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[-182-]  

CHAPTER LIX.

THE ROYAL LOVERS.

    HOLFORD awoke with a start.
    At that moment the time-piece upon the mantel struck five. It was still quite dark.
    The young man felt cold and nervous. He had dreamt that he was discovered and ejected from the palace amidst the jeers and taunts of the servants. He now suddenly recollected that the domestics would most probably soon arrive to cleanse and arrange the apartment; and detection in that case must be certain.
    It struck him that he had better endeavour to escape at once from the royal dwelling. Then he thought and fondly flattered himself that the same good fortune which had hitherto attended him in this adventure would still follow him. This idea has caused many a hesitating mind to decide upon pursuing a career of crime, or folly, or peril. So was it with Holford; and he resolved to remain in the palace at least a short time longer.
    But he perceived the absolute necessity of seeking out a secure place of concealment; and it struck [-183-] him that the highest storeys of the building were those best calculated for this purpose. Leaving the apartment in which he had availed himself of the friendly sofa, and which, as before stated, was in the immediate vicinity of the Sculpture Gallery upon the ground-floor, he passed through the Library, and returned to the great hall. Ascending a magnificent marble staircase, he reached the Picture Gallery. Every here and there lamps were burning, and thus be was enabled to inspect all the scenes of magnificence and splendour through which he passed.
    The Picture Gallery in Buckingham Palace is immediately over the Sculpture Gallery, and forms a wide-passage separating the Green Drawing Room, the Throne Room, and other state apartments from the Roman, the Yellow, and the little drawing rooms. The Yellow Drawing Room is the largest and most splendid of the suite. The furniture is all richly carved, and is overlaid with burnished gilding and covered with yellow satin. The wall is surrounded by polished pillars of syenite marble; and on each panel is painted a portrait of some royal personage.
    The Dining Room also leads out of the Picture Gallery. This gallery itself is decorated and adorned upon classic models. The frames of the pictures are very plain, but neat, and appropriated to the style of the architecture. There is nothing gorgeous in this gallery every thing is in good taste; and yet the mouldings and fret-work of the ceiling are of the most elaborate description. The pictures in the gallery are all originals by eminent masters, and are the private property of the sovereign.
    It may be here observed that the queen is passionately attached to the Fine Arts, in which, indeed, the is a proficient. In every room of the palace there are some excellent paintings; and in each apartment occupied by the queen, with the exception of the Throne Room, there is a grand pianoforte.
    With a lamp in his hand, Henry Holford proceeded through those magnificent apartments which communicated with the Picture Gallery. He was astonished at the assemblage of wealth and splendour that met his eyes on every side. From time to time he seated himself upon the softest ottomans, and in the gilded chairs - in every place where he deemed it probable that the queen might have rested. At length eh reached the Throne Room. The imperial seat itself was covered over with a velvet cloth, to protect it against the dust. Holford removed the cloth; and the splendours of the throne were revealed to him.
    He hesitated for a moment: he felt as if he were committing a species of sacrilege ;- then triumphing over this feeling - a feeling which had appeared like a remorse - he ascended the steps of the throne ;- he placed himself in the seat of England's monarch.
    Had the sceptre been there he would have grasped it ;- had the crown been within his reach, he would have placed it upon his head!
    But time pressed; and he was compelled to leave those apartments in which a strange and uuaccountable fascination induced him to linger. He ascended- a staircase leading to another storey; and now he proceeded with extreme caution, for he conceived that be must be in the immediate vicinity of the royal sleeping apartments. He hastened up to the highest storey he could reach, and entered several passages from which doors opened on either side. One of these doors was ajar the light of a lamp in the passage enabled him to ascertain that the chamber into which it led was full of old furniture, trunks, boxes, bedding, and other lumber. This was precisely the place which suited the adventurous pot-boy; and he hastened to conceal himself amidst a pile of mattresses which formed a secure, warm, and comfortable berth.
    Here he again fell asleep; and when he awoke the sun was shining brightly. He partook of his provisions with a good appetite, and then deliberated within himself what course he should pursue. He felt madly anxious to be near the person of the queen once more: he longed to hear her voice again ;- he resolved to risk every thing to gratify these inclinations.
    He began to understand that the vast extent of the palace, and the many different ways of reaching the various floors and suites of apartments, constituted the elements of his safety, and greatly diminished the risk of encountering any of the inmates of the royal dwelling. He was insane enough, moreover, to believe that some good genius or especial favour of fortune protected him; and these impressions were sufficiently powerful to induce him to attempt any fresh enterprise within the walls of the palace.
    While he was debating within himself how he should proceed in order to satisfy his enthusiasm curiosity, the door suddenly opened, and two female servants of the royal household entered the lumber-room.
    Holford's heart sank within him: his limbs seemed paralysed; his breath failed him.
    "The entertainment takes place in the Yellow and Roman Drawing Rooms this evening," said one.
    "The prince is expected at five o'clock," observed the other. " He and his father the Duke of Saxe  Coburg Gotha, are to land at Woolwich between two and three."
    "So I heard. The royal carriages have already left to meet her Majesty's guests."
    "Have you ever seen the prince?"
    "Once. He was in England, I remember, a short time previous to the accession of her Majesty."
    "Is he good looking?"
    "Very. Of course you believe as I do, and as every one else does that Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg will —"
    "Soon be Prince Albert of England."
    "Hush! walls have ears!"
    The servants having discovered the article of furniture which was the object of their search, left the room - greatly to the relief of Henry Holford, whose presence they never for a moment suspected.
    Holford had thus accidentally learnt some information which served to guide his plans. The evening's entertainment was to take place in the Yellow Drawing Room - an apartment which he could not fail to recognise by the colour, as one which he had visited before day-break that morning. He had heard of Prince Albert, whom rumour had already mentioned as the happy being who had attracted the queen's favour. Every circumstance now lent its aid to induce the enthusiastic lad to resolve upon penetrating into the Yellow Drawing Room, by some means or another, during the afternoon.
