It was broken to Lord Montfort that his wife had arrived.
"I perceive then," he replied, "that I am going to die, because I am disobeyed."
These were the last words he uttered. He turned in his bed as it were to conceal his countenance, and expired without a sigh or sound.
There was not a single person at Princedown in whom Lady Montfort could confide. She had summoned the family solicitor, but he could not arrive until the next day, and until he came she insisted that none of her late lord's papers should be touched. She at first thought he had made a will, because otherwise all his property would go to his cousin, whom he particularly hated, and yet on reflection she could hardly fancy his making a will. It was a trouble to him—a disagreeable trouble; and there was nobody she knew whom he would care to benefit. He was not a man who would leave anything to hospitals and charities. Therefore, on the whole, she arrived at the conclusion he had not made a will, though all the guests at Princedown were of a different opinion, and each was calculating the amount of his own legacy.
At last the lawyer arrived, and he brought the will with him. It was very short, and not very recent. Everything he had in the world except the settled estates, Montfort Castle and Montfort House, he bequeathed to his wife. It was a vast inheritance; not only Princedown, but great accumulations of personal property, for Lord Montfort was fond of amassing, and admired the sweet simplicity of the three per cents.
When Endymion arrived in London he found among his letters two brief notes from Lady Montfort; one hurriedly written at Montfort Castle at the moment of her departure, and another from Princedown, with these words only, "All is over." More than a week had elapsed since the last was written, and he had already learnt from the newspapers that the funeral had taken place. It was a painful but still necessary duty to fulfil, to write to her, which he did, but he received no answer to his letter of sympathy, and to a certain degree, of condolence. Time flew on, but he could not venture to write again, and without any absolute cause for his discomfort, he felt harassed and unhappy. He had been so accustomed all his life to exist under the genial influence of women that his present days seemed lone and dark. His sister and Berengaria, two of the most gifted and charming beings in the world, had seemed to agree that their first duty had ever been to sympathise with his fortunes and to aid them. Even his correspondence with Myra was changed. There was a tone of constraint in their communications; perhaps it was the great alteration in her position that occasioned it? His heart assured him that such was not the case. He felt deeply and acutely what was the cause. The subject most interesting to both of them could not be touched on. And then he thought of Adriana, and contrasted his dull and solitary home in Hill Street with what it might have been, graced by her presence, animated by her devotion, and softened by the sweetness of her temper.
Endymion began to feel that the run of his good fortune was dried. His sister, when he had a trouble, would never hear of this; she always held that the misery and calamities of their early years had exhausted the influence of their evil stars, and apparently she had been right, and perhaps she would have always been right had he not been perverse, and thwarted her in the most important circumstances of his life.
In this state of mind, there was nothing for him to do but to plunge into business; and affairs of state are a cure for many cares and sorrows. What are our petty annoyances and griefs when we have to guard the fortunes and the honour of a nation?
The November cabinets had commenced, and this brought all the chiefs to town, Sidney Wilton among them; and his society was always a great pleasure to Endymion; the only social pleasure now left to him was a little dinner at Mr. Wilton's, and little dinners there abounded. Mr. Wilton knew all the persons that he was always thinking about, but whom, it might be noticed, they seemed to agree now rarely to mention. As for the rest, there was nobody to call upon in the delightful hours between official duties and dinner. No Lady Roehampton now, no brilliant Berengaria, and not even the gentle Imogene with her welcome smile. He looked in at the Coventry Club, a club of fashion, and also much frequented by diplomatists. There were a good many persons there, and a foreign minister immediately buttonholed the Under-Secretary of State.
"I called at the Foreign Office to-day," said the foreign minister. "I assure you it is very pressing."
"I had the American with me," said Endymion, "and he is very lengthy. However, as to your business, I think we might talk it over here, and perhaps settle it." And so they left the room together.
"I wonder what is going to happen to that gentleman," said Mr. Ormsby, glancing at Endymion, and speaking to Mr. Cassilis.
"Why?" replied Mr. Cassilis, "is anything up?"
"Will he marry Lady Montfort?"
"Poh!" said Mr. Cassilis.
"You may poh!" said Mr. Ormsby, "but he was a great favourite."
"Lady Montfort will never marry. She had always a poodle, and always will have. She was never so liee with Ferrars as with the Count of Ferroll, and half a dozen others. She must have a slave."
"A very good mistress with thirty thousand a year."
"She has not that," said Mr. Cassilis doubtingly.
"What do you put Princedown at?" said Mr. Ormsby.
"That I can tell you to a T," replied Mr. Cassilis, "for it was offered to me when old Rambrooke died. You will never get twelve thousand a year out of it."
"Well, I will answer for half a million consols," said Ormsby, "for my lawyer, when he made a little investment for me the other day, saw the entry himself in the bank-books; our names are very near, you know—M, and O. Then there is her jointure, something like ten thousand a year."
"No, no; not seven."
"Well, that would do."
"And what is the amount of your little investment in consols altogether, Ormsby?"
"Well, I believe I top Montfort," said Mr. Ormsby with a complacent smile, "but then you know, I am not a swell like you; I have no land."
"Lady Montfort, thirty thousand a year," said Mr. Cassilis musingly. "She is only thirty. She is a woman who will set the Thames on fire, but she will never marry. Do you dine to-day, by any chance, with Sidney Wilton?"
When Endymion returned home this evening, he found a letter from Lady Montfort. It was a month since he had written to her. He was so nervous that he absolutely for a moment could not break the seal, and the palpitation of his heart was almost overpowering.
Lady Montfort thanked him for his kind letter, which she ought to have acknowledged before, but she had been very busy—indeed, quite overwhelmed with affairs. She wished to see him, but was sorry she could not ask him to come down to Princedown, as she was living in complete retirement, only her aunt with her, Lady Gertrude, whom, she believed, he knew. He was aware, probably, how good Lord Montfort had been to her. Sincerely she could say, nothing could have been more unexpected. If she could have seen her husband before the fatal moment, it would have been a consolation to her. He had always been kind to Endymion; she really believed sometimes that Lord Montfort was even a little attached to him. She should like Endymion to have some souvenir of her late husband. Would he choose something, or would he leave it to her?
One would rather agree, from the tone of this letter, that Mr. Cassilis knew what he was talking about. It fell rather odd on Endymion's heart, and he passed a night of some disquietude; not one of those nights, exactly, when we feel that the end of the world has at length arrived, and that we are the first victim, but a night when you slumber rather than sleep, and wake with the consciousness of some indefinable chagrin.
