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[-197-] 

CHAPTER CXCIV.

THE ROYAL BREAKFAST.

    HOLFORD did not immediately close his eyes in slumber.
    Although his education had been miserably neglected, he possessed good natural abilities; and his reflections at times were of a far more philosophical nature than could have been anticipated.
    The gorgeous scenes which he had just witnessed now led him to meditate upon the horrible contrasts which existed elsewhere, not only in the great metropolis, but throughout the United Kingdom, — and many, very many of which he himself had seen with his own eyes, and felt with his own experience.
    At that moment when festivity was highest, and pleasure was most exciting in the regal halls, there were mothers in naked attics, dark cellars, or even houseless in the open streets, — mothers who pressed their famished little ones to their bosoms, and wondered whether a mouthful of food would ever pass their lips again.
    While the royal table groaned beneath the weight the golden vessels and the choicest luxuries which earth's fruitfulness, heaven's bounty, or man a ingenuity could supply, — while the raciest produce of fertile vineyards sparkled in the crystal cups, — at that same period, how many thousands of that exalted lady's subjects moistened their sorry crust with tears wrung from them by the consciousness of ill-requited toil and the pinching gripe of bitter poverty!
    Delicious music here, and the cries of starving children there; — silver candelabra pouring forth a flood of lustre in a gorgeous saloon, and a flickering rushlight making visible the naked and damp-stained walls of a wretched garret; — silks and satins, rags and nudity; — luxurious and pampered indolence; crushing and ill-paid labour; — homage and reverence, ill-treatment and oppression; — the gratification of every whim, the absence of every necessary; — not a care for to-morrow here, not a hope for to-morrow there; — a certainty of a renewal of this day's plenty, a total ignorance whence the next day's bread can come; — mirth and laughter, moans and sorrowing; — a palace for life on one hand, and an anxiety lest even the wretched hovel may not be changed for a workhouse to-morrow; — these are the appalling contrasts which our social sphere presents to view!
    Of all this Holford thought as he lay concealed in the lumber-room of the royal dwelling.
    But at length sleep overtook him.
    It was still dark when he awoke. At first he thought that he must have slumbered for many hours — that a day had passed, and that another night had come; — but he felt too little refreshed to remain many instants in that opinion. Moreover, as he watched the window, he observed a faint, faint gleam of light — or rather a mitigation of the intenseness of the gloom without-slowly appearing; and he knew that the dawn was at hand.
    He was nearly frozen in that cheerless room where he had slept: his teeth chattered — his limbs were benumbed. He longed for some new excitement to elevate his drooping spirits, and thus impart physical warmth to his frame.
    Suddenly a thought struck him: he would penetrate into the royal breakfast-room! He knew that the Queen and Prince Albert frequently partook of the morning meal together; and he longed to listen to their conversation when thus tκte-ΰ-tκte.
    Scarcely had he conceived this project when he resolved to execute it. The interior of the palace — even to its most private apartments and chambers-was as we have before stated, perfectly familiar to him. Stealing from the place where he had slept, he proceeded with marvellous caution to the point of his present destination; and in about ten minutes he reached the breakfast-room in safety.
    The twilight of morning had now penetrated through the windows of this apartment; for the heavy curtains were drawn aside, a cheerful fire burnt in the grate, and the table was already spread.
    A friendly sofa became Holford's hiding-place.
    Shortly after eight o'clock a domestic entered with the morning Ministerial paper, which he laid upon the table, and then withdrew.
    Five minutes elapsed, when the door was thrown open, and the Queen entered, attended by two ladies. These were almost immediately dismissed; and Victoria seated herself near the fire, to read the journal. But scarcely had she opened it, ere Prince Albert made his appearance, followed by a gentleman in waiting, who humbly saluted her Majesty and retired.
    Servants immediately afterwards entered, and [-198-] placed upon the table the materials for a sumptuous breakfast, having performed which duty they immediately left the room.
    The Queen and her consort were now alone — or at least, supposed themselves to be so; and their conversation soon flowed without restraint.
