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.
As time flew on, the friends of Lady Roehampton thought and spoke, with anxiety about her re-entrance into society. Mr. Sidney Wilton had lent Gaydene to her for the autumn, when he always visited Scotland, and the winter had passed away uninterruptedly, at a charming and almost unknown watering-place, where she seemed the only visitant, and where she wandered about in silence on the sands. The time was fast approaching when the inevitable year of seclusion would expire, and Lady Roehampton gave no indication of any change in her life and habits. At length, after many appeals, and expostulations, and entreaties, and little scenes, the second year of the widowhood having advanced some months, it was decided that Lady Roehampton should re-enter society, and the occasion on which this was to take place was no mean one.
Lady Montfort was to give a ball early in June, and Royalty itself was to be her guests. The entertainments at Montfort House were always magnificent, but this was to exceed accustomed splendour. All the world was to be there, and all the world, who were not invited, were in as much despair as if they had lost their fortune or their character.
Lady Roehampton had a passion for light, provided the light was not supplied by gas or oil. Her saloons, even when alone, were always brilliantly illuminated. She held that the moral effect of such a circumstance on her temperament was beneficial, and not slight. It is a rare, but by no means a singular, belief. When she descended into her drawing-room on the critical night, its resplendence was some preparation for the scene which awaited her. She stood for a moment before the tall mirror which reflected her whole person. What were her thoughts? What was the impression that the fair vision conveyed?
Her countenance was grave, but it was not sad. Myra had now completed, or was on the point of completing, her thirtieth year. She was a woman of transcendent beauty; perhaps she might justly be described as the most beautiful woman then alive. Time had even improved her commanding mien, the graceful sweep of her figure and the voluptuous undulation of her shoulders; but time also had spared those charms which are more incidental to early youth, the splendour of her complexion, the whiteness of her teeth, and the lustre of her violet eyes. She had cut off in her grief the profusion of her dark chestnut locks, that once reached to her feet, and she wore her hair as, what was then and perhaps is now called, a crop, but it was luxuriant in natural quantity and rich in colour, and most effectively set off her arched brow, and the oval of her fresh and beauteous cheek. The crop was crowned to-night by a coronet of brilliants.
"Your carriage is ready, my lady," said a servant; "but there is a gentleman below who has brought a letter for your ladyship, and which, he says, he must personally deliver to you, madam. I told him your ladyship was going out and could not see him, but he put his card in this envelope, and requested that I would hand it to you, madam. He says he will only deliver the letter to your ladyship, and not detain you a moment."
Lady Roehampton opened the envelope, and read the card, "The Duke of St. Angelo."
"The Duke of St. Angelo!" she murmured to herself, and looked for a moment abstracted. Then turning to the servant, she said, "He must be shown up."
"Madam," said the duke as he entered, and bowed with much ceremony, "I am ashamed of appearing to be an intruder, but my commands were to deliver this letter to your ladyship immediately on my arrival, whatever the hour. I have only this instant arrived. We had a bad passage. I know your ladyship's carriage is at the door. I will redeem my pledge and not trespass on your time for one instant. If your ladyship requires me, I am ever at your command."
"At Carlton Gardens?"
"No; at our embassy."
"His Majesty, I hope, is well?"
"In every sense, my lady," and bowing to the ground the duke withdrew.
She broke the seal of the letter while still standing, and held it to a sconce that was on the mantel-piece, and then she read:
"You were the only person I called upon when I suddenly left England. I had no hope of seeing you, but it was the homage of gratitude and adoration. Great events have happened since we last met. I have realised my dreams, dreams which I sometimes fancied you, and you alone, did not depreciate or discredit, and, in the sweetness of your charity, would not have been sorry were they accomplished.
"I have established what I believe to be a strong and just government in a great kingdom. I have not been uninfluenced by the lessons of wisdom I gained in your illustrious land. I have done some things which it was a solace for me to believe you would not altogether disapprove.
"My subjects are anxious that the dynasty I have re-established should not be evanescent. Is it too bold to hope that I may find a companion in you to charm and to counsel me? I can offer you nothing equal to your transcendent merit, but I can offer you the heart and the throne of
Still holding the letter in one hand, she looked around as if some one might be present. Her cheek was scarlet, and there was for a moment an expression of wildness in her glance. Then she paced the saloon with an agitated step, and then she read the letter again and again, and still she paced the saloon. The whole history of her life revolved before her; every scene, every character, every thought, and sentiment, and passion. The brightness of her nursery days, and Hurstley with all its miseries, and Hainault with its gardens, and the critical hour, which had opened to her a future of such unexpected lustre and happiness.
The clock had struck more than once during this long and terrible soliloquy, wherein she had to search and penetrate her inmost heart, and now it struck two. She started, and hurriedly rang the bell.
"I shall not want the carriage to-night," she said, and when again alone, she sat down and, burying her face in her alabaster arms, for a long time remained motionless.
Had he been a youth about to make a debut in the great world, Sidney Wilton could not have been more agitated than he felt at the prospect of the fete at Montfort House. Lady Roehampton, after nearly two years of retirement, was about to re-enter society. During this interval she had not been estranged from him. On the contrary, he had been her frequent and customary companion. Except Adriana, and Lady Montfort, and her brother, it might almost be said, her only one. Why then was he agitated? He had been living in a dream for two years, cherishing wild thoughts of exquisite happiness. He would have been content, had the dream never been disturbed; but this return to hard and practical life of her whose unconscious witchery had thrown a spell over his existence, roused him to the reality of his position, and it was one of terrible emotion.
During the life of her husband, Sidney Wilton had been the silent adorer of Myra. With every accomplishment and every advantage that are supposed to make life delightful—a fine countenance, a noble mien, a manner natural and attractive, an ancient lineage, and a vast estate—he was the favourite of society, who did more than justice to his talents, which, though not brilliant, were considerable, and who could not too much appreciate the high tone of his mind; his generosity and courage, and true patrician spirit which inspired all his conduct, and guided him ever to do that which was liberal, and gracious, and just.
There was only one fault which society found in Sidney Wilton; he would not marry. This was provoking, because he was the man of all others who ought to marry, and make a heroine happy. Society did not give it up till he was forty, about the time he became acquainted with Lady Roehampton; and that incident threw no light on his purposes or motives, for he was as discreet as he was devoted, and Myra herself was unconscious of his being anything to her save the dearest friend of her father, and the most cherished companion of her husband.
When one feels deeply, one is apt to act suddenly, perhaps rashly. There are moments in life when suspense can be borne no longer. And Sidney Wilton, who had been a silent votary for more than ten years, now felt that the slightest delay in his fate would be intolerable. It was the ball at Montfort House that should be the scene of this decision of destiny.
She was about to re-enter society, radiant as the morn, amid flowers and music, and all the accidents of social splendour. His sympathetic heart had been some solace to her in her sorrow and her solitude. Now, in the joyous blaze of life, he was resolved to ask her whether it were impossible that they should never again separate, and in the crowd, as well as when alone, feel their mutual devotion.
Mr. Wilton was among those who went early to Montfort House, which was not his wont; but he was restless and disquieted. She could hardly have arrived; but there would be some there who would speak of her. That was a great thing. Sidney Wilton had arrived at that state when conversation can only interest on one subject. When a man is really in love, he is disposed to believe that, like himself, everybody is thinking of the person who engrosses his brain and heart.
The magnificent saloons, which in half an hour would be almost impassable, were only sprinkled with guests, who, however, were constantly arriving. Mr. Wilton looked about him in vain for the person who, he was quite sure, could not then be present. He lingered by the side of Lady Montfort, who bowed to those who came, but who could spare few consecutive words, even to Mr. Wilton, for her watchful eye expected every moment to be summoned to descend her marble staircase and receive her royal guests.
The royal guests arrived; there was a grand stir, and many gracious bows, and some cordial, but dignified, shake-hands. The rooms were crowded; yet space in the ball-room was well preserved, so that the royal vision might range with facility from its golden chairs to the beauteous beings, and still more beautiful costumes, displaying with fervent loyalty their fascinating charms.
There was a new band to-night, that had come from some distant but celebrated capital; musicians known by fame to everybody, but whom nobody had ever heard. They played wonderfully on instruments of new invention, and divinely upon old ones. It was impossible that anything could be more gay and inspiring than their silver bugles, and their carillons of tinkling bells.
They found an echo in the heart of Sidney Wilton, who, seated near the entrance of the ball-room, watched every arrival with anxious expectation. But the anxiety vanished for a moment under the influence of the fantastic and frolic strain. It seemed a harbinger of happiness and joy. He fell into a reverie, and wandered with a delightful companion in castles of perpetual sunshine, and green retreats, and pleasant terraces.
