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Lord Monmouth was sitting in [his] dressing room; on the table were several packets of papers that were open and in course of reference; and he dictated his observations to Monsieur Villebecque, who was writing at his left hand.
Thus they were occupied when Coningsby was ushered into the room.
‘You see, Harry,’ said Lord Monmouth, ‘that I am much occupied today, yet the business on which I wish to communicate with you is so pressing that it could not be postponed.’ He made a sign to Villebecque, and his secretary instantly retired.
‘I was right in pressing your return to England,’ continued Lord Monmouth to his grandson, who was a little anxious as to the impending communication, which he could not in any way anticipate. ‘These are not times when young men should be out of sight. Your public career will commence immediately. The Government have resolved on a dissolution. My information is from the highest quarter. You may be astonished, but it is a fact. They are going to dissolve their own House of Commons. Notwithstanding this and the Queen's name, we can beat them; but the race requires the finest jockeying. We can't give a point. Tadpole has been here to me about Darlford; he came specially with a message, I may say an appeal, from one to whom I can refuse nothing; the Government count on the seat, though with the new Registration 'tis nearly a tie. If we had a good candidate we could win. But Rigby won't do. He is too much of the old clique; used up; a hack; besides, a beaten horse. We are assured the name of Coningsby would be a host; there is a considerable section who support the present fellow who will not vote against a Coningsby. They have thought of you as a fit person, and I have approved of the suggestion. You will, therefore, be the candidate for Darlford with my entire sanction and support, and I have no doubt you will be successful. You may be sure I shall spare nothing: and it will be very gratifying to me, after being robbed of all our boroughs, that the only Coningsby who cares to enter Parliament, should nevertheless be able to do so as early as I could fairly desire.'
Coningsby the rival of Mr. Millbank on the hustings of Darlford! Vanquished or victorious, equally a catastrophe! The fierce passions, the gross insults, the hot blood and the cool lies, the ruffianism and the ribaldry, perhaps the domestic discomfiture and mortification, which he was about to be the means of bringing on the roof he loved best in the world, occurred to him with anguish. The countenance of Edith, haughty and mournful as last night, rose to him again. He saw her canvassing for her father, and against him. Madness! And for what was he to make this terrible and costly sacrifice? For his ambition? Not even for that Divinity or Daemon for which we all immolate so much! Mighty ambition, forsooth, to succeed to the Rigbys! To enter the House of Commons a slave and a tool; to move according to instructions, and to labour for the low designs of petty spirits, without even the consolation of being a dupe. What sympathy could there exist between Coningsby and the 'great Conservative party,' that for ten years in an age of revolution had never promulgated a principle; whose only intelligible and consistent policy seemed to be an attempt, very grateful of course to the feelings of an English Royalist, to revive Irish Puritanism; who when in power in 1835 had used that power only to evince their utter ignorance of Church principles; and who were at this moment, when Coningsby was formally solicited to join their ranks, in open insurrection against the prerogatives of the English Monarchy?
'Do you anticipate then an immediate dissolution, sir?' inquired Coningsby after a moment’s pause.
'We must anticipate it; though I think it doubtful. It may be next month; it may be in the autumn; they may tide over another year, as Lord Eskdale thinks, and his opinion always weighs with me. He is very safe. Tadpole believes they will dissolve at once. But whether they dissolve now, or in a month’s time, or in the autumn, or next year, our course is clear. We must declare our intentions immediately. We must hoist our flag. Monday next, there is a great Conservative dinner at Darlford. You must attend it; that will be the finest opportunity in the world for you to announce yourself.'
'Don't you think, sir,’ said Coningsby, 'that such an announcement would be rather premature? It is, in fact, embarking in a contest which may last a year; perhaps more.'
'What you say is very true,' said Lord Monmouth; 'no doubt it is very troublesome; very disgusting; any canvassing is. But we must take things as we find them. You cannot get into Parliament now in the good old gentlemanlike way; and we ought to be thankful that this interest has been fostered for our purpose.'
Coningsby looked on the carpet, cleared his throat as if about to speak, and then gave something like a sigh.
'I think you had better be off the day after to-morrow.' said Lord Monmouth. 'I have sent instructions to the steward to do all he can in so short a time, for I wish you to entertain the principal people.'
. 'You are most kind, you are always most kind to me, dear Sir,' said Coningsby, in a hesitating tone, and with an air of great embarrassment, 'but, in truth. I have no wish to enter parliament.'
'What?' said Lord Monmouth.
'I feel that I am not yet sufficiently prepared for so great a responsibility as a seat in the House of Commons: said Coningsby.
'Responsibility!' said Lord Monmouth, smiling. 'What responsibility is there? How can any one have a more agreeable seat? The only person to whom you are responsible is your own relation, who brings you in. And I don't suppose there can be any difference on any point between us. You are certainly still young; but I was younger by nearly two years wben I first went in; and I found no difficulty. There can be no diffculty. All you have got to do is to vote with your party. As for speaking, if you have a talent that way, take my advice; don't be in a hurry. Learn to know the House; learn the House to know you. If a man be discreet, he cannot enter Parliament too soon.'
'It is not exactly that, sir,' said Coningsby.
'Then what is it, my dear Harry? You see to-day I have much to do; yet as your business is pressing, I would not postpone seeing you an hour. I thought you would have been very much gratified.'
'You mentioned that I had nothing to do but to vote with my party, sir.' replied Coningsby. 'You mean, of course, by that term what is understood by the Conservative party.'
'Of course; our friends.'
'I am sorry.' said Coningsby, rather pale, but speaking with firmness, 'I am sorry that I could not support the Conservative party.
'By….!’ exclaimed Lord Monmouth, starting in his seat, ‘some woman has got hold of him, and made him a Whig!'
'No, my dear grandfather,' said Coningsby, scarcely able to repress a smile, serious as the interview was becoming, nothing of the kind, I assure you. No person can be more anti-Whig.'
‘I don't know what you are driving at, sir.' said Lord Monmouth, in a hard, dry tone.
‘I wish to be frank, sir: said Coningsby, 'and am very sensible of your goodness in permitting me to speak to you on the subject. What I mean to say is, that I have for a long time looked upon the Conservative party as a body who have betrayed