Benjamin Disraeli.

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and afterwards they were all to meet at a ball much talked of, and
to which invitations were much sought; and which was to be given that
evening by the Baroness S. de R - - d.

Lord Monmouth's dinners at Paris were celebrated. It was generally
agreed that they had no rivals; yet there were others who had as skilful
cooks, others who, for such a purpose, were equally profuse in their
expenditure. What, then, was the secret spell of his success? The
simplest in the world, though no one seemed aware of it. His Lordship's
plates were always hot: whereas at Paris, in the best appointed houses,
and at dinners which, for costly materials and admirable art in their
preparation, cannot be surpassed, the effect is always considerably
lessened, and by a mode the most mortifying: by the mere circumstance
that every one at a French dinner is served on a cold plate. The reason
of a custom, or rather a necessity, which one would think a nation so
celebrated for their gastronomical taste would recoil from, is really,
it is believed, that the ordinary French porcelain is so very inferior
that it cannot endure the preparatory heat for dinner. The common white
pottery, for example, which is in general use, and always found at the
cafés, will not bear vicinage to a brisk kitchen fire for half-an-hour.
Now, if we only had that treaty of commerce with France which has been
so often on the point of completion, the fabrics of our unrivalled
potteries, in exchange for their capital wines, would be found
throughout France. The dinners of both nations would be improved: the
English would gain a delightful beverage, and the French, for the first
time in their lives, would dine off hot plates. An unanswerable instance
of the advantages of commercial reciprocity.

The guests at Lord Monmouth's to-day were chiefly Carlists, individuals
bearing illustrious names, that animate the page of history, and are
indissolubly bound up with the glorious annals of their great country.
They are the phantoms of a past, but real Aristocracy; an Aristocracy
that was founded on an intelligible principle; which claimed great
privileges for great purposes; whose hereditary duties were such, that
their possessors were perpetually in the eye of the nation, and
who maintained, and, in a certain point of view justified, their
pre-eminence by constant illustration.

It pleased Lord Monmouth to show great courtesies to a fallen race with
whom he sympathised; whose fathers had been his friends in the days of
his hot youth; whose mothers he had made love to; whose palaces had been
his home; whose brilliant fêtes he remembered; whose fanciful splendour
excited his early imagination; and whose magnificent and wanton luxury
had developed his own predisposition for boundless enjoyment. Soubise
and his suppers; his cutlets and his mistresses; the profuse and
embarrassed De Lauragais, who sighed for 'entire ruin,' as for a strange
luxury, which perpetually eluded his grasp; these were the heroes of the
olden time that Lord Monmouth worshipped; the wisdom of our ancestors
which he appreciated; and he turned to their recollection for relief
from the vulgar prudence of the degenerate days on which he had fallen:
days when nobles must be richer than other men, or they cease to have
any distinction.

It was impossible not to be struck by the effective appearance of Lady
Monmouth as she received her guests in grand toilet preparatory to the
ball; white satin and minever, a brilliant tiara. Her fine form, her
costume of a fashion as perfect as its materials were sumptuous, and her
presence always commanding and distinguished, produced a general effect
to which few could be insensible. It was the triumph of mien over mere
beauty of countenance.

The hotel of Madame S. de R - - d is not more distinguished by its
profuse decoration, than by the fine taste which has guided the vast
expenditure. Its halls of arabesque are almost without a rival; there is
not the slightest embellishment in which the hand and feeling of art are
not recognised. The rooms were very crowded; everybody distinguished in
Paris was there: the lady of the Court, the duchess of the Faubourg, the
wife of the financier, the constitutional Throne, the old Monarchy, the
modern Bourse, were alike represented. Marshals of the Empire, Ministers
of the Crown, Dukes and Marquesses, whose ancestors lounged in the
Oeil de Boeuf; diplomatists of all countries, eminent foreigners of all
nations, deputies who led sections, members of learned and scientific
academies, occasionally a stray poet; a sea of sparkling tiaras,
brilliant bouquets, glittering stars, and glowing ribbons, many
beautiful faces, many famous ones: unquestionably the general air of a
firstrate Parisian saloon, on a great occasion, is not easily equalled.
In London there is not the variety of guests; nor the same size and
splendour of saloons. Our houses are too small for reception.

