him a distinguished reception; his personal qualities immediately made him cherished. He could please; he could do more, he could astonish. He could throw out a careless observation which would make the oldest diplomatist start; a winged word that gained him the consideration, sometimes the confidence, of Sovereigns. When he had fathomed the intelligence which governs Europe, and which can only be done by personal acquaintance, he returned to this country.
The somewhat hard and literal character of English life suited one who shrank from sensibility, and often took refuge in sarcasm. Its masculine vigour and active intelligence occupied and interested his mind. Sidonia, indeed, was exactly the character who would be welcomed in our circles. His immense wealth, his unrivalled social knowledge, his clear vigorous intellect, the severe simplicity of his manners, frank, but neither claiming nor brooking familiarity, and his devotion to field sports, which was the safety-valve of his energy, were all circumstances and qualities which the English appreciate and admire; and it may be fairly said of Sidonia that few men were more popular, and none less understood.
At dinner, Coningsby was seated on the same side as Sidonia, and distant from him. There had been, therefore, no mutual recognition. Another guest had also arrived, Mr. Ormsby. He came straight from London, full of rumours, had seen Tadpole, who, hearing he was on the wing for Coningsby Castle, had taken him into a dark corner of a club, and shown him his book, a safe piece of confidence, as Mr. Ormsby was very near-sighted. It was, however, to be received as an undoubted fact, that all was right, and somehow or other, before very long, there would be national demonstration of the same. This arrival of Mr. Ormsby, and the news that he bore, gave a political turn to the conversation after the ladies had left the room.
‘Tadpole wants me to stand for Birmingham,’ said Mr. Ormsby, gravely.
‘You!’ exclaimed Lord Monmouth, and throwing himself back in his chair, he broke into a real, hearty laugh.
‘Yes; the Conservatives mean to start two candidates; a manufacturer they have got, and they have written up to Tadpole for a “West-end man.”‘
‘A West-end man, who will make the ladies patronise their fancy articles.’
‘The result of the Reform Bill, then,’ said Lucian Gay, ‘will be to give Manchester a bishop, and Birmingham a dandy.’
‘I begin to believe the result will be very different from what we expected,’ said Lord Monmouth.
Mr. Rigby shook his head and was going to prophesy, when Lord Eskdale, who liked talk to be short, and was of opinion that Rigby should keep his amplifications for his slashing articles, put in a brief careless observation, which balked his inspiration.
‘Certainly,’ said Mr. Ormsby, ‘when the guns were firing over Vyvyan’s last speech and confession, I never expected to be asked to stand for Birmingham.’
‘Perhaps you may be called up to the other house by the title,’ said Lucian Gay. ‘Who knows?’
‘I agree with Tadpole,’ said Mr. Ormsby, ‘that if we only stick to the Registration the country is saved.’
‘Fortunate country!’ said Sidonia, ‘that can be saved by a good registration!’
‘I believe, after all, that with property and pluck,’ said Lord Monmouth, ‘Parliamentary Reform is not such a very bad thing.’
Here several gentlemen began talking at the same time, all agreeing with their host, and proving in their different ways, the irresistible influence of property and pluck; property in Lord Monmouth’s mind meaning vassals, and pluck a total disregard for public opinion. Mr. Guy Flouncey, who wanted to get into parliament, but why nobody knew, who had neither political abilities nor political opinions, but had some floating idea that it would get himself and his wife to some more balls and dinners, and who was duly ticketed for ‘a good thing’ in the candidate list of the Tadpoles and the Tapers, was of opinion that an immense deal might be done by properly patronising borough races. That was his specific how to prevent revolution.
Taking advantage of a pause, Lord Monmouth said, ‘I should like to know what you think of this question, Sidonia?’
‘I am scarcely a competent judge,’ he said, as if wishing to disclaim any interference in the conversation, and then added, ‘but I have been ever of opinion that revolutions are not to be evaded.’
‘Exactly my views,’ said Mr. Rigby, eagerly; ‘I say it now, I have said it a thousand times, you may doctor the registration as you like, but you can never get rid of Schedule A.’
‘Is there a person in this room who can now tell us the names of the boroughs in Schedule A?’ said Sidonia.
‘I am sure I cannot, ‘said Lord Monmouth, ‘though six of them belong to myself.’
‘But the principle,’ said Mr. Rigby; ‘they represented a principle.’
‘Nothing else, certainly,’ said Lucian Gay.
‘And what principle?’ inquired Sidonia.
‘The principle of nomination.’
‘That is a practice, not a principle,’ said Sidonia. ‘Is it a practice that no longer exists?’
‘You think then,’ said Lord Eskdale, cutting in before Rigby, ‘that the Reform Bill has done us no harm?’
‘It is not the Reform Bill that has shaken the aristocracy of this country, but the means by which that Bill was carried,’ replied Sidonia.
‘Physical force?’ said Lord Eskdale.
‘Or social power?’ said Sidonia.
Upon this, Mr. Rigby, impatient at any one giving the tone in a political discussion but himself, and chafing under the vigilance of Lord Eskdale, which to him ever appeared only fortuitous, violently assaulted the argument, and astonished several country gentlemen present by its volubility. They at length listened to real eloquence. At the end of a long appeal to Sidonia, that gentleman only bowed his head and said, ‘Perhaps;’ and then, turning to his neighbour, inquired whether birds were plentiful in Lancashire this season; so that Mr. Rigby was reduced to the necessity of forming the political opinions of Mr. Guy Flouncey.
As the gentlemen left the dining-room, Coningsby, though at some distance, was observed by Sidonia, who stopped instantly, then advanced to Coningsby, and extending his hand said, ‘I said we should meet again, though I hardly expected so quickly.’
‘And I hope we shall not separate so soon,’ said Coningsby; ‘I was much struck with what you said just now about the Reform Bill. Do you know that the more I think the more I am perplexed by what is meant by Representation?’
‘It is a principle of which a limited definition is only current in this country,’ said Sidonia, quitting the room with him. ‘People may be represented without periodical elections of neighbours who are incapable to maintain their interests, and strangers who are unwilling.’
The entrance of the gentlemen produced the same effect on the saloon as sunrise on the world; universal animation, a general though gentle stir. The Grand-duke, bowing to every one, devoted himself to the daughter of Lady St. Julians, who herself pinned Lord Beaumanoir before he could reach Mrs. Guy Flouncey. Coningsby instead talked nonsense to that lady. Brilliant cavaliers, including Mr. Melton, addressed a band of beautiful damsels grouped on a large ottoman. Everywhere sounded a delicious murmur, broken occasionally by a silver-sounding laugh not too loud. Sidonia and Lord Eskdale did not join the ladies. They stood for a few moments in conversation, and then threw themselves on a sofa.
‘Who is that?’ asked Sidonia of his companion rather earnestly, as Coningsby quitted them.
”Tis the grandson of Monmouth; young Coningsby.’
‘Ah! The new generation then promises. I met him once before, by chance; he interests me.’
‘They tell me he is a lively lad. He is a prodigious favourite here, and I should not be surprised if Monmouth made him his heir.’
‘I hope he does not dream of inheritance,’ said Sidonia. ”Tis the most enervating of visions.’
‘Do you admire Lady Augustina St. Julians?’ said Mrs. Guy Flouncey to Coningsby.
‘I admire no one except yourself.’
‘Oh! how very gallant, Mr. Coningsby!’
‘When should men be gallant, if not to the brilliant and the beautiful!’ said Coningsby.
‘Ah! you are laughing at me.’
‘No, I am not. I am quite grave.’
‘Your eyes laugh. Now tell me, Mr. Coningsby, Lord Henry Sydney is a very great friend of yours?’
‘He is very amiable.’
‘He does a great deal for the poor at Beaumanoir. A very fine place, is it not?’
‘As fine as Coningsby?’
‘At present, with Mrs. Guy Flouncey at Coningsby, Beaumanoir would have no chance.’
‘Ah! you laugh at me again! Now tell me, Mr. Coningsby, what do you think we shall do to-night? I look upon you, you know, as the real arbiter of our destinies.’
‘You shall decide,’ said Coningsby.
‘Mon cher Harry,’ said Madame Colonna, coming up, ‘they wish Lucretia to sing and she will not. You must ask her, she cannot refuse you.’
‘I assure you she can,’ said Coningsby.
‘Mon cher Harry, your grandpapa did desire me to beg you to ask her to sing.’
So Coningsby unwillingly approached Lucretia, who was talking with the Russian Ambassador.
‘I am sent upon a fruitless mission,’ said Coningsby, looking at her, and catching her glance.
‘What and why?’ she replied.
‘The mission is to entreat you to do us all a great favour; and the cause of its failure will be that I am the envoy.’
‘If the favour be one to yourself, it is granted; and if you be the envoy, you need never fear failure with me.’
‘I must presume then to lead you away,’ said Coningsby, bending to the Ambassador.
‘Remember,’ said Lucretia, as they approached the instrument, ‘that I am singing to you.’
‘It is impossible ever to forget it,’ said Coningsby, leading her to the piano with great politeness, but only with great politeness.
‘Where is Mademoiselle Flora?’ she inquired.
Coningsby found La Petite crouching as it were behind some furniture, and apparently looking over some music. She looked up as he approached, and a smile stole over her countenance. ‘I am come to ask a favour,’ he said, and he named his request.
‘I will sing,’ she replied; ‘but only tell me what you like.’
Coningsby felt the difference between the courtesy of the head and of the heart, as he contrasted the manner of Lucretia and Flora. Nothing could be more exquisitely gracious than the daughter of Colonna was to-night; Flora, on the contrary, was rather agitated and embarrassed; and did not express her readiness with half the facility and the grace of Lucretia; but Flora’s arm trembled as Coningsby led her to the piano.
Meantime Lord Eskdale and Sidonia are in deep converse.
‘Hah! that is a fine note!’ said Sidonia, and he looked round. ‘Who is that singing? Some new _protegee_ of Lord Monmouth?’
”Tis the daughter of the Colonnas,’ said Lord Eskdale, ‘the Princess Lucretia.’
‘Why, she was not at dinner to-day.’
‘No, she was not there.’
‘My favourite voice; and of all, the rarest to be found. When I was a boy, it made me almost in love even with Pisaroni.’
‘Well, the Princess is scarcely more lovely. ‘Tis a pity the plumage is not as beautiful as the note. She is plain.’
‘No; not plain with that brow.’
‘Well, I rather admire her myself,’ said Lord Eskdale. ‘She has fine points.’
‘Let us approach,’ said Sidonia.
The song ceased, Lord Eskdale advanced, made his compliments, and then said, ‘You were not at dinner to-day.’
‘Why should I be?’ said the Princess.
‘For our sakes, for mine, if not for your own,’ said Lord Eskdale, smiling. ‘Your absence has been remarked, and felt, I assure you, by others as well as myself. There is my friend Sidonia so enraptured with your thrilling tones, that he has abruptly closed a conversation which I have been long counting on. Do you know him? May I present him to you?’
