Benjamin Disraeli.

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find he is out of town. He will return to-morrow; and will be here at
three o'clock, when you can meet him. You will meet him, I doubt not,
like a man of sense,' added Lord Monmouth, looking at Coningsby with a
glance such as he had never before encountered, 'who is not prepared to
sacrifice all the objects of life for the pursuit of some fantastical
puerilities.'

His Lordship rang a bell on his table for Villebecque; and to prevent
any further conversation, resumed his papers.




CHAPTER IV.


It would have been difficult for any person, unconscious of crime,
to have felt more dejected than Coningsby when he rode out of the
court-yard of Monmouth House. The love of Edith would have consoled
him for the destruction of his prosperity; the proud fulfilment of his
ambition might in time have proved some compensation for his crushed
affections; but his present position seemed to offer no single source
of solace. There came over him that irresistible conviction that is at
times the dark doom of all of us, that the bright period of our life is
past; that a future awaits us only of anxiety, failure, mortification,
despair; that none of our resplendent visions can ever be realised:
and that we add but one more victim to the long and dreary catalogue of
baffled aspirations.

Nor could he indeed by any combination see the means to extricate
himself from the perils that were encompassing him. There was something
about his grandfather that defied persuasion. Prone as eloquent
youth generally is to believe in the resistless power of its appeals,
Coningsby despaired at once of ever moving Lord Monmouth. There had been
a callous dryness in his manner, an unswerving purpose in his spirit,
that at once baffled all attempts at influence. Nor could Coningsby
forget the look he received when he quitted the room. There was no
possibility of mistaking it; it said at once, without periphrasis,
'Cross my purpose, and I will crush you!'

This was the moment when the sympathy, if not the counsels, of
friendship might have been grateful. A clever woman might have afforded
even more than sympathy; some happy device that might have even released
him from the mesh in which he was involved. And once Coningsby had
turned his horse's head to Park Lane to call on Lady Everingham. But
surely if there were a sacred secret in the world, it was the one which
subsisted between himself and Edith. No, that must never be violated.
Then there was Lady Wallinger; he could at least speak with freedom to
her. He resolved to tell her all. He looked in for a moment at a club
to take up the 'Court Guide' and find her direction. A few men were
standing in a bow window. He heard Mr. Cassilis say,

'So Beau, they say, is booked at last; the new beauty, have you heard?'

'I saw him very sweet on her last night,' rejoined his companion. 'Has
she any tin?'

'Deuced deal, they say,' replied Mr. Cassilis.' The father is a cotton
lord, and they all have loads of tin, you know. Nothing like them now.'

'He is in Parliament, is not he?'

''Gad, I believe he is,' said Mr. Cassilis; 'I never know who is in
Parliament in these days. I remember when there were only ten men in the
House of Commons who were not either members of Brookes' or this place.
Everything is so deuced changed.'

'I hear 'tis an old affair of Beau,' said another gentleman. 'It was all
done a year ago at Rome or Paris.'

'They say she refused him then,' said Mr. Cassilis.

'Well, that is tolerably cool for a manufacturer's daughter,' said his
friend. 'What next?'

'I wonder how the Duke likes it?' said Mr. Cassilis.

'Or the Duchess?' added one of his friends.

'Or the Everinghams?' added the other.

'The Duke will be deuced glad to see Beau settled, I take it,' said Mr.
Cassilis.

'A good deal depends on the tin,' said his friend.

Coningsby threw down the 'Court Guide' with a sinking heart. In spite
of every insuperable difficulty, hitherto the end and object of all his
aspirations and all his exploits, sometimes even almost unconsciously
to himself, was Edith. It was over. The strange manner of last night was
fatally explained. The heart that once had been his was now another's.
To the man who still loves there is in that conviction the most profound
and desolate sorrow of which our nature is capable. All the recollection
of the past, all the once-cherished prospects of the future, blend into
one bewildering anguish. Coningsby quitted the club, and mounting his
horse, rode rapidly out of town, almost unconscious of his direction.
He found himself at length in a green lane near Willesden, silent and
undisturbed; he pulled up his horse, and summoned all his mind to the
contemplation of his prospects.