    It struck the intruder that if the queen intended to receive company in the Yellow Drawing-room in the evening, she would most probably welcome her illustrious guests from Germany in some other apartment. He knew, from the conversation of the two female servants, that the Grand Duke of Saxe-Coburg Gotha and Prince Albert, were to arrive at five; he presumed that the inmates of the palace would assemble in those points where they could command a view of the ducal cortege; and he came  [-184-] to the conclusion that the coast would be moat clear for his purposes. at five o'clock.
    Nor was he wrong in his conjectures; for scarcely had two minutes elapsed after the clock had proclaimed the hour of five, when Henry Holford was safely ensconced beneath a sofa in the Yellow Drawing Room.
    At eight o'clock the servants entered and lighted the lamps. The colour of the paper and the satin of the furniture enhanced the splendour of the effulgence thus created in that magnificent saloon.
    At half-past nine the door opened again and Holford's heart beat quickly, for he now expected the appearance of the sovereign and her guests. But, no - not yet. Two ladies attached to the court, entered the drawing-room, and seated themselves upon the sofa beneath which Holford lay concealed.
    "Well - what think you of the young prince?" said one. "Your grace was seated next to him."
    "Very handsome - and so assuming," was the reply.
    "Does your grace really believe that her Majesty Is smitten ?"
    "No doubt of it. How fortunate for the family of the Grand Duke of Saxe Coburg!"
    "Yes - fortunate on the score of alliance."
    "And in a pecuniary point of view."
    "Not so much as your grace thinks. There has been an absurd report in circulation that the grand duke's revenues are so small, none of his family could venture to appear at the court of Vienna: and also, that the means of education for the younger branches were always excessively restricted."
    "And are not these reports correct, countess?"
    "By no means. Your grace probably is aware that the earl and myself visited Germany the year before last; and we remained six weeks at Gotha. The Duke of Saxe-Coburg posesses a considerable  civil list, and a large private fortune. His brother Ferdinand espoused the wealthy Princess-Kohary of Hungary; and another brother, Leopold, married our lamented Princess Charlotte. It has been-stated that Prince Leopold himself was a simple major in the Austrian service, with nothing but his pay, when he was fortunate enough to obtain the favour of the Princess Charlotte: this is so far front being correct,  that he never was in the Austrian service at all, but was a general officer in the Russian army, enjoying, in addition to his full pay, a princely allowance from his country."
    "Your ladyship has greatly pleased me with these elucidations."
    "Your grace honours me with this mark of satisfaction. Prince Albert was educated at Bonn, on the Rhine. His mental qualifications are said to be of a very high order; his disposition is amiable; and he has obtained the affections of all who know him in Germany."
    "It is to be hoped that her most gracious Majesty will enjoy a long, prosperous, and happy reign," said the duchess, in a tone of unfeigned sincerity.
    "Long and prosperous it may be," returned the countess, with a strange solemnity of voice and manner; "but happy for her - happy for the sovereign whom we all so much love,- no - that is impossible!"
    "Alas! I know to what you allude, " observed the duchess, her tone also changing. "Merciful heavens is there, then, no perfect happiness in this world?"
    "Where shall perfect happiness be found?" exclaimed the countess, in a voice of deep melancholy, and with a profound sigh. " Never did any sovereign ascend the throne under more favourable circumstances than Victoria. Enshrined in a nation's heart - beloved by millions of human beings - wearing the proudest diadem in the universe, and swaying the sceptre of a dominion extensive as that of Rome, in her most glorious days,-oh! why should not Victoria be completely happy? Alas! she can command the affections of her people by her conduct :- the valour of her subjects, the prowess of her generals, and the dauntless courage of her admirals, can preserve her empire from all encroachment - all peril ; -wealth can surround her with every luxury, and all the potentates of the earth may seek her friendship ;- but no power - no dominion - no wealth - no luxury - no love, can exterminate the seeds —"
    "Ah! countess - for Gods sake, talk not in this manner! "ejaculated the duchess: "you make me melancholy - so melancholy, that I shall be dispirited the entire evening."
    "Pardon me, my dear friend; but I know not how our discourse gradually turned upon so sad a subject. And yet the transition must have been natural, added the countess, in a mournful and plaintive, voice "for, most assuredly, I should not have voluntarily sought to converse upon so sad a theme."
    "Sad!" cried the duchess; "it is sufficient to make one's heart bleed. To think that a young creature whom millions and millions of beings idolize and a young creature - whose name is upon every lip - whose virtues and qualifications are the theme of every pen - whose slightest wish amounts to a command - oh! to think that this envied and amiable being should be haunted, day and night - alone, or when surrounded by all that is most noble or most lovely in England's aristocracy, - haunted by that dread fear - that appalling alarm - that dismal apprehension ;- oh! it is intolerable!"
    "Alas!" said the countess; "what poor - what miserable creatures are we! The hand of the Deity mingles gall with the cup of nectar which is drunk by his elect! There is no situation in life without its vexations."
    "Yes - vexations of all kinds!" echoed the duchess; "for those annoyances which are mere trifles to the lower classes, are grievous afflictions to us. But —"
    At that moment the time-piece upon the mantel proclaimed the half-hour after ten; and the two ladies rose from the sofa, observing to each other, that it was time to hasten to attend upon the person of their royal mistress. They then withdrew.
    It may be supposed that Holford had not lost one word of the above conversation. He had greedily drunk in every .word ;- but the concluding portion of it had filled him with the most anxious curiosity, and with wonder. To what did those dark, mysterious hints bear reference? And how could the happiness of the sovereign be incomplete? Those two noble ladies had detailed all the elements of felicity which formed the basis of the queen's position; and surely sufficient had been enumerated to prove the perfection of her happiness. And yet, allusion was made to one source of perpetual fear - one cause of unmixed alarm - one object of ever-present dread, by which the queen was haunted on all occasions. What could this be? Conjecture was vain - imagination could suggest nothing calculated to explain this strange mystery.
    Shortly after eleven o'clock the doors were thrown open, and the royal train made its appearance. On [-185-] 

