Benjamin Disraeli.

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these; and music soothed, and at times beguiled, her agitated thoughts.
But there was no joy in the house, and in time Mr. Millbank felt it.

Mr. Millbank was vexed, irritated, grieved. Edith, his Edith, the pride
and delight of his existence, who had been to him only a source of
exultation and felicity, was no longer happy, was perhaps pining away;
and there was the appearance, the unjust appearance that he, her fond
father, was the cause and occasion of all this wretchedness. It would
appear that the name of Coningsby, to which he now owed a great debt of
gratitude, was still doomed to bear him mortification and misery. Truly
had the young man said that there was a curse upon their two families.
And yet, on reflection, it still seemed to Mr. Millbank that he had
acted with as much wisdom and real kindness as decision. How otherwise
was he to have acted? The union was impossible; the speedier their
separation, therefore, clearly the better. Unfortunate, indeed, had been
his absence from Hellingsley; unquestionably his presence might have
prevented the catastrophe. Oswald should have hindered all this. And
yet Mr. Millbank could not shut his eyes to the devotion of his son to
Coningsby. He felt he could count on no assistance in this respect from
that quarter. Yet how hard upon him that he should seem to figure as
a despot or a tyrant to his own children, whom he loved, when he had
absolutely acted in an inevitable manner! Edith seemed sad, Oswald
sullen; all was changed. All the objects for which this clear-headed,
strong-minded, kind-hearted man had been working all his life, seemed
to be frustrated. And why? Because a young man had made love to his
daughter, who was really in no manner entitled to do so.

As the autumn drew on, Mr. Millbank found Hellingsley, under existing
circumstances, extremely wearisome; and he proposed to his daughter that
they should pay a visit to their earlier home. Edith assented without
difficulty, but without interest. And yet, as Mr. Millbank immediately
perceived, the change was a judicious one; for certainly the spirits
of Edith seemed to improve after her return to their valley. There were
more objects of interest: change, too, is always beneficial. If
Mr. Millbank had been aware that Oswald had received a letter from
Coningsby, written before he quitted Spain, perhaps he might have
recognised a more satisfactory reason for the transient liveliness of
his daughter which had so greatly gratified him.

About a month after Christmas, the meeting of Parliament summoned Mr.
Millbank up to London; and he had wished Edith to accompany him. But
London in February to Edith, without friends or connections, her father
always occupied and absent from her day and night, seemed to them
all, on reflection, to be a life not very conducive to health or
cheerfulness, and therefore she remained with her brother. Oswald had
heard from Coningsby again from Rome; but at the period he wrote he did
not anticipate his return to England. His tone was affectionate, but
dispirited.

Lady Wallinger went up to London after Easter for the season, and Mr.
Millbank, now that there was a constant companion for his daughter, took
a house and carried Edith back with him to London. Lady Wallinger,
who had great wealth and great tact, had obtained by degrees a
not inconsiderable position in society. She had a fine house in a
fashionable situation, and gave profuse entertainments. The Whigs
were under obligations to her husband, and the great Whig ladies were
gratified to find in his wife a polished and pleasing person, to whom
they could be courteous without any annoyance. So that Edith, under the
auspices of her aunt, found herself at once in circles which otherwise
she might not easily have entered, but which her beauty, grace, and
experience of the most refined society of the Continent, qualified
her to shine in. One evening they met the Marquis of Beaumanoir, their
friend of Rome and Paris, and admirer of Edith, who from that time was
seldom from their side. His mother, the Duchess, immediately called both
on the Millbanks and the Wallingers; glad, not only to please her son,
but to express that consideration for Mr. Millbank which the Duke always
wished to show. It was, however, of no use; nothing would induce Mr.
Millbank ever to enter what he called aristocratic society. He liked the
House of Commons; never paired off; never missed a moment of it; worked
at committees all the morning, listened attentively to debates all the
night; always dined at Bellamy's when there was a house; and when there
was not, liked dining at the Fishmongers' Company, the Russia Company,
great Emigration banquets, and other joint-stock festivities. That was
his idea of rational society; business and pleasure combined; a good
dinner, and good speeches afterwards.

