venetia into his apartment. Not permitting her for a moment
to quit his embrace, he seated himself, and gazed silently on the
inanimate and unknown form he held so strangely within his arms. Those
lips, now closed as if in death, had uttered however one word
which thrilled to his heart, and still echoed, like a supernatural
annunciation, within his ear. He examined with an eye of agitated
scrutiny the fair features no longer sensible of his presence. He
gazed upon that transparent brow, as if he would read some secret in
its pellucid veins; and touched those long locks of golden hair with a
trembling finger, that seemed to be wildly seeking for some vague and
miraculous proof of inexpressible identity. The fair creature had
called him 'Father.' His dreaming reveries had never pictured a being
half so beautiful! She called him 'Father!' Tha word had touched
his brain, as lightning cuts a tree. He looked around him with a
distracted air, then gazed on the tranced form he held with a glance
which would have penetrated her soul, and murmured unconsciously the
wild word she had uttered. She called him 'Father!' He dared not think
who she might be. His thoughts were wandering in a distant land;
visions of another life, another country, rose before him, troubled
and obscure. Baffled aspirations, and hopes blighted in the bud, and
the cherished secrets of his lorn existence, clustered like clouds
upon his perplexed, yet creative, brain. She called him, 'Father!' It
was a word to make him mad. 'Father!' This beautiful being had
called him 'Father,' and seemed to have expired, as it were, in the
irresistible expression. His heart yearned to her; he had met her
embrace with an inexplicable sympathy; her devotion had seemed, as it
were, her duty and his right. Yet who was she? He was a father. It
was a fact, a fact alike full of solace and mortification, the
consciousness of which never deserted him. But he was the father of an
unknown child; to him the child of his poetic dreams, rather than his
reality. And now there came this radiant creature, and called him
'Father!' Was he awake, and in the harsh busy world; or was it the
apparition of au over-excited imagination, brooding too constantly on
one fond idea, on which he now gazed so fixedly? Was this some spirit?
Would that she would speak again! Would that those sealed lips would
part and utter but one word, would but again call him 'Father,' and he
asked no more!

'Father!' to be called 'Father' by one whom he could not name, by one
over whom he mused in solitude, by one to whom he had poured forth all
the passion of his desolate soul; to be called 'Father' by this being
was the aspiring secret of his life. He had painted her to himself in
his loneliness, he had conjured up dreams of ineffable loveliness, and
inexpressible love; he had led with her an imaginary life of thrilling
tenderness; he had indulged in a delicious fancy of mutual interchange
of the most exquisite offices of our nature; and then, when he had
sometimes looked around him, and found no daughter there, no beaming
countenance of purity to greet him with its constant smile, and
receive the quick and ceaseless tribute of his vigilant affection, the
tears had stolen down his lately-excited features, all the consoling
beauty of his visions had vanished into air, he had felt the deep
curse of his desolation, and had anathematised the cunning brain
that made his misery a thousand-fold keener by the mockery of its
transporting illusions.

And now there came this transcendent creature, with a form more
glowing than all his dreams; a voice more musical than a seraphic
chorus, though it had uttered but one thrilling word: there came this
transcendent creature, beaming with grace, beauty, and love, and had
fallen upon his heart, and called him 'Father!'

Herbert looked up to heaven as if waiting for some fresh miracle to
terminate the harrowing suspense of his tortured mind; Herbert looked
down upon his mysterious companion; the rose was gradually returning
to her cheek, her lips seemed to tremble with reviving breath. There
was only one word more strange to his ear than that which she had
uttered, but an irresistible impulse sent forth the sound.

'Venetia!' he exclaimed.

The eyes of the maiden slowly opened; she stared around her with a
vague glance of perplexity, not unmingled with pain; she looked up;
she caught the rapt gaze of her father, bending over her with
fondness yet with fear; his lips moved, for a moment they refused to
articulate, yet at length they again uttered, 'Venetia!' And the only
response she made was to cling to him with nervous energy, and hide
her face in his bosom.

Herbert pressed her to his heart. Yet even now he hesitated to credit
the incredible union. Again he called her by her name, but added with
rising confidence, 'My Venetia!'

'Your child, your child,' she murmured. 'Your own Venetia.'

