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THE INFERNAL MARRIAGE. BY DISRAELI THE YOUNGER, AUTHOR OF
IXION IN HEAVEN.”
CHAPTER I. Containing an account of Tiresias at his rubber. Travellers who have left their homes generally grow mournful as the evening draws on; nor is there, perhaps, any time at which the pensive influence of twilight is more predominant than on the eve that follows a separation from those we love. Imagine, then, the feelings of the Queen of Hell, as her barque entered the very region of that mystic light, and the shadowy shores of the realm of Twilight opened before her. Her thoughts reverted to Pluto; and she mused over all his fondness, all his adoration, and all his indulgence, and the infinite solicitude of his affectionate heart, until the tears trickled down her beautiful cheeks, and she marvelled she ever could have quitted the arms of her lover.
“ Your Majesty," observed Manto, who had been whispering to Tiresias, “ feels, perhaps, a little wearied ?”
“ By no means, my kind Manto," replied Proserpine, starting from her reverie. “But the truth is, my spirits are very unequal; and though I really cannot well fix upon the cause of their present depression, I am apparently not free from the contagion of the surrounding gloom.”
" It is the evening air,” said Tiresias. “Your Majesty had perhaps better re-enter the pavilion of the yacht. As for myself, I never venture about after sunset. One grows romantic. Night was evidently made for in-door nature. I propose a rubber.”
To this popular suggestion Proserpine was pleased to accede, and herself and Tiresias, Manto and the captain of the yacht, were soon engaged at the proposed amusement.
Tiresias loved a rubber. It was true he was blind, but then, being a prophet, that did not signify. Tiresias, I say, loved a rubber, and was a first-rate player, though, perhaps, given a little too much to finesse. Indeed, he so much enjoyed taking in his fellow-creatures, that he sometimes could not resist deceiving his own partner. Whist is a game which requires no ordinary combination of qualities ;, at the same time, memory and invention, a daring fancy, and a cool head. To a mind like that of Tiresias, a pack of cards was full of human nature. A rubber was a microcosm; and he ruffed his adversary's king, or brought in a long suit of his own with as much dexterity and as much enjoyment as, in the real business of existence, he dethroned a monarch, or introduced a dynasty.
“ Will your Majesty be pleased to draw your card ?” requested the sage. “If I might venture to offer your Majesty a hint, I would dare to recommend your Majesty not to play before your turn. My friends are fond of ascribing my success in my various missions to the possession of peculiar qualities. No such thing : I owe everything to the simple habit of always waiting till it is my turn to speak. And believe me, that he who plays before his turn at whist, commits as great a blunder as he who speaks before his turn during a negotiation."
“ The trick, and two by honours,” said Proserpine. “Pray, my dear
Tiresias, you who are such a fine player, how came you to trump my best card ?”
“ Because I wanted the lead. And those who want to lead, please your Majesty, must never hesitate about sacrificing their friends."
“ I believe you speak truly. I was right in playing that thirteenth card ?"
“Quite so. Above all things, I love a thirteenth card. I send it forth, like a mock project in a revolution, to try the strength of parties."
“ You should not have forced me, Lady Manto,” said the Captain of the yacht, in a grumbling tone, to his partner.“ By weakening me, you prevented me bringing in my spades. We might have made the
“ You should not have been forced," said Tiresias, “ If she made a mistake, who was unacquainted with your plans, what a terrible blunder you committed to share her error without her ignorance!”
“ What, then, was I to lose a trick ?”
“ Next to knowing when to seize an opportunity," replied Tiresias, " the most important thing in life is to know when to forego an advans tage.”
“ I have cut you an honour, Sir," said Manto.
" Which reminds me,” replied Tiresias," that, in the last hand, your Majesty unfortunately forgot to lead through your adversary's ace. I have often observed that nothing ever perplexes' an adversary so much as an appeal to his honour.”
“I will not forget to follow your advice,” said the Captain of the yacht, playing accordingly.
By which you have lost the game," quietly remarked Tiresias. 6. There are exceptions to all rules, but it seldom answers to follow the advice of an opponent."
6. Confusion!” exclaimed the Captain of the yacht.
“Four by honours, and the trick, I declare," said Proserpine. "I was so glad to see you turn up the queen, Tiresias.”
“I also, Madam. Without doubt there are few cards better than her royal consort, or, still more, the imperial ace. Nevertheless, I must confess, I am perfectly satisfied whenever I remember that I have the Queen on my side.” Proserpine bowed.
CHAPTER II. Containing a Visit from a liberal Queen to a dethroned Monarch; and
a Conversation between them respecting the “ Spirit of the Age."
