Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 59

Montfort Castle was the stronghold of England against the Scotch invader. It stood on a high and vast table-land, with the town of Montfort on one side at its feet, and on the other a wide-spreading and sylvan domain, herded with deer of various races, and terminating in pine forests; beyond them moors and mountains. The donjon keep, tall and grey, that had arrested the Douglas, still remained intact, and many an ancient battlement; but the long list of the Lords of Montfort had successively added to the great structure according to the genius of the times, so that still with the external appearance generally of a feudal castle, it combined in its various courts and quadrangle all the splendour and convenience of a modern palace.

But though it had witnessed many scenes and sights, and as strange ones as any old walls in this ancient land, it may be doubted whether the keep of Montfort ever looked down on anything more rare than the life that was gathering and disporting itself in its towers and halls, and courts and parks, and forest chase, in the memorable autumn of this year.

Berengaria had repaired to her castle full of triumph; her lord, in high good humour, admiring his wife for her energy, yet with a playful malice apparently enjoying the opportunity of showing that the chronology of her arrangements was confused, and her costume incorrect. They had good-naturedly taken Endymion down with them; for travelling to the Border in those times was a serious affair for a clerk in a public office. Day after day the other guests arrived; the rivals in the tourney were among the earliest, for they had to make themselves acquainted with the land which was to be the scene of their exploits. There came the Knights of the Griffin, and the Dragon, and the Black Lion and the Golden Lion, and the Dolphin and the Stag’s Head, and they were all always scrupulously addressed by their chivalric names, instead of by the Tommys and the Jemmys that circulated in the affectionate circle of White’s, or the Gusseys and the Regys of Belgravian tea-parties. After a time duly appeared the Knight of the White Rose, whose armour shielded the princely form of Florestan; and this portion of the company was complete when the Black Knight at length reached the castle, who had been detained by his attendance on a conference at St. James’, in the character of the Count of Ferroll.

If anything could add to the delight and excitement of Berengaria, it would seem to be the arrival of the Count of Ferroll.

Other guests gradually appeared, who were to sustain other characters in the great pageant. There was the Judge of Peace, and the Knight Marshal of the Lists, and the Jester, who was to ride on a caparisoned mule trapped with bells, and himself bearing a sceptre. Mr. Sidney Wilton came down, who had promised to be King of the Tournament; and, though rather late, for my lord had been detained by the same cause as the Count of Ferroll, at length arrived the Queen of Beauty herself.

If the performance, to which all contiguous Britain intended to repair — for irrespective of the railroads, which now began sensibly to affect the communications in the North of England, steamers were chartering from every port for passengers to the Montfort tournament within one hundred miles’ distance — were equal to the preparation, the affair must be a great success. The grounds round the castle seemed to be filled every day with groups of busy persons in fanciful costume, all practising their duties and rehearsing their parts; swordsmen and bowmen, and seneschals and esquires, and grooms and pages, and heralds in tabards, and pursuivants, and banner-bearers. The splendid pavilions of the knights were now completed, and the gorgeous throne of the Queen of Beauty, surrounded by crimson galleries, tier above tier, for thousands of favoured guests, were receiving only their last stroke of magnificence. The mornings passed in a feverish whirl of curiosity, and preparation, and excitement, and some anxiety. Then succeeded the banquet, where nearly one hundred guests were every day present; but the company were so absorbed in the impending event that none expected or required, in the evenings, any of the usual schemes or sources of amusement that abound in country houses. Comments on the morning, and plans for the morrow, engrossed all thought and conversation, and my lord’s band was just a due accompaniment that filled the pauses when perplexities arrested talk, or deftly blended with some whispered phrase almost as sweet or thrilling as the notes of the cornet-a-piston.

“I owe my knighthood to you,” said Prince Florestan to Lady Roehampton, “as I do everything in this country that is agreeable.”

“You cannot be my knight,” replied Lady Roehampton, “because I am told I am the sovereign of all the chivalry, but you have my best wishes.”

“All that I want in life,” said the prince, “are your good wishes.”

“I fear they are barren.”

“No, they are inspiring,” said the prince with unusual feeling. “You brought me good fortune. From the moment I saw you, light fell upon my life.”