And having obtained a consent, not often conceded, Lord Eskdale looked round, and calling Sidonia, he presented his friend to the Princess.
‘You are fond of music, Lord Eskdale tells me?’ said Lucretia.
‘When it is excellent,’ said Sidonia.
‘But that is so rare,’ said the Princess.
‘And precious as Paradise,’ said Sidonia. ‘As for indifferent music, ’tis Purgatory; but when it is bad, for my part I feel myself–‘
‘Where?’ said Lord Eskdale.
‘In the last circle of the Inferno,’ said Sidonia.
Lord Eskdale turned to Flora.
‘And in what circle do you place us who are here?’ the Princess inquired of Sidonia.
‘One too polished for his verse,’ replied her companion.
‘You mean too insipid,’ said the Princess. ‘I wish that life were a little more Dantesque.’
‘There is not less treasure in the world,’ said Sidonia, ‘because we use paper currency; and there is not less passion than of old, though it is _bon ton_ to be tranquil.’
‘Do you think so?’ said the Princess, inquiringly, and then looking round the apartment. ‘Have these automata, indeed, souls?’
‘Some of them,’ said Sidonia. ‘As many as would have had souls in the fourteenth century.’
‘I thought they were wound up every day,’ said the Princess.
‘Some are self-impelling,’ said Sidonia.
‘And you can tell at a glance?’ inquired the Princess. ‘You are one of those who can read human nature?’
”Tis a book open to all.’
‘But if they cannot read?’
‘Those must be your automata.’
‘Lord Monmouth tells me you are a great traveller?’
‘I have not discovered a new world.’
‘But you have visited it?’
‘It is getting old.’
‘I would sooner recall the old than discover the new,’ said the Princess.
‘We have both of us cause,’ said Sidonia. ‘Our names are the names of the Past.’
‘I do not love a world of Utility,’ said the Princess.
‘You prefer to be celebrated to being comfortable,’ said Sidonia.
‘It seems to me that the world is withering under routine.’
”Tis the inevitable lot of humanity,’ said Sidonia. ‘Man must ever be the slave of routine: but in old days it was a routine of great thoughts, and now it is a routine of little ones.’
The evening glided on; the dance succeeded the song; the ladies were fast vanishing; Coningsby himself was meditating a movement, when Lord Beaumanoir, as he passed him, said, ‘Come to Lucian Gay’s room; we are going to smoke a cigar.’
This was a favourite haunt, towards midnight, of several of the younger members of the party at the Castle, who loved to find relaxation from the decorous gravities of polished life in the fumes of tobacco, the inspiration of whiskey toddy, and the infinite amusement of Lucian Gay’s conversation and company. This was the genial hour when the good story gladdened, the pun flashed, and the song sparkled with jolly mirth or saucy mimicry. To-night, being Coningsby’s initiation, there was a special general meeting of the Grumpy Club, in which everybody was to say the gayest things with the gravest face, and every laugh carried a forfeit. Lucian was the inimitable president. He told a tale for which he was famous, of ‘the very respectable county family who had been established in the shire for several generations, but who, it was a fact, had been ever distinguished by the strange and humiliating peculiarity of being born with sheep’s tails.’ The remarkable circumstances under which Lucian Gay had become acquainted with this fact; the traditionary mysteries by which the family in question had succeeded for generations in keeping it secret; the decided measures to which the chief of the family had recourse to stop for ever the rumour when it first became prevalent; and finally the origin and result of the legend; were details which Lucian Gay, with the most rueful countenance, loved to expend upon the attentive and expanding intelligence of a new member of the Grumpy Club. Familiar as all present were with the story whose stimulus of agonising risibility they had all in turn experienced, it was with extreme difficulty that any of them could resist the fatal explosion which was to be attended with the dreaded penalty. Lord Beaumanoir looked on the table with desperate seriousness, an ominous pucker quivering round his lip; Mr. Melton crammed his handkerchief into his mouth with one hand, while he lighted the wrong end of a cigar with the other; one youth hung over the back of his chair pinching himself like a faquir, while another hid his countenance on the table.
‘It was at the Hunt dinner,’ continued Lucian Gay, in an almost solemn tone, ‘that an idea for a moment was prevalent, that Sir Mowbray Cholmondeley Fetherstonehaugh, as the head of the family, had resolved to terminate for ever these mysterious aspersions on his race, that had circulated in the county for more than two centuries; I mean that the highly respectable family of the Cholmondeley Fetherstonehaughs had the misfortune to be graced with that appendage to which I have referred. His health being drunk, Sir Mowbray Cholmondeley Fetherstonehaugh rose. He was a little unpopular at the moment, from an ugly story about killing foxes, and the guests were not as quiet as orators generally desire, so the Honourable Baronet prayed particular attention to a matter personal to himself. Instantly there was a dead silence–‘ but here Coningsby, who had moved for some time very restlessly on his chair, suddenly started up, and struggling for a moment against the inward convulsion, but in vain, stamped against the floor, and gave a shout.
‘A song from Mr. Coningsby,’ said the president of the Grumpy Club, amid an universal, and now permissible roar of laughter.
Coningsby could not sing; so he was to favour them as a substitute with a speech or a sentiment. But Lucian Gay always let one off these penalties easily, and, indeed, was ever ready to fulfil them for all. Song, speech, or sentiment, he poured them all forth; nor were pastimes more active wanting. He could dance a Tarantella like a Lazzarone, and execute a Cracovienne with all the mincing graces of a ballet heroine.
His powers of mimicry, indeed, were great and versatile. But in nothing was he so happy as in a Parliamentary debate. And it was remarkable that, though himself a man who on ordinary occasions was quite incapable without infinite perplexity of publicly expressing his sense of the merest courtesy of society, he was not only a master of the style of every speaker of distinction in either house, but he seemed in his imitative play to appropriate their intellectual as well as their physical peculiarities, and presented you with their mind as well as their manner. There were several attempts to-night to induce Lucian to indulge his guests with a debate, but he seemed to avoid the exertion, which was great. As the night grew old, however, and every hour he grew more lively, he suddenly broke without further pressure into the promised diversion; and Coningsby listened really with admiration to a discussion, of which the only fault was that it was more parliamentary than the original, ‘plus Arabe que l’Arabie.’
The Duke was never more curt, nor Sir Robert more specious; he was as fiery as Stanley, and as bitter as Graham. Nor did he do their opponents less justice. Lord Palmerston himself never treated a profound subject with a more pleasant volatility; and when Lucian rose at an early hour of morn, in a full house alike exhausted and excited, and after having endured for hours, in sarcastic silence, the menacing finger of Sir Robert, shaking over the green table and appealing to his misdeeds in the irrevocable records of Hansard, Lord John himself could not have afforded a more perfect representative of pluck.
But loud as was the laughter, and vehement the cheering, with which Lucian’s performances were received, all these ebullitions sank into insignificance compared with the reception which greeted what he himself announced was to be the speech of the night. Having quaffed full many a quaigh of toddy, he insisted on delivering, it on the table, a proposition with which his auditors immediately closed.
The orator appeared, the great man of the night, who was to answer everybody on both sides. Ah! that harsh voice, that arrogant style, that saucy superficiality which decided on everything, that insolent ignorance that contradicted everybody; it was impossible to mistake them! And Coningsby had the pleasure of seeing reproduced before him the guardian of his youth and the patron of the mimic, the Right Honourable Nicholas Rigby!
Madame Colonna, with that vivacious energy which characterises the south, had no sooner seen Coningsby, and heard his praises celebrated by his grandfather, than she resolved that an alliance should sooner or later take place between him and her step-daughter. She imparted her projects without delay to Lucretia, who received them in a different spirit from that in which they were communicated. Lucretia bore as little resemblance to her step-mother in character, as in person. If she did not possess her beauty, she was born with an intellect of far greater capacity and reach. She had a deep judgment. A hasty alliance with a youth, arranged by their mutual relatives, might suit very well the clime and manners of Italy, but Lucretia was well aware that it was altogether opposed to the habits and feelings of this country. She had no conviction that either Coningsby would wish to marry her, or, if willing, that his grandfather would sanction such a step in one as yet only on the threshold of the world. Lucretia therefore received the suggestions and proposals of Madarne Colonna with coldness and indifference; one might even say contempt, for she neither felt respect for this lady, nor was she sedulous to evince it. Although really younger than Coningsby, Lucretia felt that a woman of eighteen is, in all worldly considerations, ten years older than a youth of the same age. She anticipated that a considerable time might elapse before Coningsby would feel it necessary to seal his destiny by marriage, while, on the other hand, she was not only anxious, but resolved, not to delay on her part her emancipation from the galling position in which she very frequently found herself.
Lucretia felt rather than expressed these ideas and impressions. She was not naturally communicative, and conversed with no one with less frankness and facility than with her step-mother. Madame Colonna therefore found no reasons in her conversation with Lucretia to change her determination. As her mind was not ingenious she did not see questions in those various lights which make us at the same time infirm of purpose and tolerant. What she fancied ought to be done, she fancied must be done; for she perceived no middle course or alternative. For the rest, Lucretia’s carriage towards her gave her little discomfort. Besides, she herself, though good-natured, was obstinate. Her feelings were not very acute; nothing much vexed her. As long as she had fine dresses, good dinners, and opera-boxes, she could bear her plans to be crossed like a philosopher; and her consolation under her unaccomplished devices was her admirable consistency, which always assured her that her projects were wise, though unfulfilled.
She broke her purpose to Mr. Rigby, that she might gain not only his adhesion to her views, but his assistance in achieving them. As Madame Colonna, in Mr. Rigby’s estimation, exercised more influence over Lord Monmouth than any other individual, faithful to his policy or practice, he agreed with all Madame Colonna’s plans and wishes, and volunteered instantly to further them. As for the Prince, his wife never consulted him on any subject, nor did he wish to be consulted. On the contrary, he had no opinion about anything. All that he required was that he should be surrounded by what contributed to his personal enjoyment, that he should never be troubled, and that he should have billiards. He was not inexpert in field-sports, rode indeed very well for an Italian, but he never cared to be out-of-doors; and there was only one room in the interior which passionately interested him. It was where the echoing balls denoted the sweeping hazard or the effective cannonade. That was the chamber where the Prince Colonna literally existed. Half-an-hour after breakfast he was in the billiard-room; he never quitted it until he dressed for dinner; and he generally contrived, while the world were amused or amusing themselves at the comedy or in the dance, to steal down with some congenial sprites to the magical and illumined chamber, and use his cue until bedtime.
Faithful to her first impressions, Lucretia had made no difference in her demeanour to Coningsby to that which she offered to the other guests. Polite, but uncommunicative; ready to answer, but never originating conversation; she charmed him as little by her manner as by her person; and after some attempts, not very painstaking, to interest her, Coningsby had ceased to address her. The day passed by with only a faint recognition between them; even that sometimes omitted.
