Benjamin Disraeli.

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that was to comprise all classes. I went with my father, and I was
made chairman of the committee to draw up the petition. Of course, I
described it as the petition of the nobility, clergy, gentry, yeomanry,
and peasantry of the county of - - ; and, could you believe it,
they struck out _peasantry_ as a word no longer used, and inserted
_labourers_.'

'What can it signify,' said Lord Everingham, 'whether a man be called a
labourer or a peasant?'

'And what can it signify,' said his brother-in-law, 'whether a man be
called Mr. Howard or Lord Everingham?'

They were the most affectionate family under this roof of Beaumanoir,
and of all members of it, Lord Henry the sweetest tempered, and yet it
was astonishing what sharp skirmishes every day arose between him and
his brother-in-law, during that 'little half-hour' that forms so happily
the political character of the nation. The Duke, who from experience
felt that a guerilla movement was impending, asked his guests whether
they would take any more claret; and on their signifying their dissent,
moved an adjournment to the ladies.

They joined the ladies in the music-room. Coningsby, not experienced
in feminine society, and who found a little difficulty from want
of practice in maintaining conversation, though he was desirous
of succeeding, was delighted with Lady Everingham, who, instead of
requiring to be amused, amused him; and suggested so many subjects,
and glanced at so many topics, that there never was that cold, awkward
pause, so common with sullen spirits and barren brains. Lady Everingham
thoroughly understood the art of conversation, which, indeed, consists
of the exercise of two fine qualities. You must originate, and you must
sympathise; you must possess at the same time the habit of communicating
and the habit of listening. The union is rather rare, but irresistible.

Lady Everingham was not a celebrated beauty, but she was something
infinitely more delightful, a captivating woman. There were combined,
in her, qualities not commonly met together, great vivacity of mind with
great grace of manner. Her words sparkled and her movements charmed.
There was, indeed, in all she said and did, that congruity that
indicates a complete and harmonious organisation. It was the same just
proportion which characterised her form: a shape slight and undulating
with grace; the most beautifully shaped ear; a small, soft hand; a foot
that would have fitted the glass slipper; and which, by the bye, she
lost no opportunity of displaying; and she was right, for it was a
model.

Then there was music. Lady Theresa sang like a seraph: a rich voice, a
grand style. And her sister could support her with grace and sweetness.
And they did not sing too much. The Duke took up a review, and looked
at Rigby's last slashing article. The country seemed ruined, but it
appeared that the Whigs were still worse off than the Tories. The
assassins had committed suicide. This poetical justice is pleasing. Lord
Everingham, lounging in an easy chair, perused with great satisfaction
his _Morning Chronicle_, which contained a cutting reply to Mr. Rigby's
article, not quite so 'slashing' as the Right Honourable scribe's
manifesto, but with some searching mockery, that became the subject and
the subject-monger.

Mr. Lyle seated himself by the Duchess, and encouraged by her amenity,
and speaking in whispers, became animated and agreeable, occasionally
patting the lap-dog. Coningsby stood by the singers, or talked with
them when the music had ceased: and Henry Sydney looked over a volume
of Strutt's _Sports and Pastimes_, occasionally, without taking his eyes
off the volume, calling the attention of his friends to his discoveries.

Mr. Lyle rose to depart, for he had some miles to return; he came
forward with some hesitation, to hope that Coningsby would visit his
bloodhounds, which Lord Henry had told him Coningsby had expressed
a wish to do. Lady Everingham remarked that she had not been at St.
Genevieve since she was a girl, and it appeared Lady Theresa had never
visited it. Lady Everingham proposed that they should all ride over
on the morrow, and she appealed to her husband for his approbation,
instantly given, for though she loved admiration, and he apparently was
an iceberg, they were really devoted to each other. Then there was a
consultation as to their arrangements. The Duchess would drive over in
her pony chair with Theresa. The Duke, as usual, had affairs that
would occupy him. The rest were to ride. It was a happy suggestion, all
anticipated pleasure; and the evening terminated with the prospect of
what Lady Everingham called an adventure.

The ladies themselves soon withdrew; the gentlemen lingered for a
while; the Duke took up his candle, and bid his guests good night; Lord
Everingham drank a glass of Seltzer water, nodded, and vanished. Lord
Henry and his friend sat up talking over the past. They were too young
to call them old times; and yet what a life seemed to have elapsed since
they had quitted Eton, dear old Eton! Their boyish feelings, and still
latent boyish character, developed with their reminiscences.

