Benjamin Disraeli.

Coningsby online

. (page 5 of 39)
Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 5 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

'But he must be back by this time. I want him to make the list for the
match to-morrow. Where the deuce can Buckhurst be?'

And now, as rumours rise in society we know not how, so there was
suddenly a flying report in this multitude, the origin of which no one
in his alarm stopped to ascertain, that a boy was drowned.

Every heart was agitated.

What boy? When, where, how? Who was absent? Who had been on the river
to-day? Buckhurst. The report ran that Buckhurst was drowned. Great were
the trouble and consternation. Buckhurst was ever much liked; and now no
one remembered anything but his good qualities.

'Who heard it was Buckhurst?' said Sedgwick, captain of the school,
coming forward.

'I heard Bradford tell Palmer it was Buckhurst,' said a little boy.

'Where is Bradford?'


'What do you know about Buckhurst?'

'Wentworth told me that he was afraid Buckhurst was drowned. He heard it
at the Brocas; a bargeman told him about a quarter of an hour ago.'

'Here is Wentworth! Here is Wentworth!' a hundred voices exclaimed, and
they formed a circle round him.

'Well, what did you hear, Wentworth?' asked Sedgwick.

'I was at the Brocas, and a bargee told me that an Eton fellow had been
drowned above Surley, and the only Eton boat above Surley to-day, as I
can learn, is Buckhurst's four-oar. That is all.'

There was a murmur of hope.

'Oh! come, come,' said Sedgwick, 'there is come chance. Who is with
Buckhurst; who knows?'

'I saw him walk down to the Brocas with Vere,' said a boy.

'I hope it is not Vere,' said a little boy, with a tearful eye; 'he
never lets any fellow bully me.'

'Here is Maltravers,' halloed out a boy; 'he knows something.'

'Well, what do you know, Maltravers?'

'I heard Boots at the Christopher say that an Eton fellow was drowned,
and that he had seen a person who was there.'

'Bring Boots here,' said Sedgwick.

Instantly a band of boys rushed over the way, and in a moment the
witness was produced.

'What have you heard, Sam, about this accident?' said Sedgwick.

'Well, sir, I heard a young gentleman was drowned above Monkey Island,'
said Boots.

'And no name mentioned?'

'Well, sir, I believe it was Mr. Coningsby.'

A general groan of horror.

'Coningsby, Coningsby! By Heavens I hope not,' said Sedgwick.

'I very much fear so,' said Boots; 'as how the bargeman who told me saw
Mr. Coningsby in the Lock House laid out in flannels.'

'I had sooner any fellow had been drowned than Coningsby,' whispered one
boy to another.

'I liked him, the best fellow at Eton,' responded his companion, in a
smothered tone.

'What a clever fellow he was!'

'And so deuced generous!'

'He would have got the medal if he had lived.'

'And how came he to be drowned? for he was such a fine swimmer!'

'I heerd Mr. Coningsby was saving another's life,' continued Boots in
his evidence, 'which makes it in a manner more sorrowful.'

'Poor Coningsby!' exclaimed a boy, bursting into tears: 'I move the
whole school goes into mourning.'

'I wish we could get hold of this bargeman,' said Sedgwick. 'Now stop,
stop, don't all run away in that mad manner; you frighten the people.
Charles Herbert and Palmer, you two go down to the Brocas and inquire.'

But just at this moment, an increased stir and excitement were evident
in the Long Walk; the circle round Sedgwick opened, and there appeared
Henry Sydney and Buckhurst.

There was a dead silence. It was impossible that suspense could be
strained to a higher pitch. The air and countenance of Sydney and
Buckhurst were rather excited than mournful or alarmed. They needed no
inquiries, for before they had penetrated the circle they had become
aware of its cause.

Buckhurst, the most energetic of beings, was of course the first to
speak. Henry Sydney indeed looked pale and nervous; but his companion,
flushed and resolute, knew exactly how to hit a popular assembly, and at
once came to the point.

'It is all a false report, an infernal lie; Coningsby is quite safe, and
nobody is drowned.'

There was a cheer that might have been heard at Windsor Castle. Then,
turning to Sedgwick, in an undertone Buckhurst added,

'It _is_ all right, but, by Jove! we have had a shaver. I will tell you
all in a moment, but we want to keep the thing quiet, and so let the
fellows disperse, and we will talk afterwards.'