When, however, Lucretia observed that Coningsby had become one of the most notable persons in the Castle; when she heard everywhere of his talents and accomplishments, his beauty and grace and great acquirements, and perceived that he was courted by all; that Lord Monmouth omitted no occasion publicly to evince towards him his regard and consideration; that he seemed generally looked upon in the light of his grandfather’s heir; and that Lady St. Julians, more learned in that respect than any lady in the kingdom, was heard more than once to regret that she had not brought another daughter with her, Clara Isabella, as well as Augustina; the Princess Lucretia began to imagine that Madame Colonna, after all, might not be so extravagant in her purpose as she had first supposed. She, therefore, surprised Coningsby with the almost affectionate moroseness with which, while she hated to sing, she yet found pleasure in singing for him alone. And it is impossible to say what might not have been the next move in her tactics in this respect, had not the very night on which she had resolved to commence the enchantment of Coningsby introduced to her Sidonia.
The Princess Lucretia encountered the dark still glance of the friend of Lord Eskdale. He, too, beheld a woman unlike other women, and with his fine experience, both as a man and as a physiologist, felt that he was in the presence of no ordinary organisation. From the evening of his introduction Sidonia sought the society of the Princess Lucretia. He could not complain of her reserve. She threw out her mind in various and highly- cultivated intelligence. He recognised in her a deep and subtile spirit, considerable reading for a woman, habits of thought, and a soul passionate and daring. She resolved to subdue one whose appreciation she had gained, and who had subdued her. The profound meaning and the calm manner of Sidonia combined to quell her spirit. She struggled against the spell. She tried to rival his power; to cope with him, and with the same weapons. But prompt as was her thought and bright as was its expression, her heart beat in tumult; and, with all her apparent serenity, her agitated soul was a prey of absorbing passion. She could not contend with that intelligent, yet inscrutable, eye; with that manner so full of interest and respect, and yet so tranquil. Besides, they were not on equal terms. Here was a girl contending with a man learned in the world’s way.
Between Sidonia and Coningsby there at once occurred companionship. The morning after his arrival they went out shooting together. After a long ramble they would stretch themselves on the turf under a shady tree, often by the side of some brook where the cresses grow, that added a luxury to their sporting-meal; and then Coningsby would lead their conversation to some subject on which Sidonia would pour out his mind with all that depth of reflection, variety of knowledge, and richness of illustrative memory, which distinguished him; and which offered so striking a contrast to the sharp talent, the shallow information, and the worldly cunning, that make a Rigby.
This fellowship between Sidonia and Coningsby elevated the latter still more in the estimation of Lucretia, and rendered her still more desirous of gaining his good will and opinion. A great friendship seemed to have arisen between them, and the world began to believe that there must be some foundation for Madame Colonna’s innuendos. That lady herself was not in the least alarmed by the attention which Sidonia paid her step- daughter. It was, of course, well known that Sidonia was not a marrying man. He was, however, a great friend of Mr. Coningsby, his presence and society brought Coningsby and Lucretia more together; and however flattered her daughter might be for the moment by Sidonia’s homage, still, as she would ultimately find out, if indeed she ever cared so to do, that Sidonia could only be her admirer, Madame Colonna had no kind of doubt that ultimately Coningsby would be Lucretia’s husband, as she had arranged from the first.
The Princess Lucretia was a fine horse-woman, though she rarely joined the various riding-parties that were daily formed at the Castle. Often, indeed, attended only by her groom, she met the equestrians. Now she would ride with Sidonia and Coningsby, and as a female companion was indispensable, she insisted upon La Petite accompanying her. This was a fearful trial for Flora, but she encountered it, encouraged by the kind solicitude of Coningsby, who always seemed her friend.
Very shortly after the arrival of Sidonia, the Grand-duke and his suite quitted the Castle, which had been his Highness’ head-quarters during his visit to the manufacturing districts; but no other great change in the assembled company occurred for some little time.
‘You will observe one curious trait,’ said Sidonia to Coningsby, ‘in the history of this country: the depository of power is always unpopular; all combine against it; it always falls. Power was deposited in the great Barons; the Church, using the King for its instrument, crushed the great Barons. Power was deposited in the Church; the King, bribing the Parliament, plundered the Church. Power was deposited in the King; the Parliament, using the People, beheaded the King, expelled the King, changed the King, and, finally, for a King substituted an administrative officer. For one hundred and fifty years Power has been deposited in the Parliament, and for the last sixty or seventy years it has been becoming more and more unpopular. In 1830 it was endeavoured by a reconstruction to regain the popular affection; but, in truth, as the Parliament then only made itself more powerful, it has only become more odious. As we see that the Barons, the Church, the King, have in turn devoured each other, and that the Parliament, the last devourer, remains, it is impossible to resist the impression that this body also is doomed to be destroyed; and he is a sagacious statesman who may detect in what form and in what quarter the great consumer will arise.’
‘You take, then, a dark view of our position?’
‘Troubled, not dark. I do not ascribe to political institutions that paramount influence which it is the feeling of this age to attribute to them. The Senate that confronted Brennus in the Forum was the same body that registered in an after-age the ribald decrees of a Nero. Trial by jury, for example, is looked upon by all as the Palladium of our liberties; yet a jury, at a very recent period of our own history, the reign of Charles II., was a tribunal as iniquitous as the Inquisition.’ And a graver expression stole over the countenance of Sidonia as he remembered what that Inquisition had operated on his own race and his own destiny. ‘There are families in this country,’ he continued, ‘of both the great historical parties, that in the persecution of their houses, the murder and proscription of some of their most illustrious members, found judges as unjust and relentless in an open jury of their countrymen as we did in the conclaves of Madrid and Seville.’
‘Where, then, would you look for hope?’
‘In what is more powerful than laws and institutions, and without which the best laws and the most skilful institutions may be a dead letter, or the very means of tyranny in the national character. It is not in the increased feebleness of its institutions that I see the peril of England; it is in the decline of its character as a community.’
‘And yet you could scarcely describe this as an age of corruption?’
‘Not of political corruption. But it is an age of social disorganisation, far more dangerous in its consequences, because far more extensive. You may have a corrupt government and a pure community; you may have a corrupt community and a pure administration. Which would you elect?’
Neither,’ said Coningsby; ‘I wish to see a people full of faith, and a government full of duty.’
‘Rely upon it,’ said Sidonia, ‘that England should think more of the community and less of the government.’
‘But tell me, what do you understand by the term national character?’
‘A character is an assemblage of qualities; the character of England should be an assemblage of great qualities.’
‘But we cannot deny that the English have great virtues.’
‘The civilisation of a thousand years must produce great virtues; but we are speaking of the decline of public virtue, not its existence.’
‘In what, then, do you trace that decline?’
‘In the fact that the various classes of this country are arrayed against each other.’
‘But to what do you attribute those reciprocal hostilities?’
‘Not entirely, not even principally, to those economical causes of which we hear so much. I look upon all such as secondary causes, which, in a certain degree, must always exist, which obtrude themselves in troubled times, and which at all times it is the business of wise statesmen to watch, to regulate, to ameliorate, to modify.’
‘I am speaking to elicit truth, not to maintain opinions,’ said Coningsby; ‘for I have none,’ he added, mournfully.
‘I think,’ said Sidonia, ‘that there is no error so vulgar as to believe that revolutions are occasioned by economical causes. They come in, doubtless, very often to precipitate a catastrophe; very rarely do they occasion one. I know no period, for example, when physical comfort was more diffused in England than in 1640. England had a moderate population, a very improved agriculture, a rich commerce; yet she was on the eve of the greatest and most violent changes that she has as yet experienced.’
‘That was a religious movement.’
‘Admit it; the cause, then, was not physical. The imagination of England rose against the government. It proves, then, that when that faculty is astir in a nation, it will sacrifice even physical comfort to follow its impulses.’
‘Do you think, then, there is a wild desire for extensive political change in the country?’
‘Hardly that: England is perplexed at the present moment, not inventive. That will be the next phasis in her moral state, and to that I wish to draw your thoughts. For myself, while I ascribe little influence to physical causes for the production of this perplexity, I am still less of opinion that it can be removed by any new disposition of political power. It would only aggravate the evil. That would be recurring to the old error of supposing you can necessarily find national content in political institutions. A political institution is a machine; the motive power is the national character. With that it rests whether the machine will benefit society, or destroy it. Society in this country is perplexed, almost paralysed; in time it will move, and it will devise. How are the elements of the nation to be again blended together? In what spirit is that reorganisation to take place?’
‘To know that would be to know everything.’
‘At least let us free ourselves from the double ignorance of the Platonists. Let us not be ignorant that we are ignorant.’
‘I have emancipated myself from that darkness for a long time, ‘said Coningsby. ‘Long has my mind been musing over these thoughts, but to me all is still obscurity.’
‘In this country,’ said Sidonia, ‘since the peace, there has been an attempt to advocate a reconstruction of society on a purely rational basis. The principle of Utility has been powerfully developed. I speak not with lightness of the labours of the disciples of that school. I bow to intellect in every form: and we should be grateful to any school of philosophers, even if we disagree with them; doubly grateful in this country, where for so long a period our statesmen were in so pitiable an arrear of public intelligence. There has been an attempt to reconstruct society on a basis of material motives and calculations. It has failed. It must ultimately have failed under any circumstances; its failure in an ancient and densely-peopled kingdom was inevitable. How limited is human reason, the profoundest inquirers are most conscious. We are not indebted to the Reason of man for any of the great achievements which are the landmarks of human action and human progress. It was not Reason that besieged Troy; it was not Reason that sent forth the Saracen from the Desert to conquer the world; that inspired the Crusades; that instituted the Monastic orders; it was not Reason that produced the Jesuits; above all, it was not Reason that created the French Revolution. Man is only truly great when he acts from the passions; never irresistible but when he appeals to the imagination. Even Mormon counts more votaries than Bentham.’
‘And you think, then, that as Imagination once subdued the State, Imagination may now save it?’
‘Man is made to adore and to obey: but if you will not command him, if you give him nothing to worship, he will fashion his own divinities, and find a chieftain in his own passions.’
‘But where can we find faith in a nation of sectaries? Who can feel loyalty to a sovereign of Downing Street?’
‘I speak of the eternal principles of human nature, you answer me with the passing accidents of the hour. Sects rise and sects disappear. Where are the Fifth-Monarchy men? England is governed by Downing Street; once it was governed by Alfred and Elizabeth.’
About this time a steeple-chase in the West of England had attracted considerable attention. This sport was then of recent introduction in England, and is, in fact, an importation of Irish growth, although it has flourished in our soil. A young guardsman, who was then a guest at the Castle, and who had been in garrison in Ireland, had some experience of this pastime in the Kildare country, and he proposed that they should have a steeple-chase at Coningsby. This was a suggestion very agreeable to the Marquess of Beaumanoir, celebrated for his feats of horsemanship, and, indeed, to most of the guests. It was agreed that the race should come off at once, before any of the present company, many of whom gave symptoms of being on the wing, had quitted the Castle. The young guardsman and Mr. Guy Flouncey had surveyed the country and had selected a line which they esteemed very appropriate for the scene of action. From a hill of common land you looked down upon the valley of Coningsby, richly cultivated, deeply ditched, and stiffly fenced; the valley was bounded by another rising ground, and the scene was admirably calculated to give an extensive view to a multitude.
