Benjamin Disraeli.

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intervals until he had taken his degree, had not circumstances occurred
which gave altogether a new turn to his thoughts.

When Lord Monmouth had fixed his wedding-day he had written himself
to Coningsby to announce his intended marriage, and to request his
grandson's presence at the ceremony. The letter was more than kind; it
was warm and generous. He assured his grandson that this alliance
should make no difference in the very ample provision which he had
long intended for him; that he should ever esteem Coningsby his
nearest relative; and that, while his death would bring to Coningsby as
considerable an independence as an English gentleman need desire, so
in his lifetime Coningsby should ever be supported as became his birth,
breeding, and future prospects. Lord Monmouth had mentioned to Lucretia,
that he was about to invite his grandson to their wedding, and the lady
had received the intimation with satisfaction. It so happened that a
few hours after, Lucretia, who now entered the private rooms of Lord
Monmouth without previously announcing her arrival, met Villebecque with
the letter to Coningsby in his hand. Lucretia took it away from him,
and said it should be posted with her own letters. It never reached its
destination. Our friend learnt the marriage from the newspapers, which
somewhat astounded him; but Coningsby was fond of his grandfather, and
he wrote Lord Monmouth a letter of congratulation, full of feeling and
ingenuousness, and which, while it much pleased the person to whom it
was addressed, unintentionally convinced him that Coningsby had never
received his original communication. Lord Monmouth spoke to Villebecque,
who could throw sufficient light upon the subject, but it was never
mentioned to Lady Monmouth. The Marquess was a man who always found out
everything, and enjoyed the secret.

Rather more than a year after the marriage, when Coningsby had completed
his twenty-first year, the year which he had passed so quietly at
Cambridge, he received a letter from his grandfather, informing him that
after a variety of movements Lady Monmouth and himself were established
in Paris for the season, and desiring that he would not fail to come
over as soon as practicable, and pay them as long a visit as the
regulations of the University would permit. So, at the close of the
December term, Coningsby quitted Cambridge for Paris.

Passing through London, he made his first visit to his banker at Charing
Cross, on whom he had periodically drawn since he commenced his college
life. He was in the outer counting-house, making some inquiries about a
letter of credit, when one of the partners came out from an inner room,
and invited him to enter. This firm had been for generations the bankers
of the Coningsby family; and it appeared that there was a sealed box
in their possession, which had belonged to the father of Coningsby, and
they wished to take this opportunity of delivering it to his son. This
communication deeply interested him; and as he was alone in London, at
an hotel, and on the wing for a foreign country, he requested permission
at once to examine it, in order that he might again deposit it with
them: so he was shown into a private room for that purpose. The seal was
broken; the box was full of papers, chiefly correspondence: among them
was a packet described as letters from 'my dear Helen,' the mother of
Coningsby. In the interior of this packet there was a miniature of that
mother. He looked at it; put it down; looked at it again and again.
He could not be mistaken. There was the same blue fillet in the bright
hair. It was an exact copy of that portrait which had so greatly excited
his attention when at Millbank! This was a mysterious and singularly
perplexing incident. It greatly agitated him. He was alone in the room
when he made the discovery. When he had recovered himself, he sealed up
the contents of the box, with the exception of his mother's letters and
the miniature, which he took away with him, and then re-delivered it to
his banker for custody until his return.

Coningsby found Lord and Lady Monmouth in a splendid hotel in the
Faubourg St. Honoré, near the English Embassy. His grandfather looked at
him with marked attention, and received him with evident satisfaction.
Indeed, Lord Monmouth was greatly pleased that Harry had come to Paris;
it was the University of the World, where everybody should graduate.
Paris and London ought to be the great objects of all travellers; the
rest was mere landscape.

It cannot be denied that between Lucretia and Coningsby there existed
from the first a certain antipathy; and though circumstances for a short
time had apparently removed or modified the aversion, the manner of the
lady when Coningsby was ushered into her boudoir, resplendent with all
that Parisian taste and luxury could devise, was characterised by that
frigid politeness which had preceded the days of their more genial
acquaintance. If the manner of Lucretia were the same as before her
marriage, a considerable change might however be observed in her
appearance. Her fine form had become more developed; while her dress,
that she once neglected, was elaborate and gorgeous, and of the last
mode. Lucretia was the fashion of Paris; a great lady, greatly admired.
A guest under such a roof, however, Coningsby was at once launched
into the most brilliant circles of Parisian society, which he found
fascinating.

