Benjamin Disraeli.

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yourselves, and yet a greater sufferer than both, the being in whose
heart you implanted affections, whose unfulfilled tenderness has made
that wretched thing they call your daughter.'

'Annabel!' exclaimed Herbert, rapidly advancing, with an imploring
gesture, and speaking in a tone of infinite anguish, 'Annabel,
Annabel, even now we can be happy!'

The countenance of his wife was troubled, but its stern expression had
disappeared. The long-concealed, yet at length irrepressible, emotion
of Venetia had touched her heart. In the conflict of affection between
the claims of her two parents, Lady Annabel had observed with a
sentiment of sweet emotion, in spite of all the fearfulness of the
meeting, that Venetia had not faltered in her devotion to her mother.
The mental torture of her child touched her to the quick. In the
excitement of her anguish, Venetia had expressed a profound sentiment,
the irresistible truth of which Lady Annabel could no longer
withstand. She had too long and too fondly schooled herself to look
upon the outraged wife as the only victim. There was then, at length
it appeared to this stern-minded woman, another. She had laboured in
the flattering delusion that the devotion of a mother's love might
compensate to Venetia for the loss of that other parent, which in some
degree Lady Annabel had occasioned her; for the worthless husband, had
she chosen to tolerate the degrading connection, might nevertheless
have proved a tender father. But Nature, it seemed, had shrunk from
the vain effort of the isolated mother. The seeds of affection for
the father of her being were mystically implanted in the bosom of his
child. Lady Annabel recalled the harrowing hours that this attempt by
her to curb and control the natural course and rising sympathies
of filial love had cost her child, on whom she had so vigilantly
practised it. She recalled her strange aspirations, her inspired
curiosity, her brooding reveries, her fitful melancholy, her terrible
illness, her resignation, her fidelity, her sacrifices: there came
across the mind of Lady Annabel a mortifying conviction that the
devotion to her child, on which she had so rated herself, might
after all only prove a subtle form of profound selfishness; and that
Venetia, instead of being the idol of her love, might eventually be
the martyr of her pride. And, thinking of these things, she wept.

This evidence of emotion, which in such a spirit Herbert knew how to
estimate, emboldened him to advance; he fell on one knee before her
and her daughter; gently he stole her hand, and pressed it to his
lips. It was not withdrawn, and Venetia laid her hand upon theirs,
and would have bound them together had her mother been relentless.
It seemed to Venetia that she was at length happy, but she would
not speak, she would not disturb the still and silent bliss of the
impending reconciliation. Was it then indeed at hand? In truth, the
deportment of Herbert throughout the whole interview, so delicate, so
subdued, so studiously avoiding the slightest rivaly with his wife
in the affections of their child, and so carefully abstaining from
attempting in the slightest degree to control the feelings of Venetia,
had not been lost upon Lady Annabel. And when she thought of him, so
changed from what he had been, grey, bent, and careworn, with all the
lustre that had once so fascinated her, faded, and talking of that
impending fate which his wan though spiritual countenance too clearly
intimated, her heart melted.

Suddenly the door burst open, and there stalked into the room a woman
of eminent but most graceful stature, and of a most sovereign and
voluptuous beauty. She was habited in the Venetian dress; her dark
eyes glittered with fire, her cheek was inflamed with no amiable
emotion, and her long black hair was disordered by the violence of her
gesture.

'And who are these?' she exclaimed in a shrill voice.

All started; Herbert sprang up from his position with a glance of
withering rage. Venetia was perplexed, Lady Annabel looked round, and
recognised the identical face, however distorted by passion, that she
had admired in the portrait at Arquâ.

'And who are these?' exclaimed the intruder, advancing. 'Perfidious
Marmion! to whom do you dare to kneel?'

Lady Annabel drew herself up to a height that seemed to look down even
upon this tall stranger. The expression of majestic scorn that she
cast upon the intruder made her, in spite of all her violence and
excitement, tremble and be silent: she felt cowed she knew not why.

'Come, Venetia,' said Lady Annabel with all her usual composure, 'let
me save my daughter at least from this profanation,'

'Annabel!' said Herbert, rushing after them, 'be charitable, be just!'
He followed them to the threshold of the door; Venetia was silent, for
she was alarmed.

