Benjamin Disraeli.

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while under oriel windows might be observed Italian doorways with
Grecian pediments. Beyond the extensive gardens an avenue of Spanish
chestnuts at each point of the compass approached the mansion, or led
into a small park which was table-land, its limits opening on all sides
to beautiful and extensive valleys, sparkling with cultivation, except
at one point, where the river Darl formed the boundary of the domain,
and then spread in many a winding through the rich country beyond.

Such was Hellingsley, the new home that Oswald Millbank was about to
visit for the first time. Coningsby and himself had travelled together
as far as Darlford, where their roads diverged, and they had separated
with an engagement on the part of Coningsby to visit Hellingsley on the
morrow. As they had travelled along, Coningsby had frequently led the
conversation to domestic topics; gradually he had talked, and
talked much of Edith. Without an obtrusive curiosity, he extracted,
unconsciously to his companion, traits of her character and early days,
which filled him with a wild and secret interest. The thought that in a
few hours he was to meet her again, infused into his being a degree of
transport, which the very necessity of repressing before his companion
rendered more magical and thrilling. How often it happens in life that
we have with a grave face to discourse of ordinary topics, while all the
time our heart and memory are engrossed with some enchanting secret!

The castle of his grandfather presented a far different scene on the
arrival of Coningsby from that which it had offered on his first visit.
The Marquess had given him a formal permission to repair to it at
his pleasure, and had instructed the steward accordingly. But he came
without notice, at a season of the year when the absence of all sports
made his arrival unexpected. The scattered and sauntering household
roused themselves into action, and contemplated the conviction that it
might be necessary to do some service for their wages. There was a stir
in that vast, sleepy castle. At last the steward was found, and came
forward to welcome their young master, whose simple wants were limited
to the rooms he had formerly occupied.

Coningsby reached the castle a little before sunset, almost the same
hour that he had arrived there more than three years ago. How much had
happened in the interval! Coningsby had already lived long enough to
find interest in pondering over the past. That past too must inevitably
exercise a great influence over his present. He recalled his morning
drive with his grandfather, to the brink of that river which was
the boundary between his own domain and Hellingsley. Who dwelt at
Hellingsley now?

Restless, excited, not insensible to the difficulties, perhaps the
dangers of his position, yet full of an entrancing emotion in which all
thoughts and feelings seemed to merge, Coningsby went forth into the
fair gardens to muse over his love amid objects as beautiful. A rosy
light hung over the rare shrubs and tall fantastic trees; while a rich
yet darker tint suffused the distant woods. This euthanasia of the day
exercises a strange influence on the hearts of those who love. Who has
not felt it? Magical emotions that touch the immortal part!

But as for Coningsby, the mitigating hour that softens the heart made
his spirit brave. Amid the ennobling sympathies of nature, the pursuits
and purposes of worldly prudence and conventional advantage subsided
into their essential nothingness. He willed to blend his life and fate
with a being beautiful as that nature that subdued him, and he felt in
his own breast the intrinsic energies that in spite of all obstacles
should mould such an imagination into reality.

He descended the slopes, now growing dimmer in the fleeting light, into
the park. The stillness was almost supernatural; the jocund sounds of
day had died, and the voices of the night had not commenced. His heart
too was still. A sacred calm had succeeded to that distraction of
emotion which had agitated him the whole day, while he had mused over
his love and the infinite and insurmountable barriers that seemed to
oppose his will. Now he felt one of those strong groundless convictions
that are the inspirations of passion, that all would yield to him as to
one holding an enchanted wand.

Onward he strolled; it seemed without purpose, yet always proceeding. A
pale and then gleaming tint stole over the masses of mighty timber; and
soon a glittering light flooded the lawns and glades. The moon was high
in her summer heaven, and still Coningsby strolled on. He crossed the
broad lawns, he traversed the bright glades: amid the gleaming and
shadowy woods, he traced his prescient way.

He came to the bank of a rushing river, foaming in the moonlight, and
wafting on its blue breast the shadow of a thousand stars.

'O river!' he said, 'that rollest to my mistress, bear her, bear her my
heart!'




CHAPTER IV.