He pressed his lips to hers; he breathed over her a thousand
blessings; she felt his tears trickling on her neck.

At length Venetia looked up and sighed; she was exhausted by the
violence of her emotions: her father relaxed his grasp with infinite
tenderness, watching her with delicate solicitude; she leaned her arm
upon his shoulder with downcast eyes.

Herbert gently took her disengaged hand, and pressed it to his lips.
'I am as in a dream,' murmured Venetia.

'The daughter of my heart has found her sire,' said Herbert in an
impassioned voice. 'The father who has long lived upon her fancied
image; the father, I fear, she has been bred up to hate.'

'Oh! no, no!' said Venetia, speaking rapidly and with a slight shiver;
'not hate! it was a secret, his being was a secret, his name was never
mentioned; it was unknown.'

'A secret! My existence a secret from my child, my beautiful fond
child!' exclaimed Herbert in a tone even more desolate than bitter.
'Why did they not let you at least hate me!'

'My father!' said Venetia, in a firmer voice, and with returning
animation, yet gazing around her with a still distracted air, 'Am I
with my father? The clouds clear from my brain. I remember that we
met. Where was it? Was it at Arquâ? In the garden? I am with my
father!' she continued in a rapid tone and with a wild smile. 'Oh! let
me look on him;' and she turned round, and gazed upon Herbert with
a serious scrutiny. 'Are you my father?' she continued, in a still,
small voice. 'Your hair has grown grey since last I saw you; it was
golden then, like mine. I know you are my father,' she added, after a
pause, and in a tone almost of gaiety. 'You cannot deceive me. I know
your name. They did not tell it me; I found it out myself, but it made
me very ill, very; and I do not think I have ever been quite well
since. You are Marmion Herbert. My mother had a dog called Marmion,
when I was a little girl, but I did not know I had a father then.'

'Venetia!' exclaimed Herbert, with streaming eyes, as he listened with
anguish to these incoherent sentences. 'My Venetia loves me!'

'Oh! she always loved you,' replied Venetia; always, always. Before
she knew her father she loved him. I dare say you think I do not love
you, because I am not used to speak to a father. Everything must be
learnt, you know,' she said, with a faint, sad smile; 'and then it
was so sudden! I do not think my mother knows it yet. And after all,
though I found you out in a moment, still, I know not why, I thought
it was a picture. But I read your verses, and I knew them by heart at
once; but now my memory has worn out, for I am ill, and everything has
gone cross with me. And all because my father wrote me verses. 'Tis
very strange, is not it?'

'Sweet lamb of my affections,' exclaimed Herbert to himself, 'I fear
me much this sudden meeting with one from whose bosom you ought never
to have been estranged, has been for the moment too great a trial for
this delicate brain.'

'I will not tell my mother,' said Venetia; 'she will be angry.'

'Your mother, darling; where is your mother?' said Herbert, looking,
if possible, paler than he was wont.

She was at Arquâ with me, and on the lake for months, but where we are
now, I cannot say. If I could only remember where we are now,' she
added with earnestness, and with a struggle to collect herself, 'I
should know everything.'

'This is Rovigo, my child, the inn of Rovigo. You are travelling with
your mother. Is it not so?'

'Yes! and we came this morning, and it rained. Now I know everything,'
said Venetia, with an animated and even cheerful air.

'And we met in the vestibule, my sweet,' continued Herbert, in a
soothing voice; 'we came out of opposite chambers, and you knew me; my
Venetia knew me. Try to tell me, my darling,' he added, in a tone of
coaxing fondness, 'try to remember how Venetia knew her father.'

'He was so like his picture at Cherbury,' replied Venetia.

'Cherbury!' exclaimed Herbert, with a deep-drawn sigh.

'Only your hair has grown grey, dear father; but it is long, quite as
long as in your picture.'

'Her dog called Marmion!' murmured Herbert to himself, 'and my
portrait, too! You saw your father's portrait, then, every day, love?'

'Oh, no! said Venetia, shaking her head, 'only once, only once. And I
never told mamma. It was where no one could go, but I went there one
day. It was in a room that no one ever entered except mamma, but
I entered it. I stole the key, and had a fever, and in my fever I
confessed all. But I never knew it. Mamma never told me I confessed
it, until many, many years afterwards. It was the first, the only time
she ever mentioned to me your name, my father.'

