Benjamin Disraeli.

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'Why, I do not see now how we can win. We have polled all our dead men,
and Millbank is seven ahead.'

'I have no doubt we shall be able to have a good petition,' said the
consoling chairman of the Conservative Association.




CHAPTER V.


It was not with feelings of extreme satisfaction that Mr. Rigby returned
to London. The loss of Hellingsley, followed by the loss of the borough
to Hellingsley's successful master, were not precisely the incidents
which would be adduced as evidence of Mr. Rigby's good management or
good fortune. Hitherto that gentleman had persuaded the world that he
was not only very clever, but that he was also always in luck; a quality
which many appreciate more even than capacity. His reputation was
unquestionably damaged, both with his patron and his party. But what
the Tapers and the Tadpoles thought or said, what even might be the
injurious effect on his own career of the loss of this election, assumed
an insignificant character when compared with its influence on the
temper and disposition of the Marquess of Monmouth.

And yet his carriage is now entering the courtyard of Monmouth House,
and, in all probability, a few minutes would introduce him to that
presence before which he had, ere this, trembled. The Marquess was at
home, and anxious to see Mr. Rigby. In a few minutes that gentleman was
ascending the private staircase, entering the antechamber, and waiting
to be received in the little saloon, exactly as our Coningsby did more
than five years ago, scarcely less agitated, but by feelings of a very
different character.

'Well, you made a good fight of it,' exclaimed the Marquess, in a
cheerful and cordial tone, as Mr. Rigby entered his dressing-room.
'Patience! We shall win next time.'

This reception instantly reassured the defeated candidate, though its
contrast to that which he expected rather perplexed him. He entered into
the details of the election, talked rapidly of the next registration,
the propriety of petitioning; accustomed himself to hearing his voice
with its habitual volubility in a chamber where he had feared it might
not sound for some time.

'D - - n politics!' said the Marquess. 'These fellows are in for this
Parliament, and I am really weary of the whole affair. I begin to think
the Duke was right, and it would have been best to have left them to
themselves. I am glad you have come up at once, for I want you. The fact
is, I am going to be married.'

This was not a startling announcement to Mr. Rigby; he was prepared for
it, though scarcely could have hoped that he would have been favoured
with it on the present occasion, instead of a morose comment on his
misfortunes. Marriage, then, was the predominant idea of Lord Monmouth
at the present moment, in whose absorbing interest all vexations were
forgotten. Fortunate Rigby! Disgusted by the failure of his political
combinations, his disappointments in not dictating to the county and not
carrying the borough, and the slight prospect at present of obtaining
the great object of his ambition, Lord Monmouth had resolved to
precipitate his fate, was about to marry immediately, and quit England.

'You will be wanted, Rigby,' continued the Marquess. 'We must have a
couple of trustees, and I have thought of you as one. You know you are
my executor; and it is better not to bring in unnecessarily new names
into the management of my affairs. Lord Eskdale will act with you.'

Rigby then, after all, was a lucky man. After such a succession of
failures, he had returned only to receive fresh and the most delicate
marks of his patron's good feeling and consideration. Lord Monmouth's
trustee and executor! 'You know you are my executor.' Sublime truth! It
ought to be blazoned in letters of gold in the most conspicuous part of
Rigby's library, to remind him perpetually of his great and impending
destiny. Lord Monmouth's executor, and very probably one of his
residuary legatees! A legatee of some sort he knew he was. What a
splendid _memento mori_! What cared Rigby for the borough of Darlford?
And as for his political friends, he wished them joy of their barren
benches. Nothing was lost by not being in this Parliament.

It was then with sincerity that Rigby offered his congratulations to
his patron. He praised the judicious alliance, accompanied by every
circumstance conducive to worldly happiness; distinguished beauty,
perfect temper, princely rank. Rigby, who had hardly got out of his
hustings' vein, was most eloquent in his praises of Madame Colonna.

'An amiable woman,' said Lord Monmouth, 'and very handsome. I always
admired her; and an agreeable person too; I dare say a very good temper,
but I am not going to marry her.'

'Might I then ask who is - '

'Her step-daughter, the Princess Lucretia,' replied the Marquess,
quietly, and looking at his ring.