But the lady never came.
"Where can your sister be?" said Lady Montfort to Endymion. "She promised me to come early; something must have happened. Is she ill?"
"Quite well; I saw her before I left Hill Street. She wished me to come alone, as she would not be here early.
"I hope she will be in time for the royal supper table; I quite count on her."
"She is sure to be here."
Lord Hainault was in earnest conversation with Baron Sergius, now the minister of King Florestan at the Court of St. James'. It was a wise appointment, for Sergius knew intimately all the English statesmen of eminence, and had known them for many years. They did not look upon him as the mere representative of a revolutionary and parvenu sovereign; he was quite one of themselves, had graduated at the Congress of Vienna, and, it was believed, had softened many subsequent difficulties by his sagacity. He had always been a cherished guest at Apsley House, and it was known the great duke often consulted him. "As long as Sergius sways his councils, He will indulge in no adventures," said Europe. "As long as Sergius remains here, the English alliance is safe," said England. After Europe and England, the most important confidence to obtain was that of Lord Hainault, and Baron Sergius had not been unsuccessful in that respect.
"Your master has only to be liberal and steady," said Lord Hainault, with his accustomed genial yet half-sarcastic smile, "and he may have anything he likes. But we do not want any wars; they are not liked in the City."
"Our policy is peace," said Sergius.
"I think we ought to congratulate Sir Peter," said Mr. Waldershare to Adriana, with whom he had been dancing, and whom he was leading back to Lady Hainault. "Sir Peter, here is a lady who wishes to congratulate you on your deserved elevation."
"Well, I do not know what to say about it," said the former Mr. Vigo, highly gratified, but a little confused; "my friends would have it."
"Ay, ay," said Waldershare, "'at the request of friends;' the excuse I gave for publishing my sonnets." And then, advancing, he delivered his charge to her chaperon, who looked dreamy, abstracted, and uninterested.
"We have just been congratulating the new baronet, Sir Peter Vigo," said Waldershare.
"Ah!" said Lady Hainault with a contemptuous sigh, "he is, at any rate, not obliged to change his name. The desire to change one's name does indeed appear to me to be a singular folly. If your name had been disgraced, I could understand it, as I could understand a man then going about in a mask. But the odd thing is, the persons who always want to change their names are those whose names are the most honoured."
"Oh, you are here!" said Mr. St. Barbe acidly to Mr. Seymour Hicks. "I think you are everywhere. I suppose they will make you a baronet next. Have you seen the batch? I could not believe my eyes when I read it. I believe the government is demented. Not a single literary man among them. Not that I wanted their baronetcy. Nothing would have tempted me to accept one. But there is Gushy; he, I know, would have liked it. I must say I feel for Gushy; his works only selling half what they did, and then thrown over in this insolent manner!"
"Gushy is not in society," said Mr. Seymour Hicks in a solemn tone of contemptuous pity.
"That is society," said St. Barbe, as he received a bow of haughty grace from Mrs. Rodney, who, fascinating and fascinated, was listening to the enamoured murmurs of an individual with a very bright star and a very red ribbon.
"I dined with the Rodneys yesterday," said Mr. Seymour Hicks; "they do the thing well."
"You dined there!" exclaimed St. Barbe. "It is very odd, they have never asked me. Not that I would have accepted their invitation. I avoid parvenus. They are too fidgety for my taste. I require repose, and only dine with the old nobility."
The Right Honourable Job Thornberry and Mrs. Thornberry had received an invitation to the Montfort ball. Job took up the card, and turned it over more than once, and looked at it as if it were some strange animal, with an air of pleased and yet cynical perplexity; then he shrugged his shoulders and murmured to himself, "No, I don't think that will do. Besides, I must be at Hurstley by that time."
Going to Hurstley now was not so formidable an affair as it was in Endymion's boyhood. Then the journey occupied a whole and wearisome day. Little Hurstley had become a busy station of the great Slap-Bang railway, and a despatch train landed you at the bustling and flourishing hostelry, our old and humble friend, the Horse Shoe, within the two hours. It was a rate that satisfied even Thornberry, and almost reconciled him to the too frequent presence of his wife and family at Hurstley, a place to which Mrs. Thornberry had, it would seem, become passionately attached.
"There is a charm about the place, I must say," said Job to himself, as he reached his picturesque home on a rich summer evening; "and yet I hated it as a boy. To be sure, I was then discontented and unhappy, and now I have every reason to be much the reverse. Our feelings affect even scenery. It certainly is a pretty place; I really think one of the prettiest places in England."
Job was cordially welcomed. His wife embraced him, and the younger children clung to him with an affection which was not diminished by the remembrance that their father never visited them with empty hands. His eldest son, a good-looking and well-grown stripling, just home for the holidays, stood apart, determined to show he was a man of the world, and superior to the weakness of domestic sensibility. When the hubbub was a little over, he advanced and shook hands with his father with a certain dignity.
"And when did you arrive, my boy? I was looking up your train in Bradshaw as I came along. I made out you should get the branch at Culvers Gate."
"I drove over," replied the son; "I and a friend of mine drove tandem, and I'll bet we got here sooner than we should have done by the branch."
"Hem!" said Job Thornberry.
"Job," said Mrs. Thornberry, "I have made two engagements for you this evening. First, we will go and see your father, and then we are to drink tea at the rectory."
"Hem!" said Job Thornberry; "well, I would rather the first evening should have been a quiet one; but let it be so."
The visit to the father was kind, dutiful, and wearisome. There was not a single subject on which the father and son had thoughts in common. The conversation of the father took various forms of expressing his wonder that his son had become what he was, and the son could only smile, and turn the subject, by asking after the produce of some particular field that had been prolific or obstinate in the old days. Mrs. Thornberry looked absent, and was thinking of the rectory; the grandson who had accompanied them was silent and supercilious; and everybody felt relieved when Mrs. Thornberry, veiling her impatience by her fear of keeping her father-in-law up late, made a determined move and concluded the domestic ceremony.
The rectory afforded a lively contrast to the late scene. Mr. and Mrs. Penruddock were full of intelligence and animation. Their welcome of Mr. Thornberry was exactly what it ought to have been; respectful, even somewhat differential, but cordial and unaffected. They conversed on all subjects, public and private, and on both seemed equally well informed, for they not only read more than one newspaper, but Mrs. Penruddock had an extensive correspondence, the conduct of which was one of the chief pleasures and excitements of her life. Their tea-equipage, too, was a picture of abundance and refinement. Such pretty china, and such various and delicious cakes! White bread, and brown bread, and plum cakes, and seed cakes, and no end of cracknels, and toasts, dry or buttered. Mrs. Thornberry seemed enchanted and gushing with affection,—everybody was dear or dearest. Even the face of John Hampden beamed with condescending delight as he devoured a pyramid of dainties.
Just before the tea-equipage was introduced Mrs. Penruddock rose from her seat and whispered something to Mrs. Thornberry, who seemed pleased and agitated and a little blushing, and then their hostess addressed Job and said, "I was mentioning to your wife that the archbishop was here, and that I hope you would not dislike meeting him."
And very shortly after this, the archbishop, who had been taking a village walk, entered the room. It was evident that he was intimate with the occupiers of Hurstley Hall. He addressed Mrs. Thornberry with the ease of habitual acquaintance, while John Hampden seemed almost to rush into his arms. Job himself had seen his Grace in London, though he had never had the opportunity of speaking to him, but yielded to his cordiality, when the archbishop, on his being named, said, "It is a pleasure to meet an old friend, and in times past a kind one."
It was a most agreeable evening. The archbishop talked to every one, but never seemed to engross the conversation. He talked to the ladies of gardens, and cottages, and a little of books, seemed deeply interested in the studies and progress of the grandson Thornberry, who evidently idolised him; and in due course his Grace was engaged in economical speculations with Job himself, who was quite pleased to find a priest as liberal and enlightened as he was able and thoroughly informed. An hour before midnight they separated, though the archbishop attended them to the hall.
Mrs. Thornberry's birthday was near at hand, which Job always commemorated with a gift. It had commenced with some severe offering, like "Paradise Lost," then it fell into the gentler form of Tennyson, and, of late, unconsciously under the influence of his wife, it had taken the shape of a bracelet or a shawl.
This evening, as he was rather feeling his way as to what might please her most, Mrs. Thornberry embracing him, and hiding her face on his breast, murmured, "Do not give me any jewel, dear Job. What I should like would be that you should restore the chapel here."
"Restore the chapel here! oh, oh!" said Job Thornberry.