'Do you remember Bucknall? Which Bucknall? The eldest: I saw him the
other day at Nottingham; he is in the Rifles. Do you remember that day
at Sirly Hall, that Paulet had that row with Dickinson? Did you like
Dickinson? Hum! Paulet was a good fellow. I tell you who was a good
fellow, Paulet's little cousin. What! Augustus Le Grange? Oh! I liked
Augustus Le Grange. I wonder where Buckhurst is? I had a letter from him
the other day. He has gone with his uncle to Paris. We shall find him at
Cambridge in October. I suppose you know Millbank has gone to Oriel. Has
he, though! I wonder who will have our room at Cookesley's? Cookesley
was a good fellow! Oh, capital! How well he behaved when there was that
row about our going out with the hounds? Do you remember Vere's face? It
makes me laugh now when I think of it. I tell you who was a good fellow,
Kangaroo Gray; I liked him. I don't know any fellow who sang a better
song!'

'By the bye,' said Coningsby, 'what sort of fellow is Eustace Lyle? I
rather liked his look.'

'Oh! I will tell you all about him,' said Lord Henry. 'He is a great
ally of mine, and I think you will like him very much. It is a Roman
Catholic family, about the oldest we have in the county, and the
wealthiest. You see, Lyle's father was the most violent ultra Whig,
and so were all Eustace's guardians; but the moment he came of age, he
announced that he should not mix himself up with either of the parties
in the county, and that his tenantry might act exactly as they thought
fit. My father thinks, of course, that Lyle is a Conservative, and that
he only waits the occasion to come forward; but he is quite wrong. I
know Lyle well, and he speaks to me without disguise. You see 'tis an
old Cavalier family, and Lyle has all the opinions and feelings of his
race. He will not ally himself with anti-monarchists, and democrats,
and infidels, and sectarians; at the same time, why should he support a
party who pretend to oppose these, but who never lose an opportunity
of insulting his religion, and would deprive him, if possible, of
the advantages of the very institutions which his family assisted in
establishing?'

'Why, indeed? I am glad to have made his acquaintance,' said Coningsby.
'Is he clever?'

'I think so,' said Lord Henry. 'He is the most shy fellow, especially
among women, that I ever knew, but he is very popular in the county. He
does an amazing deal of good, and is one of the best riders we have. My
father says, the very best; bold, but so very certain.'

'He is older than we are?'

'My senior by a year: he is just of age.'

'Oh, ah! twenty-one. A year younger than Gaston de Foix when he won
Ravenna, and four years younger than John of Austria when he won
Lepanto,' observed Coningsby, musingly. 'I vote we go to bed, old
fellow!'




CHAPTER IV.


In a valley, not far from the margin of a beautiful river, raised on a
lofty and artificial terrace at the base of a range of wooded heights,
was a pile of modern building in the finest style of Christian
architecture. It was of great extent and richly decorated. Built of
a white and glittering stone, it sparkled with its pinnacles in the
sunshine as it rose in strong relief against its verdant background.
The winding valley, which was studded, but not too closely studded, with
clumps of old trees, formed for a great extent on either side of the
mansion a grassy demesne, which was called the Lower Park; but it was
a region bearing the name of the Upper Park, that was the peculiar and
most picturesque feature of this splendid residence. The wooded heights
that formed the valley were not, as they appeared, a range of hills.
Their crest was only the abrupt termination of a vast and enclosed
tableland, abounding in all the qualities of the ancient chase: turf and
trees, a wilderness of underwood, and a vast spread of gorse and fern.
The deer, that abounded, lived here in a world as savage as themselves:
trooping down in the evening to the river. Some of them, indeed, were
ever in sight of those who were in the valley, and you might often
observe various groups clustered on the green heights above the mansion,
the effect of which was most inspiriting and graceful. Sometimes in the
twilight, a solitary form, magnified by the illusive hour, might be seen
standing on the brink of the steep, large and black against the clear
sky.

