Part 7 out of 9
experienced, and they revealed to him the immensity of the stake which he
was hazarding on a most uncertain die.
The next morning he called in the Rue Rivoli, and was informed that the
family were not at home. He was returning under the arcades, towards the
Rue St. Florentin, when Sidonia passed him in an opposite direction, on
horseback, and at a rapid rate. Coningsby, who was not observed by him,
could not resist a strange temptation to watch for a moment his progress.
He saw him enter the court of the hotel where the Wallinger family were
staying. Would he come forth immediately? No. Coningsby stood still and
pale. Minute followed minute. Coningsby flattered himself that Sidonia was
only speaking to the porter. Then he would fain believe Sidonia was
writing a note. Then, crossing the street, he mounted by some steps the
terrace of the Tuileries, nearly opposite the Hotel of the Minister of
Finance, and watched the house. A quarter of an hour elapsed; Sidonia did
not come forth. They were at home to him; only to him. Sick at heart,
infinitely wretched, scarcely able to guide his steps, dreading even to
meet an acquaintance, and almost feeling that his tongue would refuse the
office of conversation, he contrived to reach his grandfather's hotel, and
was about to bury himself in his chamber, when on the staircase he met
Coningsby had not seen her for the last fortnight. Seeing her now, his
heart smote him for his neglect, excusable as it really was. Any one else
at this time he would have hurried by without a recognition, but the
gentle and suffering Flora was too meek to be rudely treated by so kind a
heart as Coningsby's.
He looked at her; she was pale and agitated. Her step trembled, while she
still hastened on.
'What is the matter?' inquired Coningsby.
'My Lord, the Marchioness, are in danger, thrown from their carriage.'
Briefly she detailed to Coningsby all that had occurred; that M.
Villebecque had already repaired to them; that she herself only this
moment had learned the intelligence that seemed to agitate her to the
centre. Coningsby instantly turned with her; but they had scarcely emerged
from the courtyard when the carriage approached that brought Lord and Lady
Monmouth home. They followed it into the court. They were immediately at
'All is right, Harry,' said the Marquess, calm and grave.
Coningsby pressed his grandfather's hand. Then he assisted Lucretia to
'I am quite well,' she said, 'now.'
'But you must lean on me, dearest Lady Monmouth,' Coningsby said in a tone
of tenderness, as he felt Lucretia almost sinking from him. And he
supported her into the hall of the hotel.
Lord Monmouth had lingered behind. Flora crept up to him, and with
unwonted boldness offered her arm to the Marquess. He looked at her with a
glance of surprise, and then a softer expression, one indeed of an almost
winning sweetness, which, though rare, was not a stranger to his
countenance, melted his features, and taking the arm so humbly presented,
'Ma Petite, you look more frightened than any of us. Poor child!'
He had reached the top of the flight of steps; he withdrew his arm from
Flora, and thanked her with all his courtesy.
'You are not hurt, then, sir?' she ventured to ask with a look that
expressed the infinite solicitude which her tongue did not venture to
'By no means, my good little girl;' and he extended his hand to her, which
she reverently bent over and embraced.
When Coningsby had returned to his grandfather's hotel that morning, it
was with a determination to leave Paris the next day for England; but the
accident to Lady Monmouth, though, as it ultimately appeared, accompanied
by no very serious consequences, quite dissipated this intention. It was
impossible to quit them so crudely at such a moment. So he remained
another day, and that was the day preceding Sidonia's fete, which he
particularly resolved not to attend. He felt it quite impossible that he
could again endure the sight of either Sidonia or Edith. He looked upon
them as persons who had deeply injured him; though they really were
individuals who had treated him with invariable kindness. But he felt
their existence was a source of mortification and misery to him. With
these feelings, sauntering away the last hours at Paris, disquieted,
uneasy; no present, no future; no enjoyment, no hope; really, positively,
undeniably unhappy; unhappy too for the first time in his life; the first
unhappiness; what a companion piece for the first love! Coningsby, of all
places in the world, in the gardens of the Luxembourg, encountered Sir
Joseph Wallinger and Edith.
To avoid them was impossible; they met face to face; and Sir Joseph
stopped, and immediately reminded him that it was three days since they
had seen him, as if to reproach him for so unprecedented a neglect. And it
seemed that Edith, though she said not as much, felt the same. And
Coningsby turned round and walked with them. He told them he was going to
leave Paris on the morrow.
'And miss Monsieur de Sidonia's fete, of which we have all talked so
much!' said Edith, with unaffected surprise, and an expression of
disappointment which she in vain attempted to conceal.
'The festival will not be less gay for my absence,' said Coningsby, with
that plaintive moroseness not unusual to despairing lovers.
'If we were all to argue from the same premises, and act accordingly,'
said Edith, 'the saloons would be empty. But if any person's absence would
be remarked, I should really have thought it would be yours. I thought you
were one of Monsieur de Sidonia's great friends?'
'He has no friends,' said Coningsby. 'No wise man has. What are friends?
Edith looked much astonished. And then she said,
'I am sure you have not quarrelled with Monsieur de Sidonia, for we have
just parted with him.'
'I have no doubt you have,' thought Coningsby.
'And it is impossible to speak of another in higher terms than he spoke of
you.' Sir Joseph observed how unusual it was for Monsieur de Sidonia to
express himself so warmly.
'Sidonia is a great man, and carries everything before him,' said
Coningsby. 'I am nothing; I cannot cope with him; I retire from the
'What field?' inquired Sir Joseph, who did not clearly catch the drift of
these observations. 'It appears to me that a field for action is exactly
what Sidonia wants. There is no vent for his abilities and intelligence.
He wastes his energy in travelling from capital to capital like a King's
messenger. The morning after his fete he is going to Madrid.'
This brought some reference to their mutual movements. Edith spoke of her
return to Lancashire, of her hope that Mr. Coningsby would soon see
Oswald; but Mr. Coningsby informed her that though he was going to leave
Paris, he had no intention of returning to England; that he had not yet
quite made up his mind whither he should go; but thought that he should
travel direct to St. Petersburg. He wished to travel overland to
Astrachan. That was the place he was particularly anxious to visit.
After this incomprehensible announcement, they walked on for some minutes
in silence, broken only by occasional monosyllables, with which Coningsby
responded at hazard to the sound remarks of Sir Joseph. As they approached
the Palace a party of English who were visiting the Chamber of Peers, and
who were acquainted with the companions of Coningsby, encountered them.
Amid the mutual recognitions, Coningsby, was about to take his leave
somewhat ceremoniously, but Edith held forth her hand, and said,
'Is this indeed farewell?'
His heart was agitated, his countenance changed; he retained her hand amid
the chattering tourists, too full of their criticisms and their
egotistical commonplaces to notice what was passing. A sentimental
ebullition seemed to be on the point of taking place. Their eyes met. The
look of Edith was mournful and inquiring.
'We will say farewell at the ball,' said Coningsby, and she rewarded him
with a radiant smile.
Sidonia lived in the Faubourg St. Germain, in a large hotel that, in old
days, had belonged to the Crillons; but it had received at his hands such
extensive alterations, that nothing of the original decoration, and little
of its arrangement, remained.
A flight of marble steps, ascending from a vast court, led into a hall of
great dimensions, which was at the same time an orangery and a gallery of
sculpture. It was illumined by a distinct, yet soft and subdued light,
which harmonised with the beautiful repose of the surrounding forms, and
with the exotic perfume that was wafted about. A gallery led from this
hall to an inner hall of quite a different character; fantastic,
glittering, variegated; full of strange shapes and dazzling objects.
The roof was carved and gilt in that honeycomb style prevalent in the
Saracenic buildings; the walls were hung with leather stamped in rich and
vivid patterns; the floor was a flood of mosaic; about were statues of
negroes of human size with faces of wild expression, and holding in their
outstretched hands silver torches that blazed with an almost painful
From this inner hall a double staircase of white marble led to the grand
suite of apartments.
These saloons, lofty, spacious, and numerous, had been decorated
principally in encaustic by the most celebrated artists of Munich. The
three principal rooms were only separated from each other by columns,
covered with rich hangings, on this night drawn aside. The decoration of
each chamber was appropriate to its purpose. On the walls of the ball-room
nymphs and heroes moved in measure in Sicilian landscapes, or on the azure
shores of Aegean waters. From the ceiling beautiful divinities threw
garlands on the guests, who seemed surprised that the roses, unwilling to
quit Olympus, would not descend on earth. The general effect of this fair
chamber was heightened, too, by that regulation of the house which did not
permit any benches in the ball-room. That dignified assemblage who are
always found ranged in precise discipline against the wall, did not here
mar the flowing grace of the festivity. The chaperons had no cause to
complain. A large saloon abounded in ottomans and easy chairs at their
service, where their delicate charges might rest when weary, or find
distraction when not engaged.
All the world were at this fete of Sidonia. It exceeded in splendour and
luxury every entertainment that had yet been given. The highest rank, even
Princes of the blood, beauty, fashion, fame, all assembled in a
magnificent and illuminated palace, resounding with exquisite melody.
Coningsby, though somewhat depressed, was not insensible to the magic of
the scene. Since the passage in the gardens of the Luxembourg, that tone,
that glance, he had certainly felt much relieved, happier. And yet if all
were, with regard to Sidonia, as unfounded as he could possibly desire,
where was he then? Had he forgotten his grandfather, that fell look, that
voice of intense detestation? What was Millbank to him? Where, what was
the mystery? for of some he could not doubt. The Spanish parentage of
Edith had only more perplexed Coningsby. It offered no solution. There
could be no connection between a Catalan family and his mother, the
daughter of a clergyman in a midland county. That there was any
relationship between the Millbank family and his mother was contradicted
by the conviction in which he had been brought up, that his mother had no
relations; that she returned to England utterly friendless; without a
relative, a connection, an acquaintance to whom she could appeal. Her
complete forlornness was stamped upon his brain. Tender as were his years
when he was separated from her, he could yet recall the very phrases in
which she deplored her isolation; and there were numerous passages in her
letters which alluded to it. Coningsby had taken occasion to sound the
Wallingers on this subject; but he felt assured, from the manner in which
his advances were met, that they knew nothing of his mother, and
attributed the hostility of Mr. Millbank to his grandfather, solely to
political emulation and local rivalries. Still there were the portrait and
the miniature. That was a fact; a clue which ultimately, he was persuaded,
must lead to some solution.
Coningsby had met with great social success at Paris. He was at once a
favourite. The Parisian dames decided in his favour. He was a specimen of
the highest style of English beauty, which is popular in France. His air
was acknowledged as distinguished. The men also liked him; he had not
quite arrived at that age when you make enemies. The moment, therefore,
that he found himself in the saloons of Sidonia, he was accosted by many
whose notice was flattering; but his eye wandered, while he tried to be
courteous and attempted to be sprightly. Where was she? He had nearly
reached the ball-room when he met her. She was on the arm of Lord
Beaumanoir, who had made her acquaintance at Rome, and originally claimed
it as the member of a family who, as the reader may perhaps not forget,
had experienced some kindnesses from the Millbanks.