Lady Wallinger and Edith were together in the morning room of
Hellingsley, the morrow after the arrival of Oswald. Edith was arranging
flowers in a vase, while her aunt was embroidering a Spanish peasant in
correct costume. The daughter of Millbank looked as bright and fragrant
as the fair creations that surrounded her. Beautiful to watch her as she
arranged their forms and composed their groups; to mark her eye glance
with gratification at some happy combination of colour, or to listen to
her delight as they wafted to her in gratitude their perfume. Oswald and
Sir Joseph were surveying the stables; Mr. Millbank, who had been daily
expected for the last week from the factories, had not yet arrived.

'I must say he gained my heart from the first,' said Lady Wallinger.

'I wish the gardener would send us more roses,' said Edith.

'He is so very superior to any young man I ever met,' continued Lady
Wallinger.

'I think we must have this vase entirely of roses; don't you think so,
aunt?' inquired her niece.

'I am fond of roses,' said Lady Wallinger. 'What beautiful bouquets Mr.
Coningsby gave us at Paris, Edith!'

'Beautiful!'

'I must say, I was very happy when I met Mr. Coningsby again at
Cambridge,' said Lady Wallinger. 'It gave me much greater pleasure than
seeing any of the colleges.'

'How delighted Oswald seems at having Mr. Coningsby for a companion
again!' said Edith.

'And very naturally,' said Lady Wallinger. 'Oswald ought to deem
himself fortunate in having such a friend. I am sure the kindness of Mr.
Coningsby when we met him at Cambridge is what I never shall forget. But
he always was my favourite from the first time I saw him at Paris. Do
you know, Edith, I liked him best of all your admirers.'

'Oh! no, aunt,' said Edith, smiling, 'not more than Lord Beaumanoir; you
forget your great favourite, Lord Beaumanoir.'

'But I did not know Mr. Coningsby at Rome,' said Lady Wallinger; 'I
cannot agree that anybody is equal to Mr. Coningsby. I cannot tell you
how pleased I am that he is our neighbour!'

As Lady Wallinger gave a finishing stroke to the jacket of her
Andalusian, Edith, vividly blushing, yet speaking in a voice of affected
calmness, said,

'Here is Mr. Coningsby, aunt.'

And, truly, at this moment our hero might be discerned, approaching the
hall by one of the avenues; and in a few minutes there was a ringing at
the hall bell, and then, after a short pause, the servants announced Mr.
Coningsby, and ushered him into the morning room.

Edith was embarrassed; the frankness and the gaiety of her manner had
deserted her; Coningsby was rather earnest than self-possessed. Each
felt at first that the presence of Lady Wallinger was a relief. The
ordinary topics of conversation were in sufficient plenty; reminiscences
of Paris, impressions of Hellingsley, his visit to Oxford, Lady
Wallinger's visit to Cambridge. In ten minutes their voices seemed to
sound to each other as they did in the Rue de Rivoli, and their mutual
perplexity had in a great degree subsided.

Oswald and Sir Joseph now entered the room, and the conversation became
general. Hellingsley was the subject on which Coningsby dwelt; he was
charmed with all that he had seen! wished to see more. Sir Joseph was
quite prepared to accompany him; but Lady Wallinger, who seemed to read
Coningsby's wishes in his eyes, proposed that the inspection should be
general; and in the course of half an hour Coningsby was walking by the
side of Edith, and sympathising with all the natural charms to which her
quick taste and lively expression called his notice and appreciation.
Few things more delightful than a country ramble with a sweet companion!
Exploring woods, wandering over green commons, loitering in shady lanes,
resting on rural stiles; the air full of perfume, the heart full of
bliss!

It seemed to Coningsby that he had never been happy before. A thrilling
joy pervaded his being. He could have sung like a bird. His heart was as
sunny as the summer scene. Past and Future were absorbed in the flowing
hour; not an allusion to Paris, not a speculation on what might arrive;
but infinite expressions of agreement, sympathy; a multitude of slight
phrases, that, however couched, had but one meaning, congeniality. He
felt each moment his voice becoming more tender; his heart gushing
in soft expressions; each moment he was more fascinated; her step was
grace, her glance was beauty. Now she touched him by some phrase of
sweet simplicity; or carried him spell-bound by her airy merriment.

Oswald assumed that Coningsby remained to dine with them. There was not
even the ceremony of invitation. Coningsby could not but remember his
dinner at Millbank, and the timid hostess whom he then addressed so
often in vain, as he gazed upon the bewitching and accomplished woman
whom he now passionately loved. It was a most agreeable dinner. Oswald,
happy in his friend being his guest, under his own roof, indulged in
unwonted gaiety.

