And so, for the first two months, she occasionally appeared in the evening, especially when there was no formal party. Endymion came and visited her every Sunday, but he was also a social recluse, and though he had been presented to Mrs. Neuchatel and her daughter, and been most cordially received by them, it was some considerable time before he made the acquaintance of the great banker.
About September Myra may be said to have formally joined the circle at Hainault. Three months had elapsed since the terrible event, and she felt, irrespective of other considerations, her position hardly justified her, notwithstanding all the indulgent kindness of the family, in continuing a course of life which she was conscious to them was sometimes an inconvenience and always a disappointment. It was impossible to deny that she was interested and amused by the world which she now witnessed—so energetic, so restless, so various; so full of urgent and pressing life; never thinking of the past and quite heedless of the future, but worshipping an almighty present that sometimes seemed to roll on like the car of Juggernaut. She was much diverted by the gentlemen of the Stock Exchange, so acute, so audacious, and differing so much from the merchants in the style even of their dress, and in the ease, perhaps the too great facility, of their bearing. They called each other by their Christian names, and there were allusions to practical jokes which intimated a life something between a public school and a garrison. On more solemn days there were diplomatists and men in political office; sometimes great musical artists, and occasionally a French actor. But the dinners were always the same; dishes worthy of the great days of the Bourbons, and wines of rarity and price, which could not ruin Neuchatel, for in many instances the vineyards belonged to himself.
One morning at breakfast, when he rarely encountered them, but it was a holiday in the City, Mr. Neuchatel said, "There are a few gentlemen coming to dine here to-day whom you know, with one exception. He is a young man, a very nice young fellow. I have seen a good deal of him of late on business in the City, and have taken a fancy to him. He is a foreigner, but he was partly educated in this country and speaks English as well as any of us."
"Then I suppose he is not a Frenchman," said Mrs. Neuchatel, "for they never speak English."
"I shall not say what he is. You must all find out; I dare say Miss Ferrars will discover him; but, remember, you must all of you pay him great attention, for he is not a common person, I can assure you."
"You are mysterious, Adrian," said his wife, "and quite pique our curiosity."
"Well, I wish somebody would pique mine," said the banker. "These holidays in the City are terrible things. I think I will go after breakfast and look at the new house, and I dare say Miss Ferrars will be kind enough to be my companion."
Several of the visitors, fortunately for the banker whose time hung rather heavily on his hands, arrived an hour or so before dinner, that they might air themselves in the famous gardens and see some of the new plants. But the guest whom he most wished to greet, and whom the ladies were most curious to welcome, did not arrive. They had all entered the house and the critical moment was at hand, when, just as dinner was about to be announced, the servants ushered in a young man of distinguished appearance, and the banker exclaimed, "You have arrived just in time to take Mrs. Neuchatel in to dinner," and he presented to her—COLONEL ALBERT.
The ladies were much interested by Colonel Albert. Mrs. Neuchatel exercised on him all the unrivalled arts by which she so unmistakably discovered character. She threw on him her brown velvet eyes with a subdued yet piercing beam, which would penetrate his most secret and even undeveloped intelligence. She asked questions in a hushed mystical voice, and as the colonel was rather silent and somewhat short in his replies, though ever expressed in a voice of sensibility and with refined deference of manner, Mrs. Neuchatel opened her own peculiar views on a variety of subjects of august interest, such as education, high art, the influence of women in society, the formation of character, and the distribution of wealth, on all of which this highly gifted lady was always in the habit of informing her audience, by way of accompaniment, that she was conscious that the views she entertained were peculiar. The views of Mrs. Neuchatel were peculiar, and therefore not always, or even easily, comprehended. That indeed she felt was rather her fate in life, but a superior intelligence like hers has a degree of sublimated self-respect which defies destiny.
When she was alone with the ladies, the bulletin of Mrs. Neuchatel was not so copious as had been expected. She announced that Colonel Albert was sentimental, and she suspected a poet. But for the rest she had discovered nothing, not even his nationality. She had tried him both in French and German, but he persisted in talking English, although he spoke of himself as a foreigner. After dinner he conversed chiefly with the men, particularly with the Governor of the Bank, who seemed to interest him much, and a director of one of the dock companies, who offered to show him over their establishment, an offer which Colonel Albert eagerly accepted. Then, as if he remembered that homage was due at such a moment to the fairer sex, he went and seated himself by Adriana, and was playful and agreeable, though when she was cross-examined afterwards by her friends as to the character of his conversation, she really could not recall anything particular except that he was fond of horses, and said that he should like very much to take a ride with her. Just before he took his departure, Colonel Albert addressed Myra, and in a rather strange manner. He said, "I have been puzzling myself all dinner, but I cannot help feeling that we have met before."
Myra shook her head and said, "I think that is impossible."
"Well," said the colonel with a look a little perplexed and not altogether satisfied, "I suppose then it was a dream. May dreams so delightful," and he bowed, "never be wanting!"
"So you think he is a poet, Emily," said Mr. Neuchatel when they had all gone. "We have got a good many of his papers in Bishopsgate Street, but I have not met with any verses in them yet."
The visit of Colonel Albert was soon repeated, and he became a rather frequent guest at Hainault. It was evident that he was a favourite with Mr. Neuchatel. "He knows very few people," he would say, "and I wish him to make some friends. Poor young fellow: he has had rather a hard life of it, and seen some service for such a youth. He is a perfect gentleman, and if he be a poet, Emily, that is all in your way. You like literary people, and are always begging that I should ask them. Well, next Saturday you will have a sort of a lion—one of the principal writers in 'Scaramouch.' He is going to Paris as the foreign correspondent of the 'Chuck-Farthing,' with a thousand a year, and one of my friends in the Stock Exchange, who is his great ally, asked me to give him some letters. So he came to Bishopsgate Street—they all come to Bishopsgate Street—and I asked him to dine here on Saturday. By the by, Miss Ferrars, ask your brother to come on the same day and stay with us till Monday. I will take him up to town with me quite in time for his office."
This was the first time that Endymion had remained at Hainault. He looked forward to the visit with anticipation of great pleasure. Hainault, and all the people there, and everything about it, delighted him, and most of all the happiness of his sister and the consideration, and generosity, and delicate affection with which she was treated. One morning, to his astonishment, Myra had insisted upon his accepting from her no inconsiderable sum of money. "It is no part of my salary," she said, when he talked of her necessities. "Mr. Neuchatel said he gave it to me for outfit and to buy gloves. But being in mourning I want to buy nothing, and you, dear darling, must have many wants. Besides, Mrs. Neuchatel has made me so many presents that I really do not think that I shall ever want to buy anything again."
