Benjamin Disraeli.

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like a King's messenger. The morning after his fête he is going to
Madrid.'

This brought some reference to their mutual movements. Edith spoke of
her return to Lancashire, of her hope that Mr. Coningsby would soon see
Oswald; but Mr. Coningsby informed her that though he was going to leave
Paris, he had no intention of returning to England; that he had not yet
quite made up his mind whither he should go; but thought that he
should travel direct to St. Petersburg. He wished to travel overland to
Astrachan. That was the place he was particularly anxious to visit.

After this incomprehensible announcement, they walked on for some
minutes in silence, broken only by occasional monosyllables, with which
Coningsby responded at hazard to the sound remarks of Sir Joseph. As
they approached the Palace a party of English who were visiting the
Chamber of Peers, and who were acquainted with the companions of
Coningsby, encountered them. Amid the mutual recognitions, Coningsby,
was about to take his leave somewhat ceremoniously, but Edith held forth
her hand, and said,

'Is this indeed farewell?'

His heart was agitated, his countenance changed; he retained her hand
amid the chattering tourists, too full of their criticisms and their
egotistical commonplaces to notice what was passing. A sentimental
ebullition seemed to be on the point of taking place. Their eyes met.
The look of Edith was mournful and inquiring.

'We will say farewell at the ball,' said Coningsby, and she rewarded him
with a radiant smile.




CHAPTER VIII.


Sidonia lived in the Faubourg St. Germain, in a large hotel that, in
old days, had belonged to the Crillons; but it had received at his hands
such extensive alterations, that nothing of the original decoration, and
little of its arrangement, remained.

A flight of marble steps, ascending from a vast court, led into a
hall of great dimensions, which was at the same time an orangery and
a gallery of sculpture. It was illumined by a distinct, yet soft
and subdued light, which harmonised with the beautiful repose of the
surrounding forms, and with the exotic perfume that was wafted about.
A gallery led from this hall to an inner hall of quite a different
character; fantastic, glittering, variegated; full of strange shapes and
dazzling objects.

The roof was carved and gilt in that honeycomb style prevalent in the
Saracenic buildings; the walls were hung with leather stamped in rich
and vivid patterns; the floor was a flood of mosaic; about were statues
of negroes of human size with faces of wild expression, and holding
in their outstretched hands silver torches that blazed with an almost
painful brilliancy.

From this inner hall a double staircase of white marble led to the grand
suite of apartments.

These saloons, lofty, spacious, and numerous, had been decorated
principally in encaustic by the most celebrated artists of Munich. The
three principal rooms were only separated from each other by columns,
covered with rich hangings, on this night drawn aside. The decoration
of each chamber was appropriate to its purpose. On the walls of the
ball-room nymphs and heroes moved in measure in Sicilian landscapes,
or on the azure shores of Aegean waters. From the ceiling beautiful
divinities threw garlands on the guests, who seemed surprised that
the roses, unwilling to quit Olympus, would not descend on earth.
The general effect of this fair chamber was heightened, too, by
that regulation of the house which did not permit any benches in the
ball-room. That dignified assemblage who are always found ranged in
precise discipline against the wall, did not here mar the flowing grace
of the festivity. The chaperons had no cause to complain. A large saloon
abounded in ottomans and easy chairs at their service, where their
delicate charges might rest when weary, or find distraction when not
engaged.

All the world were at this fête of Sidonia. It exceeded in splendour and
luxury every entertainment that had yet been given. The highest rank,
even Princes of the blood, beauty, fashion, fame, all assembled in a
magnificent and illuminated palace, resounding with exquisite melody.