The archbishop called at Hurstley House the next day. It was a visit to Mr. Thornberry, but all the family were soon present, and clustered round the visitor. Then they walked together in the gardens, which had become radiant under the taste and unlimited expenditure of Mrs. Thornberry; beds glowing with colour or rivalling mosaics, choice conifers with their green or purple fruit, and rare roses with their fanciful and beauteous names; one, by the by, named "Mrs. Penruddock," and a very gorgeous one, "The Archbishop."
As they swept along the terraces, restored to their pristine comeliness, and down the green avenues bounded by copper beeches and ancient yews, where men were sweeping away every leaf and twig that had fallen in the night and marred the consummate order, it must have been difficult for the Archbishop of Tyre not to recall the days gone by, when this brilliant and finished scene, then desolate and neglected, the abode of beauty and genius, yet almost of penury, had been to him a world of deep and familiar interest. Yes, he was walking in the same glade where he had once pleaded his own cause with an eloquence which none of his most celebrated sermons had excelled. Did he think of this? If he did, it was only to wrench the thought from his memory. Archbishops who are yet young, who are resolved to be cardinals, and who may be popes, are superior to all human weakness.
"I should like to look at your chapel," said his Grace to Mr. Thornberry; "I remember it a lumber room, and used to mourn over its desecration."
"I never was in it," said Job, "and cannot understand why my wife is so anxious about it as she seems to be. When we first went to London, she always sate under the Reverend Socinus Frost, and seemed very satisfied. I have heard him; a sensible man—but sermons are not much in my way, and I do not belong to his sect, or indeed any other."
However, they went to the chapel all the same, for Mrs. Thornberry was resolved on the visit. It was a small chamber but beautifully proportioned, like the mansion itself—of a blended Italian and Gothic style. The roof was flat, but had been richly gilt and painted, and was sustained by corbels of angels, divinely carved. There had been some pews in the building; some had fallen to pieces, and some remained, but these were not in the original design. The sacred table had disappeared, but two saintly statues, sculptured in black oak, seemed still to guard the spot which it had consecrated.
"I wonder what became of the communion table?" said Job.
"Oh! my dear father, do not call it a communion table," exclaimed John Hampden pettishly.
"Why, what should I call it, my boy?"
"Why, what does it signify what we call it? The thing is the same."
"Ah!" exclaimed the young gentleman, in a tone of contemptuous enthusiasm, "it is all the difference in the world. There should be a stone altar and a reredos. We have put up a reredos in our chapel at Bradley. All the fellows subscribed; I gave a sovereign."
"Well, I must say," said the archbishop, who had been standing in advance with Mrs. Thornberry and the children, while this brief and becoming conversation was taking place between father and son, "I think you could hardly do a better thing than restore this chapel, Mr. Thornberry, but there must be no mistake about it. It must be restored to the letter, and it is a style that is not commonly understood. I have a friend, however, who is a master of it, the most rising man in his profession, as far as church architecture is concerned, and I will get him just to run down and look at this, and if, as I hope, you resolve to restore it, rest assured he will do you justice, and you will be proud of your place of worship."
"I do not care how much we spend on our gardens," said Job, "for they are transitory pleasures, and we enjoy what we produce; but why I should restore a chapel in a house which does not belong to myself is not so clear to me."
"But it should belong to yourself," rejoined the archbishop. "Hurstley is not in the market, but it is to be purchased. Take it altogether, I have always thought it one of the most enviable possessions in the world. The house, when put in order, would be one of the ornaments of the kingdom. The acreage, though considerable, is not overwhelming, and there is a range of wild country of endless charm. I wandered about it in my childhood and my youth, and I have never known anything equal to it. Then as to the soil and all that, you know it. You are a son of the soil. You left it for great objects, and you have attained those objects. They have given you fame as well as fortune. There would be something wonderfully dignified and graceful in returning to the land after you have taken the principal part in solving the difficulties which pertained to it, and emancipating it from many perils."
"I am sure it would be the happiest day of my life, if Job would purchase Hurstley," said Mrs. Thornberry.
"I should like to go to Oxford, and my father purchase Hurstley," said the young gentleman. "If we have not landed property, I would sooner have none. If we have not land, I should like to go into the Church, and if I may not go to Oxford, I would go to Cuddesdon at once. I know it can be done, for I know a fellow who has done it."
Poor Job Thornberry! He had ruled multitudes, and had conquered and commanded senates. His Sovereign had made him one of her privy councillors, and half a million of people had returned him their representative to parliament. And here he stood silent, and a little confused; sapped by his wife, bullied by his son, and after having passed a great part of his life in denouncing sacerdotalism, finding his whole future career chalked out, without himself being consulted, by a priest who was so polite, sensible, and so truly friendly, that his manner seemed to deprive its victims of every faculty of retort or repartee. Still he was going to say something when the door opened, and Mrs. Penruddock appeared, exclaiming in a cheerful voice, "I thought I should find you here. I would not have troubled your Grace, but this letter marked 'private, immediate, and to be forwarded,' has been wandering about for some time, and I thought it was better to bring it to you at once."
The Archbishop of Tyre took the letter, and seemed to start as he read the direction. Then he stood aside, opened it, and read its contents. The letter was from Lady Roehampton, desiring to see him as soon as possible on a matter of the utmost gravity, and entreating him not to delay his departure, wherever he might be.
"I am sorry to quit you all," said his Grace; "but I must go up to town immediately. The business is urgent."
Endymion arrived at home very late from the Montfort ball, and rose in consequence at an unusually late hour. He had taken means to become sufficiently acquainted with the cause of his sister's absence the night before, so he had no anxiety on that head. Lady Roehampton had really intended to have been present, was indeed dressed for the occasion; but when the moment of trial arrived, she was absolutely unequal to the effort. All this was amplified in a little note from his sister, which his valet brought him in the morning. What, however, considerably surprised him in this communication was her announcement that her feelings last night had proved to her that she ought not to remain in London, and that she intended to find solitude and repose in the little watering-place where she had passed a tranquil autumn during the first year of her widowhood. What completed his astonishment, however, was the closing intimation that, in all probability, she would have left town before he rose. The moment she had got a little settled she would write to him, and when business permitted, he must come and pay her a little visit.
"She was always capricious," exclaimed Lady Montfort, who had not forgotten the disturbance of her royal supper-table.
"Hardly that, I think," said Endymion. "I have always looked on Myra as a singularly consistent character."
"I know, you never admit your sister has a fault."
"You said the other day yourself that she was the only perfect character you knew."
"Did I say that? I think her capricious."
"I do not think you are capricious," said Endymion, "and yet the world sometimes says you are."
"I change my opinion of persons when my taste is offended," said Lady Montfort. "What I admired in your sister, though I confess I sometimes wished not to admire her, was that she never offended my taste."
"I hope satisfied it," said Endymion.
"Yes, satisfied it, always satisfied it. I wonder what will be her lot, for, considering her youth, her destiny has hardly begun. Somehow or other, I do not think she will marry Sidney Wilton."
"I have sometimes thought that would be," said Endymion.
"Well, it would be, I think, a happy match. All the circumstances would be collected that form what is supposed to be happiness. But tastes differ about destinies as well as about manners. For my part, I think to have a husband who loved you, and he clever, accomplished, charming, ambitious, would be happiness; but I doubt whether your sister cares so much about these things. She may, of course does, talk to you more freely; but with others, in her most open hours, there seems a secret fund of reserve in her character which I never could penetrate, except, I think, it is a reserve which does not originate in a love of tranquillity, but quite the reverse. She is a strong character."
"Then, hardly a capricious one."
"No, not capricious; I only said that to tease you. I am capricious; I know it. I disregard people sometimes that I have patronised and flattered. It is not merely that I have changed my opinion of them, but I positively hate them."
"I hope you will never hate me," said Endymion.
"You have never offended my taste yet," said Lady Montfort with a smile.
Endymion was engaged to dine to-day with Mr. Bertie Tremaine. Although now in hostile political camps, that great leader of men never permitted their acquaintance to cease. "He is young," reasoned Mr. Bertie Tremaine; "every political party changes its principles on an average once in ten years. Those who are young must often then form new connections, and Ferrars will then come to me. He will be ripe and experienced, and I could give him a good deal. I do not want numbers. I want men. In opposition, numbers often only embarrass. The power of the future is ministerial capacity. The leader with a cabinet formed will be the minister of England. He is not to trouble himself about numbers; that is an affair of the constituencies."