The distance along the valley was to be two miles out, and home again; the starting-post being also the winning-post, and the flags, which were placed on every fence which the horses were to pass, were to be passed on the left hand of the rider both going and coming; so that although the horses had to leap the same fences forward and backward, they could not come over the same place twice. In the last field before they turned, was a brook seventeen feet clear from side to side, with good taking off both banks. Here real business commenced.
Lord Monmouth highly approved the scheme, but mentioned that the stakes must be moderate, and open to the whole county. The neighbourhood had a week of preparation, and the entries for the Coningsby steeple-chase were numerous. Lord Monmouth, after a reserve for his own account, placed his stable at the service of his guests. For himself, he offered to back his horse, Sir Robert, which was to be ridden by his grandson.
Now, nothing was spoken or thought of at Coningsby Castle except the coming sport. The ladies shared the general excitement. They embroidered handkerchiefs, and scarfs, and gloves, with the respective colours of the rivals, and tried to make jockey-caps. Lady St. Julians postponed her intended departure in consequence. Madame Colonna wished that some means could be contrived by which they might all win.
Sidonia, with the other competitors, had ridden over the ground and glanced at the brook with the eye of a workman. On his return to the Castle he sent a despatch for some of his stud.
Coningsby was all anxiety to win. He was proud of the confidence of his grandfather in backing him. He had a powerful horse and a firstrate fencer, and he was resolved himself not to flinch. On the night before the race, retiring somewhat earlier than usual to his chamber, he observed on his dressing-table a small packet addressed to his name, and in an unknown handwriting. Opening it, he found a pretty racing-jacket embroidered with his colours of pink and white. This was a perplexing circumstance, but he fancied it on the whole a happy omen. And who was the donor? Certainly not the Princess Lucretia, for he had observed her fashioning some maroon ribbons, which were the colours of Sidonia. It could scarcely be from Mrs. Guy Flouncey. Perhaps Madame Colonna to please the Marquess? Thinking over this incident he fell asleep.
The morning before the race Sidonia’s horses arrived. All went to examine them at the stables. Among them was an Arab mare. Coningsby recognised the Daughter of the Star. She was greatly admired for her points; but Guy Flouncey whispered to Mr. Melton that she never could do the work.
‘But Lord Beaumanoir says he is all for speed against strength in these affairs,’ said Mr. Melton.
Guy Flouncey smiled incredulously.
The night before the race it rained rather heavily.
‘I take it the country will not be very like the Deserts of Arabia,’ said Mr. Guy Flouncey, with a knowing look to Mr. Melton, who was noting a bet in his memorandum-book.
The morning was fine, clear, and sunny, with a soft western breeze. The starting-post was about three miles from the Castle; but, long before the hour, the surrounding hills were covered with people; squire and farmer; with no lack of their wives and daughters; many a hind in his smock-frock, and many an ‘operative’ from the neighbouring factories. The ‘gentlemen riders’ gradually arrived. The entries were very numerous, though it was understood that not more than a dozen would come to the post, and half of these were the guests of Lord Monmouth. At half-past one the _cortege_ from the Castle arrived, and took up the post which had been prepared for them on the summit of the hill. Lord Monmouth was much cheered on his arrival. In the carriage with him were Madame Colonna and Lady St. Julians. The Princess Lucretia, Lady Gaythorp, Mrs. Guy Flouncey, accompanied by Lord Eskdale and other cavaliers, formed a brilliant company. There was scarcely a domestic in the Castle who was not there. The comedians, indeed, did not care to come, but Villebecque prevailed upon Flora to drive with him to the race in a buggy he borrowed of the steward.
The start was to be at two o’clock. The ‘gentlemen jockeys’ are mustered. Never were riders mounted and appointed in better style. The stewards and the clerk of the course attend them to the starting-post. There they are now assembled. Guy Flouncey takes up his stirrup-leathers a hole; Mr. Melton looks at his girths. In a few moments, the irrevocable monosyllable will be uttered.
The bugle sounds for them to face about; the clerk of the course sings out, ‘Gentlemen, are you all ready?’ No objection made, the word given to go, and fifteen riders start in excellent style.
Prince Colonna, who rode like Prince Rupert, took the lead, followed close by a stout yeoman on an old white horse of great provincial celebrity, who made steady running, and, from his appearance and action, an awkward customer. The rest, with two exceptions, followed in a cluster at no great distance, and in this order they continued, with very slight variation, for the first two miles, though there were several ox-fences, and one or two of them remarkably stiff. Indeed, they appeared more like horses running over a course than over a country. The two exceptions were Lord Beaumanoir on his horse Sunbeam, and Sidonia on the Arab. These kept somewhat slightly in the rear.
Almost in this wise they approached the dreaded brook. Indeed, with the exception of the last two riders, who were about thirty yards behind, it seemed that you might have covered the rest of the field with a sheet. They arrived at the brook at the same moment: seventeen feet of water between strong sound banks is no holiday work; but they charged with unfaltering intrepidity. But what a revolution in their spirited order did that instant produce! A masked battery of canister and grape could not have achieved more terrible execution. Coningsby alone clearly lighted on the opposing bank; but, for the rest of them, it seemed for a moment that they were all in the middle of the brook, one over another, splashing, kicking, swearing; every one trying to get out and keep others in. Mr. Melton and the stout yeoman regained their saddles and were soon again in chase. The Prince lost his horse, and was not alone in his misfortune. Mr. Guy Flouncey lay on his back with a horse across his diaphragm; only his head above the water, and his mouth full of chickweed and dockleaves. And if help had not been at hand, he and several others might have remained struggling in their watery bed for a considerable period. In the midst of this turmoil, the Marquess and Sidonia at the same moment cleared the brook.
Affairs now became interesting. Here Coningsby took up the running, Sidonia and the Marquess lying close at his quarters. Mr. Melton had gone the wrong side of a flag, and the stout yeoman, though close at hand, was already trusting much to his spurs. In the extreme distance might be detected three or four stragglers. Thus they continued until within three fields of home. A ploughed field finished the old white horse; the yeoman struck his spurs to the rowels, but the only effect of the experiment was, that the horse stood stock-still. Coningsby, Sidonia, and the Marquess were now all together. The winning-post is in sight, and a high and strong gate leads to the last field. Coningsby, looking like a winner, gallantly dashed forward and sent Sir Robert at the gate, but he had over-estimated his horse’s powers at this point of the game, and a rattling fall was the consequence: however, horse and rider were both on the right side, and Coningsby was in his saddle and at work again in a moment. It seemed that the Marquess was winning. There was only one more fence; and that the foot people had made a breach in by the side of a gate-post, and wide enough, as was said, for a broad-wheeled waggon to travel by. Instead of passing straight over this gap, Sunbeam swerved against the gate and threw his rider. This was decisive. The Daughter of the Star, who was still going beautifully, pulling double, and her jockey sitting still, sprang over the gap and went in first; Coningsby, on Sir Robert, being placed second. The distance measured was about four miles; there were thirty-nine leaps; and it was done under fifteen minutes.
Lord Monmouth was well content with the prowess of his grandson, and his extreme cordiality consoled Coningsby under a defeat which was very vexatious. It was some alleviation that he was beaten by Sidonia. Madame Colonna even shed tears at her young friend’s disappointment, and mourned it especially for Lucretia, who had said nothing, though a flush might be observed on her usually pale countenance. Villebecque, who had betted, was so extremely excited by the whole affair, especially during the last three minutes, that he quite forgot his quiet companion, and when he looked round he found Flora fainting.
‘You rode well,’ said Sidonia to Coningsby; ‘but your horse was more strong than swift. After all, this thing is a race; and, notwithstanding Solomon, in a race speed must win.’
Notwithstanding the fatigues of the morning, the evening was passed with great gaiety at the Castle. The gentlemen all vowed that, far from being inconvenienced by their mishaps, they felt, on the whole, rather better for them. Mr. Guy Flouncey, indeed, did not seem quite so limber and flexible as usual; and the young guardsman, who had previously discoursed in an almost alarming style of the perils and feats of the Kildare country, had subsided into a remarkable reserve. The Provincials were delighted with Sidonia’s riding, and even the Leicestershire gentlemen admitted that he was a ‘customer.’
Lord Monmouth beckoned to Coningsby to sit by him on the sofa, and spoke of his approaching University life. He gave his grandson a great deal of good advice: told him to avoid drinking, especially if he ever chanced to play cards, which he hoped he never would; urged the expediency of never borrowing money, and of confining his loans to small sums, and then only to friends of whom he wished to get rid; most particularly impressed on him never to permit his feelings to be engaged by any woman; nobody, he assured Coningsby, despised that weakness more than women themselves. Indeed, feeling of any kind did not suit the present age: it was not _bon ton_; and in some degree always made a man ridiculous. Coningsby was always to have before him the possible catastrophe of becoming ridiculous. It was the test of conduct, Lord Monmouth said; a fear of becoming ridiculous is the best guide in life, and will save a man from all sorts of scrapes. For the rest, Coningsby was to appear at Cambridge as became Lord Monmouth’s favourite grandson. His grandfather had opened an account for him with Drummonds’, on whom he was to draw for his considerable allowance; and if by any chance he found himself in a scrape, no matter of what kind, he was to be sure to write to his grandfather, who would certainly get him out of it.
‘Your departure is sudden,’ said the Princess Lucretia, in a low deep tone to Sidonia, who was sitting by her side and screened from general observation by the waltzers who whirled by.
‘Departures should be sudden.’
‘I do not like departures,’ said the Princess.
‘Nor did the Queen of Sheba when she quitted Solomon. You know what she did?’
‘She wept very much, and let one of the King’s birds fly into the garden. “You are freed from your cage,” she said; “but I am going back to mine.”‘
‘But you never weep?’ said the Princess.
‘And are always free?’
‘So are men in the Desert.’
‘But your life is not a Desert?’
‘It at least resembles the Desert in one respect: it is useless.’
‘The only useless life is woman’s.’
‘Yet there have been heroines,’ said Sidonia.
‘The Queen of Sheba,’ said the Princess, smiling.
‘A favourite of mine,’ said Sidonia.
‘And why was she a favourite of yours?’ rather eagerly inquired Lucretia.
‘Because she thought deeply, talked finely, and moved gracefully.’
‘And yet might be a very unfeeling dame at the same time,’ said the Princess.
‘I never thought of that,’ said Sidonia.
‘The heart, apparently, does not reckon in your philosophy.’
‘What we call the heart,’ said Sidonia, ‘is a nervous sensation, like shyness, which gradually disappears in society. It is fervent in the nursery, strong in the domestic circle, tumultuous at school. The affections are the children of ignorance; when the horizon of our experience expands, and models multiply, love and admiration imperceptibly vanish.’