There were mutual and hearty recognitions between the young men; great
explanations where they had been, what they were doing, where they were
going. Lord Beaumanoir told Coningsby he had introduced steeple-chases at
Rome, and had parted with Sunbeam to the nephew of a Cardinal. Coningsby
securing Edith's hand for the next dance, they all moved on together to
Lady Wallinger was indulging in some Roman reminiscences with the
'And you are not going to Astrachan to-morrow?' said Edith.
'Not to-morrow,' said Coningsby.
'You know that you said once that life was too stirring in these days to
permit travel to a man?'
'I wish nothing was stirring,' said Coningsby. 'I wish nothing to change.
All that I wish is, that this fete should never end.'
'Is it possible that you can be capricious? You perplex me very much.'
'Am I capricious because I dislike change?'
'It was the air of the Luxembourg that reminded me of the Desert,' said
Soon after this Coningsby led Edith to the dance. It was at a ball that he
had first met her at Paris, and this led to other reminiscences; all most
interesting. Coningsby was perfectly happy. All mysteries, all
difficulties, were driven from his recollection; he lived only in the
exciting and enjoyable present. Twenty-one and in love!
Some time after this, Coningsby, who was inevitably separated from Edith,
met his host.
'Where have you been, child,' said Sidonia, 'that I have not seen you for
some days? I am going to Madrid tomorrow.'
'And I must think, I suppose, of Cambridge.'
'Well, you have seen something; you will find it more profitable when you
have digested it: and you will have opportunity. That's the true spring of
wisdom: meditate over the past. Adventure and Contemplation share our
being like day and night.'
The resolute departure for England on the morrow had already changed into
a supposed necessity of thinking of returning to Cambridge. In fact,
Coningsby felt that to quit Paris and Edith was an impossibility. He
silenced the remonstrance of his conscience by the expedient of keeping a
half-term, and had no difficulty in persuading himself that a short delay
in taking his degree could not really be of the slightest consequence.
It was the hour for supper. The guests at a French ball are not seen to
advantage at this period. The custom of separating the sexes for this
refreshment, and arranging that the ladies should partake of it by
themselves, though originally founded in a feeling of consideration and
gallantry, and with the determination to secure, under all circumstances,
the convenience and comfort of the fair sex, is really, in its appearance
and its consequences, anything but European, and produces a scene which
rather reminds one of the harem of a sultan than a hall of chivalry. To
judge from the countenances of the favoured fair, they are not themselves
particularly pleased; and when their repast is over they necessarily
return to empty halls, and are deprived of the dance at the very moment
when they may feel most inclined to participate in its graceful
These somewhat ungracious circumstances, however, were not attendant on
the festival of this night. There was opened in the Hotel of Sidonia for
the first time a banqueting-room which could contain with convenience all
the guests. It was a vast chamber of white marble, the golden panels of
the walls containing festive sculptures by Schwanthaler, relieved by
encaustic tinting. In its centre was a fountain, a group of Bacchantes
encircling Dionysos; and from this fountain, as from a star, diverged the
various tables from which sprang orange-trees in fruit and flower.
The banquet had but one fault; Coningsby was separated from Edith. The
Duchess of Grand Cairo, the beautiful wife of the heir of one of the
Imperial illustrations, had determined to appropriate Coningsby as her
cavalier for the moment. Distracted, he made his escape; but his wandering
eye could not find the object of its search; and he fell prisoner to the
charming Princess de Petitpoix, a Carlist chieftain, whose witty words
avenged the cause of fallen dynasties and a cashiered nobility.
Behold a scene brilliant in fancy, magnificent in splendour! All the
circumstances of his life at this moment were such as acted forcibly on
the imagination of Coningsby. Separated from Edith, he had still the
delight of seeing her the paragon of that bright company, the consummate
being whom he adored! and who had spoken to him in a voice sweeter than a
serenade, and had bestowed on him a glance softer than moonlight! The lord
of the palace, more distinguished even for his capacity than his boundless
treasure, was his chosen friend; gained under circumstances of romantic
interest, when the reciprocal influence of their personal qualities was
affected by no accessory knowledge of their worldly positions. He himself
was in the very bloom of youth and health; the child of a noble house,
rich for his present wants, and with a future of considerable fortunes.
Entrancing love and dazzling friendship, a high ambition and the pride of
knowledge, the consciousness of a great prosperity, the vague, daring
energies of the high pulse of twenty-one, all combined to stimulate his
sense of existence, which, as he looked around him at the beautiful
objects and listened to the delicious sounds, seemed to him a dispensation
of almost supernatural ecstasy.
About an hour after this, the ball-room still full, but the other saloons
gradually emptying, Coningsby entered a chamber which seemed deserted. Yet
he heard sounds, as it were, of earnest conversation. It was the voice
that invited his progress; he advanced another step, then suddenly
stopped. There were two individuals in the room, by whom he was unnoticed.
They were Sidonia and Miss Millbank. They were sitting on a sofa, Sidonia
holding her hand and endeavouring, as it seemed, to soothe her. Her tones
were tremulous; but the expression of her face was fond and confiding. It
was all the work of a moment. Coningsby instantly withdrew, yet could not
escape hearing an earnest request from Edith to her companion that he
would write to her.
In a few seconds Coningsby had quitted the hotel of Sidonia, and the next
day found him on his road to England.
END OF BOOK VI.
It was one of those gorgeous and enduring sunsets that seemed to linger as
if they wished to celebrate the mid-period of the year. Perhaps the
beautiful hour of impending twilight never exercises a more effective
influence on the soul than when it descends on the aspect of some distant
and splendid city. What a contrast between the serenity and repose of our
own bosoms and the fierce passions and destructive cares girt in the walls
of that multitude whose domes and towers rise in purple lustre against the
And yet the disturbing emotions of existence and the bitter inheritance of
humanity should exercise but a modified sway, and entail but a light
burden, within the circle of the city into which the next scene of our
history leads us. For it is the sacred city of study, of learning, and of
faith; and the declining beam is resting on the dome of the Radcliffe,
lingering on the towers of Christchurch and Magdalen, sanctifying the
spires and pinnacles of holy St. Mary's.
A young Oxonian, who had for some time been watching the city in the
sunset, from a rising ground in its vicinity, lost, as it would seem, in
meditation, suddenly rose, and looking at his watch, as if remindful of
some engagement, hastened his return at a rapid pace. He reached the High
Street as the Blenheim light post coach dashed up to the Star Hotel, with
that brilliant precision which even the New Generation can remember, and
yet which already ranks among the traditions of English manners. A
peculiar and most animating spectacle used to be the arrival of a
firstrate light coach in a country town! The small machine, crowded with
so many passengers, the foaming and curvetting leaders, the wheelers more
steady and glossy, as if they had not done their ten miles in the hour,
the triumphant bugle of the guard, and the haughty routine with which the
driver, as he reached his goal, threw his whip to the obedient ostlers in
attendance; and, not least, the staring crowd, a little awestruck, and
looking for the moment at the lowest official of the stable with
considerable respect, altogether made a picture which one recollects with
cheerfulness, and misses now in many a dreary market-town.
Our Oxonian was a young man about the middle height, and naturally of a
thoughtful expression and rather reserved mien. The general character of
his countenance was, indeed, a little stern, but it broke into an almost
bewitching smile, and a blush suffused his face, as he sprang forward and
welcomed an individual about the same age, who had jumped off the
'Well, Coningsby!' he exclaimed, extending both his hands.
'By Jove! my dear Millbank, we have met at last,' said his friend.
And here we must for a moment revert to what had occurred to Coningsby
since he so suddenly quitted Paris at the beginning of the year. The wound
he had received was deep to one unused to wounds. Yet, after all, none had
outraged his feelings, no one had betrayed his hopes. He had loved one who
had loved another. Misery, but scarcely humiliation. And yet 'tis a bitter
pang under any circumstances to find another preferred to yourself. It is
about the same blow as one would probably feel if falling from a balloon.
Your Icarian flight melts into a grovelling existence, scarcely superior
to that of a sponge or a coral, or redeemed only from utter insensibility
by your frank detestation of your rival. It is quite impossible to conceal
that Coningsby had imbibed for Sidonia a certain degree of aversion,
which, in these days of exaggerated phrase, might even be described as
hatred. And Edith was so beautiful! And there had seemed between them a
sympathy so native and spontaneous, creating at once the charm of intimacy
without any of the disenchanting attributes that are occasionally its
consequence. He would recall the tones of her voice, the expression of her
soft dark eye, the airy spirit and frank graciousness, sometimes even the
flattering blush, with which she had ever welcomed one of whom she had
heard so long and so kindly. It seemed, to use a sweet and homely phrase,
that they were made for each other; the circumstances of their mutual
destinies might have combined into one enchanting fate.
And yet, had she accorded him that peerless boon, her heart, with what
aspect was he to communicate this consummation of all his hopes to his
grandfather, ask Lord Monmouth for his blessing, and the gracious favour
of an establishment for the daughter of his foe, of a man whose name was
never mentioned except to cloud his visage? Ah! what was that mystery that
connected the haughty house of Coningsby with the humble blood of the
Lancashire manufacturer? Why was the portrait of his mother beneath the
roof of Millbank? Coningsby had delicately touched upon the subject both
with Edith and the Wallingers, but the result of his inquiries only
involved the question in deeper gloom. Edith had none but maternal
relatives: more than once she had mentioned this, and the Wallingers, on
other occasions, had confirmed the remark. Coningsby had sometimes drawn
the conversation to pictures, and he would remind her with playfulness of
their first unconscious meeting in the gallery of the Rue Tronchet; then
he remembered that Mr. Millbank was fond of pictures; then he recollected
some specimens of Mr. Millbank's collection, and after touching on several
which could not excite suspicion, he came to 'a portrait, a portrait of a
lady; was it a portrait or an ideal countenance?'
Edith thought she had heard it was a portrait, but she was by no means
certain, and most assuredly was quite unacquainted with the name of the
original, if there were an original.
Coningsby addressed himself to the point with Sir Joseph. He inquired of
the uncle explicitly whether he knew anything on the subject. Sir Joseph
was of opinion that it was something that Millbank had somewhere 'picked
up.' Millbank used often to 'pick up' pictures.
Disappointed in his love, Coningsby sought refuge in the excitement of
study, and in the brooding imagination of an aspiring spirit. The softness
of his heart seemed to have quitted him for ever. He recurred to his
habitual reveries of political greatness and public distinction. And as it
ever seemed to him that no preparation could be complete for the career
which he planned for himself, he devoted himself with increased ardour to
that digestion of knowledge which converts it into wisdom. His life at
Cambridge was now a life of seclusion. With the exception of a few Eton
friends, he avoided all society. And, indeed, his acquisitions during this
term were such as few have equalled, and could only have been mastered by
a mental discipline of a severe and exalted character. At the end of the
term Coningsby took his degree, and in a few days was about to quit that
university where, on the whole, he had passed three serene and happy years
in the society of fond and faithful friends, and in ennobling pursuits. He
had many plans for his impending movements, yet none of them very mature
ones. Lord Vere wished Coningsby to visit his family in the north, and
afterwards to go to Scotland together: Coningsby was more inclined to
travel for a year. Amid this hesitation a circumstance occurred which
decided him to adopt neither of these courses.