    But such an empire-such a despotism does the habitual etiquette of Courts establish over the natural freedom of the human mind, that even the best and most tender feelings of the heart are to a certain extent subdued and oppressed by that chilling influence. The royal pair were affectionate to each other: still their tenderness was not of that lively, unembarrassed, free, and cordial nature which subsists at the domestic hearth elsewhere. There seemed to be a barrier between the frank and open interchange of their thoughts; and even though that barrier were no thicker than gauze, still it existed. Their words were to some degree measured — scarcely perceptibly so, it is true — nevertheless, the fact was apparent in the least, least degree; and the effect was also in the least, least degree unpleasant.
    The Queen was authoritative in the enunciation of her opinion upon any subject; and if the Prince differed from her, he expressed himself with restraint. In fact, he did not feel himself his wife's equal. Could a listener, who did not see them as they spoke, have deadened his ear to those intonations of their voices which marked their respective sex, and have judged only by their words, he would have thought that the Queen was the husband, and the Prince the wife.
    The Prince appeared to be very amiable, very intelligent; but totally inexperienced in the ways of the world. The Queen exhibited much natural ability and an elegant taste: nevertheless, she also seemed lamentably ignorant of the every-day incidents of life. We mean that the royal pair manifested a reluctance to believe in those melancholy occurrences which characterize the condition of the industrious millions. This was not the result of indifference, but of sheer ignorance. Indeed, it would necessarily seem difficult for those who were so surrounded by every luxury, to conceive that such a fearful contrast as literal starvation could possibly exist.
    But let us hear that illustrious pair converse: their language will to some extent serve as an index to their minds.
    "Melbourne informed me last evening," said the Queen, "that he trembles for the safety of his Cabinet during the approaching session. The Carlton Club is particularly active; and the Conservative party has acquired great strength during the recess."
    "What would be the consequence of a Ministerial defeat?" Inquired Prince Albert.
    "A dissolution, of course," answered the Queen. "I must candidly confess that I should regret to see the Conservative party succeed to power. All the principal lords and ladies of our household would be immediately changed. The Whigs, however, have certainly grown unpopular; and there appears to be some distress in the country. The very first article on which my eyes rested when I took up this newspaper ere now, is headed 'Dreadful Suicide through Extreme Destitution.' Beneath, in the same column, is an article entitled 'Infanticide, and Suicide of the Murderess, through Literal Starvation.' The next column contains a long narrative which I have not had time to read, but which is headed 'Suicide through Dread of the Workhouse.' On this page." continued the Queen, turning the paper upon the table, "there is an article entitled 'Death from Starvation;' another headed 'Dreadful Condition of the Spitalfields' Weavers;' a third called 'Starving State of the Paisley Mechanics;' a fourth entitled 'Awful Distress in the Manufacturing Districts;' and I perceive numerous short paragraphs all announcing similar calamities."
    "The English papers are always full of such accounts," observed the Prince.
    "And yet I would have you know that England is the richest, most prosperous, and happiest country on the face of the earth," returned the Queen, somewhat impatiently. "You must not take these accounts literally as you read them. My Ministers assure me that they are greatly exaggerated. It appears — as the matter has been explained to me — that the persons who furnish these narratives are remunerated according to quantity; and they therefore amplify the details as much as possible."
    "Still those accounts must be, to a certain extent, based on truth?" said Prince Albert, half inquiringly.
    "Not nearly so much as you imagine. My Ministers have satisfied me on that head; and they must know better than you. Take, for instance, the article headed 'Dreadful Condition of the Spitalfields' Weavers.' You may there read that the weavers are in an actual state of starvation. This is only newspaper metaphor: the writer means his readers to understand that the weavers are not so well off as they would wish to be. Perhaps they have not meat every day — perhaps only three or four times a week: but they assuredly have plenty of bread and potatoes — because bread and potatoes are so cheap!"
    "I thought that you intended to discountenance the importation of foreign silks, by ordering all the ladies of the Court to wear dresses of English material!" observed Prince Albert, after a pause.
