Benjamin Disraeli.

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'I hope he is not going again to that dreadful castle in Lancashire.'

'Lord Monmouth was thinking that, as you were tired of Paris, you might
find some of the German Baths agreeable.'

'Why, there is nothing that Lord Monmouth dislikes so much as a German
bathing-place!'

'Exactly,' said Mr. Rigby.

'Then how capricious in him wanting to go to them?'

'He does not want to go to them!'

'What do you mean, Mr. Rigby?' said Lady Monmouth, in a lower voice, and
looking him full in the face with a glance seldom bestowed.

There was a churlish and unusual look about Rigby. It was as if
malignant, and yet at the same time a little frightened, he had screwed
himself into doggedness.

'I mean what Lord Monmouth means. He suggests that if your Ladyship were
to pass the summer at Kissengen, for example, and a paragraph in the
_Morning Post_ were to announce that his Lordship was about to join you
there, all awkwardness would be removed; and no one could for a moment
take the liberty of supposing, even if his Lordship did not ultimately
reach you, that anything like a separation had occurred.'

'A separation!' said Lady Monmouth.

'Quite amicable,' said Mr. Rigby. 'I would never have consented to
interfere in the affair, but to secure that most desirable point.'

'I will see Lord Monmouth at once,' said Lucretia, rising, her natural
pallor aggravated into a ghoul-like tint.

'His Lordship has gone out,' said Mr. Rigby, rather stubbornly.

'Our conversation, sir, then finishes; I wait his return.' She bowed
haughtily.

'His Lordship will never return to Monmouth House again.'

Lucretia sprang from the sofa.

'Miserable craven!' she exclaimed. 'Has the cowardly tyrant fled? And
he really thinks that I am to be crushed by such an instrument as this!
Pah! He may leave Monmouth House, but I shall not. Begone, sir!'

'Still anxious to secure an amicable separation,' said Mr. Rigby, 'your
Ladyship must allow me to place the circumstances of the case fairly
before your excellent judgment. Lord Monmouth has decided upon a course:
you know as well as I that he never swerves from his resolutions. He has
left peremptory instructions, and he will listen to no appeal. He has
empowered me to represent to your Ladyship that he wishes in every way
to consider your convenience. He suggests that everything, in short,
should be arranged as if his Lordship were himself unhappily no more;
that your Ladyship should at once enter into your jointure, which
shall be made payable quarterly to your order, provided you can find
it convenient to live upon the Continent,' added Mr. Rigby, with some
hesitation.

'And suppose I cannot?'

'Why, then, we will leave your Ladyship to the assertion of your
rights.'

'We!'

'I beg your Ladyship's pardon. I speak as the friend of the family, the
trustee of your marriage settlement, well known also as Lord Monmouth's
executor,' said Mr. Rigby, his countenance gradually regaining its
usual callous confidence, and some degree of self-complacency, as he
remembered the good things which he enumerated.

'I have decided,' said Lady Monmouth. 'I will assert my rights. Your
master has mistaken my character and his own position. He shall rue the
day that he assailed me.'

'I should be sorry if there were any violence,' said Mr. Rigby,
'especially as everything is left to my management and control. An
office, indeed, which I only accepted for your mutual advantage.
I think, upon reflection, I might put before your Ladyship some
considerations which might induce you, on the whole, to be of opinion
that it will be better for us to draw together in this business, as we
have hitherto, indeed, throughout an acquaintance now of some years.'
Rigby was assuming all his usual tone of brazen familiarity.

'Your self-confidence exceeds even Lord Monmouth's estimate of it,' said
Lucretia.

'Now, now, you are unkind. Your Ladyship mistakes my position. I am
interfering in this business for your sake. I might have refused the
office. It would have fallen to another, who would have fulfilled
it without any delicacy and consideration for your feelings. View my
interposition in that light, my dear Lady Monmouth, and circumstances
will assume altogether a new colour.'

'I beg that you will quit the house, sir.'

Mr. Rigby shook his head. 'I would with pleasure, to oblige you, were
it in my power; but Lord Monmouth has particularly desired that I should
take up my residence here permanently. The servants are now my servants.
It is useless to ring the bell. For your Ladyship's sake, I wish
everything to be accomplished with tranquillity, and, if possible,
friendliness and good feeling. You can have even a week for the
preparations for your departure, if necessary. I will take that upon
myself. Any carriages, too, that you desire; your jewels, at least all
those that are not at the bankers'. The arrangement about your jointure,
your letters of credit, even your passport, I will attend to myself;
only too happy if, by this painful interference, I have in any way
contributed to soften the annoyance which, at the first blush, you may
naturally experience, but which, like everything else, take my word,
will wear off.'