It was Commencement, and coming out of the quadrangle of St. John's,
Coningsby came suddenly upon Sir Joseph and Lady Wallinger, who were
visiting the marvels and rarities of the university. They were alone.
Coningsby was a little embarrassed, for he could not forget the abrupt
manner in which he had parted from them; but they greeted him with so much
cordiality that he instantly recovered himself, and, turning, became their
companion. He hardly ventured to ask after Edith: at length, in a
depressed tone and a hesitating manner, he inquired whether they had
lately seen Miss Millbank. He was himself surprised at the extreme light-
heartedness which came over him the moment he heard she was in England, at
Millbank, with her family. He always very much liked Lady Wallinger, but
this morning he hung over her like a lover, lavished on her unceasing and
the most delicate attentions, seemed to exist only in the idea of making
the Wallingers enjoy and understand Cambridge; and no one else was to be
their guide at any place or under any circumstances. He told them exactly
what they were to see; how they were to see it; when they were to see it.
He told them of things which nobody did see, but which they should. He
insisted that Sir Joseph should dine with him in hall; Sir Joseph could
not think of leaving Lady Wallinger; Lady Wallinger could not think of Sir
Joseph missing an opportunity that might never offer again. Besides, they
might both join her after dinner. Except to give her husband a dinner,
Coningsby evidently intended never to leave her side.
And the next morning, the occasion favourable, being alone with the lady,
Sir Joseph bustling about a carriage, Coningsby said suddenly, with a
countenance a little disturbed, and in a low voice, 'I was pleased, I mean
surprised, to hear that there was still a Miss Millbank; I thought by this
time she might have borne another name?'
Lady Wallinger looked at him with an expression of some perplexity, and
then said, 'Yes, Edith was much admired; but she need not be precipitate
in marrying. Marriage is for a woman _the_ event. Edith is too precious to
be carelessly bestowed.'
'But I understood,' said Coningsby, 'when I left Paris,' and here, he
became very confused, 'that Miss Millbank was engaged, on the point of
'Our friend Sidonia.'
'I am sure that Edith would never marry Monsieur de Sidonia, nor Monsieur
de Sidonia, Edith. 'Tis a preposterous idea!' said Lady Wallinger.
'But he very much admired her?' said Coningsby with a searching eye.
'Possibly,' said Lady Wallinger; 'but he never even intimated his
'But he was very attentive to Miss Millbank?'
'Not more than our intimate friendship authorised, and might expect.'
'You have known Sidonia a long time?'
'It was Monsieur de Sidonia's father who introduced us to the care of Mr.
Wallinger,' said Lady Wallinger, 'and therefore I have ever entertained
for his son a sincere regard. Besides, I look upon him as a compatriot.
Recently he has been even more than usually kind to us, especially to
Edith. While we were at Paris he recovered for her a great number of
jewels which had been left to her by her uncle in Spain; and, what she
prized infinitely more, the whole of her mother's correspondence which she
maintained with this relative since her marriage. Nothing but the
influence of Sidonia could have effected this. Therefore, of course, Edith
is attached to him almost as much as I am. In short, he is our dearest
friend; our counsellor in all our cares. But as for marrying him, the idea
is ridiculous to those who know Monsieur Sidonia. No earthly consideration
would ever induce him to impair that purity of race on which he prides
himself. Besides, there are other obvious objections which would render an
alliance between him and my niece utterly impossible: Edith is quite as
devoted to her religion as Monsieur Sidonia can be to his race.'
A ray of light flashed on the brain of Coningsby as Lady Wallinger said
these words. The agitated interview, which never could be explained away,
already appeared in quite a different point of view. He became pensive,
remained silent, was relieved when Sir Joseph, whose return he had
hitherto deprecated, reappeared. Coningsby learnt in the course of the day
that the Wallingers were about to make, and immediately, a visit to
Hellingsley; their first visit; indeed, this was the first year that Mr.
Millbank had taken up his abode there. He did not much like the change of
life, Sir Joseph told Coningsby, but Edith was delighted with Hellingsley,
which Sir Joseph understood was a very distinguished place, with fine
gardens, of which his niece was particularly fond.
When Coningsby returned to his rooms, those rooms which he was soon about
to quit for ever, in arranging some papers preparatory to his removal, his
eye lighted on a too-long unanswered letter of Oswald Millbank. Coningsby
had often projected a visit to Oxford, which he much desired to make, but
hitherto it had been impossible for him to effect it, except in the
absence of Millbank; and he had frequently postponed it that he might
combine his first visit to that famous seat of learning with one to his
old schoolfellow and friend. Now that was practicable. And immediately
Coningsby wrote to apprise Millbank that he had taken his degree, was
free, and prepared to pay him immediately the long-projected visit. Three
years and more had elapsed since they had quitted Eton. How much had
happened in the interval! What new ideas, new feelings, vast and novel
knowledge! Though they had not met, they were nevertheless familiar with
the progress and improvement of each other's minds. Their suggestive
correspondence was too valuable to both of them to have been otherwise
than cherished. And now they were to meet on the eve of entering that
world for which they had made so sedulous a preparation.
There are few things in life more interesting than an unrestrained
interchange of ideas with a congenial spirit, and there are few things
more rare. How very seldom do you encounter in the world a man of great
abilities, acquirements, experience, who will unmask his mind, unbutton
his brains, and pour forth in careless and picturesque phrase all the
results of his studies and observation; his knowledge of men, books, and
nature. On the contrary, if a man has by any chance what he conceives an
original idea, he hoards it as if it were old gold; and rather avoids the
subject with which he is most conversant, from fear that you may
appropriate his best thoughts. One of the principal causes of our renowned
dulness in conversation is our extreme intellectual jealousy. It must be
admitted that in this respect authors, but especially poets, bear the
palm. They never think they are sufficiently appreciated, and live in
tremor lest a brother should distinguish himself. Artists have the repute
of being nearly as bad. And as for a small rising politician, a clever
speech by a supposed rival or suspected candidate for office destroys his
appetite and disturbs his slumbers.
One of the chief delights and benefits of travel is, that one is
perpetually meeting men of great abilities, of original mind, and rare
acquirements, who will converse without reserve. In these discourses the
intellect makes daring leaps and marvellous advances. The tone that
colours our afterlife is often caught in these chance colloquies, and the
bent given that shapes a career.
And yet perhaps there is no occasion when the heart is more open, the
brain more quick, the memory more rich and happy, or the tongue more
prompt and eloquent, than when two school-day friends, knit by every
sympathy of intelligence and affection, meet at the close of their college
careers, after a long separation, hesitating, as it were, on the verge of
active life, and compare together their conclusions of the interval;
impart to each other all their thoughts and secret plans and projects;
high fancies and noble aspirations; glorious visions of personal fame and
Ah! why should such enthusiasm ever die! Life is too short to be little.
Man is never so manly as when he feels deeply, acts boldly, and expresses
himself with frankness and with fervour.
Most assuredly there never was a congress of friendship wherein more was
said and felt than in this meeting, so long projected, and yet perhaps on
the whole so happily procrastinated, between Coningsby and Millbank. In a
moment they seemed as if they had never parted. Their faithful
correspondence indeed had maintained the chain of sentiment unbroken. But
details are only for conversation. Each poured forth his mind without
stint. Not an author that had influenced their taste or judgment but was
canvassed and criticised; not a theory they had framed or a principle they
had adopted that was not confessed. Often, with boyish glee still
lingering with their earnest purpose, they shouted as they discovered that
they had formed the same opinion or adopted the same conclusion. They
talked all day and late into the night. They condensed into a week the
poignant conclusions of three years of almost unbroken study. And one
night, as they sat together in Millbank's rooms at Oriel, their
conversation having for some time taken a political colour, Millbank said,
'Now tell me, Coningsby, exactly what you conceive to be the state of
parties in this country; for it seems to me that if we penetrate the
surface, the classification must be more simple than their many names
'The principle of the exclusive constitution of England having been
conceded by the Acts of 1827-8-32,' said Coningsby, 'a party has arisen in
the State who demand that the principle of political liberalism shall
consequently be carried to its extent; which it appears to them is
impossible without getting rid of the fragments of the old constitution
that remain. This is the destructive party; a party with distinct and
intelligible principles. They seek a specific for the evils of our social
system in the general suffrage of the population.
'They are resisted by another party, who, having given up exclusion, would
only embrace as much liberalism as is necessary for the moment; who,
without any embarrassing promulgation of principles, wish to keep things
as they find them as long as they can, and then will manage them as they
find them as well as they can; but as a party must have the semblance of
principles, they take the names of the things that they have destroyed.
Thus they are devoted to the prerogatives of the Crown, although in truth
the Crown has been stripped of every one of its prerogatives; they affect
a great veneration for the constitution in Church and State, though every
one knows that the constitution in Church and State no longer exists; they
are ready to stand or fall with the "independence of the Upper House of
Parliament", though, in practice, they are perfectly aware that, with
their sanction, "the Upper House" has abdicated its initiatory functions,
and now serves only as a court of review of the legislation of the House
of Commons. Whenever public opinion, which this party never attempts to
form, to educate, or to lead, falls into some violent perplexity, passion,
or caprice, this party yields without a struggle to the impulse, and, when
the storm has passed, attempts to obstruct and obviate the logical and,
ultimately, the inevitable results of the very measures they have
themselves originated, or to which they have consented. This is the
'I care not whether men are called Whigs or Tories, Radicals or Chartists,
or by what nickname a bustling and thoughtless race may designate
themselves; but these two divisions comprehend at present the English
'With regard to the first school, I for one have no faith in the remedial
qualities of a government carried on by a neglected democracy, who, for
three centuries, have received no education. What prospect does it offer
us of those high principles of conduct with which we have fed our
imaginations and strengthened our will? I perceive none of the elements of
government that should secure the happiness of a people and the greatness
of a realm.
'But in my opinion, if Democracy be combated only by Conservatism,
Democracy must triumph, and at no distant date. This, then, is our
position. The man who enters public life at this epoch has to choose
between Political Infidelity and a Destructive Creed.'
'This, then,' said Millbank, 'is the dilemma to which we are brought by
nearly two centuries of Parliamentary Monarchy and Parliamentary Church.'
''Tis true,' said Coningsby. 'We cannot conceal it from ourselves, that
the first has made Government detested, and the second Religion
'Many men in this country,' said Millbank, 'and especially in the class to
which I belong, are reconciled to the contemplation of democracy; because
they have accustomed themselves to believe, that it is the only power by
which we can sweep away those sectional privileges and interests that
impede the intelligence and industry of the community.'
'And yet,' said Coningsby, 'the only way to terminate what, in the
language of the present day, is called Class Legislation, is not to
entrust power to classes. You would find a Locofoco majority as much
addicted to Class Legislation as a factitious aristocracy. The only power
that has no class sympathy is the Sovereign.'
'But suppose the case of an arbitrary Sovereign, what would be your check
'The same as against an arbitrary Parliament.'
'But a Parliament is responsible.'
'To their constituent body.'
'Suppose it was to vote itself perpetual?'
'But public opinion would prevent that.'
'And is public opinion of less influence on an individual than on a body?'