It was rather a grand party at Hainault, such as Endymion had little experience of. There was a cabinet minister and his wife, not only an ambassador, but an ambassadress who had been asked to meet them, a nephew Neuchatel, the M.P. with a pretty young wife, and several apparently single gentlemen of note and position. Endymion was nervous when he entered, and more so because Myra was not in the room. But his trepidation was absorbed in his amazement when in the distance he observed St. Barbe, with a very stiff white cravat, and his hair brushed into unnatural order, and his whole demeanour forming a singular contrast to the rollicking cynicisms of Joe's and the office.
Mr. Neuchatel presented St. Barbe to the lady of the mansion. "Here is one of our greatest wits," said the banker, "and he is going to Paris, which is the capital of wits." The critical moment prevented prolonged conversation, but the lady of the mansion did contrive to convey to St. Barbe her admiring familiarity with some of his effusions, and threw out a phrase which proved how finely she could distinguish between wit and humour.
Endymion at dinner sate between two M.P.'s, whom his experience at the House of Commons allowed him to recognise. As he was a young man whom neither of them knew, neither of them addressed him, but with delicate breeding carried on an active conversation across him, as if in fact he were not present. As Endymion had very little vanity, this did not at all annoy him. On the contrary, he was amused, for they spoke of matters with which he was not unacquainted, though he looked as if he knew or heard nothing. Their conversation was what is called "shop:" all about the House and office; criticisms on speakers, speculations as to preferment, what Government would do about this, and how well Government got out of that.
Endymion was amused by seeing Myra, who was remote from him, sitting by St. Barbe, who, warmed by the banquet, was evidently holding forth without the slightest conception that his neighbour whom he addressed had long become familiar with his characteristics.
After dinner St. Barbe pounced upon Endymion. "Only think of our meeting here!" he said. "I wonder why they asked you. You are not going to Paris, and you are not a wit. What a family this is!" he said; "I had no idea of wealth before! Did you observe the silver plate? I could not hold mine with one hand, it was so heavy. I do not suppose there are such plates in the world. It gives one an idea of the galleons and Anson's plunder. But they deserve their wealth," he added, "nobody grudges it to them. I declare when I was eating that truffle, I felt a glow about my heart that, if it were not indigestion, I think must have been gratitude; though that is an article I had not believed in. He is a wonderful man, that Neuchatel. If I had only known him a year ago! I would have dedicated my novel to him. He is a sort of man who would have given you a cheque immediately. He would not have read it, to be sure, but what of that? If you had dedicated it to a lord, the most he would have done would have been to ask you to dinner, and then perhaps cut up your work in one of the Quality reviews, and taken money for doing it out of our pockets! Oh! it's too horrid! There are some topsawyers here to-day, Ferrars! It would make Seymour Hicks' mouth water to be here. We should have had it in the papers, and he would have left us out of the list, and called us, etc. Now I dare say that ambassador has been blundering all his life, and yet there is something in that star and ribbon; I do not know you feel, but I could almost go down on my knees to him. And there is a cabinet minister; well, we know what he is; I have been squibbing him for these two years, and now that I meet him I feel like a snob. Oh! there is an immense deal of superstition left in the world. I am glad they are going to the ladies. I am to be honoured by some conversation with the mistress of the house. She seems a first-rate woman, familiar with the glorious pages of a certain classic work, and my humble effusions. She praised one she thought I wrote, but between ourselves it was written by that fellow Seymour Hicks, who imitates me; but I would not put her right, as dinner might have been announced every moment. But she is a great woman, sir,—wonderful eyes! They are all great women here. I sat next to one of the daughters, or daughters-in-law, or nieces, I suppose. By Jove! it was tierce and quart. If you had been there, you would have been run through in a moment. I had to show my art. Now they are rising. I should not be surprised if Mr. Neuchatel were to present me to some of the grandees. I believe them to be all impostors, but still it is pleasant to talk to a man with a star.
"'Ye stars, which are the poetry of heaven,'
"Byron wrote; a silly line; he should have written,
"'Ye stars, which are the poetry of dress.'"
St. Barbe was not disappointed in his hopes. It was an evening of glorious success for him. He had even the honour of sitting for a time by the side of Mrs. Neuchatel, and being full of good claret, he, as he phrased it, showed his paces; that is to say, delivered himself of some sarcastic paradoxes duly blended with fulsome flattery. Later in the evening, he contrived to be presented both to the ambassador and the cabinet minister, and treated them as if they were demigods; listened to them as if with an admiration which he vainly endeavoured to repress; never spoke except to enforce and illustrate the views which they had condescended to intimate; successfully conveyed to his excellency that he was conversing with an enthusiast for his exalted profession; and to the minister that he had met an ardent sympathiser with his noble career. The ambassador was not dissatisfied with the impression he had made on one of the foreign correspondents of the "Chuck-Farthing," and the minister flattered himself that both the literary and the graphic representations of himself in "Scaramouch" might possibly for the future be mitigated.
"I have done business to-night," said St. Barbe to Endymion, towards the close of the evening. "You did not know I had left the old shop? I kept it close. I could stand it no longer. One has energies, sir, though not recognised—at least not recognised much," he added thoughtfully. "But who knows what may happen? The age of mediocrity is not eternal. You see this thing offered, and I saw an opening. It has come already. You saw the big-wigs all talking to me? I shall go to Paris now with some eclat. I shall invent a new profession; the literary diplomatist. The bore is, I know nothing about foreign politics. My line has been the other way. Never mind; I will read the 'Debats' and the 'Revue des Deux Mondes,' and make out something. Foreign affairs are all the future, and my views may be as right as anybody else's; probably more correct, not so conventional. What a fool I was, Ferrars! I was asked to remain here to-night and refused! The truth is, I could not stand those powdered gentlemen, and I should have been under their care. They seem so haughty and supercilious. And yet I was wrong. I spoke to one of them very rudely just now, when he was handing coffee, to show I was not afraid, and he answered me like a seraph. I felt remorse."
"Well, I have made the acquaintance of Mr. St. Barbe," said Myra to Endymion. "Strange as he is, he seemed quite familiar to me, and he was so full of himself that he never found me out. I hope some day to know Mr. Trenchard and Mr. Waldershare. Those I look upon as your chief friends."