Here was a thunderbolt! Rigby had made another mistake. He had been
working all this time for the wrong woman! The consciousness of being a
trustee alone sustained him. There was an inevitable pause. The Marquess
would not speak however, and Rigby must. He babbled rather incoherently
about the Princess Lucretia being admired by everybody; also that she
was the most fortunate of women, as well as the most accomplished; he
was just beginning to say he had known her from a child, when discretion
stopped his tongue, which had a habit of running on somewhat rashly;
but Rigby, though he often blundered in his talk, had the talent of
extricating himself from the consequence of his mistakes.

'And Madame must be highly gratified by all this?' observed Mr. Rigby,
with an enquiring accent. He was dying to learn how she had first
received the intelligence, and congratulated himself that his absence at
his contest had preserved him from the storm.

'Madame Colonna knows nothing of our intentions,' said Lord Monmouth.
'And by the bye, that is the very business on which I wish to see you,
Rigby. I wish you to communicate them to her. We are to be married,
and immediately. It would gratify me that the wife of Lucretia's father
should attend our wedding. You understand exactly what I mean, Rigby; I
must have no scenes. Always happy to see the Princess Colonna under my
roof; but then I like to live quietly, particularly at present;
harassed as I have been by the loss of these elections, by all this bad
management, and by all these disappointments on subjects in which I was
led to believe success was certain. Madame Colonna is at home;' and the
Marquess bowed Mr. Rigby out of the room.




CHAPTER VI.


The departure of Sidonia from Coningsby Castle, in the autumn,
determined the Princess Lucretia on a step which had for some time
before his arrival occupied her brooding imagination. Nature had
bestowed on this lady an ambitious soul and a subtle spirit; she could
dare much and could execute finely. Above all things she coveted power;
and though not free from the characteristic susceptibility of her sex,
the qualities that could engage her passions or fascinate her fancy must
partake of that intellectual eminence which distinguished her. Though
the Princess Lucretia in a short space of time had seen much of the
world, she had as yet encountered no hero. In the admirers whom her
rank, and sometimes her intelligence, assembled around her, her master
had not yet appeared. Her heart had not trembled before any of those
brilliant forms whom she was told her sex admired; nor did she envy any
one the homage which she did not appreciate. There was, therefore, no
disturbing element in the worldly calculations which she applied to that
question which is, to woman, what a career is to man, the question of
marriage. She would marry to gain power, and therefore she wished to
marry the powerful. Lord Eskdale hovered around her, and she liked
him. She admired his incomparable shrewdness; his freedom from ordinary
prejudices; his selfishness which was always good-natured, and the
imperturbability that was not callous. But Lord Eskdale had hovered
round many; it was his easy habit. He liked clever women, young, but who
had seen something of the world. The Princess Lucretia pleased him much;
with the form and mind of a woman even in the nursery. He had watched
her development with interest; and had witnessed her launch in that
world where she floated at once with as much dignity and consciousness
of superior power, as if she had braved for seasons its waves and its
tempests.

Musing over Lord Eskdale, the mind of Lucretia was drawn to the image
of his friend; her friend; the friend of her parents. And why not marry
Lord Monmouth? The idea pleased her. There was something great in the
conception; difficult and strange. The result, if achieved, would give
her all that she desired. She devoted her mind to this secret thought.
She had no confidants. She concentrated her intellect on one point,
and that was to fascinate the grandfather of Coningsby, while her
step-mother was plotting that she should marry his grandson. The
volition of Lucretia Colonna was, if not supreme, of a power most
difficult to resist. There was something charm-like and alluring in the
conversation of one who was silent to all others; something in the tones
of her low rich voice which acted singularly on the nervous system. It
was the voice of the serpent; indeed, there was an undulating movement
in Lucretia, when she approached you, which irresistibly reminded you of
that mysterious animal.

Lord Monmouth was not insensible to the spell, though totally
unconscious of its purpose. He found the society of Lucretia very
agreeable to him; she was animated, intelligent, original; her inquiries
were stimulating; her comments on what she saw, and heard, and read,
racy and often indicating a fine humour. But all this was reserved for
his ear. Before her parents, as before all others, Lucretia was silent,
a little scornful, never communicating, neither giving nor seeking
amusement, shut up in herself.

