Benjamin Disraeli.

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multitude that thronged the lawn.

'There is Sir Joseph,' said Lady Wallinger, and Coningsby looked up,
and saw Edith on his arm. They were unconsciously approaching them. Lord
Beaumanoir was there, but he seemed to shrink into nothing to-day before
Buckhurst, who was captivated for the moment by Edith, and hearing
that no knight was resolute enough to try a fall with the Marquess, was
impelled by his talent for action to enter the lists. He had talked down
everybody, unhorsed every cavalier. Nobody had a chance against him:
he answered all your questions before you asked them; contradicted
everybody with the intrepidity of a Rigby; annihilated your anecdotes by
historiettes infinitely more piquant; and if anybody chanced to make a
joke which he could not excel, declared immediately that it was a Joe
Miller. He was absurd, extravagant, grotesque, noisy; but he was young,
rattling, and interesting, from his health and spirits. Edith was
extremely amused by him, and was encouraging by her smile his spiritual
excesses, when they all suddenly met Lady Wallinger and Coningsby.

The eyes of Edith and Coningsby met for the first time since they so
cruelly encountered on the staircase of - - House. A deep, quick blush
suffused her face, her eyes gleamed with a sudden coruscation; suddenly
and quickly she put forth her hand.

Yes! he presses once more that hand which permanently to retain is the
passion of his life, yet which may never be his! It seemed that for the
ravishing delight of that moment he could have borne with cheerfulness
all the dark and harrowing misery of the year that had passed away since
he embraced her in the woods of Hellingsley, and pledged his faith by
the waters of the rushing Darl.

He seized the occasion which offered itself, a moment to walk by her
side, and to snatch some brief instants of unreserved communion.

'Forgive me!' she said.

'Ah! how could you ever doubt me?' said Coningsby.

'I was unhappy.'

'And now we are to each other as before?'

'And will be, come what come may.'




It was merry Christmas at St. Geneviève. There was a yule log blazing
on every hearth in that wide domain, from the hall of the squire to the
peasant's roof. The Buttery Hatch was open for the whole week from noon
to sunset; all comers might take their fill, and each carry away as much
bold beef, white bread, and jolly ale as a strong man could bear in
a basket with one hand. For every woman a red cloak, and a coat of
broadcloth for every man. All day long, carts laden with fuel and warm
raiment were traversing the various districts, distributing comfort and
dispensing cheer. For a Christian gentleman of high degree was Eustace

Within his hall, too, he holds his revel, and his beauteous bride
welcomes their guests, from her noble parents to the faithful tenants of
the house. All classes are mingled in the joyous equality that becomes
the season, at once sacred and merry. There are carols for the eventful
eve, and mummers for the festive day.

The Duke and Duchess, and every member of the family, had consented this
year to keep their Christmas with the newly-married couple. Coningsby,
too, was there, and all his friends. The party was numerous, gay,
hearty, and happy; for they were all united by sympathy.

They were planning that Henry Sydney should be appointed Lord of
Misrule, or ordained Abbot of Unreason at the least, so successful had
been his revival of the Mummers, the Hobby-horse not forgotten.
Their host had entrusted to Lord Henry the restoration of many old
observances; and the joyous feeling which this celebration of Christmas
had diffused throughout an extensive district was a fresh argument in
favour of Lord Henry's principle, that a mere mechanical mitigation of
the material necessities of the humbler classes, a mitigation which must
inevitably be limited, can never alone avail sufficiently to ameliorate
their condition; that their condition is not merely 'a knife and fork
question,' to use the coarse and shallow phrase of the Utilitarian
school; that a simple satisfaction of the grosser necessities of our
nature will not make a happy people; that you must cultivate the heart
as well as seek to content the belly; and that the surest means to
elevate the character of the people is to appeal to their affections.

There is nothing more interesting than to trace predisposition. An
indefinite, yet strong sympathy with the peasantry of the realm had been
one of the characteristic sensibilities of Lord Henry at Eton. Yet a
schoolboy, he had busied himself with their pastimes and the details of
their cottage economy. As he advanced in life the horizon of his views
expanded with his intelligence and his experience; and the son of one of
the noblest of our houses, to whom the delights of life are offered with
fatal facility, on the very threshold of his career he devoted his
time and thought, labour and life, to one vast and noble purpose, the
elevation of the condition of the great body of the people.