On the following afternoon, Adriana, Myra, and Endymion took a long walk together in the forest. The green glades in the autumnal woods were inviting, and sometimes they stood before the vast form of some doddered oak. The air was fresh and the sun was bright. Adriana was always gay and happy in the company of her adored Myra, and her happiness and her gaiety were not diminished by the presence of Myra's brother. So it was a lively and pleasant walk.
At the end of a long glade they observed a horseman followed by a groom approaching them. Endymion was some little way behind, gathering wild flowers for Adriana. Cantering along, the cavalier soon reached them, and then he suddenly pulled up his horse. It was Colonel Albert.
"You are walking, ladies? Permit me to join you," and he was by their side. "I delight in forests and in green alleys," said Colonel Albert. "Two wandering nymphs make the scene perfect."
"We are not alone," said Adriana, "but our guardian is picking some wild flowers for us, which we fancied. I think it is time to return. You are going to Hainault, I believe, Colonel Albert, so we can all walk home together."
So they turned, and Endymion with his graceful offering in a moment met them. Full of his successful quest, he offered with eager triumph the flowers to Adriana, without casting a glance at her new companion.
"Beautiful!" exclaimed Adriana, and she stopped to admire and arrange them. "See, dear Myra, is not this lovely? How superior to anything in our glass-houses!"
Myra took the flower and examined it. Colonel Albert, who was silent, was watching all this time Endymion with intentness, who now looked up and encountered the gaze of the new comer. Their eyes met, their countenances were agitated, they seemed perplexed, and then it seemed that at the same time both extended their hands.
"It is a long time since we met," said Colonel Albert, and he retained the hand of Endymion with affection. But Endymion, who was apparently much moved, said nothing, or rather only murmured an echo to the remarks of his new friend. And then they all walked on, but Myra fell a little back and made a signal to Endymion to join her.
"You never told me, darling, that you knew Colonel Albert."
"Colonel Albert!" said Endymion, looking amazed, and then he added, "Who is Colonel Albert?"
"That gentleman before us," said Myra.
"That is the Count of Otranto, whose fag I was at Eton."
"The Count of Otranto!"
Colonel Albert from this day became an object of increased and deeper interest to Myra. His appearance and manners had always been attractive, and the mystery connected with him was not calculated to diminish curiosity in his conduct or fate. But when she discovered that he was the unseen hero of her childhood, the being who had been kind to her Endymion in what she had ever considered the severest trial of her brother's life, had been his protector from those who would have oppressed him, and had cherished him in the desolate hour of his delicate and tender boyhood, her heart was disturbed. How often had they talked together of the Count of Otranto, and how often had they wondered who he was! His memory had been a delightful mystery to them in their Berkshire solitude, and Myra recalled with a secret smile the numberless and ingenious inquiries by which she had endeavoured to elicit from her brother some clue as to his friend, or to discover some detail which might guide her to a conclusion. Endymion had known nothing, and was clear always that the Count of Otranto must have been, and was, an English boy. And now the Count of Otranto called himself Colonel Albert, and though he persisted in speaking English, had admitted to Mrs. Neuchatel that he was a foreigner.
Who was he? She resolved, when she had an opportunity, to speak to the great banker on the subject.
"Do you know, Mr. Neuchatel," she said, "that Endymion, my brother, was at school with Colonel Albert?"
"Ah, ah!" said Mr. Neuchatel.
"But when he was at school he had another name," said Myra.
"Oh, oh!" said Mr. Neuchatel.
"He was then called the Count of Otranto."
"That is a very pretty name," said Mr. Neuchatel.
"But why did he change it?" asked Myra.
"The great world often change their names," said Mr. Neuchatel. "It is only poor City men like myself who are always called Mr., and bear the same name as their fathers."
"But when a person is called a count when he is a boy, he is seldom called only a colonel when he is a man," said Myra. "There is a great mystery in all this."
"I should not be surprised," said Mr. Neuchatel, "if he were to change his name again before this time year."
"Why?" asked Myra.
"Well, when I have read all his papers in Bishopsgate Street, perhaps I shall be able to tell you," said Mr. Neuchatel, and Myra felt that she could pursue the theme no further.
She expected that Endymion would in time be able to obtain this information, but it was not so. In their first private conversation after their meeting in the forest, Endymion had informed Colonel Albert that, though they had met now for the first time since his return, they had been for some time lodgers in London under the same roof. Colonel Albert smiled when Endymion told him this; then falling into thought, he said; "I hope we may often meet, but for the moment it may be as well that the past should be known only to ourselves. I wish my life for the present to be as private as I can arrange it. There is no reason why we should not be sometimes together—that is, when you have leisure. I had the pleasure of making your acquaintance at my banker's."
Parliament had been dissolved through the demise of the crown in the summer of this year (1837), and London society had been prematurely broken up. Waldershare had left town early in July to secure his election, in which he was successful, with no intention of settling again in his old haunts till the meeting of the new House of Commons, which was to be in November. The Rodneys were away at some Kentish watering-place during August and September, exhibiting to an admiring world their exquisitely made dresses, and enjoying themselves amazingly at balls and assemblies at the public rooms. The resources of private society also were not closed to them. Mr. and Mrs. Gamme were also there and gave immense dinners, and the airy Mrs. Hooghley, who laughed a little at the Gammes' substantial gatherings and herself improvised charming pic-nics. So there was really little embarrassment in the social relations between Colonel Albert and Endymion. They resolved themselves chiefly into arranging joint expeditions to Hainault. Endymion had a perpetual invitation there, and it seemed that the transactions between Mr. Neuchatel and the colonel required much conference, for the banker always expected him, although it was well known that they met not unfrequently in Bishopsgate Street in the course of the week. Colonel Albert and Endymion always stayed at Hainault from Saturday till Monday. It delighted the colonel to mount Endymion on one of his choice steeds, and his former fag enjoyed all this amazingly.
Colonel Albert became domiciled at Hainault. The rooms which were occupied by him when there were always reserved for him. He had a general invitation, and might leave his luggage and books and papers behind him. It was evident that the family pleased him. Between Mr. Neuchatel and himself there were obviously affairs of great interest; but it was equally clear that he liked the female members of the family—all of them; and all liked him. And yet it cannot be said that he was entertaining, but there are some silent people who are more interesting than the best talkers. And when he did speak he always said the right thing. His manners were tender and gentle; he had an unobtrusive sympathy with all they said or did, except, indeed, and that was not rarely, when he was lost in profound abstraction.