In a few moments the Long Walk had resumed its usual character; but
Sedgwick, Herbert, and one or two others turned into the playing fields,
where, undisturbed and unnoticed by the multitude, they listened to the
promised communication of Buckhurst and Henry Sydney.

'You know we went up the river together,' said Buckhurst. 'Myself, Henry
Sydney, Coningsby, Vere, and Millbank. We had breakfasted together, and
after twelve agreed to go up to Maidenhead. Well, we went up much higher
than we had intended. About a quarter of a mile before we had got to the
Lock we pulled up; Coningsby was then steering. Well, we fastened the
boat to, and were all of us stretched out on the meadow, when Millbank
and Vere said they should go and bathe in the Lock Pool. The rest of us
were opposed; but after Millbank and Vere had gone about ten minutes,
Coningsby, who was very fresh, said he had changed his mind and should
go and bathe too. So he left us. He had scarcely got to the pool when he
heard a cry. There was a fellow drowning. He threw off his clothes and
was in in a moment. The fact is this, Millbank had plunged in the pool
and found himself in some eddies, caused by the meeting of two currents.
He called out to Vere not to come, and tried to swim off. But he was
beat, and seeing he was in danger, Vere jumped in. But the stream was
so strong, from the great fall of water from the lasher above, that Vere
was exhausted before he could reach Millbank, and nearly sank himself.
Well, he just saved himself; but Millbank sank as Coningsby jumped in.
What do you think of that?'

'By Jove!' exclaimed Sedgwick, Herbert, and all. The favourite oath of
schoolboys perpetuates the divinity of Olympus.

'And now comes the worst. Coningsby caught Millbank when he rose, but
he found himself in the midst of the same strong current that had before
nearly swamped Vere. What a lucky thing that he had taken into his head
not to pull to-day! Fresher than Vere, he just managed to land Millbank
and himself. The shouts of Vere called us, and we arrived to find the
bodies of Millbank and Coningsby apparently lifeless, for Millbank was
quite gone, and Coningsby had swooned on landing.'

'If Coningsby had been lost,' said Henry Sydney, 'I never would have
shown my face at Eton again.'

'Can you conceive a position more terrible?' said Buckhurst. 'I declare
I shall never forget it as long as I live. However, there was the Lock
House at hand; and we got blankets and brandy. Coningsby was soon all
right; but Millbank, I can tell you, gave us some trouble. I thought it
was all up. Didn't you, Henry Sydney?'

'The most fishy thing I ever saw,' said Henry Sydney.

'Well, we were fairly frightened here,' said Sedgwick. 'The first
report was, that you had gone, but that seemed without foundation; but
Coningsby was quite given up. Where are they now?'

'They are both at their tutors'. I thought they had better keep quiet.
Vere is with Millbank, and we are going back to Coningsby directly; but
we thought it best to show, finding on our arrival that there were all
sorts of rumours about. I think it will be best to report at once to my
tutor, for he will be sure to hear something.'

'I would if I were you.'


What wonderful things are events! The least are of greater importance
than the most sublime and comprehensive speculations! In what fanciful
schemes to obtain the friendship of Coningsby had Millbank in his
reveries often indulged! What combinations that were to extend over
years and influence their lives! But the moment that he entered the
world of action, his pride recoiled from the plans and hopes which his
sympathy had inspired. His sensibility and his inordinate self-respect
were always at variance. And he seldom exchanged a word with the being
whose idea engrossed his affection.

And now, suddenly, an event had occurred, like all events, unforeseen,
which in a few, brief, agitating, tumultuous moments had singularly and
utterly changed the relations that previously subsisted between him and
the former object of his concealed tenderness. Millbank now stood with
respect to Coningsby in the position of one who owes to another the
greatest conceivable obligation; a favour which time could permit him
neither to forget nor to repay. Pride was a sentiment that could no
longer subsist before the preserver of his life. Devotion to that being,
open, almost ostentatious, was now a duty, a paramount and absorbing
tie. The sense of past peril, the rapture of escape, a renewed relish
for the life so nearly forfeited, a deep sentiment of devout gratitude
to the providence that had guarded over him, for Millbank was an
eminently religious boy, a thought of home, and the anguish that might
have overwhelmed his hearth; all these were powerful and exciting
emotions for a young and fervent mind, in addition to the peculiar
source of sensibility on which we have already touched. Lord Vere, who
lodged in the same house as Millbank, and was sitting by his bedside,
observed, as night fell, that his mind wandered.