We have endeavoured slightly to sketch St. Geneviève as it appeared to
our friends from Beaumanoir, winding into the valley the day after
Mr. Lyle had dined with them. The valley opened for about half-a-mile
opposite the mansion, which gave to the dwellers in it a view over an
extensive and richly-cultivated country. It was through this district
that the party from Beaumanoir had pursued their way. The first glance
at the building, its striking situation, its beautiful form, its
brilliant colour, its great extent, a gathering as it seemed of
galleries, halls, and chapels, mullioned windows, portals of clustered
columns, and groups of airy pinnacles and fretwork spires, called forth
a general cry of wonder and of praise.

The ride from Beaumanoir had been delightful; the breath of summer in
every breeze, the light of summer on every tree. The gay laugh of
Lady Everingham rang frequently in the air; often were her sunny eyes
directed to Coningsby, as she called his attention to some fair object
or some pretty effect. She played the hostess of Nature, and introduced
him to all the beauties.

Mr. Lyle had recognised them. He cantered forward with greetings on a
fat little fawn-coloured pony, with a long white mane and white flowing
tail, and the wickedest eye in the world. He rode by the side of the
Duchess, and indicated their gently-descending route.

They arrived, and the peacocks, who were sunning themselves on the
turrets, expanded their plumage to welcome them.

'I can remember the old house,' said the Duchess, as she took Mr. Lyle's
arm; 'and I am happy to see the new one. The Duke had prepared me for
much beauty, but the reality exceeds his report.'

They entered by a short corridor into a large hall. They would have
stopped to admire its rich roof, its gallery and screen; but their host
suggested that they should refresh themselves after their ride, and they
followed him through several apartments into a spacious chamber, its
oaken panels covered with a series of interesting pictures, representing
the siege of St. Geneviève by the Parliament forces in 1643: the various
assaults and sallies, and the final discomfiture of the rebels. In all
these figured a brave and graceful Sir Eustace Lyle, in cuirass and
buff jerkin, with gleaming sword and flowing plume. The sight of these
pictures was ever a source of great excitement to Henry Sydney, who
always lamented his ill-luck in not living in such days; nay, would
insist that all others must equally deplore their evil destiny.

'See, Coningsby, this battery on the Upper Park,' said Lord Henry.
'This did the business: how it rakes up the valley; Sir Eustace works it
himself. Mother, what a pity Beaumanoir was not besieged!'

'It may be,' said Coningsby.

'I always fancy a siege must be so interesting,' said Lady Everingham.
'It must be so exciting.'

'I hope the next siege may be at Beaumanoir, instead of St.
Geneviève,' said Lyle, laughing; 'as Henry Sydney has such a military
predisposition. Duchess, you said the other day that you liked
Malvoisie, and here is some.

'Now broach me a cask of Malvoisie,
Bring pasty from the doe;'

said the Duchess. 'That has been my luncheon.'

'A poetic repast,' said Lady Theresa.

'Their breeds of sheep must have been very inferior in old days,' said
Lord Everingham, 'as they made such a noise about their venison. For my
part I consider it a thing as much gone by as tilts and tournaments.'

'I am sorry that they have gone by,' said Lady Theresa.

'Everything has gone by that is beautiful,' said Lord Henry.

'Life is much easier,' said Lord Everingham.

'Life easy!' said Lord Henry. 'Life appears to me to be a fierce
struggle.'

'Manners are easy,' said Coningsby, 'and life is hard.'

'And I wish to see things exactly the reverse,' said Lord Henry. 'The
means and modes of subsistence less difficult; the conduct of life more
ceremonious.'

'Civilisation has no time for ceremony,' said Lord Everingham.

'How very sententious you all are!' said his wife. 'I want to see the
hall and many other things.' And they all rose.

There were indeed many other things to see: a long gallery, rich in
ancestral portraits, specimens of art and costume from Holbein to
Lawrence; courtiers of the Tudors, and cavaliers of the Stuarts,
terminating in red-coated squires fresh from the field, and gentlemen
buttoned up in black coats, and sitting in library chairs, with their
backs to a crimson curtain. Woman, however, is always charming; and the
present generation may view their mothers painted by Lawrence, as if
they were patronesses of Almack's; or their grandmothers by Reynolds,
as Robinettas caressing birds, with as much delight as they gaze on
the dewy-eyed matrons of Lely, and the proud bearing of the heroines
of Vandyke. But what interested them more than the gallery, or the rich
saloons, or even the baronial hall, was the chapel, in which art had
exhausted all its invention, and wealth offered all its resources.
The walls and vaulted roofs entirely painted in encaustic by the first
artists of Germany, and representing the principal events of the second
Testament, the splendour of the mosaic pavement, the richness of
the painted windows, the sumptuousness of the altar, crowned by a
masterpiece of Carlo Dolce and surrounded by a silver rail, the tone
of rich and solemn light that pervaded all, and blended all the various
sources of beauty into one absorbing and harmonious whole: all combined
to produce an effect which stilled them into a silence that lasted for
some minutes, until the ladies breathed their feelings in an almost
inarticulate murmur of reverence and admiration; while a tear stole to
the eye of the enthusiastic Henry Sydney.

