Benjamin Disraeli.

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and fair. Edith on her rustic seat watched the now blue and foaming
river, and the birch-trees with a livelier tint, and quivering in the
sunset air; an expression of tranquil bliss suffused her beautiful brow,
and spoke from the thrilling tenderness of her soft dark eye. Coningsby
gazed on that countenance with a glance of entranced rapture. His cheek
was flushed, his eye gleamed with dazzling lustre. She turned her head;
she met that glance, and, troubled, she withdrew her own.

'Edith!' he said in a tone of tremulous passion, 'Let me call you Edith!
Yes,' he continued, gently taking her hand, let me call you my Edith! I
love you!'

She did not withdraw her hand; but turned away a face flushed as the
impending twilight.




CHAPTER VI.


It was past the dinner hour when Edith and Coningsby reached the Hall;
an embarrassing circumstance, but mitigated by the conviction that they
had not to encounter a very critical inspection. What, then, were their
feelings when the first servant that they met informed them that Mr.
Millbank had arrived! Edith never could have believed that the return of
her beloved father to his home could ever have been to her other than
a cause of delight. And yet now she trembled when she heard the
announcement. The mysteries of love were fast involving her existence.
But this was not the season of meditation. Her heart was still agitated
by the tremulous admission that she responded to that fervent and
adoring love whose eloquent music still sounded in her ear, and the
pictures of whose fanciful devotion flitted over her agitated vision.
Unconsciously she pressed the arm of Coningsby as the servant spoke,
and then, without looking into his face, whispering him to be quick, she
sprang away.

As for Coningsby, notwithstanding the elation of his heart, and the
ethereal joy which flowed in all his veins, the name of Mr. Millbank
sounded, something like a knell. However, this was not the time to
reflect. He obeyed the hint of Edith; made the most rapid toilet that
ever was consummated by a happy lover, and in a few minutes entered the
drawing-room of Hellingsley, to encounter the gentleman whom he hoped by
some means or other, quite inconceivable, might some day be transformed
into his father-in-law, and the fulfilment of his consequent duties
towards whom he had commenced by keeping him waiting for dinner.

'How do you do, sir,' said Mr. Millbank, extending his hand to
Coningsby. 'You seem to have taken a long walk.'

Coningsby looked round to the kind Lady Wallinger, and half addressed
his murmured answer to her, explaining how they had lost her, and their
way, and were caught in a storm or a shower, which, as it terminated
about three hours back, and the fishing-cottage was little more than a
mile from the Hall, very satisfactorily accounted for their not being in
time for dinner.

Lady Wallinger then said something about the lowering clouds having
frightened her from the terrace, and Sir Joseph and Oswald talked a
little of their sport, and of their having seen an otter; but there was,
or at least there seemed to Coningsby, a tone of general embarrassment
which distressed him. The fact is, keeping people from dinner under
any circumstances is distressing. They are obliged to talk at the very
moment when they wish to use their powers of expression for a very
different purpose. They are faint, and conversation makes them more
exhausted. A gentleman, too, fond of his family, who in turn are devoted
to him, making a great and inconvenient effort to reach them by dinner
time, to please and surprise them; and finding them all dispersed,
dinner so late that he might have reached home in good time without any
great inconvenient effort; his daughter, whom he had wished a thousand
times to embrace, taking a singularly long ramble with no other
companion than a young gentleman, whom he did not exactly expect to
see; all these are circumstances, individually perhaps slight, and yet,
encountered collectively, it may be doubted they would not a little
ruffle even the sweetest temper.

Mr. Millbank, too, had not the sweetest temper, though not a bad one;
a little quick and fiery. But then he had a kind heart. And when Edith,
who had providentially sent down a message to order dinner, entered and
embraced him at the very moment that dinner was announced, her father
forgot everything in his joy in seeing her, and his pleasure in being
surrounded by his friends. He gave his hand to Lady Wallinger, and Sir
Joseph led away his niece. Coningsby put his arm around the astonished
neck of Oswald, as if they were once more in the playing fields of Eton.

'By Jove! my dear fellow,' he exclaimed, 'I am so sorry we kept your
father from dinner.'