This was a dull Christmas for Endymion Ferrars. He passed it, as he had passed others, at Gaydene, but what a contrast to the old assemblies there! Every source of excitement that could make existence absolutely fascinating seemed then to unite in his happy fate. Entrancing love and the very romance of domestic affection, and friendships of honour and happiness, and all the charms of an accomplished society, and the feeling of a noble future, and the present and urgent interest in national affairs—all gone, except some ambition which might tend to consequences not more successful than those that had ultimately visited his house with irreparable calamity.
The meeting of parliament was a great relief to Endymion. Besides his office, he had now the House of Commons to occupy him. He was never absent from his place; no little runnings up to Montfort House or Hill Street just to tell them the authentic news, or snatch a hasty repast with furtive delight, with persons still more delightful, and flattering one's self all the time that, so far as absence was concerned, the fleetness of one's gifted brougham horse really made it no difference between Mayfair and Bellamy's.
Endymion had replied, but not very quickly, to Lady Montfort's letter, and he had heard from her again, but her letter requiring no reply, the correspondence had dropped. It was the beginning of March when she wrote to him to say, that she was obliged to come to town to see her lawyer and transact some business; that she would be "at papa's in Grosvenor Square," though the house was shut up, on a certain day, that she much wished to see Endymion, and begged him to call on her.
It was a trying moment when about noon he lifted the knocker to Grosvenor Square. The door was not opened rapidly, and the delay made him more nervous. He almost wished the door would never open. He was shown into a small back room on the ground floor in which was a bookcase, and which chamber, in the language of Grosvenor Square, is called a library.
"Her ladyship will see you presently," said the servant, who had come up from Princedown.
Endymion was standing before the fire, and as nervous as a man could well be. He sighed, and he sighed more than once. His breathing was oppressed; he felt that life was too short to permit us to experience such scenes and situations. He heard the lock of the door move, and it required all his manliness to endure it.
She entered; she was in weeds, but they became her admirably; her countenance was grave and apparently with an effort to command it. She did not move hurriedly, but held out both her hands to Endymion and retained his, and all without speaking. Her lips then seemed to move, when, rather suddenly, withdrawing her right hand, and placing it on his shoulder and burying her face in her arm, she wept.
He led her soothingly to a seat, and took a chair by her side. Not a word had yet been spoken by either of them; only a murmur of sympathy on the part of Endymion. Lady Montfort spoke first.
"I am weaker than I thought, but it is a great trial." And then she said how sorry she was, that she could not receive him at Princedown; but she thought it best that he should not go there. "I have a great deal of business to transact—you would not believe how much. I do not dislike it, it occupies me, it employs my mind. I have led so active a life, that solitude is rather too much for me. Among other business, I must buy a town house, and that is the most difficult of all affairs. There never was so great a city with such small houses. I shall feel the loss of Montfort House, though I never used it half so much as I wished. I want a mansion; I should think you could help me in this. When I return to society, I mean to receive. There must be therefore good reception rooms; if possible, more than good. And now let us talk about our friends. Tell me all about your royal sister, and this new marriage; it rather surprised me, but I think it excellent. Ah! you can keep a secret, but you see it is no use having a secret with me. Even in solitude everything reaches me."
"I assure you most seriously, that I can annex no meaning to what you are saying."
"Then I can hardly think it true; and yet it came from high authority, and it was not told me as a real secret."
"A marriage, and whose?"
"And to whom?" inquired Endymion, changing colour.
"To Lord Waldershare."
"To Lord Waldershare!"
"And has not your sister mentioned it to you?"
"Not a word; it cannot be true."
"I will give to you my authority," said Lady Montfort. "Though I came here in the twilight of a hired brougham, and with a veil, I was caught before I could enter the house by, of all people in the world, Mrs. Rodney. And she told me this in what she called 'real confidence,' and it was announced to her in a letter from her sister, Lady Beaumaris. They seem all delighted with the match."
The marriage of Adriana was not an event calculated to calm the uneasy and dissatisfied temperament of Endymion. The past rendered it impossible that this announcement should not in some degree affect him. Then the silence of his sister on such a subject was too significant; the silence even of Waldershare. Somehow or other, it seemed that all these once dear and devoted friends stood in different relations to him and to each other from what they once filled. They had become more near and intimate together, but he seemed without the pale; he, that Endymion, who once seemed the prime object, if not the centre, of all their thoughts and sentiment. And why was this? What was the influence that had swayed him to a line contrary to what was once their hopes and affections? Had he an evil genius? And was it she? Horrible thought!
The interview with Lady Montfort had been deeply interesting—had for a moment restored him to himself. Had it not been for this news, he might have returned home, soothed, gratified, even again indulging in dreams. But this news had made him ponder; had made him feel what he had lost, and forced him to ask himself what he had gained.
There was one thing he had gained, and that was the privilege of calling on Lady Montfort the next day. That was a fact that sometimes dissipated all the shadows. Under the immediate influence of her presence, he became spell-bound as of yore, and in the intoxication of her beauty, the brightness of her mind, and her ineffable attraction, he felt he would be content with any lot, provided he might retain her kind thoughts and pass much of his life in her society.
She was only staying three or four days in town, and was much engaged in the mornings; but Endymion called on her every afternoon, and sate talking with her till dinner-time, and they both dined very late. As he really on personal and domestic affairs never could have any reserve with her, he told her, in that complete confidence in which they always indulged, of the extraordinary revelation which his sister had made to him about the parliamentary qualification. Lady Montfort was deeply interested in this; she was even agitated, and looked very grave.
"I am sorry," she said, "we know this. Things cannot remain now as they are. You cannot return the money, that would be churlish; besides, you cannot return all the advantages which it gained for you, and they must certainly be considered part of the gift, and the most precious; and then, too, it would betray what your sister rightly called a 'sacred confidence.' And yet something must be done—you must let me think. Do not mention it again." And then they talked a little of public affairs. Lady Montfort saw no one, and heard from no one now; but judging from the journals, she thought the position of the government feeble. "There cannot be a Protectionist government," she said; "and yet that is the only parliamentary party of importance. Things will go on till some blow, and perhaps a slight one, will upset you all. And then who is to succeed? I think some queer melange got up perhaps by Mr. Bertie Tremaine."