Coningsby, though somewhat depressed, was not insensible to the magic
of the scene. Since the passage in the gardens of the Luxembourg, that
tone, that glance, he had certainly felt much relieved, happier. And yet
if all were, with regard to Sidonia, as unfounded as he could possibly
desire, where was he then? Had he forgotten his grandfather, that fell
look, that voice of intense detestation? What was Millbank to him?
Where, what was the mystery? for of some he could not doubt. The Spanish
parentage of Edith had only more perplexed Coningsby. It offered no
solution. There could be no connection between a Catalan family and his
mother, the daughter of a clergyman in a midland county. That there
was any relationship between the Millbank family and his mother was
contradicted by the conviction in which he had been brought up, that
his mother had no relations; that she returned to England utterly
friendless; without a relative, a connection, an acquaintance to whom
she could appeal. Her complete forlornness was stamped upon his brain.
Tender as were his years when he was separated from her, he could yet
recall the very phrases in which she deplored her isolation; and there
were numerous passages in her letters which alluded to it. Coningsby
had taken occasion to sound the Wallingers on this subject; but he felt
assured, from the manner in which his advances were met, that they knew
nothing of his mother, and attributed the hostility of Mr. Millbank
to his grandfather, solely to political emulation and local rivalries.
Still there were the portrait and the miniature. That was a fact; a clue
which ultimately, he was persuaded, must lead to some solution.

Coningsby had met with great social success at Paris. He was at once a
favourite. The Parisian dames decided in his favour. He was a specimen
of the highest style of English beauty, which is popular in France. His
air was acknowledged as distinguished. The men also liked him; he
had not quite arrived at that age when you make enemies. The moment,
therefore, that he found himself in the saloons of Sidonia, he was
accosted by many whose notice was flattering; but his eye wandered,
while he tried to be courteous and attempted to be sprightly. Where was
she? He had nearly reached the ball-room when he met her. She was on
the arm of Lord Beaumanoir, who had made her acquaintance at Rome, and
originally claimed it as the member of a family who, as the reader may
perhaps not forget, had experienced some kindnesses from the Millbanks.

There were mutual and hearty recognitions between the young men; great
explanations where they had been, what they were doing, where they were
going. Lord Beaumanoir told Coningsby he had introduced steeple-chases
at Rome, and had parted with Sunbeam to the nephew of a Cardinal.
Coningsby securing Edith's hand for the next dance, they all moved on
together to her aunt.

Lady Wallinger was indulging in some Roman reminiscences with the
Marquess.

'And you are not going to Astrachan to-morrow?' said Edith.

'Not to-morrow,' said Coningsby.

'You know that you said once that life was too stirring in these days to
permit travel to a man?'

'I wish nothing was stirring,' said Coningsby. 'I wish nothing to
change. All that I wish is, that this fête should never end.'

'Is it possible that you can be capricious? You perplex me very much.'

'Am I capricious because I dislike change?'

'But Astrachan?'

'It was the air of the Luxembourg that reminded me of the Desert,' said
Coningsby.

Soon after this Coningsby led Edith to the dance. It was at a ball that
he had first met her at Paris, and this led to other reminiscences;
all most interesting. Coningsby was perfectly happy. All mysteries, all
difficulties, were driven from his recollection; he lived only in the
exciting and enjoyable present. Twenty-one and in love!

Some time after this, Coningsby, who was inevitably separated from
Edith, met his host.

'Where have you been, child,' said Sidonia, 'that I have not seen you
for some days? I am going to Madrid tomorrow.'

'And I must think, I suppose, of Cambridge.'

'Well, you have seen something; you will find it more profitable when
you have digested it: and you will have opportunity. That's the true
spring of wisdom: meditate over the past. Adventure and Contemplation
share our being like day and night.'

The resolute departure for England on the morrow had already changed
into a supposed necessity of thinking of returning to Cambridge. In
fact, Coningsby felt that to quit Paris and Edith was an impossibility.
He silenced the remonstrance of his conscience by the expedient of
keeping a half-term, and had no difficulty in persuading himself that
a short delay in taking his degree could not really be of the slightest
consequence.

It was the hour for supper. The guests at a French ball are not seen to
advantage at this period. The custom of separating the sexes for this
refreshment, and arranging that the ladies should partake of it by
themselves, though originally founded in a feeling of consideration
and gallantry, and with the determination to secure, under all
circumstances, the convenience and comfort of the fair sex, is really,
in its appearance and its consequences, anything but European, and
produces a scene which rather reminds one of the harem of a sultan than
a hall of chivalry. To judge from the countenances of the favoured fair,
they are not themselves particularly pleased; and when their repast is
over they necessarily return to empty halls, and are deprived of the
dance at the very moment when they may feel most inclined to participate
in its graceful excitement.

