THE NEW CRUSADE
By Benjamin Disraeli
A Matter of Importance
IN THAT part of the celebrated parish of St. George which is bounded on one side by Piccadilly and on the other by Curzon Street, is a district of a peculiar character. 'Tis cluster of small streets of little houses, frequently intersected by mews, which here are numerous, and sometimes gradually, rather than abruptly, terminating in a ramification of those mysterious regions. Sometimes a group of courts develops itself, and you may even chance to find your way into a small market-place. Those, however, who are accustomed to connect these hidden residences of the humble with scenes of misery and characters of violence, need not apprehend in this district any appeal to their sympathies, or any shock to their tastes. All is extremely genteel; and there is almost as much repose as in the golden saloons of the contiguous palaces. At any rate, if there be as much vice, there is as little crime.
No sight or sound can be seen or heard at any hour, which could pain the most precise or the most fastidious. Even if a chance oath may float on the air from the stable-yard to the lodging of a French cook, 'tis of the newest fashion, and, if responded to with less of novel charm, the repartee is at least conveyed in the language of the most polite of nations. They bet upon the Derby in these parts a little, are interested in Goodwood, which they frequent, have perhaps, in general, a weakness for play, live highly, and indulge those passions which luxury and refinement encourage; but that is all.
A policeman would as soon think of reconnoitring these secluded streets as of walking into a house in Park Lane or Berkeley Square, to which, in fact, this population in a great measure belongs. For here reside the wives of house-stewards and of butlers, in tenements furnished by the honest savings of their husbands, and let in lodgings to increase their swelling incomes; here dwells the retired servant, who now devotes his practised energies to the occasional festival, which, with his accumulations in the three per cents., or in one of the public-houses of the quarter, secures him at the same time an easy living, and the casual enjoyment of that great world which lingers in his memory. Here may be found his grace's coachman, and here his lordship's groom, who keeps a book and bleeds periodically too speculative footmen, by betting odds on his master's horses. But, above all, it is in this district that the cooks have ever sought a favourite and elegant abode. An air of stillness and serenity, of exhausted passions and suppressed emotion, rather than of sluggishness and of dullness, distinguishes this quarter during the day.
When you turn from the vitality and brightness of Piccadilly, the park, the palace, the terraced mansions, the sparkling equipages, the cavaliers cantering up the hill, the swarming multitude, and enter the region of which we are speaking, the effect is at first almost unearthly. Not a carriage, not a horseman, scarcely a passenger; there seems some great and sudden collapse in the metropolitan system, as if a pest had been announced, or an enemy were expected in alarm by a vanquished capital. The approach from Curzon Street has not this effect. Hyde Park has still about it something of Arcadia. There are woods and waters, and the occasional illusion of an illimitable distance of sylvan joyance. The spirit is allured to gentle thoughts as we wander in what is still really a lane, and, turning down Stanhope Street, behold that house which the great Lord Chesterfield tells us, in one of his letters, he was 'building among the fields.' The cawing of the rooks in his gardens sustains the tone of mind, and Curzon Street, after a long, straggling, sawney course, ceasing to be a thoroughfare, and losing itself in the gardens of another palace, is quite in keeping with all the accessories.
In the night, however, the quarter of which we are speaking is alive. The manners of the population follow those of their masters. They keep late hours. The banquet and the ball dismiss them to their homes at a time when the trades of ordinary regions move in their last sleep, and dream of opening shutters and decking the windows of their shops.
At night, the chariot whirls round the frequent corners of these little streets, and the opening valves of the mews vomit forth their legion of broughams. At night, too, the footman, taking advantage of a ball at Holdernesse, or a concert at Lansdowne House, and knowing that, in either instance, the link-boy will answer when necessary for his summoned name, ventures to look in at his club, reads the paper, talks of his master or his mistress, and perhaps throws a main. The shops of this district, depending almost entirely for their custom on the classes we have indicated, and kept often by their relations, follow the order of the place, and are most busy when other places of business are closed.
A gusty March morning had subsided into a sunshiny afternoon, nearly two years ago, when a young man, slender, above the middle height, with a physiognomy thoughtful yet delicate, his brown hair worn long, slight whiskers, on his chin a tuft, knocked at the door of a house in Carrington Street, May Fair. His mien and his costume denoted a character of the class of artists. He wore a pair of green trousers, braided with a black stripe down their sides, puckered towards the waist, yet fitting with considerable precision to the boot of French leather that enclosed a well-formed foot. His waistcoat was of maroon velvet, displaying a steel watch-chain of refined manufacture, and a black satin cravat, with a coral brooch. His bright blue frockcoat was frogged and braided like his trousers. As the knocker fell from the primrose-coloured glove that screened his hand, he uncovered, and passing his fingers rapidly through his hair, resumed his new silk hat, which he placed rather on one side of his head.
'Ah! Mr. Leander, is it you?' exclaimed a pretty girl, who opened the door and blushed.
'And how is the good papa, Eugenie? Is he at home? For I want to see him much.'
'I will show you up to him at once, Mr. Leander, for he will be very happy to see you. We have been thinking of hearing of you,' she added, talking as she ushered her guest up the narrow staircase. 'The good papa has a little cold: 'tis not much, I hope; caught at Sir Wallinger's, a large dinner; they would have the kitchen windows open, which spoilt all the entrees, and papa got a cold; but I think, perhaps, it is as much vexation as anything else, you know if anything goes wrong, especially with the entrees———'
'He feels as a great artist must,' said Leander, finishing her sentence. 'However, I am not sorry at this moment to find him a prisoner, for I am pressed to see him. It is only this morning that I have returned from Mr. Coningsby's at Hellingsley: the house full, forty covers every day, and some judges. One does not grudge one's labour if we are appreciated,' added Leander; 'but I have had my troubles. One of my marmitons has disappointed me: I thought I had a genius, but on the third day he lost his head; and had it not been—— Ah! good papa,' he exclaimed, as the door opened, and he came forward and warmly shook the hand of a portly man, advanced in middle life, sitting in an easy chair, with a glass of sugared water by his side, and reading a French newspaper in his chamber robe, and with a white cotton nightcap on his head.
'Ah! my child,' said Papa Prevost, 'is it you? You see me a prisoner; Eugenie has told you; a dinner at a merchant's; dressed in a draught; everything spoiled, and I———' and sighing, Papa Prevost sipped his eau sucree.
'We have all our troubles,' said Leander, in a consoling tone; 'but we will not speak now of vexations. I have just come from the country; Daubuz has written to me twice; he was at my house last night; I found him on my steps this morning. There is a grand affair on the tapis. The son of the Duke of Bellamont comes of age at Easter; it is to be a business of the thousand and one nights; the whole county to be feasted. Camacho's wedding will do for the peasantry; roasted oxen, and a capon in every platter, with some fountains of ale and good Porto. Our marmitons, too, can easily serve the provincial noblesse; but there is to be a party at the Castle, of double cream; princes of the blood, high relatives and grandees of the Golden Fleece. The duke's cook is not equal to the occasion. 'Tis an hereditary chef who gives dinners of the time of the continental blockade. They have written to Daubuz to send them the first artist of the age,' said Leander; 'and,' added he, with some hesitation, 'Daubuz has written to me.'
'And he did quite right, my child,' said Prevost, 'for there is not a man in Europe that is your equal. What do they say? That Abreu rivals you in flavour, and that Gaillard has not less invention. But who can combine gout with new combinations? 'Tis yourself, Leander; and there is no question, though you have only twenty-five years, that you are the chef of the age.'
'You are always very good to me, sir,' said Leander, bending his head with great respect; 'and I will not deny that to be famous when you are young is the fortune of the gods. But we must never forget that I had an advantage which Abreu and Gaillard had not, and that I was your pupil.'
'I hope that I have not injured you,' said Papa Prevost, with an air of proud self-content. 'What you learned from me came at least from a good school. It is something to have served under Napoleon,' added Prevost, with the grand air of the Imperial kitchen. 'Had it not been for Waterloo, I should have had the cross. But the Bourbons and the cooks of the Empire never could understand each other: They brought over an emigrant chef, who did not comprehend the taste of the age. He wished to bring everything back to the time of the oeil de bouf. When Monsieur passed my soup of Austerlitz untasted, I knew the old family was doomed. But we gossip. You wished to consult me?'
'I want not only your advice but your assistance. This affair of the Duke of Bellamont requires all our energies. I hope you will accompany me; and, indeed, we must muster all our forces. It is not to be denied that there is a want, not only of genius, but of men, in our art. The cooks are like the civil engineers: since the middle class have taken to giving dinners, the demand exceeds the supply.'