The last day came. She parted from Endymion with kindness, but not with tenderness. He was choking with emotion, and tried to imitate her calmness.
"Am I to write to you?" he asked in a faltering voice.
"Of course you are," she said, "every day, and tell me all the news."
The Hainaults, and the Beaumaris, and Waldershare, did not return to England until some time after Easter. The marriage was to take place in June—Endymion was to be Waldershare's best man. There were many festivities, and he was looked upon as an indispensable guest in all. Adriana received his congratulations with animation, but with affection. She thanked him for a bracelet which he had presented to her; "I value it more," she said, "than all my other presents together, except what dear Waldershare has given to me." Even with that exception, the estimate was high, for never a bride in any land ever received the number of splendid offerings which crowded the tables of Lord Hainault's new palace, which he had just built in Park Lane. There was not a Neuchatel in existence, and they flourished in every community, who did not send her, at least, a riviere of brilliants. King Florestan and his queen sent offerings worthy of their resplendent throne and their invaluable friendship. But nothing surpassed, nothing approached, the contents of a casket, which, a day before the wedding, arrived at Hainault House. It came from a foreign land, and Waldershare superintended the opening of the case, and the appearance of a casket of crimson velvet, with genuine excitement. But when it was opened! There was a coronet of brilliants; a necklace of brilliants and emeralds, and all the stones more than precious; gems of Golconda no longer obtainable, and lustrous companions which only could have been created in the hot earth of Asia. From whom? Not a glimpse of meaning. All that was written, in a foreign handwriting on a sheet of notepaper, was, "For the Lady Viscountess Waldershare."
"When the revolution comes," said Lord Hainault, "Lord Waldershare and my daughter must turn jewellers. Their stock in trade is ready."
The correspondence between Lady Montfort and Endymion had resumed its ancient habit. They wrote to each other every day, and one day she told him that she had purchased a house, and that she must come up to town to examine and to furnish it. She probably should be a month in London, and remaining there until the end of the season, in whose amusements and business, of course, she could not share. She should "be at papa's," though he and his family were in town; but that was no reason why Endymion should not call on her. And he came, and called every day. Lady Montfort was full of her new house; it was in Carlton Gardens, the house she always wished, always intended to have. There is nothing like will; everybody can do exactly what they like in this world, provided they really like it. Sometimes they think they do, but in general, it is a mistake. Lady Montfort, it seemed, was a woman who always could do what she liked. She could do what she liked with Endymion Ferrars; that was quite certain. Supposed by men to have a strong will and a calm judgment, he was a nose of wax with this woman. He was fascinated by her, and he had been fascinated now for nearly ten years. What would be the result of this irresistible influence upon him? Would it make or mar those fortunes that once seemed so promising? The philosophers of White's and the Coventry were generally of opinion that he had no chance.
Lady Montfort was busy every morning with her new house, but she never asked Endymion to accompany her, though it seemed natural to do so. But he saw her every day, and "papa," who was a most kind and courtly gentleman, would often ask him, "if he had nothing better to do," to dine there, and he dined there frequently; and if he were engaged, he was always of opinion that he had nothing better to do.
At last, however, the season was over; the world had gone to Goodwood, and Lady Montfort was about to depart to Princedown. It was a dreary prospect for Endymion, and he could not conceal his feelings. He could not help saying one day, "Do you know, now that you are going I almost wish to die."
Alas! she only laughed. But he looked grave. "I am very unhappy," he sighed rather than uttered.
She looked at him with seriousness. "I do not think our separation need be very long. Papa and all my family are coming to me in September to pay me a very long visit. I really do not see why you should not come too."
Endymion's countenance mantled with rapture. "If I might come, I think I should be the happiest of men!"
The month that was to elapse before his visit, Endymion was really, as he said, the happiest of men; at least, the world thought him so. He seemed to walk upon tip-toe. Parliament was prorogued, office was consigned to permanent secretaries, and our youthful statesman seemed only to live to enjoy, and add to, the revelry of existence. Now at Cowes, now stalking in the Highlands, dancing at balls in the wilderness, and running races of fantastic feats, full of health, and frolic, and charm; he was the delight of society, while, the whole time, he had only one thought, and that was the sacred day when he should again see the being whom he adored, and that in her beautiful home, which her presence made more lovely.
Yes! he was again at Princedown, in the bosom of her family; none others there; treated like one of themselves. The courtly father pressed his hand; the amiable and refined mother smiled upon him; the daughters, pretty, and natural as the air, treated him as if they were sisters, and even the eldest son, who generally hates you, after a little stiffness, announced in a tone never questioned under the family roof, that "Ferrars was a first-rate shot."
And so a month rolled on; immensely happy, as any man who has loved, and loved in a beautiful scene, alone can understand. One morning Lady Montfort said to him, "I must go up to London about my house. I want to go and return the same day. Do you know, I think you had better come with me? You shall give me a luncheon in Hill Street, and we shall be back by the last train. It will be late, but we shall wake in the morning in the country, and that I always think a great thing."
And so it happened; they rose early and arrived in town in time to give them a tolerably long morning. She took him to her house in Carlton Gardens, and showed to him exactly how it was all she wanted; accommodation for a first-rate establishment; and then the reception rooms, few houses in London could compare with them; a gallery and three saloons. Then they descended to the dining-room. "It is a dining-room, not a banqueting hall," she said, "which we had at Montfort House, but still it is much larger than most dining-rooms in London. But, I think this room, at least I hope you do, quite charming," and she took him to a room almost as large as the dining-room, and looking into the garden. It was fitted up with exquisite taste; calm subdued colouring, with choice marble busts of statesmen, ancient and of our times, but the shelves were empty.
"They are empty," she said, "but the volumes to fill them are already collected. Yes," she added in a tremulous voice, and slightly pressing the arm on which she leant. "If you will deign to accept it, this is the chamber I have prepared for you."
"Dearest of women!" and he took her hand.
"Yes," she murmured, "help me to realise the dream of my life;" and she touched his forehead with her lips.
The marriage of Mr. Ferrars with Lady Montfort surprised some, but, on the whole, pleased everybody. They were both of them popular, and no one seemed to envy them their happiness and prosperity. The union took place at a season of the year when there was no London world to observe and to criticise. It was a quiet ceremony; they went down to Northumberland to Lady Montfort's father, and they were married in his private chapel. After that they went off immediately to pay a visit to King Florestan and his queen; Myra had sent her a loving letter.