These somewhat ungracious circumstances, however, were not attendant on
the festival of this night. There was opened in the Hotel of Sidonia for
the first time a banqueting-room which could contain with convenience
all the guests. It was a vast chamber of white marble, the golden panels
of the walls containing festive sculptures by Schwanthaler, relieved by
encaustic tinting. In its centre was a fountain, a group of Bacchantes
encircling Dionysos; and from this fountain, as from a star, diverged
the various tables from which sprang orange-trees in fruit and flower.

The banquet had but one fault; Coningsby was separated from Edith. The
Duchess of Grand Cairo, the beautiful wife of the heir of one of the
Imperial illustrations, had determined to appropriate Coningsby as
her cavalier for the moment. Distracted, he made his escape; but his
wandering eye could not find the object of its search; and he fell
prisoner to the charming Princess de Petitpoix, a Carlist chieftain,
whose witty words avenged the cause of fallen dynasties and a cashiered
nobility.

Behold a scene brilliant in fancy, magnificent in splendour! All the
circumstances of his life at this moment were such as acted forcibly
on the imagination of Coningsby. Separated from Edith, he had still the
delight of seeing her the paragon of that bright company, the consummate
being whom he adored! and who had spoken to him in a voice sweeter than
a serenade, and had bestowed on him a glance softer than moonlight! The
lord of the palace, more distinguished even for his capacity than his
boundless treasure, was his chosen friend; gained under circumstances
of romantic interest, when the reciprocal influence of their personal
qualities was affected by no accessory knowledge of their worldly
positions. He himself was in the very bloom of youth and health; the
child of a noble house, rich for his present wants, and with a future of
considerable fortunes. Entrancing love and dazzling friendship, a
high ambition and the pride of knowledge, the consciousness of a great
prosperity, the vague, daring energies of the high pulse of twenty-one,
all combined to stimulate his sense of existence, which, as he looked
around him at the beautiful objects and listened to the delicious
sounds, seemed to him a dispensation of almost supernatural ecstasy.

About an hour after this, the ball-room still full, but the other
saloons gradually emptying, Coningsby entered a chamber which seemed
deserted. Yet he heard sounds, as it were, of earnest conversation. It
was the voice that invited his progress; he advanced another step, then
suddenly stopped. There were two individuals in the room, by whom he was
unnoticed. They were Sidonia and Miss Millbank. They were sitting on a
sofa, Sidonia holding her hand and endeavouring, as it seemed, to soothe
her. Her tones were tremulous; but the expression of her face was fond
and confiding. It was all the work of a moment. Coningsby instantly
withdrew, yet could not escape hearing an earnest request from Edith to
her companion that he would write to her.

In a few seconds Coningsby had quitted the hotel of Sidonia, and the
next day found him on his road to England.

END OF BOOK VI.




BOOK VII.


CHAPTER I.


It was one of those gorgeous and enduring sunsets that seemed to linger
as if they wished to celebrate the mid-period of the year. Perhaps the
beautiful hour of impending twilight never exercises a more effective
influence on the soul than when it descends on the aspect of some
distant and splendid city. What a contrast between the serenity and
repose of our own bosoms and the fierce passions and destructive cares
girt in the walls of that multitude whose domes and towers rise in
purple lustre against the resplendent horizon!

And yet the disturbing emotions of existence and the bitter inheritance
of humanity should exercise but a modified sway, and entail but a light
burden, within the circle of the city into which the next scene of our
history leads us. For it is the sacred city of study, of learning,
and of faith; and the declining beam is resting on the dome of the
Radcliffe, lingering on the towers of Christchurch and Magdalen,
sanctifying the spires and pinnacles of holy St. Mary's.

A young Oxonian, who had for some time been watching the city in the
sunset, from a rising ground in its vicinity, lost, as it would seem, in
meditation, suddenly rose, and looking at his watch, as if remindful
of some engagement, hastened his return at a rapid pace. He reached
the High Street as the Blenheim light post coach dashed up to the Star
Hotel, with that brilliant precision which even the New Generation can
remember, and yet which already ranks among the traditions of English
manners. A peculiar and most animating spectacle used to be the arrival
of a firstrate light coach in a country town! The small machine,
crowded with so many passengers, the foaming and curvetting leaders, the
wheelers more steady and glossy, as if they had not done their ten miles
in the hour, the triumphant bugle of the guard, and the haughty routine
with which the driver, as he reached his goal, threw his whip to the
obedient ostlers in attendance; and, not least, the staring crowd, a
little awestruck, and looking for the moment at the lowest official of
the stable with considerable respect, altogether made a picture which
one recollects with cheerfulness, and misses now in many a dreary
market-town.