Edith was aware that Coningsby had returned to England, for her brother
had heard from him on his arrival; but Oswald had not heard since.
A season in London only represented in the mind of Edith the chance,
perhaps the certainty, of meeting Coningsby again; of communing together
over the catastrophe of last summer; of soothing and solacing each
other's unhappiness, and perhaps, with the sanguine imagination of
youth, foreseeing a more felicitous future. She had been nearly a
fortnight in town, and though moving frequently in the same circles as
Coningsby, they had not yet met. It was one of those results which
could rarely occur; but even chance enters too frequently in the
league against lovers. The invitation to the assembly at - - House was
therefore peculiarly gratifying to Edith, since she could scarcely
doubt that if Coningsby were in town, which her casual inquiries of Lord
Beaumanoir induced her to believe was the case, he would be present.
Never, therefore, had she repaired to an assembly with such a flattering
spirit; and yet there was a fascinating anxiety about it that bewilders
the young heart.

In vain Edith surveyed the rooms to catch the form of that being, whom
for a moment she had never ceased to cherish and muse over. He was not
there; and at the very moment when, disappointed and mortified, she most
required solace, she learned from Mr. Melton that Lady Theresa Sydney,
whom she chanced to admire, was going to be married, and to Mr.
Coningsby!

What a revelation! His silence, perhaps his shunning of her were no
longer inexplicable. What a return for all her romantic devotion in her
sad solitude at Hellingsley. Was this the end of their twilight rambles,
and the sweet pathos of their mutual loves? There seemed to be no truth
in man, no joy in life! All the feelings that she had so generously
lavished, all returned upon herself. She could have burst into a passion
of tears and buried herself in a cloister.

Instead of that, civilisation made her listen with a serene though
tortured countenance; but as soon as it was in her power, pleading a
headache to Lady Wallinger, she effected, or thought she had effected,
her escape from a scene which harrowed her heart.

As for Coningsby, he passed a sleepless night, agitated by the
unexpected presence of Edith and distracted by the manner in which
she had received him. To say that her appearance had revived all his
passionate affection for her would convey an unjust impression of the
nature of his feelings. His affection had never for a moment swerved; it
was profound and firm. But unquestionably this sudden vision had brought
before him, in startling and more vivid colours, the relations that
subsisted between them. There was the being whom he loved and who loved
him; and whatever were the barriers which the circumstances of life
placed against their union, they were partakers of the solemn sacrament
of an unpolluted heart.

Coningsby, as we have mentioned, had signified to Oswald his return to
England: he had hitherto omitted to write again; not because his spirit
faltered, but he was wearied of whispering hope without foundation, and
mourning over his chagrined fortunes. Once more in England, once more
placed in communication with his grandfather, he felt with increased
conviction the difficulties which surrounded him. The society of Lady
Everingham and her sister, who had been at the same time her visitor,
had been a relaxation, and a beneficial one, to a mind suffering
too much from the tension of one idea. But Coningsby had treated the
matrimonial project of his gay-minded hostess with the courteous levity
in which he believed it had first half originated. He admired and liked
Lady Theresa; but there was a reason why he should not marry her, even
had his own heart not been absorbed by one of those passions from which
men of deep and earnest character never emancipate themselves.

After musing and meditating again and again over everything that had
occurred, Coningsby fell asleep when the morning had far advanced,
resolved to rise when a little refreshed and find out Lady Wallinger,
who, he felt sure, would receive him with kindness.

Yet it was fated that this step should not be taken, for while he was
at breakfast, his servant brought him a letter from Monmouth House,
apprising him that his grandfather wished to see him as soon as possible
on urgent business.




CHAPTER III.


Lord Monmouth was sitting in the same dressing-room in which he was
first introduced to the reader; on the table were several packets of
papers that were open and in course of reference; and he dictated his
observations to Monsieur Villebecque, who was writing at his left hand.

Thus were they occupied when Coningsby was ushered into the room.

'You see, Harry,' said Lord Monmouth, 'that I am much occupied to-day,
yet the business on which I wish to communicate with you is so pressing
that it could not be postponed.' He made a sign to Villebecque, and his
secretary instantly retired.