Male dinners are in general not amusing. When they are formed, as they usually are, of men who are supposed to possess a strong and common sympathy—political, sporting, literary, military, social—there is necessarily a monotony of thought and feeling, and of the materials which induce thought and feeling. In a male dinner of party politicians, conversation soon degenerates into what is termed "shop;" anecdotes about divisions, criticism of speeches, conjectures about office, speculations on impending elections, and above all, that heinous subject on which enormous fibs are ever told, the registration. There are, however, occasional glimpses in their talk which would seem to intimate that they have another life outside the Houses of Parliament. But that extenuating circumstance does not apply to the sporting dinner. There they begin with odds and handicaps, and end with handicaps and odds, and it is doubtful whether it ever occurs to any one present, that there is any other existing combination of atoms than odds and handicaps. A dinner of wits is proverbially a place of silence; and the envy and hatred which all literary men really feel for each other, especially when they are exchanging dedications of mutual affection, always ensure, in such assemblies, the agreeable presence of a general feeling of painful constraint. If a good thing occurs to a guest, he will not express it, lest his neighbour, who is publishing a novel in numbers, shall appropriate it next month, or he himself, who has the same responsibility of production, be deprived of its legitimate appearance. Those who desire to learn something of the manoeuvres at the Russian and Prussian reviews, or the last rumour at Aldershot or the military clubs, will know where to find this feast of reason. The flow of soul in these male festivals is perhaps, on the whole, more genial when found in a society of young gentlemen, graduates of the Turf and the Marlborough, and guided in their benignant studies by the gentle experience and the mild wisdom of White's. The startling scandal, the rattling anecdote, the astounding leaps, and the amazing shots, afford for the moment a somewhat pleasing distraction, but when it is discovered that all these habitual flim-flams are, in general, the airy creatures of inaccuracy and exaggeration—that the scandal is not true, the anecdote has no foundation, and that the feats and skill and strength are invested with the organic weakness of tradition, the vagaries lose something of the charm of novelty, and are almost as insipid as claret from which the bouquet has evaporated.
The male dinners of Mr. Bertie Tremaine were an exception to the general reputation of such meetings. They were never dull. In the first place, though to be known at least by reputation was an indispensable condition of being present, he brought different classes together, and this, at least for once, stimulates and gratifies curiosity. His house too was open to foreigners of celebrity, without reference to their political parties or opinions. Every one was welcome except absolute assassins. The host too had studied the art of developing character and conversation, and if sometimes he was not so successful in this respect as he deserved, there was no lack of amusing entertainment, for in these social encounters Mr. Bertie Tremaine was a reserve in himself, and if nobody else would talk, he would avail himself of the opportunity of pouring forth the treasures of his own teeming intelligence. His various knowledge, his power of speech, his eccentric paradoxes, his pompous rhetoric, relieved by some happy sarcasm, and the obvious sense, in all he said and did, of innate superiority to all his guests, made these exhibitions extremely amusing.
"What Bertie Tremaine will end in," Endymion would sometimes say, "perplexes me. Had there been no revolution in 1832, and he had entered parliament for his family borough, I think he must by this time have been a minister. Such tenacity of purpose could scarcely fail. But he has had to say and do so many odd things, first to get into parliament, and secondly to keep there, that his future now is not so clear. When I first knew him, he was a Benthamite; at present, I sometimes seem to foresee that he will end by being the leader of the Protectionists and the Protestants."
"And a good strong party too," said Trenchard, "but query whether strong enough?"
"That is exactly what Bertie Tremaine is trying to find out."
Mr. Bertie Tremaine's manner in receiving his guests was courtly and ceremonious; a contrast to the free and easy style of the time. But it was adopted after due reflection. "No man can tell you what will be the position he may be called upon to fill. But he has a right to assume he will always be ascending. I, for example, may be destined to be the president of a republic, the regent of a monarchy, or a sovereign myself. It would be painful and disagreeable to have to change one's manner at a perhaps advanced period of life, and become liable to the unpopular imputation that you had grown arrogant and overbearing. On the contrary, in my case, whatever my elevation, there will be no change. My brother, Mr. Tremaine Bertie, acts on a different principle. He is a Sybarite, and has a general contempt for mankind, certainly for the mob and the middle class, but he is 'Hail fellow, well met!' with them all. He says it answers at elections; I doubt it. I myself represent a popular constituency, but I believe I owe my success in no slight measure to the manner in which I gave my hand when I permitted it to be touched. As I say sometimes to Mr. Tremaine Bertie, 'You will find this habit of social familiarity embarrassing when I send you to St. Petersburg or Vienna.'"
Waldershare dined there, now a peer, though, as he rejoiced to say, not a peer of parliament. An Irish peer, with an English constituency, filled, according to Waldershare, the most enviable of positions. His rank gave him social influence, and his seat in the House of Commons that power which all aspire to obtain. The cynosure of the banquet, however, was a gentleman who had, about a year before, been the president of a republic for nearly six weeks, and who being master of a species of rhapsodical rhetoric, highly useful in troubled times, when there is no real business to transact, and where there is nobody to transact it, had disappeared when the treasury was quite empty, and there were no further funds to reward the enthusiastic citizens who had hitherto patriotically maintained order at wages about double in amount to what they had previously received in their handicrafts. This great reputation had been brought over by Mr. Tremaine Bertie, now introducing him into English political society. Mr. Tremaine Bertie hung upon the accents of the oracle, every word of which was intended to be picturesque or profound, and then surveyed his friends with a glance of appreciating wonder. Sensible Englishmen, like Endymion and Trenchard, looked upon the whole exhibition as fustian, and received the revelations with a smile of frigid courtesy.
The presence, however, of this celebrity of six weeks gave occasionally a tone of foreign politics to the conversation, and the association of ideas, which, in due course, rules all talk, brought them, among other incidents and instances, to the remarkable career of King Florestan.
"And yet he has his mortifications," said a sensible man. "He wants a wife, and the princesses of the world will not furnish him with one."
"What authority have you for saying so?" exclaimed the fiery Waldershare. "The princesses of the world would be great fools if they refused such a man, but I know of no authentic instance of such denial."
"Well, it is the common rumour."
"And, therefore, probably a common falsehood."
"Were he wise," said Mr. Bertie Tremaine, "King Florestan would not marry. Dynasties are unpopular; especially new ones. The present age is monarchical, but not dynastic. The king, who is a man of reach, and who has been pondering such circumstances all his life, is probably well aware of this, and will not be such a fool as to marry."
"How is the monarchy to go on, if there is to be no successor?" inquired Trenchard. "You would not renew the Polish constitution?"
"The Polish constitution, by the by, was not so bad a thing," said Mr. Bertie Tremaine. "Under it a distinguished Englishman might have mixed with the crowned heads of Europe, as Sir Philip Sidney nearly did. But I was looking to something superior to the Polish constitution, or perhaps any other; I was contemplating a monarchy with the principle of adoption. That would give you all the excellence of the Polish constitution, and the order and constancy in which it failed. It would realise the want of the age; monarchical, not dynastical, institutions, and it would act independent of the passions and intrigues of the multitude. The principle of adoption was the secret of the strength and endurance of Rome. It gave Rome alike the Scipios and the Antonines."
"A court would be rather dull without a woman at its head."
"On the contrary," said Mr. Bertie Tremaine. "It was Louis Quatorze who made the court; not his queen."
"Well," said Waldershare, "all the same, I fear King Florestan will adopt no one in this room, though he has several friends here, and I am one; and I believe that he will marry, and I cannot help fancying that the partner of this throne will not be as insignificant as Louis the Fourteenth's wife, or Catherine of Braganza."
Jawett dined this day with Mr. Bertie Tremaine. He was a frequent guest there, and still was the editor of the "Precursor," though it sometimes baffled all that lucidity of style for which he was celebrated to reconcile the conduct of the party, of which the "Precursor" was alike the oracle and organ, with the opinions with which that now well-established journal first attempted to direct and illuminate the public mind. It seemed to the editor that the "Precursor" dwelt more on the past than became a harbinger of the future. Not that Mr. Bertie Tremaine ever for a moment admitted that there was any difficulty in any case. He never permitted any dogmas that he had ever enunciated to be surrendered, however contrary at their first aspect.
"All are but parts of one stupendous whole,"
and few things were more interesting than the conference in which Mr. Bertie Tremaine had to impart his views and instructions to the master of that lucid style, which had the merit of making everything so very clear when the master himself was, as at present, extremely perplexed and confused. Jawett lingered after the other guests, that he might have the advantage of consulting the great leader on the course which he ought to take in advocating a measure which seemed completely at variance with all the principles they had ever upheld.
"I do not see your difficulty," wound up the host. "Your case is clear. You have a principle which will carry you through everything. That is the charm of a principle. You have always an answer ready."
"But in this case," somewhat timidly inquired Mr. Jawett, "what would be the principle on which I should rest?"
"You must show," said Mr. Bertie Tremaine, "that democracy is aristocracy in disguise; and that aristocracy is democracy in disguise. It will carry you through everything."