'But public opinion may be indifferent. A nation may be misled, may be
'If the nation that elects the Parliament be corrupt, the elected body
will resemble it. The nation that is corrupt deserves to fall. But this
only shows that there is something to be considered beyond forms of
government, national character. And herein mainly should we repose our
hopes. If a nation be led to aim at the good and the great, depend upon
it, whatever be its form, the government will respond to its convictions
and its sentiments.'
'Do you then declare against Parliamentary government.'
'Far from it: I look upon political change as the greatest of evils, for
it comprehends all. But if we have no faith in the permanence of the
existing settlement, if the very individuals who established it are, year
after year, proposing their modifications or their reconstructions; so
also, while we uphold what exists, ought we to prepare ourselves for the
change we deem impending?
'Now I would not that either ourselves, or our fellow-citizens, should be
taken unawares as in 1832, when the very men who opposed the Reform Bill
offered contrary objections to it which destroyed each other, so ignorant
were they of its real character, its historical causes, its political
consequences. We should now so act that, when the occasions arrives, we
should clearly comprehend what we want, and have formed an opinion as to
the best means by which that want can be supplied.
'For this purpose I would accustom the public mind to the contemplation of
an existing though torpid power in the constitution, capable of removing
our social grievances, were we to transfer to it those prerogatives which
the Parliament has gradually usurped, and used in a manner which has
produced the present material and moral disorganisation. The House of
Commons is the house of a few; the Sovereign is the sovereign of all. The
proper leader of the people is the individual who sits upon the throne.'
'Then you abjure the Representative principle?'
'Why so? Representation is not necessarily, or even in a principal sense,
Parliamentary. Parliament is not sitting at this moment, and yet the
nation is represented in its highest as well as in its most minute
interests. Not a grievance escapes notice and redress. I see in the
newspaper this morning that a pedagogue has brutally chastised his pupil.
It is a fact known over all England. We must not forget that a principle
of government is reserved for our days that we shall not find in our
Aristotles, or even in the forests of Tacitus, nor in our Saxon
Wittenagemotes, nor in our Plantagenet parliaments. Opinion is now
supreme, and Opinion speaks in print. The representation of the Press is
far more complete than the representation of Parliament. Parliamentary
representation was the happy device of a ruder age, to which it was
admirably adapted: an age of semi-civilisation, when there was a leading
class in the community; but it exhibits many symptoms of desuetude. It is
controlled by a system of representation more vigorous and comprehensive;
which absorbs its duties and fulfils them more efficiently, and in which
discussion is pursued on fairer terms, and often with more depth and
'And to what power would you entrust the function of Taxation?'
'To some power that would employ it more discreetly than in creating our
present amount of debt, and in establishing our present system of imposts.
'In a word, true wisdom lies in the policy that would effect its ends by
the influence of opinion, and yet by the means of existing forms.
Nevertheless, if we are forced to revolutions, let us propose to our
consideration the idea of a free monarchy, established on fundamental
laws, itself the apex of a vast pile of municipal and local government,
ruling an educated people, represented by a free and intellectual press.
Before such a royal authority, supported by such a national opinion, the
sectional anomalies of our country would disappear. Under such a system,
where qualification would not be parliamentary, but personal, even
statesmen would be educated; we should have no more diplomatists who could
not speak French, no more bishops ignorant of theology, no more generals-
in-chief who never saw a field.
'Now there is a polity adapted to our laws, our institutions, our
feelings, our manners, our traditions; a polity capable of great ends and
appealing to high sentiments; a polity which, in my opinion, would render
government an object of national affection, which would terminate
sectional anomalies, assuage religious heats, and extinguish Chartism.'
'You said to me yesterday,' said Millbank after a pause, 'quoting the
words of another, which you adopted, that Man was made to adore and to
obey. Now you have shown to me the means by which you deem it possible
that government might become no longer odious to the subject; you have
shown how man may be induced to obey. But there are duties and interests
for man beyond political obedience, and social comfort, and national
greatness, higher interests and greater duties. How would you deal with
their spiritual necessities? You think you can combat political infidelity
in a nation by the principle of enlightened loyalty; how would you
encounter religious infidelity in a state? By what means is the principle
of profound reverence to be revived? How, in short, is man to be led to
'Ah! that is a subject which I have not forgotten,' replied Coningsby. 'I
know from your letters how deeply it has engaged your thoughts. I confess
to you that it has often filled mine with perplexity and depression. When
we were at Eton, and both of us impregnated with the contrary prejudices
in which we had been brought up, there was still between us one common
ground of sympathy and trust; we reposed with confidence and affection in
the bosom of our Church. Time and thought, with both of us, have only
matured the spontaneous veneration of our boyhood. But time and thought
have also shown me that the Church of our heart is not in a position, as
regards the community, consonant with its original and essential
character, or with the welfare of the nation.'
'The character of a Church is universality,' replied Millbank. 'Once the
Church in this country was universal in principle and practice; when
wedded to the State, it continued at least universal in principle, if not
in practice. What is it now? All ties between the State and the Church are
abolished, except those which tend to its danger and degradation.
'What can be more anomalous than the present connection between State and
Church? Every condition on which it was originally consented to has been
cancelled. That original alliance was, in my view, an equal calamity for
the nation and the Church; but, at least, it was an intelligible compact.
Parliament, then consisting only of members of the Established Church,
was, on ecclesiastical matters, a lay synod, and might, in some points of
view, be esteemed a necessary portion of Church government. But you have
effaced this exclusive character of Parliament; you have determined that a
communion with the Established Church shall no longer be part of the
qualification for sitting in the House of Commons. There is no reason, so
far as the constitution avails, why every member of the House of Commons
should not be a dissenter. But the whole power of the country is
concentrated in the House of Commons. The House of Lords, even the Monarch
himself, has openly announced and confessed, within these ten years, that
the will of the House of Commons is supreme. A single vote of the House of
Commons, in 1832, made the Duke of Wellington declare, in the House of
Lords, that he was obliged to abandon his sovereign in "the most difficult
and distressing circumstances." The House of Commons is absolute. It is
the State. "L'Etat c'est moi." The House of Commons virtually appoints the
bishops. A sectarian assembly appoints the bishops of the Established
Church. They may appoint twenty Hoadleys. James II was expelled the throne
because he appointed a Roman Catholic to an Anglican see. A Parliament
might do this to-morrow with impunity. And this is the constitution in
Church and State which Conservative dinners toast! The only consequences
of the present union of Church and State are, that, on the side of the
State, there is perpetual interference in ecclesiastical government, and
on the side of the Church a sedulous avoidance of all those principles on
which alone Church government can be established, and by the influence of
which alone can the Church of England again become universal.'
'But it is urged that the State protects its revenues?'
'No ecclesiastical revenues should be safe that require protection. Modern
history is a history of Church spoliation. And by whom? Not by the people;
not by the democracy. No; it is the emperor, the king, the feudal baron,
the court minion. The estate of the Church is the estate of the people, so
long as the Church is governed on its real principles. The Church is the
medium by which the despised and degraded classes assert the native
equality of man, and vindicate the rights and power of intellect. It made,
in the darkest hour of Norman rule, the son of a Saxon pedlar Primate of
England, and placed Nicholas Breakspear, a Hertfordshire peasant, on the
throne of the Caesars. It would do as great things now, if it were
divorced from the degrading and tyrannical connection that enchains it.
You would have other sons of peasants Bishops of England, instead of men
appointed to that sacred office solely because they were the needy scions
of a factitious aristocracy; men of gross ignorance, profligate habits,
and grinding extortion, who have disgraced the episcopal throne, and
profaned the altar.'
'But surely you cannot justly extend such a description to the present
'Surely not: I speak of the past, of the past that has produced so much
present evil. We live in decent times; frigid, latitudinarian, alarmed,
decorous. A priest is scarcely deemed in our days a fit successor to the
authors of the gospels, if he be not the editor of a Greek play; and he
who follows St. Paul must now at least have been private tutor of some
young nobleman who has taken a good degree! And then you are all
astonished that the Church is not universal! Why! nothing but the
indestructibleness of its principles, however feebly pursued, could have
maintained even the disorganised body that still survives.
'And yet, my dear Coningsby, with all its past errors and all its present
deficiencies, it is by the Church; I would have said until I listened to
you to-night; by the Church alone that I see any chance of regenerating
the national character. The parochial system, though shaken by the fatal
poor-law, is still the most ancient, the most comprehensive, and the most
popular institution of the country; the younger priests are, in general,
men whose souls are awake to the high mission which they have to fulfil,
and which their predecessors so neglected; there is, I think, a rising
feeling in the community, that parliamentary intercourse in matters
ecclesiastical has not tended either to the spiritual or the material
elevation of the humbler orders. Divorce the Church from the State, and
the spiritual power that struggled against the brute force of the dark
ages, against tyrannical monarchs and barbarous barons, will struggle
again in opposition to influences of a different form, but of a similar
tendency; equally selfish, equally insensible, equally barbarising. The
priests of God are the tribunes of the people. O, ignorant! that with such
a mission they should ever have cringed in the antechambers of ministers,
or bowed before parliamentary committees!'
'The Utilitarian system is dead,' said Coningsby. 'It has passed through
the heaven of philosophy like a hailstorm, cold, noisy, sharp, and
peppering, and it has melted away. And yet can we wonder that it found
some success, when we consider the political ignorance and social torpor
which it assailed? Anointed kings turned into chief magistrates, and
therefore much overpaid; estates of the realm changed into parliaments of
virtual representation, and therefore requiring real reform; holy Church
transformed into national establishment, and therefore grumbled at by all
the nation for whom it was not supported. What an inevitable harvest of
sedition, radicalism, infidelity! I really think there is no society,
however great its resources, that could long resist the united influences
of chief magistrate, virtual representation, and Church establishment!'
'I have immense faith in the new generation,' said Millbank, eagerly.
'It is a holy thing to see a state saved by its youth,' said Coningsby;
and then he added, in a tone of humility, if not of depression, 'But what
a task! What a variety of qualities, what a combination of circumstances
is requisite! What bright abilities and what noble patience! What
confidence from the people, what favour from the Most High!'
'But He will favour us,' said Millbank. 'And I say to you as Nathan said
unto David, "Thou art the man!" You were our leader at Eton; the friends
of your heart and boyhood still cling and cluster round you! they are all
men whose position forces them into public life. It is a nucleus of
honour, faith, and power. You have only to dare. And will you not dare? It
is our privilege to live in an age when the career of the highest ambition
is identified with the performance of the greatest good. Of the present
epoch it may be truly said, "Who dares to be good, dares to be great."'
'Heaven is above all,' said Coningsby. 'The curtain of our fate is still
undrawn. We are happy in our friends, dear Millbank, and whatever lights,
we will stand together. For myself, I prefer fame to life; and yet, the
consciousness of heroic deeds to the most wide-spread celebrity.'