"Perhaps it will be the first time that your sister ever saw me with satisfaction," remarked Lady Montfort, "but I think she will love me now! I always loved her; perhaps because she is so like you."
It was a happy meeting and a delightful visit. They did not talk much of the past. The enormous change in the position of their host and hostess since the first days of their acquaintance, and, on their own part, some indefinite feeling of delicate reserve, combined to make them rather dwell on a present which was full of novelty so attractive and so absorbing. In his manner, the king was unchanged; he was never a demonstrative person, but simple, unaffected, rather silent; with a sweet temper and a tender manner, he seemed to be gratified that he had the power of conferring happiness on those around him. His feeling to his queen was one of idolatry, and she received Berengaria as a sister and a much-loved one. Their presence and the season of the year made their life a festival, and when they parted, there were entreaties and promises that the visit should be often repeated.
"Adieu! my Endymion," said Myra at the last moment they were alone. "All has happened for you beyond my hopes; all now is safe. I might wish we were in the same land, but not if I lost my husband, whom I adore."
The reason that forced them to curtail their royal visit was the state of politics at home, which had suddenly become critical. There were symptoms, and considerable ones, of disturbance and danger when they departed for their wedding tour, but they could not prevail on themselves to sacrifice a visit on which they had counted so much, and which could not be fulfilled on another occasion under the same interesting circumstances. Besides, the position of Mr. Ferrars, though an important, was a subordinate one, and though cabinet ministers were not justified in leaving the country, an under-secretary of state and a bridegroom might, it would seem, depart on his irresponsible holiday. Mr. Sidney Wilton, however, shook his head; "I do not like the state of affairs," he said, "I think you will have to come back sooner than you imagine."
"You are not going to be so foolish as to have an early session?" inquired Lady Montfort.
He only shrugged his shoulders, and said, "We are in a mess."
What mess? and what was the state of affairs?
This had happened. At the end of the autumn, his Holiness the Pope had made half a dozen new cardinals, and to the surprise of the world, and the murmurs of the Italians, there appeared among them the name of an Englishman, Nigel Penruddock, archbishop in partibus. Shortly after this, a papal bull, "given at St. Peter's, Rome, under the seal of the fisherman," was issued, establishing a Romish hierarchy in England. This was soon followed by a pastoral letter by the new cardinal "given out of the Appian Gate," announcing that "Catholic England had been restored to its orbit in the ecclesiastical firmament."
The country at first was more stupefied than alarmed. It was conscious that something extraordinary had happened, and some great action taken by an ecclesiastical power, which from tradition it was ever inclined to view with suspicion and some fear. But it held its breath for a while. It so happened that the prime minister was a member of a great house which had become illustrious by its profession of Protestant principles, and even by its sufferings in a cause which England had once looked on as sacred. The prime minister, a man of distinguished ability, not devoid even of genius, was also a wily politician, and of almost unrivalled experience in the management of political parties. The ministry was weak and nearly worn out, and its chief, influenced partly by noble and historical sentiments, partly by a conviction that he had a fine occasion to rally the confidence of the country round himself and his friends, and to restore the repute of his political connection, thought fit, without consulting his colleagues, to publish a manifesto denouncing the aggression of the Pope upon our Protestantism as insolent and insidious, and as expressing a pretension of supremacy over the realm of England which made the minister indignant.
A confused public wanted to be led, and now they were led. They sprang to their feet like an armed man. The corporation of London, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge had audiences of the Queen; the counties met, the municipalities memorialised; before the first of January there had been held nearly seven thousand public meetings, asserting the supremacy of the Queen and calling on Her Majesty's Government to vindicate it by stringent measures.
Unfortunately, it was soon discovered by the minister that there had been nothing illegal in the conduct of the Pope or the Cardinal, and a considerable portion of the Liberal party began to express the inconvenient opinion, that the manifesto of their chief was opposed to those principles of civil and religious liberty of which he was the hereditary champion. Some influential members of his own cabinet did not conceal their disapprobation of a step on which they had not been consulted.
Immediately after Christmas, Endymion and Lady Montfort settled in London. She was anxious to open her new mansion as soon as parliament met, and to organise continuous receptions. She looked upon the ministry as in a critical state, and thought it was an occasion when social influences might not inconsiderably assist them.
But though she exhibited for this object her wonted energy and high spirit, a fine observer—Mr. Sidney Wilton, for example—might have detected a change in the manner of Berengaria. Though the strength of her character was unaltered, there was an absence of that restlessness, it might be said, that somewhat feverish excitement, from which formerly she was not always free. The truth is, her heart was satisfied, and that brought repose. Feelings of affection, long mortified and pent up, were now lavished and concentrated on a husband of her heart and adoration, and she was proud that his success and greatness might be avowed as the objects of her life.
The campaign, however, for which such preparations were made, ended almost before it began. The ministry, on the meeting of parliament, found themselves with a discontented House of Commons, and discordant counsels among themselves. The anti-papal manifesto was the secret cause of this evil state, but the prime minister, to avoid such a mortifying admission, took advantage of two unfavourable divisions on other matters, and resigned.
Here was a crisis—another crisis! Could the untried Protectionists, without men, form an administration? It was whispered that Lord Derby had been sent for, and declined the attempt. Then there was another rumour, that he was going to try. Mr. Bertie Tremaine looked mysterious. The time for the third party had clearly arrived. It was known that he had the list of the next ministry in his breast-pocket, but it was only shown to Mr. Tremaine Bertie, who confided in secrecy to the initiated that it was the strongest government since "All the Talents."
Notwithstanding this great opportunity, "All the Talents" were not summoned. The leader of the Protectionists renounced the attempt in despair, and the author of the anti-papal manifesto was again sent for, and obliged to introduce the measure which had already destroyed a government and disorganised a party.
"Sidney Wilton," said Lady Montfort to her husband, "says that they are in the mud, and he for one will not go back—but he will go. I know him. He is too soft-hearted to stand an appeal from colleagues in distress. But were I you, Endymion, I would not return. I think you want a little rest, or you have got a great deal of private business to attend to, or something of that kind. Nobody notices the withdrawal of an under-secretary except those in office. There is no necessity why you should be in the mud. I will continue to receive, and do everything that is possible for our friends, but I think my husband has been an under-secretary long enough."