'I was right in pressing your return to England,' continued Lord
Monmouth to his grandson, who was a little anxious as to the impending
communication, which he could not in any way anticipate. 'These are not
times when young men should be out of sight. Your public career will
commence immediately. The Government have resolved on a dissolution. My
information is from the highest quarter. You may be astonished, but
it is a fact. They are going to dissolve their own House of Commons.
Notwithstanding this and the Queen's name, we can beat them; but the
race requires the finest jockeying. We can't give a point. Tadpole has
been here to me about Darlford; he came specially with a message, I may
say an appeal, from one to whom I can refuse nothing; the Government
count on the seat, though with the new Registration 'tis nearly a tie.
If we had a good candidate we could win. But Rigby won't do. He is too
much of the old clique; used up; a hack; besides, a beaten horse. We are
assured the name of Coningsby would be a host; there is a considerable
section who support the present fellow who will not vote against a
Coningsby. They have thought of you as a fit person, and I have approved
of the suggestion. You will, therefore, be the candidate for Darlford
with my entire sanction and support, and I have no doubt you will be
successful. You may be sure I shall spare nothing: and it will be very
gratifying to me, after being robbed of all our boroughs, that the only
Coningsby who cares to enter Parliament, should nevertheless be able to
do so as early as I could fairly desire.'

Coningsby the rival of Mr. Millbank on the hustings of Darlford!
Vanquished or victorious, equally a catastrophe! The fierce passions,
the gross insults, the hot blood and the cool lies, the ruffianism and
the ribaldry, perhaps the domestic discomfiture and mortification, which
he was about to be the means of bringing on the roof he loved best
in the world, occurred to him with anguish. The countenance of
Edith, haughty and mournful last night, rose to him again. He saw her
canvassing for her father, and against him. Madness! And for what was
he to make this terrible and costly sacrifice For his ambition? Not even
for that Divinity or Daemon for which we all immolate so much! Mighty
ambition, forsooth, to succeed to the Rigbys! To enter the House of
Commons a slave and a tool; to move according to instructions, and
to labour for the low designs of petty spirits, without even the
consolation of being a dupe. What sympathy could there exist between
Coningsby and the 'great Conservative party,' that for ten years in
an age of revolution had never promulgated a principle; whose only
intelligible and consistent policy seemed to be an attempt, very
grateful of course to the feelings of an English Royalist, to revive
Irish Puritanism; who when in power in 1835 had used that power only to
evince their utter ignorance of Church principles; and who were at this
moment, when Coningsby was formally solicited to join their ranks, in
open insurrection against the prerogatives of the English Monarchy?

'Do you anticipate then an immediate dissolution, sir?' inquired
Coningsby after a moment's pause.

'We must anticipate it; though I think it doubtful. It may be next
month; it may be in the autumn; they may tide over another year, as Lord
Eskdale thinks, and his opinion always weighs with me. He is very safe.
Tadpole believes they will dissolve at once. But whether they dissolve
now, or in a month's time, or in the autumn, or next year, our course
is clear. We must declare our intentions immediately. We must hoist our
flag. Monday next, there is a great Conservative dinner at Darlford. You
must attend it; that will be the finest opportunity in the world for you
to announce yourself.'

'Don't you think, sir,' said Coningsby, 'that such an announcement would
be rather premature? It is, in fact, embarking in a contest which may
last a year; perhaps more.'

'What you say is very true,' said Lord Monmouth; 'no doubt it is very
troublesome; very disgusting; any canvassing is. But we must take things
as we find them. You cannot get into Parliament now in the good old
gentlemanlike way; and we ought to be thankful that this interest has
been fostered for our purpose.'

Coningsby looked on the carpet, cleared his throat as if about to speak,
and then gave something like a sigh.

'I think you had better be off the day after to-morrow,' said Lord
Monmouth. 'I have sent instructions to the steward to do all he can in
so short a time, for I wish you to entertain the principal people.'

'You are most kind, you are always most kind to me, dear sir,' said
Coningsby, in a hesitating tone, and with an air of great embarrassment,
'but, in truth, I have no wish to enter Parliament.'

'What?' said Lord Monmouth.

'I feel that I am not sufficiently prepared for so great a
responsibility as a seat in the House of Commons,' said Coningsby.

