Part 4 out of 9
'Oh! a friend of Oswald's, eh? What, at Eton?'
'Yes, sir, at Eton; and I had hoped perhaps to have found him here.'
'I am very much engaged, sir, at this moment,' said Mr. Millbank; 'I am
sorry I cannot pay you any personal attention, but my clerk will show you
everything. Mr. Benson, let this gentleman see everything;' and he
'Be pleased to write your name here, sir,' said Mr. Benson, opening a
book, and our friend wrote his name and the date of his visit to Millbank:
'HARRY CONINGSBY, Sept. 2, 1836.'
Coningsby beheld in this great factory the last and the most refined
inventions of mechanical genius. The building had been fitted up by a
capitalist as anxious to raise a monument of the skill and power of his
order, as to obtain a return for the great investment.
'It is the glory of Lancashire!' exclaimed the enthusiastic Mr. Benson.
The clerk spoke freely of his master, whom he evidently idolised, and his
great achievements, and Coningsby encouraged him. He detailed to Coningsby
the plans which Mr. Millbank had pursued, both for the moral and physical
well-being of his people; how he had built churches, and schools, and
institutes; houses and cottages on a new system of ventilation; how he had
allotted gardens; established singing classes.
'Here is Mr. Millbank,' continued the clerk, as he and Coningsby, quitting
the factory, re-entered the court.
Mr. Millbank was approaching the factory, and the moment that he observed
them, he quickened his pace.
'Mr. Coningsby?' he said, when he reached them. His countenance was rather
disturbed, and his voice a little trembled, and he looked on our friend
with a glance scrutinising and serious. Coningsby bowed.
'I am sorry that you should have been received at this place with so
little ceremony, sir,' said Mr. Millbank; 'but had your name been
mentioned, you would have found it cherished here.' He nodded to the
clerk, who disappeared.
Coningsby began to talk about the wonders of the factory, but Mr. Millbank
recurred to other thoughts that were passing in his mind. He spoke of his
son: he expressed a kind reproach that Coningsby should have thought of
visiting this part of the world without giving them some notice of his
intention, that he might have been their guest, that Oswald might have
been there to receive him, that they might have made arrangements that he
should see everything, and in the best manner; in short, that they might
all have shown, however slightly, the deep sense of their obligations to
'My visit to Manchester, which led to this, was quite accidental,' said
Coningsby. 'I am bound for the other division of the county, to pay a
visit to my grandfather, Lord Monmouth; but an irresistible desire came
over me during my journey to view this famous district of industry. It is
some days since I ought to have found myself at Coningsby, and this is the
reason why I am so pressed.'
A cloud passed over the countenance of Millbank as the name of Lord
Monmouth was mentioned, but he said nothing. Turning towards Coningsby,
with an air of kindness:
'At least,' said he, 'let not Oswald hear that you did not taste our salt.
Pray dine with me to-day; there is yet an hour to dinner; and as you have
seen the factory, suppose we stroll together through the village.'
The village clock struck five as Mr. Millbank and his guest entered the
gardens of his mansion. Coningsby lingered a moment to admire the beauty
and gay profusion of the flowers.
'Your situation,' said Coningsby, looking up the green and silent valley,
'is absolutely poetic.'
'I try sometimes to fancy,' said Mr. Millbank, with a rather fierce smile,
'that I am in the New World.'
They entered the house; a capacious and classic hall, at the end a
staircase in the Italian fashion. As they approached it, the sweetest and
the clearest voice exclaimed from above, 'Papa! papa!' and instantly a
young girl came bounding down the stairs, but suddenly seeing a stranger
with her father she stopped upon the landing-place, and was evidently on
the point of as rapidly retreating as she had advanced, when Mr. Millbank
waved his hand to her and begged her to descend. She came down slowly; as
she approached them her father said, 'A friend you have often heard of,
Edith: this is Mr. Coningsby.'
She started; blushed very much; and then, with a trembling and uncertain
gait, advanced, put forth her hand with a wild unstudied grace, and said
in a tone of sensibility, 'How often have we all wished to see and to
This daughter of his host was of tender years; apparently she could
scarcely have counted sixteen summers. She was delicate and fragile, but
as she raised her still blushing visage to her father's guest, Coningsby
felt that he had never beheld a countenance of such striking and such
'My only daughter, Mr. Coningsby, Edith; a Saxon name, for she is the
daughter of a Saxon.'
But the beauty of the countenance was not the beauty of the Saxons. It was
a radiant face, one of those that seem to have been touched in their
cradle by a sunbeam, and to have retained all their brilliancy and
suffused and mantling lustre. One marks sometimes such faces, diaphanous
with delicate splendour, in the southern regions of France. Her eye, too,
was the rare eye of Aquitaine; soft and long, with lashes drooping over
the cheek, dark as her clustering ringlets.
They entered the drawing-room.
'Mr. Coningsby,' said Millbank to his daughter, 'is in this part of the
world only for a few hours, or I am sure he would become our guest. He
has, however, promised to stay with us now and dine.'
'If Miss Millbank will pardon this dress,' said Coningsby, bowing an
apology for his inevitable frock and boots; the maiden raised her eyes and
bent her head.
The hour of dinner was at hand. Millbank offered to show Coningsby to his
dressing-room. He was absent but a few minutes. When he returned he found
Miss Millbank alone. He came somewhat suddenly into the room. She was
playing with her dog, but ceased the moment she observed Coningsby.
Coningsby, who since his practice with Lady Everingham, flattered himself
that he had advanced in small talk, and was not sorry that he had now an
opportunity of proving his prowess, made some lively observations about
pets and the breeds of lapdogs, but he was not fortunate in extracting a
response or exciting a repartee. He began then on the beauty of Millbank,
which he would on no account have avoided seeing, and inquired when she
had last heard of her brother. The young lady, apparently much distressed,
was murmuring something about Antwerp, when the entrance of her father
relieved her from her embarrassment.
Dinner being announced, Coningsby offered his arm to his fair companion,
who took it with her eyes fixed on the ground.
'You are very fond, I see, of flowers,' said Coningsby, as they moved
along; and the young lady said 'Yes.'
The dinner was plain, but perfect of its kind. The young hostess seemed to
perform her office with a certain degree of desperate determination. She
looked at a chicken and then at Coningsby, and murmured something which he
understood. Sometimes she informed herself of his tastes or necessities in
more detail, by the medium of her father, whom she treated as a sort of
dragoman; in this way: 'Would not Mr. Coningsby, papa, take this or that,
or do so and so?' Coningsby was always careful to reply in a direct
manner, without the agency of the interpreter; but he did not advance.
Even a petition for the great honour of taking a glass of sherry with her
only induced the beautiful face to bow. And yet when she had first seen
him, she had addressed him even with emotion. What could it be? He felt
less confidence in his increased power of conversation. Why, Theresa
Sydney was scarcely a year older than Miss Millbank, and though she did
not certainly originate like Lady Everingham, he got on with her perfectly
Mr. Millbank did not seem to be conscious of his daughter's silence: at
any rate, he attempted to compensate for it. He talked fluently and well;
on all subjects his opinions seemed to be decided, and his language was
precise. He was really interested in what Coningsby had seen, and what he
had felt; and this sympathy divested his manner of the disagreeable effect
that accompanies a tone inclined to be dictatorial. More than once
Coningsby observed the silent daughter listening with extreme attention to
the conversation of himself and her father.
The dessert was remarkable. Millbank was proud of his fruit. A bland
expression of self-complacency spread over his features as he surveyed his
grapes, his peaches, his figs.
'These grapes have gained a medal,' he told Coningsby. 'Those too are
prize peaches. I have not yet been so successful with my figs. These
however promise, and perhaps this year I may be more fortunate.'
'What would your brother and myself have given for such a dessert at
Eton!' said Coningsby to Miss Millbank, wishing to say something, and
something too that might interest her.
She seemed infinitely distressed, and yet this time would speak.
'Let me give you some,' He caught by chance her glance immediately
withdrawn; yet it was a glance not only of beauty, but of feeling and
thought. She added, in a hushed and hurried tone, dividing very nervously
some grapes, 'I hardly know whether Oswald will be most pleased or grieved
when he hears that you have been here.'
'And why grieved?' said Coningsby.
'That he should not have been here to welcome you, and that your stay is
for so brief a time. It seems so strange that after having talked of you
for years, we should see you only for hours.'
'I hope I may return,' said Coningsby, 'and that Millbank may be here to
welcome me; but I hope I may be permitted to return even if he be not.'
But there was no reply; and soon after, Mr. Millbank talking of the
American market, and Coningsby helping himself to a glass of claret, the
daughter of the Saxon, looking at her father, rose and left the room, so
suddenly and so quickly that Coningsby could scarcely gain the door.
'Yes,' said Millbank, filling his glass, and pursuing some previous
observations, 'all that we want in this country is to be masters of our
own industry; but Saxon industry and Norman manners never will agree; and
some day, Mr. Coningsby, you will find that out.'
'But what do you mean by Norman manners?' inquired Coningsby.
'Did you ever hear of the Forest of Rossendale?' said Millbank. 'If you
were staying here, you should visit the district. It is an area of twenty-
four square miles. It was disforested in the early part of the sixteenth
century, possessing at that time eighty inhabitants. Its rental in James
the First's time was 120_l._ When the woollen manufacture was introduced
into the north, the shuttle competed with the plough in Rossendale, and
about forty years ago we sent them the Jenny. The eighty souls are now
increased to upwards of eighty thousand, and the rental of the forest, by
the last county assessment, amounts to more than 50,000_l._, 41,000 per
cent, on the value in the reign of James I. Now I call that an instance of
Saxon industry competing successfully with Norman manners.'
'Exactly,' said Coningsby, 'but those manners are gone.'
'From Rossendale, 'said Millbank, with a grim smile; 'but not from
'Where do you meet them?'
'Meet them! In every place, at every hour; and feel them, too, in every
transaction of life.'
'I know, sir, from your son,' said Coningsby, inquiringly, 'that you are
opposed to an aristocracy.'
'No, I am not. I am for an aristocracy; but a real one, a natural one.'
'But, sir, is not the aristocracy of England,' said Coningsby, 'a real
one? You do not confound our peerage, for example, with the degraded
patricians of the Continent.'
'Hum!' said Millbank. 'I do not understand how an aristocracy can exist,
unless it be distinguished by some quality which no other class of the
community possesses. Distinction is the basis of aristocracy. If you
permit only one class of the population, for example, to bear arms, they
are an aristocracy; not one much to my taste; but still a great fact.
That, however, is not the characteristic of the English peerage. I have
yet to learn they are richer than we are, better informed, wiser, or more
distinguished for public or private virtue. Is it not monstrous, then,
that a small number of men, several of whom take the titles of Duke and
Earl from towns in this very neighbourhood, towns which they never saw,
which never heard of them, which they did not form, or build, or
establish, I say, is it not monstrous, that individuals so circumstanced,
should be invested with the highest of conceivable privileges, the
privilege of making laws? Dukes and Earls indeed! I say there is nothing
in a masquerade more ridiculous.'
'But do you not argue from an exception, sir?' said Coningsby. 'The
question is, whether a preponderance of the aristocratic principle in a
political constitution be, as I believe, conducive to the stability and
permanent power of a State; and whether the peerage, as established in
England, generally tends to that end? We must not forget in such an
estimate the influence which, in this country, is exercised over opinion
by ancient lineage.'
'Ancient lineage!' said Mr. Millbank; 'I never heard of a peer with an
ancient lineage. The real old families of this country are to be found
among the peasantry; the gentry, too, may lay some claim to old blood. I
can point you out Saxon families in this county who can trace their
pedigrees beyond the Conquest; I know of some Norman gentlemen whose
fathers undoubtedly came over with the Conqueror. But a peer with an
ancient lineage is to me quite a novelty. No, no; the thirty years of the
wars of the Roses freed us from those gentlemen. I take it, after the
battle of Tewkesbury, a Norman baron was almost as rare a being in England
as a wolf is now.'
'I have always understood,' said Coningsby, 'that our peerage was the
finest in Europe.'