Edith was lost. Now, should he return to his grandfather, accept his
mission, and go down to Darlford on Friday? Favour and fortune, power,
prosperity, rank, distinction would be the consequence of this step;
might not he add even vengeance? Was there to be no term to his
endurance? Might not he teach this proud, prejudiced manufacturer, with
all his virulence and despotic caprices, a memorable lesson? And his
daughter, too, this betrothed, after all, of a young noble, with her
flush futurity of splendour and enjoyment, was she to hear of him only,
if indeed she heard of him at all, as of one toiling or trifling in the
humbler positions of existence; and wonder, with a blush, that he ever
could have been the hero of her romantic girlhood? What degradation in
the idea? His cheek burnt at the possibility of such ignominy!

It was a conjuncture in his life that required decision. He thought of
his companions who looked up to him with such ardent anticipations of
his fame, of delight in his career, and confidence in his leading; were
all these high and fond fancies to be balked? On the very threshold of
life was he to blunder? 'Tis the first step that leads to all, and
his was to be a wilful error. He remembered his first visit to his
grandfather, and the delight of his friends at Eton at his report on his
return. After eight years of initiation was he to lose that favour then
so highly prized, when the results which they had so long counted on
were on the very eve of accomplishment? Parliament and riches, and rank
and power; these were facts, realities, substances, that none could
mistake. Was he to sacrifice them for speculations, theories, shadows,
perhaps the vapours of a green and conceited brain? No, by heaven, no!
He was like Caesar by the starry river's side, watching the image of the
planets on its fatal waters. The die was cast.

The sun set; the twilight spell fell upon his soul; the exaltation
of his spirit died away. Beautiful thoughts, full of sweetness and
tranquillity and consolation, came clustering round his heart like
seraphs. He thought of Edith in her hours of fondness; he thought of
the pure and solemn moments when to mingle his name with the heroes of
humanity was his aspiration, and to achieve immortal fame the inspiring
purpose of his life. What were the tawdry accidents of vulgar ambition
to him? No domestic despot could deprive him of his intellect, his
knowledge, the sustaining power of an unpolluted conscience. If he
possessed the intelligence in which he had confidence, the world
would recognise his voice even if not placed upon a pedestal. If the
principles of his philosophy were true, the great heart of the nation
would respond to their expression. Coningsby felt at this moment a
profound conviction which never again deserted him, that the conduct
which would violate the affections of the heart, or the dictates of the
conscience, however it may lead to immediate success, is a fatal error.
Conscious that he was perhaps verging on some painful vicissitude of his
life, he devoted himself to a love that seemed hopeless, and to a fame
that was perhaps a dream.

It was under the influence of these solemn resolutions that he wrote,
on his return home, a letter to Lord Monmouth, in which he expressed
all that affection which he really felt for his grandfather, and all
the pangs which it cost him to adhere to the conclusions he had already
announced. In terms of tenderness, and even humility, he declined to
become a candidate for Darlford, or even to enter Parliament, except as
the master of his own conduct.




CHAPTER V.


Lady Monmouth was reclining on a sofa in that beautiful boudoir which
had been fitted up under the superintendence of Mr. Rigby, but as he
then believed for the Princess Colonna. The walls were hung with amber
satin, painted by Delaroche with such subjects as might be expected from
his brilliant and picturesque pencil. Fair forms, heroes and heroines
in dazzling costume, the offspring of chivalry merging into what is
commonly styled civilisation, moved in graceful or fantastic groups amid
palaces and gardens. The ceiling, carved in the deep honeycomb fashion
of the Saracens, was richly gilt and picked out in violet. Upon a violet
carpet of velvet was represented the marriage of Cupid and Psyche.

It was about two hours after Coningsby had quitted Monmouth House, and
Flora came in, sent for by Lady Monmouth as was her custom, to read to
her as she was employed with some light work.

''Tis a new book of Sue,' said Lucretia. 'They say it is good.'

Flora, seated by her side, began to read. Reading was an accomplishment
which distinguished Flora; but to-day her voice faltered, her expression
was uncertain; she seemed but imperfectly to comprehend her page. More
than once Lady Monmouth looked round at her with an inquisitive glance.
Suddenly Flora stopped and burst into tears.

'O! madam,' she at last exclaimed, 'if you would but speak to Mr.
Coningsby, all might be right!'

'What is this?' said Lady Monmouth, turning quickly on the sofa; then,
collecting herself in an instant, she continued with less abruptness,
and more suavity than usual, 'Tell me, Flora, what is it; what is the
matter?'