The beautiful light of summer had never shone on a scene and surrounding
landscape which recalled happier images of English nature, and better
recollections of English manners, than that to which we would now
introduce our readers. One of those true old English Halls, now unhappily
so rare, built in the time of the Tudors, and in its elaborate timber-
framing and decorative woodwork indicating, perhaps, the scarcity of brick
and stone at the period of its structure, as much as the grotesque genius
of its fabricator, rose on a terrace surrounded by ancient and very formal
gardens. The hall itself, during many generations, had been vigilantly and
tastefully preserved by its proprietors. There was not a point which was
not as fresh as if it had been renovated but yesterday. It stood a huge
and strange blending of Grecian, Gothic, and Italian architecture, with a
wild dash of the fantastic in addition. The lantern watch-towers of a
baronial castle were placed in juxtaposition with Doric columns employed
for chimneys, while under oriel windows might be observed Italian doorways
with Grecian pediments. Beyond the extensive gardens an avenue of Spanish
chestnuts at each point of the compass approached the mansion, or led into
a small park which was table-land, its limits opening on all sides to
beautiful and extensive valleys, sparkling with cultivation, except at one
point, where the river Darl formed the boundary of the domain, and then
spread in many a winding through the rich country beyond.
Such was Hellingsley, the new home that Oswald Millbank was about to visit
for the first time. Coningsby and himself had travelled together as far as
Darlford, where their roads diverged, and they had separated with an
engagement on the part of Coningsby to visit Hellingsley on the morrow. As
they had travelled along, Coningsby had frequently led the conversation to
domestic topics; gradually he had talked, and talked much of Edith.
Without an obtrusive curiosity, he extracted, unconsciously to his
companion, traits of her character and early days, which filled him with a
wild and secret interest. The thought that in a few hours he was to meet
her again, infused into his being a degree of transport, which the very
necessity of repressing before his companion rendered more magical and
thrilling. How often it happens in life that we have with a grave face to
discourse of ordinary topics, while all the time our heart and memory are
engrossed with some enchanting secret!
The castle of his grandfather presented a far different scene on the
arrival of Coningsby from that which it had offered on his first visit.
The Marquess had given him a formal permission to repair to it at his
pleasure, and had instructed the steward accordingly. But he came without
notice, at a season of the year when the absence of all sports made his
arrival unexpected. The scattered and sauntering household roused
themselves into action, and contemplated the conviction that it might be
necessary to do some service for their wages. There was a stir in that
vast, sleepy castle. At last the steward was found, and came forward to
welcome their young master, whose simple wants were limited to the rooms
he had formerly occupied.
Coningsby reached the castle a little before sunset, almost the same hour
that he had arrived there more than three years ago. How much had happened
in the interval! Coningsby had already lived long enough to find interest
in pondering over the past. That past too must inevitably exercise a great
influence over his present. He recalled his morning drive with his
grandfather, to the brink of that river which was the boundary between his
own domain and Hellingsley. Who dwelt at Hellingsley now?
Restless, excited, not insensible to the difficulties, perhaps the dangers
of his position, yet full of an entrancing emotion in which all thoughts
and feelings seemed to merge, Coningsby went forth into the fair gardens
to muse over his love amid objects as beautiful. A rosy light hung over
the rare shrubs and tall fantastic trees; while a rich yet darker tint
suffused the distant woods. This euthanasia of the day exercises a strange
influence on the hearts of those who love. Who has not felt it? Magical
emotions that touch the immortal part!
But as for Coningsby, the mitigating hour that softens the heart made his
spirit brave. Amid the ennobling sympathies of nature, the pursuits and
purposes of worldly prudence and conventional advantage subsided into
their essential nothingness. He willed to blend his life and fate with a
being beautiful as that nature that subdued him, and he felt in his own
breast the intrinsic energies that in spite of all obstacles should mould
such an imagination into reality.
He descended the slopes, now growing dimmer in the fleeting light, into
the park. The stillness was almost supernatural; the jocund sounds of day
had died, and the voices of the night had not commenced. His heart too was
still. A sacred calm had succeeded to that distraction of emotion which
had agitated him the whole day, while he had mused over his love and the
infinite and insurmountable barriers that seemed to oppose his will. Now
he felt one of those strong groundless convictions that are the
inspirations of passion, that all would yield to him as to one holding an
Onward he strolled; it seemed without purpose, yet always proceeding. A
pale and then gleaming tint stole over the masses of mighty timber; and
soon a glittering light flooded the lawns and glades. The moon was high in
her summer heaven, and still Coningsby strolled on. He crossed the broad
lawns, he traversed the bright glades: amid the gleaming and shadowy
woods, he traced his prescient way.
He came to the bank of a rushing river, foaming in the moonlight, and
wafting on its blue breast the shadow of a thousand stars.
'O river!' he said, 'that rollest to my mistress, bear her, bear her my
Lady Wallinger and Edith were together in the morning room of Hellingsley,
the morrow after the arrival of Oswald. Edith was arranging flowers in a
vase, while her aunt was embroidering a Spanish peasant in correct
costume. The daughter of Millbank looked as bright and fragrant as the
fair creations that surrounded her. Beautiful to watch her as she arranged
their forms and composed their groups; to mark her eye glance with
gratification at some happy combination of colour, or to listen to her
delight as they wafted to her in gratitude their perfume. Oswald and Sir
Joseph were surveying the stables; Mr. Millbank, who had been daily
expected for the last week from the factories, had not yet arrived.
'I must say he gained my heart from the first,' said Lady Wallinger.
'I wish the gardener would send us more roses,' said Edith.
'He is so very superior to any young man I ever met,' continued Lady
'I think we must have this vase entirely of roses; don't you think so,
aunt?' inquired her niece.
'I am fond of roses,' said Lady Wallinger. 'What beautiful bouquets Mr.
Coningsby gave us at Paris, Edith!'
'I must say, I was very happy when I met Mr. Coningsby again at
Cambridge,' said Lady Wallinger. 'It gave me much greater pleasure than
seeing any of the colleges.'
'How delighted Oswald seems at having Mr. Coningsby for a companion
again!' said Edith.
'And very naturally,' said Lady Wallinger. 'Oswald ought to deem himself
fortunate in having such a friend. I am sure the kindness of Mr. Coningsby
when we met him at Cambridge is what I never shall forget. But he always
was my favourite from the first time I saw him at Paris. Do you know,
Edith, I liked him best of all your admirers.'
'Oh! no, aunt,' said Edith, smiling, 'not more than Lord Beaumanoir; you
forget your great favourite, Lord Beaumanoir.'
'But I did not know Mr. Coningsby at Rome,' said Lady Wallinger; 'I cannot
agree that anybody is equal to Mr. Coningsby. I cannot tell you how
pleased I am that he is our neighbour!'
As Lady Wallinger gave a finishing stroke to the jacket of her Andalusian,
Edith, vividly blushing, yet speaking in a voice of affected calmness,
'Here is Mr. Coningsby, aunt.'
And, truly, at this moment our hero might be discerned, approaching the
hall by one of the avenues; and in a few minutes there was a ringing at
the hall bell, and then, after a short pause, the servants announced Mr.
Coningsby, and ushered him into the morning room.
Edith was embarrassed; the frankness and the gaiety of her manner had
deserted her; Coningsby was rather earnest than self-possessed. Each felt
at first that the presence of Lady Wallinger was a relief. The ordinary
topics of conversation were in sufficient plenty; reminiscences of Paris,
impressions of Hellingsley, his visit to Oxford, Lady Wallinger's visit to
Cambridge. In ten minutes their voices seemed to sound to each other as
they did in the Rue de Rivoli, and their mutual perplexity had in a great
Oswald and Sir Joseph now entered the room, and the conversation became
general. Hellingsley was the subject on which Coningsby dwelt; he was
charmed with all that he had seen! wished to see more. Sir Joseph was
quite prepared to accompany him; but Lady Wallinger, who seemed to read
Coningsby's wishes in his eyes, proposed that the inspection should be
general; and in the course of half an hour Coningsby was walking by the
side of Edith, and sympathising with all the natural charms to which her
quick taste and lively expression called his notice and appreciation. Few
things more delightful than a country ramble with a sweet companion!
Exploring woods, wandering over green commons, loitering in shady lanes,
resting on rural stiles; the air full of perfume, the heart full of bliss!
It seemed to Coningsby that he had never been happy before. A thrilling
joy pervaded his being. He could have sung like a bird. His heart was as
sunny as the summer scene. Past and Future were absorbed in the flowing
hour; not an allusion to Paris, not a speculation on what might arrive;
but infinite expressions of agreement, sympathy; a multitude of slight
phrases, that, however couched, had but one meaning, congeniality. He felt
each moment his voice becoming more tender; his heart gushing in soft
expressions; each moment he was more fascinated; her step was grace, her
glance was beauty. Now she touched him by some phrase of sweet simplicity;
or carried him spell-bound by her airy merriment.
Oswald assumed that Coningsby remained to dine with them. There was not
even the ceremony of invitation. Coningsby could not but remember his
dinner at Millbank, and the timid hostess whom he then addressed so often
in vain, as he gazed upon the bewitching and accomplished woman whom he
now passionately loved. It was a most agreeable dinner. Oswald, happy in
his friend being his guest, under his own roof, indulged in unwonted
The ladies withdrew; Sir Joseph began to talk politics, although the young
men had threatened their fair companions immediately to follow them. This
was the period of the Bed-Chamber Plot, when Sir Robert Peel accepted and
resigned power in the course of three days. Sir Joseph, who had originally
made up his mind to support a Conservative government when he deemed it
inevitable, had for the last month endeavoured to compensate for this
trifling error by vindicating the conduct of his friends, and reprobating
the behaviour of those who would deprive her Majesty of the 'friends-of-
her-youth.' Sir Joseph was a most chivalrous champion of the 'friends-of-
her-youth' principle. Sir Joseph, who was always moderate and conciliatory
in his talk, though he would go, at any time, any lengths for his party,
expressed himself to-day with extreme sobriety, as he was determined not
to hurt the feelings of Mr. Coningsby, and he principally confined himself
to urging temperate questions, somewhat in the following fashion:--
'I admit that, on the whole, under ordinary circumstances, it would
perhaps have been more convenient that these appointments should have
remained with Sir Robert; but don't you think that, under the peculiar
circumstances, being friends of her Majesty's youth?' &c. &c.
Sir Joseph was extremely astonished when Coningsby replied that he
thought, under no circumstances, should any appointment in the Royal
Household be dependent on the voice of the House of Commons, though he was
far from admiring the 'friends-of-her-youth' principle, which he looked
upon as impertinent.
'But surely,' said Sir Joseph, 'the Minister being responsible to
Parliament, it must follow that all great offices of State should be
filled at his discretion.'
'But where do you find this principle of Ministerial responsibility?'
'And is not a Minister responsible to his Sovereign?' inquired Millbank.
Sir Joseph seemed a little confused. He had always heard that Ministers
were responsible to Parliament; and he had a vague conviction,
notwithstanding the reanimating loyalty of the Bed-Chamber Plot, that the
Sovereign of England was a nonentity. He took refuge in indefinite
expressions, and observed, 'The Responsibility of Ministers is surely a
'The Ministers of the Crown are responsible to their master; they are not
the Ministers of Parliament.'
'But then you know virtually,' said Sir Joseph, 'the Parliament, that is,
the House of Commons, governs the country.'
'It did before 1832,' said Coningsby; 'but that is all past now. We got
rid of that with the Venetian Constitution.'
'The Venetian Constitution!' said Sir Joseph.
'To be sure,' said Millbank. 'We were governed in this country by the
Venetian Constitution from the accession of the House of Hanover. But that
yoke is past. And now I hope we are in a state of transition from the
Italian Dogeship to the English Monarchy.'