‘I fear the horizon of your experience has very greatly expanded. With your opinions, what charm can there be in life?’
‘The sense of existence.’
‘So Sidonia is off to-morrow, Monmouth,’ said Lord Eskdale.
‘Hah!’ said the Marquess. ‘I must get him to breakfast with me before he goes.’
The party broke up. Coningsby, who had heard Lord Eskdale announce Sidonia’s departure, lingered to express his regret, and say farewell.
‘I cannot sleep,’ said Sidonia, ‘and I never smoke in Europe. If you are not stiff with your wounds, come to my rooms.’
This invitation was willingly accepted.
‘I am going to Cambridge in a week,’ said Coningsby. I was almost in hopes you might have remained as long.’
‘I also; but my letters of this morning demand me. If it had not been for our chase, I should have quitted immediately. The minister cannot pay the interest on the national debt; not an unprecedented circumstance, and has applied to us. I never permit any business of State to be transacted without my personal interposition; and so I must go up to town immediately.’
‘Suppose you don’t pay it,’ said Coningsby, smiling.
‘If I followed my own impulse, I would remain here,’ said Sidonia. ‘Can anything be more absurd than that a nation should apply to an individual to maintain its credit, and, with its credit, its existence as an empire, and its comfort as a people; and that individual one to whom its laws deny the proudest rights of citizenship, the privilege of sitting in its senate and of holding land? for though I have been rash enough to buy several estates, my own opinion is, that, by the existing law of England, an Englishman of Hebrew faith cannot possess the soil.’
‘But surely it would be easy to repeal a law so illiberal–‘
‘Oh! as for illiberality, I have no objection to it if it be an element of power. Eschew political sentimentalism. What I contend is, that if you permit men to accumulate property, and they use that permission to a great extent, power is inseparable from that property, and it is in the last degree impolitic to make it the interest of any powerful class to oppose the institutions under which they live. The Jews, for example, independently of the capital qualities for citizenship which they possess in their industry, temperance, and energy and vivacity of mind, are a race essentially monarchical, deeply religious, and shrinking themselves from converts as from a calamity, are ever anxious to see the religious systems of the countries in which they live flourish; yet, since your society has become agitated in England, and powerful combinations menace your institutions, you find the once loyal Hebrew invariably arrayed in the same ranks as the leveller, and the latitudinarian, and prepared to support the policy which may even endanger his life and property, rather than tamely continue under a system which seeks to degrade him. The Tories lose an important election at a critical moment; ’tis the Jews come forward to vote against them. The Church is alarmed at the scheme of a latitudinarian university, and learns with relief that funds are not forthcoming for its establishment; a Jew immediately advances and endows it. Yet the Jews, Coningsby, are essentially Tories. Toryism, indeed, is but copied from the mighty prototype which has fashioned Europe. And every generation they must become more powerful and more dangerous to the society which is hostile to them. Do you think that the quiet humdrum persecution of a decorous representative of an English university can crush those who have successively baffled the Pharaohs, Nebuchadnezzar, Rome, and the Feudal ages? The fact is, you cannot destroy a pure race of the Caucasian organisation. It is a physiological fact; a simple law of nature, which has baffled Egyptian and Assyrian Kings, Roman Emperors, and Christian Inquisitors. No penal laws, no physical tortures, can effect that a superior race should be absorbed in an inferior, or be destroyed by it. The mixed persecuting races disappear; the pure persecuted race remains. And at this moment, in spite of centuries, of tens of centuries, of degradation, the Jewish mind exercises a vast influence on the affairs of Europe. I speak not of their laws, which you still obey; of their literature, with which your minds are saturated; but of the living Hebrew intellect.
‘You never observe a great intellectual movement in Europe in which the Jews do not greatly participate. The first Jesuits were Jews; that mysterious Russian Diplomacy which so alarms Western Europe is organised and principally carried on by Jews; that mighty revolution which is at this moment preparing in Germany, and which will be, in fact, a second and greater Reformation, and of which so little is as yet known in England, is entirely developing under the auspices of Jews, who almost monopolise the professorial chairs of Germany. Neander, the founder of Spiritual Christianity, and who is Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Berlin, is a Jew. Benary, equally famous, and in the same University, is a Jew. Wehl, the Arabic Professor of Heidelberg, is a Jew. Years ago, when I was In Palestine, I met a German student who was accumulating materials for the History of Christianity, and studying the genius of the place; a modest and learned man. It was Wehl; then unknown, since become the first Arabic scholar of the day, and the author of the life of Mahomet. But for the German professors of this race, their name is Legion. I think there are more than ten at Berlin alone.
‘I told you just now that I was going up to town tomorrow, because I always made it a rule to interpose when affairs of State were on the carpet. Otherwise, I never interfere. I hear of peace and war in newspapers, but I am never alarmed, except when I am informed that the Sovereigns want treasure; then I know that monarchs are serious.
‘A few years back we were applied, to by Russia. Now, there has been no friendship between the Court of St. Petersburg and my family. It has Dutch connections, which have generally supplied it; and our representations in favour of the Polish Hebrews, a numerous race, but the most suffering and degraded of all the tribes, have not been very agreeable to the Czar. However, circumstances drew to an approximation between the Romanoffs and the Sidonias. I resolved to go myself to St. Petersburg. I had, on my arrival, an interview with the Russian Minister of Finance, Count Cancrin; I beheld the son of a Lithuanian Jew. The loan was connected with the affairs of Spain; I resolved on repairing to Spain from Russia. I travelled without intermission. I had an audience immediately on my arrival with the Spanish Minister, Senor Mendizabel; I beheld one like myself, the son of a Nuevo Christiano, a Jew of Arragon. In consequence of what transpired at Madrid, I went straight to Paris to consult the President of the French Council; I beheld the son of a French Jew, a hero, an imperial marshal, and very properly so, for who should be military heroes if not those who worship the Lord of Hosts?’
‘And is Soult a Hebrew?’
‘Yes, and others of the French marshals, and the most famous; Massena, for example; his real name was Manasseh: but to my anecdote. The consequence of our consultations was, that some Northern power should be applied to in a friendly and mediative capacity. We fixed on Prussia; and the President of the Council made an application to the Prussian Minister, who attended a few days after our conference. Count Arnim entered the cabinet, and I beheld a Prussian Jew. So you see, my dear Coningsby, that the world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes.’
‘You startle, and deeply interest me.’
‘You must study physiology, my dear child. Pure races of Caucasus may be persecuted, but they cannot be despised, except by the brutal ignorance of some mongrel breed, that brandishes fagots and howls extermination, but is itself exterminated without persecution, by that irresistible law of Nature which is fatal to curs.’
‘But I come also from Caucasus,’ said Coningsby.
‘Verily; and thank your Creator for such a destiny: and your race is sufficiently pure. You come from the shores of the Northern Sea, land of the blue eye, and the golden hair, and the frank brow: ’tis a famous breed, with whom we Arabs have contended long; from whom we have suffered much: but these Goths, and Saxons, and Normans were doubtless great men.’
‘But so favoured by Nature, why has not your race produced great poets, great orators, great writers?’
‘Favoured by Nature and by Nature’s God, we produced the lyre of David; we gave you Isaiah and Ezekiel; they are our Olynthians, our Philippics. Favoured by Nature we still remain: but in exact proportion as we have been favoured by Nature we have been persecuted by Man. After a thousand struggles; after acts of heroic courage that Rome has never equalled; deeds of divine patriotism that Athens, and Sparta, and Carthage have never excelled; we have endured fifteen hundred years of supernatural slavery, during which, every device that can degrade or destroy man has been the destiny that we have sustained and baffled. The Hebrew child has entered adolescence only to learn that he was the Pariah of that ungrateful Europe that owes to him the best part of its laws, a fine portion of its literature, all its religion. Great poets require a public; we have been content with the immortal melodies that we sung more than two thousand years ago by the waters of Babylon and wept. They record our triumphs; they solace our affliction. Great orators are the creatures of popular assemblies; we were permitted only by stealth to meet even in our temples. And as for great writers, the catalogue is not blank. What are all the schoolmen, Aquinas himself, to Maimonides? And as for modern philosophy, all springs from Spinoza.
‘But the passionate and creative genius, that is the nearest link to Divinity, and which no human tyranny can destroy, though it can divert it; that should have stirred the hearts of nations by its inspired sympathy, or governed senates by its burning eloquence; has found a medium for its expression, to which, in spite of your prejudices and your evil passions, you have been obliged to bow. The ear, the voice, the fancy teeming with combinations, the imagination fervent with picture and emotion, that came from Caucasus, and which we have preserved unpolluted, have endowed us with almost the exclusive privilege of Music; that science of harmonious sounds, which the ancients recognised as most divine, and deified in the person of their most beautiful creation. I speak not of the past; though, were I to enter into the history of the lords of melody, you would find it the annals of Hebrew genius. But at this moment even, musical Europe is ours. There is not a company of singers, not an orchestra in a single capital, that is not crowded with our children under the feigned names which they adopt to conciliate the dark aversion which your posterity will some day disclaim with shame and disgust. Almost every great composer, skilled musician, almost every voice that ravishes you with its transporting strains, springs from our tribes. The catalogue is too vast to enumerate; too illustrious to dwell for a moment on secondary names, however eminent. Enough for us that the three great creative minds to whose exquisite inventions all nations at this moment yield, Rossini, Meyerbeer, Mendelssohn, are of Hebrew race; and little do your men of fashion, your muscadins of Paris, and your dandies of London, as they thrill into raptures at the notes of a Pasta or a Grisi, little do they suspect that they are offering their homage to “the sweet singers of Israel!”‘
It was the noon of the day on which Sidonia was to leave the Castle. The wind was high; the vast white clouds scudded over the blue heaven; the leaves yet green, and tender branches snapped like glass, were whirled in eddies from the trees; the grassy sward undulated like the ocean with a thousand tints and shadows. From the window of the music-room Lucretia Colonna gazed on the turbulent sky.
The heaven of her heart, too, was disturbed.
She turned from the agitated external world to ponder over her inward emotion. She uttered a deep sigh.
Slowly she moved towards her harp; wildly, almost unconsciously, she touched with one hand its strings, while her eyes were fixed on the ground. An imperfect melody resounded; yet plaintive and passionate. It seemed to attract her soul. She raised her head, and then, touching the strings with both her hands, she poured forth tones of deep, yet thrilling power.
‘I am a stranger in the halls of a stranger! Ah! whither shall I flee? To the castle of my fathers in the green mountains; to the palace of my fathers in the ancient city?
There is no flag on the castle of my fathers in the green mountains, silent is the palace of my fathers in the ancient city. Is there no home for the homeless? Can the unloved never find love? Ah! thou fliest away, fleet cloud: he will leave us swifter than thee! Alas! cutting wind, thy breath is not so cold as his heart! I am a stranger in the halls of a stranger! Ah! whither shall I flee?’
The door of the music-room slowly opened. It was Sidonia. His hat was in his hand; he was evidently on the point of departure.