As Edith headed her father's table, according to his rigid rule,
Coningsby was on one side of her. They never spoke so little; Coningsby
would have never unclosed his lips, had he followed his humour. He was
in a stupor of happiness; the dining room took the appearance of
the fishing-cottage; and he saw nothing but the flowing river. Lady
Wallinger was however next to him, and that was a relief; for he felt
always she was his friend. Sir Joseph, a good-hearted man, and
on subjects with which he was acquainted full of sound sense, was
invaluable to-day, for he entirely kept up the conversation, speaking
of things which greatly interested Mr. Millbank. And so their host soon
recovered his good temper; he addressed several times his observations
to Coningsby, and was careful to take wine with him. On the whole,
affairs went on flowingly enough. The gentlemen, indeed, stayed much
longer over their wine than on the preceding days, and Coningsby did not
venture on the liberty of quitting the room before his host. It was as
well. Edith required repose. She tried to seek it on the bosom of her
aunt, as she breathed to her the delicious secret of her life. When the
gentlemen returned to the drawing-room the ladies were not there.

This rather disturbed Mr. Millbank again; he had not seen enough of his
daughter; he wished to hear her sing. But Edith managed to reappear; and
even to sing. Then Coningsby went up to her and asked her to sing the
song of the Girls of Granada. She said in a low voice, and with a fond
yet serious look,

'I am not in the mood for such a song, but if you wish me - '

She sang it, and with inexpressible grace, and with an arch vivacity,
that to a fine observer would have singularly contrasted with the
almost solemn and even troubled expression of her countenance a moment
afterwards.

The day was about to die; the day the most important, the most precious
in the lives of Harry Coningsby and Edith Millbank. Words had been
spoken, vows breathed, which were to influence their careers for ever.
For them hereafter there was to be but one life, one destiny, one world.
Each of them was still in such a state of tremulous excitement, that
neither had found time or occasion to ponder over the mighty result.
They both required solitude; they both longed to be alone. Coningsby
rose to depart. He pressed the soft hand of Edith, and his glance spoke
his soul.

'We shall see you at breakfast to-morrow, Coningsby!' said Oswald,
very loud, knowing that the presence of his father would make Coningsby
hesitate about coming. Edith's heart fluttered; but she said nothing. It
was with delight she heard her father, after a moment's pause, say,

'Oh! I beg we may have that pleasure.'

'Not quite at so early an hour,' said Coningsby; 'but if you will permit
me, I hope to have the pleasure of hearing from you to-morrow, sir, that
your journey has not fatigued you.'




CHAPTER VII.


To be alone; to have no need of feigning a tranquillity he could not
feel; of coining common-place courtesy when his heart was gushing
with rapture; this was a great relief to Coningsby, though gained by a
separation from Edith.

The deed was done; he had breathed his long-brooding passion, he
had received the sweet expression of her sympathy, he had gained
the long-coveted heart. Youth, beauty, love, the innocence of
unsophisticated breasts, and the inspiration of an exquisite nature,
combined to fashion the spell that now entranced his life. He turned to
gaze upon the moonlit towers and peaked roofs of Hellingsley. Silent and
dreamlike, the picturesque pile rested on its broad terrace flooded with
the silver light and surrounded by the quaint bowers of its fantastic
gardens tipped with the glittering beam. Half hid in deep shadow, half
sparkling in the midnight blaze, he recognised the oriel window that had
been the subject of the morning's sketch. Almost he wished there should
be some sound to assure him of his reality. But nothing broke the
all-pervading stillness. Was his life to be as bright and as tranquil?
And what was to be his life?

Whither was he to bear the beautiful bride he had gained? Were the
portals of Coningsby the proud and hospitable gates that were to greet
her? How long would they greet him after the achievement of the last
four-and-twenty hours was known to their lord? Was this the return for
the confiding kindness of his grandsire? That he should pledge his troth
to the daughter of that grandsire's foe?

Away with such dark and scaring visions! Is it not the noon of a summer
night fragrant with the breath of gardens, bright with the beam that
lovers love, and soft with the breath of Ausonian breezes? Within that
sweet and stately residence, dwells there not a maiden fair enough to
revive chivalry; who is even now thinking of him as she leans on her
pensive hand, or, if perchance she dream, recalls him in her visions?
And himself, is he one who would cry craven with such a lot? What avail
his golden youth, his high blood, his daring and devising spirit, and
all his stores of wisdom, if they help not now? Does not he feel the
energy divine that can confront Fate and carve out fortunes? Besides it
is nigh Midsummer Eve, and what should fairies reign for but to aid such
a bright pair as this?