'King, Lords, and Commons, the Venetian Constitution!' exclaimed Sir
'But they were phrases,' said Coningsby, 'not facts. The King was a Doge;
the Cabinet the Council of Ten. Your Parliament, that you call Lords and
Commons, was nothing more than the Great Council of Nobles.'
'The resemblance was complete,' said Millbank, 'and no wonder, for it was
not accidental; the Venetian Constitution was intentionally copied.'
'We should have had the Venetian Republic in 1640,' said Coningsby, 'had
it not been for the Puritans. Geneva beat Venice.'
'I am sure these ideas are not very generally known,' said Sir Joseph,
'Because you have had your history written by the Venetian party,' said
Coningsby, 'and it has been their interest to conceal them.'
'I will venture to say that there are very few men on our side in the
House of Commons,' said Sir Joseph, 'who are aware that they were born
under a Venetian Constitution.'
'Let us go to the ladies,' said Millbank, smiling.
Edith was reading a letter as they entered.
'A letter from papa,' she exclaimed, looking up at her brother with great
animation. 'We may expect him every day; and yet, alas! he cannot fix
They now all spoke of Millbank, and Coningsby was happy that he was
familiar with the scene. At length he ventured to say to Edith, 'You once
made me a promise which you never fulfilled. I shall claim it to-night.'
'And what can that be?'
'The song that you promised me at Millbank more than three years ago.'
'Your memory is good.'
'It has dwelt upon the subject.'
Then they spoke for a while of other recollections, and then Coningsby
appealing to Lady Wallinger for her influence, Edith rose and took up her
guitar. Her voice was rich and sweet; the air she sang gay, even
fantastically frolic, such as the girls of Granada chaunt trooping home
from some country festival; her soft, dark eye brightened with joyous
sympathy; and ever and anon, with an arch grace, she beat the guitar, in
chorus, with her pretty hand.
The moon wanes; and Coningsby must leave these enchanted halls. Oswald
walked homeward with him until he reached the domain of his grandfather.
Then mounting his horse, Coningsby bade his friend farewell till the
morrow, and made his best way to the Castle.
There is a romance in every life. The emblazoned page of Coningsby's
existence was now open. It had been prosperous before, with some moments
of excitement, some of delight; but they had all found, as it were, their
origin in worldly considerations, or been inevitably mixed up with them.
At Paris, for example, he loved, or thought he loved. But there not an
hour could elapse without his meeting some person, or hearing something,
which disturbed the beauty of his emotions, or broke his spell-bound
thoughts. There was his grandfather hating the Millbanks, or Sidonia
loving them; and common people, in the common world, making common
observations on them; asking who they were, or telling who they were; and
brushing the bloom off all life's fresh delicious fancies with their
But now his feelings were ethereal. He loved passionately, and he loved in
a scene and in a society as sweet, as pure, and as refined as his
imagination and his heart. There was no malicious gossip, no callous
chatter to profane his ear and desecrate his sentiment. All that he heard
or saw was worthy of the summer sky, the still green woods, the gushing
river, the gardens and terraces, the stately and fantastic dwellings,
among which his life now glided as in some dainty and gorgeous masque.
All the soft, social, domestic sympathies of his nature, which, however
abundant, had never been cultivated, were developed by the life he was now
leading. It was not merely that he lived in the constant presence, and
under the constant influence of one whom he adored, that made him so
happy. He was surrounded by beings who found felicity in the interchange
of kind feelings and kind words, in the cultivation of happy talents and
refined tastes, and the enjoyment of a life which their own good sense and
their own good hearts made them both comprehend and appreciate. Ambition
lost much of its splendour, even his lofty aspirations something of their
hallowing impulse of paramount duty, when Coningsby felt how much
ennobling delight was consistent with the seclusion of a private station;
and mused over an existence to be passed amid woods and waterfalls with a
fair hand locked in his, or surrounded by his friends in some ancestral
The morning after his first visit to Hellingsley Coningsby rejoined his
friends, as he had promised Oswald at their breakfast-table; and day after
day he came with the early sun, and left them only when the late moon
silvered the keep of Coningsby Castle. Mr. Millbank, who wrote daily, and
was daily to be expected, did not arrive. A week, a week of unbroken
bliss, had vanished away, passed in long rides and longer walks, sunset
saunterings, and sometimes moonlit strolls; talking of flowers, and
thinking of things even sweeter; listening to delicious songs, and
sometimes reading aloud some bright romance or some inspiring lay.
One day Coningsby, who arrived at the hall unexpectedly late; indeed it
was some hours past noon, for he had been detained by despatches which
arrived at the Castle from Mr. Rigby, and which required his
interposition; found the ladies alone, and was told that Sir Joseph and
Oswald were at the fishing-cottage where they wished him to join them. He
was in no haste to do this; and Lady Wallinger proposed that when they
felt inclined to ramble they should all walk down to the fishing-cottage
together. So, seating himself by the side of Edith, who was tinting a
sketch which she had made of a rich oriel of Hellingsley, the morning
passed away in that slight and yet subtle talk in which a lover delights,
and in which, while asking a thousand questions, that seem at the first
glance sufficiently trifling, he is indeed often conveying a meaning that
is not expressed, or attempting to discover a feeling that is hidden. And
these are occasions when glances meet and glances are withdrawn: the
tongue may speak idly, the eye is more eloquent, and often more true.
Coningsby looked up; Lady Wallinger, who had more than once announced that
she was going to put on her bonnet, was gone. Yet still he continued to
talk trifles; and still Edith listened.
'Of all that you have told me,' said Edith, 'nothing pleases me so much as
your description of St. Genevieve. How much I should like to catch the
deer at sunset on the heights! What a pretty drawing it would make!'
'You would like Eustace Lyle,' said Coningsby. 'He is so shy and yet so
'You have such a band of friends! Oswald was saying this morning there was
no one who had so many devoted friends.'
'We are all united by sympathy. It is the only bond of friendship; and yet
'Edith,' said Lady Wallinger, looking into the room from the garden, with
her bonnet on, 'you will find me roaming on the terrace.'
'We come, dear aunt.'
And yet they did not move. There were yet a few pencil touches to be given
to the tinted sketch; Coningsby would cut the pencils.
'Would you give me,' he said, 'some slight memorial of Hellingsley and
your art? I would not venture to hope for anything half so beautiful as
this; but the slightest sketch. It would make me so happy when away to
have it hanging in my room.'
A blush suffused the cheek of Edith; she turned her head a little aside,
as if she were arranging some drawings. And then she said, in a somewhat
hushed and hesitating voice,
'I am sure I will do so; and with pleasure. A view of the Hall itself; I
think that would be the best memorial. Where shall we take it from? We
will decide in our walk?' and she rose, and promised immediately to
return, left the room.
Coningsby leant over the mantel-piece in deep abstraction, gazing vacantly
on a miniature of the father of Edith. A light step roused him; she had
returned. Unconsciously he greeted her with a glance of ineffable
They went forth; it was a grey, sultry day. Indeed it was the covered sky
which had led to the fishing scheme of the morning. Sir Joseph was an
expert and accomplished angler, and the Darl was renowned for its sport.
They lingered before they reached the terrace where they were to find Lady
Wallinger, observing the different points of view which the Hall
presented, and debating which was to form the subject of Coningsby's
drawing; for already it was to be not merely a sketch, but a drawing, the
most finished that the bright and effective pencil of Edith could achieve.
If it really were to be placed in his room, and were to be a memorial of
Hellingsley, her artistic reputation demanded a masterpiece.
They reached the terrace: Lady Wallinger was not there, nor could they
observe her in the vicinity. Coningsby was quite certain that she had gone
onward to the fishing-cottage, and expected them to follow her; and he
convinced Edith of the justness of his opinion. To the fishing-cottage,
therefore, they bent their steps. They emerged from the gardens into the
park, sauntering over the table-land, and seeking as much as possible the
shade, in the soft but oppressive atmosphere. At the limit of the table-
land their course lay by a wild but winding path through a gradual and
wooded declivity. While they were yet in this craggy and romantic
woodland, the big fervent drops began to fall. Coningsby urged Edith to
seek at once a natural shelter; but she, who knew the country, assured him
that the fishing-cottage was close by, and that they might reach it before
the rain could do them any harm.
And truly, at this moment emerging from the wood, they found themselves in
the valley of the Darl. The river here was narrow and winding, but full of
life; rushing, and clear but for the dark sky it reflected; with high
banks of turf and tall trees; the silver birch, above all others, in
clustering groups; infinitely picturesque. At the turn of the river, about
two hundred yards distant, Coningsby observed the low, dark roof of the
fishing-cottage on its banks. They descended from the woods to the margin
of the stream by a flight of turfen steps, Coningsby holding Edith's hand
as he guided her progress.
The drops became thicker. They reached, at a rapid pace, the cottage. The
absent boat indicated that Sir Joseph and Oswald were on the river. The
cottage was an old building of rustic logs, with a shelving roof, so that
you might obtain sufficient shelter without entering its walls. Coningsby
found a rough garden seat for Edith. The shower was now violent.
Nature, like man, sometimes weeps from gladness. It is the joy and
tenderness of her heart that seek relief; and these are summer showers. In
this instance the vehemence of her emotion was transient, though the tears
kept stealing down her cheek for a long time, and gentle sighs and sobs
might for some period be distinguished. The oppressive atmosphere had
evaporated; the grey, sullen tint had disappeared; a soft breeze came
dancing up the stream; a glowing light fell upon the woods and waters; the
perfume of trees and flowers and herbs floated around. There was a
carolling of birds; a hum of happy insects in the air; freshness and stir,
and a sense of joyous life, pervaded all things; it seemed that the heart
of all creation opened.
Coningsby, after repeatedly watching the shower with Edith, and
speculating on its progress, which did not much annoy them, had seated
himself on a log almost at her feet. And assuredly a maiden and a youth
more beautiful and engaging had seldom met before in a scene more fresh
and fair. Edith on her rustic seat watched the now blue and foaming river,
and the birch-trees with a livelier tint, and quivering in the sunset air;
an expression of tranquil bliss suffused her beautiful brow, and spoke
from the thrilling tenderness of her soft dark eye. Coningsby gazed on
that countenance with a glance of entranced rapture. His cheek was
flushed, his eye gleamed with dazzling lustre. She turned her head; she
met that glance, and, troubled, she withdrew her own.
'Edith!' he said in a tone of tremulous passion, 'Let me call you Edith!
Yes,' he continued, gently taking her hand, let me call you my Edith! I
She did not withdraw her hand; but turned away a face flushed as the
It was past the dinner hour when Edith and Coningsby reached the Hall; an
embarrassing circumstance, but mitigated by the conviction that they had
not to encounter a very critical inspection. What, then, were their
feelings when the first servant that they met informed them that Mr.
Millbank had arrived! Edith never could have believed that the return of
her beloved father to his home could ever have been to her other than a
cause of delight. And yet now she trembled when she heard the
announcement. The mysteries of love were fast involving her existence. But
this was not the season of meditation. Her heart was still agitated by the
tremulous admission that she responded to that fervent and adoring love
whose eloquent music still sounded in her ear, and the pictures of whose
fanciful devotion flitted over her agitated vision. Unconsciously she
pressed the arm of Coningsby as the servant spoke, and then, without
looking into his face, whispering him to be quick, she sprang away.