'I shall send for Lord Eskdale,' said Lady Monmouth. 'He is a
gentleman.'

'I am quite sure,' said Mr. Rigby, 'that Lord Eskdale will give you the
same advice as myself, if he only reads your Ladyship's letters,' he
added slowly, 'to Prince Trautsmansdorff.'

'My letters?' said Lady Monmouth.

'Pardon me,' said Rigby, putting his hand in his pocket, as if to guard
some treasure, 'I have no wish to revive painful associations; but I
have them, and I must act upon them, if you persist in treating me as
a foe, who am in reality your best friend; which indeed I ought to be,
having the honour of acting as trustee under your marriage settlement,
and having known you so many years.'

'Leave me for the present alone,' said Lady Monmouth. 'Send me my
servant, if I have one. I shall not remain here the week which you
mention, but quit at once this house, which I wish I had never entered.
Adieu! Mr. Rigby, you are now lord of Monmouth House, and yet I cannot
help feeling you too will be discharged before he dies.'

Mr. Rigby made Lady Monmouth a bow such as became the master of the
house, and then withdrew.




CHAPTER VII.


A paragraph in the _Morning Post_, a few days after his interview with
his grandfather, announcing that Lord and Lady Monmouth had quitted town
for the baths of Kissengen, startled Coningsby, who called the same day
at Monmouth House in consequence. There he learnt more authentic details
of their unexpected movements. It appeared that Lady Monmouth had
certainly departed; and the porter, with a rather sceptical visage,
informed Coningsby that Lord Monmouth was to follow; but when, he could
not tell. At present his Lordship was at Brighton, and in a few days was
about to take possession of a villa at Richmond, which had for some time
been fitting up for him under the superintendence of Mr. Rigby, who, as
Coningsby also learnt, now permanently resided at Monmouth House. All
this intelligence made Coningsby ponder. He was sufficiently acquainted
with the parties concerned to feel assured that he had not learnt the
whole truth. What had really taken place, and what was the real cause of
the occurrences, were equally mystical to him: all he was convinced of
was, that some great domestic revolution had been suddenly effected.

Coningsby entertained for his grandfather a sincere affection. With the
exception of their last unfortunate interview, he had experienced from
Lord Monmouth nothing but kindness both in phrase and deed. There was
also something in Lord Monmouth, when he pleased it, rather fascinating
to young men; and as Coningsby had never occasioned him any feelings but
pleasurable ones, he was always disposed to make himself delightful to
his grandson. The experience of a consummate man of the world, advanced
in life, detailed without rigidity to youth, with frankness and
facility, is bewitching. Lord Monmouth was never garrulous: he was
always pithy, and could be picturesque. He revealed a character in a
sentence, and detected the ruling passion with the hand of a master.
Besides, he had seen everybody and had done everything; and though, on
the whole, too indolent for conversation, and loving to be talked to,
these were circumstances which made his too rare communications the more
precious.

With these feelings, Coningsby resolved, the moment that he learned that
his grandfather was established at Richmond, to pay him a visit. He
was informed that Lord Monmouth was at home, and he was shown into a
drawing-room, where he found two French ladies in their bonnets, whom he
soon discovered to be actresses. They also had come down to pay a visit
to his grandfather, and were by no means displeased to pass the interval
that must elapse before they had that pleasure in chatting with his
grandson. Coningsby found them extremely amusing; with the finest
spirits in the world, imperturbable good temper, and an unconscious
practical philosophy that defied the devil Care and all his works. And
well it was that he found such agreeable companions, for time flowed on,
and no summons arrived to call him to his grandfather's presence, and
no herald to announce his grandfather's advent. The ladies and Coningsby
had exhausted badinage; they had examined and criticised all the
furniture, had rifled the vases of their prettiest flowers; and
Clotilde, who had already sung several times, was proposing a duet to
Ermengarde, when a servant entered, and told the ladies that a carriage
was in attendance to give them an airing, and after that Lord Monmouth
hoped they would return and dine with him; then turning to Coningsby, he
informed him, with his lord's compliments, that Lord Monmouth was sorry
he was too much engaged to see him.