'From themselves,' said Millbank, 'and the heralds they pay to paint their
carriages. But I go to facts. When Henry VII. called his first Parliament,
there were only twenty-nine temporal peers to be found, and even some of
them took their seats illegally, for they had been attainted. Of those
twenty-nine not five remain, and they, as the Howards for instance, are
not Norman nobility. We owe the English peerage to three sources: the
spoliation of the Church; the open and flagrant sale of its honours by the
elder Stuarts; and the boroughmongering of our own times. Those are the
three main sources of the existing peerage of England, and in my opinion
disgraceful ones. But I must apologise for my frankness in thus speaking
to an aristocrat.'
'Oh, by no means, sir, I like discussion. Your son and myself at Eton have
had some encounters of this kind before. But if your view of the case be
correct,' added Coningsby, smiling, 'you cannot at any rate accuse our
present peers of Norman manners.'
'Yes, I do: they adopted Norman manners while they usurped Norman titles.
They have neither the right of the Normans, nor do they fulfil the duty of
the Normans: they did not conquer the land, and they do not defend it.'
'And where will you find your natural aristocracy?' asked Coningsby.
'Among those men whom a nation recognises as the most eminent for virtue,
talents, and property, and, if you please, birth and standing in the land.
They guide opinion; and, therefore, they govern. I am no leveller; I look
upon an artificial equality as equally pernicious with a factitious
aristocracy; both depressing the energies, and checking the enterprise of
a nation. I like man to be free, really free: free in his industry as well
as his body. What is the use of Habeas Corpus, if a man may not use his
hands when he is out of prison?'
'But it appears to me you have, in a great measure, this natural
aristocracy in England.'
'Ah, to be sure! If we had not, where should we be? It is the
counteracting power that saves us, the disturbing cause in the
calculations of short-sighted selfishness. I say it now, and I have said
it a hundred times, the House of Commons is a more aristocratic body than
the House of Lords. The fact is, a great peer would be a greater man now
in the House of Commons than in the House of Lords. Nobody wants a second
chamber, except a few disreputable individuals. It is a valuable
institution for any member of it who has no distinction, neither
character, talents, nor estate. But a peer who possesses all or any of
these great qualifications, would find himself an immeasurably more
important personage in what, by way of jest, they call the Lower House.'
'Is not the revising wisdom of a senate a salutary check on the
precipitation of a popular assembly?'
'Why should a popular assembly, elected by the flower of a nation, be
precipitate? If precipitate, what senate could stay an assembly so chosen?
No, no, no! the thing has been tried over and over again; the idea of
restraining the powerful by the weak is an absurdity; the question is
settled. If we wanted a fresh illustration, we need only look to the
present state of our own House of Lords. It originates nothing; it has, in
fact, announced itself as a mere Court of Registration of the decrees of
your House of Commons; and if by any chance it ventures to alter some
miserable detail in a clause of a bill that excites public interest, what
a clatter through the country, at Conservative banquets got up by the
rural attorneys, about the power, authority, and independence of the House
of Lords; nine times nine, and one cheer more! No, sir, you may make
aristocracies by laws; you can only maintain them by manners. The manners
of England preserve it from its laws. And they have substituted for our
formal aristocracy an essential aristocracy; the government of those who
are distinguished by their fellow-citizens.'
'But then it would appear,' said Coningsby, 'that the remedial action of
our manners has removed all the political and social evils of which you
'They have created a power that may remove them; a power that has the
capacity to remove them. But in a great measure they still exist, and must
exist yet, I fear, for a long time. The growth of our civilisation has
ever been as slow as our oaks; but this tardy development is preferable to
the temporary expansion of the gourd.'
'The future seems to me sometimes a dark cloud.'
'Not to me,' said Mr. Millbank. 'I am sanguine; I am the Disciple of
Progress. But I have cause for my faith. I have witnessed advance. My
father has often told me that in his early days the displeasure of a peer
of England was like a sentence of death to a man. Why it was esteemed a
great concession to public opinion, so late as the reign of George II.,
that Lord Ferrars should be executed for murder. The king of a new
dynasty, who wished to be popular with the people, insisted on it, and
even then he was hanged with a silken cord. At any rate we may defend
ourselves now,' continued Mr. Millbank, 'and, perhaps, do something more.
I defy any peer to crush me, though there is one who would be very glad to
do it. No more of that; I am very happy to see you at Millbank, very happy
to make your acquaintance,' he continued, with some emotion, 'and not
merely because you are my son's friend and more than friend.'
The walls of the dining-room were covered with pictures of great merit,
all of the modern English school. Mr. Millbank understood no other, he was
wont to say! and he found that many of his friends who did, bought a great
many pleasing pictures that were copies, and many originals that were very
displeasing. He loved a fine free landscape by Lee, that gave him the
broad plains, the green lanes, and running streams of his own land; a
group of animals by Landseer, as full of speech and sentiment as if they
were designed by Aesop; above all, he delighted in the household humour
and homely pathos of Wilkie. And if a higher tone of imagination pleased
him, he could gratify it without difficulty among his favourite masters.
He possessed some specimens of Etty worthy of Venice when it was alive; he
could muse amid the twilight ruins of ancient cities raised by the magic
pencil of Danby, or accompany a group of fair Neapolitans to a festival by
the genial aid of Uwins.
Opposite Coningsby was a portrait, which had greatly attracted his
attention during the whole dinner. It represented a woman, young and of a
rare beauty. The costume was of that classical character prevalent in this
country before the general peace; a blue ribbon bound together as a fillet
her clustering chestnut curls. The face was looking out of the canvas, and
Coningsby never raised his eyes without catching its glance of blended
vivacity and tenderness.
There are moments when our sensibility is affected by circumstances of a
trivial character. It seems a fantastic emotion, but the gaze of this
picture disturbed the serenity of Coningsby. He endeavoured sometimes to
avoid looking at it, but it irresistibly attracted him. More than once
during dinner he longed to inquire whom it represented; but it is a
delicate subject to ask questions about portraits, and he refrained.
Still, when he was rising to leave the room, the impulse was irresistible.
He said to Mr. Millbank, 'By whom is that portrait, sir?'
The countenance of Millbank became disturbed; it was not an expression of
tender reminiscence that fell upon his features. On the contrary, the
expression was agitated, almost angry.
'Oh! that is by a country artist,' he said,' of whom you never heard,' and
They found Miss Millbank in the drawing-room; she was sitting at a round
table covered with working materials, apparently dressing a doll.
'Nay,' thought Coningsby, 'she must be too old for that.'
He addressed her, and seated himself by her side. There were several dolls
on the table, but he discovered, on examination, that they were
pincushions; and elicited, with some difficulty, that they were making for
a fancy fair about to be held in aid of that excellent institution, the
Manchester Athenaeum. Then the father came up and said,
'My child, let us have some tea;' and she rose and seated herself at the
tea-table. Coningsby also quitted his seat, and surveyed the apartment.
There were several musical instruments; among others, he observed a
guitar; not such an instrument as one buys in a music shop, but such an
one as tinkles at Seville, a genuine Spanish guitar. Coningsby repaired to
'I am glad that you are fond of music, Miss Millbank.'
A blush and a bow.
'I hope after tea you will be so kind as to touch the guitar.'
Signals of great distress.
'Were you ever at Birmingham?'
'Yes:' a sigh.
'What a splendid music-hall! They should build one at Manchester.'
'They ought,' in a whisper.
The tea-tray was removed; Coningsby was conversing with Mr. Millbank, who
was asking him questions about his son; what he thought of Oxford; what he
thought of Oriel; should himself have preferred Cambridge; but had
consulted a friend, an Oriel man, who had a great opinion of Oriel; and
Oswald's name had been entered some years back. He rather regretted it
now; but the thing was done. Coningsby, remembering the promise of the
guitar, turned round to claim its fulfilment, but the singer had made her
escape. Time elapsed, and no Miss Millbank reappeared. Coningsby looked at
his watch; he had to go three miles to the train, which started, as his
friend of the previous night would phrase it, at 9.45.
'I should be happy if you remained with us,' said Mr. Millbank; 'but as
you say it is out of your power, in this age of punctual travelling a host
is bound to speed the parting guest. The carriage is ready for you.'
'Farewell, then, sir. You must make my adieux to Miss Millbank, and accept
my thanks for your great kindness.'
'Farewell, Mr. Coningsby,' said his host, taking his hand, which he
retained for a moment, as if he would say more. Then leaving it, he
repeated with a somewhat wandering air, and in a voice of emotion,
'Farewell, farewell, Mr. Coningsby.'
Towards the end of the session of 1836, the hopes of the Conservative
party were again in the ascendant. The Tadpoles and the Tapers had infused
such enthusiasm into all the country attorneys, who, in their turn, had so
bedeviled the registration, that it was whispered in the utmost
confidence, but as a flagrant truth, that Reaction was at length 'a great
fact.' All that was required was the opportunity; but as the existing
parliament was not two years old, and the government had an excellent
working majority, it seemed that the occasion could scarcely be furnished.
Under these circumstances, the backstairs politicians, not content with
having by their premature movements already seriously damaged the career
of their leader, to whom in public they pretended to be devoted, began
weaving again their old intrigues about the court, and not without effect.
It was said that the royal ear lent itself with no marked repugnance to
suggestions which might rid the sovereign of ministers, who, after all,
were the ministers not of his choice, but of his necessity. But William
IV., after two failures in a similar attempt, after his respective
embarrassing interviews with Lord Grey and Lord Melbourne, on their return
to office in 1832 and 1835, was resolved never to make another move unless
it were a checkmate. The king, therefore, listened and smiled, and loved
to talk to his favourites of his private feelings and secret hopes; the
first outraged, the second cherished; and a little of these revelations of
royalty was distilled to great personages, who in their turn spoke
hypothetically to their hangers-on of royal dispositions, and possible
contingencies, while the hangers-on and go-betweens, in their turn, looked
more than they expressed; took county members by the button into a corner,
and advised, as friends, the representatives of boroughs to look sharply
after the next registration.
Lord Monmouth, who was never greater than in adversity, and whose
favourite excitement was to aim at the impossible, had never been more
resolved on a Dukedom than when the Reform Act deprived him of the twelve
votes which he had accumulated to attain that object. While all his
companions in discomfiture were bewailing their irretrievable overthrow,
Lord Monmouth became almost a convert to the measure, which had furnished
his devising and daring mind, palled with prosperity, and satiated with a
life of success, with an object, and the stimulating enjoyment of a
He had early resolved to appropriate to himself a division of the county
in which his chief seat was situate; but what most interested him, because
it was most difficult, was the acquisition of one of the new boroughs that
was in his vicinity, and in which he possessed considerable property. The
borough, however, was a manufacturing town, and returning only one member,
it had hitherto sent up to Westminster a radical shopkeeper, one Mr.
Jawster Sharp, who had taken what is called 'a leading part' in the town
on every 'crisis' that had occurred since 1830; one of those zealous
patriots who had got up penny subscriptions for gold cups to Lord Grey;
cries for the bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill; and public
dinners where the victual was devoured before grace was said; a worthy who
makes speeches, passes resolutions, votes addresses, goes up with
deputations, has at all times the necessary quantity of confidence in the
necessary individual; confidence in Lord Grey; confidence in Lord Durham;
confidence in Lord Melbourne: and can also, if necessary, give three
cheers for the King, or three groans for the Queen.