'I vote for Buckhurst being Lord of Misrule,' said Lord Henry: 'I will
be content with being his gentleman usher.'

'It shall be put to the vote,' said Lord Vere.

'No one has a chance against Buckhurst,' said Coningsby.

'Now, Sir Charles,' said Lady Everingham, 'your absolute sway is about
to commence. And what is your will?'

'The first thing must be my formal installation,' said Buckhurst. 'I
vote the Boar's head be carried in procession thrice round the hall, and
Beau shall be the champion to challenge all who may question my right.
Duke, you shall be my chief butler, the Duchess my herb-woman. She is to
walk before me, and scatter rosemary. Coningsby shall carry the Boar's
head; Lady Theresa and Lady Everingham shall sing the canticle; Lord
Everingham shall be marshal of the lists, and put all in the stocks who
are found sober and decorous; Lyle shall be the palmer from the Holy
Land, and Vere shall ride the Hobby-horse. Some must carry cups of
Hippocras, some lighted tapers; all must join in chorus.'

He ceased his instructions, and all hurried away to carry them into
effect. Some hastily arrayed themselves in fanciful dresses, the ladies
in robes of white, with garlands of flowers; some drew pieces of armour
from the wall, and decked themselves with helm and hauberk; others waved
ancient banners. They brought in the Boar's head on a large silver dish,
and Coningsby raised it aloft. They formed into procession, the Duchess
distributing rosemary; Buckhurst swaggering with all the majesty of
Tamerlane, his mock court irresistibly humorous with their servility;
and the sweet voice of Lady Everingham chanting the first verse of the
canticle, followed in the second by the rich tones of Lady Theresa:

Caput Apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.
The Boar's heade in hande bring I,
With garlandes gay and rosemary:
I pray you all singe merrily,
Qui estis in convivio.

Caput Apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.
The Boar's heade I understande
Is the chief servyce in this lande
Loke whereever it be fande,
Servite cum cantico.

The procession thrice paraded the hall. Then they stopped; and the Lord
of Misrule ascended his throne, and his courtiers formed round him
in circle. Behind him they held the ancient banners and waved their
glittering arms, and placed on a lofty and illuminated pedestal the
Boar's head covered with garlands. It was a good picture, and the Lord
of Misrule sustained his part with untiring energy. He was addressing
his court in a pompous rhapsody of merry nonsense, when a servant
approached Coningsby, and told him that he was wanted without.

Our hero retired unperceived. A despatch had arrived for him from
London. Without any prescience of its purpose, he nevertheless broke
the seal with a trembling hand. His presence was immediately desired in
town: Lord Monmouth was dead.


This was a crisis in the life of Coningsby; yet, like many critical
epochs, the person most interested in it was not sufficiently aware
of its character. The first feeling which he experienced at the
intelligence was sincere affliction. He was fond of his grandfather; had
received great kindness from him, and at a period of life when it was
most welcome. The neglect and hardships of his early years, instead of
leaving a prejudice against one who, by some, might be esteemed their
author, had by their contrast only rendered Coningsby more keenly
sensible of the solicitude and enjoyment which had been lavished on his
happy youth.