Our Oxonian was a young man about the middle height, and naturally of a
thoughtful expression and rather reserved mien. The general character of
his countenance was, indeed, a little stern, but it broke into an almost
bewitching smile, and a blush suffused his face, as he sprang forward
and welcomed an individual about the same age, who had jumped off the
Blenheim.

'Well, Coningsby!' he exclaimed, extending both his hands.

'By Jove! my dear Millbank, we have met at last,' said his friend.

And here we must for a moment revert to what had occurred to Coningsby
since he so suddenly quitted Paris at the beginning of the year. The
wound he had received was deep to one unused to wounds. Yet, after all,
none had outraged his feelings, no one had betrayed his hopes. He had
loved one who had loved another. Misery, but scarcely humiliation. And
yet 'tis a bitter pang under any circumstances to find another preferred
to yourself. It is about the same blow as one would probably feel if
falling from a balloon. Your Icarian flight melts into a grovelling
existence, scarcely superior to that of a sponge or a coral, or redeemed
only from utter insensibility by your frank detestation of your rival.
It is quite impossible to conceal that Coningsby had imbibed for Sidonia
a certain degree of aversion, which, in these days of exaggerated
phrase, might even be described as hatred. And Edith was so beautiful!
And there had seemed between them a sympathy so native and spontaneous,
creating at once the charm of intimacy without any of the disenchanting
attributes that are occasionally its consequence. He would recall the
tones of her voice, the expression of her soft dark eye, the airy spirit
and frank graciousness, sometimes even the flattering blush, with which
she had ever welcomed one of whom she had heard so long and so kindly.
It seemed, to use a sweet and homely phrase, that they were made for
each other; the circumstances of their mutual destinies might have
combined into one enchanting fate.

And yet, had she accorded him that peerless boon, her heart, with what
aspect was he to communicate this consummation of all his hopes to his
grandfather, ask Lord Monmouth for his blessing, and the gracious favour
of an establishment for the daughter of his foe, of a man whose name was
never mentioned except to cloud his visage? Ah! what was that mystery
that connected the haughty house of Coningsby with the humble blood of
the Lancashire manufacturer? Why was the portrait of his mother beneath
the roof of Millbank? Coningsby had delicately touched upon the subject
both with Edith and the Wallingers, but the result of his inquiries
only involved the question in deeper gloom. Edith had none but maternal
relatives: more than once she had mentioned this, and the Wallingers, on
other occasions, had confirmed the remark. Coningsby had sometimes drawn
the conversation to pictures, and he would remind her with playfulness
of their first unconscious meeting in the gallery of the Rue Tronchet;
then he remembered that Mr. Millbank was fond of pictures; then he
recollected some specimens of Mr. Millbank's collection, and after
touching on several which could not excite suspicion, he came to
'a portrait, a portrait of a lady; was it a portrait or an ideal
countenance?'

Edith thought she had heard it was a portrait, but she was by no means
certain, and most assuredly was quite unacquainted with the name of the
original, if there were an original.

Coningsby addressed himself to the point with Sir Joseph. He inquired of
the uncle explicitly whether he knew anything on the subject. Sir Joseph
was of opinion that it was something that Millbank had somewhere 'picked
up.' Millbank used often to 'pick up' pictures.

Disappointed in his love, Coningsby sought refuge in the excitement
of study, and in the brooding imagination of an aspiring spirit. The
softness of his heart seemed to have quitted him for ever. He recurred
to his habitual reveries of political greatness and public distinction.
And as it ever seemed to him that no preparation could be complete
for the career which he planned for himself, he devoted himself with
increased ardour to that digestion of knowledge which converts it into
wisdom. His life at Cambridge was now a life of seclusion. With the
exception of a few Eton friends, he avoided all society. And, indeed,
his acquisitions during this term were such as few have equalled, and
could only have been mastered by a mental discipline of a severe and
exalted character. At the end of the term Coningsby took his degree, and
in a few days was about to quit that university where, on the whole,
he had passed three serene and happy years in the society of fond and
faithful friends, and in ennobling pursuits. He had many plans for his
impending movements, yet none of them very mature ones. Lord Vere wished
Coningsby to visit his family in the north, and afterwards to go to
Scotland together: Coningsby was more inclined to travel for a year.
Amid this hesitation a circumstance occurred which decided him to adopt
neither of these courses.