'There is Andrien,' said Papa Prevost; 'you had some hopes of him?'
'He is too young; I took him to Hellingsley, and he lost his head on the third day. I entrusted the soufflees to him, and, but for the most desperate personal exertions, all would have been lost. It was an affair of the bridge of Areola.'
'Ah! mon Dieu! those are moments!' exclaimed Prevost. 'Gaillard and Abreu will not serve under you, eh? And if they would, they could not be trusted. They would betray you at the tenth hour.'
'What I want are generals of division, not commanders-in-chief. Abreu is sufficiently bon garcon, but he has taken an engagement with Monsieur de Sidonia, and is not permitted to go out.'
'With Monsieur de Sidonia! You once thought of that, my Leander. And what is his salary?'
'Not too much; four hundred and some perquisites. It would not suit me; besides, I will take no engagement but with a crowned head. But Abreu likes travelling, and he has his own carriage, which pleases him.'
'There are Philippon and Dumoreau,' said Prevost; 'they are very safe.'
'I was thinking of them,' said Leander, 'they are safe, under you. And there is an Englishman, Smit, he is chef at Sir Stanley's, but his master is away at this moment. He has talent.'
'Yourself, four chefs, with your marmitons; it would do,' said Prevost.
'For the kitchen,' said Leander; 'but who is to dress the tables?'
'A-h!' exclaimed Papa Prevost, shaking his head.
'Daubuz' head man, Trenton, is the only one I could trust; and he wants fancy, though his style is broad and bold. He made a pyramid of pines relieved with grapes, without destroying the outline, very good, this last week, at Hellingsley. But Trenton has been upset on the railroad, and much injured. Even if he recover, his hand will tremble so for the next month that! could have no confidence in him.'
'Perhaps you might find some one at the Duke's?'
'Out of the question!' said Leander; 'I make it always a condition that the head of every department shall be appointed by myself. I take Pellerini with me for the confectionery. How often have I seen the effect of a first-rate dinner spoiled by a vulgar dessert! laid flat on the table, for example, or with ornaments that look as if they had been hired at a pastrycook's: triumphal arches, and Chinese pagodas, and solitary pines springing up out of ice-tubs surrounded with peaches, as if they were in the window of a fruiterer of Covent Garden.'
'Ah! it is incredible what uneducated people will do,' said Prevost. 'The dressing of the tables was a department of itself in the Imperial kitchen.'
'It demands an artist of a high calibre,' said Leander. 'I know only one man who realises my idea, and he is at St. Petersburg. You do not know Anastase? There is a man! But the Emperor has him secure. He can scarcely complain, however, since he is decorated, and has the rank of full colonel.'
'Ah!' said Prevost, mournfully, 'there is no recognition of genius in this country. What think you of Vanesse, my child? He has had a regular education.'
'In a bad school: as a pis aller one might put up with him. But his eternal tiers of bonbons! As if they were ranged for a supper of the Carnival, and my guests were going to pelt each other! No, I could not stand Vanesse, papa.'
'The dressing of the table: 'tis a rare talent,' said Prevost, mournfully, 'and always was. In the Imperial kitchen———'
'Papa,' said Eugenie, opening the door, and putting in her head, 'here is Monsieur Vanillette just come from Brussels. He has brought you a basket of truffles from Ardennes. I told him you were on business, but to-night, if you be at home, he could come.'
'Vanillette!' exclaimed Prevost, starting in his chair, 'our little Vanillette! There is your man, Le-ander. He was my first pupil, as you were my last, my child. Bring up our little Vanillette, Eugenie. He is in the household of King Leopold, and his forte is dressing the table!'
The House of Bellamont
THE Duke of Bellamont was a personage who, from his rank, his blood, and his wealth, might almost be placed at the head of the English nobility. Although the grandson of a mere country gentleman, his fortunate ancestor, in the decline of the last century, had captivated the heiress of the Montacutes, Dukes of Bellamont, a celebrated race of the times of the Plantagenets. The bridegroom, at the moment of his marriage, had adopted the illustrious name of his young and beautiful wife. Mr. Montacute was by nature a man of energy and of an enterprising spirit. His vast and early success rapidly developed his native powers. With the castles and domains and boroughs of the Bellamonts, he resolved also to acquire their ancient baronies and their modern coronets. The times were favourable to his projects, though they might require the devotion of a life. He married amid the disasters of the American war. The king and his minister appreciated the independent support afforded them by Mr. Montacute, who represented his county, and who commanded five votes in the House besides his own. He was one of the chief pillars of their cause; but he was not only independent, he was conscientious and had scruples. Saratoga staggered him. The defection of the Montacute votes, at this moment, would have at once terminated the struggle between England and her colonies. A fresh illustration of the advantages of our parliamentary constitution! The independent Mr. Montacute, however, stood by his sovereign; his five votes continued to cheer the noble lord in the blue ribbon, and their master took his seat and the oaths in the House of Lords, as Earl of Bellamont and Viscount Montacute. This might be considered sufficiently well for one generation; but the silver spoon which some fairy had placed in the cradle of the Earl of Bellamont was of colossal proportions. The French Revolution succeeded the American war, and was occasioned by it. It was but just, therefore, that it also should bring its huge quota to the elevation of the man whom a colonial revolt had made an earl. Amid the panic of Jacobinism, the declamations of the friends of the people, the sovereign having no longer Hanover for a refuge, and the prime minister examined as a witness in favour of the very persons whom he was trying for high treason, the Earl of Bellamont made a calm visit to Downing Street, and requested the revival of all the honours of the ancient Earls and Dukes of Bellamont in his own person. Mr. Pitt, who was far from favourable to the exclusive character which distinguished the English peerage in the last century, was himself not disinclined to accede to the gentle request of his powerful supporter; but the king was less flexible. His Majesty, indeed, was on principle not opposed to the revival of titles in families to whom the domains without the honours of the old nobility had descended; and he recognised the claim of the present Earls of Bellamont eventually to regain the strawberry leaf which had adorned the coronet of the father of the present countess. But the king was of opinion that this supreme distinction ought only to be conferred on the blood of the old house, and that a generation, therefore, must necessarily elapse before a Duke of Bellamont could again figure in the golden book of the English aristocracy.
But George the Third, with all his firmness, was doomed to frequent discomfiture. His lot was cast in troubled waters, and he had often to deal with individuals as inflexible as himself. Benjamin Franklin was not more calmly contumacious than the individual whom his treason had made an English peer. In that age of violence, change and panic, power, directed by a clear brain and an obdurate spirit, could not fail of its aim; and so it turned out, that, in the very teeth of the royal will, the simple country gentleman, whose very name was forgotten, became, at the commencement of this century, Duke of Bellamont, Marquis of Montacute, Earl of Bellamont, Dacre, and Villeroy, with all the baronies of the Plantagenets in addition. The only revenge of the king was, that he never would give the Duke of Bellamont the garter. It was as well perhaps that there should be something for his son to desire.
The Duke and Duchess of Bellamont were the handsomest couple in England, and devoted to each other, but they had only one child. Fortunately, that child was a son. Precious life! The Marquis of Montacute was married before he was of age. Not a moment was to be lost to find heirs for all these honours. Perhaps, had his parents been less precipitate, their object might have been more securely obtained. The union' was not a happy one. The first duke had, however, the gratification of dying a grandfather. His successor bore no resemblance to him, except in that beauty which became a characteristic of the race. He was born to enjoy, not to create. A man of pleasure, the chosen companion of the Regent in his age of riot, he was cut off in his prime; but he lived long enough to break his wife's heart and his son's spirit; like himself, too, an only child.