The next impression on his mind was undoubtedly a natural and reasonable
speculation on the effect of this bereavement on his fortunes. Lord
Monmouth had more than once assured Coningsby that he had provided for
him as became a near relative to whom he was attached, and in a manner
which ought to satisfy the wants and wishes of an English gentleman. The
allowance which Lord Monmouth had made him, as considerable as usually
accorded to the eldest sons of wealthy peers, might justify him in
estimating his future patrimony as extremely ample. He was aware,
indeed, that at a subsequent period his grandfather had projected for
him fortunes of a still more elevated character. He looked to Coningsby
as the future representative of an ancient barony, and had been
purchasing territory with the view of supporting the title. But
Coningsby did not by any means firmly reckon on these views being
realised. He had a suspicion that in thwarting the wishes of his
grandfather in not becoming a candidate for Darlford, he had at the
moment arrested arrangements which, from the tone of Lord Monmouth's
communication, he believed were then in progress for that purpose;
and he thought it improbable, with his knowledge of his grandfather's
habits, that Lord Monmouth had found either time or inclination to
resume before his decease the completion of these plans. Indeed there
was a period when, in adopting the course which he pursued with respect
to Darlford, Coningsby was well aware that he perilled more than the
large fortune which was to accompany the barony. Had not a separation
between Lord Monmouth and his wife taken place simultaneously with
Coningsby's difference with his grandfather, he was conscious that the
consequences might have been even altogether fatal to his prospects; but
the absence of her evil influence at such a conjuncture, its permanent
removal, indeed, from the scene, coupled with his fortunate though not
formal reconciliation with Lord Monmouth, had long ago banished from his
memory all those apprehensions to which he had felt it impossible at the
time to shut his eyes. Before he left town for Scotland he had made a
farewell visit to his grandfather, who, though not as cordial as in
old days, had been gracious; and Coningsby, during his excursion to the
moors, and his various visits to the country, had continued at intervals
to write to his grandfather, as had been for some years his custom. On
the whole, with an indefinite feeling which, in spite of many a rational
effort, did nevertheless haunt his mind, that this great and sudden
event might exercise a vast and beneficial influence on his worldly
position, Coningsby could not but feel some consolation in the
affliction which he sincerely experienced, in the hope that he might at
all events now offer to Edith a home worthy of her charms, her virtues,
and her love.

Although he had not seen her since their hurried yet sweet
reconciliation in the gardens of Lady Everingham, Coningsby was never
long without indirect intelligence of the incidents of her life; and the
correspondence between Lady Everingham and Henry Sydney, while they
were at the moors, had apprised him that Lord Beaumanoir's suit had
terminated unsuccessfully almost immediately after his brother had
quitted London.

It was late in the evening when Coningsby arrived in town: he called at
once on Lord Eskdale, who was one of Lord Monmouth's executors; and he
persuaded Coningsby, whom he saw depressed, to dine with him alone.

'You should not be seen at a club,' said the good-natured peer; 'and I
remember myself in old days what was the wealth of an Albanian larder.'

Lord Eskdale, at dinner, talked frankly of the disposition of Lord
Monmouth's property. He spoke as a matter of course that Coningsby was
his grandfather's principal heir.

'I don't know whether you will be happier with a large fortune?' said
Lord Eskdale. 'It is a troublesome thing: nobody is satisfied with
what you do with it; very often not yourself. To maintain an equable
expenditure; not to spend too much on one thing, too little on another,
is an art. There must be a harmony, a keeping, in disbursement, which
very few men have. Great wealth wearies. The thing to have is about ten
thousand a year, and the world to think you have only five. There is
some enjoyment then; one is let alone. But the instant you have a large
fortune, duties commence. And then impudent fellows borrow your money;
and if you ask them for it again, they go about town saying you are a

Lord Monmouth had died suddenly at his Richmond villa, which latterly
he never quitted, at a little supper, with no persons near him but those
who were amusing. He suddenly found he could not lift his glass to his
lips, and being extremely polite, waited a few minutes before he asked
Clotilde, who was singing a sparkling drinking-song, to do him that
service. When, in accordance with his request, she reached him, it was
too late. The ladies shrieked, being frightened: at first they were
in despair, but, after reflection, they evinced some intention of
plundering the house. Villebecque, who was absent at the moment, arrived
in time; and everybody became orderly and broken-hearted.

The body had been removed to Monmouth House, where it had been embalmed
and laid in state. The funeral was not numerously attended. There was
nobody in town; some distinguished connections, however, came up from
the country, though it was a period inconvenient for such movements.
After the funeral, the will was to be read in the principal saloon of
Monmouth House, one of those gorgeous apartments that had excited the
boyish wonder of Coningsby on his first visit to that paternal roof, and
now hung in black, adorned with the escutcheon of the deceased peer.

The testamentary dispositions of the late lord were still unknown,
though the names of his executors had been announced by his family
solicitor, in whose custody the will and codicils had always remained.
The executors under the will were Lord Eskdale, Mr. Ormsby, and Mr.
Rigby. By a subsequent appointment Sidonia had been added. All these
individuals were now present. Coningsby, who had been chief mourner,
stood on the right hand of the solicitor, who sat at the end of a long
table, round which, in groups, were ranged all who had attended the
funeral, including several of the superior members of the household,
among them M. Villebecque.