Endymion quite agreed with his wife. The minister offered him preferment and the Privy Council, but Lady Montfort said it was really not so important as the office he had resigned. She was resolved that he should not return to them, and she had her way. Ferrars himself now occupied a rather peculiar position, being the master of a great fortune and of an establishment which was the headquarters of the party of which he was now only a private member; but, calm and collected, he did not lose his head; always said and did the right thing, and never forgot his early acquaintances. Trenchard was his bosom political friend. Seymour Hicks, who, through Endymion's kindness, had now got into the Treasury, and was quite fashionable, had the run of the House, and made himself marvellously useful, while St. Barbe, who had become by mistake a member of the Conservative Club, drank his frequent claret cup every Saturday evening at Lady Montfort's receptions with many pledges to the welfare of the Liberal administration.
The flag of the Tory party waved over the magnificent mansion of which Imogene Beaumaris was the graceful life. As parties were nearly equal, and the ministry was supposed to be in decay, the rival reception was as well attended as that of Berengaria. The two great leaders were friends, intimate, but not perhaps quite so intimate as a few years before. "Lady Montfort is very kind to me," Imogene would say, "but I do not think she now quite remembers we are cousins." Both Lord and Lady Waldershare seemed equally devoted to Lady Beaumaris. "I do not think," he would say, "that I shall ever get Adriana to receive. It is an organic gift, and very rare. What I mean to do is to have a first-rate villa and give the party strawberries. I always say Adriana is like Nell Gwyn, and she shall go about with a pottle. One never sees a pottle of strawberries now. I believe they went out, like all good things, with the Stuarts."
And so, after all these considerable events, the season rolled on and closed tranquilly. Lord and Lady Hainault continued to give banquets, over which the hostess sighed; Sir Peter Vigo had the wisdom to retain his millions, which few manage to do, as it is admitted that it is easier to make a fortune than to keep one. Mrs. Rodney, supremely habited, still drove her ponies, looking younger and prettier than ever, and getting more fashionable every day, and Mr. Ferrars and Berengaria, Countess of Montfort, retired in the summer to their beautiful and beloved Princedown.
Although the past life of Endymion had, on the whole, been a happy life, and although he was destined also to a happy future, perhaps the four years which elapsed from the time he quitted office, certainly in his experience had never been exceeded, and it was difficult to imagine could be exceeded, in felicity. He had a great interest, and even growing influence in public life without any of its cares; he was united to a woman whom he had long passionately loved, and who had every quality and a fortune which secured him all those advantages which are appreciated by men of taste and generosity. He became a father, and a family name which had been originally borne by a courtier of the elder Stuarts was now bestowed on the future lord of Princedown.
Lady Montfort herself had no thought but her husband. His happiness, his enjoyment of existence, his success and power in life, entirely absorbed her. The anxiety which she felt that in everything he should be master was touching. Once looked upon as the most imperious of women, she would not give a direction on any matter without his opinion and sanction. One would have supposed from what might be observed under their roof, that she was some beautiful but portionless maiden whom Endymion had raised to wealth and power.
All this time, however, Lady Montfort sedulously maintained that commanding position in social politics for which she was singularly fitted. Indeed, in that respect, she had no rival. She received the world with the same constancy and splendour, as if she were the wife of a minister. Animated by Waldershare, Lady Beaumaris maintained in this respect a certain degree of rivalry. She was the only hope and refuge of the Tories, and rich, attractive, and popular, her competition could not be disregarded. But Lord Beaumaris was a little freakish. Sometimes he would sail in his yacht to odd places, and was at Algiers or in Egypt when, according to Tadpole, he ought to have been at Piccadilly Terrace. Then he occasionally got crusty about his hunting. He would hunt, whatever were the political consequences, but whether he were in Africa or Leicestershire, Imogene must be with him. He could not exist without her constant presence. There was something in her gentleness, combined with her quick and ready sympathy and playfulness of mind and manner, which alike pleased and soothed his life.
The Whigs tottered on for a year after the rude assault of Cardinal Penruddock, but they were doomed, and the Protectionists were called upon to form an administration. As they had no one in their ranks who had ever been in office except their chief, who was in the House of Lords, the affair seemed impossible. The attempt, however, could not be avoided. A dozen men, without the slightest experience of official life, had to be sworn in as privy councillors, before even they could receive the seals and insignia of their intended offices. On their knees, according to the constitutional custom, a dozen men, all in the act of genuflexion at the same moment, and headed, too, by one of the most powerful peers in the country, the Lord of Alnwick Castle himself, humbled themselves before a female Sovereign, who looked serene and imperturbable before a spectacle never seen before, and which, in all probability, will never be seen again.
One of this band, a gentleman without any official experience whatever, was not only placed in the cabinet, but was absolutely required to become the leader of the House of Commons, which had never occurred before, except in the instance of Mr. Pitt in 1782. It has been said that it was unwise in the Protectionists assuming office when, on this occasion and on subsequent ones, they were far from being certain of a majority in the House of Commons. It should, however, be remembered, that unless they had dared these ventures, they never could have formed a body of men competent, from their official experience and their practice in debate, to form a ministry. The result has rather proved that they were right. Had they continued to refrain from incurring responsibility, they must have broken up and merged in different connections, which, for a party numerically so strong as the Protectionists, would have been a sorry business, and probably have led to disastrous results.
Mr. Bertie Tremaine having been requested to call on the Protectionist prime minister, accordingly repaired to headquarters with the list of his colleagues in his pocket. He was offered for himself a post of little real importance, but which secured to him the dignity of the privy council. Mr. Tremaine Bertie and several of his friends had assembled at his house, awaiting with anxiety his return. He had to communicate to them that he had been offered a privy councillor's post, and to break to them that it was not proposed to provide for any other member of his party. Their indignation was extreme; but they naturally supposed that he had rejected the offer to himself with becoming scorn. Their leader, however, informed them that he had not felt it his duty to be so peremptory. They should remember that the recognition of their political status by such an offer to their chief was a considerable event. For his part, he had for some time been painfully aware that the influence of the House of Commons in the constitutional scheme was fast waning, and that the plan of Sir William Temple for the reorganisation of the privy council, and depositing in it the real authority of the State, was that to which we should be obliged to have recourse. This offer to him of a seat in the council was, perhaps, the beginning of the end. It was a crisis; they must look to seats in the privy council, which, under Sir William Temple's plan, would be accompanied with ministerial duties and salaries. What they had all, at one time, wished, had not exactly been accomplished, but he had felt it his duty to his friends not to shrink from responsibility. So he had accepted the minister's offer.