Coningsby, who had stolen away from his grandfather's before the rest of
the guests, was delighted with the novelty of the splendid scene. He had
been in Paris long enough to make some acquaintances, and mostly with
celebrated personages. In his long fruitless endeavour to enter the
saloon in which they danced, he found himself hustled against the
illustrious Baron von H - - t, whom he had sat next to at dinner a few
days before at Count M - - é's.

'It is more difficult than cutting through the Isthmus of Panama,
Baron,' said Coningsby, alluding to a past conversation.

'Infinitely,' replied M. de H., smiling; 'for I would undertake to
cut through the Isthmus, and I cannot engage that I shall enter this
ball-room.'

Time, however, brought Coningsby into that brilliant chamber. What a
blaze of light and loveliness! How coquettish are the costumes! How
vivid the flowers! To sounds of stirring melody, beautiful beings move
with grace. Grace, indeed, is beauty in action.

Here, where all are fair and everything is attractive, his eye is
suddenly arrested by one object, a form of surpassing grace among the
graceful, among the beauteous a countenance of unrivalled beauty.

She was young among the youthful; a face of sunshine amid all that
artificial light; her head placed upon her finely-moulded shoulders with
a queen-like grace; a coronet of white roses on her dark brown hair; her
only ornament. It was the beauty of the picture-gallery.

The eye of Coningsby never quitted her. When the dance ceased, he had an
opportunity of seeing her nearer. He met her walking with her cavalier,
and he was conscious that she observed him. Finally he remarked that she
resumed a seat next to the lady whom he had mistaken for her mother, but
had afterwards understood to be Lady Wallinger.

Coningsby returned to the other saloons: he witnessed the entrance and
reception of Lady Monmouth, who moved on towards the ball-room. Soon
after this, Sidonia arrived; he came in with the still handsome and ever
courteous Duke D - - s. Observing Coningsby, he stopped to present him to
the Duke. While thus conversing, the Duke, who is fond of the English,
observed, 'See, here is your beautiful countrywoman that all the world
are talking of. That is her uncle. He brings to me letters from one of
your lords, whose name I cannot recollect.'

And Sir Joseph and his lovely niece veritably approached. The Duke
addressed them: asked them in the name of his Duchess to a concert on
the next Thursday; and, after a thousand compliments, moved on. Sidonia
stopped; Coningsby could not refrain from lingering, but stood a little
apart, and was about to move away, when there was a whisper, of which,
without hearing a word, he could not resist the impression that he was
the subject. He felt a little embarrassed, and was retiring, when he
heard Sidonia reply to an inquiry of the lady, 'The same,' and then,
turning to Coningsby, said aloud, 'Coningsby, Miss Millbank says that
you have forgotten her.'

Coningsby started, advanced, coloured a little, could not conceal
his surprise. The lady, too, though more prepared, was not without
confusion, and for an instant looked down. Coningsby recalled at that
moment the long dark eyelashes, and the beautiful, bashful countenance
that had so charmed him at Millbank; but two years had otherwise
effected a wonderful change in the sister of his school-day friend,
and transformed the silent, embarrassed girl into a woman of surpassing
beauty and of the most graceful and impressive mien.

'It is not surprising that Mr. Coningsby should not recollect my niece,'
said Sir Joseph, addressing Sidonia, and wishing to cover their mutual
embarrassment; 'but it is impossible for her, or for anyone connected
with her, not to be anxious at all times to express to him our sense of
what we all owe him.'

Coningsby and Miss Millbank were now in full routine conversation,
consisting of questions; how long she had been at Paris; when she had
heard last from Millbank; how her father was; also, how was her brother.
Sidonia made an observation to Sir Joseph on a passer-by, and then
himself moved on; Coningsby accompanying his new friends, in a contrary
direction, to the refreshment-room, to which they were proceeding.

'And you have passed a winter at Rome,' said Coningsby. 'How I envy you!
I feel that I shall never be able to travel.'

'And why not?'

'Life has become so stirring, that there is ever some great cause that
keeps one at home.'

'Life, on the contrary, so swift, that all may see now that of which
they once could only read.'

'The golden and silver sides of the shield,' said Coningsby, with a
smile.

'And you, like a good knight, will maintain your own.'