"I delight in your friend the colonel, Adrian," said Mrs. Neuchatel, "but I must say he is very absent."
"He has a good deal to think about," said Mr. Neuchatel.
"I wonder what it can be," thought Myra.
"He has a claim to a great estate," said Mr. Neuchatel, "and he has to think of the best mode of establishing it; and he has been deprived of great honours, and he believes unjustly, and he wishes to regain them."
"No wonder, then, he is absent," said Mrs. Neuchatel. "If he only knew what a burthen great wealth is, I am sure he would not wish to possess it, and as for honours I never could make out why having a title or a ribbon could make any difference in a human being."
"Nonsense, my dear Emily," said Mr. Neuchatel. "Great wealth is a blessing to a man who knows what to do with it, and as for honours, they are inestimable to the honourable."
"Well, I ardently hope Colonel Albert may succeed," said Myra, "because he was so kind to my brother at Eton. He must have a good heart."
"They say he is the most unscrupulous of living men," said Mr. Neuchatel, with his peculiar smile.
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Mrs. Neuchatel.
"How terrible!" said Adriana. "It cannot be true."
"Perhaps he is the most determined," said Myra. "Moral courage is the rarest of qualities, and often maligned."
"Well, he has got a champion," said Mr. Neuchatel.
"I ardently wish him success," said Myra, "in all his undertakings. I only wish I knew what they were."
"Has not he told your brother, Miss Ferrars?" asked Mr. Neuchatel, with laughing eyes.
"He never speaks of himself to Endymion," said Myra.
"He speaks a good deal of himself to me," said Mr. Neuchatel; "and he is going to bring a friend here to-morrow who knows more about his affairs even than I do. So you will have a very good opportunity, Miss Ferrars, of making yourself acquainted with them, particularly if you sit next to him at dinner, and are very winning."
The friend of Colonel Albert was Baron Sergius, the baron who used to visit him in London at twilight in a dark brougham. Mrs. Neuchatel was greatly taken by his appearance, by the calmness of his mien, his unstudied politeness, and his measured voice. He conversed with her entirely at dinner on German philosophy, of which he seemed a complete master, explained to her the different schools, and probably the successful ones, and imparted to her that precise knowledge which she required on the subject, and which she had otherwise been unable to obtain. It seemed, too, that he personally knew all the famous professors, and he intimated their doctrines not only with profound criticism, but described their persons and habits with vividness and picturesque power, never, however, all this time, by any chance raising his voice, the tones of which were ever distinct and a little precise.
"Is this the first visit of your friend to this country?" asked Myra of Colonel Albert.
"Oh no; he has been here often—and everywhere," added Colonel Albert.
"Everywhere! he must be a most interesting companion then."
"I find him so: I never knew any one whom I thought equal to him. But perhaps I am not an impartial judge, for I have known him so long and so intimately. In fact, I had never been out of his sight till I was brought over to this country to be placed at Eton. He is the counsellor of our family, and we all of us have ever agreed that if his advice had been always followed we should never have had a calamity."
"Indeed, a gifted person! Is he a soldier?"
"No; Baron Sergius has not followed the profession of arms."
"He looks a diplomatist."
"Well, he is now nothing but my friend," said the colonel. "He might have been anything, but he is a peculiarly domestic character, and is devoted to private life."
"You are fortunate in such a friend."
"Well, I am glad to be fortunate in something," said Colonel Albert.
"And are you not fortunate in everything?"
"I have not that reputation; but I shall be more than fortunate if I have your kind wishes."
"Those you have," said Myra, rather eagerly. "My brother taught me, even as a child, to wish nothing but good for you. I wish I knew only what I was to wish for."
"Wish that my plans may succeed," said Colonel Albert, looking round to her with interest.
"I will more than wish," said Myra; "I will believe that they will succeed, because I think you have resolved to succeed."
"I shall tell Endymion when I see him," said Colonel Albert, "that his sister is the only person who has read my character."
Colonel Albert and Baron Sergius drove up in their landau from Hainault while Endymion was at the door in Warwick Street, returning home. The colonel saluted him cordially, and said, "The baron is going to take a cup of coffee with me; join us." So they went upstairs. There was a packet on the table, which seemed to catch the colonel's eye immediately, and he at once opened it with eagerness. It contained many foreign newspapers. Without waiting for the servant who was about to bring candles, the colonel lighted a taper on the table with a lucifer, and then withdrew into the adjoining chamber, opening, however, with folding doors to the principal and spacious apartment.
"A foreign newspaper always interests our friend," said the baron, taking his coffee.
"Well, it must always be interesting to have news from home, I suppose," said Endymion.
"Home!" said the baron. "News is always interesting, whether it come from home or not."
"To public men," said Endymion.
"To all men if they be wise," said the baron; "as a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information."
"But what a rare thing is success in life!" said Endymion. "I often wonder whether I shall ever be able to step out of the crowd."
"You may have success in life without stepping out of the crowd," said the baron.
"A sort of success," said Endymion; "I know what you mean. But what I mean is real success in life. I mean, I should like to be a public man."
"Why?" asked the baron.
"Well, I should like to have power," said Endymion, blushing.
"The most powerful men are not public men," said the baron. "A public man is responsible, and a responsible man is a slave. It is private life that governs the world. You will find this out some day. The world talks much of powerful sovereigns and great ministers; and if being talked about made one powerful, they would be irresistible. But the fact is, the more you are talked about the less powerful you are."
"But surely King Luitbrand is a powerful monarch; they say he is the wisest of men. And the Emperor Harold, who has succeeded in everything. And as for ministers, who is a great man if it be not Prince Wenceslaus?"
"King Luitbrand is governed by his doctor, who is capable of governing Europe, but has no ambition that way; the Emperor Harold is directed by his mistress, who is a woman of a certain age with a vast sagacity, but who also believes in sorcery; and as for Prince Wenceslaus, he is inspired by an individual as obscure as ourselves, and who, for aught I know, may be, at this moment, like ourselves, drinking a cup of coffee in a hired lodging."
"What you say about public life amazes me," said Endymion musingly.