The present Duke of Bellamont had inherited something of the clear intelligence of his grandsire, with the gentle disposition of his mother. His fair abilities, and his benevolent inclinations, had been cultivated. His mother had watched over the child, in whom she found alike the charm and consolation of her life. But, at a certain period of youth, the formation of character requires a masculine impulse, and that was wanting. The duke disliked his son; in time he became even jealous of him. The duke had found himself a father at too early a period of life. Himself in his lusty youth, he started with alarm at the form that recalled his earliest and most brilliant hour, and who might prove a rival. The son was of a gentle and affectionate nature, and sighed for the tenderness of his harsh and almost vindictive parent. But he had not that passionate soul which might have appealed, and perhaps not in vain, to the dormant sympathies of the being who had created him. The young Montacute was by nature of an extreme shyness, and the accidents of his life had not tended to dissipate his painful want of self-confidence. Physically courageous, his moral timidity was remarkable. He alternately blushed or grew pale in his rare interviews with his father, trembled in silence before the undeserved sarcasm, and often endured the unjust accusation without an attempt to vindicate himself. Alone, and in tears alike of woe and indignation, he cursed the want of resolution or ability which had again missed the opportunity that, both for his mother and himself, might have placed affairs in a happier position. Most persons, under these circumstances, would have become bitter, but Montacute was too tender for malice, and so he only turned melancholy. On the threshold of manhood, Montacute lost his mother, and this seemed the catastrophe of his unhappy life. His father neither shared his grief, nor attempted to alleviate it. On the contrary, he seemed to redouble his efforts to mortify his son. His great object was to prevent Lord Montacute from entering society, and he was so complete a master of the nervous temperament on which he was acting that there appeared a fair chance of his succeeding in his benevolent intentions. When his son's education was completed, the duke would not furnish him with the means of moving in the world in a becoming manner, or even sanction his travelling. His Grace was resolved to break his son's spirit by keeping him immured in the country. Other heirs apparent of a rich seignory would soon have removed these difficulties. By bill or by bond, by living usury, or by post-obit liquidation, by all the means that private friends or public offices could supply, the sinews of war would have been forthcoming. They would have beaten their fathers' horses at Newmarket, eclipsed them with their mistresses, and, sitting for their boroughs, voted against their party. But Montacute was not one of those young heroes who rendered so distinguished the earlier part of this century. He had passed his life so much among women and clergymen that he had never emancipated himself from the old law that enjoined him to honour a parent. Besides, with all his shyness and timidity, he was extremely proud. He never forgot that he was a Montacute, though he had forgotten, like the world in general, that his grandfather once bore a different and humbler name. All merged in the great fact, that he was the living representative of those Montacutes of Bellamont, whose wild and politic achievements, or the sustained splendour of whose stately life had for seven hundred years formed a stirring and superb portion of the history and manners of our country. Death was preferable, in his view, to having such a name soiled in the haunts of jockeys and courtesans and usurers; and, keen as was the anguish which the conduct of the duke to his mother or himself had often occasioned him, it was sometimes equalled in degree by the sorrow and the shame which he endured when he heard of the name of Bellamont only in connection with some stratagem of the turf or some frantic revel. Without a friend, almost without an acquaintance, Montacute sought refuge in love. She who shed over his mournful life the divine ray of feminine sympathy was his cousin, the daughter of his mother's brother, an English peer, but resident in the north of Ireland, where he had vast possessions. It was a family otherwise little calculated to dissipate the reserve and gloom of a depressed and melancholy youth; puritanical, severe and formal in their manners, their relaxations a Bible Society, or a meeting for the conversion of the Jews. But Lady Katherine was beautiful, and all were kind to one to whom kindness was strange, and the soft pathos of whose solitary spirit demanded affection.
Montacute requested his father's permission to marry his cousin, and was immediately refused. The duke particularly disliked his wife's family; but the fact is, he had no wish that his son should ever marry. He meant to perpetuate his race himself, and was at this moment, in the midst of his orgies, meditating a second alliance, which should compensate him for his boyish blunder. In this state of affairs, Montacute, at length stung to resistance, inspired by the most powerful of passions, and acted upon by a stronger volition than his own, was planning a marriage in spite of his father (love, a cottage by an Irish lake, and seven hundred a-year) when intelligence arrived that his father, whose powerful frame and vigorous health seemed to menace a patriarchal term, was dead.
The new Duke of Bellamont had no experience of the world; but, though long cowed by his father, he had a strong character. Though the circle of his ideas was necessarily contracted, they were all clear and firm. In his moody youth he had imbibed certain impressions and arrived at certain conclusions, and they never quitted him. His mother was his model of feminine perfection, and he had loved his cousin because she bore a remarkable resemblance to her aunt. Again, he was of opinion that the tie between the father and the son ought to be one of intimate confidence and refined tenderness, and he resolved that, if Providence favoured him with offspring, his child should ever find in him absolute devotion of thought and feeling.
A variety of causes and circumstances had impressed him with a conviction that what is called fashionable life was a compound of frivolity and fraud, of folly and vice; and he resolved never to enter it. To this he was, perhaps, in some degree unconsciously prompted by his reserved disposition, and by his painful sense of inexperience, for he looked forward to this world with almost as much of apprehension as of dislike. To politics, in the vulgar sense of the word, he had an equal repugnance. He had a lofty idea of his duty to his sovereign and his country, and felt within him the energies that would respond to a conjuncture. But he acceded to his title in a period of calmness, when nothing was called in question, and no danger was apprehended; and as for the fights of factions, the duke altogether held himself aloof from them; he wanted nothing, not even the blue ribbon which he was soon obliged to take. Next to his domestic hearth, all his being was concentrated in his duties as a great proprietor of the soil. On these he had long pondered, and these he attempted to fulfil. That performance, indeed, was as much a source of delight to him as of obligation. He loved the country and a country life. His reserve seemed to melt away the moment he was on his own soil. Courteous he ever was, but then he became gracious and hearty. He liked to assemble 'the county' around him; to keep 'the county' together; 'the county' seemed always his first thought; he was proud of 'the county,' where he reigned supreme, not more from his vast possessions than from the influence of his sweet yet stately character, which made those devoted to him who otherwise were independent of his sway.
From straitened circumstances, and without having had a single fancy of youth gratified, the Duke of Bellamont had been suddenly summoned to the lordship of an estate scarcely inferior in size and revenue to some continental principalities; to dwell in palaces and castles, to be surrounded by a disciplined retinue, and to find every wish and want gratified before they could be expressed or anticipated. Yet he showed no elation, and acceded to his inheritance as serene as if he had never felt a pang or proved a necessity. She whom in the hour of trial he had selected for the future partner of his life, though a remarkable woman, by a singular coincidence of feeling, for it was as much from her original character as from sympathy with her husband, confirmed him in all his moods.
Katherine, Duchess of Bellamont, was beautiful: small and delicate in structure, with a dazzling complexion, and a smile which, though rare, was of the most winning and brilliant character. Her rich brown hair and her deep blue eye might have become a dryad; but her brow denoted intellect of a high order, and her mouth spoke inexorable resolution. She was a woman of fixed opinions, and of firm and compact prejudices. Brought up in an austere circle, where on all matters irrevocable judgment had been passed, which enjoyed the advantages of knowing exactly what was true in dogma, what just in conduct, and what correct in manners, she had early acquired the convenient habit of decision, while her studious mind employed its considerable energies in mastering every writer who favoured those opinions which she had previously determined were the right ones.
The duchess was deep in the divinity of the seventeenth century. In the controversies between the two churches, she could have perplexed St. Omers or Maynooth. Chillingworth might be found her boudoir. Not that her Grace's reading was confined to divinity; on the contrary, it was various and extensive. Puritan in religion, she was precisian in morals; but in both she was sincere. She was so in all things. Her nature was frank and simple; if she were inflexible, she at least wished to be just; and though very conscious of the greatness of her position, she was so sensible of its duties that there was scarcely any exertion which she would evade, or any humility from which she would shrink, if she believed she were doing her duty to her God or to her neighbour.
It will be seen, therefore, that the Duke of Bellamont found no obstacle in his wife, who otherwise much influenced his conduct, to the plans which he had pre-conceived for the conduct of his life after marriage. The duchess shrank, with a feeling of haughty terror from that world of fashion which would have so willingly greeted her. During the greater part of the year, therefore, the Bellamonts resided in their magnificent castle, in their distant county, occupied with all the business and the pleasures of the provinces. While the duke, at the head of the magistracy, in the management of his estates, and in the sports of which he was fond, found ample occupation, his wife gave an impulse to the charity of the county, founded schools, endowed churches, received their neighbours, read her books, and amused herself in the creation of beautiful gardens, for which she had a passion.
