Tancred : Or, The New Crusade, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 6.

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 today 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.

‘Why?’

‘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-decamp 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 à 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 today not only have repeated the escalopes à 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 à 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.

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