'Responsibility!' said Lord Monmouth, smiling. 'What responsibility is
there? How can any one have a more agreeable seat? The only person to
whom you are responsible is your own relation, who brings you in. And I
don't suppose there can be any difference on any point between us. You
are certainly still young; but I was younger by nearly two years when
I first went in; and I found no difficulty. There can be no difficulty.
All you have got to do is to vote with your party. As for speaking, if
you have a talent that way, take my advice; don't be in a hurry. Learn
to know the House; learn the House to know you. If a man be discreet, he
cannot enter Parliament too soon.'

'It is not exactly that, sir,' said Coningsby.

'Then what is it, my dear Harry? You see to-day I have much to do; yet
as your business is pressing, I would not postpone seeing you an hour. I
thought you would have been very much gratified.'

'You mentioned that I had nothing to do but to vote with my party, sir,'
replied Coningsby. 'You mean, of course, by that term what is understood
by the Conservative party.'

'Of course; our friends.'

'I am sorry,' said Coningsby, rather pale, but speaking with firmness,
'I am sorry that I could not support the Conservative party.'

'By - - !' exclaimed Lord Monmouth, starting in his seat, 'some woman
has got hold of him, and made him a Whig!'

'No, my dear grandfather,' said Coningsby, scarcely able to repress a
smile, serious as the interview was becoming, 'nothing of the kind, I
assure you. No person can be more anti-Whig.'

'I don't know what you are driving at, sir,' said Lord Monmouth, in a
hard, dry tone.

'I wish to be frank, sir,' said Coningsby, 'and am very sensible of your
goodness in permitting me to speak to you on the subject. What I mean to
say is, that I have for a long time looked upon the Conservative party
as a body who have betrayed their trust; more from ignorance, I admit,
than from design; yet clearly a body of individuals totally unequal
to the exigencies of the epoch, and indeed unconscious of its real
character.'

'You mean giving up those Irish corporations?' said Lord Monmouth.
'Well, between ourselves, I am quite of the same opinion. But we must
mount higher; we must go to '28 for the real mischief. But what is the
use of lamenting the past? Peel is the only man; suited to the times and
all that; at least we must say so, and try to believe so; we can't go
back. And it is our own fault that we have let the chief power out of
the hands of our own order. It was never thought of in the time of your
great-grandfather, sir. And if a commoner were for a season permitted
to be the nominal Premier to do the detail, there was always a secret
committee of great 1688 nobles to give him his instructions.'

'I should be very sorry to see secret committees of great 1688 nobles
again,' said Coningsby.

'Then what the devil do you want to see?' said Lord Monmouth.

'Political faith,' said Coningsby, 'instead of political infidelity.'

'Hem!' said Lord Monmouth.

'Before I support Conservative principles,' continued Coningsby, 'I
merely wish to be informed what those principles aim to conserve. It
would not appear to be the prerogative of the Crown, since the principal
portion of a Conservative oration now is an invective against a late
royal act which they describe as a Bed-chamber plot. Is it the Church
which they wish to conserve? What is a threatened Appropriation Clause
against an actual Church Commission in the hands of Parliamentary
Laymen? Could the Long Parliament have done worse? Well, then, if it
is neither the Crown nor the Church, whose rights and privileges this
Conservative party propose to vindicate, is it your House, the House
of Lords, whose powers they are prepared to uphold? Is it not notorious
that the very man whom you have elected as your leader in that House,
declares among his Conservative adherents, that henceforth the assembly
that used to furnish those very Committees of great revolution nobles
that you mention, is to initiate nothing; and, without a struggle, is
to subside into that undisturbed repose which resembles the Imperial
tranquillity that secured the frontiers by paying tribute?'

'All this is vastly fine,' said Lord Monmouth; 'but I see no means by
which I can attain my object but by supporting Peel. After all, what is
the end of all parties and all politics? To gain your object. I want to
turn our coronet into a ducal one, and to get your grandmother's barony
called out of abeyance in your favour. It is impossible that Peel can
refuse me. I have already purchased an ample estate with the view
of entailing it on you and your issue. You will make a considerable
alliance; you may marry, if you please, Lady Theresa Sydney. I hear the
report with pleasure. Count on my at once entering into any arrangement
conducive to your happiness.'

'My dear grandfather, you have ever been to me only too kind and
generous.'