The ladies withdrew; Sir Joseph began to talk politics, although the
young men had threatened their fair companions immediately to follow
them. This was the period of the Bed-Chamber Plot, when Sir Robert Peel
accepted and resigned power in the course of three days. Sir Joseph,
who had originally made up his mind to support a Conservative government
when he deemed it inevitable, had for the last month endeavoured to
compensate for this trifling error by vindicating the conduct of his
friends, and reprobating the behaviour of those who would deprive her
Majesty of the 'friends-of-her-youth.' Sir Joseph was a most chivalrous
champion of the 'friends-of-her-youth' principle. Sir Joseph, who was
always moderate and conciliatory in his talk, though he would go, at any
time, any lengths for his party, expressed himself to-day with
extreme sobriety, as he was determined not to hurt the feelings of
Mr. Coningsby, and he principally confined himself to urging temperate
questions, somewhat in the following fashion: -

'I admit that, on the whole, under ordinary circumstances, it would
perhaps have been more convenient that these appointments should have
remained with Sir Robert; but don't you think that, under the peculiar
circumstances, being friends of her Majesty's youth?' &c. &c.

Sir Joseph was extremely astonished when Coningsby replied that he
thought, under no circumstances, should any appointment in the Royal
Household be dependent on the voice of the House of Commons, though he
was far from admiring the 'friends-of-her-youth' principle, which he
looked upon as impertinent.

'But surely,' said Sir Joseph, 'the Minister being responsible to
Parliament, it must follow that all great offices of State should be
filled at his discretion.'

'But where do you find this principle of Ministerial responsibility?'
inquired Coningsby.

'And is not a Minister responsible to his Sovereign?' inquired Millbank.

Sir Joseph seemed a little confused. He had always heard that Ministers
were responsible to Parliament; and he had a vague conviction,
notwithstanding the reanimating loyalty of the Bed-Chamber Plot, that
the Sovereign of England was a nonentity. He took refuge in indefinite
expressions, and observed, 'The Responsibility of Ministers is surely a
constitutional doctrine.'

'The Ministers of the Crown are responsible to their master; they are
not the Ministers of Parliament.'

'But then you know virtually,' said Sir Joseph, 'the Parliament, that
is, the House of Commons, governs the country.'

'It did before 1832,' said Coningsby; 'but that is all past now. We got
rid of that with the Venetian Constitution.'

'The Venetian Constitution!' said Sir Joseph.

'To be sure,' said Millbank. 'We were governed in this country by the
Venetian Constitution from the accession of the House of Hanover. But
that yoke is past. And now I hope we are in a state of transition from
the Italian Dogeship to the English Monarchy.'

'King, Lords, and Commons, the Venetian Constitution!' exclaimed Sir
Joseph.

'But they were phrases,' said Coningsby, 'not facts. The King was a
Doge; the Cabinet the Council of Ten. Your Parliament, that you call
Lords and Commons, was nothing more than the Great Council of Nobles.'

'The resemblance was complete,' said Millbank, 'and no wonder, for it
was not accidental; the Venetian Constitution was intentionally copied.'

'We should have had the Venetian Republic in 1640,' said Coningsby, 'had
it not been for the Puritans. Geneva beat Venice.'

'I am sure these ideas are not very generally known,' said Sir Joseph,
bewildered.

'Because you have had your history written by the Venetian party,' said
Coningsby, 'and it has been their interest to conceal them.'

'I will venture to say that there are very few men on our side in the
House of Commons,' said Sir Joseph, 'who are aware that they were born
under a Venetian Constitution.'

'Let us go to the ladies,' said Millbank, smiling.

Edith was reading a letter as they entered.

'A letter from papa,' she exclaimed, looking up at her brother with
great animation. 'We may expect him every day; and yet, alas! he cannot
fix one.'

They now all spoke of Millbank, and Coningsby was happy that he was
familiar with the scene. At length he ventured to say to Edith, 'You
once made me a promise which you never fulfilled. I shall claim it
to-night.'

'And what can that be?'

'The song that you promised me at Millbank more than three years ago.'

'Your memory is good.'

'It has dwelt upon the subject.'