But the days of the genus Jawster Sharp were over in this borough as well
as in many others. He had contrived in his lustre of agitation to feather
his nest pretty successfully; by which he had lost public confidence and
gained his private end. Three hungry Jawster Sharps, his hopeful sons, had
all become commissioners of one thing or another; temporary appointments
with interminable duties; a low-church son-in-law found himself
comfortably seated in a chancellor's living; and several cousins and
nephews were busy in the Excise. But Jawster Sharp himself was as pure as
Cato. He had always said he would never touch the public money, and he had
kept his word. It was an understood thing that Jawster Sharp was never to
show his face again on the hustings of Darlford; the Liberal party was
determined to be represented in future by a man of station, substance,
character, a true Reformer, but one who wanted nothing for himself, and
therefore might, if needful, get something for them. They were looking out
for such a man, but were in no hurry. The seat was looked upon as a good
thing; a contest certainly, every place is contested now, but as certainly
a large majority. Notwithstanding all this confidence, however, Reaction
or Registration, or some other mystification, had produced effects even in
this creature of the Reform Bill, the good Borough of Darlford. The
borough that out of gratitude to Lord Grey returned a jobbing shopkeeper
twice to Parliament as its representative without a contest, had now a
Conservative Association, with a banker for its chairman, and a brewer for
its vice-president, and four sharp lawyers nibbing their pens, noting
their memorandum-books, and assuring their neighbours, with a consoling
and complacent air, that 'Property must tell in the long run.' Whispers
also were about, that when the proper time arrived, a Conservative
candidate would certainly have the honour of addressing the electors. No
name mentioned, but it was not concealed that he was to be of no ordinary
calibre; a tried man, a distinguished individual, who had already fought
the battle of the constitution, and served his country in eminent posts;
honoured by the nation, favoured by his sovereign. These important and
encouraging intimations were ably diffused in the columns of the
Conservative journal, and in a style which, from its high tone, evidently
indicated no ordinary source and no common pen. Indeed, there appeared
occasionally in this paper, articles written with such unusual vigour,
that the proprietors of the Liberal journal almost felt the necessity of
getting some eminent hand down from town to compete with them. It was
impossible that they could emanate from the rival Editor. They knew well
the length of their brother's tether. Had they been more versant in the
periodical literature of the day, they might in this 'slashing' style have
caught perhaps a glimpse of the future candidate for their borough, the
Right Honourable Nicholas Rigby.
Lord Monmouth, though he had been absent from England since 1832, had
obtained from his vigilant correspondent a current knowledge of all that
had occurred in the interval: all the hopes, fears, plans, prospects,
manoeuvres, and machinations; their rise and fall; how some had bloomed,
others were blighted; not a shade of reaction that was not represented to
him; not the possibility of an adhesion that was not duly reported; he
could calculate at Naples at any time, within ten, the result of a
dissolution. The season of the year had prevented him crossing the Alps in
1834, and after the general election he was too shrewd a practiser in the
political world to be deceived as to the ultimate result. Lord Eskdale, in
whose judgment he had more confidence than in that of any individual, had
told him from the first that the pear was not ripe; Rigby, who always
hedged against his interest by the fulfilment of his prophecy of
irremediable discomfiture, was never very sanguine. Indeed, the whole
affair was always considered premature by the good judges; and a long time
elapsed before Tadpole and Taper recovered their secret influence, or
resumed their ostentatious loquacity, or their silent insolence.
The pear, however, was now ripe. Even Lord Eskdale wrote that after the
forthcoming registration a bet was safe, and Lord Monmouth had the
satisfaction of drawing the Whig Minister at Naples into a cool thousand
on the event. Soon after this he returned to England, and determined to
pay a visit to Coningsby Castle, feast the county, patronise the borough,
diffuse that confidence in the party which his presence never failed to
do; so great and so just was the reliance in his unerring powers of
calculation and his intrepid pluck. Notwithstanding Schedule A, the
prestige of his power had not sensibly diminished, for his essential
resources were vast, and his intellect always made the most of his
True, however, to his organisation, Lord Monmouth, even to save his party
and gain his dukedom, must not be bored. He, therefore, filled his castle
with the most agreeable people from London, and even secured for their
diversion a little troop of French comedians. Thus supported, he received
his neighbours with all the splendour befitting his immense wealth and
great position, and with one charm which even immense wealth and great
position cannot command, the most perfect manner in the world. Indeed,
Lord Monmouth was one of the most finished gentlemen that ever lived; and
as he was good-natured, and for a selfish man even good-humoured, there
was rarely a cloud of caprice or ill-temper to prevent his fine manners
having their fair play. The country neighbours were all fascinated; they
were received with so much dignity and dismissed with so much grace.
Nobody would believe a word of the stories against him. Had he lived all
his life at Coningsby, fulfilled every duty of a great English nobleman,
benefited the county, loaded the inhabitants with favours, he would not
have been half so popular as he found himself within a fortnight of his
arrival with the worst county reputation conceivable, and every little
squire vowing that he would not even leave his name at the Castle to show
Lord Monmouth, whose contempt for mankind was absolute; not a fluctuating
sentiment, not a mournful conviction, ebbing and flowing with
circumstances, but a fixed, profound, unalterable instinct; who never
loved any one, and never hated any one except his own children; was
diverted by his popularity, but he was also gratified by it. At this
moment it was a great element of power; he was proud that, with a vicious
character, after having treated these people with unprecedented neglect
and contumely, he should have won back their golden opinions in a moment
by the magic of manner and the splendour of wealth. His experience proved
the soundness of his philosophy.
Lord Monmouth worshipped gold, though, if necessary, he could squander it
like a caliph. He had even a respect for very rich men; it was his only
weakness, the only exception to his general scorn for his species. Wit,
power, particular friendships, general popularity, public opinion, beauty,
genius, virtue, all these are to be purchased; but it does not follow that
you can buy a rich man: you may not be able or willing to spare enough. A
person or a thing that you perhaps could not buy, became invested, in the
eyes of Lord Monmouth, with a kind of halo amounting almost to sanctity.
As the prey rose to the bait, Lord Monmouth resolved they should be
gorged. His banquets were doubled; a ball was announced; a public day
fixed; not only the county, but the principal inhabitants of the
neighbouring borough, were encouraged to attend; Lord Monmouth wished it,
if possible, to be without distinction of party. He had come to reside
among his old friends, to live and die where he was born. The Chairman of
the Conservative Association and the Vice President exchanged glances,
which would have become Tadpole and Taper; the four attorneys nibbed their
pens with increased energy, and vowed that nothing could withstand the
influence of the aristocracy 'in the long run.' All went and dined at the
Castle; all returned home overpowered by the condescension of the host,
the beauty of the ladies, several real Princesses, the splendour of his
liveries, the variety of his viands, and the flavour of his wines. It was
agreed that at future meetings of the Conservative Association, they
should always give 'Lord Monmouth and the House of Lords!' superseding the
Duke of Wellington, who was to figure in an after-toast with the Battle of
It was not without emotion that Coningsby beheld for the first time the
castle that bore his name. It was visible for several miles before he even
entered the park, so proud and prominent was its position, on the richly-
wooded steep of a considerable eminence. It was a castellated building,
immense and magnificent, in a faulty and incongruous style of
architecture, indeed, but compensating in some degree for these
deficiencies of external taste and beauty by the splendour and
accommodation of its exterior, and which a Gothic castle, raised according
to the strict rules of art, could scarcely have afforded. The declining
sun threw over the pile a rich colour as Coningsby approached it, and lit
up with fleeting and fanciful tints the delicate foliage of the rare
shrubs and tall thin trees that clothed the acclivity on which it stood.
Our young friend felt a little embarrassed when, without a servant and in
a hack chaise, he drew up to the grand portal, and a crowd of retainers
came forth to receive him. A superior servant inquired his name with a
stately composure that disdained to be supercilious. It was not without
some degree of pride and satisfaction that the guest replied, 'Mr.
Coningsby.' The instantaneous effect was magical. It seemed to Coningsby
that he was borne on the shoulders of the people to his apartment; each
tried to carry some part of his luggage; and he only hoped his welcome
from their superiors might be as hearty.
It appeared to Coningsby in his way to his room, that the Castle was in a
state of great excitement; everywhere bustle, preparation, moving to and
fro, ascending and descending of stairs, servants in every corner; orders
boundlessly given, rapidly obeyed; many desires, equal gratification. All
this made him rather nervous. It was quite unlike Beaumanoir. That also
was a palace, but it was a home. This, though it should be one to him,
seemed to have nothing of that character. Of all mysteries the social
mysteries are the most appalling. Going to an assembly for the first time
is more alarming than the first battle. Coningsby had never before been in
a great house full of company. It seemed an overwhelming affair. The sight
of the servants bewildered him; how then was he to encounter their
That, however, he must do in a moment. A groom of the chambers indicates
the way to him, as he proceeds with a hesitating yet hurried step through
several ante-chambers and drawing-rooms; then doors are suddenly thrown
open, and he is ushered into the largest and most sumptuous saloon that he
had ever entered. It was full of ladies and gentlemen. Coningsby for the
first time in his life was at a great party. His immediate emotion was to
sink into the earth; but perceiving that no one even noticed him, and that
not an eye had been attracted to his entrance, he regained his breath and
in some degree his composure, and standing aside, endeavoured to make
himself, as well as he could, master of the land.
Not a human being that he had ever seen before! The circumstance of not
being noticed, which a few minutes since he had felt as a relief, became
now a cause of annoyance. It seemed that he was the only person standing
alone whom no one was addressing. He felt renewed and aggravated
embarrassment, and fancied, perhaps was conscious, that he was blushing.
At length his ear caught the voice of Mr. Rigby. The speaker was not
visible; he was at a distance surrounded by a wondering group, whom he was
severally and collectively contradicting, but Coningsby could not mistake
those harsh, arrogant tones. He was not sorry indeed that Mr. Rigby did
not observe him. Coningsby never loved him particularly, which was rather
ungrateful, for he was a person who had been kind, and, on the whole,
serviceable to him; but Coningsby writhed, especially as he grew older,
under Mr. Rigby's patronising air and paternal tone. Even in old days,
though attentive, Coningsby had never found him affectionate. Mr. Rigby
would tell him what to do and see, but never asked him what he wished to
do and see. It seemed to Coningsby that it was always contrived that he
should appear the _protege_, or poor relation, of a dependent of his
family. These feelings, which the thought of Mr. Rigby had revived, caused
our young friend, by an inevitable association of ideas, to remember that,
unknown and unnoticed as he might be, he was the only Coningsby in that
proud Castle, except the Lord of the Castle himself; and he began to be
rather ashamed of permitting a sense of his inexperience in the mere forms
and fashions of society so to oppress him, and deprive him, as it were, of
the spirit and carriage which became alike his character and his position.
Emboldened and greatly restored to himself, Coningsby advanced into the
body of the saloon.
On his legs, wearing his blue ribbon and bending his head frequently to a
lady who was seated on a sofa, and continually addressed him, Coningsby
recognised his grandfather. Lord Monmouth was somewhat balder than four
years ago, when he had come down to Montem, and a little more portly
perhaps; but otherwise unchanged. Lord Monmouth never condescended to the
artifices of the toilet, and, indeed, notwithstanding his life of excess,
had little need of them. Nature had done much for him, and the slow
progress of decay was carried off by his consummate bearing. He looked,
indeed, the chieftain of a house of whom a cadet might be proud.
For Coningsby, not only the chief of his house, but his host too. In
either capacity he ought to address Lord Monmouth. To sit down to dinner
without having previously paid his respects to his grandfather, to whom he
was so much indebted, and whom he had not seen for so many years, struck
him not only as uncourtly, but as unkind and ungrateful, and, indeed, in
the highest degree absurd. But how was he to do it? Lord Monmouth seemed
deeply engaged, and apparently with some very great lady. And if Coningsby
advanced and bowed, in all probability he would only get a bow in return.
He remembered the bow of his first interview. It had made a lasting
impression on his mind. For it was more than likely Lord Monmouth would
not recognise him. Four years had not sensibly altered Lord Monmouth, but
four years had changed Harry Coningsby from a schoolboy into a man. Then
how was he to make himself known to his grandfather? To announce himself
as Coningsby, as his Lordship's grandson, seemed somewhat ridiculous: to
address his grandfather as Lord Monmouth would serve no purpose: to style
Lord Monmouth 'grandfather' would make every one laugh, and seem stiff and
unnatural. What was he to do? To fall into an attitude and exclaim,
'Behold your grandchild!' or, 'Have you forgotten your Harry?'