'Adieu, Marmion!' said Lady Annabel, looking over her shoulder with a
bitter smile, but placing her daughter before her, as if to guard her.
'Adieu, Marmion! adieu for ever!'




CHAPTER VI.


The moon shone brightly on the house of Petrarch, and the hamlet
slept in peace. Not a sound was heard, save the shrill voice of the
grasshoppers, so incessant that its monotony blended, as it were, with
the stillness. Over the green hills and the far expanse of the sheeny
plain, the beautiful light of heaven fell with all the magical repose
of the serene hour, an hour that brought to one troubled breast, and
one distracted spirit, in that still and simple village, no quietude.

Herbert came forth into the balcony of his residence, and leaning over
the balustrade, revolved in his agitated mind the strange and stirring
incidents of the day. His wife and his child had quitted the inn of
Rovigo instantly after that mortifying rencounter that had dashed so
cruelly to the ground all his sweet and quickly-rising hopes. As for
his companion, she had by his peremptory desire returned to Arquâ
alone; he was not in a mood to endure her society; but he had
conducted himself to her mildly, though with firmness; he had promised
to follow her, and, in pursuance of his pledge, he rode home alone.

He was greeted on his return by his servant, full of the the visit
of the morning. With an irresistible curiosity, Herbert had made him
describe every incident that had occurred, and repeat a hundred times
every word that the visitors had uttered. He listened with some
consolation, however mournful, to his wife's praises of the unknown
stranger's life; he gazed with witching interest upon the autograph of
his daughter on the wall of his library. He had not confessed to his
mistress the relation which the two strangers bore to him; yet he was
influenced in concealing the real circumstances, only by an indefinite
sentiment, that made him reluctant to acknowledge to her ties so
pure. The feelings of the parent overpowered the principles of the
philosopher. This lady indeed, although at the moment she had indulged
in so violent an ebullition of temper, possessed little influence over
the mind of her companion. Herbert, however fond of solitude,
required in his restricted world the graceful results of feminine
superintendence. Time had stilled his passions, and cooled the fervour
of his soul. The age of his illusions had long passed. This was a
connection that had commenced in no extravagant or romantic mood, and
perhaps for that reason had endured. He had become acquainted with her
on his first unknown arrival in Italy, from America, now nearly two
years back. It had been maintained on his side by a temper naturally
sweet, and which, exhausted by years of violent emotion, now required
only repose; seeking, in a female friend, a form that should not
outrage an eye ever musing on the beautiful, and a disposition that
should contribute to his comfort, and never ruffle his feelings.
Separated from his wife by her own act, whatever might have been its
impulse, and for so long an interval, it was a connection which the
world in general might have looked upon with charity, which in her
calmer hours one would imagine even Lady Annabel might have glanced
over without much bitterness. Certainly it was one which, under all
the circumstances of the case, could scarcely be esteemed by her as an
outrage or an insult; but even Herbert felt, with all his philosophy
and proud freedom from prejudice, that the rencounter of the morning
was one which no woman could at the moment tolerate, few eventually
excuse, and which of all incidents was that which would most tend to
confirm his wife in her stoical obduracy. Of his offences towards
her, whatever were their number or their quality, this surely was the
least, and yet its results upon his life and fortunes would in all
probability only be equalled by the mysterious cause of their original
separation. But how much more bitter than that original separation
was their present parting! Mortifying and annoying as had been the
original occurrence, it was one that many causes and considerations
combined to enable Herbert to support. He was then in the very prime
of youth, inexperienced, sanguine, restless, and adventurous, with the
whole world and its unknown results before him, and freedom for which
he ever sighed to compensate for the loss of that domestic joy that
he was then unable to appreciate. But now twenty years, which, in the
career of such a spirit, were equal to a century of the existence of
coarser clay, had elapsed; he was bowed with thought and suffering, if
not by time; his conscience was light, but it was sad; his illusions
had all vanished; he knew the world, and all that the world could
bring, and he disregarded them; and the result of all his profound
study, lofty aspirations, and great conduct was, that he sighed for
rest. The original catastrophe had been merely a separation between
a husband and a wife; the one that had just happened, involved other
feelings; the father was also separated from his child, and a child of
such surpassing qualities, that his brief acquaintance with her had
alone sufficed to convert his dream of domestic repose into a vision
of domestic bliss.