Then they spoke for a while of other recollections, and then Coningsby
appealing to Lady Wallinger for her influence, Edith rose and took up
her guitar. Her voice was rich and sweet; the air she sang gay, even
fantastically frolic, such as the girls of Granada chaunt trooping home
from some country festival; her soft, dark eye brightened with joyous
sympathy; and ever and anon, with an arch grace, she beat the guitar, in
chorus, with her pretty hand.

The moon wanes; and Coningsby must leave these enchanted halls. Oswald
walked homeward with him until he reached the domain of his grandfather.
Then mounting his horse, Coningsby bade his friend farewell till the
morrow, and made his best way to the Castle.




CHAPTER V.


There is a romance in every life. The emblazoned page of Coningsby's
existence was now open. It had been prosperous before, with some moments
of excitement, some of delight; but they had all found, as it were,
their origin in worldly considerations, or been inevitably mixed up with
them. At Paris, for example, he loved, or thought he loved. But there
not an hour could elapse without his meeting some person, or hearing
something, which disturbed the beauty of his emotions, or broke his
spell-bound thoughts. There was his grandfather hating the Millbanks,
or Sidonia loving them; and common people, in the common world, making
common observations on them; asking who they were, or telling who they
were; and brushing the bloom off all life's fresh delicious fancies with
their coarse handling.

But now his feelings were ethereal. He loved passionately, and he loved
in a scene and in a society as sweet, as pure, and as refined as his
imagination and his heart. There was no malicious gossip, no callous
chatter to profane his ear and desecrate his sentiment. All that he
heard or saw was worthy of the summer sky, the still green woods, the
gushing river, the gardens and terraces, the stately and fantastic
dwellings, among which his life now glided as in some dainty and
gorgeous masque.

All the soft, social, domestic sympathies of his nature, which, however
abundant, had never been cultivated, were developed by the life he was
now leading. It was not merely that he lived in the constant presence,
and under the constant influence of one whom he adored, that made him so
happy. He was surrounded by beings who found felicity in the interchange
of kind feelings and kind words, in the cultivation of happy talents and
refined tastes, and the enjoyment of a life which their own good sense
and their own good hearts made them both comprehend and appreciate.
Ambition lost much of its splendour, even his lofty aspirations
something of their hallowing impulse of paramount duty, when Coningsby
felt how much ennobling delight was consistent with the seclusion of a
private station; and mused over an existence to be passed amid woods and
waterfalls with a fair hand locked in his, or surrounded by his friends
in some ancestral hall.

The morning after his first visit to Hellingsley Coningsby rejoined his
friends, as he had promised Oswald at their breakfast-table; and day
after day he came with the early sun, and left them only when the late
moon silvered the keep of Coningsby Castle. Mr. Millbank, who wrote
daily, and was daily to be expected, did not arrive. A week, a week
of unbroken bliss, had vanished away, passed in long rides and longer
walks, sunset saunterings, and sometimes moonlit strolls; talking of
flowers, and thinking of things even sweeter; listening to delicious
songs, and sometimes reading aloud some bright romance or some inspiring
lay.

One day Coningsby, who arrived at the hall unexpectedly late; indeed it
was some hours past noon, for he had been detained by despatches
which arrived at the Castle from Mr. Rigby, and which required his
interposition; found the ladies alone, and was told that Sir Joseph and
Oswald were at the fishing-cottage where they wished him to join them.
He was in no haste to do this; and Lady Wallinger proposed that
when they felt inclined to ramble they should all walk down to the
fishing-cottage together. So, seating himself by the side of Edith, who
was tinting a sketch which she had made of a rich oriel of Hellingsley,
the morning passed away in that slight and yet subtle talk in which a
lover delights, and in which, while asking a thousand questions, that
seem at the first glance sufficiently trifling, he is indeed often
conveying a meaning that is not expressed, or attempting to discover a
feeling that is hidden. And these are occasions when glances meet
and glances are withdrawn: the tongue may speak idly, the eye is more
eloquent, and often more true.

Coningsby looked up; Lady Wallinger, who had more than once announced
that she was going to put on her bonnet, was gone. Yet still he
continued to talk trifles; and still Edith listened.

'Of all that you have told me,' said Edith, 'nothing pleases me so much
as your description of St. Geneviève. How much I should like to catch
the deer at sunset on the heights! What a pretty drawing it would make!'

'You would like Eustace Lyle,' said Coningsby. 'He is so shy and yet so
ardent.'