'And she told you to shun me, to hate me? She told you I was a
villain, a profligate, a demon? eh? eh? Was it not so, Venetia?'

'She told me that you had broken her heart,' said Venetia; 'and she
prayed to God that her child might not be so miserable.'

'Oh, my Venetia!' exclaimed Herbert, pressing her to his breast,
and in a voice stifled with emotion, 'I feel now we might have been
happy!'

In the meantime the prolonged absence of her daughter surprised
Lady Annabel. At length she rose, and walked into their adjoining
apartment, but to her surprise Venetia was not there. Returning to her
saloon, she found Pauncefort and the waiter arranging the table for
dinner.

'Where is Miss Herbert, Pauncefort?' inquired Lady Annabel.

'I am sure, my lady, I cannot say. I have no doubt she is in the other
room.'

'She is not there, for I have just quitted it,' replied Lady Annabel.
'How very strange! You have not seen the signora?' inquired Lady
Annabel of the waiter.

'The signora is in the room with the gentleman.'

'The gentleman!' exclaimed Lady Annabel. 'Tell me, good man, what do
you mean? I am inquiring for my daughter.'

'I know well the signora is talking of her daughter,' replied the
waiter.

'But do you know my daughter by sight? Surely you you must mean some
one else.'

'Do I know the signora's daughter?' said the waiter. 'The beautiful
young lady, with hair like Santa Marguerita, in the church of the Holy
Trinity! I tell the signora, I saw her carried into numero 4, in the
arms of the Signor Forestiere, who arrived this morning.'

'Venetia is ill,' said Lady Annabel. 'Show me to the room, my friend.'

Lady Annabel accordingly, with a hurried step, following her guide,
quitted the chamber. Pauncefort remained fixed to the earth, the very
picture of perplexity.

'Well, to be sure!' she exclaimed, 'was anything ever so strange! In
the arms of Signor Forestiere! Forestiere. An English name. There is
no person of the name of Forest that I know. And in his arms, too! I
should not wonder if it was my lord after all. Well, I should be glad
if he were to come to light again, for, after all, my lady may say
what she likes, but if Miss Venetia don't marry Lord Cadurcis, I must
say marriages were never made in heaven!'




CHAPTER V.


The waiter threw open the door of Mr. Herbert's chamber, and Lady
Annabel swept in with a majesty she generally assumed when about to
meet strangers. The first thing she beheld was her daughter in
the arms of a man whose head was bent, and who was embracing her.
Notwithstanding this astounding spectacle, Lady Annabel neither
started nor screamed; she only said in an audible tone, and one rather
expressing astonishment than agitation, 'Venetia!'

Immediately the stranger looked up, and Lady Annabel beheld her
husband!

She was rooted to the earth. She turned deadly pale; for a moment her
countenance expressed only terror, but the terror quickly changed into
aversion. Suddenly she rushed forward, and exclaimed in a tone in
which decision conquered dismay, 'Restore me my child!'

The moment Herbert had recognised his wife he had dexterously
disengaged himself from the grasp of Venetia, whom he left on the
chair, and meeting Lady Annabel with extended arms, that seemed to
deprecate her wrath, he said, 'I seek not to deprive you of her; she
is yours, and she is worthy of you; but respect, for a few moments,
the feelings of a father who has met his only child in a manner so
unforeseen.'

The presence of her mother instantaneously restored Venetia to
herself. Her mind was in a moment cleared and settled. Her past and
peculiar life, and all its incidents, recurred to her with their
accustomed order, vividness, and truth. She thoroughly comprehended
her present situation. Actuated by long-cherished feelings and the
necessity of the occasion, she rose and threw herself at her mother's
feet and exclaimed, 'O mother! he is my father, love him!'

Lady Annabel stood with an averted countenance, Venetia clinging to
her hand, which she had caught when she rushed forward, and which now
fell passive by Lady Annabel's side, giving no sign, by any pressure
or motion, of the slightest sympathy with her daughter, or feeling for
the strange and agonising situation in which they were both placed.

'Annabel,' said Herbert, in a voice that trembled, though the speaker
struggled to appear calm, 'be charitable! I have never intruded upon
your privacy; I will not now outrage it. Accident, or some diviner
motive, has brought us together this day. If you will not treat me
with kindness, look not upon me with aversion before our child.'