'No, I would follow yours.'

'You have not heard lately from Oswald?'

'Oh, yes; I think there are no such faithful correspondents as we are; I
only wish we could meet.'

'You will soon; but he is such a devotee of Oxford; quite a monk; and
you, too, Mr. Coningsby, are much occupied.'

'Yes, and at the same time as Millbank. I was in hopes, when I once paid
you a visit, I might have found your brother.'

'But that was such a rapid visit,' said Miss Millbank.

'I always remember it with delight,' said Coningsby.

'You were willing to be pleased; but Millbank, notwithstanding Rome,
commands my affections, and in spite of this surrounding splendour, I
could have wished to have passed my Christmas in Lancashire.'

'Mr. Millbank has lately purchased a very beautiful place in the county.
I became acquainted with Hellingsley when staying at my grandfather's.'

'Ah! I have never seen it; indeed, I was much surprised that papa became
its purchaser, because he never will live there; and Oswald, I am sure,
could never be tempted to quit Millbank. You know what enthusiastic
ideas he has of his order?'

'Like all his ideas, sound, and high, and pure. I always duly
appreciated your brother's great abilities, and, what is far more
important, his lofty mind. When I recollect our Eton days, I cannot
understand how more than two years have passed away without our being
together. I am sure the fault is mine. I might now have been at Oxford
instead of Paris. And yet,' added Coningsby, 'that would have been a sad
mistake, since I should not have had the happiness of being here.

'Oh, yes, that would have been a sad mistake,' said Miss Millbank.

'Edith,' said Sir Joseph, rejoining his niece, from whom he had been
momentarily separated, 'Edith, that is Monsieur Thiers.'

In the meantime Sidonia reached the ball-room, and sitting near the
entrance was Lady Monmouth, who immediately addressed him. He was, as
usual, intelligent and unimpassioned, and yet not without a delicate
deference which is flattering to women, especially if not altogether
unworthy of it. Sidonia always admired Lucretia, and preferred her
society to that of most persons. But the Lady was in error in supposing
that she had conquered or could vanquish his heart. Sidonia was one of
those men, not so rare as may be supposed, who shrink, above all things,
from an adventure of gallantry with a woman in a position. He had
neither time nor temper for sentimental circumvolutions. He detested the
diplomacy of passion: protocols, protracted negotiations, conferences,
correspondence, treaties projected, ratified, violated. He had no genius
for the tactics of intrigue; your reconnoiterings, and marchings, and
countermarchings, sappings, and minings, assaults, sometimes surrenders,
and sometimes repulses. All the solemn and studied hypocrisies were to
him infinitely wearisome; and if the movements were not merely formal,
they irritated him, distracted his feelings, disturbed the tenor of his
mind, deranged his nervous system. Something of the old Oriental vein
influenced him in his carriage towards women. He was oftener behind the
scenes of the Opera-house than in his box; he delighted, too, in the
society of _etairai_; Aspasia was his heroine. Obliged to appear much in
what is esteemed pure society, he cultivated the acquaintance of clever
women, because they interested him; but in such saloons his feminine
acquaintances were merely psychological. No lady could accuse him of
trifling with her feelings, however decided might be his predilection
for her conversation. He yielded at once to an admirer; never trespassed
by any chance into the domain of sentiment; never broke, by any accident
or blunder, into the irregular paces of flirtation; was a man who
notoriously would never diminish by marriage the purity of his race;
and one who always maintained that passion and polished life were quite
incompatible. He liked the drawing-room, and he liked the Desert, but he
would not consent that either should trench on their mutual privileges.

The Princess Lucretia had yielded herself to the spell of Sidonia's
society at Coningsby Castle, when she knew that marriage was impossible.
But she loved him; and with an Italian spirit. Now they met again,
and she was the Marchioness of Monmouth, a very great lady, very much
admired, and followed, and courted, and very powerful. It is our great
moralist who tells us, in the immortal page, that an affair of gallantry
with a great lady is more delightful than with ladies of a lower degree.
In this he contradicts the good old ballad; but certain it is that
Dr. Johnson announced to Boswell, 'Sir, in the case of a Countess the
imagination is more excited.'