Even to catch Lord Monmouth's glance was not an easy affair; he was much
occupied on one side by the great lady, on the other were several
gentlemen who occasionally joined in the conversation. But something must
There ran through Coningsby's character, as we have before mentioned, a
vein of simplicity which was not its least charm. It resulted, no doubt,
in a great degree from the earnestness of his nature. There never was a
boy so totally devoid of affectation, which was remarkable, for he had a
brilliant imagination, a quality that, from its fantasies, and the vague
and indefinite desires it engenders, generally makes those whose
characters are not formed, affected. The Duchess, who was a fine judge of
character, and who greatly regarded Coningsby, often mentioned this trait
as one which, combined with his great abilities and acquirements so
unusual at his age, rendered him very interesting. In the present instance
it happened that, while Coningsby was watching his grandfather, he
observed a gentleman advance, make his bow, say and receive a few words
and retire. This little incident, however, made a momentary diversion in
the immediate circle of Lord Monmouth, and before they could all resume
their former talk and fall into their previous positions, an impulse sent
forth Coningsby, who walked up to Lord Monmouth, and standing before him,
'How do you do, grandpapa?'
Lord Monmouth beheld his grandson. His comprehensive and penetrating
glance took in every point with a flash. There stood before him one of the
handsomest youths he had ever seen, with a mien as graceful as his
countenance was captivating; and his whole air breathing that freshness
and ingenuousness which none so much appreciates as the used man of the
world. And this was his child; the only one of his blood to whom he had
been kind. It would be exaggeration to say that Lord Monmouth's heart was
touched; but his goodnature effervesced, and his fine taste was deeply
gratified. He perceived in an instant such a relation might be a valuable
adherent; an irresistible candidate for future elections: a brilliant tool
to work out the Dukedom. All these impressions and ideas, and many more,
passed through the quick brain of Lord Monmouth ere the sound of
Coningsby's words had seemed to cease, and long before the surrounding
guests had recovered from the surprise which they had occasioned them, and
which did not diminish, when Lord Monmouth, advancing, placed his arms
round Coningsby with a dignity of affection that would have become Louis
XIV., and then, in the high manner of the old Court, kissed him on each
'Welcome to your home,' said Lord Monmouth. 'You have grown a great deal.'
Then Lord Monmouth led the agitated Coningsby to the great lady, who was a
Princess and an Ambassadress, and then, placing his arm gracefully in that
of his grandson, he led him across the room, and presented him in due form
to some royal blood that was his guest, in the shape of a Russian Grand-
duke. His Imperial Highness received our hero as graciously as the
grandson of Lord Monmouth might expect; but no greeting can be imagined
warmer than the one he received from the lady with whom the Grand-duke was
conversing. She was a dame whose beauty was mature, but still radiant. Her
figure was superb; her dark hair crowned with a tiara of curious
workmanship. Her rounded arm was covered with costly bracelets, but not a
jewel on her finely formed bust, and the least possible rouge on her still
oval cheek. Madame Colonna retained her charms.
The party, though so considerable, principally consisted of the guests at
the Castle. The suite of the Grand-duke included several counts and
generals; then there were the Russian Ambassador and his lady; and a
Russian Prince and Princess, their relations. The Prince and Princess
Colonna and the Princess Lucretia were also paying a visit to the
Marquess; and the frequency of these visits made some straight-laced
magnificoes mysteriously declare it was impossible to go to Coningsby; but
as they were not asked, it did not much signify. The Marquess knew a great
many very agreeable people of the highest _ton_, who took a more liberal
view of human conduct, and always made it a rule to presume the best
motives instead of imputing the worst. There was Lady St. Julians, for
example, whose position was of the highest; no one more sought; she made
it a rule to go everywhere and visit everybody, provided they had power,
wealth, and fashion. She knew no crime except a woman not living with her
husband; that was past pardon. So long as his presence sanctioned her
conduct, however shameless, it did not signify; but if the husband were a
brute, neglected his wife first, and then deserted her; then, if a breath
but sullies her name she must be crushed; unless, indeed, her own family
were very powerful, which makes a difference, and sometimes softens
immorality into indiscretion.
Lord and Lady Gaverstock were also there, who never said an unkind thing
of anybody; her ladyship was pure as snow; but her mother having been
divorced, she ever fancied she was paying a kind of homage to her parent,
by visiting those who might some day be in the same predicament. There
were other lords and ladies of high degree; and some who, though neither
lords nor ladies, were charming people, which Lord Monmouth chiefly cared
about; troops of fine gentlemen who came and went; and some who were
neither fine nor gentlemen, but who were very amusing or very obliging, as
circumstances required, and made life easy and pleasant to others and
A new scene this for Coningsby, who watched with interest all that passed
before him. The dinner was announced as served; an affectionate arm guides
him at a moment of some perplexity.
'When did you arrive, Harry? We shall sit together. How is the Duchess?'
inquired Mr. Rigby, who spoke as if he had seen Coningsby for the first
time; but who indeed had, with that eye which nothing could escape,
observed his reception by his grandfather, marked it well, and inwardly
There was to be a first appearance on the stage of Lord Monmouth's theatre
to-night, the expectation of which created considerable interest in the
party, and was one of the principal subjects of conversation at dinner.
Villebecque, the manager of the troop, had married the actress Stella,
once celebrated for her genius and her beauty; a woman who had none of the
vices of her craft, for, though she was a fallen angel, there were what
her countrymen style extenuating circumstances in her declension. With the
whole world at her feet, she had remained unsullied. Wealth and its
enjoyments could not tempt her, although she was unable to refuse her
heart to one whom she deemed worthy of possessing it. She found her fate
in an Englishman, who was the father of her only child, a daughter. She
thought she had met in him a hero, a demi-god, a being of deep passion and
original and creative mind; but he was only a voluptuary, full of violence
instead of feeling, and eccentric, because he had great means with which
he could gratify extravagant whims. Stella found she had made the great
and irretrievable mistake. She had exchanged devotion for a passionate and
evanescent fancy, prompted at first by vanity, and daily dissipating under
the influence of custom and new objects. Though not stainless in conduct,
Stella was pure in spirit. She required that devotion which she had
yielded; and she separated herself from the being to whom she had made the
most precious sacrifice. He offered her the consoling compensation of a
settlement, which she refused; and she returned with a broken spirit to
that profession of which she was still the ornament and the pride.
The animating principle of her career was her daughter, whom she educated
with a solicitude which the most virtuous mother could not surpass. To
preserve her from the stage, and to secure for her an independence, were
the objects of her mother's life; but nature whispered to her, that the
days of that life were already numbered. The exertions of her profession
had alarmingly developed an inherent tendency to pulmonary disease.
Anxious that her child should not be left without some protector, Stella
yielded to the repeated solicitations of one who from the first had been
her silent admirer, and she married Villebecque, a clever actor, and an
enterprising man who meant to be something more. Their union was not of
long duration, though it was happy on the side of Villebecque, and serene
on that of his wife. Stella was recalled from this world, where she had
known much triumph and more suffering; and where she had exercised many
virtues, which elsewhere, though not here, may perhaps be accepted as some
palliation of one great error.
Villebecque acted becomingly to the young charge which Stella had
bequeathed to him. He was himself, as we have intimated, a man of
enterprise, a restless spirit, not content to move for ever in the sphere
in which he was born. Vicissitudes are the lot of such aspirants.
Villebecque became manager of a small theatre, and made money. If
Villebecque without a sou had been a schemer, Villebecque with a small
capital was the very Chevalier Law of theatrical managers. He took a
larger theatre, and even that succeeded. Soon he was recognised as the
lessee of more than one, and still he prospered. Villebecque began to
dabble in opera-houses. He enthroned himself at Paris; his envoys were
heard of at Milan and Naples, at Berlin and St. Petersburg. His
controversies with the Conservatoire at Paris ranked among state papers.
Villebecque rolled in chariots and drove cabriolets; Villebecque gave
refined suppers to great nobles, who were honoured by the invitation;
Villebecque wore a red ribbon in the button-hole of his frock, and more
than one cross in his gala dress.
All this time the daughter of Stella increased in years and stature, and
we must add in goodness: a mild, soft-hearted girl, as yet with no decided
character, but one who loved calmness and seemed little fitted for the
circle in which she found herself. In that circle, however, she ever
experienced kindness and consideration. No enterprise however hazardous,
no management however complicated, no schemes however vast, ever for a
moment induced Villebecque to forget 'La Petite.' If only for one
breathless instant, hardly a day elapsed but he saw her; she was his
companion in all his rapid movements, and he studied every comfort and
convenience that could relieve her delicate frame in some degree from the
inconvenience and exhaustion of travel. He was proud to surround her with
luxury and refinement; to supply her with the most celebrated masters; to
gratify every wish that she could express.
But all this time Villebecque was dancing on a volcano. The catastrophe
which inevitably occurs in the career of all great speculators, and
especially theatrical ones, arrived to him. Flushed with his prosperity,
and confident in his constant success, nothing would satisfy him but
universal empire. He had established his despotism at Paris, his dynasties
at Naples and at Milan; but the North was not to him, and he was
determined to appropriate it. Berlin fell before a successful campaign,
though a costly one; but St. Petersburg and London still remained.
Resolute and reckless, nothing deterred Villebecque. One season all the
opera-houses in Europe obeyed his nod, and at the end of it he was ruined.
The crash was utter, universal, overwhelming; and under ordinary
circumstances a French bed and a brasier of charcoal alone remained for
Villebecque, who was equal to the occasion. But the thought of La Petite
and the remembrance of his promise to Stella deterred him from the deed.
He reviewed his position in a spirit becoming a practical philosopher. Was
he worse off than before he commenced his career? Yes, because he was
older; though to be sure he had his compensating reminiscences. But was he
too old to do anything? At forty-five the game was not altogether up; and
in a large theatre, not too much lighted, and with the artifices of a
dramatic toilet, he might still be able successfully to reassume those
characters of coxcombs and muscadins, in which he was once so celebrated.
Luxury had perhaps a little too much enlarged his waist, but diet and
rehearsals would set all right.
Villebecque in their adversity broke to La Petite, that the time had
unfortunately arrived when it would be wise for her to consider the most
effectual means for turning her talents and accomplishments to account. He
himself suggested the stage, to which otherwise there were doubtless
objections, because her occupation in any other pursuit would necessarily
separate them; but he impartially placed before her the relative
advantages and disadvantages of every course which seemed to lie open to
them, and left the preferable one to her own decision. La Petite, who had
wept very much over Villebecque's misfortunes, and often assured him that
she cared for them only for his sake, decided for the stage, solely
because it would secure their not being parted; and yet, as she often
assured him, she feared she had no predisposition for the career.
Villebecque had now not only to fill his own parts at the theatre at which
he had obtained an engagement, but he had also to be the instructor of his
ward. It was a life of toil; an addition of labour and effort that need
scarcely have been made to the exciting exertion of performance, and the
dull exercise of rehearsal; but he bore it all without a murmur; with a
self-command and a gentle perseverance which the finest temper in the
world could hardly account for; certainly not when we remember that its
possessor, who had to make all these exertions and endure all this
wearisome toil, had just experienced the most shattering vicissitudes of
fortune, and been hurled from the possession of absolute power and
Lord Eskdale, who was always doing kind things to actors and actresses,
had a great regard for Villebecque, with whom he had often supped. He had
often been kind, too, to La Petite. Lord Eskdale had a plan for putting
Villebecque, as he termed it, 'on his legs again.' It was to establish him
with a French Company in London at some pretty theatre; Lord Eskdale to
take a private box and to make all his friends do the same. Villebecque,
who was as sanguine as he was good-tempered, was ravished by this friendly
scheme. He immediately believed that he should recover his great fortunes
as rapidly as he had lost them. He foresaw in La Petite a genius as
distinguished as that of her mother, although as yet not developed, and he
was boundless in his expressions of gratitude to his patron. And indeed of
all friends, a friend in need is the most delightful. Lord Eskdale had the
talent of being a friend in need. Perhaps it was because he knew so many
worthless persons. But it often happens that worthless persons are merely
people who are worth nothing.
Lord Monmouth having written to Mr. Rigby of his intention to reside for
some months at Coningsby, and having mentioned that he wished a troop of
French comedians to be engaged for the summer, Mr. Rigby had immediately
consulted Lord Eskdale on the subject, as the best current authority.