‘Those sounds assured me,’ he said calmly but kindly, as he advanced, ‘that I might find you here, on which I scarcely counted at so early an hour.’
‘You are going then?’ said the Princess.
‘My carriage is at the door; the Marquess has delayed me; I must be in London to-night. I conclude more abruptly than I could have wished one of the most agreeable visits I ever made; and I hope you will permit me to express to you how much I am indebted to you for a society which those should deem themselves fortunate who can more frequently enjoy.’
He held forth his hand; she extended hers, cold as marble, which he bent over, but did not press to his lips.
‘Lord Monmouth talks of remaining here some time,’ he observed; ‘but I suppose next year, if not this, we shall all meet in some city of the earth?’
Lucretia bowed; and Sidonia, with a graceful reverence, withdrew.
The Princess Lucretia stood for some moments motionless; a sound attracted her to the window; she perceived the equipage of Sidonia whirling along the winding roads of the park. She watched it till it disappeared; then quitting the window, she threw herself into a chair, and buried her face in her shawl.
END OF BOOK IV.
An University life did not bring to Coningsby that feeling of emancipation usually experienced by freshmen. The contrast between school and college life is perhaps, under any circumstances, less striking to the Etonian than to others: he has been prepared for becoming his own master by the liberty wisely entrusted to him in his boyhood, and which is, in general, discreetly exercised. But there were also other reasons why Coningsby should have been less impressed with the novelty of his life, and have encountered less temptations than commonly are met with in the new existence which an University opens to youth. In the interval which had elapsed between quitting Eton and going to Cambridge, brief as the period may comparatively appear, Coningsby had seen much of the world. Three or four months, indeed, may not seem, at the first blush, a course of time which can very materially influence the formation of character; but time must not be counted by calendars, but by sensations, by thought. Coningsby had felt a good deal, reflected more. He had encountered a great number of human beings, offering a vast variety of character for his observation. It was not merely manners, but even the intellectual and moral development of the human mind, which in a great degree, unconsciously to himself, had been submitted to his study and his scrutiny. New trains of ideas had been opened to him; his mind was teeming with suggestions. The horizon of his intelligence had insensibly expanded. He perceived that there were other opinions in the world, besides those to which he had been habituated. The depths of his intellect had been stirred. He was a wiser man.
He distinguished three individuals whose acquaintance had greatly influenced his mind; Eustace Lyle, the elder Millbank, above all, Sidonia. He curiously meditated over the fact, that three English subjects, one of them a principal landed proprietor, another one of the most eminent manufacturers, and the third the greatest capitalist in the kingdom, all of them men of great intelligence, and doubtless of a high probity and conscience, were in their hearts disaffected with the political constitution of the country. Yet, unquestionably, these were the men among whom we ought to seek for some of our first citizens. What, then, was this repulsive quality in those institutions which we persisted in calling national, and which once were so? Here was a great question.
There was another reason, also, why Coningsby should feel a little fastidious among his new habits, and, without being aware of it, a little depressed. For three or four months, and for the first time in his life, he had passed his time in the continual society of refined and charming women. It is an acquaintance which, when habitual, exercises a great influence over the tone of the mind, even if it does not produce any more violent effects. It refines the taste, quickens the perception, and gives, as it were, a grace and flexibility to the intellect. Coningsby in his solitary rooms arranging his books, sighed when he recalled the Lady Everinghams and the Lady Theresas; the gracious Duchess; the frank, good- natured Madame Colonna; that deeply interesting enigma the Princess Lucretia; and the gentle Flora. He thought with disgust of the impending dissipation of an University, which could only be an exaggeration of their coarse frolics at school. It seemed rather vapid this mighty Cambridge, over which they had so often talked in the playing fields of Eton, with such anticipations of its vast and absorbing interest. And those University honours that once were the great object of his aspirations, they did not figure in that grandeur with which they once haunted his imagination.
What Coningsby determined to conquer was knowledge. He had watched the influence of Sidonia in society with an eye of unceasing vigilance. Coningsby perceived that all yielded to him; that Lord Monmouth even, who seemed to respect none, gave place to his intelligence; appealed to him, listened to him, was guided by him. What was the secret of this influence? Knowledge. On all subjects, his views were prompt and clear, and this not more from his native sagacity and reach of view, than from the aggregate of facts which rose to guide his judgment and illustrate his meaning, from all countries and all ages, instantly at his command.
The friends of Coningsby were now hourly arriving. It seemed when he met them again, that they had all suddenly become men since they had separated; Buckhurst especially. He had been at Paris, and returned with his mind very much opened, and trousers made quite in a new style. All his thoughts were, how soon he could contrive to get back again; and he told them endless stories of actresses, and dinners at fashionable _cafes_. Vere enjoyed Cambridge most, because he had been staying with his family since he quitted Eton. Henry Sydney was full of church architecture, national sports, restoration of the order of the Peasantry, and was to maintain a constant correspondence on these and similar subjects with Eustace Lyle. Finally, however, they all fell into a very fair, regular, routine life. They all read a little, but not with the enthusiasm which they had once projected. Buckhurst drove four-in-hand, and they all of them sometimes assisted him; but not immoderately. Their suppers were sometimes gay, but never outrageous; and, among all of them, the school friendship was maintained unbroken, and even undisturbed.
The fame of Coningsby preceded him at Cambridge. No man ever went up from whom more was expected in every way. The dons awaited a sucking member for the University, the undergraduates were prepared to welcome a new Alcibiades. He was neither: neither a prig nor a profligate; but a quiet, gentlemanlike, yet spirited young man, gracious to all, but intimate only with his old friends, and giving always an impression in his general tone that his soul was not absorbed in his University.
And yet, perhaps, he might have been coddled into a prig, or flattered into a profligate, had it not been for the intervening experience which he had gained between his school and college life. That had visibly impressed upon him, what before he had only faintly acquired from books, that there was a greater and more real world awaiting him, than to be found in those bowers of Academus to which youth is apt at first to attribute an exaggerated importance. A world of action and passion, of power and peril; a world for which a great preparation was indeed necessary, severe and profound, but not altogether such an one as was now offered to him. Yet this want must be supplied, and by himself. Coningsby had already acquirements sufficiently considerable, with some formal application, to ensure him at all times his degree. He was no longer engrossed by the intention he once proudly entertained of trying for honours, and he chalked out for himself that range of reading, which, digested by his thought, should furnish him in some degree with that various knowledge of the history of man to which he aspired. No, we must not for a moment believe that accident could have long diverted the course of a character so strong. The same desire that prevented the Castle of his grandfather from proving a Castle of Indolence to him, that saved him from a too early initiation into the seductive distractions of a refined and luxurious society, would have preserved Coningsby from the puerile profligacy of a college life, or from being that idol of private tutors, a young pedant. It was that noble ambition, the highest and the best, that must be born in the heart and organised in the brain, which will not let a man be content, unless his intellectual power is recognised by his race, and desires that it should contribute to their welfare. It is the heroic feeling; the feeling that in old days produced demigods; without which no State is safe; without which political institutions are meat without salt; the Crown a bauble, the Church an establishment, Parliaments debating-clubs, and Civilisation itself but a fitful and transient dream.
Less than a year after the arrival of Coningsby at Cambridge, and which he had only once quitted in the interval, and that to pass a short time in Berkshire with his friend Buckhurst, occurred the death of King William IV. This event necessarily induced a dissolution of the Parliament, elected under the auspices of Sir Robert Peel in 1834, and after the publication of the Tamworth Manifesto.
The death of the King was a great blow to what had now come to be generally styled the ‘Conservative Cause.’ It was quite unexpected; within a fortnight of his death, eminent persons still believed that ‘it was only the hay-fever.’ Had his Majesty lived until after the then impending registration, the Whigs would have been again dismissed. Nor is there any doubt that, under these circumstances, the Conservative Cause would have secured for the new ministers a parliamentary majority. What would have been the consequences to the country, if the four years of Whig rule, from 1837 to 1841, had not occurred? It is easier to decide what would have been the consequences to the Whigs. Some of their great friends might have lacked blue ribbons and lord-lieutenancies, and some of their little friends comfortable places in the Customs and Excise. They would have lost, undoubtedly, the distribution of four years’ patronage; we can hardly say the exercise of four years’ power; but they would have existed at this moment as the most powerful and popular Opposition that ever flourished in this country, if, indeed, the course of events had not long ere this carried them back to their old posts in a proud and intelligible position. The Reform Bill did not do more injury to the Tories, than the attempt to govern this country without a decided Parliamentary majority did the Whigs. The greatest of all evils is a weak government. They cannot carry good measures, they are forced to carry bad ones.
The death of the King was a great blow to the Conservative Cause; that is to say, it darkened the brow of Tadpole, quailed the heart of Taper, crushed all the rising hopes of those numerous statesmen who believe the country must be saved if they receive twelve hundred a-year. It is a peculiar class, that; 1,200_l._ per annum, paid quarterly, is their idea of political science and human nature. To receive 1,200_l._ per annum is government; to try to receive 1,200_l._ per annum is opposition; to wish to receive 1,200_l._ per annum is ambition. If a man wants to get into Parliament, and does not want to get 1,200_l._ per annum, they look upon him as daft; as a benighted being. They stare in each other’s face, and ask, ‘What can ***** want to get into Parliament for?’ They have no conception that public reputation is a motive power, and with many men the greatest. They have as much idea of fame or celebrity, even of the masculine impulse of an honourable pride, as eunuchs of manly joys.
The twelve-hundred-a-yearers were in despair about the King’s death. Their loyal souls were sorely grieved that his gracious Majesty had not outlived the Registration. All their happy inventions about ‘hay-fever,’ circulated in confidence, and sent by post to chairmen of Conservative Associations, followed by a royal funeral! General election about to take place with the old registration; government boroughs against them, and the young Queen for a cry. What a cry! Youth, beauty, and a Queen! Taper grew pale at the thought. What could they possibly get up to countervail it? Even Church and Corn-laws together would not do; and then Church was sulky, for the Conservative Cause had just made it a present of a commission, and all that the country gentlemen knew of Conservatism was, that it would not repeal the Malt Tax, and had made them repeal their pledges. Yet a cry must be found. A dissolution without a cry, in the Taper philosophy, would be a world without a sun. A rise might be got by ‘Independence of the House of Lords;’ and Lord Lyndhurst’s summaries might be well circulated at one penny per hundred, large discount allowed to Conservative Associations, and endless credit. Tadpole, however, was never very fond of the House of Lords; besides, it was too limited. Tadpole wanted the young Queen brought in; the rogue! At length, one morning, Taper came up to him with a slip of paper, and a smile of complacent austerity on his dull visage, ‘I think, Mr. Tadpole, that will do!’
Tadpole took the paper and read, ‘OUR YOUNG QUEEN, AND OUR OLD INSTITUTIONS.’
The eyes of Tadpole sparkled as if they had met a gnomic sentence of Periander or Thales; then turning to Taper, he said,
‘What do you think of “ancient,” instead of “old”?’