Lord Monmouth fell therefore into the habit of riding and driving with
Lucretia alone. It was an arrangement which he found made his life more
pleasant. Nor was it displeasing to Madame Colonna. She looked upon
Lord Monmouth's fancy for Lucretia as a fresh tie for them all. Even the
Prince, when his wife called his attention to the circumstance, observed
it with satisfaction. It was a circumstance which represented in his
mind a continuance of good eating and good drinking, fine horses,
luxurious baths, unceasing billiards.

In this state of affairs appeared Sidonia, known before to her
step-mother, but seen by Lucretia for the first time. Truly, he came,
saw, and conquered. Those eyes that rarely met another's were fixed upon
his searching yet unimpassioned glance. She listened to that voice,
full of music yet void of tenderness; and the spirit of Lucretia Colonna
bowed before an intelligence that commanded sympathy, yet offered none.

Lucretia naturally possessed great qualities as well as great talents.
Under a genial influence, her education might have formed a being
capable of imparting and receiving happiness. But she found herself
without a guide. Her father offered her no love; her step-mother gained
from her no respect. Her literary education was the result of her
own strong mind and inquisitive spirit. She valued knowledge, and she
therefore acquired it. But not a single moral principle or a single
religious truth had ever been instilled into her being. Frequent
absence from her own country had by degrees broken off even an habitual
observance of the forms of her creed; while a life of undisturbed
indulgence, void of all anxiety and care, while it preserved her from
many of the temptations to vice, deprived her of that wisdom 'more
precious than rubies,' which adversity and affliction, the struggles and
the sorrows of existence, can alone impart.

Lucretia had passed her life in a refined, but rather dissolute society.
Not indeed that a word that could call forth a maiden blush, conduct
that could pain the purest feelings, could be heard or witnessed in
those polished and luxurious circles. The most exquisite taste pervaded
their atmosphere; and the uninitiated who found themselves in those
perfumed chambers and those golden saloons, might believe, from all that
passed before them, that their inhabitants were as pure, as orderly, and
as irreproachable as their furniture. But among the habitual dwellers
in these delicate halls there was a tacit understanding, a
prevalent doctrine that required no formal exposition, no proofs and
illustrations, no comment and no gloss; which was indeed rather a
traditional conviction than an imparted dogma; that the exoteric public
were, on many subjects, the victims of very vulgar prejudices, which
these enlightened personages wished neither to disturb nor to adopt.

A being of such a temper, bred in such a manner; a woman full
of intellect and ambition, daring and lawless, and satiated with
prosperity, is not made for equable fortunes and an uniform existence.
She would have sacrificed the world for Sidonia, for he had touched
the fervent imagination that none before could approach; but that
inscrutable man would not read the secret of her heart; and prompted
alike by pique, the love of power, and a weariness of her present life,
Lucretia resolved on that great result which Mr. Rigby is now about to
communicate to the Princess Colonna.

About half-an-hour after Mr. Rigby had entered that lady's apartments
it seemed that all the bells of Monmouth House were ringing at the same
time. The sound even reached the Marquess in his luxurious recess; who
immediately took a pinch of snuff, and ordered his valet to lock the
door of the ante-chamber. The Princess Lucretia, too, heard the sounds;
she was lying on a sofa, in her boudoir, reading the _Inferno_, and
immediately mustered her garrison in the form of a French maid, and gave
directions that no one should be admitted. Both the Marquess and
his intended bride felt that a crisis was at hand, and resolved to
participate in no scenes.

The ringing ceased; there was again silence. Then there was another
ring; a short, hasty, and violent pull; followed by some slamming of
doors. The servants, who were all on the alert, and had advantages
of hearing and observation denied to their secluded master, caught a
glimpse of Mr. Rigby endeavouring gently to draw back into her apartment
Madame Colonna, furious amid his deprecatory exclamations.

'For heaven's sake, my dear Madame; for your own sake; now really; now
I assure you; you are quite wrong; you are indeed; it is a complete
misapprehension; I will explain everything. I entreat, I implore,
whatever you like, just what you please; only listen.'