“Is not that an exaggerated phrase?” said Lady Roehampton with a smile, “because I happened to get you a ticket for a masquerade.”

“I was thinking of something else,” said the prince pensively; “but life is a masquerade; at least mine has been.”

“I think yours, sir, is a most interesting life,” said Lady Roehampton, “and, were I you, I would not quarrel with my destiny.”

“My destiny is not fulfilled,” said the prince. “I have never quarrelled with it, and am least disposed to do so at this moment.”

“Mr. Sidney Wilton was speaking to me very much the other day about your royal mother, sir, Queen Agrippina. She must have been fascinating.”

“I like fascinating women,” said the prince, “but they are rare.”

“Perhaps it is better it should be so,” said Lady Roehampton, “for they are apt — are they not? — to disturb the world.”

“I confess I like to be bewitched,” said the prince, “and I do not care how much the world is disturbed.”

“But is not the world very well as it is?” said Lady Roehampton. “Why should we not be happy and enjoy it?”

“I do enjoy it,” replied Prince Florestan, “especially at Montfort Castle; I suppose there is something in the air that agrees with one. But enjoyment of the present is consistent with objects for the future.”

“Ah! now you are thinking of your great affairs — of your kingdom. My woman’s brain is not equal to that.”

“I think your brain is quite equal to kingdoms,” said the prince, with a serious expression, and speaking in even a lower voice, “but I was not thinking of my kingdom. I leave that to fate; I believe it is destined to be mine, and therefore occasions me thought but not anxiety. I was thinking of something else than kingdoms, and of which unhappily I am not so certain — of which I am most uncertain — of which I fear I have no chance — and yet which is dearer to me than even my crown.”

“What can that be?” said Lady Roehampton, with unaffected wonderment.

“’Tis a secret of chivalry,” said Prince Florestan, “and I must never disclose it.”

“It is a wonderful scene,” said Adriana Neuchatel to Endymion, who had been for some time conversing with her. “I had no idea that I should be so much amused by anything in society. But then, it is so unlike anything one has ever seen.”

Mrs. Neuchatel had not accompanied her husband and her daughter to the Montfort Tournament. Mr. Neuchatel required a long holiday, and after the tournament he was to take Adriana to Scotland. Mrs. Neuchatel shut herself up at Hainault, which it seemed she had never enjoyed before. She could hardly believe it was the same place, freed from its daily invasions by the House of Commons and the Stock Exchange. She had never lived so long without seeing an ambassador or a cabinet minister, and it as quite a relief. She wandered in the gardens, and drove her pony-chair in forest glades. She missed Adriana very much, and for a few days always expected her to enter the room when the door opened; and then she sighed, and then she flew to her easel, or buried herself in some sublime cantata of her favourite master, Beethoven. Then came the most wonderful performance of the whole day, and that was the letter, never missed, to Adriana. Considering that she lived in solitude, and in a spot with which her daughter was quite familiar, it was really marvellous that the mother should every day be able to fill so many interesting and impassioned pages. But Mrs. Neuchatel was a fine penwoman; her feelings were her facts, and her ingenious observations of art and nature were her news. After the first fever of separation, reading was always a resource to her, for she was a great student. She was surrounded by all the literary journals and choice publications of Europe, and there scarcely was a branch of science and learning with which she was not sufficiently familiar to be able to comprehend the stir and progress of the European mind. Mrs. Neuchatel had contrived to get rid of the chief cook by sending him on a visit to Paris, so she could, without cavil, dine off a cutlet and seltzer-water in her boudoir. Sometimes, not merely for distraction, but more from a sense of duty, she gave festivals to her schools; and when she had lived like a princely prisoner of state alone for a month, or rather like one on a desert isle who sighs to see a sail, she would ask a great geologist and his wife to pay her a visit, or some professor, who, though himself not worth a shilling, had some new plans, which really sounded quite practical, for the more equal distribution of wealth.

“And who is your knight?” said Endymion.

Adriana looked distressed.

“I mean, whom do you wish to win?”

“Oh, I should like them all to win!”