    "Such was my intention," answered the Queen; "but the ladies about me dropped so many hints on the subject, that I was compelled to rescind the command. I must confess that I was not sorry to find an excuse for so doing; for I greatly prefer French silks and French dressmakers. But let me make an observation upon this article which headed 'Suicide through Dread of the Workhouse. I spoke to the Secretary of State a few days ago upon the subject of workhouses; and he assured me that they are very comfortable places. He declared that the people do not know when they are well off, and that they require to be managed like refractory children. He quite convinced me that all he said was perfectly correct; and I really begin to think that the people are very obstinate, dissatisfied, and insolent."
    "They are most enthusiastic in their demonstrations towards their sovereign," remarked the Prince.
    "And naturally so," exclaimed Victoria. "Am I not their Queen? are they not my subjects? do I not rule over them? All the happiness, prosperity, and enjoyments which they possess emanate from the throne. They would be very ungrateful if they did not reverence — nay, adore their sovereign."
    "Oh, of course!" said Prince Albert. "In Germany, any individual who exhibits the least coldness towards his sovereign is immediately marked as a traitor."
    "And in this country the Home Secretary keeps [-199-] a list of disaffected persons," observed the Queen; "but, thank God! their number is very limited — at least, so I am assured. My Ministers are constantly informing me of the proofs of loyalty and devotion which the people manifest towards me. If this were a Roman Catholic nation, they would no doubt place my image next to the Virgin in their chapels; and if it were an idolatrous country, my effigy would assuredly stand amongst the gods and goddesses. It is very pleasant, Albert, to be so much loved by my subjects — to be positively worshipped by them."
    The Prince replied with a compliment which it is not worth while to record. -
    The Queen smiled, and continued:-
    "You remember the paragraph which the Secretary of State pointed out a few days ago: it was in the Morning Post, if you recollect. That journal — which, by the bye, circulates entirely amongst the upper servants of the aristocracy, and nowhere else — declared 'that so great is the devotion of my loyal subjects that, were such a sacrifice necessary, they would joyfully throw themselves beneath the wheel, of my stage-carriage, even as the Indians cast themselves under the car of Juggernaut.'*[-*Such a disgustingly fulsome, and really atrocious paragraph did actually appear in the Morning Post three or four years ago -] I never in my life saw but that one number of the Post: its circulation, I am told, is confined entirely to the servants of the aristocracy; still it seems in that instance to express the sentiments of the entire nation. You smile, Albert?"
    "I was only thinking whether the paragraph to which you have alluded, was another specimen of newspaper metaphor," answered the Prince, with some degree of hesitation.
    "Not at all," returned the Queen, quickly; "the Editor wrote precisely as he thought. He must know the real sentiments of the people, since he is a man of the people himself. I have been assured that he was once the head-butler in a nobleman's family: hence his success in conducting a daily newspaper exclusively devoted to the interests and capacities of upper-servants."
    "I thought that English Editors were generally a better class of men?" observed the Prince.
    "So they are for the most part," replied the Queen: "graduates at the Universities — barristers — and highly accomplished gentlemen. But in the case of the Morning Post there seems to be an exception. We were, however, conversing upon the distress in the country — for there certainly is some little distress here and there; although the idea of people actually dying of starvation in a Christian land is of course absurd. I am really bewildered, at times, with the reasons of, and the remedies proposed for, that distress. If I ask the Home Secretary, he declares that the people are too obstinate to understand what comfortable places the workhouses are; — if I ask the Colonial Secretary, he assures me that the people are most wilfully blind to the blessings of emigration: If I ask the Foreign Secretary, he labours to convince me that the distracted state of the East reacts upon this country; and if I ask the Bishop of London he expresses his conviction that the people require more churches."
    "For my part, I do not like to interfere in these matters," said the Prince; "and therefore I never ask any questions concerning them."