Even Jawett looked a little amazed.
"But"—he was beginning, when Mr. Bertie Tremaine arose. "Think of what I have said, and if on reflection any doubt or difficulty remain in your mind, call on me to-morrow before I go to the House. At present, I must pay my respects to Lady Beaumaris. She is the only woman the Tories can boast of; but she is a first-rate woman, and is a power which I must secure."
A month had nearly elapsed since the Montfort ball; the season was over and the session was nearly finished. The pressure of parliamentary life for those in office is extreme during this last month, yet Endymion would have contrived, were it only for a day, to have visited his sister, had Lady Roehampton much encouraged his appearance. Strange as it seemed to him, she did not, but, on the contrary, always assumed that the prorogation of parliament would alone bring them together again. When he proposed on one occasion to come down for four-and-twenty hours, she absolutely, though with much affection, adjourned the fulfilment of the offer. It seemed that she was not yet quite settled.
Lady Montfort lingered in London even after Goodwood. She was rather embarrassed, as she told Endymion, about her future plans. Lord Montfort was at Princedown, where she wished to join him, but he did not respond to her wishes; on the contrary, while announcing that he was indisposed, and meant to remain at Princedown for the summer, he suggested that she should avail herself of the opportunity, and pay a long visit to her family in the north. "I know what he means," she observed; "he wants the world to believe that we are separated. He cannot repudiate me—he is too great a gentleman to do anything coarsely unjust; but he thinks, by tact and indirect means, he may achieve our virtual separation. He has had this purpose for years, I believe now ever since our marriage, but hitherto I have baffled him. I ought to be with him; I really believe he is indisposed, his face has become so pale of late; but were I to persist in going to Princedown I should only drive him away. He would go off into the night without leaving his address, and something would happen—dreadful or absurd. What I had best do, I think, is this. You are going at last to pay your visit to your sister; I will write to my lord and tell him that as he does not wish me to go to Princedown, I propose to go to Montfort Castle. When the flag is flying at Montfort, I can pay a visit of any length to my family. It will only be a neighbouring visit from Montfort to them; perhaps, too, they might return it. At any rate, then they cannot say my lord and I are separated. We need not live under the same roof, but so long as I live under his roof the world considers us united. It is a pity to have to scheme in this manner, and rather degrading, particularly when one might be so happy with him. But you know, my dear Endymion, all about our affairs. Your friend is not a very happy woman, and if not a very unhappy one, it is owing much to your dear friendship, and a little to my own spirit which keeps me up under what is frequent and sometimes bitter mortification. And now adieu! I suppose you cannot be away less than a week. Probably on your return you will find me here. I cannot go to Montfort without his permission. But he will give it. I observe that he will always do anything to gain his immediate object. His immediate object is, that I shall not go to Princedown, and so he will agree that I shall go to Montfort."
For the first time in his life, Endymion felt some constraint in the presence of Myra. There was something changed in her manner. No diminution of affection, for she threw her arms around him and pressed him to her heart; and then she looked at him anxiously, even sadly, and kissed both his eyes, and then she remained for some moments in silence with her face hid on his shoulder. Never since the loss of Lord Roehampton had she seemed so subdued.
"It is a long separation," she at length said, with a voice and smile equally faint, "and you must be a little wearied with your travelling. Come and refresh yourself, and then I will show you my boudoir I have made here; rather pretty, out of nothing. And then we will sit down and have a long talk together, for I have much to tell you, and I want your advice."
"She is going to marry Sidney Wilton," thought Endymion; "that is clear."
The boudoir was really pretty, "made out of nothing;" a gay chintz, some shelves of beautiful books, some fanciful chairs, and a portrait of Lord Roehampton.
It was a long interview, very long, and if one could judge by the countenance of Endymion, when he quitted the boudoir and hastened to his room, of grave import. Sometimes his face was pale, sometimes scarlet; the changes were rapid, but the expression was agitated rather than one of gratification.
He sent instantly for his servant, and then penned this telegram to Lady Montfort: "My visit here will be short. I am to see you immediately. Nothing must prevent your being at home when I call to-morrow, about four o'clock. Most, most important."
"Well, something has happened at last," said Lady Montfort with a wondering countenance; "it is too marvellous."
"She goes to Osborne to-day," continued Endymion, "and I suppose after that, in due course, it will be generally known. I should think the formal announcement would be made abroad. It has been kept wonderfully close. She wished you to know it first, at least from her. I do not think she ever hesitated about accepting him. There was delay from various causes; whether there should be a marriage by proxy first in this country, and other points; about religion, for example."
"She enters the Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Tyre has received her. There is no difficulty and no great ceremonies in such matters. She was re-baptized, but only by way of precaution. It was not necessary, for our baptism, you know, is recognised by Rome."
"And that was all!"
"All, with a first communion and confession. It is all consummated now; as you say, 'It is too wonderful.' A first confession, and to Nigel Penruddock, who says life is flat and insipid!"
"I shall write to her: I must write to her. I wonder if I shall see her before she departs."
"That is certain if you wish it; she wishes it."
"And when does she go? And who goes with her?"
"She will be under my charge," said Endymion. "It is fortunate that it should happen at a time when I am free. I am personally to deliver her to the king. The Duke of St. Angelo, Baron Sergius, and the archbishop accompany her, and Waldershare, at the particular request of his Majesty."
"And no lady?"
"She takes Adriana with her."
"Adriana!" repeated Lady Montfort, and a cloud passed over her brow. There was a momentary pause, and then Lady Montfort said, "I wish she would take me."
"That would be delightful," said Endymion, "and most becoming—to have for a companion the greatest lady of our court."
"She will not take me with her," said Lady Montfort, sorrowfully but decisively, and shaking her head. "Dear woman! I loved her always, often most when I seemed least affectionate—but there was between us something"—and she hesitated. "Heigho! I may be the greatest lady of our court, but I am a very unhappy woman, Endymion, and what annoys and dispirits me most, sometimes quite breaks me down, is that I cannot see that I deserve my lot."
It happened as Endymion foresaw; the first announcement came from abroad. King Florestan suddenly sent a message to his parliament, that his Majesty was about to present them with a queen. She was not the daughter of a reigning house, but she came from the land of freedom and political wisdom, and from the purest and most powerful court in Europe. His subjects soon learnt that she was the most beautiful of women, for the portrait of the Countess of Roehampton, as it were by magic, seemed suddenly to fill every window in every shop in the teeming and brilliant capital where she was about to reign.
It was convenient that these great events should occur when everybody was out of town. Lady Montfort alone remained, the frequent, if not constant, companion of the new sovereign. Berengaria soon recovered her high spirits. There was much to do and prepare in which her hints and advice were invaluable. Though she was not to have the honour of attending Myra to her new home, which, considering her high place in the English court, was perhaps hardly consistent with etiquette, for so she now cleverly put it, she was to pay her Majesty a visit in due time. The momentary despondency that had clouded her brilliant countenance had not only disappeared, but she had quite forgotten, and certainly would not admit, that she was anything but the most sanguine and energetic of beings, and rallied Endymion unmercifully for his careworn countenance and too frequent air of depression. The truth is, the great change that was impending was one which might well make him serious, and sometimes sad.
The withdrawal of a female influence, so potent on his life as that of his sister, was itself a great event. There had been between them from the cradle, which, it may be said, they had shared, a strong and perfect sympathy. They had experienced together vast and strange vicissitudes of life. Though much separated in his early youth, there had still been a constant interchange of thought and feeling between them. For the last twelve years or so, ever since Myra had become acquainted with the Neuchatel family, they may be said never to have separated—at least they had maintained a constant communication, and generally a personal one. She had in a great degree moulded his life. Her unfaltering, though often unseen, influence had created his advancement. Her will was more powerful than his. He was more prudent and plastic. He felt this keenly. He was conscious that, left to himself, he would probably have achieved much less. He remembered her words when they parted for the first time at Hurstley, "Women will be your best friends in life." And that brought his thoughts to the only subject on which they had ever differed—her wished-for union between himself and Adriana. He felt he had crossed her there—that he had prevented the fulfilment of her deeply-matured plans. Perhaps, had that marriage taken place, she would never have quitted England. Perhaps; but was that desirable? Was it not fitter that so lofty a spirit should find a seat as exalted as her capacity? Myra was a sovereign! In this age of strange events, not the least strange. No petty cares and griefs must obtrude themselves in such majestic associations. And yet the days at Hainault were very happy, and the bright visits to Gaydene, and her own pleasant though stately home. His heart was agitated, and his eyes were often moistened with emotion. He seemed to think that all the thrones of Christendom could be no compensation for the loss of this beloved genius of his life, whom he might never see again. Sometimes, when he paid his daily visit to Berengaria, she who knew him by heart, who studied every expression of his countenance and every tone of his voice, would say to him, after a few minutes of desultory and feeble conversation, "You are thinking of your sister, Endymion?"