The illness of Millbank, the character of which soon transpired, and was
soon exaggerated, attracted the public attention with increased interest
to the circumstances out of which it had arisen, and from which the
parties principally concerned had wished to have diverted notice. The
sufferer, indeed, had transgressed the rules of the school by bathing at
an unlicensed spot, where there were no expert swimmers in attendance,
as is customary, to instruct the practice and to guard over the lives of
the young adventurers. But the circumstances with which this violation
of rules had been accompanied, and the assurance of several of the party
that they had not themselves infringed the regulations, combined with
the high character of Millbank, made the authorities not over anxious
to visit with penalties a breach of observance which, in the case of
the only proved offender, had been attended with such impressive
consequences. The feat of Coningsby was extolled by all as an act
of high gallantry and skill. It confirmed and increased the great
reputation which he already enjoyed.

'Millbank is getting quite well,' said Buckhurst to Coningsby a few days
after the accident. 'Henry Sydney and I are going to see him. Will you

'I think we shall be too many. I will go another day,' replied

So they went without him. They found Millbank up and reading.

'Well, old fellow,' said Buckhurst, 'how are you? We should have come up
before, but they would not let us. And you are quite right now, eh?'

'Quite. Has there been any row about it?'

'All blown over,' said Henry Sydney; 'C*******y behaved like a trump.'

'I have seen nobody yet,' said Millbank; 'they would not let me till
to-day. Vere looked in this morning and left me this book, but I was
asleep. I hope they will let me out in a day or two. I want to thank
Coningsby; I never shall rest till I have thanked Coningsby.'

'Oh, he will come to see you,' said Henry Sydney; 'I asked him just now
to come with us.'

'Yes!' said Millbank, eagerly; 'and what did he say?'

'He thought we should be too many.'

'I hope I shall see him soon,' said Millbank, 'somehow or other.'

'I will tell him to come,' said Buckhurst.

'Oh! no, no, don't tell him to come,' said Millbank. 'Don't bore him.'

'I know he is going to play a match at fives this afternoon,' said
Buckhurst, 'for I am one.'

'And who are the others?' inquired Millbank.

'Herbert and Campbell.'

'Herbert is no match for Coningsby,' said Millbank.

And then they talked over all that had happened since his absence; and
Buckhurst gave him a graphic report of the excitement on the afternoon
of the accident; at last they were obliged to leave him.

'Well, good-bye, old fellow; we will come and see you every day. What
can we do for you? Any books, or anything?'

'If any fellow asks after me,' said Millbank, 'tell him I shall be glad
to see him. It is very dull being alone. But do not tell any fellow to
come if he does not ask after me.'

Notwithstanding the kind suggestions of Buckhurst and Henry Sydney,
Coningsby could not easily bring himself to call on Millbank. He felt a
constraint. It seemed as if he went to receive thanks. He would rather
have met Millbank again in school, or in the playing fields. Without
being able then to analyse his feelings, he shrank unconsciously from
that ebullition of sentiment, which in more artificial circles is
described as a scene. Not that any dislike of Millbank prompted him to
this reserve. On the contrary, since he had conferred a great obligation
on Millbank, his prejudice against him had sensibly decreased. How it
would have been had Millbank saved Coningsby's life, is quite another
affair. Probably, as Coningsby was by nature generous, his sense of
justice might have struggled successfully with his painful sense of the
overwhelming obligation. But in the present case there was no element
to disturb his fair self-satisfaction. He had greatly distinguished
himself; he had conferred on his rival an essential service; and the
whole world rang with his applause. He began rather to like Millbank;
we will not say because Millbank was the unintentional cause of his
pleasurable sensations. Really it was that the unusual circumstances had
prompted him to a more impartial judgment of his rival's character.
In this mood, the day after the visit of Buckhurst and Henry Sydney,
Coningsby called on Millbank, but finding his medical attendant with
him, Coningsby availed himself of that excuse for going away without
seeing him.

The next day he left Millbank a newspaper on his way to school, time not
permitting a visit. Two days after, going into his room, he found on his
table a letter addressed to 'Harry Coningsby, Esq.'

ETON, May - , 1832.