After Easter, Parliament requiring their presence, the courtyard of one of the few palaces in London opened, and the world learnt that the Duke and Duchess of Bellamont had arrived at Bellamont House, from Montacute Castle. During their stay in town, which they made as brief as they well could, and which never exceeded three months, they gave a series of great dinners, principally attended by noble relations and those families of the county who were so fortunate as to have also a residence in London. Regularly every year, also, there was a grand banquet given to some members of the royal family by the Duke and Duchess of Bellamont, and regularly every year the Duke and Duchess of Bellamont had the honour of dining at the palace. Except at a ball or concert under the royal roof, the duke and duchess were never seen anywhere in the evening. The great ladies indeed, the Lady St. Julians and the Marchionesses of Deloraine, always sent them invitations, though they were ever declined. But the Bellamonts maintained a sort of traditional acquaintance with a few great houses, either by the ties of relationship, which, among the aristocracy, are very ramified, or by occasionally receiving travelling magnificoes at their hospitable castle.
To the great body, however, of what is called 'the world,' the world that lives in St. James' Street and Pall Mall, that looks out of a club window, and surveys mankind as Lucretius from his philosophic tower; the world of the Georges and the Jemmys; of Mr. Cassilis and Mr. Melton; of the Milfords and the Fitz-Herons, the Berners and the Egertons, the Mr. Ormsbys and the Alfred Mountchesneys, the Duke and Duchess of Bellamont were absolutely unknown.
All that the world knew was, that there was a great peer who was called Duke of Bellamont; that there was a great house in London, with a courtyard, which bore his name; that he had a castle in the country, which was one of the boasts of England; and that this great duke had a duchess; but they never met them anywhere, nor did their wives and their sisters, and the ladies whom they admired, or who admired them, either at ball or at breakfast, either at morning dances or at evening dejeuners. It was clear, therefore, that the Bellamonts might be very great people, but they were not in 'society.'
It must have been some organic law, or some fate which uses structure for its fulfilment, but again it seemed that the continuance of the great house of Montacute should depend upon the life of a single being. The duke, like his father and his grandfather, was favoured only with one child, but that child was again a son. From the moment of his birth, the very existence of his parents seemed identified with his welfare. The duke and his wife mutually assumed to each other a secondary position, in comparison with that occupied by their offspring. From the hour of his birth to the moment when this history opens, and when he was about to complete his majority, never had such solicitude been lavished on human being as had been continuously devoted to the life of the young Lord Montacute. During his earlier education he scarcely quitted home. He had, indeed, once been shown to Eton, surrounded by faithful domestics, and accompanied by a private tutor, whose vigilance would not have disgraced a superintendent of police; but the scarlet fever happened to break out during his first half, and Lord Montacute was instantly snatched away from the scene of danger, where he was never again to appear. At eighteen he went to Christ-church. His mother, who had nursed him herself, wrote to him every day; but this was not found sufficient, and the duke hired a residence in the neighourhood of the university, in order that they might occasionally see their son during term.
A Discussion about Money
'SAW Eskdale just now,' said Mr. Cassilis, at White's, 'going down to the Duke of Bellamont's. Great doings there: son comes of age at Easter. Wonder what sort of fellow he is? Anybody know anything about him?'
'I wonder what his father's rent-roll is?' said Mr. Ormsby.
'They say it is quite clear,' said Lord Fitz-Heron. 'Safe for that,' said Lord Milford; 'and plenty of ready money, too, I should think, for one never heard of the present duke doing anything.'
'He does a good deal in his county,' said Lord Valentine.
'I don't call that anything,' said Lord Milford; 'but I mean to say he never played, was never seen at Newmarket, or did anything which anybody can remember. In fact, he is a person whose name you never by any chance hear mentioned.'
'He is a sort of cousin of mine,' said Lord Valentine; 'and we are all going down to the coming of age: that is, we are asked.' 'Then you can tell us what sort of fellow the son is.'
'I never saw him,' said Lord Valentine; 'but I know the duchess told my mother last year, that Montacute, throughout his life, had never occasioned her a single moment's pain.'
Here there was a general laugh.
'Well, I have no doubt he will make up for lost time,' said Mr. Ormsby, demurely.
'Nothing like mamma's darling for upsetting a coach,' said Lord Milford. 'You ought to bring your cousin here, Valentine; we would assist the development of his unsophisticated intelligence.'
'If I go down, I will propose it to him.'
'Why if?' said Mr. Cassilis; 'sort of thing I should like to see once uncommonly: oxen roasted alive, old armour, and the girls of the village all running about as if they were behind the scenes.'
'Is that the way you did it at your majority, George?' said Lord Fitz-Heron.
'Egad! I kept my arrival at years of discretion at Brighton. I believe it was the last fun there ever was at the Pavilion. The poor dear king, God bless him! proposed my health, and made the devil's own speech; we all began to pipe. He was Regent then. Your father was there, Valentine; ask him if he remembers it. That was a scene! I won't say how it ended; but the best joke is, I got a letter from my governor a few days after, with an account of what they had all been doing at Brandingham, and rowing me for not coming down, and I found out I had kept my coming of age the wrong day.'
'Did you tell them?'
'Not a word: I was afraid we might have had to go through it over again.'
'I suppose old Bellamont is the devil's own screw,' said Lord Milford. 'Rich governors, who have never been hard up, always are.'
'No: I believe he is a very good sort of fellow,' said Lord Valentine; 'at least my people always say so. I do not know much about him, for they never go anywhere.'
'They have got Leander down at Montacute,'said Mr. Cassilis. 'Had not such a thing as a cook in the whole county. They say Lord Eskdale arranged the cuisine for them; so you will feed well, Valentine.'
'That is something: and one can eat before Easter; but when the balls begin——'
'Oh! as for that, you will have dancing enough at Montacute; it is expected on these occasions: Sir Roger de Coverley, tenants' daughters, and all that sort of thing. Deuced funny, but I must say, if I am to have a lark, I like Vauxhall.'
'I never met the Bellamonts,' said Lord Milford, musingly. 'Are there any daughters?'
'That is a bore. A single daughter, even if there be a son, may be made something of; because, in nine cases out of ten, there is a round sum in the settlements for the younger children, and she takes it all.'
'That is the case of Lady Blanche Bickerstaffe,' said Lord Fitz-Heron. 'She will have a hundred thousand pounds.'
'You don't mean that!' said Lord Valentine; 'and she is a very nice girl, too.'
'You are quite wrong about the hundred thousand, Fitz,' said Lord Milford; 'for I made it my business to inquire most particularly into the affair: it is only fifty.'
'In these cases, the best rule is only to believe half,' said Mr. Ormsby.
'Then you have only got twenty thousand a-year, Ormsby,' said Lord Milford, laughing, 'because the world gives you forty.'
'Well, we must do the best we can in these hard times,' said Mr. Ormsby, with an air of mock resignation. 'With your Dukes of Bellamont and all these grandees on the stage, we little men shall be scarcely able to hold up our heads.'
'Come, Ormsby,' said Lord Milford; 'tell us the amount of your income tax.'
'They say Sir Robert quite blushed when he saw the figure at which you were sacked, and declared it was downright spoliation.'
'You young men are always talking about money,' said Mr. Ormsby, shaking his head; 'you should think of higher things.'
'I wonder what young Montacute will be thinking of this time next year,' said Lord Fitz-Heron.
'There will be plenty of people thinking of him,' said Mr. Cassilis. 'Egad! you gentlemen must stir yourselves, if you mean to be turned off. You will have rivals.'
'He will be no rival to me,' said Lord Milford; 'for I am an avowed fortune-hunter, and that you say he does not care for, at least, at present.'
'And I marry only for love,' said Lord Valentine, laughing; 'and so we shall not clash.'
'Ay, ay; but if he will not go to the heiresses, the heiresses will go to him,' said Mr. Ormsby. 'I have seen a good deal of these things, and I generally observe the eldest son of a duke takes a fortune out of the market. Why, there is Beaumanoir, he is like Valentine; I suppose he intends to marry for love, as he is always in that way; but the heiresses never leave him alone, and in the long run you cannot withstand it; it is like a bribe; a man is indignant at the bare thought, refuses the first offer, and pockets the second.'
'It is very immoral, and very unfair,' said Lord Milford, 'that any man should marry for tin who does not want it.'
THE forest of Montacute, in the north of England, is the name given to an extensive district, which in many parts offers no evidence of the propriety of its title. The land, especially during the last century, has been effectively cleared, and presents, in general, a champaign view; rich and rural, but far from picturesque. Over a wide expanse, the eye ranges on cornfields and rich hedgerows, many a sparkling spire, and many a merry windmill. In the extreme distance, on a clear day, may be discerned the blue hills of the Border, and towards the north the cultivated country ceases, and the dark form of the old forest spreads into the landscape. The traveller, however, who may be tempted to penetrate these sylvan recesses, will find much that is beautiful, and little that is savage. He will be struck by the capital road that winds among the groves of ancient oak, and the turfy and ferny wilderness which extends on each side, whence the deer gaze on him with haughty composure, as if conscious that he was an intruder into their kingdom of whom they need have no fear. As he advances, he observes the number of cross routes which branch off from the main road, and which, though of less dimensions, are equally remarkable for their masterly structure and compact condition.
