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[-185-]  

CHAPTER LX.

REVELATIONS.

FROM the very first moment that Victoria was called to the throne, she manifested a strict determination to exact a scrupulous observance of all the rules, regulations, sad precedents which related to court-etiquette and official dignity. The Presence Chamber is never entered by any one who is not fully conversant with the laws of the court, and the mode [-186-] of conduct and demeanour which they enforce. The rigid maintenance of these rules is nevertheless calculated to render the queen an isolated being, as it were, amidst her court; for no one is permitted to commence a conversation nor make a remark until first addressed by her Majesty. Then every word must be so measured - every syllable so weighed, that the mere fact of conversing with royalty would be deemed a complete labour, and even a perilous undertaking by those not conversant with the routine of a court.
    Holford had seen much to surprise and astonish him. The image of the queen ever haunted his imagination : her voice ever rang in his ears. He disliked Prince Albert: that low, vulgar, uneducated, despised, obscure pot-boy, entertained a feeling of animosity, - he scarcely knew wherefore - against the young German who was  evidently destined to become the husband of England's queen. Again and again did he ponder upon the mysterious conversation between the two ladies of the court, which he had overheard ;- and he felt an ardent and insuperable longing to fathom their meaning to the bottom. But how was this to be done? He determined to obtain access to the drawing-room once more, and trust to the chapter of accidents to elucidate the mystery.
    Accordingly, he contrived that same afternoon, to obtain access to the royal apartments, without detection, once more; and once more, also, did he conceal himself beneath the sofa. Fortune appeared to favour his views and wishes. Not many minutes had elapsed after he had ensconced himself in his hiding-place, when the two ladies, whose conversation had so much interested him on the preceding day, slowly entered the Yellow Drawing-Room.
    The following dialogue then took place:-
    "How very awkward the viscount was last evening, my dear duchess. He would insist upon turning the pages for me when I sate at the grand pianoforte; and he was always too soon or too late. although he pretended to read the fantasia which I played, bar by bar."
    "That is very provoking!" said the duchess. "I believe there is to be a Drawing-Room to-morrow, at St. James's?"
    "Yes: your grace must have forgotten that her Majesty decided last evening upon holding one."
    "How many a young heart is fluttering now with anxiety and eager anticipation of to-morrow!" observed the duchess. "A Drawing-Room is most formidable to the novice in court affairs. But the most entertaining portion of the embarrassment of the novice, is the fear that the gentleman who bears the name of the Court Circular, and who is invariably stationed in the Presence Chamber, may omit to mention her presence in the report which he draws up for the newspapers."
    "George the Third and his consort held Drawing- Rooms weekly, for many years," said the countess. "George the Fourth held Drawing-Rooms but very seldom. William and Adelaide usually held about five or six in a season. And, after all, what can be more magnificent - what more eminently calculated to sustain the honour and dignity of the crown,* [* The author begs it to he fully understood that his own sentiments relative to courts and court etiquette, &c., must not be identified with the opinions of these ladies who are now conversing together.] than a British Court Drawing-Room? The tasteful dresses of the ladies - the blaze of diamonds - the waving ostrich plumes and lappets - the gold net - the costly tulle, constitute rather the characteristics of an oriental fiction than the reality of the present day."
    "The most magnificent Drawing-Rooms, in my opinion,2 observed the duchess, "are those which we call Collar Days. The appearance of the Knights of the Garter, St. Patrick, the Thistle, the Cross and Bath, and all English orders, in their respective collars and jewels, in the presence of the sovereign, is splendid in the extreme."
    "And how crowded upon Drawing-Room days are all the passages and corridors of St. James's Palace," continued the countess. " On the last occasion many of the peers and peeresses of the highest rank were compelled thus to wait for nearly three hours before their carriages could reach the palace-gates."
    "The most beautiful view of splendid equipage. is found in a glance upon the Ambassador's Court at Saint James's, the carriages of the foreign ministers being decidedly the finest and most tasteful that are seen in the vicinity of the palace on those occasions."