Then the lady, with a mantling visage and flashing eye, violently
closing the door, was again lost to their sight. A few minutes after
there was a moderate ring, and Mr. Rigby, coming out of the apartments,
with his cravat a little out of order, as if he had had a violent
shaking, met the servant who would have entered.

'Order Madame Colonna's travelling carriage,' he exclaimed in a loud
voice, 'and send Mademoiselle Conrad here directly. I don't think the
fellow hears me,' added Mr. Rigby, and following the servant, he added
in a low tone and with a significant glance, 'no travelling carriage; no
Mademoiselle Conrad; order the britska round as usual.'

Nearly another hour passed; there was another ring; very moderate
indeed. The servant was informed that Madame Colonna was coming down,
and she appeared as usual. In a beautiful morning dress, and leaning on
the arm of Mr. Rigby, she descended the stairs, and was handed into her
carriage by that gentleman, who, seating himself by her side, ordered
them to drive to Richmond.

Lord Monmouth having been informed that all was calm, and that Madame
Colonna, attended by Mr. Rigby, had gone to Richmond, ordered his
carriage, and accompanied by Lucretia and Lucian Gay, departed
immediately for Blackwall, where, in whitebait, a quiet bottle of
claret, the society of his agreeable friends, and the contemplation of
the passing steamers, he found a mild distraction and an amusing repose.

Mr. Rigby reported that evening to the Marquess on his return, that all
was arranged and tranquil. Perhaps he exaggerated the difficulties,
to increase the service; but according to his account they were
considerable. It required some time to make Madame Colonna comprehend
the nature of his communication. All Rigby's diplomatic skill was
expended in the gradual development. When it was once fairly put before
her, the effect was appalling. That was the first great ringing of
bells. Rigby softened a little what he had personally endured; but
he confessed she sprang at him like a tigress balked of her prey, and
poured forth on him a volume of epithets, many of which Rigby
really deserved. But after all, in the present instance, he was not
treacherous, only base, which he always was. Then she fell into a
passion of tears, and vowed frequently that she was not weeping for
herself, but only for that dear Mr. Coningsby, who had been treated so
infamously and robbed of Lucretia, and whose heart she knew must break.
It seemed that Rigby stemmed the first violence of her emotion by
mysterious intimations of an important communication that he had to
make; and piquing her curiosity, he calmed her passion. But really
having nothing to say, he was nearly involved in fresh dangers. He took
refuge in the affectation of great agitation which prevented exposition.
The lady then insisted on her travelling carriage being ordered and
packed, as she was determined to set out for Rome that afternoon. This
little occurrence gave Rigby some few minutes to collect himself, at
the end of which he made the Princess several announcements of intended
arrangements, all of which pleased her mightily, though they were so
inconsistent with each other, that if she had not been a woman in a
passion, she must have detected that Rigby was lying. He assured her
almost in the same breath, that she was never to be separated from them,
and that she was to have any establishment in any country she liked. He
talked wildly of equipages, diamonds, shawls, opera-boxes; and while
her mind was bewildered with these dazzling objects, he, with intrepid
gravity, consulted her as to the exact amount she would like to have
apportioned, independent of her general revenue, for the purposes of
charity.

At the end of two hours, exhausted by her rage and soothed by these
visions, Madame Colonna having grown calm and reasonable, sighed and
murmured a complaint, that Lord Monmouth ought to have communicated this
important intelligence in person. Upon this Rigby instantly assured
her, that Lord Monmouth had been for some time waiting to do so, but
in consequence of her lengthened interview with Rigby, his Lordship had
departed for Richmond with Lucretia, where he hoped that Madame Colonna
and Mr. Rigby would join him. So it ended, with a morning drive and
suburban dinner; Rigby, after what he had gone through, finding no
difficulty in accounting for the other guests not being present, and
bringing home Madame Colonna in the evening, at times almost as gay and
good-tempered as usual, and almost oblivious of her disappointment.

When the Marquess met Madame Colonna he embraced her with great
courtliness, and from that time consulted her on every arrangement. He
took a very early occasion of presenting her with a diamond necklace of
great value. The Marquess was fond of making presents to persons to whom
he thought he had not behaved very well, and who yet spared him scenes.