Sometimes the land is cleared, and he finds himself by the homestead of a forest farm, and remarks the buildings, distinguished not only by their neatness, but the propriety of their rustic architecture. Still advancing, the deer become rarer, and the road is formed by an avenue of chestnuts; the forest, on each side, being now transformed into vegetable gardens. The stir of the population is soon evident. Persons are moving to and fro on the side path of the road. Horsemen and carts seem returning from market; women with empty baskets, and then the rare vision of a stage-coach. The postilion spurs his horses, cracks his whip, and dashes at full gallop into the town of Montacute, the capital of the forest.
It is the prettiest little town in the world, built entirely of hewn stone, the well-paved and well-lighted streets as neat as a Dutch village. There are two churches: one of great antiquity, the other raised by the present duke, but in the best style of Christian architecture. The bridge that spans the little but rapid river Belle, is perhaps a trifle too vast and Roman for its site; but it was built by the first duke of the second dynasty, who was always afraid of underbuilding his position. The town was also indebted to him for their hall, a Palladian palace. Montacute is a corporate town, and, under the old system, returned two members to Parliament. The amount of its population, according to the rule generally observed, might have preserved it from disfranchisement, but, as every house belonged to the duke, and as he was what, in the confused phraseology of the revolutionary war, was called a Tory, the Whigs took care to put Montacute in Schedule A.
The town-hall, the market-place, a literary institution, and the new church, form, with some good houses of recent erection, a handsome square, in which there is a fountain, a gift to the town from the present duchess.
At the extremity of the town, the ground rises, and on a woody steep, which is in fact the termination of a long range of tableland, may be seen the towers of the outer court of Montacute Castle. The principal building, which is vast and of various ages, from the Plantagenets to the Guelphs, rises on a terrace, from which, on the side opposite to the town, you descend into a well-timbered inclosure, called the Home Park. Further on, the forest again appears; the deer again crouch in their fern, or glance along the vistas; nor does this green domain terminate till it touches the vast and purple moors that divide the kingdoms of Great Britain.
It was on an early day of April that the duke was sitting in his private room, a pen in one hand, and looking up with a face of pleasurable emotion at his wife, who stood by his side, her right arm sometimes on the back of his chair, and sometimes on his shoulder, while with her other hand, between the intervals of speech, she pressed a handkerchief to her eyes, bedewed with the expression of an affectionate excitement.
'It is too much,' said her Grace.
'And done in such a handsome manner!' said the duke.
'I would not tell our dear child of it at this moment,' said the duchess; 'he has so much to go through!'
'You are right, Kate. It will keep till the celebration is over. How delighted he will be!'
'My dear George, I sometimes think we are too happy.'
'You are not half as happy as you deserve to be,' replied her husband, looking up with a smile of affection; and then he finished his reply to the letter of Mr. Hungerford, one of the county members, informing the duke, that now Lord Montacute was of age, he intended at once to withdraw from Parliament, having for a long time fixed on the majority of the heir of the house of Bellamont as the signal for that event. 'I accepted the post,' said Mr. Hungerford, 'much against my will. Your Grace behaved to me at the time in the handsomest manner, and, indeed, ever since, with respect to this subject. But a Marquis of Montacute is, in my opinion, and, I believe I may add, in that of the whole county, our proper representative; besides, we want young blood in the House.'
'It certainly is done in the handsomest manner,' said the duke.
'But then you know, George, you behaved to him in the handsomest manner; he says so, as you do indeed to everybody; and this is your reward.'
'I should be very sorry, indeed, if Hungerford did not withdraw with perfect satisfaction to himself, and his family too,' urged the duke; 'they are most respectable people, one of the most respectable families in the county; I should be quite grieved if this step were taken without their entire and hearty concurrence.'
'Of course it is,' said the duchess, 'with the entire and hearty concurrence of every one. Mr. Hungerford says so. And I must say that, though few things could have gratified me more, I quite agree with Mr. Hungerford that a Lord Montacute is the natural member for the county; and I have no doubt that if Mr. Hungerford, or any one else in his position, had not resigned, they never could have met our child without feeling the greatest embarrassment.'
'A man though, and a man of Hungerford's position, an old family in the county, does not like to figure as a warming-pan,' said the duke, thoughtfully. 'I think it has been done in a very handsome manner.'
'And we will show our sense of it,' said the duchess. 'The Hungerfords shall feel, when they come here on Thursday, that they are among our best friends.'
'That is my own Kate! Here is a letter from your brother. They will be here to-morrow. Eskdale cannot come over till Wednesday. He is at home, but detained by a meeting about his new harbour.'
'I am delighted that they will be here to-morrow,' said the duchess. 'I am so anxious that he should see Kate before the castle is full, when he will have a thousand calls upon his time! I feel persuaded that he will love her at first sight. And as for their being cousins, why, we were cousins, and that did not hinder us from loving each other.'
'If she resemble you as much as you resembled your aunt ——' said the duke, looking up.
'She is my perfect image, my very self, Harriet says, in disposition, as well as face and form.'
'Then our son has a good chance of being a very happy man,' said the duke.
'That he should come of age, enter Parliament, and marry in the same year! We ought to be very thankful. What a happy year!'
'But not one of these events has yet occurred,' said the duke, smiling.
'But they all will,' said the duchess, 'under Providence.'
'I would not precipitate marriage.'
'Certainly not; nor should I wish him to think of it before the autumn. I should like him to be married on our wedding-day.'
The Heir Comes of Age
THE sun shone brightly, there was a triumphal arch at every road; the market-place and the town-hall were caparisoned like steeds for a tournament, every house had its garland; the flags were flying on every tower and steeple. There was such a peal of bells you could scarcely hear your neighbour's voice; then came discharges of artillery, and then bursts of music from various bands, all playing different tunes. The country people came trooping in, some on horseback, some in carts, some in procession. The Temperance band made an immense noise, and the Odd Fellows were loudly cheered. Every now and then one of the duke's yeomanry galloped through the town in his regimentals of green and silver, with his dark flowing plume and clattering sabre, and with an air of business-like desperation, as if he were carrying a message from the commander-in-chief in the thickest of the fight.
Before the eventful day of which this, merry morn was the harbinger, the arrivals of guests at the castle had been numerous and important. First came the brother of the duchess, with his countess, and their fair daughter the Lady Katherine, whose fate, unconsciously to herself, had already been sealed by her noble relatives. She was destined to be the third Katherine of Bellamont that her fortunate house had furnished to these illustrious walls. Nor, if unaware of her high lot, did she seem unworthy of it. Her mien was prophetic of the state assigned to her. This was her first visit to Montacute since her early childhood, and she had not encountered her cousin since their nursery days. The day after them, Lord Eskdale came over from his principal seat in the contiguous county, of which he was lord-lieutenant. He was the first cousin of the duke, his father and the second Duke of Bellamont having married two sisters, and of course intimately related to the duchess and her family. Lord Eskdale exercised a great influence over the house of Montacute, though quite unsought for by him. He was the only man of the world whom they knew, and they never decided upon anything out of the limited circle of their immediate experience without consulting him. Lord Eskdale had been the cause of their son going to Eton; Lord Eskdale had recommended them to send him to Christ-church. The duke had begged his cousin to be his trustee when he married; he had made him his executor, and had intended him as the guardian of his son. Although, from the difference of their habits, little thrown together in their earlier youth, Lord Eskdale had shown, even then, kind consideration for his relative; he had even proposed that they should travel together, but the old duke would not consent to this. After his death, however, being neighbours as well as relatives, Lord Eskdale had become the natural friend and counsellor of his Grace.
The duke deservedly reposed in him implicit confidence, and entertained an almost unbounded admiration of his cousin's knowledge of mankind. He was scarcely less a favourite or less an oracle with the duchess, though there were subjects on which she feared Lord Eskdale did not entertain views as serious as her own; but Lord Eskdale, with an extreme carelessness of manner, and an apparent negligence of the minor arts of pleasing, was a consummate master of the feminine idiosyncrasy, and, from a French actress to an English duchess, was skilled in guiding women without ever letting the curb be felt. Scarcely a week elapsed, when Lord Eskdale was in the country, that a long letter of difficulties was not received by him from Montacute, with an earnest request for his immediate advice. His lordship, singularly averse to letter writing, and especially to long letter writing, used generally in reply to say that, in the course of a day or two, he should be in their part of the world, and would talk the matter over with them.