Mr. Bertie Tremaine was not long in the busy enjoyment of his easy post. Then the country was governed for two years by all its ablest men, who, by the end of that term, had succeeded, by their coalesced genius, in reducing that country to a state of desolation and despair. "I did not think it would have lasted even so long," said Lady Montfort; "but then I was acquainted with their mutual hatreds and their characteristic weaknesses. What is to happen now? Somebody must be found of commanding private character and position, and with as little damaged a public one as in this wreck of reputations is possible. I see nobody but Sidney Wilton. Everybody likes him, and he is the only man who could bring people together."
And everybody seemed to be saying the same thing at the same time. The name of Sidney Wilton was in everybody's mouth. It was unfortunate that he had been a member of a defunct ministry, but then it had always been understood that he had always disapproved of all their measures. There was not the slightest evidence of this, but everybody chose to believe it.
Sidney Wilton was chagrined with life, and had become a martyr to the gout, which that chagrin had aggravated; but he was a great gentleman, and too chivalric to refuse a royal command when the Sovereign was in distress. Sidney Wilton became Premier, and the first colleague he recommended to fill the most important post after his own, the Secretaryship of State for Foreign Affairs, was Mr. Ferrars.
"It ought to last ten years," said Lady Montfort. "I see no danger except his health. I never knew a man so changed. At his time of life five years ought to make no difference in a man. I cannot believe he is the person who used to give us those charming parties at Gaydene. Whatever you may say, Endymion, I feel convinced that something must have passed between your sister and him. Neither of them ever gave me a hint of such a matter, or of the possibility of its ever happening, but feminine instinct assures me that something took place. He always had the gout, and his ancestors have had the gout for a couple of centuries; and all prime ministers have the gout. I dare say you will not escape, darling, but I hope it will never make you look as if you had just lost paradise, or, what would be worst, become the last man."
Lady Montfort was right. The ministry was strong and it was popular. There were no jealousies in it; every member was devoted to his chief, and felt that he was rightly the chief, whereas, as Lady Montfort said, the Whigs never had a ministry before in which there were not at least a couple of men who had been prime ministers, and as many more who thought they ought to be.
There were years of war, and of vast and critical negotiations. Ferrars was equal to the duties, for he had much experience, and more thought, and he was greatly aided by the knowledge of affairs, and the clear and tranquil judgment of the chief minister. There was only one subject on which there was not between them that complete and cordial unanimity which was so agreeable and satisfactory. And even in this case, there was no difference of opinion, but rather of sentiment and feeling. It was when Prince Florestan expressed his desire to join the grand alliance, and become our active military ally. It was perhaps impossible, under any circumstances, for the Powers to refuse such an offer, but Endymion was strongly in favour of accepting it. It consolidated our interests in a part of Europe where we required sympathy and support, and it secured for us the aid and influence of the great Liberal party of the continent as distinguished from the secret societies and the socialist republicans. The Count of Ferroll, also, whose opinion weighed much with Her Majesty's Government, was decidedly in favour of the combination. The English prime minister listened to their representations frigidly; it was difficult to refute the arguments which were adverse to his own feelings, and to resist the unanimous opinion not only of his colleagues, but of our allies. But he was cold and silent, or made discouraging remarks.
"Can you trust him?" he would say. "Remember he himself has been, and still is, a member of the very secret societies whose baneful influence we are now told he will neutralise or subdue. Whatever the cabinet decides, and I fear that with this strong expression of opinion on the part of our allies we have little option left, remember I gave you my warning. I know the gentleman, and I do not trust him."
After this, the prime minister had a most severe attack of the gout, remained for weeks at Gaydene, and saw no one on business except Endymion and Baron Sergius.
While the time is elapsing which can alone decide whether the distrust of Mr. Wilton were well-founded or the reverse, let us see how the world is treating the rest of our friends.
Lord Waldershare did not make such a pattern husband as Endymion, but he made a much better one than the world ever supposed he would. Had he married Berengaria, the failure would have been great; but he was united to a being capable of deep affection and very sensitive, yet grateful for kindness from a husband to a degree not easily imaginable. And Waldershare had really a good heart, though a bad temper, and he was a gentleman. Besides, he had a great admiration and some awe of his father-in-law, and Lord Hainault, with his good-natured irony, and consummate knowledge of men and things, quite controlled him. With Lady Hainault he was a favourite. He invented plausible theories and brilliant paradoxes for her, which left her always in a state of charmed wonder, and when she met him again, and adopted or refuted them, for her intellectual power was considerable, he furnished her with fresh dogmas and tenets, which immediately interested her intelligence, though she generally forgot to observe that they were contrary to the views and principles of the last visit. Between Adriana and Imogene there was a close alliance, and Lady Beaumaris did everything in her power to develop Lady Waldershare advantageously before her husband; and so, not forgetting that Waldershare, with his romance, and imagination, and fancy, and taste, and caprice, had a considerable element of worldliness in his character, and that he liked to feel that, from living in lodgings, he had become a Monte Cristo, his union with Adriana may be said to be a happy and successful one.
The friendship between Sir Peter Vigo and his brother M.P., Mr. Rodney, never diminished, and Mr. Rodney became richer every year. He experienced considerable remorse at sitting in opposition to the son of his right honourable friend, the late William Pitt Ferrars, and frequently consulted Sir Peter on his embarrassment and difficulty. Sir Peter, who never declined arranging any difficulty, told his friend to be easy, and that he, Sir Peter, saw his way. It became gradually understood, that if ever the government was in difficulties, Mr. Rodney's vote might be counted on. He was peculiarly situated, for, in a certain sense, his friend the Right Honourable William Pitt Ferrars had entrusted the guardianship of his child to his care. But whenever the ministry was not in danger, the ministry must not depend upon his vote.