The marriage speedily followed, by special license, at the villa of the
Right Hon. Nicholas Rigby, who gave away the bride. The wedding was very
select, but brilliant as the diamond necklace: a royal Duke and Duchess,
Lady St. Julians, and a few others. Mr. Ormsby presented the bride with
a bouquet of precious stones, and Lord Eskdale with a French fan in
a diamond frame. It was a fine day; Lord Monmouth, calm as if he were
winning the St. Leger; Lucretia, universally recognised as a beauty; all
the guests gay, the Princess Colonna especially.

The travelling carriage is at the door which is to bear away the happy
pair. Madame Colonna embraces Lucretia; the Marquess gives a grand bow:
they are gone. The guests remain awhile. A Prince of the blood will
propose a toast; there is another glass of champagne quaffed, another
ortolan devoured; and then they rise and disperse. Madame Colonna leaves
with Lady St. Julians, whose guest for a while she is to become. And in
a few minutes their host is alone.

Mr. Rigby retired into his library: the repose of the chamber must
have been grateful to his feelings after all this distraction. It was
spacious, well-stored, classically adorned, and opened on a beautiful
lawn. Rigby threw himself into an ample chair, crossed his legs, and
resting his head on his arm, apparently fell into deep contemplation.

He had some cause for reflection, and though we did once venture to
affirm that Rigby never either thought or felt, this perhaps may be the
exception that proves the rule.

He could scarcely refrain from pondering over the strange event which he
had witnessed, and at which he had assisted.

It was an incident that might exercise considerable influence over his
fortunes. His patron married, and married to one who certainly did
not offer to Mr. Rigby such a prospect of easy management as her
step-mother! Here were new influences arising; new characters, new
situations, new contingencies. Was he thinking of all this? He suddenly
jumps up, hurries to a shelf and takes down a volume. It is his
interleaved peerage, of which for twenty years he had been threatening
an edition. Turning to the Marquisate of Monmouth, he took up his pen
and thus made the necessary entry:

'_Married, second time, August 3rd, 1837, The Princess Lucretia Colonna,
daughter of Prince Paul Colonna, born at Rome, February 16th, 1819._'

That was what Mr. Rigby called 'a great fact.' There was not a
peerage-compiler in England who had that date save himself.

Before we close this slight narrative of the domestic incidents that
occurred in the family of his grandfather since Coningsby quitted the
Castle, we must not forget to mention what happened to Villebecque and
Flora. Lord Monmouth took a great liking to the manager. He found him
very clever in many things independently of his profession; he was
useful to Lord Monmouth, and did his work in an agreeable manner. And
the future Lady Monmouth was accustomed to Flora, and found her useful
too, and did not like to lose her. And so the Marquess, turning all the
circumstances in his mind, and being convinced that Villebecque could
never succeed to any extent in England in his profession, and probably
nowhere else, appointed him, to Villebecque's infinite satisfaction,
intendant of his household, with a considerable salary, while Flora
still lived with her kind step-father.




CHAPTER VII.


Another year elapsed; not so fruitful in incidents to Coningsby as the
preceding ones, and yet not unprofitably passed. It had been spent in
the almost unremitting cultivation of his intelligence. He had read
deeply and extensively, digested his acquisitions, and had practised
himself in surveying them, free from those conventional conclusions
and those traditionary inferences that surrounded him. Although he had
renounced his once cherished purpose of trying for University honours,
an aim which he found discordant with the investigations on which his
mind was bent, he had rarely quitted Cambridge. The society of his
friends, the great convenience of public libraries, and the general
tone of studious life around, rendered an University for him a genial
residence. There is a moment in life, when the pride and thirst of
knowledge seem to absorb our being, and so it happened now to Coningsby,
who felt each day stronger in his intellectual resources, and each day
more anxious and avid to increase them. The habits of public
discussion fostered by the Debating Society were also for Coningsby no
Inconsiderable tie to the University. This was the arena in which he
felt himself at home. The promise of his Eton days was here fulfilled.
And while his friends listened to his sustained argument or his
impassioned declamation, the prompt reply or the apt retort, they looked
forward with pride through the vista of years to the time when the hero
of the youthful Club should convince or dazzle in the senate. It is
probable then that he would have remained at Cambridge with slight



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 24 of 39)