He recalls a thousand times the scene, the moment, in which but a few
hours past he dared to tell her that he loved; he recalls a thousand
times the still, small voice, that murmured her agitated felicity: more
than a thousand times, for his heart clenched the idea as a diver grasps
a gem, he recalls the enraptured yet gentle embrace, that had sealed
upon her blushing cheek his mystical and delicious sovereignty.




CHAPTER VIII


The morning broke lowering and thunderous; small white clouds, dull and
immovable, studded the leaden sky; the waters of the rushing Darl seemed
to have become black and almost stagnant; the terraces of Hellingsley
looked like the hard lines of a model; and the mansion itself had a
harsh and metallic character. Before the chief portal of his Hall, the
elder Millbank, with an air of some anxiety, surveyed the landscape and
the heavens, as if he were speculating on the destiny of the day.

Often his eye wandered over the park; often with an uneasy and restless
step he paced the raised walk before him. The clock of Hellingsley
church had given the chimes of noon. His son and Coningsby appeared
at the end of one of the avenues. His eye lightened; his lip became
compressed; he advanced to meet them.

'Are you going to fish to-day, Oswald?' he inquired of his son.

'We had some thoughts of it, sir.'

'A fine day for sport, I should think,' he observed, as he turned
towards the Hall with them.

Coningsby remarked the fanciful beauty of the portal; its twisted
columns, and Caryatides carved in dark oak.

'Yes, it's very well,' said Millbank; 'but I really do not know why I
came here; my presence is an effort. Oswald does not care for the place;
none of us do, I believe.'

'Oh! I like it now, father; and Edith doats on it.'

'She was very happy at Millbank,' said the father, rather sharply.

'We are all of us happy at Millbank,' said Oswald.

'I was much struck with the valley and the whole settlement when I first
saw it,' said Coningsby.

'Suppose you go and see about the tackle, Oswald,' said Mr. Millbank,
'and Mr. Coningsby and I will take a stroll on the terrace in the
meantime.'

The habit of obedience, which was supreme in this family, instantly
carried Oswald away, though he was rather puzzled why his father should
be so anxious about the preparation of the fishing-tackle, as he rarely
used it. His son had no sooner departed than Mr. Millbank turned to
Coningsby, and said very abruptly,

'You have never seen my own room here, Mr. Coningsby; step in, for I
wish to say a word to you.' And thus speaking, he advanced before the
astonished, and rather agitated Coningsby, and led the way through a
door and long passage to a room of moderate dimensions, partly furnished
as a library, and full of parliamentary papers and blue-books. Shutting
the door with some earnestness and pointing to a chair, he begged his
guest to be seated. Both in their chairs, Mr. Millbank, clearing his
throat, said without preface, 'I have reason to believe, Mr. Coningsby,
that you are attached to my daughter?'

'I have been attached to her for a long time most ardently,' replied
Coningsby, in a calm and rather measured tone, but looking very pale.

'And I have reason to believe that she returns your attachment?' said
Mr. Millbank.

'I believe she deigns not to disregard it,' said Coningsby, his white
cheek becoming scarlet.

'It is then a mutual attachment, which, if cherished, must produce
mutual unhappiness,' said Mr. Millbank.

'I would fain believe the reverse,' said Coningsby.

'Why?' inquired Mr. Millbank.

'Because I believe she possesses every charm, quality, and virtue, that
can bless man; and because, though I can make her no equivalent return,
I have a heart, if I know myself, that would struggle to deserve her.'

'I know you to be a man of sense; I believe you to be a man of honour,'
replied Mr. Millbank. 'As the first, you must feel that an union between
you and my daughter is impossible; what then should be your duty as a
man of correct principle is obvious.'

'I could conceive that our union might be attended with difficulties,'
said Coningsby, in a somewhat deprecating tone.

'Sir, it is impossible,' repeated Mr. Millbank, interrupting him, though
not with harshness; 'that is to say, there is no conceivable marriage
which could be effected at greater sacrifices, and which would occasion
greater misery.'

'The sacrifices are more apparent to me than the misery,' said
Coningsby, 'and even they may be imaginary.'