As for Coningsby, notwithstanding the elation of his heart, and the
ethereal joy which flowed in all his veins, the name of Mr. Millbank
sounded, something like a knell. However, this was not the time to
reflect. He obeyed the hint of Edith; made the most rapid toilet that ever
was consummated by a happy lover, and in a few minutes entered the
drawing-room of Hellingsley, to encounter the gentleman whom he hoped by
some means or other, quite inconceivable, might some day be transformed
into his father-in-law, and the fulfilment of his consequent duties
towards whom he had commenced by keeping him waiting for dinner.
'How do you do, sir,' said Mr. Millbank, extending his hand to Coningsby.
'You seem to have taken a long walk.'
Coningsby looked round to the kind Lady Wallinger, and half addressed his
murmured answer to her, explaining how they had lost her, and their way,
and were caught in a storm or a shower, which, as it terminated about
three hours back, and the fishing-cottage was little more than a mile from
the Hall, very satisfactorily accounted for their not being in time for
Lady Wallinger then said something about the lowering clouds having
frightened her from the terrace, and Sir Joseph and Oswald talked a little
of their sport, and of their having seen an otter; but there was, or at
least there seemed to Coningsby, a tone of general embarrassment which
distressed him. The fact is, keeping people from dinner under any
circumstances is distressing. They are obliged to talk at the very moment
when they wish to use their powers of expression for a very different
purpose. They are faint, and conversation makes them more exhausted. A
gentleman, too, fond of his family, who in turn are devoted to him, making
a great and inconvenient effort to reach them by dinner time, to please
and surprise them; and finding them all dispersed, dinner so late that he
might have reached home in good time without any great inconvenient
effort; his daughter, whom he had wished a thousand times to embrace,
taking a singularly long ramble with no other companion than a young
gentleman, whom he did not exactly expect to see; all these are
circumstances, individually perhaps slight, and yet, encountered
collectively, it may be doubted they would not a little ruffle even the
Mr. Millbank, too, had not the sweetest temper, though not a bad one; a
little quick and fiery. But then he had a kind heart. And when Edith, who
had providentially sent down a message to order dinner, entered and
embraced him at the very moment that dinner was announced, her father
forgot everything in his joy in seeing her, and his pleasure in being
surrounded by his friends. He gave his hand to Lady Wallinger, and Sir
Joseph led away his niece. Coningsby put his arm around the astonished
neck of Oswald, as if they were once more in the playing fields of Eton.
'By Jove! my dear fellow,' he exclaimed, 'I am so sorry we kept your
father from dinner.'
As Edith headed her father's table, according to his rigid rule, Coningsby
was on one side of her. They never spoke so little; Coningsby would have
never unclosed his lips, had he followed his humour. He was in a stupor of
happiness; the dining room took the appearance of the fishing-cottage; and
he saw nothing but the flowing river. Lady Wallinger was however next to
him, and that was a relief; for he felt always she was his friend. Sir
Joseph, a good-hearted man, and on subjects with which he was acquainted
full of sound sense, was invaluable to-day, for he entirely kept up the
conversation, speaking of things which greatly interested Mr. Millbank.
And so their host soon recovered his good temper; he addressed several
times his observations to Coningsby, and was careful to take wine with
him. On the whole, affairs went on flowingly enough. The gentlemen,
indeed, stayed much longer over their wine than on the preceding days, and
Coningsby did not venture on the liberty of quitting the room before his
host. It was as well. Edith required repose. She tried to seek it on the
bosom of her aunt, as she breathed to her the delicious secret of her
life. When the gentlemen returned to the drawing-room the ladies were not
This rather disturbed Mr. Millbank again; he had not seen enough of his
daughter; he wished to hear her sing. But Edith managed to reappear; and
even to sing. Then Coningsby went up to her and asked her to sing the song
of the Girls of Granada. She said in a low voice, and with a fond yet
'I am not in the mood for such a song, but if you wish me--'
She sang it, and with inexpressible grace, and with an arch vivacity, that
to a fine observer would have singularly contrasted with the almost solemn
and even troubled expression of her countenance a moment afterwards.
The day was about to die; the day the most important, the most precious in
the lives of Harry Coningsby and Edith Millbank. Words had been spoken,
vows breathed, which were to influence their careers for ever. For them
hereafter there was to be but one life, one destiny, one world. Each of
them was still in such a state of tremulous excitement, that neither had
found time or occasion to ponder over the mighty result. They both
required solitude; they both longed to be alone. Coningsby rose to depart.
He pressed the soft hand of Edith, and his glance spoke his soul.
'We shall see you at breakfast to-morrow, Coningsby!' said Oswald, very
loud, knowing that the presence of his father would make Coningsby
hesitate about coming. Edith's heart fluttered; but she said nothing. It
was with delight she heard her father, after a moment's pause, say,
'Oh! I beg we may have that pleasure.'
'Not quite at so early an hour,' said Coningsby; 'but if you will permit
me, I hope to have the pleasure of hearing from you to-morrow, sir, that
your journey has not fatigued you.'
To be alone; to have no need of feigning a tranquillity he could not feel;
of coining common-place courtesy when his heart was gushing with rapture;
this was a great relief to Coningsby, though gained by a separation from
The deed was done; he had breathed his long-brooding passion, he had
received the sweet expression of her sympathy, he had gained the long-
coveted heart. Youth, beauty, love, the innocence of unsophisticated
breasts, and the inspiration of an exquisite nature, combined to fashion
the spell that now entranced his life. He turned to gaze upon the moonlit
towers and peaked roofs of Hellingsley. Silent and dreamlike, the
picturesque pile rested on its broad terrace flooded with the silver light
and surrounded by the quaint bowers of its fantastic gardens tipped with
the glittering beam. Half hid in deep shadow, half sparkling in the
midnight blaze, he recognised the oriel window that had been the subject
of the morning's sketch. Almost he wished there should be some sound to
assure him of his reality. But nothing broke the all-pervading stillness.
Was his life to be as bright and as tranquil? And what was to be his life?
Whither was he to bear the beautiful bride he had gained? Were the portals
of Coningsby the proud and hospitable gates that were to greet her? How
long would they greet him after the achievement of the last four-and-
twenty hours was known to their lord? Was this the return for the
confiding kindness of his grandsire? That he should pledge his troth to
the daughter of that grandsire's foe?
Away with such dark and scaring visions! Is it not the noon of a summer
night fragrant with the breath of gardens, bright with the beam that
lovers love, and soft with the breath of Ausonian breezes? Within that
sweet and stately residence, dwells there not a maiden fair enough to
revive chivalry; who is even now thinking of him as she leans on her
pensive hand, or, if perchance she dream, recalls him in her visions? And
himself, is he one who would cry craven with such a lot? What avail his
golden youth, his high blood, his daring and devising spirit, and all his
stores of wisdom, if they help not now? Does not he feel the energy divine
that can confront Fate and carve out fortunes? Besides it is nigh
Midsummer Eve, and what should fairies reign for but to aid such a bright
pair as this?
He recalls a thousand times the scene, the moment, in which but a few
hours past he dared to tell her that he loved; he recalls a thousand times
the still, small voice, that murmured her agitated felicity: more than a
thousand times, for his heart clenched the idea as a diver grasps a gem,
he recalls the enraptured yet gentle embrace, that had sealed upon her
blushing cheek his mystical and delicious sovereignty.
The morning broke lowering and thunderous; small white clouds, dull and
immovable, studded the leaden sky; the waters of the rushing Darl seemed
to have become black and almost stagnant; the terraces of Hellingsley
looked like the hard lines of a model; and the mansion itself had a harsh
and metallic character. Before the chief portal of his Hall, the elder
Millbank, with an air of some anxiety, surveyed the landscape and the
heavens, as if he were speculating on the destiny of the day.
Often his eye wandered over the park; often with an uneasy and restless
step he paced the raised walk before him. The clock of Hellingsley church
had given the chimes of noon. His son and Coningsby appeared at the end of
one of the avenues. His eye lightened; his lip became compressed; he
advanced to meet them.
'Are you going to fish to-day, Oswald?' he inquired of his son.
'We had some thoughts of it, sir.'
'A fine day for sport, I should think,' he observed, as he turned towards
the Hall with them.
Coningsby remarked the fanciful beauty of the portal; its twisted columns,
and Caryatides carved in dark oak.
'Yes, it's very well,' said Millbank; 'but I really do not know why I came
here; my presence is an effort. Oswald does not care for the place; none
of us do, I believe.'
'Oh! I like it now, father; and Edith doats on it.'
'She was very happy at Millbank,' said the father, rather sharply.
'We are all of us happy at Millbank,' said Oswald.
'I was much struck with the valley and the whole settlement when I first
saw it,' said Coningsby.
'Suppose you go and see about the tackle, Oswald,' said Mr. Millbank, 'and
Mr. Coningsby and I will take a stroll on the terrace in the meantime.'
The habit of obedience, which was supreme in this family, instantly
carried Oswald away, though he was rather puzzled why his father should be
so anxious about the preparation of the fishing-tackle, as he rarely used
it. His son had no sooner departed than Mr. Millbank turned to Coningsby,
and said very abruptly,
'You have never seen my own room here, Mr. Coningsby; step in, for I wish
to say a word to you.' And thus speaking, he advanced before the
astonished, and rather agitated Coningsby, and led the way through a door
and long passage to a room of moderate dimensions, partly furnished as a
library, and full of parliamentary papers and blue-books. Shutting the
door with some earnestness and pointing to a chair, he begged his guest to
be seated. Both in their chairs, Mr. Millbank, clearing his throat, said
without preface, 'I have reason to believe, Mr. Coningsby, that you are
attached to my daughter?'
'I have been attached to her for a long time most ardently,' replied
Coningsby, in a calm and rather measured tone, but looking very pale.
'And I have reason to believe that she returns your attachment?' said Mr.
'I believe she deigns not to disregard it,' said Coningsby, his white
cheek becoming scarlet.
'It is then a mutual attachment, which, if cherished, must produce mutual
unhappiness,' said Mr. Millbank.
'I would fain believe the reverse,' said Coningsby.
'Why?' inquired Mr. Millbank.
'Because I believe she possesses every charm, quality, and virtue, that
can bless man; and because, though I can make her no equivalent return, I
have a heart, if I know myself, that would struggle to deserve her.'
'I know you to be a man of sense; I believe you to be a man of honour,'
replied Mr. Millbank. 'As the first, you must feel that an union between
you and my daughter is impossible; what then should be your duty as a man
of correct principle is obvious.'
'I could conceive that our union might be attended with difficulties,'
said Coningsby, in a somewhat deprecating tone.
'Sir, it is impossible,' repeated Mr. Millbank, interrupting him, though
not with harshness; 'that is to say, there is no conceivable marriage
which could be effected at greater sacrifices, and which would occasion
'The sacrifices are more apparent to me than the misery,' said Coningsby,
'and even they may be imaginary.'
'The sacrifices and the misery are certain and inseparable,' said Mr.