Leaving the chapel, they sauntered through the gardens, until, arriving
at their limit, they were met by the prettiest sight in the world; a
group of little pony chairs, each drawn by a little fat fawn-coloured
pony, like the one that Mr. Lyle had been riding. Lord Henry drove his
mother; Lord Everingham, Lady Theresa; Lady Everingham was attended by
Coningsby. Their host cantered by the Duchess's side, and along winding
roads of easy ascent, leading through beautiful woods, and offering
charming landscapes, they reached in due time the Upper Park.

'One sees our host to great advantage in his own house,' said Lady
Everingham. 'He is scarcely the same person. I have not observed him
once blush. He speaks and moves with ease. It is a pity that he is not
more graceful. Above all things I like a graceful man.'

'That chapel,' said Coningsby, 'was a fine thing.'

'Very!' said Lady Everingham. 'Did you observe the picture over the
altar, the Virgin with blue eyes? I never observed blue eyes before in
such a picture. What is your favourite colour for eyes?'

Coningsby felt embarrassed: he said something rather pointless about
admiring everything that was beautiful.

'But every one has a favourite style; I want to know yours. Regular
features, do you like regular features? Or is it expression that pleases
you?'

'Expression; I think I like expression. Expression must be always
delightful.'

'Do you dance?'

'No; I am no great dancer. I fear I have few accomplishments. I am fond
of fencing.'

'I don't fence,' said Lady Everingham, with a smile. 'But I think you
are right not to dance. It is not in your way. You are ambitious, I
believe?' she added.

'I was not aware of it; everybody is ambitious.'

'You see I know something of your character. Henry has spoken of you to
me a great deal; long before we met, - met again, I should say, for we
are old friends, remember. Do you know your career much interests me? I
like ambitious men.'

There is something fascinating in the first idea that your career
interests a charming woman. Coningsby felt that he was perhaps driving
a Madame de Longueville. A woman who likes ambitious men must be no
ordinary character; clearly a sort of heroine. At this moment they
reached the Upper Park, and the novel landscape changed the current of
their remarks.

Far as the eye could reach there spread before them a savage sylvan
scene. It wanted, perhaps, undulation of surface, but that deficiency
was greatly compensated for by the multitude and prodigious size of the
trees; they were the largest, indeed, that could well be met with in
England; and there is no part of Europe where the timber is so huge.
The broad interminable glades, the vast avenues, the quantity of deer
browsing or bounding in all directions, the thickets of yellow gorse and
green fern, and the breeze that even in the stillness of summer was ever
playing over this table-land, all produced an animated and renovating
scene. It was like suddenly visiting another country, living among other
manners, and breathing another air. They stopped for a few minutes at
a pavilion built for the purposes of the chase, and then returned, all
gratified by this visit to what appeared to be the higher regions of the
earth.

As they approached the brow of the hill that hung over St. Geneviève,
they heard the great bell sound.

'What is that?' asked the Duchess.

'It is almsgiving day,' replied Mr. Lyle, looking a little embarrassed,
and for the first time blushing. 'The people of the parishes with which
I am connected come to St. Geneviève twice a-week at this hour.'

'And what is your system?' inquired Lord Everingham, who had stopped,
interested by the scene. 'What check have you?'

'The rectors of the different parishes grant certificates to those
who in their belief merit bounty according to the rules which I have
established. These are again visited by my almoner, who countersigns
the certificate, and then they present it at the postern-gate. The
certificate explains the nature of their necessities, and my steward
acts on his discretion.

'Mamma, I see them!' exclaimed Lady Theresa.