Beautiful Venetia! so fair, and yet so dutiful; with a bosom teeming
with such exquisite sensibilities, and a mind bright with such acute
and elevated intelligence! An abstract conception of the sentiments
that might subsist between a father and a daughter, heightened by all
the devices of a glowing imagination, had haunted indeed occasionally
the solitary musing of Marmion Herbert; but what was this creation of
his poetic brain compared with the reality that now had touched his
human heart? Vainly had he believed that repose was the only solace
that remained for his exhausted spirit. He found that a new passion
now swayed his soul; a passion, too, that he had never proved; of
a nature most peculiar; pure, gentle, refined, yet ravishing and
irresistible, compared with which all former transports, no matter how
violent, tumultuous, and exciting, seemed evanescent and superficial:
they were indeed the wind, the fire, and the tempest that had gone
before, but this was the still small voice that followed, excelled,
and survived their might and majesty, unearthly and eternal!

His heart melted to his daughter, nor did he care to live without her
love and presence. His philosophical theories all vanished. He felt
how dependent we are in this world on our natural ties, and how
limited, with all his arrogance, is the sphere of man. Dreaming of
philanthropy, he had broken his wife's heart, and bruised, perhaps
irreparably, the spirit of his child; he had rendered those miserable
who depended on his love, and for whose affection his heart now
yearned to that degree, that he could not contemplate existence
without their active sympathy.

Was it then too late! Was it then impossible to regain that Paradise
he had forfeited so weakly, and of whose amaranthine bowers, but a few
hours since, he had caught such an entrancing glimpse, of which the
gate for a moment seemed about to re-open! In spite of all, then,
Annabel still loved him, loved him passionately, visited his picture,
mused over the glowing expression of their loves, wept over the bridal
bed so soon deserted! She had a dog, too, when Venetia was a child,
and called it Marmion.

The recollection of this little trait, so trifling, yet so touching,
made him weep even with wildness. The tears poured down his cheeks in
torrents, he sobbed convulsively, his very heart seemed to burst. For
some minutes he leant over the balustrade in a paroxysm of grief.

He looked up. The convent hill rose before him, bright in the moon;
beneath was his garden; around him the humble roofs that he made
happy. It was not without an effort that he recalled the locality,
that he remembered he was at Arquâ. And who was sleeping within the
house? Not his wife, Annabel was far away with their daughter. The
vision of his whole life passed before him. Study and strife, and fame
and love; the pride of the philosopher, the rapture of the poet,
the blaze of eloquence, the clash of arms, the vows of passion, the
execration and the applause of millions; both once alike welcome to
his indomitable soul! And what had they borne to him? Misery. He
called up the image of his wife, young, beautiful, and noble, with a
mind capable of comprehending his loftiest and his finest moods, with
a soul of matchless purity, and a temper whose winning tenderness had
only been equalled by her elevated sense of self-respect; a woman that
might have figured in the days of chivalry, soft enough to be his
slave, but too proud to be his victim. He called up her image in
the castle of his fathers, exercising in a domain worthy of such a
mistress, all those sweet offices of life which here, in this hired
roof in a strange land, and with his crippled means, he had yet found
solacing. He conjured before him a bud by the side of that beauteous
flower, sharing all her lustre and all her fragrance, his own Venetia!
What happiness might not have been his? And for what had he forfeited
it? A dream, with no dream-like beauty; a perturbed, and restless, and
agitated dream, from which he had now woke shattered and exhausted.

He had sacrificed his fortune, he had forfeited his country, he had
alienated his wife, and he had lost his child; the home of his heroic
ancestry, the ancient land whose fame and power they had created, the
beauteous and gifted woman who would have clung for ever to his bosom,
and her transcendant offspring worthy of all their loves! Profound
philosopher!