'The sacrifices and the misery are certain and inseparable,' said Mr.
Millbank. 'Come now, see how we stand! I speak without reserve, for this
is a subject which cannot permit misconception, but with no feelings
towards you, sir, but fair and friendly ones. You are the grandson of
my Lord Monmouth; at present enjoying his favour, but dependent on his
bounty. You may be the heir of his wealth to-morrow, and to-morrow you
may be the object of his hatred and persecution. Your grandfather and
myself are foes; bitter, irreclaimable, to the death. It is idle to
mince phrases; I do not vindicate our mutual feelings, I may regret that
they have ever arisen; I may regret it especially at this exigency. They
are not the feelings of good Christians; they may be altogether to be
deplored and unjustifiable; but they exist, mutually exist; and have not
been confined to words. Lord Monmouth would crush me, had he the power,
like a worm; and I have curbed his proud fortunes often. Were it not
for this feeling I should not be here; I purchased this estate merely
to annoy him, as I have done a thousand other acts merely for his
discomfiture and mortification. In our long encounter I have done him
infinitely more injury than he could do me; I have been on the spot,
I am active, vigilant, the maker of my fortunes. He is an epicurean,
continually in foreign parts, obliged to leave the fulfilment of his
will to others. But, for these very reasons, his hate is more intense.
I can afford to hate him less than he hates me; I have injured him more.
Here are feelings to exist between human beings! But they do exist;
and now you are to go to this man, and ask his sanction to marry my
daughter!'

'But I would appease these hatreds; I would allay these dark passions,
the origin of which I know not, but which never could justify the end,
and which lead to so much misery. I would appeal to my grandfather; I
would show him Edith.'

'He has looked upon as fair even as Edith,' said Mr. Millbank, rising
suddenly from his seat, and pacing the room, 'and did that melt his
heart? The experience of your own lot should have guarded you from the
perils that you have so rashly meditated encountering, and the misery
which you have been preparing for others besides yourself. Is my
daughter to be treated like your mother? And by the same hand? Your
mother's family were not Lord Monmouth's foes. They were simple and
innocent people, free from all the bad passions of our nature, and
ignorant of the world's ways. But because they were not noble, because
they could trace no mystified descent from a foreign invader, or the
sacrilegious minion of some spoliating despot, their daughter was hunted
from the family which should have exulted to receive her, and the land
of which she was the native ornament. Why should a happier lot await you
than fell to your parents? You are in the same position as your father;
you meditate the same act. The only difference being aggravating
circumstances in your case, which, even if I were a member of the same
order as my Lord Monmouth, would prevent the possibility of a prosperous
union. Marry Edith, and you blast all the prospects of your life, and
entail on her a sense of unceasing humiliation. Would you do this?
Should I permit you to do this?'

Coningsby, with his head resting on his arm, his face a little shaded,
his eyes fixed on the ground, listened in silence. There was a pause;
broken by Coningsby, as in a low voice, without changing his posture or
raising his glance, he said, 'It seems, sir, that you were acquainted
with my mother!'

'I knew sufficient of her,' replied Mr. Millbank, with a kindling cheek,
'to learn the misery that a woman may entail on herself by marrying out
of her condition. I have bred my children in a respect for their class.
I believe they have imbibed my feeling; though it is strange how in
the commerce of the world, chance, in their friendships, has apparently
baffled my designs.'

'Oh! do not say it is chance, sir,' said Coningsby, looking up, and
speaking with much fervour. 'The feelings that animate me towards
your family are not the feelings of chance: they are the creation of
sympathy; tried by time, tested by thought. And must they perish? Can
they perish? They were inevitable; they are indestructible. Yes, sir, it
is in vain to speak of the enmities that are fostered between you and
my grandfather; the love that exists between your daughter and myself is
stronger than all your hatreds.'

'You speak like a young man, and a young man that is in love,' said Mr.
Millbank. 'This is mere rhapsody; it will vanish in an instant
before the reality of life. And you have arrived at that reality,' he
continued, speaking with emphasis, leaning over the back of his chair,
and looking steadily at Coningsby with his grey, sagacious eye; 'my
daughter and yourself can meet no more.'

'It is impossible you can be so cruel!' exclaimed Coningsby.

