Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 86

On the evening of the day on which Prince Florestan personally left the letter with Lady Roehampton, he quitted London with the Duke of St. Angelo and his aides-decamp, and, embarking in his steam yacht, which was lying at Southampton, quitted England. They pursued a prosperous course for about a week, when they passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, and, not long afterwards, cast anchor in a small and solitary bay. There the prince and his companions, and half-a-dozen servants, well armed and in military attire, left the yacht, and proceeded on foot into the country for a short distance, when they arrived at a large farmhouse. Here, it was evident, they were expected. Men came forward with many horses, and mounted, and accompanied the party which had arrived. They advanced about ten miles, and halted as they were approaching a small but fortified town.

The prince sent the Duke of St. Angelo forward to announce his arrival to the governor, and to require him to surrender. The governor, however, refused, and ordered the garrison to fire on the invaders. This they declined to do; the governor, with many ejaculations, and stamping with rage, broke his sword, and the prince entered the town. He was warmly received, and the troops, amounting to about twelve hundred men, placed themselves at his disposal. The prince remained at this town only a couple of hours, and at the head of his forces advanced into the country. At a range of hills he halted, sent out reconnoitring parties, and pitched his camp. In the morning, the Marquis of Vallombrosa, with a large party of gentlemen well mounted, arrived, and were warmly greeted. The prince learnt from them that the news of his invasion had reached the governor of the province, who was at one of the most considerable cities of the kingdom, with a population exceeding two hundred thousand, and with a military division for its garrison. “They will not wait for our arrival,” said Vallombrosa, “but, trusting to their numbers, will come out and attack us.”

The news of the scouts being that the mountain passes were quite unoccupied by the enemy, the prince determined instantly to continue his advance, and take up a strong position on the other side of the range, and await his fate. The passage was well effected, and on the fourth day of the invasion the advanced guard of the enemy were in sight. The prince commanded that no one should attend him, but alone and tying a white handkerchief round his sword, he galloped up to the hostile lines, and said in a clear, loud voice, “My men, this is the sword of my father!”

“Florestan for ever!” was the only and universal reply. The cheers of the advanced guard reached and were reechoed by the main body. The commander-inchief, bareheaded, came up to give in his allegiance and receive his majesty’s orders. They were for immediate progress, and at the head of the army which had been sent out to destroy him, Florestan in due course entered the enthusiastic city which recognised him as its sovereign. The city was illuminated, and he went to the opera in the evening. The singing was not confined to the theatre. During the whole night the city itself was one song of joy and triumph, and that night no one slept.

After this there was no trouble and no delay. It was a triumphal march. Every town opened its gates, and devoted municipalities proffered golden keys. Every village sent forth its troop of beautiful maidens, scattering roses, and singing the national anthem which had been composed by Queen Agrippina. On the tenth day of the invasion King Florestan, utterly unopposed, entered the magnificent capital of his realm, and slept in the purple bed which had witnessed his princely birth.

Among all the strange revolutions of this year, this adventure of Florestan was not the least interesting to the English people. Although society had not smiled on him, he had always been rather a favourite with the bulk of the population. His fine countenance, his capital horsemanship, his graceful bow that always won a heart, his youth, and love of sport, his English education, and the belief that he was sincere in his regard for the country where he had been so long a guest, were elements of popularity that, particularly now he was successful, were unmistakable. And certainly Lady Roehampton, in her solitude, did not disregard his career or conduct. They were naturally often in her thoughts, for there was scarcely a day in which his name did not figure in the newspapers, and always in connection with matters of general interest and concern. The government he established was liberal, but it was discreet, and, though conciliatory, firm. “If he declares for the English alliance,” said Waldershare, “he is safe;” and he did declare for the English alliance, and the English people were very pleased by his declaration, which in their apprehension meant national progress, the amelioration of society, and increased exports.

The main point, however, which interested his subjects was his marriage. That was both a difficult and a delicate matter to decide. The great continental dynasties looked with some jealousy and suspicion on him, and the small reigning houses, who were all allied with the great continental dynasties, thought it prudent to copy their example. All these reigning families, whether large or small, were themselves in a perplexed and alarmed position at this period, very disturbed about their present, and very doubtful about their future. At last it was understood that a Princess of Saxe–Babel, though allied with royal and imperial houses, might share the diadem of a successful adventurer, and then in time, and when it had been sufficiently reiterated, paragraphs appeared unequivocally contradicting the statement, followed with agreeable assurances that it was unlikely that a Princess of Saxe–Babel, allied with royal and imperial houses, should unite herself to a parvenu monarch, however powerful. Then in turn these articles were stigmatised as libels, and entirely unauthorised, and no less a personage than a princess of the house of Saxe–Genesis was talked of as the future queen; but on referring to the “Almanach de Gotha,” it was discovered that family had been extinct since the first French Revolution. So it seemed at last that nothing was certain, except that his subjects were very anxious that King Florestan should present them with a queen.


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