The clock of the convent struck the second hour after midnight.
Herbert started. And all this time where were Annabel and Venetia?
They still lived, they were in the same country, an hour ago they were
under the same roof, in the same chamber; their hands had joined,
their hearts had opened, for a moment he had dared to believe that all
that he cared for might be regained. And why was it not? The cause,
the cause? It recurred to him with associations of dislike, of
disgust, of wrath, of hatred, of which one whose heart was so tender,
and whose reason was so clear, could under the influence of no other
feelings have been capable. The surrounding scene, that had so often
soothed his mournful soul, and connected it with the last hours of
a spirit to whom he bore much resemblance, was now looked upon with
aversion. To rid himself of ties, now so dreadful, was all his
ambition. He entered the house quickly, and, seating himself in his
closet, he wrote these words:

'You beheld this morning my wife and child; we can meet no more. All
that I can effect to console you under this sudden separation shall be
done. My banker from Bologna will be here in two days; express to him
all your wishes.'

It was written, sealed, directed, and left upon the table at which
they had so often been seated. Herbert descended into the garden,
saddled his horse, and in a few minutes, in the heart of night, had
quitted Arquâ.




CHAPTER VII.


The moment that the wife of Marmion Herbert re-entered her saloon, she
sent for her courier and ordered horses to her carriage instantly.
Until they were announced as ready, Lady Annabel walked up and down
the room with an impatient step, but was as completely silent as the
miserable Venetia, who remained weeping on the sofa. The confusion and
curiosity of Mistress Pauncefort were extraordinary. She still had a
lurking suspicion that the gentleman was Lord Cadurcis and she seized
the first opportunity of leaving the room, and flouncing into that of
the stranger, as if by mistake, determined to catch a glimpse of him;
but all her notable skill was baffled, for she had scarcely opened the
door before she was met by the Italian lady, who received Mistress
Pauncefort's ready-made apology, and bowed her away. The faithful
attendant then hurried downstairs to crossexamine the waiter, but,
though she gained considerable information from that functionary, it
was of a perplexing nature; for from him she only learnt that the
stranger lived at Arquâ. 'The German gentleman!' soliloquised Mistress
Pauncefort; 'and what could he have to say to Miss Venetia! and a
married man, too! Well, to be sure, there is nothing like travelling
for adventures! And I must say, considering all that I know, and how
I have held my tongue for nearly twenty years, I think it is very
strange indeed of my lady to have any secrets from me. Secrets,
indeed! Poh!' and Mistress Pauncefort flounced again into Lady
Annabel's room, with a face of offended pride, knocking the books
about, dashing down writing cases, tossing about work, and making as
much noise and disturbance as if she had a separate quarrel with every
single article under her superintendence.

In the meantime the carriage was prepared, to which they were obliged
almost to carry Venetia, feeble and stupefied with grief. Uncertain
of her course, but anxious, in the present state of her daughter, for
rest and quiet, Lady Annabel ordered the courier to proceed to Padua,
at which city they arrived late at night, scarcely a word having been
interchanged during the whole journey between Lady Annabel and her
child, though infinite were the soft and soothing attentions which the
mother lavished upon her. Night, however, brought no rest to Venetia;
and the next day, her state appeared so alarming to Lady Annabel, that
she would have instantly summoned medical assistance, had it not been
for Venetia's strong objections. 'Indeed, dear mother,' she said,
'it is not physicians that I require. They cannot cure me. Let me be
quiet.'

The same cause, indeed, which during the last five years had at
intervals so seriously menaced the existence of this unhappy girl, was
now at work with renovated and even irresistible influence. Her frame
could no longer endure the fatal action of her over-excited nerves.
Her first illness, however alarming, had been baffled by time, skill,
and principally by the vigour of an extremely youthful frame, then a
stranger to any serious indisposition. At a later period, the change
of life induced by their residence at Weymouth had permitted her again
to rally. She had quitted England with renewed symptoms of her former
attack, but a still more powerful change, not only of scene, but of
climate and country, and the regular and peaceful life she had led on
the Lago Maggiore, had again reassured the mind of her anxious mother.
This last adventure at Rovigo, however, prostrated her. The strange
surprise, the violent development of feeling, the agonising doubts and
hopes, the terrible suspense the profound and bitter and overwhelming
disappointment, all combined to shake her mind to its very
foundations. She felt for the first time, that she could no longer
bear up against the torture of her singular position. Her energy was
entirely exhausted; she was no longer capable of making the slightest
exertion; she took refuge in that torpid resignation that results from
utter hopelessness.