Nothing was to be done but to put a tolerably good face upon it.
'Embrace Lord Monmouth for me,' said Coningsby to his fair friends, 'and
tell him I think it very unkind that he did not ask me to dinner with
you.'

Coningsby said this with a gay air, but really with a depressed spirit.
He felt convinced that his grandfather was deeply displeased with him;
and as he rode away from the villa, he could not resist the strong
impression that he was destined never to re-enter it. Yet it was decreed
otherwise. It so happened that the idle message which Coningsby had left
for his grandfather, and which he never seriously supposed for a moment
that his late companions would have given their host, operated entirely
in his favour. Whatever were the feelings with respect to Coningsby at
the bottom of Lord Monmouth's heart, he was actuated in his refusal to
see him not more from displeasure than from an anticipatory horror of
something like a scene. Even a surrender from Coningsby without terms,
and an offer to declare himself a candidate for Darlford, or to do
anything else that his grandfather wished, would have been disagreeable
to Lord Monmouth in his present mood. As in politics a revolution is
often followed by a season of torpor, so in the case of Lord Monmouth
the separation from his wife, which had for a long period occupied his
meditation, was succeeded by a vein of mental dissipation. He did not
wish to be reminded by anything or any person that he had still in
some degree the misfortune of being a responsible member of society.
He wanted to be surrounded by individuals who were above or below the
conventional interests of what is called 'the World.' He wanted to hear
nothing of those painful and embarrassing influences which from our
contracted experience and want of enlightenment we magnify into such
undue importance. For this purpose he wished to have about him persons
whose knowledge of the cares of life concerned only the means of
existence, and whose sense of its objects referred only to the sources
of enjoyment; persons who had not been educated in the idolatry of
Respectability; that is to say, of realising such an amount of what is
termed character by a hypocritical deference to the prejudices of the
community as may enable them, at suitable times, and under convenient
circumstances and disguises, to plunder the public. This was the
Monmouth Philosophy.

With these feelings, Lord Monmouth recoiled at this moment from
grandsons and relations and ties of all kinds. He did not wish to be
reminded of his identity, but to swim unmolested and undisturbed in
his Epicurean dream. When, therefore, his fair visitors; Clotilde, who
opened her mouth only to breathe roses and diamonds, and Ermengarde, who
was so good-natured that she sacrificed even her lovers to her friends;
saw him merely to exclaim at the same moment, and with the same voices
of thrilling joyousness, -

'Why did not you ask him to dinner?'

And then, without waiting for his reply, entered with that rapidity of
elocution which Frenchwomen can alone command into the catalogue of his
charms and accomplishments, Lord Monmouth began to regret that he really
had not seen Coningsby, who, it appeared, might have greatly contributed
to the pleasure of the day. The message, which was duly given,
however, settled the business. Lord Monmouth felt that any chance of
explanations, or even allusions to the past, was out of the question;
and to defend himself from the accusations of his animated guests, he
said,

'Well, he shall come to dine with you next time.'

There is no end to the influence of woman on our life. It is at the
bottom of everything that happens to us. And so it was, that, in spite
of all the combinations of Lucretia and Mr. Rigby, and the mortification
and resentment of Lord Monmouth, the favourable impression he casually
made on a couple of French actresses occasioned Coningsby, before a
month had elapsed since his memorable interview at Monmouth House, to
receive an invitation again to dine with his grandfather.

The party was agreeable. Clotilde and Ermengarde had wits as sparkling
as their eyes. There was a manager of the Opera, a great friend of
Villebecque, and his wife, a splendid lady, who had been a prima donna
of celebrity, and still had a commanding voice for a chamber; a Carlist
nobleman who lived upon his traditions, and who, though without a sou,
could tell of a festival given by his family, before the revolution,
which had cost a million of francs; and a Neapolitan physician, in whom
Lord Monmouth had great confidence, and who himself believed in the
elixir vitae, made up the party, with Lucian Gay, Coningsby, and Mr.
Rigby. Our hero remarked that Villebecque on this occasion sat at the
bottom of the table, but Flora did not appear.