“That is good-natured, but then there would be no distinction. I know who is going to wear your colours — the Knight of the Dolphin.”

“I hope nothing of that kind will happen,” said Adriana, agitated. “I know that some of the knights are going to wear ladies’ colours, but I trust no one will think of wearing mine. I know the Black Knight wears Lady Montfort’s.”

“He cannot,” said Endymion hastily. “She is first lady to the Queen of Beauty; no knight can wear the colours of the Queen. I asked Sir Morte d’Arthur himself, and he told me there was no doubt about it, and that he had consulted Garter before he came down.”

“Well, all I know is that the Count of Ferroll told me so,” said Adriana; “I sate next to him at dinner.”

“He shall not wear her colours,” said Endymion quite angrily. “I will speak to the King of the Tournament about it directly.”

“Why, what does it signify?” said Adriana.

“You thought it signified when I told you Regy Sutton was going to wear your colours.”

“Ah! that is quite a different business,” said Adriana, with a sigh.

Reginald Sutton was a professed admirer of Adriana, rode with her whenever he could, and danced with her immensely. She gave him cold encouragement, though he was the best-looking and best-dressed youth in England; but he was a determined young hero, not gifted with too sensitive nerves, and was a votary of the great theory that all in life was an affair of will, and that endowed with sufficient energy he might marry whom he liked. He accounted for his slow advance in London by the inimical presence of Mrs. Neuchatel, who he felt, or fancied, did not sympathise with him; while, on the contrary, he got on very well with the father, and so he was determined to seize the present opportunity. The mother was absent, and he himself in a commanding position, being one of the knights to whose exploits the eyes of all England were attracted.

Lord Roehampton was seated between an ambassadress and Berengaria, indulging in gentle and sweet-voiced raillery; the Count of Ferroll was standing beside Lady Montfort, and Mr. Wilton was opposite to the group. The Count of Ferroll rarely spoke, but listened to Lady Montfort with what she called one of his dark smiles.

“All I know is, she will never pardon you for not asking her,” said Lord Roehampton. “I saw Bicester the day I left town, and he was very grumpy. He said that Lady Bicester was the only person who understood tournaments. She had studied the subject.”

“I suppose she wanted to be the Queen of Beauty,” said Berengaria.

“You are too severe, my dear lady. I think she would have been contented with a knight wearing her colours.”

“Well, I cannot help it,” said Berengaria, but somewhat doubtingly. And then, after a moment’s pause, “She is too ugly.”

“Why, she came to my fancy ball, and it is not five years ago, as Mary Queen of Scots!”

“That must have been after the Queen’s decapitation,” said Berengaria.

“I wonder you did not ask Zenobia,” said Mr. Wilton.

“Of course I asked her, but I knew she would not come. She is in one of her hatreds now. She said she would have come, only she had half-promised to give a ball to the tenants at Merrington about that time, and she did not like to disappoint them. Quite touching, was it not?”

“A touch beyond the reach of art,” said Mr. Wilton; “almost worthy of yourself, Lady Montfort.”

“And what do you think of all this?” asked Lord Montfort of Nigel Penruddock, who, in a cassock that swept the ground, had been stalking about the glittering salons like a prophet who had been ordained in Mayfair, but who had now seated himself by his host.

“I am thinking of what is beneath all this,” replied Nigel. “A great revivication. Chivalry is the child of the Church; it is the distinctive feature of Christian Europe. Had it not been for the revival of Church principles, this glorious pageant would never have occurred. But it is a pageant only to the uninitiated. There is not a ceremony, a form, a phrase, a costume, which is not symbolic of a great truth or a high purpose.”

“I do not think Lady Montfort is aware of all this,” said her lord.

“Oh yes!” said Nigel. “Lady Montfort is a great woman — a woman who could inspire crusades and create churches. She might, and she will, I trust, rank with the Helenas and the Matildas.”

Lord Montfort gave a little sound, but so gentle that it was heard probably but by himself, which in common language would be styled a whistle — an articulate modulation of the breath which in this instance expressed a sly sentiment of humorous amazement.