“I have a good mind to do it, Tiresias,” said Queen Proserpine, as that worthy sage paid his compliments to her at her toilette, at an hour which should have been noon.
“It would be a great compliment," said Tiresias. “ And it is not much out of our way?
“By no means," replied the seer. « 'Tis an agreeable half-way house. He lives in very good style."
“ And whence can a dethroned monarch gain a revenue ?” inquired the Queen.
“ Your Majesty, I see, is not at all learned in politics. A sovereign never knows what an easy income is till he has abdicated. He generally commences squabbling with his subjects about the supplies; he is then
expelled, and voted as compensation in amount about double the sum which was the cause of the original quarrel.”
“What do you think, Manto?" said Proserpine, as that lady entered the cabin;
we propose paying a visit to Saturn. He has fixed his residence, you know, in these regions of twilight.”
“ I love a junket,” replied Manto," above all things. And, indeed, I was half frightened out of my wits at the bare idea of toiling over this desert. All is prepared, please your Majesty, for our landing. Your Majesty's litter is quite ready."
“ 'Tis well,” said Proserpine; and leaning on the arm of Manto, the Queen came upon deck, and surveyed the surrounding country-a vast grey flat, with a cloudless sky of the same tint: in the distance some lowering shadows which seemed like clouds, but were in fact mountains.
" Some half-dozen hours," said Tiresias, “will bring us to the palace of Saturn. We shall arrive for dinner-the right hour. Let me recommend your Majesty to order the curtains of your litter to be drawn, and, if possible, to resume your dreams."
They were not pleasant,” said Proserpine, “ I dreamt of my mother and the Parcæ. Manto, methinks I'll read. Hast thou some book ?” “ Here is a poem, Madam, but I fear it may induce those very
slumdread." “ How call you it?"
« « The Pleasures of Oblivion.' The poet apparently is fond of his subject."
"And is, I have no doubt, equal to it. Hast any prose?" “ An historical novel or so.
“Oh! if you mean those things as full of costume as a fancy ball, and almost as devoid of sense, I'll have none of them. Close the curtains; even visions of the Furies are preferable to these insipidities."
The halt of the litter roused the Queen from her slumbers. have arrived," said Manto, as she assisted in withdrawing the curtains.
The train had halted before a vast propylon of rose-coloured granite, The gate was nearly two hundred feet in height, and the sides of the propylon, which rose like huge moles, were sculptured with colossal figures of a very threatening aspect. Passing through the propylon, the Queen of Hell and her attendants entered an avenue in length about three-quarters of a mile, formed of colossal figures of the same character and substance, alternately raising in their arms javeling or battle-axes, as if about to strike. At the end of this heroic avenue appeared the palace of Saturn. Ascending a hundred steps of black marble, you stood before a portico supported by twenty columns of the same material, and shading a single portal of bronze. Apparently the palace formed an immense quadrangle: a vast tower from each corner rising, and springing from the centre a huge and hooded dome. A crowd of attendants, in grey and sad-coloured raiment, issued from the portal of the palace at the approach of Proserpine, who remarked with strange surprise their singular countenances and demeancur-for rare in this silent assemblage was any visage resembling aught she had seen, human or divine. Some bore the heads of bats ; of owls and beetles otherssome fluttered moth-like wings, while the shoulders of other bipeds were surmounted, in spite of their human organization, with the heads of rats and weasels, of marten cats and of foxes. But they were all remark
ably civil, and Proserpine, who was now used to wonders, did not shriek at all, and scarcely shuddered.
The Queen of Hell was ushered through a superb hall, and down a splendid gallery, to a suite of apartments where a body of damsels of a most distinguished appearance awaited her. Their heads resembled those of the most eagerly sought, highly prized, and oftenest stolen lapdogs. Upon the shoulders of one was the visage of the smallest and most thorough-bred little Blenheim in the world. Upon her front was a white star, her nose was nearly flat, and her ears were tied under her chin, with the most jaunty air imaginable. She was an evident flirt, and a solemn prude of a spaniel, with a black and tan countenance, who seemed a sort of duenna, evidently watched her with no little distrust. The admirers of blonde beauties would, however, have fallen in love with a poodle, with the finest head of hair imaginable, and most voluptuous shoulders. This brilliant band began barking in the most insinuating tone on the appearance of the Queen ; and Manto, who was almost as dexterous a linguist as Tiresias himself, informed her Majesty that these were the ladies of her bedchamber; upon which Proserpine, who, it will be remembered, had no passion for dogs, ordered them immediately out of her room.