‘You cannot have “Our modern Queen and our ancient Institutions,”‘ said Mr. Taper.
The dissolution was soon followed by an election for the borough of Cambridge. The Conservative Cause candidate was an old Etonian. That was a bond of sympathy which imparted zeal even to those who were a little sceptical of the essential virtues of Conservatism. Every undergraduate especially who remembered ‘the distant spires,’ became enthusiastic. Buckhurst took a very decided part. He cheered, he canvassed, he brought men to the poll whom none could move; he influenced his friends and his companions. Even Coningsby caught the contagion, and Vere, who had imbibed much of Coningsby’s political sentiment, prevailed on himself to be neutral. The Conservative Cause triumphed in the person of its Eton champion. The day the member was chaired, several men in Coningsby’s rooms were talking over their triumph.
‘By Jove!’ said the panting Buckhurst, throwing himself on the sofa, ‘it was well done; never was any thing better done. An immense triumph! The greatest triumph the Conservative Cause has had. And yet,’ he added, laughing, ‘if any fellow were to ask me what the Conservative Cause is, I am sure I should not know what to say.’
‘Why, it is the cause of our glorious institutions,’ said Coningsby. ‘A Crown robbed of its prerogatives; a Church controlled by a commission; and an Aristocracy that does not lead.’
‘Under whose genial influence the order of the Peasantry, “a country’s pride,” has vanished from the face of the land,’ said Henry Sydney, ‘and is succeeded by a race of serfs, who are called labourers, and who burn ricks.’
‘Under which,’ continued Coningsby, ‘the Crown has become a cipher; the Church a sect; the Nobility drones; and the People drudges.’
‘It is the great constitutional cause,’ said Lord Vere, ‘that refuses everything to opposition; yields everything to agitation; conservative in Parliament, destructive out-of-doors; that has no objection to any change provided only it be effected by unauthorised means.’
‘The first public association of men,’ said Coningsby, ‘who have worked for an avowed end without enunciating a single principle.’
‘And who have established political infidelity throughout the land,’ said Lord Henry.
‘By Jove!’ said Buckhurst, ‘what infernal fools we have made ourselves this last week!’
‘Nay,’ said Coningsby, smiling, ‘it was our last schoolboy weakness. Floreat Etona, under all circumstances.’
‘I certainly, Coningsby,’ said Lord Vere, ‘shall not assume the Conservative Cause, instead of the cause for which Hampden died in the field, and Sydney on the scaffold.’
‘The cause for which Hampden died in the field and Sydney on the scaffold,’ said Coningsby, ‘was the cause of the Venetian Republic.’
‘How, how?’ cried Buckhurst.
‘I repeat it,’ said Coningsby. ‘The great object of the Whig leaders in England from the first movement under Hampden to the last most successful one in 1688, was to establish in England a high aristocratic republic on the model of the Venetian, then the study and admiration of all speculative politicians. Read Harrington; turn over Algernon Sydney; then you will see how the minds of the English leaders in the seventeenth century were saturated with the Venetian type. And they at length succeeded. William III. found them out. He told the Whig leaders, “I will not be a Doge.” He balanced parties; he baffled them as the Puritans baffled them fifty years before. The reign of Anne was a struggle between the Venetian and the English systems. Two great Whig nobles, Argyle and Somerset, worthy of seats in the Council of Ten, forced their Sovereign on her deathbed to change the ministry. They accomplished their object. They brought in a new family on their own terms. George I. was a Doge; George II. was a Doge; they were what William III., a great man, would not be. George III. tried not to be a Doge, but it was impossible materially to resist the deeply-laid combination. He might get rid of the Whig magnificoes, but he could not rid himself of the Venetian constitution. And a Venetian constitution did govern England from the accession of the House of Hanover until 1832. Now I do not ask you, Vere, to relinquish the political tenets which in ordinary times would have been your inheritance. All I say is, the constitution introduced by your ancestors having been subverted by their descendants your contemporaries, beware of still holding Venetian principles of government when you have not a Venetian constitution to govern with. Do what I am doing, what Henry Sydney and Buckhurst are doing, what other men that I could mention are doing, hold yourself aloof from political parties which, from the necessity of things, have ceased to have distinctive principles, and are therefore practically only factions; and wait and see, whether with patience, energy, honour, and Christian faith, and a desire to look to the national welfare and not to sectional and limited interests; whether, I say, we may not discover some great principles to guide us, to which we may adhere, and which then, if true, will ultimately guide and control others.’
‘The Whigs are worn out,’ said Vere, ‘Conservatism is a sham, and Radicalism is pollution.’
‘I certainly,’ said Buckhurst, ‘when I get into the House of Commons, shall speak my mind without reference to any party whatever; and all I hope is, we may all come in at the same time, and then we may make a party of our own.’
‘I have always heard my father say,’ said Vere, ‘that there was nothing so difficult as to organise an independent party in the House of Commons.’
‘Ay! but that was in the Venetian period, Vere,’ said Henry Sydney, smiling.
‘I dare say,’ said Buckhurst, ‘the only way to make a party in the House of Commons is just the one that succeeds anywhere else. Men must associate together. When you are living in the same set, dining together every day, and quizzing the Dons, it is astonishing how well men agree. As for me, I never would enter into a conspiracy, unless the conspirators were fellows who had been at Eton with me; and then there would be no treachery.’
‘Let us think of principles, and not of parties,’ said Coningsby.
‘For my part,’ said Buckhurst, ‘whenever a political system is breaking up, as in this country at present, I think the very best thing is to brush all the old Dons off the stage. They never take to the new road kindly. They are always hampered by their exploded prejudices and obsolete traditions. I don’t think a single man, Vere, that sat in the Venetian Senate ought to be allowed to sit in the present English House of Commons.’
‘Well, no one does in our family except my uncle Philip,’ said Lord Henry; ‘and the moment I want it, he will resign; for he detests Parliament. It interferes so with his hunting.’
‘Well, we all have fair parliamentary prospects,’ said Buckhurst. ‘That is something. I wish we were in now.’
‘Heaven forbid!’ said Coningsby. ‘I tremble at the responsibility of a seat at any time. With my present unsettled and perplexed views, there is nothing from which I should recoil so much as the House of Commons.’
‘I quite agree with you,’ said Henry Sydney. ‘The best thing we can do is to keep as clear of political party as we possibly can. How many men waste the best part of their lives in painfully apologising for conscientious deviation from a parliamentary course which they adopted when they were boys, without thought, or prompted by some local connection, or interest, to secure a seat.’
It was the midnight following the morning when this conversation took place, that Coningsby, alone, and having just quitted a rather boisterous party of wassailers who had been celebrating at Buckhurst’s rooms the triumph of ‘Eton Statesmen,’ if not of Conservative principles, stopped in the precincts of that Royal College that reminded him of his schooldays, to cool his brow in the summer air, that even at that hour was soft, and to calm his mind in the contemplation of the still, the sacred, and the beauteous scene that surrounded him.
There rose that fane, the pride and boast of Cambridge, not unworthy to rank among the chief temples of Christendom. Its vast form was exaggerated in the uncertain hour; part shrouded in the deepest darkness, while a flood of silver light suffused its southern side, distinguished with revealing beam the huge ribs of its buttresses, and bathed with mild lustre its airy pinnacles.
‘Where is the spirit that raised these walls?’ thought Coningsby. ‘Is it indeed extinct? Is then this civilisation, so much vaunted, inseparable from moderate feelings and little thoughts? If so, give me back barbarism! But I cannot believe it. Man that is made in the image of the Creator, is made for God-like deeds. Come what come may, I will cling to the heroic principle. It can alone satisfy my soul.’
We must now revert to the family, or rather the household, of Lord Monmouth, in which considerable changes and events had occurred since the visit of Coningsby to the Castle in the preceding autumn.
In the first place, the earliest frost of the winter had carried off the aged proprietor of Hellingsley, that contiguous estate which Lord Monmouth so much coveted, the possession of which was indeed one of the few objects of his life, and to secure which he was prepared to pay far beyond its intrinsic value, great as that undoubtedly was. Yet Lord Monmouth did not become its possessor. Long as his mind had been intent upon the subject, skilful as had been his combinations to secure his prey, and unlimited the means which were to achieve his purpose, another stepped in, and without his privity, without even the consolation of a struggle, stole away the prize; and this too a man whom he hated, almost the only individual out of his own family that he did hate; a man who had crossed him before in similar enterprises; who was his avowed foe; had lavished treasure to oppose him in elections; raised associations against his interest; established journals to assail him; denounced him in public; agitated against him in private; had declared more than once that he would make ‘the county too hot for him;’ his personal, inveterate, indomitable foe, Mr. Millbank of Millbank.
The loss of Hellingsley was a bitter disappointment to Lord Monmouth; but the loss of it to such an adversary touched him to the quick. He did not seek to control his anger; he could not succeed even in concealing his agitation. He threw upon Rigby that glance so rare with him, but under which men always quailed; that play of the eye which Lord Monmouth shared in common with Henry VIII., that struck awe into the trembling Commons when they had given an obnoxious vote, as the King entered the gallery of his palace, and looked around him.
It was a look which implied that dreadful question, ‘Why have I bought you that such things should happen? Why have I unlimited means and unscrupulous agents?’ It made Rigby even feel; even his brazen tones were hushed.
To fly from everything disagreeable was the practical philosophy of Lord Monmouth; but he was as brave as he was sensual. He would not shrink before the new proprietor of Hellingsley. He therefore remained at the Castle with an aching heart, and redoubled his hospitalities. An ordinary mind might have been soothed by the unceasing consideration and the skilful and delicate flattery that ever surrounded Lord Monmouth; but his sagacious intelligence was never for a moment the dupe of his vanity. He had no self-love, and as he valued no one, there were really no feelings to play upon. He saw through everybody and everything; and when he had detected their purpose, discovered their weakness or their vileness, he calculated whether they could contribute to his pleasure or his convenience in a degree that counterbalanced the objections which might be urged against their intentions, or their less pleasing and profitable qualities. To be pleased was always a principal object with Lord Monmouth; but when a man wants vengeance, gay amusement is not exactly a satisfactory substitute.
A month elapsed. Lord Monmouth with a serene or smiling visage to his guests, but in private taciturn and morose, scarcely ever gave a word to Mr. Rigby, but continually bestowed on him glances which painfully affected the appetite of that gentleman. In a hundred ways it was intimated to Mr. Rigby that he was not a welcome guest, and yet something was continually given him to do which rendered it impossible for him to take his departure. In this state of affairs, another event occurred which changed the current of feeling, and by its possible consequences distracted the Marquess from his brooding meditations over his discomfiture in the matter of Hellingsley. The Prince Colonna, who, since the steeple-chase, had imbibed a morbid predilection for such amusements, and indeed for every species of rough-riding, was thrown from his horse and killed on the spot.