'My Lord,' sobbed Flora, 'has quarrelled with Mr. Coningsby.'

An expression of eager interest came over the countenance of Lucretia.

'Why have they quarrelled?'

'I do not know they have quarrelled; it is not, perhaps, a right term;
but my Lord is very angry with Mr. Coningsby.'

'Not very angry, I should think, Flora; and about what?'

'Oh! very angry, madam,' said Flora, shaking her head mournfully. 'My
Lord told M. Villebecque that perhaps Mr. Coningsby would never enter
the house again.'

'Was it to-day?' asked Lucretia.

'This morning. Mr. Coningsby has only left this hour or two. He will not
do what my Lord wishes, about some seat in the Chamber. I do not know
exactly what it is; but my Lord is in one of his moods of terror: my
father is frightened even to go into his room when he is so.'

'Has Mr. Rigby been here to-day?' asked Lucretia.

'Mr. Rigby is not in town. My father went for Mr. Rigby this morning
before Mr. Coningsby came, and he found that Mr. Rigby was not in town.
That is why I know it.'

Lady Monmouth rose from her sofa, and walked once or twice up and down
the room. Then turning to Flora, she said, 'Go away now: the book is
stupid; it does not amuse me. Stop: find out all you can for me about
the quarrel before I speak to Mr. Coningsby.'

Flora quitted the room. Lucretia remained for some time in meditation;
then she wrote a few lines, which she despatched at once to Mr. Rigby.




CHAPTER VI.


What a great man was the Right Honourable Nicholas Rigby! Here was one
of the first peers of England, and one of the finest ladies in London,
both waiting with equal anxiety his return to town; and unable to
transact two affairs of vast importance, yet wholly unconnected, without
his interposition! What was the secret of the influence of this man,
confided in by everybody, trusted by none? His counsels were not deep,
his expedients were not felicitous; he had no feeling, and he could
create no sympathy. It is that, in most of the transactions of life,
there is some portion which no one cares to accomplish, and which
everybody wishes to be achieved. This was always the portion of Mr.
Rigby. In the eye of the world he had constantly the appearance of being
mixed up with high dealings, and negotiations and arrangements of fine
management, whereas in truth, notwithstanding his splendid livery and
the airs he gave himself in the servants' hall, his real business in
life had ever been, to do the dirty work.

Mr. Rigby had been shut up much at his villa of late. He was concocting,
you could not term it composing, an article, a 'very slashing article,'
which was to prove that the penny postage must be the destruction of the
aristocracy. It was a grand subject, treated in his highest style. His
parallel portraits of Rowland Hill the conqueror of Almarez and Rowland
Hill the deviser of the cheap postage were enormously fine. It was full
of passages in italics, little words in great capitals, and almost drew
tears. The statistical details also were highly interesting and novel.
Several of the old postmen, both twopenny and general, who had been in
office with himself, and who were inspired with an equal zeal against
that spirit of reform of which they had alike been victims, supplied him
with information which nothing but a breach of ministerial duty could
have furnished. The prophetic peroration as to the irresistible progress
of democracy was almost as powerful as one of Rigby's speeches on
Aldborough or Amersham. There never was a fellow for giving a good
hearty kick to the people like Rigby. Himself sprung from the dregs of
the populace, this was disinterested. What could be more patriotic and
magnanimous than his Jeremiads over the fall of the Montmorencis and the
Crillons, or the possible catastrophe of the Percys and the Manners! The
truth of all this hullabaloo was that Rigby had a sly pension which,
by an inevitable association of ideas, he always connected with the
maintenance of an aristocracy. All his rigmarole dissertations on the
French revolution were impelled by this secret influence; and when he
wailed over 'la guerre aux ch√Ґteaux,' and moaned like a mandrake over
Nottingham Castle in flames, the rogue had an eye all the while to
quarter-day!

Arriving in town the day after Coningsby's interview with his
grandfather, Mr. Rigby found a summons to Monmouth House waiting him,
and an urgent note from Lucretia begging that he would permit nothing
to prevent him seeing her for a few minutes before he called on the
Marquess.