"Think over it," said the baron. "As an Englishman, you will have difficulty in avoiding public life. But at any rate do not at present be discontented that you are unknown. It is the first condition of real power. When you have succeeded in life according to your views, and I am inclined to believe you will so succeed, you will, some day, sigh for real power, and denounce the time when you became a public man, and belonged to any one but yourself. But our friend calls me. He has found something startling. I will venture to say, if there be anything in it, it has been brought about by some individual of whom you never heard."
With the assembling of parliament in November recommenced the sittings of the Union Society, of which Endymion had for some time been a member, and of whose meetings he was a constant and critical, though silent, attendant. There was a debate one night on the government of dependencies, which, although all reference to existing political circumstances was rigidly prohibited, no doubt had its origin in the critical state of one of our most important colonies, then much embarrassing the metropolis. The subject was one which Endymion had considered, and on which he had arrived at certain conclusions. The meeting was fully attended, and the debate had been conducted with a gravity becoming the theme. Endymion was sitting on a back bench, and with no companion near him with whom he was acquainted, when he rose and solicited the attention of the president. Another and a well-known speaker had also risen, and been called, but there was a cry of "new member," a courteous cry, borrowed from the House of Commons, and Endymion for the first time heard his own voice in public. He has since admitted, though he has been through many trying scenes, that it was the most nervous moment of his life. "After Calais," as a wise wit said, "nothing surprises;" and the first time a man speaks in public, even if only at a debating society, is also the unequalled incident in its way. The indulgence of the audience supported him while the mist cleared from his vision, and his palpitating heart subsided into comparative tranquillity. After a few pardonable incoherencies, he was launched into his subject, and spoke with the thoughtful fluency which knowledge alone can sustain. For knowledge is the foundation of eloquence.
"What a good-looking young fellow!" whispered Mr. Bertie Tremaine to his brother Mr. Tremaine Bertie. The Bertie Tremaines were the two greatest swells of the Union, and had a party of their own. "And he speaks well."
"Who is he?" inquired Mr. Tremaine Bertie of their other neighbour.
"He is a clerk in the Treasury, I believe, or something of that sort," was the reply.
"I never saw such a good-looking young fellow," said Mr. Bertie Tremaine. "He is worth getting hold of. I shall ask to be introduced to him when we break up."
Accordingly, Mr. Bertie Tremaine, who was always playing at politics, and who, being two-and-twenty, was discontented he was not Chancellor of the Exchequer like Mr. Pitt, whispered to a gentleman who sate behind him, and was, in short, the whip of his section, and signified, as a minister of state would, that an introduction to Mr. Ferrars should be arranged.
So when the meeting broke up, of which Mr. Ferrars' maiden speech was quite the event, and while he was contemplating, not without some fair self-complacency, walking home with Trenchard, Endymion found himself encompassed by a group of bowing forms and smiling countenances, and, almost before he was aware of it, had made the acquaintance of the great Mr. Bertie Tremaine, and received not only the congratulations of that gentleman, but an invitation to dine with him on the morrow; "quite sans facon."
Mr. Bertie Tremaine, who had early succeeded to the family estate, lived in Grosvenor Street, and in becoming style. His house was furnished with luxury and some taste. The host received his guests in a library, well stored with political history and political science, and adorned with the busts of celebrated statesmen and of profound political sages. Bentham was the philosopher then affected by young gentleman of ambition, and who wished to have credit for profundity and hard heads. Mr. Bertie Tremaine had been the proprietor of a close borough, which for several generations had returned his family to parliament, the faithful supporters of Pitt, and Perceval, and Liverpool, and he had contemplated following the same line, though with larger and higher objects than his ancestors. Being a man of considerable and versatile ability, and of ample fortune, with the hereditary opportunity which he possessed, he had a right to aspire, and, as his vanity more than equalled his talents, his estimate of his own career was not mean. Unfortunately, before he left Harrow, he was deprived of his borough, and this catastrophe eventually occasioned a considerable change in the views and conduct of Mr. Bertie Tremaine. In the confusion of parties and political thought which followed the Reform Act of Lord Grey, an attempt to govern the country by the assertion of abstract principles, and which it was now beginning to be the fashion to call Liberalism, seemed the only opening to public life; and Mr. Bertie Tremaine, who piqued himself on recognising the spirit of the age, adopted Liberal opinions with that youthful fervour which is sometimes called enthusiasm, but which is a heat of imagination subsequently discovered to be inconsistent with the experience of actual life. At Cambridge Mr. Bertie Tremaine was at first the solitary pupil of Bentham, whose principles he was prepared to carry to their extreme consequences, but being a man of energy and in possession of a good estate, he soon found followers, for the sympathies of youth are quick, and, even with an original bias, it is essentially mimetic. When Mr. Bertie Tremaine left the university he found in the miscellaneous elements of the London Union many of his former companions of school and college, and from them, and the new world to which he was introduced, it delighted him to form parties and construct imaginary cabinets. His brother Augustus, who was his junior only by a year, and was destined to be a diplomatist, was an efficient assistant in these enterprises, and was one of the guests who greeted Endymion when he arrived next day in Grosvenor Street according to his engagement. The other three were Hortensius, the whip of the party, and Mr. Trenchard.
The dinner was refined, for Mr. Bertie Tremaine combined the Sybarite with the Utilitarian sage, and it secretly delighted him to astonish or embarrass an austere brother republican by the splendour of his family plate or the polished appointments of his household. To-day the individual to be influenced was Endymion, and the host, acting up to his ideal of a first minister, addressed questions to his companions on the subjects which were peculiarly their own, and, after eliciting their remarks, continued to complete the treatment of the theme with adequate ability, though in a manner authoritative, and, as Endymion thought, a little pompous. What amused him most in this assemblage of youth was their earnest affectation of public life. The freedom of their comments on others was only equalled by their confidence in themselves. Endymion, who only spoke when he was appealed to, had casually remarked in answer to one of the observations which his host with elaborate politeness occasionally addressed to him, that he thought it was unpatriotic to take a certain course. Mr. Bertie Tremaine immediately drew up, and said, with a deep smile, "that he comprehended philanthropy, but patriotism he confessed he did not understand;" and thereupon delivered himself of an address on the subject which might have been made in the Union, and which communicated to the astonished Endymion that patriotism was a false idea, and entirely repugnant to the principles of the new philosophy. As all present were more or less impregnated with these tenets, there was no controversy on the matter. Endymion remained discreetly silent, and Augustus—Mr. Bertie Tremaine's brother—who sate next to him, and whose manners were as sympathising as his brother's were autocratic, whispered in a wheedling tone that it was quite true, and that the idea of patriotism was entirely relinquished except by a few old-fashioned folks who clung to superstitious phrases. Hortensius, who seemed to be the only one of the company who presumed to meet Mr. Bertie Tremaine in conversation on equal terms, and who had already astonished Endymion by what that inexperienced youth deemed the extreme laxity of his views, both social and political, evinced, more than once, a disposition to deviate into the lighter topics of feminine character, and even the fortunes of the hazard-table; but the host looked severe, and was evidently resolved that the conversation to-day should resemble the expression of his countenance. After dinner they returned to the library, and most of them smoked, but Mr. Bertie Tremaine, inviting Endymion to seat himself by his side on a sofa at the farther end of the room, observed, "I suppose you are looking to parliament?"