The art of society is, without doubt, perfectly comprehended and
completely practised in the bright metropolis of France. An Englishman
cannot enter a saloon without instantly feeling he is among a race more
social than his compatriots. What, for example, is more consummate
than the manner in which a French lady receives her guests! She unites
graceful repose and unaffected dignity, with the most amiable regard for
others. She sees every one; she speaks to every one; she sees them at
the right moment; she says the right thing; it is utterly impossible
to detect any difference in the position of her guests by the spirit in
which she welcomes them. There is, indeed, throughout every circle of
Parisian society, from the chateau to the cabaret, a sincere homage to
intellect; and this without any maudlin sentiment. None sooner than
the Parisians can draw the line between factitious notoriety and honest
fame; or sooner distinguished between the counterfeit celebrity and
the standard reputation. In England, we too often alternate between a
supercilious neglect of genius and a rhapsodical pursuit of quacks. In
England when a new character appears in our circles, the first question
always is, 'Who is he?' In France it is, 'What is he?' In England, 'How
much a-year?' In France, 'What has he done?'




CHAPTER VIII.


About a week after Coningsby's arrival in Paris, as he was sauntering on
the soft and sunny Boulevards, soft and sunny though Christmas, he met
Sidonia.

'So you are here?' said Sidonia. 'Turn now with me, for I see you are
only lounging, and tell me when you came, where you are, and what you
have done since we parted. I have been here myself but a few days.'

There was much to tell. And when Coningsby had rapidly related all that
had passed, they talked of Paris. Sidonia had offered him hospitality,
until he learned that Lord Monmouth was in Paris, and that Coningsby was
his guest.

'I am sorry you cannot come to me,' he remarked; 'I would have shown you
everybody and everything. But we shall meet often.'

'I have already seen many remarkable things,' said Coningsby; 'and met
many celebrated persons. Nothing strikes me more in this brilliant
city than the tone of its society, so much higher than our own. What an
absence of petty personalities! How much conversation, and how little
gossip! Yet nowhere is there less pedantry. Here all women are as
agreeable as is the remarkable privilege in London of some half-dozen.
Men too, and great men, develop their minds. A great man in England,
on the contrary, is generally the dullest dog in company. And yet, how
piteous to think that so fair a civilisation should be in such imminent
peril!'

'Yes! that is a common opinion: and yet I am somewhat sceptical of
its truth,' replied Sidonia. 'I am inclined to believe that the social
system of England is in infinitely greater danger than that of France.
We must not be misled by the agitated surface of this country. The
foundations of its order are deep and sure. Learn to understand France.
France is a kingdom with a Republic for its capital. It has been always
so, for centuries. From the days of the League to the days of the
Sections, to the days of 1830. It is still France, little changed; and
only more national, for it is less Frank and more Gallic; as England has
become less Norman and more Saxon.'

'And it is your opinion, then, that the present King may maintain
himself?'

'Every movement in this country, however apparently discordant, seems to
tend to that inevitable end. He would not be on the throne if the nature
of things had not demanded his presence. The Kingdom of France required
a Monarch; the Republic of Paris required a Dictator. He comprised in
his person both qualifications; lineage and intellect; blood for the
provinces, brains for the city.'

'What a position! what an individual!' exclaimed Coningsby. 'Tell me,'
he added, eagerly, 'what is he? This Prince of whom one hears in all
countries at all hours; on whose existence we are told the tranquillity,
almost the civilisation, of Europe depends, yet of whom we receive
accounts so conflicting, so contradictory; tell me, you who can tell me,
tell me what he is.'

Sidonia smiled at his earnestness. 'I have a creed of mine own,' he
remarked, 'that the great characters of antiquity are at rare epochs
reproduced for our wonder, or our guidance. Nature, wearied
with mediocrity, pours the warm metal into an heroic mould. When
circumstances at length placed me in the presence of the King of France,
I recognised, ULYSSES!'