    "And you act rightly, Albert, for you certainly know nothing of English politics. I observe by the newspapers that the country praises your forbearance in this respect. You are a Field-Marshal, and Chief Judge of the Stannaries Court — and-"
    "And a Knight of the Garter," added the Prince.
    "Yes-and a Learned Doctor of Laws," continued the Queen: "any thing else?"
    "Several things — but I really forget them all now," returned the Prince.
    "Never mind," exclaimed the Queen. " I intend to obtain for you higher distinctions yet. I do not like the mere title of Prince, and the style of Royal Highness: you shall be King-Consort and Your Majesty. Then, when a vacancy occurs, you must be appointed Commander-In-Chief."
    "I feel deeply grateful for your kind intentions," returned the Prince, with a smile; "but you are well aware that I am totally ignorant of every thing connected with the army."
    "That is of no consequence in England," replied the Queen. "You will have subordinates to do your duty. I must speak to Melbourne about all this. And now, as I intend to take these steps in your behalf, pray be a little more cautious relative to your private amusements; and let me hear of no more burying of dogs with funeral honours. That little affair of the interment of Eos at Windsor has attracted the notice of the press, I understand. It was indiscreet."
    "If I adapt my conduct entirely according to the English notions," returned the Prince, "I should be compelled to give up those battues to which I am so devotedly attached."
    "We must consult Melbourne on that head," observed the Queen.
    The royal pair then conversed upon a variety of topics which would afford little interest to the reader; and shortly after nine her Majesty withdrew.
    Prince Albert remained in the room to read the newspaper.
    Henry Holford had listened with almost breathless attention to the conversation which we have recorded.
    The Prince had drawn his chair more closely to the fire, after the Queen left the room; and he was now sitting within a couple of yards of the sofa beneath which Holford lay concealed.
    The pot-boy gently drew aside the drapery which hung from the framework of the sofa to the floor, and gazed long and intently on the Prince. His look was one in which envy, animosity, and admiration were strangely blended. He thought within himself, "Why are you so exalted, and I so abased? And yet your graceful person — your intelligent countenance-your handsome features, seem to fit you for such an elevated position. Nevertheless, if I had had your advantages of education-"
    The meditations of the presumptuous youth were suddenly and most disagreeably checked: — the Prince abruptly threw aside the paper, and his eyes fell on the human countenance that was gazing up at him from beneath the sofa.
    His Royal Highness uttered an exclamation of surprise — not altogether unmingled with alarm; and his first impulse was to stretch out his hand towards the bell-rope. But, yielding to a second thought, he advanced to the sofa, exclaiming, "Come forth — whoever you may be."
    [-200-] Then the miserable pot-boy dragged himself from lie biding-place, and in another moment stood, pale and trembling, in the presence of the Prince.
    "Who are you?" demanded his Royal Highness in a stern tone: "what means this intrusion? how came you hither?"
    Henry Holford fell at the feet of the Prince, and confessed that, urged by an invincible curiosity, he had entered the palace on the preceding evening; but he said nothing of his previous visits.
    For a few moments Prince Albert seemed uncertain how to act: he was doubtless hesitating between the alternatives of handing the intruder over to the officers of justice, or of allowing him to depart unmolested.
    After a pause, he questioned Holford more closely, and seemed satisfied by the youth's assurance that he had really entered the palace through motives of curiosity, and not for any dishonest purpose.
    The Prince accordingly determined to be merciful.
    "I am willing," he said, "to forgive the present offence; you shall be suffered to depart. But I warn you that a repetition of the act will lead to a severe punishment. Follow me."
    The Prince led the way to an ante-room where a domestic was in waiting.
    "Conduct this lad as privately as you can from the palace," said his Royal Highness. "Ask him no questions-and mention not the incident elsewhere."
    The Prince withdrew; and the lacquey led Henry Holford through various turnings in the palace to the servants' door opening into Pimlico.
    Thus was the pot-boy ignominiously expelled from the palace; and never — never in his life had he felt more thoroughly degraded — more profoundly abased — more contemptible in his own eyes, than on the present occasion!

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