He did not reply, but gave a sort of faint mournful smile.
"This separation is a trial, a severe one, and I knew you would feel it," said Lady Montfort. "I feel it; I loved your sister, but she did not love me. Nobody that I love ever does love me."
"Oh! do not say that, Lady Montfort."
"It is what I feel. I cannot console you. There is nothing I can do for you. My friendship, if you value it, which I will not doubt you do, you fully possessed before your sister was a Queen. So that goes for nothing."
"I must say, I feel sometimes most miserable."
"Nonsense, Endymion; if anything could annoy your sister more than another, it would be to hear of such feelings on your part. I must say she has courage. She has found her fitting place. Her brother ought to do the same. You have a great object in life, at least you had, but I have no faith in sentimentalists. If I had been sentimental, I should have gone into a convent long ago."
"If to feel is to be sentimental, I cannot help it."
"All feeling which has no object to attain is morbid and maudlin," said Lady Montfort. "You say you are very miserable, and at the same time you do not know what you want. Would you have your sister dethroned? And if you would, could you accomplish your purpose? Well, then, what nonsense to think about her except to feel proud of her elevation, and prouder still that she is equal to it!"
"You always have the best of every argument," said Endymion.
"Of course," said Lady Montfort. "What I want you to do is to exert yourself. You have now a strong social position, for Sidney Wilton tells me the Queen has relinquished to you her mansion and the whole of her income, which is no mean one. You must collect your friends about you. Our government is not too strong, I can tell you. We must brush up in the recess. What with Mr. Bertie Tremaine and his friends joining the Protectionists, and the ultra-Radicals wanting, as they always do, something impossible, I see seeds of discomfiture unless they are met with energy. You stand high, and are well spoken of even by our opponents. Whether we stand or fall, it is a moment for you to increase your personal influence. That is the element now to encourage in your career, because you are not like the old fogies in the cabinet, who, if they go out, will never enter another again. You have a future, and though you may not be an emperor, you may be what I esteem more, prime minister of this country."
"You are always so sanguine."
"Not more sanguine than your sister. Often we have talked of this. I wish she were here to help us, but I will do my part. At present let us go to luncheon."
There was a splendid royal yacht, though not one belonging to our gracious Sovereign, lying in one of Her Majesty's southern ports, and the yacht was convoyed by a smart frigate. The crews were much ashore, and were very popular, for they spent a great deal of money. Everybody knew what was the purpose of their bright craft, and every one was interested in it. A beautiful Englishwoman had been selected to fill a foreign and brilliant throne occupied by a prince, who had been educated in our own country, who ever avowed his sympathies with "the inviolate island of the sage and free." So in fact there was some basis for the enthusiasm which was felt on this occasion by the inhabitants of Nethampton. What every one wanted to know was when she would sail. Ah! that was a secret that could hardly be kept for the eight-and-forty hours preceding her departure, and therefore, one day, with no formal notice, all the inhabitants of Nethampton were in gala; streets and ships dressed out with the flags of all nations; the church bells ringing; and busy little girls running about with huge bouquets.
At the very instant expected, the special train was signalled, and drove into the crimson station amid the thunder of artillery, the blare of trumpets, the beating of drums, and cheers from thousands even louder and longer than the voices of the cannon. Leaning on the arm of her brother, and attended by the Princess of Montserrat, and the Honourable Adriana Neuchatel, Baron Sergius, the Duke of St. Angelo, the Archbishop of Tyre, and Lord Waldershare, the daughter of William Ferrars, gracious, yet looking as if she were born to empire, received the congratulatory address of the mayor and corporation and citizens of Nethampton, and permitted her hand to be kissed, not only by his worship, but by at least two aldermen.
They were on the waters, and the shores of Albion, fast fading away, had diminished to a speck. It is a melancholy and tender moment, and Myra was in her ample and splendid cabin and alone. "It is a trial," she felt, "but all that I love and value in this world are in this vessel," and she thought of Endymion and Adriana. The gentlemen were on deck, chiefly smoking or reconnoitring their convoy through their telescopes.
"I must say," said Waldershare, "it was a grand idea of our kings making themselves sovereigns of the sea. The greater portion of this planet is water; so we at once became a first-rate power. We owe our navy entirely to the Stuarts. King James the Second was the true founder and hero of the British navy. He was the worthy son of his admirable father, that blessed martyr, the restorer at least, if not the inventor, of ship money; the most patriotic and popular tax that ever was devised by man. The Nonconformists thought themselves so wise in resisting it, and they have got the naval estimates instead!"
The voyage was propitious, the weather delightful, and when they had entered the southern waters Waldershare confessed that he felt the deliciousness of life. If the scene and the impending events, and their own fair thoughts, had not been adequate to interest them, there were ample resources at their command; all the ladies were skilled musicians, their concerts commenced at sunset, and the sweetness of their voices long lingered over the moonlit waters.
Adriana, one evening, bending over the bulwarks of the yacht, was watching the track of phosphoric light, struck into brilliancy from the dark blue waters by the prow of their rapid vessel. "It is a fascinating sight, Miss Neuchatel, and it seems one might gaze on it for ever."
"Ah! Lord Waldershare, you caught me in a reverie."
"What more sweet?"
"Well, that depends on its subject. To tell the truth, I was thinking that these lights resembled a little your conversation; all the wondrous things you are always saying or telling us."
The archbishop was a man who never recurred to the past. One could never suppose that Endymion and himself had been companions in their early youth, or, so far as their intercourse was concerned, that there was such a place in the world as Hurstley. One night, however, as they were pacing the deck together, he took the arm of Endymion, and said, "I trace the hand of Providence in every incident of your sister's life. What we deemed misfortunes, sorrows, even calamities, were forming a character originally endowed with supreme will, and destined for the highest purposes. There was a moment at Hurstley when I myself was crushed to the earth, and cared not to live; vain, short-sighted mortal! Our great Master was at that moment shaping everything to His ends, and preparing for the entrance into His Church of a woman who may be, who will be, I believe, another St. Helena."
"We have not spoken of this subject before," said Endymion, "and I should not have cared had our silence continued, but I must now tell you frankly, the secession of my sister from the Church of her fathers was to me by no means a matter of unmixed satisfaction."
"The time will come when you will recognise it as the consummation of a Divine plan," said the archbishop.
"I feel great confidence that my sister will never be the slave of superstition," said Endymion. "Her mind is too masculine for that; she will remember that the throne she fills has been already once lost by the fatal influence of the Jesuits."
"The influence of the Jesuits is the influence of Divine truth," said his companion. "And how is it possible for such influence not to prevail? What you treat as defeats, discomfitures, are events which you do not comprehend. They are incidents all leading to one great end—the triumph of the Church—that is, the triumph of God."
"I will not decide what are great ends; I am content to ascertain what is wise conduct. And it would not be wise conduct, in my opinion, for the King to rest upon the Jesuits."
"The Jesuits never fell except from conspiracy against them. It is never the public voice that demands their expulsion or the public effort that accomplishes it. It is always the affair of sovereigns and statesmen, of politicians, of men, in short, who feel that there is a power at work, and that power one not favourable to their schemes or objects of government."
"Well, we shall see," said Endymion; "I candidly tell you, I hope the Jesuits will have as little influence in my brother-in-law's kingdom as in my own country."
"As little!" said Nigel, somewhat sarcastically; "I should be almost content if the holy order in every country had as much influence as they now have in England."
"I think your Grace exaggerates."
"Before two years are past," said the archbishop, speaking very slowly, "I foresee that the Jesuits will be privileged in England, and the hierarchy of our Church recognised."
It was a delicious afternoon; it had been sultry, but the sun had now greatly declined, when the captain of the yacht came down to announce to the Queen that they were in sight of her new country, and she hastened on deck to behold the rapidly nearing shore. A squadron of ships of war had stood out to meet her, and in due time the towers and spires of a beautiful city appeared, which was the port of the capital, and itself almost worthy of being one. A royal barge, propelled by four-and-twenty rowers, and bearing the lord chamberlain, awaited the queen, and the moment her Majesty and the Princess of Montserrat had taken their seats, salutes thundered from every ship of war, responded to by fort and battery ashore.
When they landed, they were conducted by chief officers of the court to a pavilion which faced the western sky, now glowing like an opal with every shade of the iris, and then becoming of a light green colour varied only by some slight clouds burnished with gold. A troop of maidens brought flowers as bright as themselves, and then a company of pages advanced, and kneeling, offered to the Queen chocolate in a crystal cup.