'Perhaps your Grace may think that they might be relieved without all
this ceremony,' said Mr. Lyle, extremely confused. 'But I agree with
Henry and Mr. Coningsby, that Ceremony is not, as too commonly supposed,
an idle form. I wish the people constantly and visibly to comprehend
that Property is their protector and their friend.'

'My reason is with you, Mr. Lyle,' said the Duchess, 'as well as my
heart.'

They came along the valley, a procession of Nature, whose groups an
artist might have studied. The old man, who loved the pilgrimage too
much to avail himself of the privilege of a substitute accorded to his
grey hairs, came in person with his grandchild and his staff. There also
came the widow with her child at the breast, and others clinging to her
form; some sorrowful faces, and some pale; many a serious one, and
now and then a frolic glance; many a dame in her red cloak, and many a
maiden with her light basket; curly-headed urchins with demure looks,
and sometimes a stalwart form baffled for a time of the labour which he
desired. But not a heart there that did not bless the bell that sounded
from the tower of St. Geneviève!




CHAPTER V.


'My fathers perilled their blood and fortunes for the cause of the
Sovereignty and Church of England,' said Lyle to Coningsby, as they were
lying stretched out on the sunny turf in the park of Beaumanoir,' and
I inherit their passionate convictions. They were Catholics, as their
descendant. No doubt they would have been glad to see their ancient
faith predominant in their ancient land; but they bowed, as I bow, to an
adverse and apparently irrevocable decree. But if we could not have the
Church of our fathers, we honoured and respected the Church of their
children. It was at least a Church; a 'Catholic and Apostolic Church,'
as it daily declares itself. Besides, it was our friend. When we were
persecuted by Puritanic Parliaments, it was the Sovereign and the Church
of England that interposed, with the certainty of creating against
themselves odium and mistrust, to shield us from the dark and relentless
bigotry of Calvinism.'

'I believe,' said Coningsby, 'that if Charles I. had hanged all the
Catholic priests that Parliament petitioned him to execute, he would
never have lost his crown.'

'You were mentioning my father,' continued Lyle. 'He certainly was a
Whig. Galled by political exclusion, he connected himself with that
party in the State which began to intimate emancipation. After all, they
did not emancipate us. It was the fall of the Papacy in England that
founded the Whig aristocracy; a fact that must always lie at the bottom
of their hearts, as, I assure you, it does of mine.

'I gathered at an early age,' continued Lyle, 'that I was expected to
inherit my father's political connections with the family estates. Under
ordinary circumstances this would probably have occurred. In times that
did not force one to ponder, it is not likely I should have recoiled
from uniting myself with a party formed of the best families in England,
and ever famous for accomplished men and charming women. But I enter
life in the midst of a convulsion in which the very principles of our
political and social systems are called in question. I cannot unite
myself with the party of destruction. It is an operative cause alien
to my being. What, then, offers itself? The Duke talks to me of
Conservative principles; but he does not inform me what they are. I
observe indeed a party in the State whose rule it is to consent to no
change, until it is clamorously called for, and then instantly to yield;
but those are Concessionary, not Conservative principles. This party
treats institutions as we do our pheasants, they preserve only to
destroy them. But is there a statesman among these Conservatives who
offers us a dogma for a guide, or defines any great political truth
which we should aspire to establish? It seems to me a, barren thing,
this Conservatism, an unhappy cross-breed; the mule of politics that
engenders nothing. What do you think of all this, Coningsby? I assure
you I feel confused, perplexed, harassed. I know I have public duties to
perform; I am, in fact, every day of my life solicited by all parties
to throw the weight of my influence in one scale or another; but I am
paralysed. I often wish I had no position in the country. The sense
of its responsibility depresses me; makes me miserable. I speak to you
without reserve; with a frankness which our short acquaintance scarcely
authorises; but Henry Sydney has so often talked to me of you, and
I have so long wished to know you, that I open my heart without
restraint.'

'My dear fellow,' said Coningsby, 'you have but described my feelings
when you depicted your own. My mind on these subjects has long been
a chaos. I float in a sea of troubles, and should long ago have
been wrecked had I not been sustained by a profound, however vague,
conviction, that there are still great truths, if we could but work them
out; that Government, for instance, should be loved and not hated, and
that Religion should be a faith and not a form.'

The moral influence of residence furnishes some of the most interesting
traits of our national manners. The presence of this power was very



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 12 of 39)