the queen's right hand walked Prince Albert, the sovereign leaning gently upon his arm. He was dressed in a court-garb, and wore a foreign order upon his breast. Of slight form and slender make, his figure was wanting in manliness; but his deportment was graceful. His eyes beamed kindness; and there was something peculiarly sweet and pleasant in his smile. His countenance was expressive of intellect; his conversation was amusing. He was evidently a very pleasant companion; and when Victoria and Albert walked down the saloon together, there appeared a certain fitness in their union which was calculated to strike the most common beholder.
    The queen and the prince seated themselves upon the sofa beneath which the pot-boy was concealed; and their conversation was plainly overheard by him. The noble and beauteous guests - the lords and the ladies of the court - withdrew to a distance; and the royal  lovers - for such already were Victoria and Albert - enjoyed the pleasures of a tete--tete. We shall not record any portion of their discourse  -animated, interesting, and tender though it were: suffice it to say, that for a short time they seemed to forget their high rank, and to throw aside the trammels of court etiquette, in order to give vent to those natural feelings which the sovereign has in common with the peasant.
    This tete-a-tete lasted for nearly an hour; music and dancing then ensued; and the entertainment continued until two o'clock in the morning.
    The company retired - the lights were extinguished in the state apartments - and profound silence once more reigned throughout the palace.
    Holford paid another visit to the larder, and then retraced his steps unobserved to the lumber-room, where he slept until a late hour in the morning.

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