And, indeed, nothing was more amusing than to see Lord Eskdale, imperturbable, yet not heedless, with his peculiar calmness, something between that of a Turkish pasha and an English jockey, standing up with his back to the fire and his hands in his pockets, and hearing the united statement of a case by the Duke and Duchess of Bellamont; the serious yet quiet and unexaggerated narrative of his Grace, the impassioned interruptions, decided opinions, and lively expressions of his wife, when she felt the duke was not doing justice to the circumstances, or her view of them, and the Spartan brevity with which, when both his clients were exhausted, their counsel summed up the whole affair, and said three words which seemed suddenly to remove all doubts, and to solve all difficulties. In all the business of life, Lord Eskdale, though he appreciated their native ability, and respected their considerable acquirements, which he did not share, looked upon his cousins as two children, and managed them as children; but he was really attached to them, and the sincere attachment of such a character is often worth more than the most passionate devotion. The last great domestic embarrassment at Montacute had been the affair of the cooks. Lord Eskdale had taken this upon his own shoulders, and, writing to Daubuz, had sent down Leander and his friends to open the minds and charm the palates of the north.
Lord Valentine and his noble parents, and their daughter, Lady Florentina, who was a great horsewoman, also arrived. The countess, who had once been a beauty with the reputation of a wit, and now set up for being a wit on the reputation of having been a beauty, was the lady of fashion of the party, and scarcely knew anybody present, though there were many who were her equals and some her superiors in rank. Her way was to be a little fine, always smiling and condescendingly amiable; when alone with her husband shrugging her shoulders somewhat, and vowing that she was delighted that Lord Eskdale was there, as she had somebody to speak to. It was what she called 'quite a relief.' A relief, perhaps, from Lord and Lady Mountjoy, whom she had been avoiding all her life; unfortunate people, who, with a large fortune, lived in a wrong square, and asked to their house everybody who was nobody; besides, Lord Mountjoy was vulgar, and laughed too loud, and Lady Mountjoy called you 'my dear,' and showed her teeth. A relief, perhaps, too, from the Hon. and Rev. Montacute Mountjoy, who, with Lady Eleanor, four daughters and two sons, had been invited to celebrate the majority of the future chieftain of their house. The countess had what is called 'a horror of those Mountjoys, and those Montacute Mountjoys,' and what added to her annoyance was, that Lord Valentine was always flirting with the Misses Montacute Mountjoy.
The countess could find no companions in the Duke and Duchess of Clanronald, because, as she told her husband, as they could not speak English and she could not speak Scotch, it was impossible to exchange ideas. The bishop of the diocese was there, toothless and tolerant, and wishing to be on good terms with all sects, provided they pay church-rates, and another bishop far more vigorous and of greater fame. By his administration the heir of Bellamont had entered the Christian Church, and by the imposition of his hands had been confirmed in it. His lordship, a great authority with the duchess, was specially invited to be present on the interesting occasion, when the babe that he had held at the font, and the child that he had blessed at the altar, was about thus publicly to adopt and acknowledge the duties and responsibility of a man. But the countess, though she liked bishops, liked them, as she told her husband, 'in their place.' What that exactly was, she did not define; but probably their palaces or the House of Lords.
It was hardly to be expected that her ladyship would find any relief in the society of the Marquis and Marchioness of Hampshire; for his lordship passed his life in being the President of scientific and literary societies, and was ready for anything from the Royal, if his turn ever arrived, to opening a Mechanics' Institute in his neighbouring town. Lady Hampshire was an invalid; but her ailment was one of those mysteries which still remained insoluble, although, in the most liberal manner, she delighted to afford her friends all the information in her power. Never was a votary endowed with a faith at once so lively and so capricious. Each year she believed in some new remedy, and announced herself on the eve of some miraculous cure. But the saint was scarcely canonised before his claims to beatitude were impugned. One year Lady Hampshire never quitted Leamington; another, she contrived to combine the infinitesimal doses of Hahnemann with the colossal distractions of the metropolis. Now her sole conversation was the water cure. Lady Hampshire was to begin immediately after her visit to Montacute, and she spoke in her sawney voice of factitious enthusiasm, as if she pitied the lot of all those who were not about to sleep in wet sheets.
The members for the county, with their wives and daughters, the Hungerfords and the Ildertons, Sir Russell Malpas, or even Lord Hull, an Irish peer with an English estate, and who represented one of the divisions, were scarcely a relief. Lord Hull was a bachelor, and had twenty thousand a year, and would not have been too old for Florentina, if Lord Hull had only lived in 'society,' learnt how to dress and how to behave, and had avoided that peculiar coarseness of manners and complexion which seem the inevitable results of a provincial life. What are forty-five or even forty-eight years, if a man do not get up too early or go to bed too soon, if he be dressed by the right persons, and, early accustomed to the society of women, he possesses that flexibility of manner and that readiness of gentle repartee which a feminine apprenticeship can alone confer? But Lord Hull was a man with a red face and a grey head on whom coarse indulgence and the selfish negligence of a country life had already conferred a shapeless form; and who, dressed something like a groom, sat at dinner in stolid silence by Lady Hampshire, who, whatever were her complaints, had certainly the art, if only from her questions, of making her neighbours communicative. The countess examined Lord Hull through her eye-glass with curious pity at so fine a fortune and so good a family being so entirely thrown away. Had he been brought up in a civilised manner, lived six months in May Fair, passed his carnival at Paris, never sported except in Scotland, and occasionally visited a German bath, even Lord Hull might have 'fined down.' His hair need not have been grey if it had been attended to; his complexion would not have been so glaring; his hands never could have grown to so huge a shape.
What a party, where the countess was absolutely driven to speculate on the possible destinies of a Lord Hull! But in this party there was not a single young man, at least not a single young man one had ever heard of, except her son, and he was of no use. The Duke of Bellamont knew no young men; the duke did not even belong to a club; the Duchess of Bellamont knew no young men; she never gave and she never attended an evening party. As for the county youth, the young Hungerfords and the young Ildertons, the best of them formed part of the London crowd.
Some of them, by complicated manouvres, might even have made their way into the countess's crowded saloons on a miscellaneous night. She knew the length of their tether. They ranged, as the Price Current says, from eight to three thousand a year. Not the figure that purchases a Lady Florentina!
There were many other guests, and some of them notable, though not of the class and character to interest the fastidious mother of Lord Valentine; but whoever and whatever they might be, of the sixty or seventy persons who were seated each day in the magnificent banqueting-room of Montacute Castle, feasting, amid pyramids of gold plate, on the masterpieces of Leander, there was not a single individual who did not possess one of the two great qualifications: they were all of them cousins of the Duke of Bellamont, or proprietors in his county.
But we must not anticipate, the great day of the festival having hardly yet commenced.
A Festal Day
IN THE Home Park was a colossal pavilion, which held more than two thousand persons, and in which the townsfolk of Montacute were to dine; at equal distances were several smaller tents, each of different colours and patterns, and each bearing on a standard the name of one of the surrounding parishes which belonged to the Duke of Bellamont, and to the convenience and gratification of whose inhabitants these tents were to-day dedicated. There was not a man of Buddleton or Fuddleton; not a yeoman or peasant of Montacute super Mare or Montacute Abbotts, nor of Percy Bellamont nor Friar's Bellamont, nor Winch nor Finch, nor of Mandeville Stokes nor Mandeville Bois; not a goodman true of Carleton and Ingleton and Kirkby and Dent, and Gillamoor and Padmore and Hutton le Hale; not a stout forester from the glades of Thorp, or the sylvan homes of Hurst Lydgate and Bishopstowe, that knew not where foamed and flowed the duke's ale, that was to quench the longings of his thirsty village. And their wives and daughters were equally welcome. At the entrance of each tent, the duke's servants invited all to enter, supplied them with required refreshments, or indicated their appointed places at the approaching banquet. In general, though there were many miscellaneous parties, each village entered the park in procession, with its flag and its band.