The solicitor rose and explained that though Lord Monmouth had been in
the habit of very frequently adding codicils to his will, the original
will, however changed or modified, had never been revoked; it was
therefore necessary to commence by reading that instrument. So saying,
he sat down, and breaking the seals of a large packet, he produced the
will of Philip Augustus, Marquess of Monmouth, which had been retained
in his custody since its execution.

By this will, of the date of 1829, the sum of 10,000_l._ was left to
Coningsby, then unknown to his grandfather; the same sum to Mr. Rigby.
There was a great number of legacies, none of superior amount, most of
them of less: these were chiefly left to old male companions, and women
in various countries. There was an almost inconceivable number of small
annuities to faithful servants, decayed actors, and obscure foreigners.
The residue of his personal estate was left to four gentlemen, three of
whom had quitted this world before the legator; the bequests, therefore,
had lapsed. The fourth residuary legatee, in whom, according to the
terms of the will, all would have consequently centred, was Mr. Rigby.

There followed several codicils which did not materially affect the
previous disposition; one of them leaving a legacy of 20,000_l._ to
the Princess Colonna; until they arrived at the latter part of the year
1832, when a codicil increased the 10,000_l._ left under the will to
Coningsby to 50,000_l._.

After Coningsby's visit to the Castle in 1836 a very important change
occurred in the disposition of Lord Monmouth's estate. The legacy of
50,000_l._ in his favour was revoked, and the same sum left to the
Princess Lucretia. A similar amount was bequeathed to Mr. Rigby; and
Coningsby was left sole residuary legatee.

The marriage led to a considerable modification. An estate of about
nine thousand a year, which Lord Monmouth had himself purchased, and was
therefore in his own disposition, was left to Coningsby. The legacy to
Mr. Rigby was reduced to 20,000_l._, and the whole of his residue left
to his issue by Lady Monmouth. In case he died without issue, the estate
bequeathed to Coningsby to be taken into account, and the residue then
to be divided equally between Lady Monmouth and his grandson. It was
under this instrument that Sidonia had been appointed an executor and
to whom Lord Monmouth left, among others, the celebrated picture of
the Holy Family by Murillo, as his friend had often admired it. To Lord
Eskdale he left all his female miniatures, and to Mr. Ormsby his rare
and splendid collection of French novels, and all his wines, except his
Tokay, which he left, with his library, to Sir Robert Peel; though this
legacy was afterwards revoked, in consequence of Sir Robert's conduct
about the Irish corporations.

The solicitor paused and begged permission to send for a glass of water.
While this was arranging there was a murmur at the lower part of the
room, but little disposition to conversation among those in the vicinity
of the lawyer. Coningsby was silent, his brow a little knit. Mr. Rigby
was pale and restless, but said nothing. Mr. Ormsby took a pinch of
snuff, and offered his box to Lord Eskdale, who was next to him. They
exchanged glances, and made some observation about the weather. Sidonia
stood apart, with his arms folded. He had not, of course attended the
funeral, nor had he as yet exchanged any recognition with Coningsby.

'Now, gentlemen,' said the solicitor, 'if you please, I will proceed.'

They came to the year 1839, the year Coningsby was at Hellingsley. This
appeared to be a critical period in the fortunes of Lady Monmouth; while
Coningsby's reached to the culminating point. Mr. Rigby was reduced to
his original legacy under the will of 10,000_l._; a sum of equal amount
was bequeathed to Armand Villebecque, in acknowledgment of faithful
services; all the dispositions in favour of Lady Monmouth were revoked,
and she was limited to her moderate jointure of 3,000_l._ per annum,
under the marriage settlement; while everything, without reserve, was
left absolutely to Coningsby.

A subsequent codicil determined that the 10,000_l._ left to Mr. Rigby
should be equally divided between him and Lucian Gay; but as some
compensation Lord Monmouth left to the Right Honourable Nicholas Rigby
the bust of that gentleman, which he had himself presented to his
Lordship, and which, at his desire, had been placed in the vestibule
at Coningsby Castle, from the amiable motive that after Lord Monmouth's
decease Mr. Rigby might wish, perhaps, to present it to some other

Lord Eskdale and Mr. Ormsby took care not to catch the eye of Mr. Rigby.
As for Coningsby, he saw nobody. He maintained, during the extraordinary
situation in which he was placed, a firm demeanour; but serene and
regulated as he appeared to the spectators, his nerves were really
strung to a high pitch.

