Sybil/Book 2/Chapter 15

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Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli
Book 2/Chapter 15


"Where have you been all the morning, Charles?" said Lord Marney coming into his brother's dressing-room a few minutes before dinner; "Arabella had made the nicest little riding party for you and Lady Joan, and you were to be found nowhere. If you go on in this way, there is no use of having affectionate relations, or anything else."

"I have been walking about Mowbray. One should see a factory once in one's life."

"I don't see the necessity," said Lord Marney; "I never saw one, and never intend. Though to be sure, when I hear the rents that Mowbray gets for his land in their neighbourhood, I must say I wish the worsted works had answered at Marney. And if it had not been for our poor dear father, they would."

"Our family have always been against manufactories, railroads—everything," said Egremont.

"Railroads are very good things, with high compensation," said Lord Marney; "and manufactories not so bad, with high rents; but, after all, these are enterprises for the canaille, and I hate them in my heart."

"But they employ the people, George."

"The people do not want employment; it is the greatest mistake in the world; all this employment is a stimulus to population. Never mind that; what I came in for, is to tell you that both Arabella and myself think you talk too much to Lady Maud."

"I like her the best."

"What has that to do with it my dear fellow? Business is business. Old Mowbray will make an elder son out of his elder daughter. The affair is settled; I know it from the best authority. Talking to Lady Maud is insanity. It is all the same for her as if Fitz-Warene had never died. And then that great event, which ought to be the foundation of your fortune, would be perfectly thrown away. Lady Maud, at the best, is nothing more than twenty thousand pounds and a fat living. Besides, she is engaged to that parson fellow, St Lys.

"St Lys told me to-day that nothing would ever induce him to marry. He would practise celibacy, though he would not enjoin it."

"Enjoin fiddle-stick! How came you to be talking to such a sanctified imposter; and, I believe, with all his fine phrases, a complete radical. I tell you what, Charles, you must really make way with Lady Joan. The grandfather has come to-day, the old Duke. Quite a family party. It looks so well. Never was such a golden opportunity. And you must be sharp too. That little Jermyn, with his brown eyes and his white hands, has not come down here, in the month of August, with no sport of any kind, for nothing."

"I shall set Lady Firebrace at him."

"She is quite your friend, and a very sensible woman too, Charles, and an ally not to be despised. Lady Joan has a very high opinion of her. There's the bell. Well, I shall tell Arabella that you mean to put up the steam, and Lady Firebrace shall keep Jermyn off. And perhaps it is as well you did not seem too eager at first. Mowbray Castle, my dear fellow, in spite of its manufactories, is not to be despised. And with a little firmness, you could keep the people out of your park. Mowbray could do it, only he has no pluck. He is afraid people would say he was the son of a footman."

The Duke, who was the father of the Countess de Mowbray, was also lord lieutenant of the county. Although advanced in years, he was still extremely handsome; with the most winning manners; full of amenity and grace. He had been a rou‚ in his youth, but seemed now the perfect representative of a benignant and virtuous old age. He was universally popular; admired by young men, adored by young ladies. Lord de Mowbray paid him the most distinguished consideration. It was genuine. However maliciously the origin of his own father might be represented, nobody could deprive him of that great fact, his father-in-law; a duke, a duke of a great house who had intermarried for generations with great houses, one of the old nobility, and something even loftier.

The county of which his grace was Lord Lieutenant was very proud of its nobility; and certainly with Marney Abbey at one end, and Mowbray Castle at the other, it had just cause; but both these illustrious houses yielded in importance, though not in possessions, to the great peer who was the governor of the province.

A French actress, clever as French actresses always are, had persuaded, once upon a time, an easy-tempered monarch of this realm, that the paternity of her coming babe was a distinction of which his majesty might be proud. His majesty did not much believe her; but he was a sensible man, and never disputed a point with a woman; so when the babe was born, and proved a boy, he christened him with his name; and elevated him to the peerage in his cradle by the title of Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine and Marquis of Gascony.

An estate the royal father could not endow him with, for he had spent all his money, mortgaged all his resources, and was obliged to run in debt himself for the jewels of the rest of his mistresses; but he did his best for the young peer, as became an affectionate father or a fond lover. His majesty made him when he arrived at man's estate the hereditary keeper of a palace which he possessed in the north of England; and this secured his grace a castle and a park. He could wave his flag and kill his deer; and if he had only possessed an estate, he would have been as well off as if he had helped conquer the realm with King William, or plundered the church for King Harry. A revenue must however be found for the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine, and it was furnished without the interference of Parliament, but with a financial dexterity worthy of that assembly—to whom and not to our sovereigns we are obliged for the public debt. The king granted the duke and his heirs for ever, a pension on the post-office, a light tax upon coals shipped to London, and a tithe of all the shrimps caught on the southern coast. This last source of revenue became in time, with the development of watering-places, extremely prolific. And so, what with the foreign courts and colonies for the younger sons, it was thus contrived very respectably to maintain the hereditary dignity of this great peer.

The present Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine had supported the Reform Bill, but had been shocked by the Appropriation clause; very much admired Lord Stanley, and was apt to observe, that if that nobleman had been the leader of the conservative party, he hardly knew what he might not have done himself. But the duke was an old whig, had lived with old whigs all his life, feared revolution, but still more the necessity of taking his name out of Brookes', where he had looked in every day or night since he came of age. So, not approving of what was going on, yet not caring to desert his friends, he withdrew, as the phrase runs, from public life; that is to say, was rarely in his seat; did not continue to Lord Melbourne the proxy that had been entrusted to Lord Grey; and made tory magistrates in his county though a whig lord lieutenant.