But Sidonia was a man on whom the conventional superiorities of life
produced as little effect as a flake falling on the glaciers of the high
Alps. His comprehension of the world and human nature was too vast
and complete; he understood too well the relative value of things to
appreciate anything but essential excellence; and that not too much. A
charming woman was not more charming to him because she chanced to be
an empress in a particular district of one of the smallest planets; a
charming woman under any circumstances was not an unique animal. When
Sidonia felt a disposition to be spellbound, he used to review in his
memory all the charming women of whom he had read in the books of all
literatures, and whom he had known himself in every court and clime,
and the result of his reflections ever was, that the charming woman in
question was by no means the paragon, which some who had read, seen,
and thought less, might be inclined to esteem her. There was, indeed,
no subject on which Sidonia discoursed so felicitously as on woman, and
none on which Lord Eskdale more frequently endeavoured to attract him.
He would tell you Talmudical stories about our mother Eve and the Queen
of Sheba, which would have astonished you. There was not a free lady of
Greece, Leontium and Phryne, Lais, Danae, and Lamia, the Egyptian girl
Thonis, respecting whom he could not tell you as many diverting tales as
if they were ladies of Loretto; not a nook of Athenseus, not an obscure
scholiast, not a passage in a Greek orator, that could throw light on
these personages, which was not at his command. What stories he would
tell you about Marc Antony and the actress Cytheris in their chariot
drawn by tigers! What a character would he paint of that Flora who gave
her gardens to the Roman people! It would draw tears to your eyes. No
man was ever so learned in the female manners of the last centuries of
polytheism as Sidonia. You would have supposed that he had devoted his
studies peculiarly to that period if you had not chanced to draw him
to the Italian middle ages. And even these startling revelations were
almost eclipsed by his anecdotes of the Court of Henry III. of France,
with every character of which he was as familiar as with the brilliant
groups that at this moment filled the saloons of Madame de R - - d.




CHAPTER III.

The image of Edith Millbank was the last thought of Coningsby, as he
sank into an agitated slumber. To him had hitherto in general been
accorded the precious boon of dreamless sleep. Homer tells us these
phantasms come from Jove; they are rather the children of a distracted
soul. Coningsby this night lived much in past years, varied by
painful perplexities of the present, which he could neither subdue
nor comprehend. The scene flitted from Eton to the castle of his
grandfather; and then he found himself among the pictures of the Rue de
Tronchet, but their owner bore the features of the senior Millbank. A
beautiful countenance that was alternately the face in the mysterious
picture, and then that of Edith, haunted him under all circumstances. He
woke little refreshed; restless, and yet sensible of some secret joy.

He woke to think of her of whom he had dreamed. The light had dawned on
his soul. Coningsby loved.

Ah! what is that ambition that haunts our youth, that thirst for power
or that lust of fame that forces us from obscurity into the sunblaze of
the world, what are these sentiments so high, so vehement, so ennobling?
They vanish, and in an instant, before the glance of a woman!

Coningsby had scarcely quitted her side the preceding eve. He hung
upon the accents of that clear sweet voice, and sought, with tremulous
fascination, the gleaming splendour of those soft dark eyes. And now
he sat in his chamber, with his eyes fixed on vacancy. All thoughts and
feelings, pursuits, desires, life, merge in one absorbing sentiment.

It is impossible to exist without seeing her again, and instantly. He
had requested and gained permission to call on Lady Wallinger; he would
not lose a moment in availing himself of it. As early as was tolerably
decorous, and before, in all probability, they could quit their hotel,
Coningsby repaired to the Rue de Rivoli to pay his respects to his new
friends.

As he walked along, he indulged in fanciful speculations which connected
Edith and the mysterious portrait of his mother. He felt himself, as
it were, near the fulfilment of some fate, and on the threshold of some
critical discovery. He recalled the impatient, even alarmed, expressions
of Rigby at Montem six years ago, when he proposed to invite young
Millbank to his grandfather's dinner; the vindictive feud that existed
between the two families, and for which political opinion, or even party
passion, could not satisfactorily account; and he reasoned himself into
a conviction, that the solution of many perplexities was at hand, and
that all would be consummated to the satisfaction of every one, by his
unexpected but inevitable agency.