'But is there no danger,' resumed Coningsby, after the pause of a few
moments, 'that the Republic of Paris may absorb the Kingdom of France?'

'I suspect the reverse,' replied Sidonia. 'The tendency of advanced
civilisation is in truth to pure Monarchy. Monarchy is indeed a
government which requires a high degree of civilisation for its full
development. It needs the support of free laws and manners, and of
a widely-diffused intelligence. Political compromises are not to be
tolerated except at periods of rude transition. An educated nation
recoils from the imperfect vicariate of what is called a representative
government. Your House of Commons, that has absorbed all other powers
in the State, will in all probability fall more rapidly than it rose.
Public opinion has a more direct, a more comprehensive, a more efficient
organ for its utterance, than a body of men sectionally chosen. The
Printing-press is a political element unknown to classic or feudal
times. It absorbs in a great degree the duties of the Sovereign, the
Priest, the Parliament; it controls, it educates, it discusses. That
public opinion, when it acts, would appear in the form of one who has no
class interests. In an enlightened age the Monarch on the throne, free
from the vulgar prejudices and the corrupt interests of the subject,
becomes again divine!'

At this moment they reached that part of the Boulevards which leads into
the Place of the Madeleine, whither Sidonia was bound; and Coningsby was
about to quit his companion, when Sidonia said:

'I am only going a step over to the Rue Tronchet to say a few words to a
friend of mine, M. P - - s. I shall not detain you five minutes; and you
should know him, for he has some capital pictures, and a collection of
Limoges ware that is the despair of the dilettanti.'

So saying they turned down by the Place of the Madeleine, and soon
entered the court of the hotel of M. P - - s. That gentleman received
them in his gallery. After some general conversation, Coningsby turned
towards the pictures, and left Sidonia with their host. The collection
was rare, and interested Coningsby, though unacquainted with art. He
sauntered on from picture to picture until he reached the end of the
gallery, where an open door invited him into a suite of rooms also
full of pictures and objects of curiosity and art. As he was entering
a second chamber, he observed a lady leaning back in a cushioned
chair, and looking earnestly on a picture. His entrance was unheard and
unnoticed, for the lady's back was to the door; yet Coningsby, advancing
in an angular direction, obtained nearly a complete view of her
countenance. It was upraised, gazing on the picture with an expression
of delight; the bonnet thrown back, while the large sable cloak of the
gazer had fallen partly off. The countenance was more beautiful than the
beautiful picture. Those glowing shades of the gallery to which love,
and genius, and devotion had lent their inspiration, seemed without
life and lustre by the radiant expression and expressive presence which
Coningsby now beheld.

The finely-arched brow was a little elevated, the soft dark eyes were
fully opened, the nostril of the delicate nose slightly dilated, the
small, yet rich, full lips just parted; and over the clear, transparent
visage, there played a vivid glance of gratified intelligence.

The lady rose, advanced towards the picture, looked at it earnestly for
a few moments, and then, turning in a direction opposite to Coningsby,
walked away. She was somewhat above the middle stature, and yet could
scarcely be called tall; a quality so rare, that even skilful dancers
do not often possess it, was hers; that elastic gait that is so winning,
and so often denotes the gaiety and quickness of the spirit.

The fair object of his observation had advanced into other chambers,
and as soon as it was becoming, Coningsby followed her. She had joined a
lady and gentleman, who were examining an ancient carving in ivory. The
gentleman was middle-aged and portly; the elder lady tall and elegant,
and with traces of interesting beauty. Coningsby heard her speak; the
words were English, but the accent not of a native.

In the remotest part of the room, Coningsby, apparently engaged in
examining some of that famous Limoges ware of which Sidonia had spoken,
watched with interest and intentness the beautiful being whom he had
followed, and whom he concluded to be the child of her companions. After
some little time, they quitted the apartment on their return to the
gallery; Coningsby remained behind, caring for none of the rare and
fanciful objects that surrounded him, yet compelled, from the fear of
seeming obtrusive, for some minutes to remain. Then he too returned
to the gallery, and just as he had gained its end, he saw the portly
gentleman in the distance shaking hands with Sidonia, the ladies
apparently expressing their thanks and gratification to M. P - - s, and
then all vanishing by the door through which Coningsby had originally
entered.