Still she was silent and motionless, her countenance hidden from her
husband and her daughter, but her erect and haughty form betokening
her inexorable mind. 'Annabel,' said Herbert, who had now withdrawn
to some distance, and leant against a pillar, 'will not then nearly
twenty years of desolation purchase one moment of intercourse? I have
injured you. Be it so. This is not the moment I will defend myself.
But have I not suffered? Is not this meeting a punishment deeper
even than your vengeance could devise? Is it nothing to behold this
beautiful child, and feel that she is only yours? Annabel, look on me,
look on me only one moment! My frame is bowed, my hair is grey, my
heart is withered; the principle of existence waxes faint and slack in
this attenuated frame. I am no longer that Herbert on whom you once
smiled, but a man stricken with many sorrows. The odious conviction of
my life cannot long haunt you; yet a little while, and my memory will
alone remain. Think of this, Annabel; I beseech you, think of it. Oh!
believe me, when the speedy hour arrives that will consign me to the
grave, where I shall at least find peace, it will not be utterly
without satisfaction that you will remember that we met if even by
accident, and parted at least not with harshness!'

'Mother, dearest mother!' murmured Venetia, 'speak to him, look on
him!'

'Venetia,' said her mother, without turning her head, but in a calm,
firm tone, 'your father has seen you, has conversed with you. Between
your father and myself there can be nothing to communicate, either of
fact or feeling. Now let us depart.'

'No, no, not depart!' said Venetia franticly. 'You did not say depart,
dear mother! I cannot go,' she added in a low and half-hysterical
voice.

'Desert me, then,' said the mother. 'A fitting consequence of your
private communications with your father,' she added in a tone of
bitter scorn; and Lady Annabel moved to depart, but Venetia, still
kneeling, clung to her convulsively.

'Mother, mother, you shall not go; you shall not leave me; we will
never part, mother,' continued Venetia, in a tone almost of violence,
as she perceived her mother give no indication of yielding to her
wish. 'Are my feelings then nothing?' she then exclaimed. 'Is this
your sense of my fidelity? Am I for ever to be a victim?' She loosened
her hold of her mother's hand, her mother moved on, Venetia fell upon
her forehead and uttered a faint scream. The heart of Lady Annabel
relented when she fancied her daughter suffered physical pain, however
slight; she hesitated, she turned, she hastened to her child; her
husband had simultaneously advanced; in the rapid movement and
confusion her hand touched that of Herbert.

'I yield her to you, Annabel,' said Herbert, placing Venetia in her
mother's arms. 'You mistake me, as you have often mistaken me, if you
think I seek to practise on the feelings of this angelic child. She is
yours; may she compensate you for the misery I have caused you, but
never sought to occasion!'

'I am not hurt, dear mother,' said Venetia, as her mother tenderly
examined her forehead. 'Dear, dear mother, why did you reproach me?'

'Forget it,' said Lady Annabel, in a softened tone; 'for indeed you
are irreproachable.'

'O Annabel!' said Herbert, 'may not this child be some atonement, this
child, of whom I solemnly declare I would not deprive you, though I
would willingly forfeit my life for a year of her affection; and your,
your sufferance,' he added.

'Mother! speak to him,' said Venetia, with her head on her mother's
bosom, who still, however, remained rigidly standing. But Lady Annabel
was silent.

'Your mother was ever stern and cold, Venetia,' said Herbert, the
bitterness of his heart at length expressing itself.

'Never,' said Venetia, with great energy; 'never; you know not my
mother. Was she stern and cold when she visited each night in secret
your portrait?' said Venetia, looking round upon her astonished
father, with her bright grey eye. 'Was she stern and cold when she
wept over your poems, those poems whose characters your own hand had
traced? Was she stern and cold when she hung a withered wreath on your
bridal bed, the bed to which I owe my miserable being? Oh, no, my
father! sad was the hour of separation for my mother and yourself.
It may have dimmed the lustre of her eye, and shaded your locks with
premature grey; but whatever may have been its inscrutable cause,
there was one victim of that dark hour, less thought of than



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliVenetia → online text (page 28 of 38)