'To whom should I be kind but to you, my own blood, that has never
crossed me, and of whom I have reason to be proud? Yes, Harry, it
gratifies me to hear you admired and to learn your success. All I want
now is to see you in Parliament. A man should be in Parliament early.
There is a sort of stiffness about every man, no matter what may be his
talents, who enters Parliament late in life; and now, fortunately, the
occasion offers. You will go down on Friday; feed the notabilities
well; speak out; praise Peel; abuse O'Connell and the ladies of the
Bed-chamber; anathematise all waverers; say a good deal about Ireland;
stick to the Irish Registration Bill, that's a good card; and, above
all, my dear Harry, don't spare that fellow Millbank. Remember, in
turning him out you not only gain a vote for the Conservative cause
and our coronet, but you crush my foe. Spare nothing for that object; I
count on you, boy.'

'I should grieve to be backward in anything that concerned your
interest or your honour, sir,' said Coningsby, with an air of great
embarrassment.

'I am sure you would, I am sure you would,' said Lord Monmouth, in a
tone of some kindness.

'And I feel at this moment,' continued Coningsby, 'that there is no
personal sacrifice which I am not prepared to make for them, except one.
My interests, my affections, they should not be placed in the balance,
if yours, sir, were at stake, though there are circumstances which might
involve me in a position of as much mental distress as a man could well
endure; but I claim for my convictions, my dear grandfather, a generous
tolerance.'

'I can't follow you, sir,' said Lord Monmouth, again in his hard tone.
'Our interests are inseparable, and therefore there can never be
any sacrifice of conduct on your part. What you mean by sacrifice of
affections, I don't comprehend; but as for your opinions, you have no
business to have any other than those I uphold. You are too young to
form opinions.'

'I am sure I wish to express them with no unbecoming confidence,'
replied Coningsby; 'I have never intruded them on your ear before;
but this being an occasion when you yourself said, sir, I was about
to commence my public career, I confess I thought it was my duty to be
frank; I would not entail on myself long years of mortification by one
of those ill-considered entrances into political life which so many
public men have cause to deplore.'

'You go with your family, sir, like a gentleman; you are not to consider
your opinions, like a philosopher or a political adventurer.'

'Yes, sir,' said Coningsby, with animation, 'but men going with their
families like gentlemen, and losing sight of every principle on which
the society of this country ought to be established, produced the Reform
Bill.'

'D - - the Reform Bill!' said Lord Monmouth; 'if the Duke had not
quarrelled with Lord Grey on a Coal Committee, we should never have had
the Reform Bill. And Grey would have gone to Ireland.'

'You are in as great peril now as you were in 1830,' said Coningsby.

'No, no, no,' said Lord Monmouth; 'the Tory party is organised now; they
will not catch us napping again: these Conservative Associations have
done the business.'

'But what are they organised for?' said Coningsby. 'At the best to turn
out the Whigs. And when you have turned out the Whigs, what then? You
may get your ducal coronet, sir. But a duke now is not so great a man
as a baron was but a century back. We cannot struggle against the
irresistible stream of circumstances. Power has left our order; this is
not an age for factitious aristocracy. As for my grandmother's barony, I
should look upon the termination of its abeyance in my favour as the
act of my political extinction. What we want, sir, is not to fashion
new dukes and furbish up old baronies, but to establish great principles
which may maintain the realm and secure the happiness of the people. Let
me see authority once more honoured; a solemn reverence again the habit
of our lives; let me see property acknowledging, as in the old days
of faith, that labour is his twin brother, and that the essence of all
tenure is the performance of duty; let results such as these be brought
about, and let me participate, however feebly, in the great fulfilment,
and public life then indeed becomes a noble career, and a seat in
Parliament an enviable distinction.'

'I tell you what it is, Harry,' said Lord Monmouth, very drily, 'members
of this family may think as they like, but they must act as I please.
You must go down on Friday to Darlford and declare yourself a candidate
for the town, or I shall reconsider our mutual positions. I would say,
you must go to-morrow; but it is only courteous to Rigby to give him a
previous intimation of your movement. And that cannot be done to-day. I
sent for Rigby this morning on other business which now occupies me, and



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 33 of 39)