Benjamin Disraeli.

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to the fortunate lot of the manufacturer's daughter. Edith possessed
an intelligence equal to those occasions. Without losing the native
simplicity of her character, which sprang from the heart, and which
the strong and original bent of her father's mind had fostered, she had
imbibed all the refinement and facility of the polished circles in which
she moved. She had a clear head, a fine taste, and a generous spirit;
had received so much admiration, that, though by no means insensible to
homage, her heart was free; was strongly attached to her family; and,
notwithstanding all the splendour of Rome, and the brilliancy of Paris,
her thoughts were often in her Saxon valley, amid the green hills and
busy factories of Millbank.

Sir Joseph, finding himself alone with the grandson of Lord Monmouth,
was not very anxious that the ladies should immediately appear. He
thought this a good opportunity of getting at what are called 'the
real feelings of the Tory party;' and he began to pump with a seductive
semblance of frankness. For his part, he had never doubted that a
Conservative government was ultimately inevitable; had told Lord John
so two years ago, and, between themselves, Lord John was of the same
opinion. The present position of the Whigs was the necessary fate of
all progressive parties; could not see exactly how it would end; thought
sometimes it must end in a fusion of parties; but could not well see how
that could be brought about, at least at present. For his part, should
be happy to witness an union of the best men of all parties, for the
preservation of peace and order, without any reference to any particular
opinions. And, in that sense of the word, it was not at all impossible
he might find it his duty some day to support a Conservative government.

Sir Joseph was much astonished when Coningsby, who being somewhat
impatient for the entrance of the ladies was rather more abrupt than his
wont, told the worthy Baronet that he looked, upon a government without
distinct principles of policy as only a stop-gap to a wide-spread and
demoralising anarchy; that he for one could not comprehend how a free
government could endure without national opinions to uphold it; and that
governments for the preservation of peace and order, and nothing else,
had better be sought in China, or among the Austrians, the Chinese of
Europe. As for Conservative government, the natural question was, What
do you mean to conserve? Do you mean to conserve things or only names,
realities or merely appearances? Or, do you mean to continue the
system commenced in 1834, and, with a hypocritical reverence for the
principles, and a superstitious adhesion to the forms, of the old
exclusive constitution, carry on your policy by latitudinarian practice?

Sir Joseph stared; it was the first time that any inkling of the
views of the New Generation had caught his ear. They were strange and
unaccustomed accents. He was extremely perplexed; could by no means make
out what his companion was driving at; at length, with a rather knowing
smile, expressive as much of compassion as comprehension, he remarked,

'Ah! I see; you are a regular Orangeman.'

'I look upon an Orangeman,' said Coningsby, 'as a pure Whig; the only
professor and practiser of unadulterated Whiggism.'

This was too much for Sir Joseph, whose political knowledge did not
reach much further back than the ministry of the Mediocrities; hardly
touched the times of the Corresponding Society. But he was a cautious
man, and never replied in haste. He was about feeling his way, when
he experienced the golden advantage of gaining time, for the ladies
entered.

The heart of Coningsby throbbed as Edith appeared. She extended to him
her hand; her face radiant with kind expression. Lady Wallinger seemed
gratified also by his visit. She had much elegance in her manner;
a calm, soft address; and she spoke English with a sweet Doric
irregularity. They all sat down, talked of the last night's ball, of a
thousand things. There was something animating in the frank, cheerful
spirit of Edith. She had a quick eye both for the beautiful and the
ridiculous, and threw out her observations in terse and vivid phrases.
An hour, and more than an hour, passed away, and Coningsby still found
some excuse not to depart. It seemed that on this morning they were
about to make an expedition into the antique city of Paris, to visit
some old hotels which retained their character; especially they had
heard much of the hotel of the Archbishop of Sens, with its fortified
courtyard. Coningsby expressed great interest in the subject, and showed
some knowledge. Sir Joseph invited him to join the party, which of all
things in the world was what he most desired.




CHAPTER IV.