'DEAR CONINGSBY, I very much fear that you must think me a very
ungrateful fellow, because you have not heard from me before; but I was
in hopes that I might get out and say to you what I feel; but whether I
speak or write, it is quite impossible for me to make you understand the
feelings of my heart to you. Now, I will say at once, that I have always
liked you better than any fellow in the school, and always thought you
the cleverest; indeed, I always thought that there was no one like you;
but I never would say this or show this, because you never seemed to
care for me, and because I was afraid you would think I merely wanted to
con with you, as they used to say of some other fellows, whose names I
will not mention, because they always tried to do so with Henry Sydney
and you. I do not want this at all; but I want, though we may not speak
to each other more than before, that we may be friends; and that you
will always know that there is nothing I will not do for you, and that
I like you better than any fellow at Eton. And I do not mean that this
shall be only at Eton, but afterwards, wherever we may be, that you will
always remember that there is nothing I will not do for you. Not because
you saved my life, though that is a great thing, but because before that
I would have done anything for you; only, for the cause above mentioned,
I would not show it. I do not expect that we shall be more together than
before; nor can I ever suppose that you could like me as you like Henry
Sydney and Buckhurst, or even as you like Vere; but still I hope you
will always think of me with kindness now, and let me sign myself, if
ever I do write to you, 'Your most attached, affectionate, and devoted



About a fortnight after this nearly fatal adventure on the river, it was
Montem. One need hardly remind the reader that this celebrated
ceremony, of which the origin is lost in obscurity, and which now occurs
triennially, is the tenure by which Eton College holds some of its
domains. It consists in the waving of a flag by one of the scholars, on
a mount near the village of Salt Hill, which, without doubt, derives its
name from the circumstance that on this day every visitor to Eton, and
every traveller in its vicinity, from the monarch to the peasant, are
stopped on the road by youthful brigands in picturesque costume, and
summoned to contribute 'salt,' in the shape of coin of the realm, to
the purse collecting for the Captain of Eton, the senior scholar on the
Foundation, who is about to repair to King's College, Cambridge.

On this day the Captain of Eton appears in a dress as martial as his
title: indeed, each sixth-form boy represents in his uniform, though not
perhaps according to the exact rules of the Horse Guards, an officer of
the army. One is a marshal, another an ensign. There is a lieutenant,
too; and the remainder are sergeants. Each of those who are intrusted
with these ephemeral commissions has one or more attendants, the number
of these varying according to his rank. These servitors are selected
according to the wishes of the several members of the sixth form, out of
the ranks of the lower boys, that is, those boys who are below the
fifth form; and all these attendants are arrayed in a variety of fancy
dresses. The Captain of the Oppidans and the senior Colleger next to
the Captain of the school, figure also in fancy costume, and are called
'Saltbearers.' It is their business, together with the twelve senior
Collegers of the fifth form, who are called 'Runners,' and whose
costume is also determined by the taste of the wearers, to levy the
contributions. And all the Oppidans of the fifth form, among whom ranked
Coningsby, class as 'Corporals;' and are severally followed by one or
more lower boys, who are denominated 'Polemen,' but who appear in their
ordinary dress.

It was a fine, bright morning; the bells of Eton and Windsor rang
merrily; everybody was astir, and every moment some gay equipage
drove into the town. Gaily clustering in the thronged precincts of
the College, might be observed many a glistening form: airy Greek or
sumptuous Ottoman, heroes of the Holy Sepulchre, Spanish Hidalgos who
had fought at Pavia, Highland Chiefs who had charged at Culloden, gay in
the tartan of Prince Charlie. The Long Walk was full of busy groups in
scarlet coats or fanciful uniforms; some in earnest conversation, some
criticising the arriving guests; others encircling some magnificent
hero, who astounded them with his slashed doublet or flowing plume.

A knot of boys, sitting on the Long Walk wall, with their feet swinging
in the air, watched the arriving guests of the Provost.

'I say, Townshend,' said one, 'there's Grobbleton; he _was_ a bully. I
wonder if that's his wife? Who's this? The Duke of Agincourt. He wasn't
an Eton fellow? Yes, he was. He was called Poictiers then. Oh! ah!
his name is in the upper school, very large, under Charles Fox. I say,
Townshend, did you see Saville's turban? What was it made of? He says
his mother brought it from Grand Cairo. Didn't he just look like the
Saracen's Head? Here are some Dons. That's Hallam! We'll give him a
cheer. I say, Townshend, look at this fellow. He doesn't think small
beer of himself. I wonder who he is? The Duke of Wellington's valet come
to say his master is engaged. Oh! by Jove, he heard you! I wonder if the
Duke will come? Won't we give him a cheer!'

'By Jove! who is this?' exclaimed Townshend, and he jumped from the
wall, and, followed by his companions, rushed towards the road.