According to the programme drawn up by the heralds, and every tittle of it founded on precedents, the King and the royal carriages were to have met the travellers on their arrival at the metropolis; but there are feelings which heralds do not comprehend, and which defy precedents. Suddenly there was a shout, a loud cheer, and a louder salute. Some one had arrived unexpectedly. A young man, stately but pale, moved through the swiftly receding crowd, alone and unattended, entered the pavilion, advanced to the Queen, kissed her hand, and then both her cheeks, just murmuring, "My best beloved, this, this indeed is joy."
The capital was fortified, and the station was without the walls; here the royal carriages awaited them. The crowd was immense; the ramparts on this occasion were covered with people. It was an almost sultry night, with every star visible, and clear and warm and sweet. As the royal carriage crossed the drawbridge and entered the chief gates, the whole city was in an instant suddenly illuminated—in a flash. The architectural lines of the city walls, and of every street, were indicated, and along the ramparts at not distant intervals were tripods, each crowned with a silver flame, which cast around the radiance of day.
He held and pressed her hand as in silence she beheld the wondrous scene. They had to make a progress of some miles; the way was kept throughout by soldiery and civic guards, while beyond them was an infinite population, all cheering and many of them waving torches. They passed through many streets, and squares with marvellous fountains, until they arrived at the chief and royal street, which has no equal in the world. It is more than a mile long, never swerving from a straight line, broad, yet the houses so elevated that they generally furnish the shade this ardent clime requires. The architecture of this street is so varied that it never becomes monotonous, some beautiful church, or palace, or ministerial hotel perpetually varying the effect. All the windows were full on this occasion, and even the roofs were crowded. Every house was covered with tapestry, and the line of every building was marked out by artificial light. The moon rose, but she was not wanted; it was as light as day.
They were considerate enough not to move too rapidly through this heart of the metropolis, and even halted at some stations, where bands of music and choirs of singers welcomed and celebrated them. They moved on more quickly afterwards, made their way through a pretty suburb, and then entered a park. At the termination of a long avenue was the illumined and beautiful palace of the Prince of Montserrat, where Myra was to reside and repose until the momentous morrow, when King Florestan was publicly to place on the brow of his affianced bride the crown which to his joy she had consented to share.
There are very few temperaments that can resist an universal and unceasing festival in a vast and beautiful metropolis. It is inebriating, and the most wonderful of all its accidents is how the population can ever calm and recur to the monotony of ordinary life. When all this happens, too, in a capital blessed with purple skies, where the moonlight is equal to our sunshine, and where half the population sleep in the open air and wish for no roof but the heavens, existence is a dream of phantasy and perpetual loveliness, and one is at last forced to believe that there is some miraculous and supernatural agency that provides the ever-enduring excitement and ceaseless incidents of grace and beauty.
After the great ceremony of the morrow in the cathedral, and when Myra, kneeling at the altar with her husband, received, under a canopy of silver brocade, the blessings of a cardinal and her people, day followed day with court balls and municipal banquets, state visits to operas, and reviews of sumptuous troops. At length the end of all this pageantry and enthusiasm approached, and amid a blaze of fireworks, the picturesque population of this fascinating city tried to return to ordinary feeling and to common sense.
If amid this graceful hubbub and this glittering riot any one could have found time to remark the carriage and conduct of an individual, one might have observed, and perhaps been surprised at, the change in those of Miss Neuchatel. That air of pensive resignation which distinguished her seemed to have vanished. She never wore that doleful look for which she was too remarkable in London saloons, and which marred a countenance favoured by nature and a form intended for gaiety and grace. Perhaps it was the influence of the climate, perhaps the excitement of the scene, perhaps some rapture with the wondrous fortunes of the friend whom she adored, but Adriana seemed suddenly to sympathise with everybody and to appreciate everything; her face was radiant, she was in every dance, and visited churches and museums, and palaces and galleries, with keen delight. With many charms, the intimate friend of their sovereign, and herself known to be noble and immensely rich, Adriana became the fashion, and a crowd of princes were ever watching her smiles, and sometimes offering her their sighs.
"I think you enjoy our visit more than any one of us," said Endymion to her one day, with some feeling of surprise.
"Well, one cannot mope for ever," said Miss Neuchatel; "I have passed my life in thinking of one subject, and I feel now it made me very stupid."
Endymion felt embarrassed, and, though generally ready, had no repartee at command. Lord Waldershare, however, came to his relief, and claimed Adriana for the impending dance.
This wondrous marriage was a grand subject for "our own correspondents," and they abounded. Among them were Jawett and St. Barbe. St. Barbe hated Jawett, as indeed he did all his brethren, but his appointment in this instance he denounced as an infamous job. "Merely to allow him to travel in foreign parts, which he has never done, without a single qualification for the office! However, it will ruin his paper, that is some consolation. Fancy sending here a man who has never used his pen except about those dismal statistics, and what he calls first principles! I hate his style, so neat and frigid. No colour, sir. I hate his short sentences, like a dog barking; we want a word-painter here, sir. My description of the wedding sold one hundred and fifty thousand, and it is selling now. If the proprietors were gentlemen, they would have sent me an unlimited credit, instead of their paltry fifty pounds a day and my expenses; but you never meet a liberal man now,—no such animal known. What I want you to do for me, Lord Waldershare, is to get me invited to the Villa Aurea when the court moves there. It will be private life there, and that is the article the British public want now. They are satiated with ceremonies and festivals. They want to know what the royal pair have for dinner when they are alone, how they pass their evenings, and whether the queen drives ponies."
"So far as I am concerned," said Waldershare, "they shall remain state secrets."
"I have received no special favours here," rejoined St. Barbe, "though, with my claims, I might have counted on the uttermost. However, it is always so. I must depend on my own resources. I have a retainer, I can tell you, my lord, from the 'Rigdum Funidos,' in my pocket, and it is in my power to keep up such a crackling of jokes and sarcasms that a very different view would soon be entertained in Europe of what is going on here than is now the fashion. The 'Rigdum Funidos' is on the breakfast-table of all England, and sells thousands in every capital of the world. You do not appreciate its power; you will now feel it."
"I also am a subscriber to the 'Rigdum Funidos,'" said Waldershare, "and tell you frankly, Mr. St. Barbe, that if I see in its columns the slightest allusion to any persons or incident in this country, I will take care that you be instantly consigned to the galleys; and, this being a liberal government, I can do that without even the ceremony of a primary inquiry."
"You do not mean that?" said St. Barbe; "of course, I was only jesting. It is not likely that I should say or do anything disagreeable to those whom I look upon as my patrons—I may say friends—through life. It makes me almost weep when I remember my early connection with Mr. Ferrars, now an under-secretary of state, and who will mount higher. I never had a chance of being a minister, though I suppose I am not more incapable than others who get the silver spoon into their mouths. And then his divine sister! Quite an heroic character! I never had a sister, and so I never had even a chance of being nearly related to royalty. But so it has been throughout my life. No luck, my lord; no luck. And then they say one is misanthropical. Hang it! who can help being misanthropical when he finds everybody getting on in life except himself?"
The court moved to their favourite summer residence, a Palladian palace on a blue lake, its banks clothed with forests abounding with every species of game, and beyond them loftier mountains. The king was devoted to sport, and Endymion was always among his companions. Waldershare rather attached himself to the ladies, who made gay parties floating in gondolas, and refreshed themselves with picnics in sylvan retreats. It was supposed Lord Waldershare was a great admirer of the Princess of Montserrat, who in return referred to him as that "lovable eccentricity." As the autumn advanced, parties of guests of high distinction, carefully arranged, periodically arrived. Now, there was more ceremony, and every evening the circle was formed, while the king and queen exchanged words, and sometimes ideas, with those who were so fortunate as to be under their roof. Frequently there were dramatic performances, and sometimes a dance. The Princess of Montserrat was invaluable in these scenes; vivacious, imaginative, a consummate mimic, her countenance, though not beautiful, was full of charm. What was strange, Adriana took a great fancy to her Highness, and they were seldom separated. The only cloud for Endymion in this happy life was, that every day the necessity of his return to England was more urgent, and every day the days vanished more quickly. That return to England, once counted by weeks, would soon be counted by hours. He had conferred once or twice with Waldershare on the subject, who always turned the conversation; at last Endymion reminded him that the time of his departure was at hand, and that, originally, it had been agreed they should return together.
"Yes, my dear Ferrars, we did so agree, but the agreement was permissive, not compulsory. My views are changed. Perhaps I shall never return to England again; I think of being naturalised here."