When forces were numbered, and speculations on the future indulged in by the Tadpoles and Tapers, the name of the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine was mentioned with a knowing look and in a mysterious tone. Nothing more was necessary between Tadpole and Taper; but, if some hack in statu pupillari happened to be present at the conference, and the gentle novice greedy for party tattle, and full of admiring reverence for the two great hierophants of petty mysteries before him, ventured to intimate his anxiety for initiation, the secret was entrusted to him, "that all was right there; that his grace only watched his opportunity; that he was heartily sick of the present men; indeed, would have gone over with Lord Stanley in 1835, had he not had a fit of the gout, which prevented him from coming up from the north; and though to be sure his son and brother did vote against the speaker, still that was a mistake; if a letter had been sent, which was not written, they would have voted the other way, and perhaps Sir Robert might have been in at the present moment."

The Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine was the great staple of Lady Firebrace's correspondence with Mr Tadpole. "Woman's mission" took the shape to her intelligence of getting over his grace to the conservatives. She was much assisted in these endeavours by the information which she so dexterously acquired from the innocent and incautious Lord Masque.

Egremont was seated at dinner to-day by the side of Lady Joan. Unconsciously to himself this had been arranged by Lady Marney. The action of woman on our destiny is unceasing. Egremont was scarcely in a happy mood for conversation. He was pensive, inclined to be absent; his thoughts indeed were of other things and persons than those around him. Lady Joan however only required a listener. She did not make enquiries like Lady Maud, or impart her own impressions by suggesting them as your own. Lady Joan gave Egremont an account of the Aztec cities, of which she had been reading that morning, and of the several historical theories which their discovery had suggested; then she imparted her own, which differed from all, but which seemed clearly the right one. Mexico led to Egypt. Lady Joan was as familiar with the Pharaohs as with the Caciques of the new world. The phonetic system was despatched by the way. Then came Champollion; then Paris; then all its celebrities, literary and especially scientific; then came the letter from Arago received that morning; and the letter from Dr Buckland expected to-morrow. She was delighted that one had written; wondered why the other had not. Finally before the ladies had retired, she had invited Egremont to join Lady Marney in a visit to her observatory, where they were to behold a comet which she had been the first to detect.

Lady Firebrace next to the duke indulged in mysterious fiddle-fadde as to the state of parties. She too had her correspondents, and her letters received or awaited. Tadpole said this; Lord Masque, on the contrary, said that: the truth lay perhaps between them; some result developed by the clear intelligence of Lady Firebrace acting on the data with which they supplied her. The duke listened with calm excitement to the transcendental revelations of his Egeria. Nothing appeared to be concealed from her; the inmost mind of the sovereign: there was not a royal prejudice that was not mapped in her secret inventory; the cabinets of the whigs and the clubs of the tories, she had the "open sesame" to all of them. Sir Somebody did not want office, though he pretended to; and Lord Nobody did want office, though he pretended he did not. One great man thought the pear was not ripe; another that it was quite rotten; but then the first was coming on the stage, and the other was going off. In estimating the accuracy of a political opinion, one should take into consideration the standing of the opinionist.

At the right moment, and when she was sure she was not overheard, Lady Firebrace played her trump card, the pack having been previously cut by Mr Tadpole.

"And who do you think Sir Robert would send to Ireland?" and she looked up in the face of the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine.

"I suppose the person he sent before," said his grace.

Lady Firebrace shook her head.

"Lord Haddington will not go to Ireland again," replied her ladyship, mysteriously; "mark me. And Lord De Grey does not like to go; and if he did, there are objections. And the Duke of Northumberland, he will not go. And who else is there? We must have a nobleman of the highest rank for Ireland; one who has not mixed himself up with Irish questions; who has always been in old days for emancipation; a conservative, not an orangeman. You understand. That is the person Sir Robert will send, and whom Sir Robert wants."

"He will have some difficulty in finding such a person," said the duke. "If, indeed, the blundering affair of 1834 had not occurred, and things had taken their legitimate course, and we had seen a man like Lord Stanley for instance at the head of affairs, or leading a great party, why then indeed your friends the conservatives,—for every sensible man must be a conservative, in the right sense of the word,—would have stood in a very different position; but now—," and his grace shook his head.

"Sir Robert will never consent to form a government again without Lord Stanley," said Lady Firebrace.

"Perhaps not," said the duke.

"Do you know whose name I have heard mentioned in a certain quarter as the person Sir Robert would wish to see in Ireland?" continued Lady Firebrace.

His grace leant his ear.

"The Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine," said Lady Firebrace.

"Quite impossible," said the duke. "I am no party man; if I be anything, I am a supporter of the government. True it is I do not like the way they are going on, and I disapprove of all their measures; but we must stand by our friends, Lady Firebrace. To be sure, if the country were in danger, and the Queen personally appealed to one, and the conservative party were really a conservative party, and not an old crazy faction vamped up and whitewashed into decency—one might pause and consider. But I am free to confess I must see things in a very different condition to what they are at present before I could be called upon to take that step. I must see men like Lord Stanley—"

"I know what you are going to say, my dear Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine. I tell you again Lord Stanley is with us, heart and soul; and before long I feel persuaded I shall see your grace in the Castle of Dublin."

"I am too old; at least, I am afraid so," said the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine, with a relenting smile.