At noon the scene presented the appearance of an immense but well-ordered fair. In the background, men and boys climbed poles or raced in sacks, while the exploits of the ginglers, their mischievous manoeuvres and subtle combinations, elicited frequent bursts of laughter. Further on, two long-menaced cricket matches called forth all the skill and energy of Fuddleton and Buddleton, and Winch and Finch. The great throng of the population, however, was in the precincts of the terrace, where, in the course of the morning, it was known that the duke and duchess, with the hero of the day and all their friends, were to appear, to witness the sports of the people, and especially the feats of the morrice-dancers, who were at this moment practising before a very numerous and delighted audience. In the meantime, bells, drums, and trumpets, an occasional volley, and the frequent cheers and laughter of the multitude, combined with the brilliancy of the sun and the brightness of the ale to make a right gladsome scene.
'It's nothing to what it will be at night,' said one of the duke's footmen to his family, his father and mother, two sisters and a young brother, listening to him with open mouths, and staring at his state livery with mingled feelings of awe and affection. They had come over from Bellamont Friars, and their son had asked the steward to give him the care of the pavilion of that village, in order that he might look after his friends. Never was a family who esteemed themselves so fortunate or felt so happy. This was having a friend at court, indeed.
'It's nothing to what it will be at night,' said Thomas. 'You will have "Hail, star of Bellamont!" and "God save the Queen!" a crown, three stars,' four flags, and two coronets, all in coloured lamps, letters six feet high, on the castle. There will be one hundred beacons lit over the space of fifty miles the moment a rocket is shot off from the Round Tower; and as for fireworks, Bob, you'll see them at last. Bengal lights, and the largest wheels will be as common as squibs and crackers; and I have heard say, though it is not to be mentioned——' And he paused.
''We'll not open our mouths,' said his father, earnestly.
'You had better not tell us,' said his mother, in a nervous paroxysm; 'for I am in such a fluster, I am sure I cannot answer for myself, and then Thomas may lose his place for breach of conference.'
'Nonsense, mother,' said his sisters, who snubbed their mother almost as readily as is the gracious habit of their betters. 'Pray tell us, Tom.'
'Ay, ay, Tom,' said his younger brother.
'Well,' said Tom, in a confidential whisper, 'won't there be a transparency! I have heard say the Queen never had anything like it. You won't be able to see it for the first quarter of an hour, there will be such a blaze of fire and rockets; but when it does come, they say it's like heaven opening; the young markiss on a cloud, with his hand on his heart, in his new uniform.'
'Dear me!' said the mother. 'I knew him before he was weaned. The duchess suckled him herself, which shows her heart is very true; for they may say what they like, but if another's milk is in your child's veins, he seems, in a sort of way, as much her bairn as your own.'
'Mother's milk makes a true born Englishman,' said the father; 'and I make no doubt our young markiss will prove the same.'
'How I long to see him!' exclaimed one of the daughters.
'And so do I!' said her sister; 'and in his uniform! How beautiful it must be!'
'Well, I don't know,' said the mother; 'and perhaps you will laugh at me for saying so, but after seeing my Thomas in his state livery, I don't care much for seeing anything else.'
'Mother, how can you say such things? I am afraid the crowd will be very great at the fireworks. We must try to get a good place.'
'I have arranged all that,' said Thomas, with a triumphant look. 'There will be an inner circle for the steward's friends, and you will be let in.'
'Oh!' exclaimed his sisters.
'Well, I hope I shall get through the day,' said his mother; 'but it's rather a trial, after our quiet life.'
'And when will they come on the terrace, Thomas?'
'You see, they are waiting for the corporation, that's the mayor and town council of Montacute; they are coming up with an address. There! Do you hear that? That's the signal gun. They are leaving the town-hall at this same moment. Now, in three-quarters of an hour's time or so, the duke and duchess, and the young markiss, and all of them, will come on the terrace. So you be alive, and draw near, and get a good place. I must look after these people.'
About the same time that the cannon announced that the corporation had quitted the town-hall, some one tapped at the chamber-door of Lord Eskdale, who was sealing a letter in his private room.
'Well, Harris?' said Lord Eskdale, looking up, and recognising his valet.
'His Grace has been inquiring for your lordship several times,' replied Mr. Harris, with a perplexed air.
'I shall be with him in good time,' replied his lordship, again looking down.
'If you could manage to come down at once, my lord,' said Mr. Harris.
'Mr. Leander wishes to see your lordship very much.'
'Ah! Leander!' said Lord Eskdale, in a more interested tone. 'What does he want?'
'I have not seen him,' said Mr. Harris; 'but Mr. Prevost tells me that his feelings are hurt.'
'I hope he has not struck,' said Lord Eskdale, with a comical glance.
'Something of that sort,' said Mr. Harris, very seriously.
Lord Eskdale had a great sympathy with artists; he was well acquainted with that irritability which is said to be the characteristic of the creative power; genius always found in him an indulgent arbiter. He was convinced that if the feelings of a rare spirit like Leander were hurt, they were not to be trifled with. He felt responsible for the presence of one so eminent in a country where, perhaps, he was not properly appreciated; and Lord Eskdale descended to the steward's room with the consciousness of an important, probably a difficult, mission.
The kitchen of Montacute Castle was of the old style, fitted for baronial feasts. It covered a great space, and was very lofty. Now they build them in great houses on a different system; even more distinguished by height, but far more condensed in area, as it is thought that a dish often suffers from the distances which the cook has to move over in collecting its various component parts. The new principle seems sound; the old practice, however, was more picturesque. The kitchen at Montacute was like the preparation for the famous wedding feast of Prince Riquet with the Tuft, when the kind earth opened, and revealed that genial spectacle of white-capped cooks, and endless stoves and stewpans. The steady blaze of two colossal fires was shrouded by vast screens. Everywhere, rich materials and silent artists; business without bustle, and the all-pervading magic of method. Philippon was preparing a sauce; Dumoreau, in another quarter of the spacious chamber, was arranging some truffles; the Englishman, Smit, was fashioning a cutlet. Between these three generals of division aides-de-camp perpetually passed, in the form of active and observant marmitons, more than one of whom, as he looked on the great masters around him, and with the prophetic faculty of genius surveyed the future, exclaimed to himself, like Cor-reggio, 'And I also will be a cook.'
In this animated and interesting scene was only one unoccupied individual, or rather occupied only with his own sad thoughts. This was Papa Prevost, leaning against rather than sitting on a dresser, with his arms folded, his idle knife stuck in his girdle, and the tassel of his cap awry with vexation. His gloomy brow, however, lit up as Mr. Harris, for whom he was waiting with anxious expectation, entered, and summoned him to the presence of Lord Eskdale, who, with a shrewd yet lounging air, which concealed his own foreboding perplexity, said, 'Well, Prevost, what is the matter? The people here been impertinent?'
Prevost shook his head. 'We never were in a house, my lord, where they were more obliging. It is something much worse.'
'Nothing wrong about your fish, I hope? Well, what is it?'
'Leander, my lord, has been dressing dinners for a week: dinners, I will be bound to say, which were never equalled in the Imperial kitchen, and the duke has never made a single observation, or sent him a single message. Yesterday, determined to outdo even himself, he sent up some escalopes de laitances de carpes a la Bellamont. In my time I have seen nothing like it, my lord. Ask Philippon, ask Dumoreau, what they thought of it! Even the Englishman, Smit, who never says anything, opened his mouth and exclaimed; as for the marmitons, they were breathless, and I thought Achille, the youth of whom I spoke to you, my lord, and who appears to me to be born with the true feeling, would have been overcome with emotion. When it was finished, Leander retired to his room—I attended him—and covered his face with his hands. Would you believe it, my lord! Not a word; not even a message. All this morning Leander has waited in the last hope. Nothing, absolutely nothing! How can he compose when he is not appreciated? Had he been appreciated, he would to-day not only have repeated the escalopes a la Bellamont, but perhaps even invented what might have outdone it. It is unheard of, my lord. The late lord Monmouth would have sent for Leander the very evening, or have written to him a beautiful letter, which would have been preserved in his family; M. de Sidonia would have sent him a tankard from his table. These things in themselves are nothing; but they prove to a man of genius that he is understood. Had Leander been in the Imperial kitchen, or even with the Emperor of Russia, he would have been decorated!'
'Where is he?' said Lord Eskdale.
'He is alone in the cook's room.'
'I will go and say a word to him.'
Alone, in the cook's room, gazing in listless vacancy on the fire, that fire which, under his influence, had often achieved so many master-works, was the great artist who was not appreciated. No longer suffering under mortification, but overwhelmed by that exhaustion which follows acute sensibility and the over-tension of the creative faculty, he looked round as Lord Eskdale entered, and when he perceived who was his visitor, he rose immediately, bowed very low, and then sighed.