There was yet another codicil. It bore the date of June 1840, and was
made at Brighton, immediately after the separation with Lady Monmouth.
It was the sight of this instrument that sustained Rigby at this great
emergency. He had a wild conviction that, after all, it must set all
right. He felt assured that, as Lady Monmouth had already been disposed
of, it must principally refer to the disinheritance of Coningsby,
secured by Rigby's well-timed and malignant misrepresentations of what
had occurred in Lancashire during the preceding summer. And then to whom
could Lord Monmouth leave his money? However he might cut and carve up
his fortunes, Rigby, and especially at a moment when he had so served
him, must come in for a considerable slice.

His prescient mind was right. All the dispositions in favour of 'my
grandson Harry Coningsby' were revoked; and he inherited from his
grandfather only the interest of the sum of 10,000_l._ which had been
originally bequeathed to him in his orphan boyhood. The executors had
the power of investing the principal in any way they thought proper
for his advancement in life, provided always it was not placed in 'the
capital stock of any manufactory.'

Coningsby turned pale; he lost his abstracted look; he caught the eye
of Rigby; he read the latent malice of that nevertheless anxious
countenance. What passed through the mind and being of Coningsby was
thought and sensation enough for a year; but it was as the flash that
reveals a whole country, yet ceases to be ere one can say it lightens.
There was a revelation to him of an inward power that should baffle
these conventional calamities, a natural and sacred confidence in his
youth and health, and knowledge and convictions. Even the recollection
of Edith was not unaccompanied with some sustaining associations. At
least the mightiest foe to their union was departed.

All this was the impression of an instant, simultaneous with the reading
of the words of form with which the last testamentary disposition of the
Marquess of Monmouth left the sum of 30,000_l._ to Armand Villebecque;
and all the rest, residue, and remainder of his unentailed property,
wheresoever and whatsoever it might be, amounting in value to nearly a
million sterling, was given, devised, and bequeathed to Flora, commonly
called Flora Villebecque, the step-child of the said Armand Villebecque,
'but who is my natural daughter by Marie Estelle Matteau, an actress at
the Théâtre Français in the years 1811-15, by the name of Stella.'


'This is a crash!' said Coningsby, with a grave rather than agitated
countenance, to Sidonia, as his friend came up to greet him, without,
however, any expression of condolence.

'This time next year you will not think so,' said Sidonia.

Coningsby shrugged his shoulders.

'The principal annoyance of this sort of miscarriage,' said Sidonia,
'is the condolence of the gentle world. I think we may now depart. I am
going home to dine. Come, and discuss your position. For the present we
will not speak of it.' So saying, Sidonia good-naturedly got Coningsby
out of the room.

They walked together to Sidonia's house in Carlton Gardens, neither of
them making the slightest allusion to the catastrophe; Sidonia inquiring
where he had been, what he had been doing, since they last met, and
himself conversing in his usual vein, though with a little more feeling
in his manner than was his custom. When they had arrived there, Sidonia
ordered their dinner instantly, and during the interval between the
command and its appearance, he called Coningsby's attention to an old
German painting he had just received, its brilliant colouring and quaint

'Eat, and an appetite will come,' said Sidonia, when he observed
Coningsby somewhat reluctant. 'Take some of that Chablis: it will put
you right; you will find it delicious.'

In this way some twenty minutes passed; their meal was over, and they
were alone together.

'I have been thinking all this time of your position,' said Sidonia.

'A sorry one, I fear,' said Coningsby.

'I really cannot see that,' said his friend. 'You have experienced this
morning a disappointment, but not a calamity. If you had lost your eye
it would have been a calamity: no combination of circumstances could
have given you another. There are really no miseries except natural
miseries; conventional misfortunes are mere illusions. What seems
conventionally, in a limited view, a great misfortune, if subsequently
viewed in its results, is often the happiest incident in one's life.'

'I hope the day may come when I may feel this.'

Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 36 of 39)