Lucretia, acting on the unconscious intimation of Flora, had in the
course of four-and-twenty hours obtained pretty ample and accurate
details of the cause of contention between Coningsby and her husband.
She could inform Mr. Rigby not only that Lord Monmouth was
highly incensed against his grandson, but that the cause of their
misunderstanding arose about a seat in the House of Commons, and that
seat too the one which Mr. Rigby had long appropriated to himself,
and over whose registration he had watched with such affectionate
solicitude.

Lady Monmouth arranged this information like a firstrate artist, and
gave it a grouping and a colour which produced the liveliest effect
upon her confederate. The countenance of Rigby was almost ghastly as
he received the intelligence; a grin, half of malice, half of terror,
played over his features.

'I told you to beware of him long ago,' said Lady Monmouth. 'He is, he
has ever been, in the way of both of us.'

'He is in my power,' said Rigby. 'We can crush him!'

'How?'

'He is in love with the daughter of Millbank, the man who bought
Hellingsley.'

'Hah!' exclaimed Lady Monmouth, in a prolonged tone.

'He was at Coningsby all last summer, hanging about her. I found the
younger Millbank quite domiciliated at the Castle; a fact which, of
itself, if known to Lord Monmouth, would ensure the lad's annihilation.'

'And you kept this fine news for a winter campaign, my good Mr. Rigby,'
said Lady Monmouth, with a subtle smile. 'It was a weapon of service. I
give you my compliments.'

'The time is not always ripe,' said Mr. Rigby.

'But it is now most mature. Let us not conceal it from ourselves that,
since his first visit to Coningsby, we have neither of us really been in
the same position which we then occupied, or believed we should occupy.
My Lord, though you would scarcely believe it, has a weakness for this
boy; and though I by my marriage, and you by your zealous ability,
have apparently secured a permanent hold upon his habits, I have never
doubted that when the crisis comes we shall find that the golden fruit
is plucked by one who has not watched the garden. You take me? There is
no reason why we two should clash together: we can both of us find what
we want, and more securely if we work in company.'

'I trust my devotion to you has never been doubted, dear madam.'

'Nor to yourself, dear Mr. Rigby. Go now: the game is before you. Rid
me of this Coningsby, and I will secure you all that you want. Doubt not
me. There is no reason. I want a firm ally. There must be two.'

'It shall be done,' said Rigby; 'it must be done. If once the notion
gets wind that one of the Castle family may perchance stand for
Darlford, all the present combinations will be disorganised. It must be
done at once. I know that the Government will dissolve.'

'So I hear for certain,' said Lucretia. 'Be sure there is no time to
lose. What does he want with you to-day?'

'I know not: there are so many things.'

'To be sure; and yet I cannot doubt he will speak of this quarrel.
Let not the occasion be lost. Whatever his mood, the subject may be
introduced. If good, you will guide him more easily; if dark, the love
for the Hellingsley girl, the fact of the brother being in his castle,
drinking his wine, riding his horses, ordering about his servants; you
will omit no details: a Millbank quite at home at Coningsby will lash
him to madness! 'Tis quite ripe. Not a word that you have seen me. Go,
go, or he may hear that you have arrived. I shall be at home all the
morning. It will be but gallant that you should pay me a little visit
when you have transacted your business. You understand. _Au revoir!_'

Lady Monmouth took up again her French novel; but her eyes soon glanced
over the page, unattached by its contents. Her own existence was too
interesting to find any excitement in fiction. It was nearly three years
since her marriage; that great step which she ever had a conviction was
to lead to results still greater. Of late she had often been filled with
a presentiment that they were near at hand; never more so than on
this day. Irresistible was the current of associations that led her to
meditate on freedom, wealth, power; on a career which should at the same
time dazzle the imagination and gratify her heart. Notwithstanding the
gossip of Paris, founded on no authentic knowledge of her husband's
character or information, based on the haphazard observations of the
floating multitude, Lucretia herself had no reason to fear that her
influence over Lord Monmouth, if exerted, was materially diminished. But
satisfied that he had formed no other tie, with her ever the test of
her position, she had not thought it expedient, and certainly would have
found it irksome, to maintain that influence by any ostentatious means.
She knew that Lord Monmouth was capricious, easily wearied, soon palled;
and that on men who have no affections, affection has no hold. Their
passions or their fancies, on the contrary, as it seemed to her, are
rather stimulated by neglect or indifference, provided that they are not
systematic; and the circumstance of a wife being admired by one who is
not her husband sometimes wonderfully revives the passion or renovates
the respect of him who should be devoted to her.