Not a day elapsed without Coningsby being in the company of Edith. Time
was precious for him, for the spires and pinnacles of Cambridge
already began to loom in the distance, and he resolved to make the most
determined efforts not to lose a day of his liberty. And yet to call
every morning in the Rue de Rivoli was an exploit which surpassed even
the audacity of love! More than once, making the attempt, his courage
failed him, and he turned into the gardens of the Tuileries, and only
watched the windows of the house. Circumstances, however, favoured him:
he received a letter from Oswald Millbank; he was bound to communicate
in person this evidence of his friend's existence; and when he had to
reply to the letter, he must necessarily inquire whether his friend's
relatives had any message to transmit to him. These, however, were only
slight advantages. What assisted Coningsby in his plans and wishes was
the great pleasure which Sidonia, with whom he passed a great deal of
his time, took in the society of the Wallingers and their niece. Sidonia
presented Lady Wallinger with his opera-box during her stay at Paris;
invited them frequently to his agreeable dinner-parties; and announced
his determination to give a ball, which Lady Wallinger esteemed a
delicate attention to Edith; while Lady Monmouth flattered herself that
the festival sprang from the desire she had expressed of seeing the
celebrated hotel of Sidonia to advantage.

Coningsby was very happy. His morning visits to the Rue de Rivoli seemed
always welcome, and seldom an evening elapsed in which he did not find
himself in the society of Edith. She seemed not to wish to conceal that
his presence gave her pleasure, and though she had many admirers, and
had an airy graciousness for all of them, Coningsby sometimes indulged
the exquisite suspicion that there was a flattering distinction in her
carriage to himself. Under the influence of these feelings, he began
daily to be more conscious that separation would be an intolerable
calamity; he began to meditate upon the feasibility of keeping a half
term, and of postponing his departure to Cambridge to a period nearer
the time when Edith would probably return to England.

In the meanwhile, the Parisian world talked much of the grand fete which
was about to be given by Sidonia. Coningsby heard much of it one day
when dining at his grandfather's. Lady Monmouth seemed very intent on
the occasion. Even Lord Monmouth half talked of going, though, for his
part, he wished people would come to him, and never ask him to their
houses. That was his idea of society. He liked the world, but he liked
to find it under his own roof. He grudged them nothing, so that they
would not insist upon the reciprocity of cold-catching, and would eat
his good dinners instead of insisting on his eating their bad ones.

'But Monsieur Sidonia's cook is a gem, they say,' observed an Attaché of
an embassy.

'I have no doubt of it; Sidonia is a man of sense, almost the only man
of sense I know. I never caught him tripping. He never makes a false
move. Sidonia is exactly the sort of man I like; you know you cannot
deceive him, and that he does not want to deceive you. I wish he liked a
rubber more. Then he would be perfect.'

'They say he is going to be married,' said the Attaché.

'Poh!' said Lord Monmouth.

'Married!' exclaimed Lady Monmouth. 'To whom?'

'To your beautiful countrywoman, "la belle Anglaise," that all the world
talks of,' said the Attaché.

'And who may she be, pray?' said the Marquess. 'I have so many beautiful
countrywomen.'

'Mademoiselle Millbank,' said the Attaché.

'Millbank!' said the Marquess, with a lowering brow. 'There are so many
Millbanks. Do you know what Millbank this is, Harry?' he inquired of his
grandson, who had listened to the conversation with a rather embarrassed
and even agitated spirit.

'What, sir; yes, Millbank?' said Coningsby.

'I say, do you know who this Millbank is?'

'Oh! Miss Millbank: yes, I believe, that is, I know a daughter of the
gentleman who purchased some property near you.'

'Oh! that fellow! Has he got a daughter here?'

'The most beautiful girl in Paris,' said the Attaché.

'Lady Monmouth, have you seen this beauty, that Sidonia is going to
marry?' he added, with a fiendish laugh.

'I have seen the young lady,' said Lady Monmouth; 'but I had not heard
that Monsieur Sidonia was about to marry her.'

'Is she so very beautiful?' inquired another gentleman.

'Yes,' said Lady Monmouth, calm, but pale.

'Poh!' said the Marquess again.

'I assure you that it is a fact,' said the Attaché, 'not at least an
_on-dit_. I have it from a quarter that could not well be mistaken.'

Behold a little snatch of ordinary dinner gossip that left a very
painful impression on the minds of three individuals who were present.