“Well, Mr. Ferrars,” said Mr. Neuchatel, with a laughing eye, to that young gentleman, as he encountered Endymion passing by, “and how are you getting on? Are we to see you tomorrow in a Milanese suit?”

“I am only a page,” said Endymion.

“Well, well, the old Italian saying is, ‘A page beats a knight,’ at least with the ladies.”

“Do you not think it very absurd,” said Endymion, “that the Count of Ferroll says he shall wear Lady Montfort’s colours? Lady Montfort is only the first lady of the Queen of Beauty, and she can wear no colours except the Queen’s. Do not you think somebody ought to interfere?”

“Hem! The Count of Ferroll is a man who seldom makes a mistake,” said Mr. Neuchatel.

“So everybody says,” said Endymion rather testily; “but I do not see that.”

“Now, you are a very young man,” said Mr. Neuchatel, “and I hope you will some day be a statesman. I do not see why you should not, if you are industrious and stick to your master, for Mr. Sidney Wilton is a man who will always rise; but, if I were you, I would keep my eyes very much on the Count of Ferroll, for, depend on it, he is one of those men who sooner or later will make a noise in the world.”

Adriana came up at this moment, leaning on the arm of the Knight of the Dolphin, better known as Regy Sutton. They came from the tea-room. Endymion moved away with a cloud on his brow, murmuring to himself, “I am quite sick of the name of the Count of Ferroll.”

The jousting-ground was about a mile from the castle, and though it was nearly encircled by vast and lofty galleries, it was impossible that accommodation could be afforded on this spot to the thousands who had repaired from many parts of the kingdom to the Montfort Tournament. But even a hundred thousand people could witness the procession from the castle to the scene of action. That was superb. The sun shone, and not one of the breathless multitude was disappointed.

There came a long line of men-at-arms and musicians and trumpeters and banner-bearers of the Lord of the Tournament, and heralds in tabards, and pursuivants, and then the Herald of the Tournament by himself, whom the people at first mistook for the Lord Mayor.

Then came the Knight Marshal on a caparisoned steed, himself in a suit of gilt armour, and in a richly embroidered surcoat. A band of halberdiers preceded the King of the Tournament, also on a steed richly caparisoned, and himself clad in robes of velvet and ermine, and wearing a golden crown.

Then on a barded Arab, herself dressed in cloth of gold, parti-coloured with violet and crimson, came, amidst tremendous cheering, the Queen of Beauty herself. Twelve attendants bore aloft a silken canopy, which did not conceal from the enraptured multitude the lustre of her matchless loveliness. Lady Montfort, Adriana, and four other attendant ladies, followed her majesty, two by two, each in gorgeous attire, and on a charger that vied in splendour with its mistress. Six pages followed next, in violet and silver.

The bells of a barded mule announced the Jester, who waved his sceptre with unceasing authority, and pelted the people with admirably prepared impromptus. Some in the crowd tried to enter into a competition of banter, but they were always vanquished.

Soon a large army of men-at-arms and the sounds of most triumphant music stopped the general laughter, and all became again hushed in curious suspense. The tallest and the stoutest of the Border men bore the gonfalon of the Lord of the Tournament. That should have been Lord Montfort himself; but he had deputed the office to his cousin and presumptive heir. Lord Montfort was well represented, and the people cheered his cousin Odo heartily, as in his suit of golden armour richly chased, and bending on his steed, caparisoned in blue and gold, he acknowledged their fealty with a proud reverence.

The other knights followed in order, all attended by their esquires and their grooms. Each knight was greatly applauded, and it was really a grand sight to see them on their barded chargers and in their panoply; some in suits of engraved Milanese armour, some in German suits of fluted polished steel; some in steel armour engraved and inlaid with gold. The Black Knight was much cheered, but no one commanded more admiration than Prince Florestan, in a suit of blue damascened armour, and inlaid with silver roses.

Every procession must end. It is a pity, for there is nothing so popular with mankind. The splendid part of the pageant had passed, but still the people gazed and looked as if they would have gazed for ever. The visitors at the castle, all in ancient costume, attracted much notice. Companies of swordsmen and bowmen followed, till at last the seneschal of the castle, with his chamberlains and servitors, closed the spell-bound scene.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19