In the meantime, the month which brought about this satisfactory and
at one time unexpected result was fruitful also in other circumstances
still more interesting. Coningsby and Edith met frequently, if to
breathe the same atmosphere in the same crowded saloons can be described
as meeting; ever watching each other's movements, and yet studious never
to encounter each other's glance. The charms of Miss Millbank had
become an universal topic, they were celebrated in ball-rooms, they were
discussed at clubs: Edith was the beauty of the season. All admired her,
many sighed even to express their admiration; but the devotion of Lord
Beaumanoir, who always hovered about her, deterred them from a rivalry
which might have made the boldest despair. As for Coningsby, he passed
his life principally with the various members of the Sydney family, and
was almost daily riding with Lady Everingham and her sister, generally
accompanied by Lord Henry and his friend Eustace Lyle, between whom,
indeed, and Coningsby there were relations of intimacy scarcely less
inseparable. Coningsby had spoken to Lady Everingham of the rumoured
marriage of her elder brother, and found, although the family had not
yet been formally apprised of it, she entertained little doubt of
its ultimate occurrence. She admired Miss Millbank, with whom her
acquaintance continued slight; and she wished, of course, that her
brother should marry and be happy. 'But Percy is often in love,' she
would add, 'and never likes us to be very intimate with his inamoratas.
He thinks it destroys the romance; and that domestic familiarity may
compromise his heroic character. However,' she added, 'I really believe
that will be a match.'

On the whole, though he bore a serene aspect to the world, Coningsby
passed this month in a state of restless misery. His soul was brooding
on one subject, and he had no confidant: he could not resist the spell
that impelled him to the society where Edith might at least be seen, and
the circle in which he lived was one in which her name was frequently
mentioned. Alone, in his solitary rooms in the Albany, he felt all his
desolation; and often a few minutes before he figured in the world,
apparently followed and courted by all, he had been plunged in the
darkest fits of irremediable wretchedness.

He had, of course, frequently met Lady Wallinger, but their salutations,
though never omitted, and on each side cordial, were brief. There seemed
to be a tacit understanding between them not to refer to a subject
fruitful in painful reminiscences.

The season waned. In the fulfilment of a project originally formed
in the playing-fields of Eton, often recurred to at Cambridge, and
cherished with the fondness with which men cling to a scheme of early
youth, Coningsby, Henry Sydney, Vere, and Buckhurst had engaged some
moors together this year; and in a few days they were about to quit town
for Scotland. They had pressed Eustace Lyle to accompany them, but he,
who in general seemed to have no pleasure greater than their society,
had surprised them by declining their invitation, with some vague
mention that he rather thought he should go abroad.

It was the last day of July, and all the world were at a breakfast
given, at a fanciful cottage situate in beautiful gardens on the banks
of the Thames, by Lady Everingham. The weather was as bright as the
romances of Boccaccio; there were pyramids of strawberries, in bowls
colossal enough to hold orange-trees; and the choicest band filled the
air with enchanting strains, while a brilliant multitude sauntered on
turf like velvet, or roamed in desultory existence amid the quivering
shades of winding walks.

'My fête was prophetic,' said Lady Everingham, when she saw Coningsby.
'I am glad it is connected with an incident. It gives it a point.'

'You are mystical as well as prophetic. Tell me what we are to
celebrate.'

'Theresa is going to be married.'

'Then I, too, will prophesy, and name the hero of the romance, Eustace
Lyle.'

'You have been more prescient than I,' said Lady Everingham, 'perhaps
because I was thinking too much of some one else.'

'It seems to me an union which all must acknowledge perfect. I hardly
know which I love best. I have had my suspicions a long time; and when
Eustace refused to go to the moors with us, though I said nothing, I was
convinced.'

'At any rate,' said Lady Everingham, sighing, with a rather smiling
face, 'we are kinsfolk, Mr. Coningsby; though I would gladly have wished
to have been more.'

'Were those your thoughts, dear lady? Ever kind to me! Happiness,' he
added, in a mournful tone, 'I fear can never be mine.'

'And why?'

'Ah! 'tis a tale too strange and sorrowful for a day when, like Seged,
we must all determine to be happy.'

'You have already made me miserable.'

'Here comes a group that will make you gay,' said Coningsby as he
moved on. Edith and the Wallingers, accompanied by Lord Beaumanoir, Mr.
Melton, and Sir Charles Buckhurst, formed the party. They seemed profuse
in their congratulations to Lady Everingham, having already learnt the
intelligence from her brother.