The name of Millbank revived in Lord Monmouth's mind a sense of defeat,
discomfiture, and disgust; Hellingsley, lost elections, and Mr. Rigby;
three subjects which Lord Monmouth had succeeded for a time in expelling
from his sensations. His lordship thought that, in all probability, this
beauty of whom they spoke so highly was not really the daughter of his
foe; that it was some confusion which had arisen from the similarity of
names: nor did he believe that Sidonia was going to marry her, whoever
she might be; but a variety of things had been said at dinner, and a
number of images had been raised in his mind that touched his spleen. He
took his wine freely, and, the usual consequence of that proceeding with
Lord Monmouth, became silent and sullen. As for Lady Monmouth, she
had learnt that Sidonia, whatever might be the result, was paying very
marked attention to another woman, for whom undoubtedly he was giving
that very ball which she had flattered herself was a homage to her
wishes, and for which she had projected a new dress of eclipsing
splendour.

Coningsby felt quite sure that the story of Sidonia's marriage
with Edith was the most ridiculous idea that ever entered into the
imagination of man; at least he thought he felt quite sure. But the
idlest and wildest report that the woman you love is about to marry
another is not comfortable. Besides, he could not conceal from himself
that, between the Wallingers and Sidonia there existed a remarkable
intimacy, fully extended to their niece. He had seen her certainly on
more than one occasion in lengthened and apparently earnest conversation
with Sidonia, who, by-the-bye, spoke with her often in Spanish, and
never concealed his admiration of her charms or the interest he found
in her society. And Edith; what, after all, had passed between Edith
and himself which should at all gainsay this report, which he had been
particularly assured was not a mere report, but came from a quarter that
could not well be mistaken? She had received him with kindness. And
how should she receive one who was the friend and preserver of her only
brother, and apparently the intimate and cherished acquaintance of
her future husband? Coningsby felt that sickness of the heart that
accompanies one's first misfortune. The illusions of life seemed to
dissipate and disappear. He was miserable; he had no confidence in
himself, in his future. After all, what was he? A dependent on a man of
very resolute will and passions. Could he forget the glance with which
Lord Monmouth caught the name of Millbank, and received the intimation
of Hellingsley? It was a glance for a Spagnoletto or a Caravaggio to
catch and immortalise. Why, if Edith were not going to marry Sidonia,
how was he ever to marry her, even if she cared for him? Oh! what a
future of unbroken, continuous, interminable misery awaited him! Was
there ever yet born a being with a destiny so dark and dismal? He was
the most forlorn of men, utterly wretched! He had entirely mistaken
his own character. He had no energy, no abilities, not a single eminent
quality. All was over!




CHAPTER V.


It was fated that Lady Monmouth should not be present at that ball,
the anticipation of which had occasioned her so much pleasure and some
pangs.

On the morning after that slight conversation, which had so disturbed
the souls, though unconsciously to each other, of herself and Coningsby,
the Marquess was driving Lucretia up the avenue Marigny in his phaeton.
About the centre of the avenue the horses took fright, and started off
at a wild pace. The Marquess was an experienced whip, calm, and with
exertion still very powerful. He would have soon mastered the horses,
had not one of the reins unhappily broken. The horses swerved; the
Marquess kept his seat; Lucretia, alarmed, sprang up, the carriage was
dashed against the trunk of a tree, and she was thrown out of it, at
the very instant that one of the outriders had succeeded in heading the
equipage and checking the horses.

The Marchioness was senseless. Lord Monmouth had descended from the
phaeton; several passengers had assembled; the door of a contiguous
house was opened; there were offers of service, sympathy, inquiries, a
babble of tongues, great confusion.

'Get surgeons and send for her maid,' said Lord Monmouth to one of his
servants.

In the midst of this distressing tumult, Sidonia, on horseback, followed
by a groom, came up the avenue from the Champs Elysées. The empty
phaeton, reins broken, horses held by strangers, all the appearances of
a misadventure, attracted him. He recognised the livery. He instantly
dismounted. Moving aside the crowd, he perceived Lady Monmouth senseless
and prostrate, and her husband, without assistance, restraining the
injudicious efforts of the bystanders.

'Let us carry her in, Lord Monmouth,' said Sidonia, exchanging a
recognition as he took Lucretia in his arms, and bore her into the
dwelling that was at hand. Those who were standing at the door assisted
him. The woman of the house and Lord Monmouth only were present.

'I would hope there is no fracture,' said Sidonia, placing her on a
sofa, 'nor does it appear to me that the percussion of the head, though
considerable, could have been fatally violent. I have caught her pulse.
Keep her in a horizontal position, and she will soon come to herself.'