'What a beautiful countrywoman of yours!' said M. P - - s, as Coningsby
approached him.

'Is she my countrywoman? I am glad to hear it; I have been admiring
her,' he replied.

'Yes,' said M. P - - s, 'it is Sir Wallinger: one of your deputies; don't
you know him?'

'Sir Wallinger!' said Coningsby, 'no, I have not that honour.' He looked
at Sidonia.

'Sir Joseph Wallinger,' said Sidonia, 'one of the new Whig baronets,
and member for - - . I know him. He married a Spaniard. That is not his
daughter, but his niece; the child of his wife's sister. It is not easy
to find any one more beautiful.'

END OF BOOK V.




BOOK VI.


CHAPTER I.


The knowledge that Sidonia was in Paris greatly agitated Lady Monmouth.
She received the intimation indeed from Coningsby at dinner with
sufficient art to conceal her emotion. Lord Monmouth himself was quite
pleased at the announcement. Sidonia was his especial favourite; he knew
so much, had such an excellent judgment, and was so rich. He had always
something to tell you, was the best man in the world to bet on, and
never wanted anything. A perfect character according to the Monmouth
ethics.

In the evening of the day that Coningsby met Sidonia, Lady Monmouth made
a little visit to the charming Duchess de G - - t who was 'at home'
every other night in her pretty hotel, with its embroidered white satin
draperies, its fine old cabinets, and ancestral portraits of famous
name, brave marshals and bright princesses of the olden time, on its
walls. These receptions without form, yet full of elegance, are what
English 'at homes' were before the Continental war, though now, by a
curious perversion of terms, the easy domestic title distinguishes in
England a formally-prepared and elaborately-collected assembly, in which
everything and every person are careful to be as little 'homely' as
possible. In France, on the contrary, 'tis on these occasions, and in
this manner, that society carries on that degree and kind of intercourse
which in England we attempt awkwardly to maintain by the medium of
that unpopular species of visitation styled a morning call; which all
complain that they have either to make or to endure.

Nowhere was this species of reception more happily conducted than at
the Duchess de G - - t's. The rooms, though small, decorated with taste,
brightly illumined; a handsome and gracious hostess, the Duke the very
pearl of gentlemen, and sons and daughters worthy of such parents. Every
moment some one came in, and some one went away. In your way from a
dinner to a ball, you stopped to exchange agreeable _on dits_. It seemed
that every woman was pretty, every man a wit. Sure you were to find
yourself surrounded by celebrities, and men were welcomed there, if they
were clever, before they were famous, which showed it was a house that
regarded intellect, and did not seek merely to gratify its vanity by
being surrounded by the distinguished.

Enveloped in a rich Indian shawl, and leaning back on a sofa, Lady
Monmouth was engaged in conversation with the courtly and classic Count
M - - é, when, on casually turning her head, she observed entering the
saloon, Sidonia. She just caught his form bowing to the Duchess, and
instantly turned her head and replunged into her conversation with
increased interest. Lady Monmouth was a person who had the power of
seeing all about her, everything and everybody, without appearing to
look. She was conscious that Sidonia was approaching her neighbourhood.
Her heart beat in tumult; she dreaded to catch the eye of that very
individual whom she was so anxious to meet. He was advancing towards
the sofa. Instinctively, Lady Monmouth turned from the Count, and began
speaking earnestly to her other neighbour, a young daughter of the
house, innocent and beautiful, not yet quite fledged, trying her wings
in society under the maternal eye. She was surprised by the extreme
interest which her grand neighbour suddenly took in all her pursuits,
her studies, her daily walks in the Bois de Boulogne. Sidonia, as the
Marchioness had anticipated, had now reached the sofa. But no, it was to
the Count, and not to Lady Monmouth that he was advancing; and they were
immediately engaged in conversation. After some little time, when she
had become accustomed to his voice, and found her own heart throbbing
with less violence, Lucretia turned again, as if by accident, to the
Count, and met the glance of Sidonia. She meant to have received him
with haughtiness, but her self-command deserted her; and slightly rising
from the sofa, she welcomed him with a countenance of extreme pallor and
with some awkwardness.