'You have such a band of friends! Oswald was saying this morning there
was no one who had so many devoted friends.'

'We are all united by sympathy. It is the only bond of friendship; and
yet friendship - '

'Edith,' said Lady Wallinger, looking into the room from the garden,
with her bonnet on, 'you will find me roaming on the terrace.'

'We come, dear aunt.'

And yet they did not move. There were yet a few pencil touches to be
given to the tinted sketch; Coningsby would cut the pencils.

'Would you give me,' he said, 'some slight memorial of Hellingsley and
your art? I would not venture to hope for anything half so beautiful as
this; but the slightest sketch. It would make me so happy when away to
have it hanging in my room.'

A blush suffused the cheek of Edith; she turned her head a little aside,
as if she were arranging some drawings. And then she said, in a somewhat
hushed and hesitating voice,

'I am sure I will do so; and with pleasure. A view of the Hall itself;
I think that would be the best memorial. Where shall we take it from?
We will decide in our walk?' and she rose, and promised immediately to
return, left the room.

Coningsby leant over the mantel-piece in deep abstraction, gazing
vacantly on a miniature of the father of Edith. A light step roused
him; she had returned. Unconsciously he greeted her with a glance of
ineffable tenderness.

They went forth; it was a grey, sultry day. Indeed it was the covered
sky which had led to the fishing scheme of the morning. Sir Joseph was
an expert and accomplished angler, and the Darl was renowned for its
sport. They lingered before they reached the terrace where they were to
find Lady Wallinger, observing the different points of view which
the Hall presented, and debating which was to form the subject of
Coningsby's drawing; for already it was to be not merely a sketch, but a
drawing, the most finished that the bright and effective pencil of Edith
could achieve. If it really were to be placed in his room, and were
to be a memorial of Hellingsley, her artistic reputation demanded a
masterpiece.

They reached the terrace: Lady Wallinger was not there, nor could they
observe her in the vicinity. Coningsby was quite certain that she had
gone onward to the fishing-cottage, and expected them to follow her;
and he convinced Edith of the justness of his opinion. To the
fishing-cottage, therefore, they bent their steps. They emerged from the
gardens into the park, sauntering over the table-land, and seeking as
much as possible the shade, in the soft but oppressive atmosphere. At
the limit of the table-land their course lay by a wild but winding path
through a gradual and wooded declivity. While they were yet in this
craggy and romantic woodland, the big fervent drops began to fall.
Coningsby urged Edith to seek at once a natural shelter; but she, who
knew the country, assured him that the fishing-cottage was close by, and
that they might reach it before the rain could do them any harm.

And truly, at this moment emerging from the wood, they found themselves
in the valley of the Darl. The river here was narrow and winding, but
full of life; rushing, and clear but for the dark sky it reflected; with
high banks of turf and tall trees; the silver birch, above all others,
in clustering groups; infinitely picturesque. At the turn of the river,
about two hundred yards distant, Coningsby observed the low, dark roof
of the fishing-cottage on its banks. They descended from the woods to
the margin of the stream by a flight of turfen steps, Coningsby holding
Edith's hand as he guided her progress.

The drops became thicker. They reached, at a rapid pace, the cottage.
The absent boat indicated that Sir Joseph and Oswald were on the river.
The cottage was an old building of rustic logs, with a shelving roof,
so that you might obtain sufficient shelter without entering its walls.
Coningsby found a rough garden seat for Edith. The shower was now
violent.

Nature, like man, sometimes weeps from gladness. It is the joy and
tenderness of her heart that seek relief; and these are summer showers.
In this instance the vehemence of her emotion was transient, though the
tears kept stealing down her cheek for a long time, and gentle sighs and
sobs might for some period be distinguished. The oppressive atmosphere
had evaporated; the grey, sullen tint had disappeared; a soft breeze
came dancing up the stream; a glowing light fell upon the woods and
waters; the perfume of trees and flowers and herbs floated around. There
was a carolling of birds; a hum of happy insects in the air; freshness
and stir, and a sense of joyous life, pervaded all things; it seemed
that the heart of all creation opened.

Coningsby, after repeatedly watching the shower with Edith, and
speculating on its progress, which did not much annoy them, had seated
himself on a log almost at her feet. And assuredly a maiden and a youth
more beautiful and engaging had seldom met before in a scene more fresh



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 30 of 39)