Thinking this a good opportunity of giving a turn to poor Villebecque, and
that it might serve as a capital introduction to their scheme of the
London company, Lord Eskdale obtained for him the engagement.
Villebecque and his little troop had now been a month at Coningsby, and
had hitherto performed three times a-week. Lord Monmouth was content; his
guests much gratified; the company, on the whole, much approved of. It
was, indeed, considering its limited numbers, a capital company. There was
a young lady who played the old woman's parts, nothing could be more
garrulous and venerable; and a lady of maturer years who performed the
heroines, gay and graceful as May. Villebecque himself was a celebrity in
characters of airy insolence and careless frolic. Their old man, indeed,
was rather hard, but handy; could take anything either in the high
serious, or the low droll. Their sentimental lover was rather too much
bewigged, and spoke too much to the audience, a fault rare with the
French; but this hero had a vague idea that he was ultimately destined to
run off with a princess.
In this wise, affairs had gone on for a month; very well, but not too
well. The enterprising genius of Villebecque, once more a manager,
prompted him to action. He felt an itching desire to announce a novelty.
He fancied Lord Monmouth had yawned once or twice when the heroine came
on. Villebecque wanted to make a _coup._ It was clear that La Petite must
sooner or later begin. Could she find a more favourable audience, or a
more fitting occasion, than were now offered? True it was she had a great
repugnance to come out; but it certainly seemed more to her advantage that
she should make her first appearance at a private theatre than at a public
one; supported by all the encouraging patronage of Coningsby Castle, than
subjected to all the cynical criticism of the stalls of St. James'.
These views and various considerations were urged and represented by
Villebecque to La Petite, with all the practised powers of plausibility of
which so much experience as a manager had made him master. La Petite
looked infinitely distressed, but yielded, as she ever did. And the night
of Coningsby's arrival at the Castle was to witness in its private theatre
the first appearance of MADEMOISELLE FLORA.
The guests re-assembled in the great saloon before they repaired to the
theatre. A lady on the arm of the Russian Prince bestowed on Coningsby a
haughty, but not ungracious bow; which he returned, unconscious of the
person to whom he bent. She was, however, a striking person; not
beautiful, her face, indeed, at the first glance was almost repulsive, yet
it ever attracted a second gaze. A remarkable pallor distinguished her;
her features had neither regularity nor expression; neither were her eyes
fine; but her brow impressed you with an idea of power of no ordinary
character or capacity. Her figure was as fine and commanding as her face
was void of charm. Juno, in the full bloom of her immortality, could have
presented nothing more majestic. Coningsby watched her as she swept along
like a resistless Fate.
Servants now went round and presented to each of the guests a billet of
the performance. It announced in striking characters the _debut_ of
Mademoiselle Flora. A principal servant, bearing branch lights, came
forward and bowed to the Marquess. Lord Monmouth went immediately to the
Grand-duke, and notified to his Imperial Highness that the comedy was
ready. The Grand-duke offered his arm to the Ambassadress; the rest were
following; Coningsby was called; Madame Colonna wished him to be her beau.
It was a pretty theatre; had been rapidly rubbed up and renovated here and
there; the painting just touched; a little gilding on a cornice. There
were no boxes, but the ground-floor, which gradually ascended, was
carpeted and covered with arm-chairs, and the back of the theatre with a
new and rich curtain of green velvet.
They are all seated; a great artist performs on the violin, accompanied by
another great artist on the piano. The lights rise; somebody evidently
crosses the stage behind the curtain. They are disposing the scene. In a
moment the curtain will rise also.
'Have you seen Lucretia?' said the Princess to Coningsby. 'She is so
anxious to resume her acquaintance with you.'
But before he could answer the bell rang, and the curtain rose.
The old man, who had a droll part to-night, came forward and maintained a
conversation with his housekeeper; not bad. The young woman who played the
grave matron performed with great finish. She was a favourite, and was
ever applauded. The second scene came; a saloon tastefully furnished; a
table with flowers, arranged with grace; birds in cages, a lap-dog on a
cushion; some books. The audience were pleased; especially the ladies;
they like to recognise signs of _bon ton_ in the details of the scene. A
rather awful pause, and Mademoiselle Flora enters. She was greeted with
even vehement approbation. Her agitation is extreme; she curtseys and bows
her head, as if to hide her face. The face was pleasing, and pretty
enough, soft and engaging. Her figure slight and rather graceful. Nothing
could be more perfect than her costume; purely white, but the fashion
consummate; a single rose her only ornament. All admitted that her hair
was arranged to admiration.
At length she spoke; her voice trembled, but she had a good elocution,
though her organ wanted force. The gentlemen looked at each other, and
nodded approbation. There was something so unobtrusive in her mien, that
she instantly became a favourite with the ladies. The scene was not long,
but it was successful.
Flora did not appear in the next scene. In the fourth and final one of the
act, she had to make a grand display. It was a love-scene, and rather of
an impassioned character; Villebecque was her suitor. He entered first on
the stage. Never had he looked so well, or performed with more spirit. You
would not have given him five-and-twenty years; he seemed redolent of
youth. His dress, too, was admirable. He had studied the most
distinguished of his audience for the occasion, and had outdone them all.
The fact is, he had been assisted a little by a great connoisseur, a
celebrated French nobleman, Count D'O----y, who had been one of the
guests. The thing was perfect; and Lord Monmouth took a pinch of snuff,
and tapped approbation on the top of his box.
Flora now re-appeared, received with renewed approbation. It did not seem,
however, that in the interval she had gained courage; she looked agitated.
She spoke, she proceeded with her part; it became impassioned. She had to
speak of her feelings; to tell the secrets of her heart; to confess that
she loved another; her emotion was exquisitely performed, the mournful
tenderness of her tones thrilling. There was, throughout the audience, a
dead silence; all were absorbed in their admiration of the unrivalled
artist; all felt a new genius had visited the stage; but while they were
fascinated by the actress, the woman was in torture. The emotion was the
disturbance of her own soul; the mournful tenderness of her tones thrilled
from the heart: suddenly she clasped her hands with all the exhaustion of
woe; an expression of agony flitted over her countenance; and she burst
into tears. Villebecque rushed forward, and carried, rather than led, her
from the stage; the audience looking at each other, some of them
suspecting that this movement was a part of the scene.
'She has talent,' said Lord Monmouth to the Russian Ambassadress, 'but
wants practice. Villebecque should send her for a time to the provinces.'
At length M. Villebecque came forward to express his deep regret that the
sudden and severe indisposition of Mlle. Flora rendered it impossible for
the company to proceed with the piece; but that the curtain would descend
to rise again for the second and last piece announced.
All this accordingly took place. The experienced performer who acted the
heroines now came forward and disported most jocundly. The failure of
Flora had given fresh animation to her perpetual liveliness. She seemed
the very soul of elegant frolic. In the last scene she figured in male
attire; and in air, fashion, and youth, beat Villebecque out of the field.
She looked younger than Coningsby when he went up to his grandpapa.
The comedy was over, the curtain fell; the audience, much amused,
chattered brilliant criticism, and quitted the theatre to repair to the
saloon, where they were to be diverted tonight with Russian dances. Nobody
thought of the unhappy Flora; not a single message to console her in her
grief, to compliment her on what she had done, to encourage her future.
And yet it was a season for a word of kindness; so, at least, thought one
of the audience, as he lingered behind the hurrying crowd, absorbed in
their coming amusements.
Coningsby had sat very near the stage; he had observed, with great
advantage and attention, the countenance and movements of Flora from the
beginning. He was fully persuaded that her woe was genuine and profound.
He had felt his eyes moist when she wept. He recoiled from the cruelty and
the callousness that, without the slightest symptom of sympathy, could
leave a young girl who had been labouring for their amusement, and who was
suffering for her trial.
He got on the stage, ran behind the scenes, and asked for Mlle. Flora.
They pointed to a door; he requested permission to enter. Flora was
sitting at a table, with her face resting on her hands. Villebecque was
there, resting on the edge of the tall fender, and still in the dress in
which he had performed in the last piece.
'I took the liberty,' said Coningsby, 'of inquiring after Mlle. Flora;'
and then advancing to her, who had raised her head, he added, 'I am sure
my grandfather must feel much indebted to you, Mademoiselle, for making
such exertions when you were suffering under so much indisposition.'
'This is very amiable of you, sir,' said the young lady, looking at him
'Mademoiselle has too much sensibility,' said Villebecque, making an
observation by way of diversion.
'And yet that must be the soul of fine acting,' said Coningsby; 'I look
forward, all look forward, with great interest to the next occasion on
which you will favour us.'
'Never!' said La Petite, in a plaintive tone; 'oh, I hope, never!'
'Mademoiselle is not aware at this moment,' said Coningsby, 'how much her
talent is appreciated. I assure you, sir,' he added, turning to
Villebecque, 'I heard but one opinion, but one expression of gratification
at her feeling and her fine taste.'
'The talent is hereditary,' said Villebecque.
'Indeed you have reason to say so,' said Coningsby.
'Pardon; I was not thinking of myself. My child reminded me so much of
another this evening. But that is nothing. I am glad you are here, sir, to
'I came only to congratulate her, and to lament, for our sakes as well as
her own, her indisposition.'
'It is not indisposition,' said La Petite, in a low tone, with her eyes
'Mademoiselle cannot overcome the nervousness incidental to a first
appearance,' said Villebecque.
'A last appearance,' said La Petite: 'yes, it must be the last.' She rose
gently, she approached Villebecque, she laid her head on his breast, and
placed her arms round his neck, 'My father, my best father, yes, say it is
'You are the mistress of your lot, Flora,' said Villebecque; 'but with
such a distinguished talent--'
'No, no, no; no talent. You are wrong, my father. I know myself. I am not
of those to whom nature gives talents. I am born only for still life. I
have no taste except for privacy. The convent is more suited to me than
'But you hear what this gentleman says,' said Villebecque, returning her
embrace. 'He tells you that his grandfather, my Lord Marquess, I believe,
sir, that every one, that--'
'Oh, no, no, no!' said Flora, shaking her head. 'He comes here because he
is generous, because he is a gentleman; and he wished to soothe the soul
that he knew was suffering. Thank him, my father, thank him for me and
before me, and promise in his presence that the stage and your daughter
have parted for ever.'
'Nay, Mademoiselle,' said Coningsby, advancing and venturing to take her
hand, a soft hand, 'make no such resolutions to-night. M. Villebecque can
have no other thought or object but your happiness; and, believe me, 'tis
not I only, but all, who appreciate, and, if they were here, must respect
'I prefer respect to admiration,' said Flora; 'but I fear that respect is
not the appanage of such as I am.'
'All must respect those who respect themselves,' said Coningsby. 'Adieu,
Mademoiselle; I trust to-morrow to hear that you are yourself.' He bowed
to Villebecque and retired.
In the meantime affairs in the drawing-room assumed a very different
character from those behind the scenes. Coningsby returned to brilliancy,
groups apparently gushing with light-heartedness, universal content, and
'And you too, do you dance the Russian dances, Mr. Coningsby?' said Madame
'I cannot dance at all,' said Coningsby, beginning a little to lose his
pride in the want of an accomplishment which at Eton he had thought it
spirited to despise.
'Ah! you cannot dance the Russian dances! Lucretia shall teach you,' said
the Princess; 'nothing will please her so much.'
On the present occasion the ladies were not so experienced in the
entertainment as the gentlemen; but there was amusement in being
instructed. To be disciplined by a Grand-duke or a Russian Princess was
all very well; but what even good-tempered Lady Gaythorp could not pardon
was, that a certain Mrs. Guy Flouncey, whom they were all of them trying
to put down and to keep down, on this, as almost on every other occasion,
proved herself a more finished performer than even the Russians
Lord Monmouth had picked up the Guy Flounceys during a Roman winter. They
were people of some position in society. Mr. Guy Flouncey was a man of
good estate, a sportsman, proud of his pretty wife. Mrs. Guy Flouncey was
even very pretty, dressed in a style of ultra fashion. However, she could
sing, dance, act, ride, and talk, and all well; and was mistress of the
art of flirtation. She had amused the Marquess abroad, and had taken care
to call at Monmouth House the instant the _Morning Post_ apprised her he
had arrived in England; the consequence was an invitation to Coningsby.