Lying on her sofa with her eyes fixed in listless abstraction, the
scene at Rovigo flitted unceasingly before her languid vision. At
length she had seen that father, that unknown and mysterious father,
whose idea had haunted her infancy as if by inspiration; to gain
the slightest knowledge of whom had cost her many long and acute
suffering; and round whose image for so many years every thought of
her intelligence, and every feeling of her heart, had clustered like
spirits round some dim and mystical altar, At length she had beheld
him; she had gazed on that spiritual countenance; she had listened to
the tender accents of that musical voice; within his arms she had been
folded with rapture, and pressed to a heart that seemed to beat
only for her felicity. The blessing of her father, uttered by his
long-loved lips, had descended on her brow, and been sealed with his
passionate embrace.

The entrance of her mother, that terrible contest of her lacerated
heart, when her two parents, as it were, appealed to her love, which
they would not share; the inspiration of her despair, that so suddenly
had removed the barriers of long years, before whose irresistible
pathos her father had bent a penitent, and her mother's inexorable
pride had melted; the ravishing bliss that for a moment had thrilled
through her, being experienced too for the first time, when she felt
that her parents were again united and bound by the sweet tie of her
now happy existence; this was the drama acted before her with an
almost ceaseless repetition of its transporting incidents; and when
she looked round, and beheld her mother sitting alone, and watching
her with a countenance almost of anguish, it was indeed with extreme
difficulty that Venetia could persuade herself that all had not been a
reverie; and she was only convinced of the contrary by that heaviness
of the heart which too quickly assures us of the reality of those
sorrows of which fancy for a moment may cheat us into scepticism.

And indeed her mother was scarcely less miserable. The sight of
Herbert, so changed from the form that she remembered; those tones of
heart-rending sincerity, in which he had mournfully appealed to the
influence of time and sorrow on his life, still greatly affected her.
She had indulged for a moment in a dream of domestic love, she had
cast to the winds the inexorable determination of a life, and had
mingled her tears with those of her husband and her child. And how
had she been repaid? By a degrading catastrophe, from whose revolting
associations her mind recoiled with indignation and disgust. But her
lingering feeling for her husband, her own mortification, were as
nothing compared with the harrowing anxiety she now entertained for
her daughter. To converse with Venetia on the recent occurrence was
impossible. It was a subject which admitted of no discussion. They
had passed a week at Padua, and the slightest allusion to what had
happened had never been made by either Lady Annabel or her child. It
was only by her lavish testimonies of affection that Lady Annabel
conveyed to Venetia how deeply she sympathised with her, and how
unhappy she was herself. She had, indeed, never quitted for a moment
the side of her daughter, and witnessed each day, with renewed
anguish, her deplorable condition; for Venetia continued in a state
which, to those unacquainted with her, might have been mistaken for
insensibility, but her mother knew too well that it was despair.
She never moved, she never sighed, nor wept; she took no notice of
anything that occurred; she sought relief in no resources. Books, and
drawings, and music, were quite forgotten by her; nothing amused, and
nothing annoyed her; she was not even fretful; she had, apparently,
no physical ailment; she remained pale and silent, plunged in an
absorbing paroxysm of overwhelming woe.

The unhappy Lady Annabel, at a loss how to act, at length thought it
might be advisable to cross over to Venice. She felt assured now, that
it would be a long time, if ever, before her child could again endure
the fatigue of travel; and she thought that for every reason, whether
for domestic comfort or medical advice, or those multifarious
considerations which interest the invalid, a capital was by far the
most desirable residence for them. There was a time when a visit to
the city that had given her a name had been a favourite dream of
Venetia; she had often sighed to be within

The sea-born city's walls; the graceful towers
Loved by the bard.

Those lines of her father had long echoed in her ear; but now the
proposition called no light to her glazed eye, nor summoned for an



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliVenetia → online text (page 29 of 38)