Trenchard had become Secretary of the Treasury in the Wilton administration, had established his reputation, and was looked upon as a future minister. Jawett, without forfeiting his post and promotion at Somerset House, had become the editor of a new periodical magazine, called the "Privy Council." It was established and maintained by Mr. Bertie Tremaine, and was chiefly written by that gentleman himself. It was full of Greek quotations, to show that it was not Grub Street, and written in a style as like that of Sir William Temple, as a paper in "Rejected Addresses" might resemble the classic lucubrations of the statesman-sage who, it is hoped, will be always remembered by a grateful country for having introduced into these islands the Moor Park apricot. What the pages of the "Privy Council" meant no human being had the slightest conception except Mr. Tremaine Bertie.
Mr. Thornberry remained a respected member of the cabinet. It was thought his presence there secured the sympathies of advanced Liberalism throughout the country; but that was a tradition rather than a fact. Statesmen in high places are not always so well acquainted with the changes and gradations of opinion in political parties at home as they are with those abroad. We hardly mark the growth of the tree we see every day. Mr. Thornberry had long ceased to be popular with his former friends, and the fact that he had become a minister was one of the causes of this change of feeling. That was unreasonable, but in politics unreasonable circumstances are elements of the problem to be solved. It was generally understood that, on the next election, Mr. Thornberry would have to look out for another seat; his chief constituents, those who are locally styled the leaders of the party, were still faithful to him, for they were proud of having a cabinet minister for their member, to be presented by him at court, and occasionally to dine with him; but the "masses," who do not go to court, and are never asked to dinner, required a member who would represent their whims, and it was quite understood that, on the very first occasion, this enlightened community had resolved to send up to Westminster—Mr. Enoch Craggs.
It is difficult to say, whether in his private life Job found affairs altogether more satisfactory than in his public. His wife had joined the Roman Communion. An ingrained perverseness which prevented his son from ever willingly following the advice or example of his parents, had preserved John Hampden in the Anglican faith, but he had portraits of Laud and Strafford over his mantelpiece, and embossed in golden letters on a purple ground the magical word "THOROUGH." His library chiefly consisted of the "Tracts for the Times," and a colossal edition of the Fathers gorgeously bound. He was a very clever fellow, this young Thornberry, a natural orator, and was leader of the High Church party in the Oxford Union. He brought home his friends occasionally to Hurstley, and Job had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with a class and school of humanity—with which, notwithstanding his considerable experience of life, he had no previous knowledge—young gentlemen, apparently half-starved and dressed like priests, and sometimes an enthusiastic young noble, in much better physical condition, and in costume becoming a cavalier, ready to raise the royal standard at Edgehill. What a little annoyed Job was that his son always addressed him as "Squire," a habit even pedantically followed by his companions. He was, however, justly entitled to this ancient and reputable honour, for Job had been persuaded to purchase Hurstley, was a lord of several thousand acres, and had the boar's head carried in procession at Christmas in his ancient hall. It is strange, but he was rather perplexed than annoyed by all these marvellous metamorphoses in his life and family. His intelligence was as clear as ever, and his views on all subjects unchanged; but he was, like many other men, governed at home by his affections. He preferred the new arrangement, if his wife and family were happy and contented, to a domestic system founded on his own principles, accompanied by a sullen or shrewish partner of his own life and rebellious offspring.
What really vexed him, among comparatively lesser matters, was the extraordinary passion which in time his son exhibited for game-preserving. He did at last interfere on this matter, but in vain. John Hampden announced that he did not value land if he was only to look at it, and that sport was the patriotic pastime of an English gentleman. "You used in old days never to be satisfied with what I got out of the land," said the old grandfather to Job, with a little amiable malice; "there is enough, at any rate now for the hares and rabbits, but I doubt for anybody else."
We must not forget our old friend St. Barbe. Whether he had written himself out or had become lazy in the luxurious life in which he now indulged, he rarely appealed to the literary public, which still admired him. He was, by way of intimating that he was engaged in a great work, which, though written in his taking prose, was to be really the epogee of social life in this country. Dining out every day, and ever arriving, however late, at those "small and earlies," which he once despised; he gave to his friends frequent intimations that he was not there for pleasure, but rather following his profession; he was in his studio, observing and reflecting on all the passions and manners of mankind, and gathering materials for the great work which was eventually to enchant and instruct society, and immortalise his name.
"The fact is, I wrote too early," he would say. "I blush when I read my own books, though compared with those of the brethren, they might still be looked on as classics. They say no artist can draw a camel, and I say no author ever drew a gentleman. How can they, with no opportunity of ever seeing one? And so with a little caricature of manners, which they catch second-hand, they are obliged to have recourse to outrageous nonsense, as if polished life consisted only of bigamists, and that ladies of fashion were in the habit of paying black mail to returned convicts. However, I shall put an end to all this. I have now got the materials, or am accumulating them daily. You hint that I give myself up too much to society. You are talking of things you do not understand. A dinner party is a chapter. I catch the Cynthia of the minute, sir, at a soiree. If I only served a grateful country, I should be in the proudest position of any of its sons; if I had been born in any country but this, I should have been decorated, and perhaps made secretary of state like Addison, who did not write as well as I do, though his style somewhat resembles mine."
Notwithstanding these great plans, it came in time to Endymion's ear, that poor St. Barbe was in terrible straits. Endymion delicately helped him and then obtained for him a pension, and not an inconsiderable one. Relieved from anxiety, St. Barbe resumed his ancient and natural vein. He passed his days in decrying his friend and patron, and comparing his miserable pension with the salary of a secretary of state, who, so far as his experience went, was generally a second-rate man. Endymion, though he knew St. Barbe was always decrying him, only smiled, and looked upon it all as the necessary consequence of his organisation, which involved a singular combination of vanity and envy in the highest degree. St. Barbe was not less a guest in Carlton Terrace than heretofore, and was even kindly invited to Princedown to profit by the distant sea-breeze. Lady Montfort, whose ears some of his pranks had reached, was not so tolerant as her husband. She gave him one day her views of his conduct. St. Barbe was always a little afraid of her, and on this occasion entirely lost himself; vented the most solemn affirmations that there was not a grain of truth in these charges; that he was the victim, as he had been all his life, of slander and calumny—the sheer creatures of envy, and then began to fawn upon his hostess, and declared that he had ever thought there was something godlike in the character of her husband.
"And what is there in yours, Mr. St. Barbe?" asked Lady Montfort.
The ministry had lasted several years; its foreign policy had been successful; it had triumphed in war and secured peace. The military conduct of the troops of King Florestan had contributed to these results, and the popularity of that sovereign in England was for a foreigner unexampled. During this agitated interval, Endymion and Myra had met more than once through the providential medium of those favoured spots of nature—German baths.