She came with a wardrobe which, in point of variety, fancy, and fashion,
never was surpassed. Morning and evening, every day a new dress equally
striking; and a riding habit that was the talk and wonder of the whole
neighbourhood. Mrs. Guy Flouncey created far more sensation in the borough
when she rode down the High Street, than what the good people called the
At first the fine ladies never noticed her, or only stared at her over
their shoulders; everywhere sounded, in suppressed whispers, the fatal
question, 'Who is she?' After dinner they formed always into polite
groups, from which Mrs. Guy Flouncey was invariably excluded; and if ever
the Princess Colonna, impelled partly by goodnature, and partly from
having known her on the Continent, did kindly sit by her, Lady St.
Julians, or some dame equally benevolent, was sure, by an adroit appeal to
Her Highness on some point which could not be decided without moving, to
withdraw her from her pretty and persecuted companion.
It was, indeed, rather difficult work the first few days for Mrs. Guy
Flouncey, especially immediately after dinner. It is not soothing to one's
self-love to find oneself sitting alone, pretending to look at prints, in
a fine drawing-room, full of fine people who don't speak to you. But Mrs.
Guy Flouncey, after having taken Coningsby Castle by storm, was not to be
driven out of its drawing-room by the tactics even of a Lady St. Julians.
Experience convinced her that all that was required was a little patience.
Mrs. Guy had confidence in herself, her quickness, her ever ready
accomplishments, and her practised powers of attraction. And she was
right. She was always sure of an ally the moment the gentlemen appeared.
The cavalier who had sat next to her at dinner was only too happy to meet
her again. More than once, too, she had caught her noble host, though a
whole garrison was ever on the watch to prevent her, and he was greatly
amused, and showed that he was greatly amused by her society. Then she
suggested plans to him to divert his guests. In a country-house the
suggestive mind is inestimable. Somehow or other, before a week passed,
Mrs. Guy Flouncey seemed the soul of everything, was always surrounded by
a cluster of admirers, and with what are called 'the best men' ever ready
to ride with her, dance with her, act with her, or fall at her feet. The
fine ladies found it absolutely necessary to thaw: they began to ask her
questions after dinner. Mrs. Guy Flouncey only wanted an opening. She was
an adroit flatterer, with a temper imperturbable, and gifted with a
ceaseless energy of conferring slight obligations. She lent them patterns
for new fashions, in all which mysteries she was very versant; and what
with some gentle glozing and some gay gossip, sugar for their tongues and
salt for their tails, she contrived pretty well to catch them all.
Nothing could present a greater contrast than the respective interiors of
Coningsby and Beaumanoir. That air of habitual habitation, which so
pleasingly distinguished the Duke's family seat, was entirely wanting at
Coningsby. Everything, indeed, was vast and splendid; but it seemed rather
a gala-house than a dwelling; as if the grand furniture and the grand
servants had all come down express from town with the grand company, and
were to disappear and to be dispersed at the same time. And truly there
were manifold traces of hasty and temporary arrangement; new carpets and
old hangings; old paint, new gilding; battalions of odd French chairs,
squadrons of queer English tables; and large tasteless lamps and tawdry
chandeliers, evidently true cockneys, and only taking the air by way of
change. There was, too, throughout the drawing-rooms an absence of all
those minor articles of ornamental furniture that are the offering of
taste to the home we love. There were no books neither; few flowers; no
pet animals; no portfolios of fine drawings by our English artists like
the album of the Duchess, full of sketches by Landseer and Stanfield, and
their gifted brethren; not a print even, except portfolios of H. B.'s
caricatures. The modes and manners of the house were not rural; there was
nothing of the sweet order of a country life. Nobody came down to
breakfast; the ladies were scarcely seen until dinner-time; they rolled
about in carriages together late in the afternoon as if they were in
London, or led a sort of factitious boudoir life in their provincial
The Marquess sent for Coningsby the morning after his arrival and asked
him to breakfast with him in his private rooms. Nothing could be more kind
or more agreeable than his grandfather. He appeared to be interested in
his grandson's progress, was glad to find Coningsby had distinguished
himself at Eton, solemnly adjured him not to neglect his French. A
classical education, he said, was a very admirable thing, and one which
all gentlemen should enjoy; but Coningsby would find some day that there
were two educations, one which his position required, and another which
was demanded by the world. 'French, my dear Harry,' he continued, 'is the
key to this second education. In a couple of years or so you will enter
the world; it is a different thing to what you read about. It is a
masquerade; a motley, sparkling multitude, in which you may mark all forms
and colours, and listen to all sentiments and opinions; but where all you
see and hear has only one object, plunder. When you get into this crowd
you will find that Greek and Latin are not so much diffused as you
imagine. I was glad to hear you speaking French yesterday. Study your
accent. There are a good many foreigners here with whom you may try your
wing a little; don't talk to any of them too much. Be very careful of
intimacies. All the people here are good acquaintance; at least pretty
well. Now, here,' said the Marquess, taking up a letter and then throwing
it on the table again, 'now here is a man whom I should like you to know,
Sidonia. He will be here in a few days. Lay yourself out for him if you
have the opportunity. He is a man of rare capacity, and enormously rich.
No one knows the world like Sidonia. I never met his equal; and 'tis so
pleasant to talk with one that can want nothing of you.'
Lord Monmouth had invited Coningsby to take a drive with him in the
afternoon. The Marquess wished to show a part of his domain to the
Ambassadress. Only Lucretia, he said, would be with them, and there was a
place for him. This invitation was readily accepted by Coningsby, who was
not yet sufficiently established in the habits of the house exactly to
know how to pass his morning. His friend and patron, Mr. Rigby, was
entirely taken up with the Grand-duke, whom he was accompanying all over
the neighbourhood, in visits to manufactures, many of which Rigby himself
saw for the first time, but all of which he fluently explained to his
Imperial Highness. In return for this, he extracted much information from
the Grand-duke on Russian plans and projects, materials for a 'slashing'
article against the Russophobia that he was preparing, and in which he was
to prove that Muscovite aggression was an English interest, and entirely
to be explained by the want of sea-coast, which drove the Czar, for the
pure purposes of commerce, to the Baltic and the Euxine.
When the hour for the drive arrived, Coningsby found Lucretia, a young
girl when he had first seen her only four years back, and still his
junior, in that majestic dame who had conceded a superb recognition to him
the preceding eve. She really looked older than Madame Colonna; who, very
beautiful, very young-looking, and mistress of the real arts of the
toilet, those that cannot be detected, was not in the least altered since
she first so cordially saluted Coningsby as her dear young friend at
The day was delightful, the park extensive and picturesque, the
Ambassadress sparkling with anecdote, and occasionally, in a low voice,
breathing a diplomatic hint to Lord Monmouth, who bowed his graceful
consciousness of her distinguished confidence. Coningsby occasionally took
advantage of one of those moments, when the conversation ceased to be
general, to address Lucretia, who replied in calm, fine smiles, and in
affable monosyllables. She indeed generally succeeded in conveying an
impression to those she addressed, that she had never seen them before,
did not care to see them now, and never wished to see them again. And all
this, too, with an air of great courtesy.
They arrived at the brink of a wooded bank; at their feet flowed a fine
river, deep and rushing, though not broad; its opposite bank the boundary
of a richly-timbered park.
'Ah! this is beautiful!' exclaimed the Ambassadress. 'And is that yours,
'Not yet,' said the Marquess. 'That is Hellingsley; it is one of the
finest places in the county, with a splendid estate; not so considerable
as Coningsby, but very great. It belongs to an old, a very old man,
without a relative in the world. It is known that the estate will be sold
at his death, which may be almost daily expected. Then it is mine. No one
can offer for it what I can afford. For it gives me this division of the
county, Princess. To possess Hellingsley is one of my objects.' The
Marquess spoke with an animation unusual with him, almost with a degree of
The wind met them as they returned, the breeze blew rather freshly.
Lucretia all of a sudden seemed touched with unusual emotion. She was
alarmed lest Lord Monmouth should catch cold; she took a kerchief from her
own well-turned throat to tie round his neck. He feebly resisted,
evidently much pleased.
The Princess Lucretia was highly accomplished. In the evening, having
refused several distinguished guests, but instantly yielding to the
request of Lord Monmouth, she sang. It was impossible to conceive a
contralto of more thrilling power, or an execution more worthy of the
voice. Coningsby, who was not experienced in fine singing, listened as if
to a supernatural lay, but all agreed it was of the highest class of
nature and of art; and the Grand-duke was in raptures. Lucretia received
even his Highness' compliments with a graceful indifference. Indeed, to
those who watched her demeanour, it might be remarked that she seemed to
yield to none, although all bowed before her.
Madame Colonna, who was always kind to Coningsby, expressed to him her
gratification from the party of the morning. It must have been delightful,
she assured Coningsby, for Lord Monmouth to have had both Lucretia and his
grandson with him; and Lucretia too, she added, must have been so pleased.
Coningsby could not make out why Madame Colonna was always intimating to
him that the Princess Lucretia took such great interest in his existence,
looked forward with such gratification to his society, remembered with so
much pleasure the past, anticipated so much happiness from the future. It
appeared to him that he was to Lucretia, if not an object of repugnance,
as he sometimes fancied, certainly one only of absolute indifference; but
he said nothing. He had already lived long enough to know that it is
unwise to wish everything explained.
In the meantime his life was agreeable. Every day, he found, added to his
acquaintance. He was never without a companion to ride or to shoot with;
and of riding Coningsby was very fond. His grandfather, too, was
continually giving him goodnatured turns, and making him of consequence in
the Castle: so that all the guests were fully impressed with the
importance of Lord Monmouth's grandson. Lady St. Julians pronounced him
distinguished; the Ambassadress thought diplomacy should be his part, as
he had a fine person and a clear brain; Madame Colonna spoke of him always
as if she took intense interest in his career, and declared she liked him
almost as much as Lucretia did; the Russians persisted in always styling
him 'the young Marquess,' notwithstanding the Ambassador's explanations;
Mrs. Guy Flouncey made a dashing attack on him; but Coningsby remembered a
lesson which Lady Everingham had graciously bestowed on him. He was not to
be caught again easily. Besides, Mrs. Guy Flouncey laughed a little too
much, and talked a little too loud.
As time flew on, there were changes of visitors, chiefly among the single
men. At the end of the first week after Coningsby's arrival, Lord Eskdale
appeared, bringing with him Lucian Gay; and soon after followed the
Marquess of Beaumanoir and Mr. Melton. These were all heroes who, in their
way, interested the ladies, and whose advent was hailed with general
satisfaction. Even Lucretia would relax a little to Lord Eskdale. He was
one of her oldest friends, and with a simplicity of manner which amounted
almost to plainness, and with rather a cynical nonchalance in his carriage
towards men, Lord Eskdale was invariably a favourite with women. To be
sure his station was eminent; he was noble, and very rich, and very
powerful, and these are qualities which tell as much with the softer as
the harsher sex; but there are individuals with all these qualities who
are nevertheless unpopular with women. Lord Eskdale was easy, knew the
world thoroughly, had no prejudices, and, above all, had a reputation for
success. A reputation for success has as much influence with women as a
reputation for wealth has with men. Both reputations may be, and often
are, unjust; but we see persons daily make good fortunes by them all the
same. Lord Eskdale was not an impostor; and though he might not have been
so successful a man had he not been Lord Eskdale, still, thrown over by a
revolution, he would have lighted on his legs.