'Prevost thinks we are not exactly appreciated here,' said Lord Eskdale.
Leander bowed again, and still sighed.
'Prevost does not understand the affair,' continued Lord Eskdale. 'Why I wished you to come down here, Leander, was not to receive the applause of my cousin and his guests, but to form their taste.'
Here was a great idea; exciting and ennobling. It threw quite a new light upon the position of Leander. He started; his brow seemed to clear. Leander, then, like other eminent men, had duties to perform as well as rights to enjoy; he had a right to fame, but it was also his duty to form and direct public taste. That then was the reason he was brought down to Bellamont Castle; because some of the greatest personages in England, who never had eaten a proper dinner in their lives, would have an opportunity, for the first time, of witnessing art. What could the praise of the Duke of Clanronald, or Lord Hampshire, or Lord Hull, signify to one who had shared the confidence of a Lord Monmouth, and whom Sir Alexander Grant, the first judge in Europe, had declared the only man of genius of the age? Leander erred too in supposing that his achievements had been lost upon the guests at Bellamont. Insensibly his feats had set them a-thinking. They had been like Cossacks in a picture-gallery; but the Clanronalds, the Hampshires, the Hulls, would return to their homes impressed with a great truth, that there is a difference between eating and dining. Was this nothing for Leander to have effected? Was it nothing, by this development of taste, to assist in supporting that aristocratic influence which he wished to cherish, and which can alone encourage art? If anything can save the aristocracy in this levelling age, it is an appreciation of men of genius. Certainly it would have been very gratifying to Leander if his Grace had only sent him a message, or if Lord Montacute had expressed a wish to see him. He had been long musing over some dish a la Montacute for this very day. The young lord was reputed to have talent; this dish might touch his fancy; the homage of a great artist flatters youth; this offering of genius might colour his destiny. But what, after all, did this signify? Leander had a mission to perform.
'If I were you, I would exert myself, Leander,' said Lord Eskdale.
'Ah! my lord, if all men were like you! If artists were only sure of being appreciated; if we were but understood, a dinner would become a sacrifice to the gods, and a kitchen would be Paradise.'
In the meantime, the mayor and town-councillors of Montacute, in their robes of office, and preceded by their bedels and their mace-bearer, have entered the gates of the castle. They pass into the great hall, the most ancient part of the building, with its open roof of Spanish chestnut, its screen and gallery and dais, its painted windows and marble floor. Ascending the dais, they are ushered into an antechamber, the first of that suite of state apartments that opens on the terrace. Leaving on one side the principal dining-room and the library, they proceeded through the green drawing-room, so called from its silken hangings, the red drawing-room, covered with ruby velvet, and both adorned, but not encumbered, with pictures of the choicest art, into the principal or duchesses' drawing-room, thus entitled from its complete collection of portraits of Duchesses of Bellamont. It was a spacious and beautifully proportioned chamber, hung with amber satin, its ceiling by Zucchero, whose rich colours were relieved by the burnished gilding. The corporation trod tremblingly over the gorgeous carpet of Axminster, which displayed, in vivid colours and colossal proportions, the shield and supporters of Bellamont, and threw a hasty glance at the vases of porphyry and malachite, and mosaic tables covered with precious toys, which were grouped about.
Thence they were ushered into the Montacute room, adorned, among many interesting pictures, by perhaps the finest performance of Lawrence, a portrait of the present duke, just after his marriage. Tall and graceful, with a clear dark complexion, regular features, eyes of liquid tenderness, a frank brow, and rich clustering hair, the accomplished artist had seized and conveyed the character of a high-spirited but gentle-hearted cavalier. From the Montacute chamber they entered the ball-room; very spacious, white and gold, a coved ceiling, large Venetian lustres, and the walls of looking-glass, enclosing friezes of festive sculpture. Then followed another antechamber, in the centre of which was one of the masterpieces of Canova. This room, lined with footmen in state liveries, completed the suite that opened on the terrace. The northern side of this chamber consisted of a large door, divided, and decorated in its panels with emblazoned shields of arms.
The valves being thrown open, the mayor and town-council of Montacute were ushered into a gallery one hundred feet long, and which occupied a great portion of the northern side of the castle. The panels of this gallery enclosed a series of pictures in tapestry, which represented the principal achievements of the third crusade. A Montacute had been one of the most distinguished knights in that great adventure, and had saved the life of Cour de Lion at the siege of Ascalon. In after-ages a Duke of Bellamont, who was our ambassador at Paris, had given orders to the Gobelins factory for the execution of this series of pictures from cartoons by the most celebrated artists of the time. The subjects of the tapestry had obtained for the magnificent chamber, which they adorned and rendered so interesting, the title of 'The Crusaders' Gallery.'
At the end of this gallery, surrounded by their guests, their relatives, and their neighbours; by high nobility, by reverend prelates, by the members and notables of the county, and by some of the chief tenants of the duke, a portion of whom were never absent from any great carousing or high ceremony that occurred within his walls, the Duke and Duchess of Bellamont and their son, a little in advance of the company, stood to receive the congratulatory addresses of the mayor and corporation of their ancient and faithful town of Montacute; the town which their fathers had built and adorned, which they had often represented in Parliament in the good old days, and which they took care should then enjoy its fair proportion of the good old things; a town, every house in which belonged to them, and of which there was not an inhabitant who, in his own person or in that of his ancestry, had not felt the advantages of the noble connection.
The duke bowed to the corporation, with the duchess on his left hand; and on his right there stood a youth, above the middle height and of a frame completely and gracefully formed. His dark brown hair, in those hyacinthine curls which Grecian poets have celebrated, and which Grecian sculptors have immortalised, clustered over his brow, which, however, they only partially concealed. It was pale, as was his whole countenance, but the liquid richness of the dark brown eye, and the colour of the lip, denoted anything but a languid circulation. The features were regular, and inclined rather to a refinement which might have imparted to the countenance a character of too much delicacy, had it not been for the deep meditation of the brow, and for the lower part of the visage, which intimated indomitable will and an iron resolution.
Placed for the first time in his life in a public position, and under circumstances which might have occasioned some degree of embarrassment even to those initiated in the world, nothing was more remarkable in the demeanour of Lord Montacute than his self-possession; nor was there in his carriage anything studied, or which had the character of being preconceived. Every movement or gesture was distinguished by what may be called a graceful gravity. With a total absence of that excitement which seemed so natural to his age and situation, there was nothing in his manner which approached to nonchalance or indifference. It would appear that he duly estimated the importance of the event they were commemorating, yet was not of a habit of mind that overestimated anything.
A Strange Proposal
THE week of celebration was over: some few guests remained, near relatives, and not very rich, the Montacute Mountjoys, for example. They came from a considerable distance, and the duke insisted that they should remain until the duchess went to London, an event, by-the-bye, which was to occur very speedily. Lady Eleanor was rather agreeable, and the duchess a little liked her; there were four daughters, to be sure, and not very lively, but they sang in the evening.
It was a bright morning, and the duchess, with a heart prophetic of happiness, wished to disburthen it to her son; she meant to propose to him, therefore, to be her companion in her walk, and she had sent to his rooms in vain, and was inquiring after him, when she was informed that 'Lord Montacute was with his Grace.'
A smile of satisfaction flitted over her face, as she recalled the pleasant cause of the conference that was now taking place between the father and the son.
Let us see how it advanced.
The duke is in his private library, consisting chiefly of the statutes at large, Hansard, the Annual Register, Parliamentary Reports, and legal treatises on the powers and duties of justices of the peace. A portrait of his mother is over the mantel-piece: opposite it a huge map of the county. His correspondence on public business with the secretary of state, and the various authorities of the shire, is admirably arranged: for the duke was what is called an excellent man of business, that is to say, methodical, and an adept in all the small arts of routine. These papers were deposited, after having been ticketed with a date and a summary of their contents, and tied with much tape, in a large cabinet, which occupied nearly one side of the room, and on the top of which were busts in marble of Mr. Pitt, George III., and the Duke of Wellington.
The duke was leaning back in his chair, which it seemed, from his air and position, he had pushed back somewhat suddenly from his writing table, and an expression of painful surprise, it cannot be denied, dwelt on his countenance. Lord Montacute was on his legs, leaning with his left arm on the chimney-piece, very serious, and, if possible, paler than usual.
'You take me quite by surprise,' said the duke; 'I thought it was an arrangement that would have deeply gratified you.'