It was Commencement, and coming out of the quadrangle of St. John's,
Coningsby came suddenly upon Sir Joseph and Lady Wallinger, who were
visiting the marvels and rarities of the university. They were alone.
Coningsby was a little embarrassed, for he could not forget the abrupt
manner in which he had parted from them; but they greeted him with
so much cordiality that he instantly recovered himself, and, turning,
became their companion. He hardly ventured to ask after Edith: at
length, in a depressed tone and a hesitating manner, he inquired whether
they had lately seen Miss Millbank. He was himself surprised at the
extreme light-heartedness which came over him the moment he heard she
was in England, at Millbank, with her family. He always very much liked
Lady Wallinger, but this morning he hung over her like a lover, lavished
on her unceasing and the most delicate attentions, seemed to exist only
in the idea of making the Wallingers enjoy and understand Cambridge;
and no one else was to be their guide at any place or under any
circumstances. He told them exactly what they were to see; how they were
to see it; when they were to see it. He told them of things which nobody
did see, but which they should. He insisted that Sir Joseph should dine
with him in hall; Sir Joseph could not think of leaving Lady Wallinger;
Lady Wallinger could not think of Sir Joseph missing an opportunity that
might never offer again. Besides, they might both join her after dinner.
Except to give her husband a dinner, Coningsby evidently intended never
to leave her side.

And the next morning, the occasion favourable, being alone with the
lady, Sir Joseph bustling about a carriage, Coningsby said suddenly,
with a countenance a little disturbed, and in a low voice, 'I was
pleased, I mean surprised, to hear that there was still a Miss Millbank;
I thought by this time she might have borne another name?'

Lady Wallinger looked at him with an expression of some perplexity, and
then said, 'Yes, Edith was much admired; but she need not be precipitate
in marrying. Marriage is for a woman _the_ event. Edith is too precious
to be carelessly bestowed.'

'But I understood,' said Coningsby, 'when I left Paris,' and here, he
became very confused, 'that Miss Millbank was engaged, on the point of
marriage.'

'With whom?'

'Our friend Sidonia.'

'I am sure that Edith would never marry Monsieur de Sidonia, nor
Monsieur de Sidonia, Edith. 'Tis a preposterous idea!' said Lady
Wallinger.

'But he very much admired her?' said Coningsby with a searching eye.

'Possibly,' said Lady Wallinger; 'but he never even intimated his
admiration.'

'But he was very attentive to Miss Millbank?'

'Not more than our intimate friendship authorised, and might expect.'

'You have known Sidonia a long time?'

'It was Monsieur de Sidonia's father who introduced us to the care
of Mr. Wallinger,' said Lady Wallinger, 'and therefore I have ever
entertained for his son a sincere regard. Besides, I look upon him as
a compatriot. Recently he has been even more than usually kind to us,
especially to Edith. While we were at Paris he recovered for her a great
number of jewels which had been left to her by her uncle in Spain;
and, what she prized infinitely more, the whole of her mother's
correspondence which she maintained with this relative since her
marriage. Nothing but the influence of Sidonia could have effected this.
Therefore, of course, Edith is attached to him almost as much as I am.
In short, he is our dearest friend; our counsellor in all our cares. But
as for marrying him, the idea is ridiculous to those who know Monsieur
Sidonia. No earthly consideration would ever induce him to impair that
purity of race on which he prides himself. Besides, there are other
obvious objections which would render an alliance between him and my
niece utterly impossible: Edith is quite as devoted to her religion as
Monsieur Sidonia can be to his race.'

A ray of light flashed on the brain of Coningsby as Lady Wallinger said
these words. The agitated interview, which never could be explained
away, already appeared in quite a different point of view. He became
pensive, remained silent, was relieved when Sir Joseph, whose return he



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 28 of 39)