This calamity broke up the party at Coningsby, which was not at the moment very numerous. Mr. Rigby, by command, instantly seized the opportunity of preventing the arrival of other guests who were expected. This catastrophe was the cause of Mr. Rigby resuming in a great measure his old position in the Castle. There were a great many things to be done, and all disagreeable; he achieved them all, and studied everybody’s convenience. Coroners’ inquests, funerals especially, weeping women, these were all spectacles which Lord Monmouth could not endure, but he was so high-bred, that he would not for the world that there should be in manner or degree the slightest deficiency in propriety or even sympathy. But he wanted somebody to do everything that was proper; to be considerate and consoling and sympathetic. Mr. Rigby did it all; gave evidence at the inquest, was chief mourner at the funeral, and arranged everything so well that not a single emblem of death crossed the sight of Lord Monmouth; while Madame Colonna found submission in his exhortations, and the Princess Lucretia, a little more pale and pensive than usual, listened with tranquillity to his discourse on the vanity of all sublunary things.
When the tumult had subsided, and habits and feelings had fallen into their old routine and relapsed into their ancient channels, the Marquess proposed that they should all return to London, and with great formality, though with warmth, begged that Madame Colonna would ever consider his roof as her own. All were glad to quit the Castle, which now presented a scene so different from its former animation, and Madame Colonna, weeping, accepted the hospitality of her friend, until the impending expansion of the spring would permit her to return to Italy. This notice of her return to her own country seemed to occasion the Marquess great disquietude.
After they had remained about a month in London, Madame Colonna sent for Mr. Rigby one morning to tell him how very painful it was to her feelings to remain under the roof of Monmouth House without the sanction of a husband; that the circumstance of being a foreigner, under such unusual affliction, might have excused, though not authorised, the step at first, and for a moment; but that the continuance of such a course was quite out of the question; that she owed it to herself, to her step-child, no longer to trespass on this friendly hospitality, which, if persisted in, might be liable to misconstruction. Mr. Rigby listened with great attention to this statement, and never in the least interrupted Madame Colonna; and then offered to do that which he was convinced the lady desired, namely, to make the Marquess acquainted with the painful state of her feelings. This he did according to his fashion, and with sufficient dexterity. Mr. Rigby himself was anxious to know which way the wind blew, and the mission with which he had been entrusted, fell in precisely with his inclinations and necessities. The Marquess listened to the communication and sighed, then turned gently round and surveyed himself in the mirror and sighed again, then said to Rigby,
‘You understand exactly what I mean, Rigby. It is quite ridiculous their going, and infinitely distressing to me. They must stay.’
Rigby repaired to the Princess full of mysterious bustle, and with a face beaming with importance and satisfaction. He made much of the two sighs; fully justified the confidence of the Marquess in his comprehension of unexplained intentions; prevailed on Madame Colonna to have some regard for the feelings of one so devoted; expatiated on the insignificance of worldly misconstructions, when replied to by such honourable intentions; and fully succeeded in his mission. They did stay. Month after month rolled on, and still they stayed; every month all the family becoming more resigned or more content, and more cheerful. As for the Marquess himself, Mr. Rigby never remembered him more serene and even joyous. His Lordship scarcely ever entered general society. The Colonna family remained in strict seclusion; and he preferred the company of these accomplished and congenial friends to the mob of the great world.
Between Madame Colonna and Mr. Rigby there had always subsisted considerable confidence. Now, that gentleman seemed to have achieved fresh and greater claims to her regard. In the pleasure with which he looked forward to her approaching alliance with his patron, he reminded her of the readiness with which he had embraced her suggestions for the marriage of her daughter with Coningsby. Always obliging, she was never wearied of chanting his praises to her noble admirer, who was apparently much gratified she should have bestowed her esteem on one of whom she would necessarily in after-life see so much. It is seldom the lot of husbands that their confidential friends gain the regards of their brides.
‘I am glad you all like Rigby,’ said Lord Monmouth, ‘as you will see so much of him.’
The remembrance of the Hellingsley failure seemed to be erased from the memory of the Marquess. Rigby never recollected him more cordial and confidential, and more equable in his manner. He told Rigby one day, that he wished that Monmouth House should possess the most sumptuous and the most fanciful boudoir in London or Paris. What a hint for Rigby! That gentleman consulted the first artists, and gave them some hints in return; his researches on domestic decoration ranged through all ages; he even meditated a rapid tour to mature his inventions; but his confidence in his native taste and genius ultimately convinced him that this movement was unnecessary.
The summer advanced; the death of the King occurred; the dissolution summoned Rigby to Coningsby and the borough of Darlford. His success was marked certain in the secret books of Tadpole and Taper. A manufacturing town, enfranchised under the Reform Act, already gained by the Conservative cause! Here was reaction; here influence of property! Influence of character, too; for no one was so popular as Lord Monmouth; a most distinguished nobleman of strict Conservative principles, who, if he carried the county and the manufacturing borough also, merited the strawberry-leaf.
‘There will be no holding Rigby,’ said Taper; ‘I’m afraid he will be looking for something very high.’
‘The higher the better,’ rejoined Tadpole, ‘and then he will not interfere with us. I like your high-flyers; it is your plodders I detest, wearing old hats and high-lows, speaking in committee, and thinking they are men of business: d—-n them!’
Rigby went down, and made some impressive speeches; at least they read very well in some of his second-rate journals, where all the uproar figured as loud cheering, and the interruption of a cabbage-stalk was represented as a question from some intelligent individual in the crowd. The fact is, Rigby bored his audience too much with history, especially with the French Revolution, which he fancied was his ‘forte,’ so that the people at last, whenever he made any allusion to the subject, were almost as much terrified as if they had seen the guillotine.
Rigby had as yet one great advantage; he had no opponent; and without personal opposition, no contest can be very bitter. It was for some days Rigby _versus_ Liberal principles; and Rigby had much the best of it; for he abused Liberal principles roundly in his harangues, who, not being represented on the occasion, made no reply; while plenty of ale, and some capital songs by Lucian Gay, who went down express, gave the right cue to the mob, who declared in chorus, beneath the windows of Rigby’s hotel, that he was ‘a fine old English gentleman!’
But there was to be a contest; no question about that, and a sharp one, although Rigby was to win, and well. The Liberal party had been so fastidious about their new candidate, that they had none ready though several biting. Jawster Sharp thought at one time that sheer necessity would give him another chance still; but even Rigby was preferable to Jawster Sharp, who, finding it would not do, published his long-prepared valedictory address, in which he told his constituents, that having long sacrificed his health to their interests, he was now obliged to retire into the bosom of his family. And a very well-provided-for family, too.
All this time the Liberal deputation from Darlford, two aldermen, three town-councillors, and the Secretary of the Reform Association, were walking about London like mad things, eating luncheons and looking for a candidate. They called at the Reform Club twenty times in the morning, badgered whips and red-tapers; were introduced to candidates, badgered candidates; examined would-be members as if they were at a cattle-show, listened to political pedigrees, dictated political pledges, referred to Hansard to see how men had voted, inquired whether men had spoken, finally discussed terms. But they never could hit the right man. If the principles were right, there was no money; and if money were ready, money would not take pledges. In fact, they wanted a Phoenix: a very rich man, who would do exactly as they liked, with extremely low opinions and with very high connections.
‘If he would go for the ballot and had a handle to his name, it would have the best effect,’ said the secretary of the Reform Association, ‘because you see we are fighting against a Right Honourable, and you have no idea how that takes with the mob.’
The deputation had been three days in town, and urged by despatches by every train to bring affairs to a conclusion; jaded, perplexed, confused, they were ready to fall into the hands of the first jobber or bold adventurer. They discussed over their dinner at a Strand coffee-house the claims of the various candidates who had presented themselves. Mr. Donald Macpherson Macfarlane, who would only pay the legal expenses; he was soon despatched. Mr. Gingerly Browne, of Jermyn Street, the younger son of a baronet, who would go as far as 1000_l._ provided the seat was secured. Mr. Juggins, a distiller, 2000_l._ man; but would not agree to any annual subscriptions. Sir Baptist Placid, vague about expenditure, but repeatedly declaring that ‘there could be no difficulty on that head.’ He however had a moral objection to subscribing to the races, and that was a great point at Darlford. Sir Baptist would subscribe a guinea per annum to the infirmary, and the same to all religious societies without any distinction of sects; but races, it was not the sum, 100_l._ per annum, but the principle. He had a moral objection.
In short, the deputation began to suspect, what was the truth, that they were a day after the fair, and that all the electioneering rips that swarm in the purlieus of political clubs during an impending dissolution of Parliament, men who become political characters in their small circle because they have been talked of as once having an intention to stand for places for which they never offered themselves, or for having stood for places where they never could by any circumstance have succeeded, were in fact nibbling at their dainty morsel.
At this moment of despair, a ray of hope was imparted to them by a confidential note from a secretary of the Treasury, who wished to see them at the Reform Club on the morrow. You may be sure they were punctual to their appointment. The secretary received them with great consideration. He had got them a candidate, and one of high mark, the son of a Peer, and connected with the highest Whig houses. Their eyes sparkled. A real honourable. If they liked he would introduce them immediately to the Honourable Alberic de Crecy. He had only to introduce them, as there was no difficulty either as to means or opinions, expenses or pledges.
The secretary returned with a young gentleman, whose diminutive stature would seem, from his smooth and singularly puerile countenance, to be merely the consequence of his very tender years; but Mr. De Crecy was really of age, or at least would be by nomination-day. He did not say a word, but looked like the rosebud which dangled in the button-hole of his frock-coat. The aldermen and town-councillors were what is sometimes emphatically styled flabbergasted; they were speechless from bewilderment. ‘Mr. De Crecy will go for the ballot,’ said the secretary of the Treasury, with an audacious eye and a demure look, ‘and for Total and Immediate, if you press him hard; but don’t, if you can help it, because he has an uncle, an old county member, who has prejudices, and might disinherit him. However, we answer for him. And I am very happy that I have been the means of bringing about an arrangement which, I feel, will be mutually advantageous.’ And so saying, the secretary effected his escape.
Circumstances, however, retarded for a season the political career of the Honourable Alberic de Crecy. While the Liberal party at Darlford were suffering under the daily inflictions of Mr. Rigby’s slashing style, and the post brought them very unsatisfactory prospects of a champion, one offered himself, and in an address which intimated that he was no man of straw, likely to recede from any contest in which he chose to embark. The town was suddenly placarded with a letter to the Independent Electors from Mr. Millbank, the new proprietor of Hellingsley.
He expressed himself as one not anxious to obtrude himself on their attention, and founding no claim to their confidence on his recent acquisition; but at the same time as one resolved that the free and enlightened community, with which he must necessarily hereafter be much connected, should not become the nomination borough of any Peer of the realm without a struggle, if they chose to make one. And so he offered himself if they could not find a better candidate, without waiting for the ceremony of a requisition. He was exactly the man they wanted; and though he had ‘no handle to his name,’ and was somewhat impracticable about pledges, his fortune was so great, and his character so high, that it might be hoped that the people would be almost as content as if they were appealed to by some obscure scion of factitious nobility, subscribing to