    "Of a truth, this must be the most splendid court in the world," said the countess.- since France became half republican (how I hate the odious word Republic!), and since Spain was compelled to copy France."
    "Yes - our court is the most splendid in the world," echoed the duchess, in a tone of triumph. as if her grace were well aware that of that court she herself formed a brilliant ornament; " and more splendid still will it be when the queen shall have conferred her hand upon the interesting young prince who arrived yesterday."
    "Have you heard when the royal intentions to contract an union .with his Serene Highness Prince Albert, will be communicated to the country?"
    "Not until the close of the year; and the marriage will therefore take place at the commencement of 1840. The prince will pay but a short visit upon this occasion, and then return to Germany until within a short period of the happy day."
    "God send that the union may be a happy one!" ejaculated the countess. "But —"
    "Oh! my dear friend, do not relapse again into those gloomy forebodings which rendered me melancholy all yesterday evening," interrupted the duchess.
    "Alas! your grace is well aware of my devoted attachment to our royal mistress; and if there be times when I tremble for the consequences of —"
    "Breathe it not - give not utterance to the bare idea!" cried the duchess, in a tone of the most unfeigned horror. "Providence will never permit an entire empire to experience so great a misfortune as this!"
    "Maladies of that kind are hereditary," said the countess, solemnly ;-"maladies of that species descend through generations - unsparing - pitiless - regardless of rank, power, or position;- oh! it is horrible to contemplate!"
    "Horrible - most horrible!" echoed the duchess. "The mind that thus labours under constant terror of the approach of that fearful malady, requires incessant excitement - perpetual change of scene; and this restlessness which we have observed on the part of our beloved Sovereign - and those intervals of deep gloom and depression of spirits, when that craving after variety and bustle is not indulged —"
    "Are all —"
    "Oh! I comprehend you too well."
    "And marriage in such a case —"
    "Perpetuates the disease! Yes - yes - we must [-187-] surround our sovereign with all our love, all our affection, all our devotion - for bitter, bitter are the moments of solitary meditation experienced at intervals by our adored mistress."
    "Such is our duty - such our desire," said the countess. "The entire family of George the Third has inherited the seeds of disease - physical and mental —"
    "Scrofula and insanity," said the duchess, with a cold shudder.
    "Which were inherent in that monarch," added the countess. "Did your grace ever hear the real cause and spring of that development of mental alienation in George the Third?"
    "I know not precisely to what incident your ladyship alludes," said the duchess.
    "That unhappy sovereign," resumed the countess, "when Prince of Wales, fell in love with a beautiful young Quakeress, whose name was Hannah Lightfoot, and whom he first beheld at the window of a house in Saint James's Street. For some time his Royal Highness and the young lady met in secret, and enjoyed each other's society. At length the passion of the prince arrived at that point when he discovered that his happiness entirely depended upon his union with Hannah Lightfoot. His Royal Highness confided his secret to his next brother Edward, to Dr. Wilmot (who was really the author of the letters of Junius), and to my mother. Those personages were the only witnesses of the legal marriage of the Prince of Wales with Hannah Lightfoot, which was solemnized by Dr. Wilmot, in Curzon Street Chapel, May Fair, in the year 1759."
    "I have heard that such a connection existed," said the duchess; "but I never thought until now that it was of so serious and solemn a nature."
    "Your grace may rely upon the truth of what I now tell you. Not long after the prince came to the throne, the Ministers discovered his connection with the Quakeress. The Royal Marriage Act was ultimately framed to prevent such occurrences with regard to future princes; but it did not annul the union between George the Third and Hannah Lightfoot."
    "Was there any issue from this marriage? " inquired the duchess.
    "There was issue," answered the countess solemnly, a deep gloom suddenly passing over her countenance. "At my mother's death I discovered certain papers which revealed to me many, many strange events connected with the court of George the Third; and in which she was a confidant. But the history of Hannah Lightfoot is a sad one - a very melancholy one; and positively can I assert that it led to the subsequent mental aberration of the king."
    "And there was issue resulting from that union, your ladyship says?" exclaimed the duchess, deeply interested in these disclosures.