Millbank. 'Come now, see how we stand! I speak without reserve, for this
is a subject which cannot permit misconception, but with no feelings
towards you, sir, but fair and friendly ones. You are the grandson of my
Lord Monmouth; at present enjoying his favour, but dependent on his
bounty. You may be the heir of his wealth to-morrow, and to-morrow you may
be the object of his hatred and persecution. Your grandfather and myself
are foes; bitter, irreclaimable, to the death. It is idle to mince
phrases; I do not vindicate our mutual feelings, I may regret that they
have ever arisen; I may regret it especially at this exigency. They are
not the feelings of good Christians; they may be altogether to be deplored
and unjustifiable; but they exist, mutually exist; and have not been
confined to words. Lord Monmouth would crush me, had he the power, like a
worm; and I have curbed his proud fortunes often. Were it not for this
feeling I should not be here; I purchased this estate merely to annoy him,
as I have done a thousand other acts merely for his discomfiture and
mortification. In our long encounter I have done him infinitely more
injury than he could do me; I have been on the spot, I am active,
vigilant, the maker of my fortunes. He is an epicurean, continually in
foreign parts, obliged to leave the fulfilment of his will to others. But,
for these very reasons, his hate is more intense. I can afford to hate him
less than he hates me; I have injured him more. Here are feelings to exist
between human beings! But they do exist; and now you are to go to this
man, and ask his sanction to marry my daughter!'
'But I would appease these hatreds; I would allay these dark passions, the
origin of which I know not, but which never could justify the end, and
which lead to so much misery. I would appeal to my grandfather; I would
show him Edith.'
'He has looked upon as fair even as Edith,' said Mr. Millbank, rising
suddenly from his seat, and pacing the room, 'and did that melt his heart?
The experience of your own lot should have guarded you from the perils
that you have so rashly meditated encountering, and the misery which you
have been preparing for others besides yourself. Is my daughter to be
treated like your mother? And by the same hand? Your mother's family were
not Lord Monmouth's foes. They were simple and innocent people, free from
all the bad passions of our nature, and ignorant of the world's ways. But
because they were not noble, because they could trace no mystified descent
from a foreign invader, or the sacrilegious minion of some spoliating
despot, their daughter was hunted from the family which should have
exulted to receive her, and the land of which she was the native ornament.
Why should a happier lot await you than fell to your parents? You are in
the same position as your father; you meditate the same act. The only
difference being aggravating circumstances in your case, which, even if I
were a member of the same order as my Lord Monmouth, would prevent the
possibility of a prosperous union. Marry Edith, and you blast all the
prospects of your life, and entail on her a sense of unceasing
humiliation. Would you do this? Should I permit you to do this?'
Coningsby, with his head resting on his arm, his face a little shaded, his
eyes fixed on the ground, listened in silence. There was a pause; broken
by Coningsby, as in a low voice, without changing his posture or raising
his glance, he said, 'It seems, sir, that you were acquainted with my
'I knew sufficient of her,' replied Mr. Millbank, with a kindling cheek,
'to learn the misery that a woman may entail on herself by marrying out of
her condition. I have bred my children in a respect for their class. I
believe they have imbibed my feeling; though it is strange how in the
commerce of the world, chance, in their friendships, has apparently
baffled my designs.'
'Oh! do not say it is chance, sir,' said Coningsby, looking up, and
speaking with much fervour. 'The feelings that animate me towards your
family are not the feelings of chance: they are the creation of sympathy;
tried by time, tested by thought. And must they perish? Can they perish?
They were inevitable; they are indestructible. Yes, sir, it is in vain to
speak of the enmities that are fostered between you and my grandfather;
the love that exists between your daughter and myself is stronger than all
'You speak like a young man, and a young man that is in love,' said Mr.
Millbank. 'This is mere rhapsody; it will vanish in an instant before the
reality of life. And you have arrived at that reality,' he continued,
speaking with emphasis, leaning over the back of his chair, and looking
steadily at Coningsby with his grey, sagacious eye; 'my daughter and
yourself can meet no more.'
'It is impossible you can be so cruel!' exclaimed Coningsby.
'So kind; kind to you both; for I wish to be kind to you as well as to
her. You are entitled to kindness from us all; though I will tell you now,
that, years ago, when the news arrived that my son's life had been saved,
and had been saved by one who bore the name of Coningsby, I had a
presentiment, great as was the blessing, that it might lead to
'I can answer for the misery of one,' said Coningsby, in a tone of great
despondency. 'I feel as if my sun were set. Oh! why should there be such
wretchedness? Why are there family hatreds and party feuds? Why am I the
most wretched of men?'
'My good young friend, you will live, I doubt not, to be a happy one.
Happiness is not, as we are apt to fancy, entirely dependent on these
contingencies. It is the lot of most men to endure what you are now
suffering, and they can look back to such conjunctures through the vista
of years with calmness.'
'I may see Edith now?'
'Frankly, I should say, no. My daughter is in her room; I have had some
conversation with her. Of course she suffers not less than yourself. To
see her again will only aggravate woe. You leave under this roof, sir,
some sad memories, but no unkind ones. It is not likely that I can serve
you, or that you may want my aid; but whatever may be in my power,
remember you may command it; without reserve and without restraint. If I
control myself now, it is not because I do not respect your affliction,
but because, in the course of my life, I have felt too much not to be able
to command my feelings.'
'You never could have felt what I feel now,' said Coningsby, in a tone of
'You touch on delicate ground,' said Millbank; 'yet from me you may learn
to suffer. There was a being once, not less fair than the peerless girl
that you would fain call your own, and her heart was my proud possession.
There were no family feuds to baffle our union, nor was I dependent on
anything, but the energies which had already made me flourishing. What
happiness was mine! It was the first dream of my life, and it was the
last; my solitary passion, the memory of which softens my heart. Ah! you
dreaming scholars, and fine gentlemen who saunter through life, you think
there is no romance in the loves of a man who lives in the toil and
turmoil of business. You are in deep error. Amid my career of travail,
there was ever a bright form which animated exertion, inspired my
invention, nerved my energy, and to gain whose heart and life I first made
many of those discoveries, and entered into many of those speculations,
that have since been the foundation of my wide prosperity.
'Her faith was pledged to me; I lived upon her image; the day was even
talked of when I should bear her to the home that I had proudly prepared
'There came a young noble, a warrior who had never seen war, glittering
with gewgaws. He was quartered in the town where the mistress of my heart,
who was soon to share my life and my fortunes, resided. The tale is too
bitter not to be brief. He saw her, he sighed; I will hope that he loved
her; she gave him with rapture the heart which perhaps she found she had
never given to me; and instead of bearing the name I had once hoped to
have called her by, she pledged her faith at the altar to one who, like
you, was called, CONINGSBY.'
'You see, I too have had my griefs.'
'Dear sir,' said Coningsby, rising and taking Mr. Millbank's hand, 'I am
most wretched; and yet I wish to part from you even with affection. You
have explained circumstances that have long perplexed me. A curse, I fear,
is on our families. I have not mind enough at this moment even to ponder
on my situation. My head is a chaos. I go; yes, I quit this Hellingsley,
where I came to be so happy, where I have been so happy. Nay, let me go,
dear sir! I must be alone, I must try to think. And tell her, no, tell her
nothing. God will guard over us!'
Proceeding down the avenue with a rapid and distempered step, his
countenance lost, as it were, in a wild abstraction, Coningsby encountered
Oswald Millbank. He stopped, collected his turbulent thoughts, and
throwing on Oswald one look that seemed at the same time to communicate
woe and to demand sympathy, flung himself into his arms.
'My friend!' he exclaimed, and then added, in a broken voice, 'I need a
Then in a hurried, impassioned, and somewhat incoherent strain, leaning on
Oswald's arm, as they walked on together, he poured forth all that had
occurred, all of which he had dreamed; his baffled bliss, his actual
despair. Alas! there was little room for solace, and yet all that earnest
affection could inspire, and a sagacious brain and a brave spirit, were
offered for his support, if not his consolation, by the friend who was
devoted to him.
In the midst of this deep communion, teeming with every thought and
sentiment that could enchain and absorb the spirit of man, they came to
one of the park-gates of Coningsby. Millbank stopped. The command of his
father was peremptory, that no member of his family, under any
circumstances, or for any consideration, should set his foot on that
domain. Lady Wallinger had once wished to have seen the Castle, and
Coningsby was only too happy in the prospect of escorting her and Edith
over the place; but Oswald had then at once put his veto on the project,
as a thing forbidden; and which, if put in practice, his father would
never pardon. So it passed off, and now Oswald himself was at the gates of
that very domain with his friend who was about to enter them, his friend
whom he might never see again; that Coningsby who, from their boyish days,
had been the idol of his life; whom he had lived to see appeal to his
affections and his sympathy, and whom Oswald was now going to desert in
the midst of his lonely and unsolaced woe.
'I ought not to enter here,' said Oswald, holding the hand of Coningsby as
he hesitated to advance; 'and yet there are duties more sacred even than
obedience to a father. I cannot leave you thus, friend of my best heart!'
The morning passed away in unceasing yet fruitless speculation on the
future. One moment something was to happen, the next nothing could occur.
Sometimes a beam of hope flashed over the fancy of Coningsby, and jumping
up from the turf, on which they were reclining, he seemed to exult in his
renovated energies; and then this sanguine paroxysm was succeeded by a fit
of depression so dark and dejected that nothing but the presence of Oswald
seemed to prevent Coningsby from flinging himself into the waters of the
The day was fast declining, and the inevitable moment of separation was at
hand. Oswald wished to appear at the dinner-table of Hellingsley, that no
suspicion might arise in the mind of his father of his having accompanied
Coningsby home. But just as he was beginning to mention the necessity of
his departure, a flash of lightning seemed to transfix the heavens. The
sky was very dark; though studded here and there with dingy spots. The
young men sprang up at the same time.
'We had better get out of these trees,' said Oswald.
'We had better get to the Castle,' said Coningsby.
A clap of thunder that seemed to make the park quake broke over their
heads, followed by some thick drops. The Castle was close at hand; Oswald
had avoided entering it; but the impending storm was so menacing that,
hurried on by Coningsby, he could make no resistance; and, in a few
minutes, the companions were watching the tempest from the windows of a
room in Coningsby Castle.
The fork-lightning flashed and scintillated from every quarter of the
horizon: the thunder broke over the Castle, as if the keep were rocking
with artillery: amid the momentary pauses of the explosion, the rain was
heard descending like dissolving water-spouts.
Nor was this one of those transient tempests that often agitate the
summer. Time advanced, and its fierceness was little mitigated. Sometimes
there was a lull, though the violence of the rain never appeared to
diminish; but then, as in some pitched fight between contending hosts,
when the fervour of the field seems for a moment to allay, fresh squadrons
arrive and renew the hottest strife, so a low moaning wind that was now at
intervals faintly heard bore up a great reserve of electric vapour, that
formed, as it were, into field in the space between the Castle and
Hellingsley, and then discharged its violence on that fated district.
Coningsby and Oswald exchanged looks. 'You must not think of going home at
present, my dear fellow,' said the first. 'I am sure your father would not
be displeased. There is not a being here who even knows you, and if they
did, what then?'