"Well, I do not know," said the somewhat startled Endymion; "I have not thought much about it, and I have not yet reached a parliamentary age."
"A man cannot enter parliament too soon," said Mr. Bertie Tremaine; "I hope to enter this session. There will be a certain vacancy on a petition, and I have arranged to have the seat."
"Indeed!" said Endymion. "My father was in parliament, and so was my grandfather, but I confess I do not very well see my way there."
"You must connect yourself with a party," said Mr. Bertie Tremaine, "and you will soon enter; and being young, you should connect yourself with the party of the future. The country is wearied with the present men, who have no philosophical foundation, and are therefore perpetually puzzled and inconsistent, and the country will not stand the old men, as it is resolved against retrogression. The party of the future and of the speedy future has its headquarters under this roof, and I should like to see you belong to it."
"You are too kind," murmured Endymion.
"Yes, I see in you the qualities adapted to public life, and which may be turned to great account. I must get you into parliament as soon as you are eligible," continued Mr. Bertie Tremaine in a musing tone. "This death of the King was very inopportune. If he had reigned a couple of years more, I saw my way to half a dozen seats, and I could have arranged with Lord Durham."
"That was unfortunate," said Endymion.
"What do you think of Hortensius?" inquired Mr. Bertie Tremaine.
"I think him the most brilliant speaker I know," said Endymion. "I never met him in private society before; he talks well."
"He wants conduct," said Mr. Bertie Tremaine. "He ought to be my Lord Chancellor, but there is a tone of levity about him which is unfortunate. Men destined to the highest places should beware of badinage."
"I believe it is a dangerous weapon."
"All lawyers are loose in their youth, but an insular country subject to fogs, and with a powerful middle class, requires grave statesmen. I attribute a great deal of the nonsense called Conservative Reaction to Peel's solemnity. The proper minister for England at this moment would be Pitt. Extreme youth gives hope to a country; coupled with ceremonious manners, hope soon assumes the form of confidence."
"Ah!" murmured Endymion.
"I had half a mind to ask Jawett to dinner to-day. His powers are unquestionable, but he is not a practical man. For instance, I think myself our colonial empire is a mistake, and that we should disembarrass ourselves of its burthen as rapidly as is consistent with the dignity of the nation; but were Jawett in the House of Commons to-morrow, nothing would satisfy him but a resolution for the total and immediate abolition of the empire, with a preamble denouncing the folly of our fathers in creating it. Jawett never spares any one's self-love."
"I know him very well," said Endymion; "he is in my office. He is very uncompromising."
"Yes," said Mr. Bertie Tremaine musingly; "if I had to form a government, I could hardly offer him the cabinet." Then speaking more rapidly, he added, "The man you should attach yourself to is my brother Augustus—Mr. Tremaine Bertie. There is no man who understands foreign politics like Augustus, and he is a thorough man of the world."
When parliament reassembled in February, the Neuchatels quitted Hainault for their London residence in Portland Place. Mrs. Neuchatel was sadly troubled at leaving her country home, which, notwithstanding its distressing splendour, had still some forms of compensatory innocence in its flowers and sylvan glades. Adriana sighed when she called to mind the manifold and mortifying snares and pitfalls that awaited her, and had even framed a highly practical and sensible scheme which would permit her parents to settle in town and allow Myra and herself to remain permanently in the country; but Myra brushed away the project like a fly, and Adriana yielding, embraced her with tearful eyes.
The Neuchatel mansion in Portland Place was one of the noblest in that comely quarter of the town, and replete with every charm and convenience that wealth and taste could provide. Myra, who, like her brother, had a tenacious memory, was interested in recalling as fully and as accurately as possible her previous experience of London life. She was then indeed only a child, but a child who was often admitted to brilliant circles, and had enjoyed opportunities of social observation which the very youthful seldom possess. Her retrospection was not as profitable as she could have desired, and she was astonished, after a severe analysis of the past, to find how entirely at that early age she appeared to have been engrossed with herself and with Endymion. Hill Street and Wimbledon, and all their various life, figured as shadowy scenes; she could realise nothing very definite for her present guidance; the past seemed a phantom of fine dresses, and bright equipages, and endless indulgence. All that had happened after their fall was distinct and full of meaning. It would seem that adversity had taught Myra to feel and think.
Forty years ago the great financiers had not that commanding, not to say predominant, position in society which they possess at present, but the Neuchatels were an exception to this general condition. They were a family which not only had the art of accumulating wealth, but of expending it with taste and generosity—an extremely rare combination. Their great riches, their political influence, their high integrity and their social accomplishments, combined to render their house not only splendid, but interesting and agreeable, and gave them a great hold upon the world. At first the fine ladies of their political party called on them as a homage of condescending gratitude for the public support which the Neuchatel family gave to their sons and husbands, but they soon discovered that this amiable descent from their Olympian heights on their part did not amount exactly to the sacrifice or service which they had contemplated. They found their host as refined as themselves, and much more magnificent, and in a very short time it was not merely the wives of ambassadors and ministers of state that were found at the garden fetes of Hainault, or the balls, and banquets, and concerts of Portland Place, but the fitful and capricious realm of fashion surrendered like a fair country conquered as it were by surprise. To visit the Neuchatels became the mode; all solicited to be their guests, and some solicited in vain.