Coningsby stopped to speak to Lady St. Julians, who had still a daughter
to marry. Both Augustina, who was at Coningsby Castle, and Clara
Isabella, who ought to have been there, had each secured the right man.
But Adelaide Victoria had now appeared, and Lady St. Julians had a great
regard for the favourite grandson of Lord Monmouth, and also for the
influential friend of Lord Vere and Sir Charles Buckhurst. In case
Coningsby did not determine to become her son-in-law himself, he might
counsel either of his friends to a judicious decision on an inevitable
act.

'Strawberries and cream?' said Lord Eskdale to Mr. Ormsby, who seemed
occupied with some delicacies.

'Egad! no, no, no; those days are passed. I think there is a little
easterly wind with all this fine appearance.'

'I am for in-door nature myself,' said Lord Eskdale. 'Do you know, I do
not half like the way Monmouth is going on? He never gets out of that
villa of his. He should change his air more. Tell him.'

'It is no use telling him anything. Have you heard anything of Miladi?'

'I had a letter from her to-day: she writes in good spirits. I am sorry
it broke up, and yet I never thought it would last so long.'

'I gave them two years,' said Mr. Ormsby. 'Lord Monmouth lived with his
first wife two years. And afterwards with the Mirandola at Milan, at
least nearly two years; it was a year and ten months. I must know,
for he called me in to settle affairs. I took the lady to the baths at
Lucca, on the pretence that Monmouth would meet us there. He went to
Paris. All his great affairs have been two years. I remember I wanted
to bet Cassilis, at White's, on it when he married; but I thought, being
his intimate friend; the oldest friend he has, indeed, and one of his
trustees; it was perhaps as well not to do it.'

'You should have made the bet with himself,' said Lord Eskdale, 'and
then there never would have been a separation.'

'Hah, hah, hah! Do you know, I feel the wind?'

About an hour after this, Coningsby, who had just quitted the Duchess,
met, on a terrace by the river, Lady Wallinger, walking with Mrs. Guy
Flouncey and a Russian Prince, whom that lady was enchanting. Coningsby
was about to pass with some slight courtesy, but Lady Wallinger stopped
and would speak to him, on slight subjects, the weather and the fête,
but yet adroitly enough managed to make him turn and join her. Mrs.
Guy Flouncey walked on a little before with her Russian admirer. Lady
Wallinger followed with Coningsby.

'The match that has been proclaimed to-day has greatly surprised me,'
said Lady Wallinger.

'Indeed!' said Coningsby: 'I confess I was long prepared for it. And it
seems to me the most natural alliance conceivable, and one that every
one must approve.'

'Lady Everingham seems much surprised at it.'

'Ah! Lady Everingham is a brilliant personage, and cannot deign to
observe obvious circumstances.'

'Do you know, Mr. Coningsby, that I always thought you were engaged to
Lady Theresa?'

'I!'

'Indeed, we were informed more than a month ago that you were positively
going to be married to her.'

'I am not one of those who can shift their affections with such
rapidity, Lady Wallinger.'

Lady Wallinger looked distressed. 'You remember our meeting you on the
stairs at - - House, Mr. Coningsby?'

'Painfully. It is deeply graven on my brain.'

'Edith had just been informed that you were going to be married to Lady
Theresa.'

'Not surely by him to whom she is herself going to be married?' said
Coningsby, reddening.

'I am not aware that she is going to be married to any one. Lord
Beaumanoir admires her, has always admired her. But Edith has given
him no encouragement, at least gave him no encouragement as long as she
believed; but why dwell on such an unhappy subject, Mr. Coningsby? I
am to blame; I have been to blame perhaps before, but indeed I think it
cruel, very cruel, that Edith and you are kept asunder.'

'You have always been my best, my dearest friend, and are the most
amiable and admirable of women. But tell me, is it indeed true that
Edith is not going to be married?'

At this moment Mrs. Guy Flouncey turned round, and assuring Lady
Wallinger that the Prince and herself had agreed to refer some point
to her about the most transcendental ethics of flirtation, this deeply
interesting conversation was arrested, and Lady Wallinger, with
becoming suavity, was obliged to listen to the lady's lively appeal of
exaggerated nonsense and the Prince's affected protests, while Coningsby
walked by her side, pale and agitated, and then offered his arm to Lady
Wallinger, which she accepted with an affectionate pressure. At the end
of the terrace they met some other guests, and soon were immersed in the



Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 35 of 39)