“ What a droll place !” exclaimed the Queen.“ Do you know we are later than I imagined ? A hasty toilette to-day-I long to see Saturn. It is droll, I am hungry. My purple velvet, I think-it may be considered a compliment. No diamonds, only jet—a pearl or two, perhaps. Didst ever see the King ? They say he is gentlemanly, though a bigot. No! no rouge to-day-this paleness is quite apropos. Were I as radiant as usual, I should be taken for Aurora.'
So leaning on Manto, and preceded by the ladies of her bed-chamber, whom, notwithstanding their repulse, she found in due attendance in the antechamber, Proserpine again continued her progress down the gallery, until they stopped at a door, which opening, she was ushered into the grand circular saloon, crowned by the dome, whose exterior the Queen had already observed. The interior of this apartment was entirely of black and grey marble, with the exception of the dome itself, which was of ebony, richly carved, and supported by more than a hundred columns. There depended from the centre of the arch a single chandelier of frosted silver, which was itself as big as an ordinary chamber, but of the most elegant form, and delicate and fantastic workmanship. . As the Queen entered the saloon, a personage of very venerable appearance, dressed in a suit of black velvet, and leaning ou an ivory cane, advanced to salute her. There was no mistaking this personage; his manners were at once so courteous and so dignified. He was clearly their host; and Proserpine, who was quite charmed with his grey locks and his black velvet cap, his truly paternal air, and the beneficence of his unstudied smile, could scarcely refrain from bending her knee, and pressing her lips to his extended hand.
“I am proud that your Majesty has remembered me in my retirement,” said Saturn, as he led Proserpine to a seat.
Their mutual compliments were soon disturbed by the announcement of dinner, and Saturn offering his arm to the Queen with an áir of politeness which belonged to the old school, but which the ladies admire in old men, handed Proserpine to the banqueting-room. They were fol
Sept.----VOL. XLII. NO. CLXV.
lowed by some of the principal personages of her Majesty's suite, and a couple of young Titans, who enjoyed the posts of Aide-de-Camps to the ex-King, and whose duties consisted in carving at dinner.
It was a most agreeable dinner, and Proserpine was quite delighted with Saturn, who, of course, sat by her side, and paid her every possible attention. Saturn, whose manners, as has been observed, were of the old school, loved a good story, and told several. His anecdotes, especially of society previous to the Trojan war, were highly interesting. There ran through all his behaviour, too, a tone of high breeding and of consideration for others which was really charming; and Proserpine, who had expected to find in her host a gloomy bigot, was quite surprised at the truly liberal spirit with which he seemed to consider affairs in general. Indeed this unexpected tone made so great an impression upon her, that finding a good opportunity after dinner, when they were sipping their coffee apart from the rest of the company, she could not refrain from entering into some conversation with the ex-King upon the subject, and the conversation ran thus :
Do you know,” said Proserpine, “ that much as I have been pleased and surprised during my visit to the realms of twilight, nothing has pleased, and I am sure nothing has surprised me more, than to observe the remarkably liberal spirit in which your Majesty views the affairs of the day.”
“ You give me a title, beautiful Proserpine, to which I have no claim,” replied Saturn. You forget that I am now only Count Hesperus; I am no longer a king, and believe me I am very glad of it."
“What a pity, my dear Sir, that you would not condescend to conform to the spirit of the age. For myself, I am quite a reformer."
“So I have understood, beautiful Proserpine, which I confess has a little surprised me; for to tell you the truth, I do not consider that reform is exactly our trade.”
“Affairs cannot go on as they used,” observed Proserpine, oracularly; 6 we must bow to the Spirit of the age.”
“ And what is that?” inquired Saturn.
“ I do not exactly know," replied Proserpine, " but one hears of it everywhere.”
“ I also heard of it a great deal,” replied Saturn, “ and was also recommended to conform to it. Before doing so, however, I thought it as well to ascertain its nature, and something also of its strength."
“ It is terribly strong," observed Proserpine.
“Then if, on consideration, we were to deem resistance to it advisable, it is surely better to commence the contest at once than to postpone the struggle."
“ It is useless to talk of resisting ; one must conform."
“I certainly should consider resistance useless," replied Saturn, “for I tried it and failed; but at least one has a chance of success; and yet, having resisted this spirit and failed, I should not consider myself in a worse plight than you would voluntarily place yourself by conforming to it."
“ You speak riddles," said Proserpine.
“ To be plain, then,” replied Saturn," I think you may as well at once give up your throne, as conform to this Spirit."