Although it was only February, the world began to move, and some of the ministers' wives, who were socially strong enough to venture on such a step, received their friends. Mr. Neuchatel particularly liked this form of society. "I cannot manage balls," he used to say, "but I like a ministerial reception. There is some chance of sensible conversation and doing a little business. I like talking with ambassadors after dinner. Besides, in this country you meet the leaders of the opposition, because, as they are not invited by the minister, but by his wife, anybody can come without committing himself."
Myra, faithful to her original resolution, not to enter society while she was in mourning, declined all the solicitudes of her friends to accompany them to these assemblies. Mrs. Neuchatel always wished Myra should be her substitute, and it was only at Myra's instance that Adriana accompanied her parents. In the meantime, Myra saw much of Endymion. He was always a welcome guest by the family, and could call upon his sister at all the odds and ends of time that were at his command, and chat with her at pleasant ease in her pretty room. Sometimes they walked out together, and sometimes they went together to see some exhibition that everybody went to see. Adriana became almost as intimate with Endymion as his sister, and altogether the Neuchatel family became by degrees to him as a kind of home. Talking with Endymion, Myra heard a good deal of Colonel Albert, for he was her brother's hero—but she rarely saw that gentleman. She was aware from her brother, and from some occasional words of Mr. Neuchatel, that the great banker still saw Colonel Albert and not unfrequently, but the change of residence from Hainault to London made a difference in their mode of communication. Business was transacted in Bishopsgate Street, and no longer combined with a pleasant ride to an Essex forest. More than once Colonel Albert had dined in Portland Place, but at irregular and miscellaneous parties. Myra observed that he was never asked to meet the grand personages who attended the celebrated banquets of Mr. Neuchatel. And why not? His manners were distinguished, but his whole bearing that of one accustomed to consideration. The irrepressible curiosity of woman impelled her once to feel her way on the subject with Mr. Neuchatel, but with the utmost dexterity and delicacy.
"No," said Mr. Neuchatel with a laughing eye, and who saw through everybody's purpose, though his own manner was one of simplicity amounting almost to innocence, "I did not say Colonel Albert was going to dine here on Wednesday; I have asked him to dine here on Sunday. On Wednesday I am going to have the premier and some of his colleagues. I must insist upon Miss Ferrars dining at table. You will meet Lord Roehampton; all the ladies admire him and he admires all the ladies. It will not do to ask Colonel Albert to meet such a party, though perhaps," added Mr. Neuchatel with a merry smile, "some day they may be asked to meet Colonel Albert. Who knows, Miss Ferrars? The wheel of Fortune turns round very strangely."
"And who then is Colonel Albert?" asked Myra with decision.
"Colonel Albert is Colonel Albert, and nobody else, so far as I know," replied Mr. Neuchatel; "he has brought a letter of credit on my house in that name, and I am happy to honour his drafts to the amount in question, and as he is a foreigner, I think it is but kind and courteous occasionally to ask him to dinner."
Miss Ferrars did not pursue the inquiry, for she was sufficiently acquainted with Mr. Neuchatel to feel that he did not intend to gratify her curiosity.
The banquet of the Neuchatels to the premier, and some of the principal ambassadors and their wives, and to those of the premier's colleagues who were fashionable enough to be asked, and to some of the dukes and duchesses and other ethereal beings who supported the ministry, was the first event of the season. The table blazed with rare flowers and rarer porcelain and precious candelabra of sculptured beauty glittering with light; the gold plate was less remarkable than the delicate ware that had been alike moulded and adorned for a Du Barri or a Marie Antoinette, and which now found a permanent and peaceful home in the proverbial land of purity and order; and amid the stars and ribbons, not the least remarkable feature of the whole was Mr. Neuchatel himself, seated at the centre of his table, alike free from ostentation or over-deference, talking to the great ladies on each side of him, as if he had nothing to do in life but whisper in gentle ears, and partaking of his own dainties as if he were eating bread and cheese at a country inn.
Perhaps Mrs. Neuchatel might have afforded a companion picture. Partly in deference to their host, and partly because this evening the first dance of the season was to be given, the great ladies in general wore their diamonds, and Myra was amused as she watched their dazzling tiaras and flashing rivieres, while not a single ornament adorned the graceful presence of their hostess, who was more content to be brilliant only by her conversation. As Mr. Neuchatel had only a few days before presented his wife with another diamond necklace, he might be excused were he slightly annoyed. Nothing of the sort; he only shrugged his shoulders, and said to his nephew, "Your aunt must feel that I give her diamonds from love and not from vanity, as she never lets me have the pleasure of seeing them." The sole ornament of Adriana was an orchid, which had arrived that morning from Hainault, and she had presented its fellow to Myra.
There was one lady who much attracted the attention of Myra, interested in all she observed. This lady was evidently a person of importance, for she sate between an ambassador and a knight of the garter, and they vied in homage to her. They watched her every word, and seemed delighted with all she said. Without being strictly beautiful, there was an expression of sweet animation in her physiognomy which was highly attractive: her eye was full of summer lightning, and there was an arch dimple in her smile, which seemed to irradiate her whole countenance. She was quite a young woman, hardly older than Myra. What most distinguished her was the harmony of her whole person; her graceful figure, her fair and finely moulded shoulders, her pretty teeth, and her small extremities, seemed to blend with and become the soft vivacity of her winning glance.
"Lady Montfort looks well to-night," said the neighbour of Myra.
"And is that Lady Montfort? Do you know, I never saw her before."
"Yes; that is the famous Berengaria, the Queen of Society, and the genius of Whiggism."
In the evening, a great lady, who was held to have the finest voice in society, favoured them with a splendid specimen of her commanding skill, and then Adriana was induced to gratify her friends with a song, "only one song," and that only on condition that Myra should accompany her. Miss Neuchatel had a sweet and tender voice, and it had been finely cultivated; she would have been more than charming if she had only taken interest in anything she herself did, or believed for a moment that she could interest others. When she ceased, a gentleman approached the instrument and addressed her in terms of sympathy and deferential praise. Myra recognised the knight of the garter who had sat next to Lady Montfort. He was somewhat advanced in middle life, tall and of a stately presence, with a voice more musical even than the tones which had recently enchanted every one. His countenance was impressive, a truly Olympian brow, but the lower part of the face indicated not feebleness, but flexibility, and his mouth was somewhat sensuous. His manner was at once winning; natural, and singularly unaffected, and seemed to sympathise entirely with those whom he addressed.
"But I have never been at Hainault," said the gentleman, continuing a conversation, "and therefore could not hear the nightingales. I am content you have brought one of them to town."