The arrival of this nobleman was the occasion of giving a good turn to
poor Flora. He went immediately to see his friend Villebecque and his
troop. Indeed it was a sort of society which pleased Lord Eskdale more
than that which is deemed more refined. He was very sorry about 'La
Petite;' but thought that everything would come right in the long run; and
told Villebecque that he was glad to hear him well spoken of here,
especially by the Marquess, who seemed to take to him. As for Flora, he
was entirely against her attempting the stage again, at least for the
present, but as she was a good musician, he suggested to the Princess
Lucretia one night, that the subordinate aid of Flora might be of service
to her, and permit her to favour her friends with some pieces which
otherwise she must deny to them. This suggestion was successful; Flora was
introduced occasionally, soon often, to their parties in the evening, and
her performances were in every respect satisfactory. There was nothing to
excite the jealousy of Lucretia either in her style or her person. And yet
she sang well enough, and was a quiet, refined, retiring, by no means
disagreeable person. She was the companion of Lucretia very often in the
morning as well as in the illumined saloon; for the Princess was devoted
to the art in which she excelled. This connexion on the whole contributed
to the happiness of poor Flora. True it was, in the evening she often
found herself sitting or standing alone and no one noticing her; she had
no dazzling quality to attract men of fashion, who themselves love to
worship ever the fashionable. Even their goddesses must be _a la mode_.
But Coningsby never omitted an opportunity to show Flora some kindness
under these circumstances. He always came and talked to her, and praised
her singing, and would sometimes hand her refreshments and give her his
arm if necessary. These slight attentions coming from the grandson of Lord
Monmouth were for the world redoubled in their value, though Flora thought
only of their essential kindness; all in character with that first visit
which dwelt on the poor girl's memory, though it had long ago escaped that
of her visitor. For in truth Coningsby had no other impulse for his
conduct but kind-heartedness.
Thus we have attempted to give some faint idea how life glided away at the
Castle the first fortnight that Coningsby passed there. Perhaps we ought
not to omit that Mrs. Guy Flouncey, to the infinite disgust of Lady St.
Julians, who had a daughter with her, successfully entrapped the devoted
attentions of the young Marquess of Beaumanoir, who was never very
backward if a lady would take trouble enough; while his friend, Mr.
Melton, whose barren homage Lady St. Julians wished her daughter ever
particularly to shun, employed all his gaiety, good-humour, frivolity, and
fashion in amusing that young lady, and with irresistible effect. For the
rest, they continued, though they had only partridges to shoot, to pass
the morning without weariness. The weather was fine; the stud numerous;
all might be mounted. The Grand-duke and his suite, guided by Mr. Rigby,
had always some objects to visit, and railroads returned them just in time
for the banquet with an appetite which they had earned, and during which
Rigby recounted their achievements, and his own opinions.
The dinner was always firstrate; the evening never failed; music, dancing,
and the theatre offered great resources independently of the soul-subduing
sentiment harshly called flirtation, and which is the spell of a country
house. Lord Monmouth was satisfied, for he had scarcely ever felt wearied.
All that he required in life was to be amused; perhaps that was not all he
required, but it was indispensable. Nor was it wonderful that on the
present occasion he obtained his purpose, for there were half a hundred of
the brightest eyes and quickest brains ever on the watch or the whirl to
secure him distraction. The only circumstance that annoyed him was the
non-arrival of Sidonia. Lord Monmouth could not bear to be disappointed.
He could not refrain from saying, notwithstanding all the resources and
all the exertions of his guests,
'I cannot understand why Sidonia does not come. I wish Sidonia were here.'
'So do I,' said Lord Eskdale; 'Sidonia is the only man who tells one
'We saw Sidonia at Lord Studcaster's,' said Lord Beaumanoir. 'He told
Melton he was coming here.'
'You know he has bought all Studcaster's horses,' said Mr. Melton.
'I wonder he does not buy Studcaster himself,' said Lord Monmouth; 'I
would if I were he; Sidonia can buy anything,' he turned to Mrs. Guy
'I wonder who Sidonia is,' thought Mrs. Guy Flouncey, but she was
determined no one should suppose she did not know.
At length one day Coningsby met Madame Colonna in the vestibule before
'Milor is in such good temper, Mr. Coningsby,' she said; 'Monsieur de
Sidonia has arrived.'
About ten minutes before dinner there was a stir in the chamber. Coningsby
looked round. He saw the Grand-duke advancing, and holding out his hand in
a manner the most gracious. A gentleman, of distinguished air, but with
his back turned to Coningsby, was bowing as he received his Highness'
greeting. There was a general pause in the room. Several came forward:
even the Marquess seemed a little moved. Coningsby could not resist the
impulse of curiosity to see this individual of whom he had heard so much.
He glided round the room, and caught the countenance of his companion in
the forest inn; he who announced to him, that 'the Age of Ruins was past.'
Sidonia was descended from a very ancient and noble family of Arragon,
that, in the course of ages, had given to the state many distinguished
citizens. In the priesthood its members had been peculiarly eminent.
Besides several prelates, they counted among their number an Archbishop of
Toledo; and a Sidonia, in a season of great danger and difficulty, had
exercised for a series of years the paramount office of Grand Inquisitor.
Yet, strange as it may sound, it is nevertheless a fact, of which there is
no lack of evidence, that this illustrious family during all this period,
in common with two-thirds of the Arragonese nobility, secretly adhered to
the ancient faith and ceremonies of their fathers; a belief in the unity
of the God of Sinai, and the rights and observances of the laws of Moses.
Whence came those Mosaic Arabs whose passages across the strait from
Africa to Europe long preceded the invasion of the Mohammedan Arabs, it is
now impossible to ascertain. Their traditions tell us that from time
immemorial they had sojourned in Africa; and it is not improbable that
they may have been the descendants of some of the earlier dispersions;
like those Hebrew colonies that we find in China, and who probably
emigrated from Persia in the days of the great monarchies. Whatever may
have been their origin in Africa, their fortunes in Southern Europe are
not difficult to trace, though the annals of no race in any age can detail
a history of such strange vicissitudes, or one rife with more touching and
romantic incident. Their unexampled prosperity in the Spanish Peninsula,
and especially in the south, where they had become the principal
cultivators of the soil, excited the jealousy of the Goths; and the
Councils of Toledo during the sixth and seventh centuries attempted, by a
series of decrees worthy of the barbarians who promulgated them, to root
the Jewish Arabs out of the land. There is no doubt the Council of Toledo
led, as directly as the lust of Roderick, to the invasion of Spain by the
Moslemin Arabs. The Jewish population, suffering under the most sanguinary
and atrocious persecution, looked to their sympathising brethren of the
Crescent, whose camps already gleamed on the opposite shore. The overthrow
of the Gothic kingdoms was as much achieved by the superior information
which the Saracens received from their suffering kinsmen, as by the
resistless valour of the Desert. The Saracen kingdoms were established.
That fair and unrivalled civilisation arose which preserved for Europe
arts and letters when Christendom was plunged in darkness. The children of
Ishmael rewarded the children of Israel with equal rights and privileges
with themselves. During these halcyon centuries, it is difficult to
distinguish the follower of Moses from the votary of Mahomet. Both alike
built palaces, gardens, and fountains; filled equally the highest offices
of the state, competed in an extensive and enlightened commerce, and
rivalled each other in renowned universities.
Even after the fall of the principal Moorish kingdoms, the Jews of Spain
were still treated by the conquering Goths with tenderness and
consideration. Their numbers, their wealth, the fact that, in Arragon
especially, they were the proprietors of the soil, and surrounded by
warlike and devoted followers, secured for them an usage which, for a
considerable period, made them little sensible of the change of dynasties
and religions. But the tempest gradually gathered. As the Goths grew
stronger, persecution became more bold. Where the Jewish population was
scanty they were deprived of their privileges, or obliged to conform under
the title of 'Nuevos Christianos.' At length the union of the two crowns
under Ferdinand and Isabella, and the fall of the last Moorish kingdom,
brought the crisis of their fate both to the New Christian and the
nonconforming Hebrew. The Inquisition appeared, the Institution that had
exterminated the Albigenses and had desolated Languedoc, and which, it
should ever be remembered, was established in the Spanish kingdoms against
the protests of the Cortes and amid the terror of the populace. The
Dominicans opened their first tribunal at Seville, and it is curious that
the first individuals they summoned before them were the Duke of Medina
Sidonia, the Marquess of Cadiz, and the Count of Arcos; three of the most
considerable personages in Spain. How many were burned alive at Seville
during the first year, how many imprisoned for life, what countless
thousands were visited with severe though lighter punishments, need not be
recorded here. In nothing was the Holy Office more happy than in multiform
and subtle means by which they tested the sincerity of the New Christians.
At length the Inquisition was to be extended to Arragon. The high-spirited
nobles of that kingdom knew that its institution was for them a matter of
life or death. The Cortes of Arragon appealed to the King and to the Pope;
they organised an extensive conspiracy; the chief Inquisitor was
assassinated in the cathedral of Saragossa. Alas! it was fated that in
this, one of the many, and continual, and continuing struggles between the
rival organisations of the North and the South, the children of the sun
should fall. The fagot and the San Benito were the doom of the nobles of
Arragon. Those who were convicted of secret Judaism, and this scarcely
three centuries ago, were dragged to the stake; the sons of the noblest
houses, in whose veins the Hebrew taint could be traced, had to walk in
solemn procession, singing psalms, and confessing their faith in the
religion of the fell Torquemada.
This triumph in Arragon, the almost simultaneous fall of the last Moorish
kingdom, raised the hopes of the pure Christians to the highest pitch.
Having purged the new Christians, they next turned their attention to the
old Hebrews. Ferdinand was resolved that the delicious air of Spain should
be breathed no longer by any one who did not profess the Catholic faith.
Baptism or exile was the alternative. More than six hundred thousand
individuals, some authorities greatly increase the amount, the most
industrious, the most intelligent, and the most enlightened of Spanish
subjects, would not desert the religion of their fathers. For this they
gave up the delightful land wherein they had lived for centuries, the
beautiful cities they had raised, the universities from which Christendom
drew for ages its most precious lore, the tombs of their ancestors, the
temples where they had worshipped the God for whom they had made this
sacrifice. They had but four months to prepare for eternal exile, after a
residence of as many centuries; during which brief period forced sales and
glutted markets virtually confiscated their property. It is a calamity
that the scattered nation still ranks with the desolations of
Nebuchadnezzar and of Titus. Who after this should say the Jews are by
nature a sordid people? But the Spanish Goth, then so cruel and so
haughty, where is he? A despised suppliant to the very race which he
banished, for some miserable portion of the treasure which their habits of
industry have again accumulated. Where is that tribunal that summoned
Medina Sidonia and Cadiz to its dark inquisition? Where is Spain? Its
fall, its unparalleled and its irremediable fall, is mainly to be
attributed to the expulsion of that large portion of its subjects, the
most industrious and intelligent, who traced their origin to the Mosaic
and Mohammedan Arabs.
The Sidonias of Arragon were Nuevos Christianos. Some of them, no doubt,
were burned alive at the end of the fifteenth century, under the system of
Torquemada; many of them, doubtless, wore the San Benito; but they kept
their titles and estates, and in time reached those great offices to which
we have referred.
During the long disorders of the Peninsular war, when so many openings
were offered to talent, and so many opportunities seized by the
adventurous, a cadet of a younger branch of this family made a large
fortune by military contracts, and supplying the commissariat of the
different armies. At the peace, prescient of the great financial future of
Europe, confident in the fertility of his own genius, in his original
views of fiscal subjects, and his knowledge of national resources, this
Sidonia, feeling that Madrid, or even Cadiz, could never be a base on
which the monetary transactions of the world could be regulated, resolved
to emigrate to England, with which he had, in the course of years, formed
considerable commercial connections. He arrived here after the peace of
Paris, with his large capital. He staked all he was worth on the Waterloo
loan; and the event made him one of the greatest capitalists in Europe.
No sooner was Sidonia established in England than he professed Judaism;
which Torquemada flattered himself, with the fagot and the San Benito, he
had drained out of the veins of his family more than three centuries ago.
He sent over, also, for several of his brothers, who were as good
Catholics in Spain as Ferdinand and Isabella could have possibly desired,
but who made an offering in the synagogue, in gratitude for their safe
voyage, on their arrival in England.
Sidonia had foreseen in Spain that, after the exhaustion of a war of
twenty-five years, Europe must require capital to carry on peace. He
reaped the due reward of his sagacity. Europe did require money, and
Sidonia was ready to lend it to Europe. France wanted some; Austria more;
Prussia a little; Russia a few millions. Sidonia could furnish them all.