There had arisen a public feeling, that the ally who had served us so well should be invited to visit again a country wherein he had so long sojourned, and where he was so much appreciated. The only evidence that the Prime Minister gave that he was conscious of this feeling was an attack of gout. Endymion himself, though in a difficult and rather painful position in this matter, did everything to shield and protect his chief, but the general sentiment became so strong, sanctioned too, as it was understood, in the highest quarter, that it could no longer be passed by unnoticed; and, in due time, to the great delight and satisfaction of the nation, an impending visit from our faithful ally King Florestan and his beautiful wife, Queen Myra, was authoritatively announced.
Every preparation was made to show them honour. They were the guests of our Sovereign; but from the palace which they were to inhabit, to the humblest tenement in the meanest back street, there was only one feeling of gratitude, and regard, and admiration. The English people are the most enthusiastic people in the world; there are other populations which are more excitable, but there is no nation, when it feels, where the sentiment is so profound and irresistible.
The hour arrived. The season and the weather were favourable. From the port where they landed to their arrival at the metropolis, the whole country seemed poured out into the open air; triumphal arches, a way of flags and banners, and bits of bunting on every hovel. The King and Queen were received at the metropolitan station by Princes of the blood, and accompanied to the palace, where the great officers of state and the assembled ministry were gathered together to do them honour. A great strain was thrown upon Endymion throughout these proceedings, as the Prime Minister, who had been suffering the whole season, and rarely present in his seat in parliament, was, at this moment, in his worst paroxysm. He could not therefore be present at the series of balls and banquets, and brilliant public functions, which greeted the royal guests. Their visit to the City, when they dined with the Lord Mayor, and to which they drove in royal carriages through a sea of population tumultuous with devotion, was the most gratifying of all these splendid receptions, partly from the associations of mysterious power and magnificence connected with the title and character of LORD MAYOR. The Duke of St. Angelo, the Marquis of Vallombrosa, and the Prince of Montserrat, quite lost their presence of mind. Even the Princess of Montserrat, with more quarterings on her own side than any house in Europe, confessed that she trembled when Her Serene Highness courtesied before the Lady Mayoress. Perhaps, however, the most brilliant, the most fanciful, infinitely the most costly entertainment that was given on this memorable occasion, was the festival at Hainault. The whole route from town to the forest was lined with thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of spectators; a thousand guests were received at the banquet, and twelve palaces were raised by that true magician, Mr. Benjamin Edgington, in the park, for the countless visitors in the evening. At night the forest was illuminated. Everybody was glad except Lady Hainault, who sighed, and said, "I have no doubt the Queen would have preferred her own room, and that we should have had a quiet dinner, as in old days, in the little Venetian parlour."
When Endymion returned home at night, he found a summons to Gaydene; the Prime Minister being, it was feared, in a dangerous state.
The next day, late in the afternoon, there was a rumour that the Prime Minister had resigned. Then it was authoritatively contradicted, and then at night another rumour rose that the minister had resigned, but that the resignation would not be accepted until after the termination of the royal visit. The King and Queen had yet to remain a short week.
The fact is, the resignation had taken place, but it was known only to those who then could not have imparted the intelligence. The public often conjectures the truth, though it clothes its impression or information in the vague shape of a rumour. In four-and-twenty hours the great fact was authoritatively announced in all the journals, with leading articles speculating on the successor to the able and accomplished minister of whose services the Sovereign and the country were so unhappily deprived. Would his successor be found in his own cabinet? And then several names were mentioned; Rawchester, to Lady Montfort's disgust. Rawchester was a safe man, and had had much experience, which, as with most safe men, probably left him as wise and able as before he imbibed it. Would there be altogether a change of parties? Would the Protectionists try again? They were very strong, but always in a minority, like some great continental powers, who have the finest army in the world, and yet get always beaten. Would that band of self-admiring geniuses, who had upset every cabinet with whom they were ever connected, return on the shoulders of the people, as they always dreamed, though they were always the persons of whom the people never seemed to think?
Lady Montfort was in a state of passive excitement. She was quite pale, and she remained quite pale for hours. She would see no one. She sat in Endymion's room, and never spoke, while he continued writing and transacting his affairs. She thought she was reading the "Morning Post," but really could not distinguish the advertisements from leading articles.
There was a knock at the library door, and the groom of the chambers brought in a note for Endymion. He glanced at the handwriting of the address, and then opened it, as pale as his wife. Then he read it again, and then he gave it to her. She threw her eyes over it, and then her arms around his neck.
"Order my brougham at three o'clock."
Endymion was with his sister.
"How dear of you to come to me," she said, "when you cannot have a moment to yourself."
"Well, you know," he replied, "it is not like forming a government. That is an affair. I have reason to think all my colleagues will remain with me. I shall summon them for this afternoon, and if we agree, affairs will go on as before. I should like to get down to Gaydene to-night."
"To-night!" said the queen musingly. "We have only one day left, and I wanted you to do something for me."
"It shall be done, if possible; I need not say that."
"It is not difficult to do, if we have time—if we have to-morrow morning, and early. But if you go to Gaydene you will hardly return to-night, and I shall lose my chance,—and yet it is to me a business most precious."
"It shall be managed; tell me then."
"I learnt that Hill Street is not occupied at this moment. I want to visit the old house with you, before I leave England, probably for ever. I have only got the early morn to-morrow, but with a veil and your brougham, I think we might depart unobserved, before the crowd begins to assemble. Do you think you could be here at nine o'clock?"
So it was settled, and being hurried, he departed.
And next morning he was at the palace before nine o'clock; and the queen, veiled, entered his brougham. There were already some loiterers, but the brother and sister passed through the gates unobserved.
They reached Hill Street. The queen visited all the principal rooms, and made many remarks appropriate to many memories. "But," she said, "it was not to see these rooms I came, though I was glad to do so, and the corridor on the second story whence I called out to you when you returned, and for ever, from Eton, and told you there was bad news. What I came for was to see our old nursery, where we lived so long together, and so fondly! Here it is; here we are. All I have desired, all I have dreamed, have come to pass. Darling, beloved of my soul, by all our sorrows, by all our joys, in this scene of our childhood and bygone days, let me give you my last embrace."