Benjamin Disraeli.

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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?'

'Very.'

'He is very amiable.'

'Very.'

'He does a great deal for the poor at Beaumanoir. A very fine place, is
it not?'

'Very.'

'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 _protégée_ 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!




CHAPTER XII.


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



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 19 of 39)