The Marquess seated himself in a chair by the side of the sofa, which
Sidonia had advanced to the middle of the room. Lord Monmouth was silent
and very serious. Sidonia opened the window, and touched the brow of
Lucretia with water. At this moment M. Villebecque and a surgeon entered
the chamber.

'The brain cannot be affected, with that pulse,' said the surgeon;
'there is no fracture.'

'How pale she is!' said Lord Monmouth, as if he were examining a
picture.

'The colour seems to me to return,' said Sidonia.

The surgeon applied some restoratives which he had brought with him. The
face of the Marchioness showed signs of life; she stirred.

'She revives,' said the surgeon.

The Marchioness breathed with some force; again; then half-opened her
eyes, and then instantly closed them.

'If I could but get her to take this draught,' said the surgeon.

'Stop! moisten her lips first,' said Sidonia.

They placed the draught to her mouth; in a moment she put forth her hand
as if to repress them, then opened her eyes again, and sighed.

'She is herself,' said the surgeon.

'Lucretia!' said the Marquess.

'Sidonia!' said the Marchioness.

Lord Monmouth looked round to invite his friend to come forward.

'Lady Monmouth!' said Sidonia, in a gentle voice.

She started, rose a little on the sofa, stared around her. 'Where am I?'
she exclaimed.

'With me,' said the Marquess; and he bent forward to her, and took her
hand.

'Sidonia!' she again exclaimed, in a voice of inquiry.

'Is here,' said Lord Monmouth. 'He carried you in after our accident.'

'Accident! Why is he going to marry?'

The Marquess took a pinch of snuff.

There was an awkward pause in the chamber.

'I think now,' said Sidonia to the surgeon, 'that Lady Monmouth would
take the draught.'

She refused it.

'Try you, Sidonia,' said the Marquess, rather dryly.

'You feel yourself again?' said Sidonia, advancing.

'Would I did not!' said the Marchioness, with an air of stupor. 'What
has happened? Why am I here? Are you married?'

'She wanders a little,' said Sidonia.

The Marquess took another pinch of snuff.

'I could have borne even repulsion,' said Lady Monmouth, in a voice of
desolation, 'but not for another!'

'M. Villebecque!' said the Marquess.

'My Lord?'

Lord Monmouth looked at him with that irresistible scrutiny which would
daunt a galley-slave; and then, after a short pause, said, 'The carriage
should have arrived by this time. Let us get home.'




CHAPTER VI.


After the conversation at dinner which we have noticed, the restless
and disquieted Coningsby wandered about Paris, vainly seeking in the
distraction of a great city some relief from the excitement of his mind.
His first resolution was immediately to depart for England; but when, on
reflection, he was mindful that, after all, the assertion which had
so agitated him might really be without foundation, in spite of many
circumstances that to his regardful fancy seemed to accredit it, his
firm resolution began to waver.

These were the first pangs of jealousy that Coningsby had ever
experienced, and they revealed to him the immensity of the stake which
he was hazarding on a most uncertain die.

The next morning he called in the Rue Rivoli, and was informed that the
family were not at home. He was returning under the arcades, towards the
Rue St. Florentin, when Sidonia passed him in an opposite direction, on
horseback, and at a rapid rate. Coningsby, who was not observed by
him, could not resist a strange temptation to watch for a moment his
progress. He saw him enter the court of the hotel where the Wallinger
family were staying. Would he come forth immediately? No. Coningsby
stood still and pale. Minute followed minute. Coningsby flattered
himself that Sidonia was only speaking to the porter. Then he would
fain believe Sidonia was writing a note. Then, crossing the street, he
mounted by some steps the terrace of the Tuileries, nearly opposite the
Hotel of the Minister of Finance, and watched the house. A quarter of an
hour elapsed; Sidonia did not come forth. They were at home to him; only
to him. Sick at heart, infinitely wretched, scarcely able to guide his
steps, dreading even to meet an acquaintance, and almost feeling that
his tongue would refuse the office of conversation, he contrived to
reach his grandfather's hotel, and was about to bury himself in his
chamber, when on the staircase he met Flora.

Coningsby had not seen her for the last fortnight. Seeing her now, his
heart smote him for his neglect, excusable as it really was. Any one
else at this time he would have hurried by without a recognition, but
the gentle and suffering Flora was too meek to be rudely treated by so
kind a heart as Coningsby's.