The only country which he avoided was Spain; he was too well acquainted
with its resources. Nothing, too, would ever tempt him to lend anything to
the revolted colonies of Spain. Prudence saved him from being a creditor
of the mother-country; his Spanish pride recoiled from the rebellion of
It is not difficult to conceive that, after having pursued the career we
have intimated for about ten years, Sidonia had become one of the most
considerable personages in Europe. He had established a brother, or a near
relative, in whom he could confide, in most of the principal capitals. He
was lord and master of the money-market of the world, and of course
virtually lord and master of everything else. He literally held the
revenues of Southern Italy in pawn; and monarchs and ministers of all
countries courted his advice and were guided by his suggestions. He was
still in the vigour of life, and was not a mere money-making machine. He
had a general intelligence equal to his position, and looked forward to
the period when some relaxation from his vast enterprises and exertions
might enable him to direct his energies to great objects of public
benefit. But in the height of his vast prosperity he suddenly died,
leaving only one child, a youth still of tender years, and heir to the
greatest fortune in Europe, so great, indeed, that it could only be
calculated by millions.
Shut out from universities and schools, those universities and schools
which were indebted for their first knowledge of ancient philosophy to the
learning and enterprise of his ancestors, the young Sidonia was fortunate
in the tutor whom his father had procured for him, and who devoted to his
charge all the resources of his trained intellect and vast and varied
erudition. A Jesuit before the revolution; since then an exiled Liberal
leader; now a member of the Spanish Cortes; Rebello was always a Jew. He
found in his pupil that precocity of intellectual development which is
characteristic of the Arabian organisation. The young Sidonia penetrated
the highest mysteries of mathematics with a facility almost instinctive;
while a memory, which never had any twilight hours, but always reflected a
noontide clearness, seemed to magnify his acquisitions of ancient learning
by the promptness with which they could be reproduced and applied.
The circumstances of his position, too, had early contributed to give him
an unusual command over the modern languages. An Englishman, and taught
from his cradle to be proud of being an Englishman, he first evinced in
speaking his native language those remarkable powers of expression, and
that clear and happy elocution, which ever afterwards distinguished him.
But the son of a Spaniard, the sonorous syllables of that noble tongue
constantly resounded in his ear; while the foreign guests who thronged his
father's mansion habituated him from an early period of life to the tones
of languages that were not long strange to him. When he was nineteen,
Sidonia, who had then resided some time with his uncle at Naples, and had
made a long visit to another of his father's relatives at Frankfort,
possessed a complete mastery over the principal European languages.
At seventeen he had parted with Rebello, who returned to Spain, and
Sidonia, under the control of his guardians, commenced his travels. He
resided, as we have mentioned, some time in Germany, and then, having
visited Italy, settled at Naples, at which city it may be said he made his
entrance into life. With an interesting person, and highly accomplished,
he availed himself of the gracious attentions of a court of which he was
principal creditor; and which, treating him as a distinguished English
traveller, were enabled perhaps to show him some favours that the manners
of the country might not have permitted them to accord to his Neapolitan
relatives. Sidonia thus obtained at an early age that experience of
refined and luxurious society, which is a necessary part of a finished
education. It gives the last polish to the manners; it teaches us
something of the power of the passions, early developed in the hot-bed of
self-indulgence; it instils into us that indefinable tact seldom obtained
in later life, which prevents us from saying the wrong thing, and often
impels us to do the right.
Between Paris and Naples Sidonia passed two years, spent apparently in the
dissipation which was perhaps inseparable from his time of life. He was
admired by women, to whom he was magnificent, idolised by artists whom he
patronised, received in all circles with great distinction, and
appreciated for his intellect by the very few to whom he at all opened
himself. For, though affable and gracious, it was impossible to penetrate
him. Though unreserved in his manner, his frankness was strictly limited
to the surface. He observed everything, thought ever, but avoided serious
discussion. If you pressed him for an opinion, he took refuge in raillery,
or threw out some grave paradox with which it was not easy to cope.
The moment he came of age, Sidonia having previously, at a great family
congress held at Naples, made arrangements with the heads of the houses
that bore his name respecting the disposition and management of his vast
fortune, quitted Europe.
Sidonia was absent from his connections for five years, during which
period he never communicated with them. They were aware of his existence
only by the orders which he drew on them for payment, and which arrived
from all quarters of the globe. It would appear from these documents that
he had dwelt a considerable time in the Mediterranean regions; penetrated
Nilotic Africa to Sennaar and Abyssinia; traversed the Asiatic continent
to Tartary, whence he had visited Hindostan, and the isles of that Indian
Sea which are so little known. Afterwards he was heard of at Valparaiso,
the Brazils, and Lima. He evidently remained some time at Mexico, which he
quitted for the United States. One morning, without notice, he arrived in
Sidonia had exhausted all the sources of human knowledge; he was master of
the learning of every nation, of all tongues dead or living, of every
literature, Western and Oriental. He had pursued the speculations of
science to their last term, and had himself illustrated them by
observation and experiment. He had lived in all orders of society, had
viewed every combination of Nature and of Art, and had observed man under
every phasis of civilisation. He had even studied him in the wilderness.
The influence of creeds and laws, manners, customs, traditions, in all
their diversities, had been subjected to his personal scrutiny.
He brought to the study of this vast aggregate of knowledge a penetrative
intellect that, matured by long meditation, and assisted by that absolute
freedom from prejudice, which, was the compensatory possession of a man
without a country, permitted Sidonia to fathom, as it were by intuition,
the depth of questions apparently the most difficult and profound. He
possessed the rare faculty of communicating with precision ideas the most
abstruse, and in general a power of expression which arrests and satisfies
With all this knowledge, which no one knew more to prize, with boundless
wealth, and with an athletic frame, which sickness had never tried, and
which had avoided excess, Sidonia nevertheless looked upon life with a
glance rather of curiosity than content. His religion walled him out from
the pursuits of a citizen; his riches deprived him of the stimulating
anxieties of a man. He perceived himself a lone being, alike without cares
and without duties.
To a man in his position there might yet seem one unfailing source of
felicity and joy; independent of creed, independent of country,
independent even of character. He might have discovered that perpetual
spring of happiness in the sensibility of the heart. But this was a sealed
fountain to Sidonia. In his organisation there was a peculiarity, perhaps
a great deficiency. He was a man without affections. It would be harsh to
say he had no heart, for he was susceptible of deep emotions, but not for
individuals. He was capable of rebuilding a town that was burned down; of
restoring a colony that had been destroyed by some awful visitation of
Nature; of redeeming to liberty a horde of captives; and of doing these
great acts in secret; for, void of all self-love, public approbation was
worthless to him; but the individual never touched him. Woman was to him a
toy, man a machine.
The lot the most precious to man, and which a beneficent Providence has
made not the least common; to find in another heart a perfect and profound
sympathy; to unite his existence with one who could share all his joys,
soften all his sorrows, aid him in all his projects, respond to all his
fancies, counsel him in his cares, and support him in his perils; make
life charming by her charms, interesting by her intelligence, and sweet by
the vigilant variety of her tenderness; to find your life blessed by such
an influence, and to feel that your influence can bless such a life: this
lot, the most divine of divine gifts, that power and even fame can never
rival in its delights, all this Nature had denied to Sidonia.
With an imagination as fiery as his native Desert, and an intellect as
luminous as his native sky, he wanted, like that land, those softening
dews without which the soil is barren, and the sunbeam as often a
messenger of pestilence as an angel of regenerative grace.
Such a temperament, though rare, is peculiar to the East. It inspired the
founders of the great monarchies of antiquity, the prophets that the
Desert has sent forth, the Tartar chiefs who have overrun the world; it
might be observed in the great Corsican, who, like most of the inhabitants
of the Mediterranean isles, had probably Arab blood in his veins. It is a
temperament that befits conquerors and legislators, but, in ordinary times
and ordinary situations, entails on its possessor only eccentric
aberrations or profound melancholy.
The only human quality that interested Sidonia was Intellect. He cared not
whence it came; where it was to be found: creed, country, class,
character, in this respect, were alike indifferent to him. The author, the
artist, the man of science, never appealed to him in vain. Often he
anticipated their wants and wishes. He encouraged their society; was as
frank in his conversation as he was generous in his contributions; but the
instant they ceased to be authors, artists, or philosophers, and their
communications arose from anything but the intellectual quality which had
originally interested him, the moment they were rash enough to approach
intimacy and appealed to the sympathising man instead of the congenial
intelligence, he saw them no more. It was not however intellect merely in
these unquestionable shapes that commanded his notice. There was not an
adventurer in Europe with whom he was not familiar. No Minister of State
had such communication with secret agents and political spies as Sidonia.
He held relations with all the clever outcasts of the world. The catalogue
of his acquaintance in the shape of Greeks, Armenians, Moors, secret Jews,
Tartars, Gipsies, wandering Poles and Carbonari, would throw a curious
light on those subterranean agencies of which the world in general knows
so little, but which exercise so great an influence on public events. His
extensive travels, his knowledge of languages, his daring and adventurous
disposition, and his unlimited means, had given him opportunities of
becoming acquainted with these characters, in general so difficult to
trace, and of gaining their devotion. To these sources he owed that
knowledge of strange and hidden things which often startled those who
listened to him. Nor was it easy, scarcely possible, to deceive him.
Information reached him from so many, and such contrary quarters, that
with his discrimination and experience, he could almost instantly
distinguish the truth. The secret history of the world was his pastime.
His great pleasure was to contrast the hidden motive, with the public
pretext, of transactions.
One source of interest Sidonia found in his descent and in the fortunes of
his race. As firm in his adherence to the code of the great Legislator as
if the trumpet still sounded on Sinai, he might have received in the
conviction of divine favour an adequate compensation for human
persecution. But there were other and more terrestrial considerations that
made Sidonia proud of his origin, and confident in the future of his kind.
Sidonia was a great philosopher, who took comprehensive views of human
affairs, and surveyed every fact in its relative position to other facts,
the only mode of obtaining truth.
Sidonia was well aware that in the five great varieties into which
Physiology has divided the human species; to wit, the Caucasian, the
Mongolian, the Malayan, the American, the Ethiopian; the Arabian tribes
rank in the first and superior class, together, among others, with the
Saxon and the Greek. This fact alone is a source of great pride and
satisfaction to the animal Man. But Sidonia and his brethren could claim a
distinction which the Saxon and the Greek, and the rest of the Caucasian
nations, have forfeited. The Hebrew is an unmixed race. Doubtless, among
the tribes who inhabit the bosom of the Desert, progenitors alike of the
Mosaic and the Mohammedan Arabs, blood may be found as pure as that of the
descendants of the Scheik Abraham. But the Mosaic Arabs are the most
ancient, if not the only, unmixed blood that dwells in cities.
An unmixed race of a firstrate organisation are the aristocracy of Nature.
Such excellence is a positive fact; not an imagination, a ceremony, coined
by poets, blazoned by cozening heralds, but perceptible in its physical
advantages, and in the vigour of its unsullied idiosyncrasy.
In his comprehensive travels, Sidonia had visited and examined the Hebrew
communities of the world. He had found, in general, the lower orders
debased; the superior immersed in sordid pursuits; but he perceived that
the intellectual development was not impaired. This gave him hope. He was
persuaded that organisation would outlive persecution. When he reflected
on what they had endured, it was only marvellous that the race had not
disappeared. They had defied exile, massacre, spoliation, the degrading
influence of the constant pursuit of gain; they had defied Time. For
nearly three thousand years, according to Archbishop Usher, they have been
dispersed over the globe. To the unpolluted current of their Caucasian
structure, and to the segregating genius of their great Law-giver, Sidonia
ascribed the fact that they had not been long ago absorbed among those
mixed races, who presume to persecute them, but who periodically wear away
and disappear, while their victims still flourish in all the primeval
vigour of the pure Asian breed.
Shortly after his arrival in England, Sidonia repaired to the principal
Courts of Europe, that he might become personally acquainted with the
monarchs and ministers of whom he had heard so much. His position insured
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