Venetia, page 1
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 haveentered into some details as to the principles which had guided me inits composition, and the feelings with which I had attempted to shadowforth, though as 'in in a glass darkly,' two of the most renowned andrefined spirits that have adorned these our latter days. But now Iwill only express a hope that the time may come when, in these pages,you may find some relaxation from the cares, and some distractionfrom the sorrows, of existence, and that you will then receive thisdedication 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 wassituate in one of our midland counties, on the borders of an extensiveforest, an ancient hall that belonged to the Herberts, but which,though ever well preserved, had not until that period been visited byany member of the family, since the exile of the Stuarts. It was anedifice of considerable size, built of grey stone, much covered withivy, and placed upon the last gentle elevation of a long ridge ofhills, in the centre of a crescent of woods, that far overtopped itsclusters of tall chimneys and turreted gables. Although the principalchambers were on the first story, you could nevertheless step forthfrom their windows on a broad terrace, whence you descended into thegardens by a double flight of stone steps, exactly in the middleof its length. These gardens were of some extent, and filled withevergreen shrubberies of remarkable overgrowth, while occasionallyturfy vistas, cut in the distant woods, came sloping down to thesouth, as if they opened to receive the sunbeam that greeted thegenial aspect of the mansion, The ground-floor was principallyoccupied by the hall itself, which was of great dimensions, hung roundwith many a family portrait and rural picture, furnished with longoaken seats covered with scarlet cushions, and ornamented with aparti-coloured floor of alternate diamonds of black and white marble.From the centre of the roof of the mansion, which was always coveredwith pigeons, rose the clock-tower of the chapel, surmounted by avane; and before the mansion itself was a large plot of grass, with afountain in the centre, surrounded by a hedge of honeysuckle.
This plot of grass was separated from an extensive park, that openedin front of the hall, by tall iron gates, on each of the pillars ofwhich was a lion rampant supporting the escutcheon of the family. Thedeer wandered in this enclosed and well-wooded demesne, and about amile from the mansion, in a direct line with the iron gates, was anold-fashioned lodge, which marked the limit of the park, and fromwhich you emerged into a fine avenue of limes bounded on both sidesby fields. At the termination of this avenue was a strong but simplegate, and a woodman's cottage; and then spread before you a vastlandscape of open, wild lands, which seemed on one side interminable,while on the other the eye rested on the dark heights of theneighbouring forest.
This picturesque and secluded abode was the residence of Lady AnnabelHerbert and her daughter, the young and beautiful Venetia, a child, atthe time when our history commences, of very tender age. It was nearlyseven years since Lady Annabel and her infant daughter had sought theretired shades of Cherbury, which they had never since quitted. Theylived alone and for each other; the mother educated her child, andthe child interested her mother by her affectionate disposition,the development of a mind of no ordinary promise, and a sort ofcaptivating grace and charming playfulness of temper, which wereextremely delightful. Lady Annabel was still young and lovely. Thatshe was wealthy her establishment clearly denoted, and she was adaughter of one of the haughtiest houses in the kingdom. It wasstrange then that, with all the brilliant accidents of birth, andbeauty, and fortune, she should still, as it were in the morning ofher life, have withdrawn to this secluded mansion, in a county whereshe was personally unknown, distant from the metropolis, estrangedfrom all her own relatives and connexions, and without resource ofeven a single neighbour, for the only place of importance in hervicinity was uninhabited. The general impression of the villagers wasthat Lady Annabel was a widow; and yet there were some speculatorswho would shrewdly remark, that her ladyship had never worn weeds,although her husband could not have been long dead when she firstarrived at Cherbury. On the whole, however, these good people were notvery inquisitive; and it was fortunate for them, for there was littlechance and slight means of gratifying their curiosity. The whole ofthe establishment had been formed at Cherbury, with the exception ofher ladyship's waiting-woman, Mistress Pauncefort, and she was by fartoo great a personage to condescend to reply to any question which wasnot made to her by Lady Annabel herself.
The beauty of the young Venetia was not the hereditary gift of herbeautiful mother. It was not from Lady Annabel that Venetia Herberthad derived those seraphic locks that fell over her shoulders anddown her neck in golden streams, nor that clear grey eye even, whosechildish glance might perplex the gaze of manhood, nor that littleaquiline nose, that gave a haughty expression to a countenance thathad never yet dreamed of pride, nor that radiant complexion, thatdazzled with its brilliancy, like some winged minister of Raffael orCorreggio. The peasants that passed the lady and her daughter in theirwalks, and who blessed her as they passed, for all her grace andgoodness, often marvelled why so fair a mother and so fair a childshould be so dissimilar, that one indeed might be compared to a starrynight, and the other to a sunny day.
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