Two britskas, each drawn by four grey horses of mettle, and each
accompanied by outriders as well mounted, were advancing at a rapid
pace along the road that leads from Slough to the College. But they were
destined to an irresistible check. About fifty yards before they had
reached the gate that leads into Weston's Yard, a ruthless but splendid
Albanian, in crimson and gold embroidered jacket, and snowy camise,
started forward, and holding out his silver-sheathed yataghan commanded
the postilions to stop. A Peruvian Inca on the other side of the road
gave a simultaneous command, and would infallibly have transfixed the
outriders with an arrow from his unerring bow, had they for an instant
hesitated. The Albanian Chief then advanced to the door of the carriage,
which he opened, and in a tone of great courtesy, announced that he was
under the necessity of troubling its inmates for 'salt.' There was no
delay. The Lord of the equipage, with the amiable condescension of a
'grand monarque,' expressed his hope that the collection would be an
ample one, and as an old Etonian, placed in the hands of the Albanian
his contribution, a magnificent purse, furnished for the occasion, and
heavy with gold.

'Don't be alarmed, ladies,' said a very handsome young officer,
laughing, and taking off his cocked hat.

'Ah!' exclaimed one of the ladies, turning at the voice, and starting a
little. 'Ah! it is Mr. Coningsby.'

Lord Eskdale paid the salt for the next carriage. 'Do they come down
pretty stiff?' he inquired, and then, pulling forth a roll of bank-notes
from the pocket of his pea-jacket, he wished them good morning.

The courtly Provost, then the benignant Goodall, a man who, though his
experience of life was confined to the colleges in which he had passed
his days, was naturally gifted with the rarest of all endowments, the
talent of reception; and whose happy bearing and gracious manner,
a smile ever in his eye and a lively word ever on his lip, must be
recalled by all with pleasant recollections, welcomed Lord Monmouth
and his friends to an assemblage of the noble, the beautiful, and the
celebrated gathered together in rooms not unworthy of them, as you
looked upon their interesting walls, breathing with the portraits of the
heroes whom Eton boasts, from Wotton to Wellesley. Music sounded in
the quadrangle of the College, in which the boys were already quickly
assembling. The Duke of Wellington had arrived, and the boys were
cheering a hero, who was an Eton field-marshal. From an oriel window
in one of the Provost's rooms, Lord Monmouth, surrounded by every
circumstance that could make life delightful, watched with some
intentness the scene in the quadrangle beneath.

'I would give his fame,' said Lord Monmouth, 'if I had it, and my
wealth, to be sixteen.'

Five hundred of the youth of England, sparkling with health, high
spirits, and fancy dresses, were now assembled in the quadrangle.
They formed into rank, and headed by a band of the Guards, thrice they
marched round the court. Then quitting the College, they commenced their
progress 'ad Montem.' It was a brilliant spectacle to see them defiling
through the playing fields, those bowery meads; the river sparkling
in the sun, the castled heights of Windsor, their glorious landscape;
behind them, the pinnacles of their College.

The road from Eton to Salt Hill was clogged with carriages; the broad
fields as far as eye could range were covered with human beings. Amid
the burst of martial music and the shouts of the multitude, the band of
heroes, as if they were marching from Athens, or Thebes, or Sparta, to
some heroic deed, encircled the mount; the ensign reaches its summit,
and then, amid a deafening cry of 'Floreat Etona!' he unfurls, and
thrice waves the consecrated standard.

'Lord Monmouth,' said Mr. Rigby to Coningsby, 'wishes that you should
beg your friends to dine with him. Of course you will ask Lord Henry and
your friend Sir Charles Buckhurst; and is there any one else that you
would like to invite?'

'Why, there is Vere,' said Coningsby, hesitating, 'and - '

'Vere! What Lord Vere?' said Rigby. 'Hum! He is one of your friends, is
he? His father has done a great deal of mischief, but still he is Lord
Vere. Well, of course, you can invite Vere.'

'There is another fellow I should like to ask very much,' said
Coningsby, 'if Lord Monmouth would not think I was asking too many.'

'Never fear that; he sent me particularly to tell you to invite as many
as you liked.'

'Well, then, I should like to ask Millbank.'

'Millbank!' said Mr. Rigby, a little excited, and then he added, 'Is
that a son of Lady Albinia Millbank?'

'No; his mother is not a Lady Albinia, but he is a great friend of mine.
His father is a Lancashire manufacturer.'

'By no means,' exclaimed Mr. Rigby, quite agitated. 'There is nothing

Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliConingsby → online text (page 5 of 39)