    "Yes - there was, there was! " returned the countess. "But do not question me any more at present -on a future occasion I will place in the hands of your grace the papers which my deceased mother left behind her, and which I have carefully treasured up in secret - unknown even to my husband!"
    "And are the revelations so very interesting?" demanded the duchess.
    "The events which have taken place in the family of George the Third would make your hair stand on end," replied the countess, sinking her voice almost to a whisper. " But, pray - question me no more at present. Another time - another time," she added hastily, "you shall know all that I know!"
    There was something so exceedingly mysterious and exciting in the tone and manner of the countess, that the duchess evidently burned with curiosity to make further inquiries. But her fair companion avoided the subject with terror and disgust; and the conversation accordingly reverted to the engagement existing between Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. Nothing more was, however, said which we deem it necessary to record ;- but when the two ladies had retired from the apartment, Holford had plenty of food for mental digestion. He had discovered the fatal drawback to the perfect happiness of his sovereign; and he now perceived that those who dwell in palaces, and wear diadems upon their brows, are not beyond the reach of the sharpest arrows of misfortune.
    During the remainder of that evening Holford was the uninterrupted possessor of the Yellow Drawing. Room. There was a grand ball in another suite of apartments; but it was not until between three and four o'clock in the morning that the pot-boy considered it safe to quit his hiding-place.
    He was now undecided whether to beat a retreat from the royal dwelling,, or to favour it with his presence a little longer. The last conversation which he had overheard between the duchess and the countess, had excited within him the most lively interest; and he was anxious to hear more of those strange revelations connected with the family of George the Third, a continuation of which the countess had appeared to promise her noble friend. He was moreover emboldened by the success which had hitherto attended his adventures in the palace; and he consequently resolved upon prolonging his stay in a place where a morbid taste for the romantic encountered such welcome food.
    Upon leaving the Yellow Drawing-Room, at about half-past three in the morning, as before stated, Holford proceeded to the pantry to lay in a supply of provender, as usual. He was so pressed with hunger upon this occasion, that he commenced an immediate attack upon the provisions; and was thus pleasantly engaged when, to his horror and dismay, he beheld the shadow of a human form suddenly pass along the wall - for he was standing with his back to the lamp that was burning in the passage.
    He turned round - and his eyes encountered the cadaverous and sinister countenance of the Resurrection Man.
    " Well this is fortunate," said the latter.
    "What! you here!" ejaculated Holford, trembling from head to foot.
    "Yes - certainly why not?" said the Resurection Man. "It struck me that as you never came near me and the Cracksman, you must be still in the royal crib; and I considered that to be a sign that all was right. So I mustered up my courage, and came to look after you. The Cracksman a waiting on the hill."
    "Then let us leave this place immediately," cried Holford. " We can do nothing at present - I was going to take my departure within an hour. Come - let us go; and I will tell you every thing when we are in a place of security."
    "What's the meaning of this?" demanded the Resurrection Man. "You can't have been here all this time without having found out where the plate is kept."
    "Listen fee one moment," said Holford, a sudden idea striking him "the queen leaves for Windsor the day after tomorrow - then will be the time [-188-] to do what you require; and I can give you all the information you will want. At present nothing can be done - nothing; and if we stay here much longer, we shall be discovered."
    "Well," said the Resurrection Man; "provided that some good will result from your visit "
    "There will - there will."
    "Then I must follow your advice; for of course you are better able to judge of what can be done and what can't be done in this crib, than me."
    The Resurrection Man glanced around him; but fortunately there was no plate left upon the shelves on this occasion. Holford felt inwardly pleased at this circumstance; for the idea of abstracting anything beyond a morsel of food from the palace was abhorrent to his mind.
    The Resurrection Man intimated that he was ready to depart; and the pot-boy was only too glad to be the means of hurrying him away.
    They left the palace, and entered the gardens, which they threaded in safety. A profound silence reigned around the morning air was chill and piercing. The fresh atmosphere was nevertheless most welcome and cheering to the young pot-boy, who had passed so many hours in close and heated rooms.
    They reached the wall on Constitution Hill in safety, and in a few moments were beyond the enclosure of the royal domains.

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