The health of Lord Monmouth was the subject which never was long absent
from the vigilance or meditation of Lucretia. She was well assured that
his life was no longer secure. She knew that after their marriage he had
made a will, which secured to her a large portion of his great wealth in
case of their having no issue, and after the accident at Paris all
hope in that respect was over. Recently the extreme anxiety which Lord
Monmouth had evinced about terminating the abeyance of the barony to
which his first wife was a co-heiress in favour of his grandson, had
alarmed Lucretia. To establish in the land another branch of the house
of Coningsby was evidently the last excitement of Lord Monmouth, and
perhaps a permanent one. If the idea were once accepted, notwithstanding
the limit to its endowment which Lord Monmouth might at the first start
contemplate, Lucretia had sufficiently studied his temperament to be
convinced that all his energies and all his resources would ultimately
be devoted to its practical fulfilment. Her original prejudice against
Coningsby and jealousy of his influence had therefore of late been
considerably aggravated; and the intelligence that for the first time
there was a misunderstanding between Coningsby and her husband filled
her with excitement and hope. She knew her Lord well enough to feel
assured that the cause for displeasure in the present instance could not
be a light one; she resolved instantly to labour that it should not
be transient; and it so happened that she had applied for aid in this
endeavour to the very individual in whose power it rested to accomplish
all her desire, while in doing so he felt at the same time he was
defending his own position and advancing his own interests.

Lady Monmouth was now waiting with some excitement the return of Mr.
Rigby. His interview with his patron was of unusual length. An hour, and
more than an hour, had elapsed. Lady Monmouth again threw aside the book
which more than once she had discarded. She paced the room, restless
rather than disquieted. She had complete confidence in Rigby's ability
for the occasion; and with her knowledge of Lord Monmouth's character,
she could not contemplate the possibility of failure, if the
circumstances were adroitly introduced to his consideration. Still time
stole on: the harassing and exhausting process of suspense was acting
on her nervous system. She began to think that Rigby had not found
the occasion favourable for the catastrophe; that Lord Monmouth, from
apprehension of disturbing Rigby and entailing explanations on himself,
had avoided the necessary communication; that her skilful combination
for the moment had missed. Two hours had now elapsed, and Lucretia, in a
state of considerable irritation, was about to inquire whether Mr. Rigby
were with his Lordship when the door of her boudoir opened, and that
gentleman appeared.

'How long you have been!' exclaimed Lady Monmouth. 'Now sit down and
tell me what has passed.'

Lady Monmouth pointed to the seat which Flora had occupied.

'I thank your Ladyship,' said Mr. Rigby, with a somewhat grave and yet
perplexed expression of countenance, and seating himself at some little
distance from his companion, 'but I am very well here.'

There was a pause. Instead of responding to the invitation of Lady
Monmouth to communicate with his usual readiness and volubility, Mr.
Rigby was silent, and, if it were possible to use such an expression
with regard to such a gentleman, apparently embarrassed.

'Well,' said Lady Monmouth, 'does he know about the Millbanks?'

'Everything,' said Mr. Rigby.

'And what did he say?'

'His Lordship was greatly shocked,' replied Mr. Rigby, with a pious
expression of features. 'Such monstrous ingratitude! As his Lordship
very justly observed, "It is impossible to say what is going on under my
own roof, or to what I can trust."'

'But he made an exception in your favour, I dare say, my dear Mr.
Rigby,' said Lady Monmouth.

'Lord Monmouth was pleased to say that I possessed his entire
confidence,' said Mr. Rigby, 'and that he looked to me in his
difficulties.'

'Very sensible of him. And what is to become of Mr. Coningsby?'

'The steps which his Lordship is about to take with reference to the
establishment generally,' said Mr. Rigby, 'will allow the connection
that at present subsists between that gentleman and his noble relative,
now that Lord Monmouth's eyes are open to his real character, to
terminate naturally, without the necessity of any formal explanation.'

'But what do you mean by the steps he is going to take in his
establishment generally?'

'Lord Monmouth thinks he requires change of scene.'

'Oh! is he going to drag me abroad again?' exclaimed Lady Monmouth, with
great impatience.

'Why, not exactly,' said Mr. Rigby, rather demurely.



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 34 of 39)