He looked at her; she was pale and agitated. Her step trembled, while
she still hastened on.

'What is the matter?' inquired Coningsby.

'My Lord, the Marchioness, are in danger, thrown from their carriage.'
Briefly she detailed to Coningsby all that had occurred; that M.
Villebecque had already repaired to them; that she herself only this
moment had learned the intelligence that seemed to agitate her to the
centre. Coningsby instantly turned with her; but they had scarcely
emerged from the courtyard when the carriage approached that brought
Lord and Lady Monmouth home. They followed it into the court. They were
immediately at its door.

'All is right, Harry,' said the Marquess, calm and grave.

Coningsby pressed his grandfather's hand. Then he assisted Lucretia to
alight.

'I am quite well,' she said, 'now.'

'But you must lean on me, dearest Lady Monmouth,' Coningsby said in a
tone of tenderness, as he felt Lucretia almost sinking from him. And he
supported her into the hall of the hotel.

Lord Monmouth had lingered behind. Flora crept up to him, and with
unwonted boldness offered her arm to the Marquess. He looked at her with
a glance of surprise, and then a softer expression, one indeed of an
almost winning sweetness, which, though rare, was not a stranger to
his countenance, melted his features, and taking the arm so humbly
presented, he said,

'Ma Petite, you look more frightened than any of us. Poor child!'

He had reached the top of the flight of steps; he withdrew his arm from
Flora, and thanked her with all his courtesy.

'You are not hurt, then, sir?' she ventured to ask with a look that
expressed the infinite solicitude which her tongue did not venture to
convey.

'By no means, my good little girl;' and he extended his hand to her,
which she reverently bent over and embraced.




CHAPTER VII.


When Coningsby had returned to his grandfather's hotel that morning, it
was with a determination to leave Paris the next day for England;
but the accident to Lady Monmouth, though, as it ultimately appeared,
accompanied by no very serious consequences, quite dissipated this
intention. It was impossible to quit them so crudely at such a moment.
So he remained another day, and that was the day preceding Sidonia's
fête, which he particularly resolved not to attend. He felt it quite
impossible that he could again endure the sight of either Sidonia or
Edith. He looked upon them as persons who had deeply injured him;
though they really were individuals who had treated him with invariable
kindness. But he felt their existence was a source of mortification and
misery to him. With these feelings, sauntering away the last hours at
Paris, disquieted, uneasy; no present, no future; no enjoyment, no hope;
really, positively, undeniably unhappy; unhappy too for the first time
in his life; the first unhappiness; what a companion piece for the
first love! Coningsby, of all places in the world, in the gardens of the
Luxembourg, encountered Sir Joseph Wallinger and Edith.

To avoid them was impossible; they met face to face; and Sir Joseph
stopped, and immediately reminded him that it was three days since they
had seen him, as if to reproach him for so unprecedented a neglect. And
it seemed that Edith, though she said not as much, felt the same. And
Coningsby turned round and walked with them. He told them he was going
to leave Paris on the morrow.

'And miss Monsieur de Sidonia's fête, of which we have all talked
so much!' said Edith, with unaffected surprise, and an expression of
disappointment which she in vain attempted to conceal.

'The festival will not be less gay for my absence,' said Coningsby, with
that plaintive moroseness not unusual to despairing lovers.

'If we were all to argue from the same premises, and act accordingly,'
said Edith, 'the saloons would be empty. But if any person's absence
would be remarked, I should really have thought it would be yours. I
thought you were one of Monsieur de Sidonia's great friends?'

'He has no friends,' said Coningsby. 'No wise man has. What are friends?
Traitors.'

Edith looked much astonished. And then she said,

'I am sure you have not quarrelled with Monsieur de Sidonia, for we have
just parted with him.'

'I have no doubt you have,' thought Coningsby.

'And it is impossible to speak of another in higher terms than he spoke
of you.' Sir Joseph observed how unusual it was for Monsieur de Sidonia
to express himself so warmly.

'Sidonia is a great man, and carries everything before him,' said
Coningsby. 'I am nothing; I cannot cope with him; I retire from the
field.'

'What field?' inquired Sir Joseph, who did not clearly catch the drift
of these observations. 'It appears to me that a field for action is
exactly what Sidonia wants. There is no vent for his abilities and
intelligence. He wastes his energy in travelling from capital to capital



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 27 of 39)