His manner was such as might have assisted her, even had she been more
troubled. It was marked by a degree of respectful friendliness. He
expressed without reserve his pleasure at meeting her again; inquired
much how she had passed her time since they last parted; asked more than
once after the Marquess. The Count moved away; Sidonia took his seat.
His ease and homage combined greatly relieved her. She expressed to
him how kind her Lord would consider his society, for the Marquess had
suffered in health since Sidonia last saw him. His periodical gout had
left him, which made him ill and nervous. The Marquess received his
friends at dinner every day. Sidonia, particularly amiable, offered
himself as a guest for the following one.

'And do you go to the great ball to-morrow?' inquired Lucretia,
delighted with all that had occurred.

'I always go to their balls,' said Sidonia, 'I have promised.'

There was a momentary pause; Lucretia happier than she had been for a
long time, her face a little flushed, and truly in a secret tumult of
sweet thoughts, remembered she had been long there, and offering her
hand to Sidonia, bade him adieu until to-morrow, while he, as was his
custom, soon repaired to the refined circle of the Countess de C-s-l-ne,
a lady whose manners he always mentioned as his fair ideal, and whose
house was his favourite haunt.

Before to-morrow comes, a word or two respecting two other characters
of this history connected with the family of Lord Monmouth. And first
of Flora. La Petite was neither very well nor very happy. Her hereditary
disease developed itself; gradually, but in a manner alarming to those
who loved her. She was very delicate, and suffered so much from the
weakness of her chest, that she was obliged to relinquish singing. This
was really the only tie between her and the Marchioness, who, without
being a petty tyrant, treated her often with unfeeling haughtiness. She
was, therefore, now rarely seen in the chambers of the great. In her own
apartments she found, indeed, some distraction in music, for which she
had a natural predisposition, but this was a pursuit that only fed
the morbid passion of her tender soul. Alone, listening only to sweet
sounds, or indulging in soft dreams that never could be realised, her
existence glided away like a vision, and she seemed to become every day
more fair and fragile. Alas! hers was the sad and mystic destiny to love
one whom she never met, and by whom, if she met him, she would scarcely,
perhaps, be recognised. Yet in that passion, fanciful, almost ideal,
her life was absorbed; nor for her did the world contain an existence,
a thought, a sensation, beyond those that sprang from the image of
the noble youth who had sympathised with her in her sorrows, and had
softened the hard fortunes of dependence by his generous sensibility.
Happy that, with many mortifications, it was still her lot to live under
the roof of one who bore his name, and in whose veins flowed the same
blood! She felt indeed for the Marquess, whom she so rarely saw, and
from whom she had never received much notice, prompted, it would seem,
by her fantastic passion, a degree of reverence, almost of affection,
which seemed occasionally, even to herself, as something inexplicable
and without reason.

As for her fond step-father, M. Villebecque, the world fared very
differently with him. His lively and enterprising genius, his ready and
multiform talents, and his temper which defied disturbance, had made
their way. He had become the very right hand of Lord Monmouth; his only
counsellor, his only confidant; his secret agent; the minister of his
will. And well did Villebecque deserve this trust, and ably did he
maintain himself in the difficult position which he achieved. There was
nothing which Villebecque did not know, nothing which he could not do,
especially at Paris. He was master of his subject; in all things the
secret of success, and without which, however they may from accident
dazzle the world, the statesman, the orator, the author, all alike feel
the damning consciousness of being charlatans.

Coningsby had made a visit to M. Villebecque and Flora the day after
his arrival. It was a recollection and a courtesy that evidently greatly
gratified them. Villebecque talked very much and amusingly; and Flora,
whom Coningsby frequently addressed, very little, though she listened
with great earnestness. Coningsby told her that he thought, from all he
heard, she was too much alone, and counselled her to gaiety. But nature,
that had made her mild, had denied her that constitutional liveliness of
being which is the graceful property of French women. She was a lily of
the valley, that loved seclusion and the tranquillity of virgin glades.
Almost every day, as he passed their _entresol_, Coningsby would look
into Villebecque's apartments for a moment, to ask after Flora.




CHAPTER II.


Sidonia was to dine at Lord Monmouth's the day after he met Lucretia,



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 25 of 39)