'So kind; kind to you both; for I wish to be kind to you as well as to
her. You are entitled to kindness from us all; though I will tell you
now, that, years ago, when the news arrived that my son's life had been
saved, and had been saved by one who bore the name of Coningsby, I had
a presentiment, great as was the blessing, that it might lead to
unhappiness.'

'I can answer for the misery of one,' said Coningsby, in a tone of great
despondency. 'I feel as if my sun were set. Oh! why should there be such
wretchedness? Why are there family hatreds and party feuds? Why am I the
most wretched of men?'

'My good young friend, you will live, I doubt not, to be a happy one.
Happiness is not, as we are apt to fancy, entirely dependent on these
contingencies. It is the lot of most men to endure what you are now
suffering, and they can look back to such conjunctures through the vista
of years with calmness.'

'I may see Edith now?'

'Frankly, I should say, no. My daughter is in her room; I have had some
conversation with her. Of course she suffers not less than yourself. To
see her again will only aggravate woe. You leave under this roof, sir,
some sad memories, but no unkind ones. It is not likely that I can
serve you, or that you may want my aid; but whatever may be in my power,
remember you may command it; without reserve and without restraint. If I
control myself now, it is not because I do not respect your affliction,
but because, in the course of my life, I have felt too much not to be
able to command my feelings.'

'You never could have felt what I feel now,' said Coningsby, in a tone
of anguish.

'You touch on delicate ground,' said Millbank; 'yet from me you may
learn to suffer. There was a being once, not less fair than the peerless
girl that you would fain call your own, and her heart was my proud
possession. There were no family feuds to baffle our union, nor was
I dependent on anything, but the energies which had already made me
flourishing. What happiness was mine! It was the first dream of my life,
and it was the last; my solitary passion, the memory of which softens my
heart. Ah! you dreaming scholars, and fine gentlemen who saunter through
life, you think there is no romance in the loves of a man who lives in
the toil and turmoil of business. You are in deep error. Amid my career
of travail, there was ever a bright form which animated exertion,
inspired my invention, nerved my energy, and to gain whose heart and
life I first made many of those discoveries, and entered into many
of those speculations, that have since been the foundation of my wide
prosperity.

'Her faith was pledged to me; I lived upon her image; the day was even
talked of when I should bear her to the home that I had proudly prepared
for her.

'There came a young noble, a warrior who had never seen war, glittering
with gewgaws. He was quartered in the town where the mistress of my
heart, who was soon to share my life and my fortunes, resided. The tale
is too bitter not to be brief. He saw her, he sighed; I will hope that
he loved her; she gave him with rapture the heart which perhaps she
found she had never given to me; and instead of bearing the name I had
once hoped to have called her by, she pledged her faith at the altar to
one who, like you, was called, CONINGSBY.'

'My mother!'

'You see, I too have had my griefs.'

'Dear sir,' said Coningsby, rising and taking Mr. Millbank's hand, 'I am
most wretched; and yet I wish to part from you even with affection. You
have explained circumstances that have long perplexed me. A curse, I
fear, is on our families. I have not mind enough at this moment even
to ponder on my situation. My head is a chaos. I go; yes, I quit this
Hellingsley, where I came to be so happy, where I have been so happy.
Nay, let me go, dear sir! I must be alone, I must try to think. And tell
her, no, tell her nothing. God will guard over us!'

Proceeding down the avenue with a rapid and distempered step, his
countenance lost, as it were, in a wild abstraction, Coningsby
encountered Oswald Millbank. He stopped, collected his turbulent
thoughts, and throwing on Oswald one look that seemed at the same time
to communicate woe and to demand sympathy, flung himself into his arms.

'My friend!' he exclaimed, and then added, in a broken voice, 'I need a
friend.'

Then in a hurried, impassioned, and somewhat incoherent strain, leaning
on Oswald's arm, as they walked on together, he poured forth all that
had occurred, all of which he had dreamed; his baffled bliss, his
actual despair. Alas! there was little room for solace, and yet all
that earnest affection could inspire, and a sagacious brain and a brave
spirit, were offered for his support, if not his consolation, by the
friend who was devoted to him.

In the midst of this deep communion, teeming with every thought and
sentiment that could enchain and absorb the spirit of man, they came to
one of the park-gates of Coningsby. Millbank stopped. The command of
his father was peremptory, that no member of his family, under any
circumstances, or for any consideration, should set his foot on that



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 31 of 39)