The queen was depressed at the prospect of being separated from her brother. Sometimes she remonstrated with him for his devotion to sport which deprived her of his society; frequently in a morning she sent for him to her boudoir, that they might talk together as in old times. "The king has invited Lord and Lady Beaumaris to pay us a visit, and they are coming at once. I had hoped the dear Hainaults might have visited us here. I think she would have liked it. However, they will certainly pass the winter with us. It is some consolation to me not to lose Adriana."
"The greatest," said Endymion, "and she seems so happy here. She seems quite changed."
"I hope she is happier," said the queen, "but I trust she is not changed. I think her nearly perfection. So pure, even so exalted a mind, joined with so sweet a temper, I have never met. And she is very much admired too, I can tell you. The Prince of Arragon would be on his knees to her to-morrow, if she would only give a single smile. But she smiles enough with the Princess of Montserrat. I heard her the other day absolutely in uncontrollable laughter. That is a strange friendship; it amuses me."
"The princess has immense resource."
The queen suddenly rose from her seat; her countenance was disturbed.
"Why do we talk of her, or of any other trifler of the court, when there hangs over us so great a sorrow, Endymion, as our separation? Endymion, my best beloved," and she threw her arms round his neck, "my heart! my life! Is it possible that you can leave me, and so miserable as I am?"
"Yes! miserable when I think of your position—and even my own. Mine own has risen like a palace in a dream, and may vanish like one. But that would not be a calamity if you were safe. If I quitted this world to-morrow, where would you be? It gives me sleepless nights and anxious days. If you really loved me as you say, you would save me this. I am haunted with the perpetual thought that all this glittering prosperity will vanish as it did with our father. God forbid that, under any circumstances, it should lead to such an end—but who knows? Fate is terribly stern; ironically just. O Endymion! if you really love me, your twin, half of your blood and life, who have laboured for you so much, and thought for you so much, and prayed for you so much—and yet I sometimes feel have done so little—O Endymion! my adored, my own Endymion, if you wish to preserve my life—if you wish me not only to live, but really to be happy as I ought to be and could be, but for one dark thought, help me, aid me, save me—you can, and by one single act."
"One single act!"
"Yes! marry Adriana."
"Ah!" and he sighed.
"Yes, Adriana, to whom we both of us owe everything. Were it not for Adriana, you would not be here, you would be nothing," and she whispered some words which made him start, and alternately blush and look pale.
"Is it possible?" he exclaimed. "My sister, my beloved sister, I have tried to keep my brain cool in many trials. But I feel, as it were, as if life were too much for me. You counsel me to that which we should all repent."
"Yes, I know it; you may for a moment think it a sacrifice, but believe me, that is all phantasy. I know you think your heart belongs to another. I will grant everything, willingly grant everything you could say of her. Yes, I admit, she is beautiful, she has many charms, has been to you a faithful friend, you delight in her society; such things have happened before to many men, to every man they say they happen, but that has not prevented them from being wise, and very happy too. Your present position, if you persist in it, is one most perilous. You have no root in the country; but for an accident you could not maintain the public position you have nobly gained. As for the great crowning consummation of your life, which we dreamed over at unhappy Hurstley, which I have sometimes dared to prophesy, that must be surrendered. The country at the best will look upon you only as a reputable adventurer to be endured, even trusted and supported, in some secondary post, but nothing more. I touch on this, for I see it is useless to speak of myself and my own fate and feelings; only remember, Endymion, I have never deceived you. I cannot endure any longer this state of affairs. When in a few days we part, we shall never meet again. And all the devotion of Myra will end in your destroying her."
"My own, my beloved Myra, do with me what you like. If ——"
At this moment there was a gentle tap at the door, and the king entered.
"My angel," he said, "and you too, my dear Endymion. I have some news from England which I fear may distress you. Lord Montfort is dead."
There was ever, when separated, an uninterrupted correspondence between Berengaria and Endymion. They wrote to each other every day, so that when they met again there was no void in their lives and mutual experience, and each was acquainted with almost every feeling and incident that had been proved, or had occurred, since they parted. The startling news, however, communicated by the king had not previously reached Endymion, because he was on the eve of his return to England, and his correspondents had been requested to direct their future letters to his residence in London.
His voyage home was an agitated one, and not sanguine or inspiriting. There was a terrible uncertainty in the future. What were the feelings of Lady Montfort towards himself? Friendly, kind, affectionate, in a certain sense, even devoted, no doubt; but all consistent with a deep and determined friendship which sought and wished for no return more ardent. But now she was free. Yes, but would she again forfeit her freedom? And if she did, would it not be to attain some great end, probably the great end of her life? Lady Montfort was a woman of far-reaching ambition. In a certain degree, she had married to secure her lofty aims; and yet it was only by her singular energy, and the playfulness and high spirit of her temperament, that the sacrifice had not proved a failure; her success, however, was limited, for the ally on who she had counted rarely assisted and never sympathised with her. It was true she admired and even loved her husband; her vanity, which was not slight, was gratified by her conquest of one whom it had seemed no one could subdue, and who apparently placed at her feet all the power and magnificence which she appreciated.
Poor Endymion, who loved her passionately, over whom she exercised the influence of a divinity, who would do nothing without consulting her, and who was moulded, and who wished to be moulded, by her inspiring will, was also a shrewd man of the world, and did not permit his sentiment to cloud his perception of life and its doings. He felt that Lady Montfort had fallen from a lofty position, and she was not of a temperament that would quietly brook her fate. Instead of being the mistress of castles and palaces, with princely means, and all the splendid accidents of life at her command, she was now a dowager with a jointure! Still young, with her charms unimpaired, heightened even by the maturity of her fascinating qualities, would she endure this? She might retain her friendship for one who, as his sister ever impressed upon him, had no root in the land, and even that friendship, he felt conscious, must yield much of its entireness and intimacy to the influence of new ties; but for their lives ever being joined together, as had sometimes been his wild dreams, his cheek, though alone, burned with the consciousness of his folly and self-deception.
"He is one of our rising statesmen," whispered the captain of the vessel to a passenger, as Endymion, silent, lonely, and absorbed, walked, as was his daily custom, the quarterdeck. "I daresay he has a good load on his mind. Do you know, I would sooner be a captain of a ship than a minister of state?"
Poor Endymion! Yes, he bore his burthen, but it was not secrets of state that overwhelmed him. If his mind for a moment quitted the contemplation of Lady Montfort, it was only to encounter the recollection of a heart-rending separation from his sister, and his strange and now perplexing relations with Adriana.
Lord Montfort had passed the summer, as he had announced, at Princedown, and alone; that is to say, without Lady Montfort. She wrote to him frequently, and if she omitted doing so for a longer interval than usual, he would indite to her a little note, always courteous, sometimes even almost kind, reminding her that her letters amused him, and that of late they had been rarer than he wished. Lady Montfort herself made Montfort Castle her home, paying sometimes a visit to her family in the neighbourhood, and sometimes receiving them and other guests. Lord Montfort himself did not live in absolute solitude. He had society always at command. He always had a court about him; equerries, and secretaries, and doctors, and odd and amusing men whom they found out for him, and who were well pleased to find themselves in his beautiful and magnificent Princedown, wandering in woods and parks and pleasaunces, devouring his choice entrees, and quaffing his curious wines. Sometimes he dined with them, sometimes a few dined with him, sometimes he was not seen for weeks; but whether he were visible or not, he was the subject of constant thought and conversation by all under his roof.
Lord Montfort, it may be remembered, was a great fisherman. It was the only sport which retained a hold upon him. The solitude, the charming scenery, and the requisite skill, combined to please him. He had a love for nature, and he gratified it in this pursuit. His domain abounded in those bright chalky streams which the trout love. He liked to watch the moor-hens, too, and especially a kingfisher.
Lord Montfort came home late one day after much wading. It had been a fine day for anglers, soft and not too bright, and he had been tempted to remain long in the water. He drove home rapidly, but it was in an open carriage, and when the sun set there was a cold autumnal breeze. He complained at night, and said he had been chilled. There was always a doctor under the roof, who felt his patient's pulse, ordered the usual remedies, and encouraged him. Lord Montfort passed a bad night, and his physician in the morning found fever, and feared there were symptoms of pleurisy. He prescribed accordingly, but summoned from town two great authorities. The great authorities did not arrive until the next day. They approved of everything that had been done, but shook their heads. "No immediate danger, but serious."
Four-and-twenty hours afterwards they inquired of Lord Montfort whether they should send for his wife. "On no account whatever," he replied. "My orders on this head are absolute." Nevertheless, they did send for Lady Montfort, and as there was even then a telegraph to the north, Berengaria, who departed from her castle instantly, and travelled all night, arrived in eight-and-forty hours at Princedown. The state of Lord Montfort then was critical.