Coningsby found Sir Joseph alone. The worthy Baronet was at any rate
no participator in Mr. Millbank's vindictive feelings against Lord
Monmouth. On the contrary, he had a very high respect for a Marquess,
whatever might be his opinions, and no mean consideration for a
Marquess' grandson.

Sir Joseph had inherited a large fortune made by commerce, and had
increased it by the same means. He was a middle-class Whig, had
faithfully supported that party in his native town during the days they
wandered in the wilderness, and had well earned his share of the milk
and honey when they had vanquished the promised land. In the springtide
of Liberalism, when the world was not analytical of free opinions, and
odious distinctions were not drawn between Finality men and progressive
Reformers, Mr. Wallinger had been the popular leader of a powerful
body of his fellow-citizens, who had returned him to the first Reformed
Parliament, and where, in spite of many a menacing registration, he
had contrived to remain. He had never given a Radical vote without
the permission of the Secretary of the Treasury, and was not afraid
of giving an unpopular one to serve his friends. He was not like that
distinguished Liberal, who, after dining with the late Whig Premier,
expressed his gratification and his gratitude, by assuring his Lordship
that he might count on his support on all popular questions.

'I want men who will support the government on all unpopular questions,'
replied the witty statesman.

Mr. Wallinger was one of these men. His high character and strong purse
were always in the front rank in the hour of danger. His support in the
House was limited to his votes; but in other places equally important,
at a meeting at a political club, or in Downing Street, he could find
his tongue, take what is called a 'practical' view of a question, adopt
what is called an 'independent tone,' reanimate confidence in ministers,
check mutiny, and set a bright and bold example to the wavering. A man
of his property, and high character, and sound views, so practical and
so independent, this was evidently the block from which a Baronet should
be cut, and in due time he figured Sir Joseph.

A Spanish gentleman of ample means, and of a good Catalan family, flying
during a political convulsion to England, arrived with his two
daughters at Liverpool, and bore letters of introduction to the house
of Wallinger. Some little time after this, by one of those stormy
vicissitudes of political fortune, of late years not unusual in the
Peninsula, he returned to his native country, and left his children, and
the management of that portion of his fortune that he had succeeded in
bringing with him, under the guardianship of the father of the present
Sir Joseph. This gentleman was about again to become an exile, when
he met with an untimely end in one of those terrible tumults of which
Barcelona is the frequent scene.

The younger Wallinger was touched by the charms of one of his father's
wards. Her beauty of a character to which he was unaccustomed,
her accomplishments of society, and the refinement of her manners,
conspicuous in the circle in which he lived, captivated him; and though
they had no heir, the union had been one of great felicity. Sir Joseph
was proud of his wife; he secretly considered himself, though his 'tone'
was as liberal and independent as in old days, to be on the threshold of
aristocracy, and was conscious that Lady Wallinger played her part not
unworthily in the elevated circles in which they now frequently found
themselves. Sir Joseph was fond of great people, and not averse to
travel; because, bearing a title, and being a member of the British
Parliament, and always moving with the appendages of wealth, servants,
carriages, and couriers, and fortified with no lack of letters from
the Foreign Office, he was everywhere acknowledged, and received,
and treated as a personage; was invited to court-balls, dined with
ambassadors, and found himself and his lady at every festival of
distinction.

The elder Millbank had been Joseph Wallinger's youthful friend.
Different as were their dispositions and the rate of their abilities,
their political opinions were the same; and commerce habitually
connected their interests. During a visit to Liverpool, Millbank had
made the acquaintance of the sister of Lady Wallinger, and had been a
successful suitor for her hand. This lady was the mother of Edith and of
the schoolfellow of Coningsby. It was only within a very few years
that she had died; she had scarcely lived long enough to complete the
education of her daughter, to whom she was devoted, and on whom she
lavished the many accomplishments that she possessed. Lady Wallinger
having no children, and being very fond of her niece, had watched over
Edith with infinite solicitude, and finally had persuaded Mr. Millbank,
that it would be well that his daughter should accompany them in their
somewhat extensive travels. It was not, therefore, only that nature
had developed a beautiful woman out of a bashful girl since Coningsby's
visit to Millbank; but really, every means and every opportunity that
could contribute to render an individual capable of adorning the most
accomplished circles of life, had naturally, and without effort, fallen



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 26 of 39)