"Nightingales disappear in June," said Miss Ferrars; "so our season will be short."
"And where do they travel to?" asked the gentleman.
"Ah! that is a mystery," said Myra. "You must ask Miss Neuchatel."
"But she will not tell me," said the gentleman, for in truth Miss Neuchatel, though he had frequently addressed her, had scarcely opened her lips.
"Tell your secret, Adriana," said Miss Ferrars, trying to force her to converse.
"Adriana!" said the gentleman. "What a beautiful name! You look with that flower, Miss Neuchatel, like a bride of Venice."
"Nay," said Myra; "the bride of Venice was a stormy ocean."
"And have you a Venetian name?" asked the gentleman.
There was a pause, and then Miss Neuchatel, with an effort, murmured, "She has a very pretty name. Her name is Myra."
"She seems to deserve it," said the gentleman.
"So you like my daughter's singing," said Mr. Neuchatel, coming up to them. "She does not much like singing in public, but she is a very good girl, and always gives me a song when I come home from business."
"Fortunate man!" said the gentleman. "I wish somebody would sing to me when I come home from business."
"You should marry, my lord," said Mr. Neuchatel, "and get your wife to sing to you. Is it not so, Miss Ferrars? By the by, I ought to introduce you to—Lord Roehampton."
The Earl of Roehampton was the strongest member of the government, except, of course, the premier himself. He was the man from whose combined force and flexibility of character the country had confidence that in all their councils there would be no lack of courage, yet tempered with adroit discretion. Lord Roehampton, though an Englishman, was an Irish peer, and was resolved to remain so, for he fully appreciated the position, which united social distinction with the power of a seat in the House of Commons. He was a very ambitious, and, as it was thought, worldly man, deemed even by many to be unscrupulous, and yet he was romantic. A great favourite in society, and especially with the softer sex, somewhat late in life, he had married suddenly a beautiful woman, who was without fortune, and not a member of the enchanted circle in which he flourished. The union had been successful, for Lord Roehampton was gifted with a sweet temper, and, though people said he had no heart, with a winning tenderness of disposition, or at least of manner, which at the same time charmed and soothed. He had been a widower for two years, and the world was of opinion that he ought to marry again, and form this time a becoming alliance. In addition to his many recommendations he had now the inestimable reputation, which no one had ever contemplated for him, of having been a good husband.
Berengaria, Countess of Montfort, was a great friend of Lord Roehampton. She was accustomed to describe herself as "the last of his conquests," and though Lord Roehampton read characters and purposes with a glance, and was too sagacious to be deceived by any one, even by himself, his gratified taste, for he scarcely had vanity, cherished the bright illusion of which he was conscious, and he responded to Lady Montfort half sportively, half seriously, with an air of flattered devotion. Lord Roehampton had inherited an ample estate, and he had generally been in office; for he served his apprenticeship under Perceval and Liverpool, and changed his party just in time to become a member of the Cabinet of 1831. Yet with all these advantages, whether it were the habit of his life, which was ever profuse, or that neglect of his private interests which almost inevitably accompanies the absorbing duties of public life, his affairs were always somewhat confused, and Lady Montfort, who wished to place him on a pinnacle, had resolved that he should marry an heiress. After long observation and careful inquiry and prolonged reflection, the lady she had fixed upon was Miss Neuchatel; and she it was who had made Lord Roehampton cross the room and address Adriana after her song.
"He is not young," reasoned Lady Montfort to herself, "but his mind and manner are young, and that is everything. I am sure I meet youth every day who, compared with Lord Roehampton, could have no chance with my sex—men who can neither feel, nor think, nor converse. And then he is famous, and powerful, and fashionable, and knows how to talk to women. And this must all tell with a banker's daughter, dying, of course, to be a grande dame. It will do. He may not be young, but he is irresistible. And the father will like it, for he told me in confidence, at dinner, that he wished Lord Roehampton to be prime minister; and with this alliance he will be."
The plot being devised by a fertile brain never wanting in expedients, its development was skilfully managed, and its accomplishment anticipated with confidence. It was remarkable with what dexterity the Neuchatel family and Lord Roehampton were brought together. Berengaria's lord and master was in the country, which he said he would not quit; but this did not prevent her giving delightful little dinners and holding select assemblies on nights when there was no dreadful House of Commons, and Lord Roehampton could be present. On most occasions, and especially on these latter ones, Lady Montfort could not endure existence without her dear Adriana. Mr. Neuchatel, who was a little in the plot, who at least smiled when Berengaria alluded to her enterprise, was not wanting in his contributions to its success. He hardly ever gave one of his famous banquets to which Lord Roehampton was not invited, and, strange to say, Lord Roehampton, who had the reputation of being somewhat difficult on this head, always accepted the invitations. The crowning social incident, however, was when Lord Roehampton opened his own house for the first time since his widowhood, and received the Neuchatels at a banquet not inferior to their own. This was a great triumph for Lady Montfort, who thought the end was at hand.
"Life is short," she said to Lord Roehampton that evening. "Why not settle it to-night?"
"Well," said Lord Roehampton, "you know I never like anything precipitate. Besides, why should the citadel surrender when I have hardly entered on my first parallel?"
"Ah! those are old-fashioned tactics," said Lady Montfort.
"Well, I suppose I am an old-fashioned man."
"Be serious, now. I want it settled before Easter. I must go down to my lord then, and even before; and I should like to see this settled before we separate."
"Why does not Montfort come up to town?" said Lord Roehampton. "He is wanted."
"Well," said Lady Montfort, with half a sigh, "it is no use talking about it. He will not come. Our society bores him, and he must be amused. I write to him every day, and sometimes twice a day, and pass my life in collecting things to interest him. I would never leave him for a moment, only I know then that he would get wearied of me; and he thinks now—at least, he once said so—that he has never had a dull moment in my company."
"How can he find amusement in the country?" said Lord Roehampton. "There is no sport now, and a man cannot always be reading French novels."
"Well, I send amusing people down to him," said Berengaria. "It is difficult to arrange, for he does not like toadies, which is so unreasonable, for I know many toadies who are very pleasant. Treeby is with him now, and that is excellent, for Treeby contradicts him, and is scientific as well as fashionable, and gives him the last news of the Sun as well as of White's. I want to get this great African traveller to go down to him; but one can hardly send a perfect stranger as a guest. I wanted Treeby to take him, but Treeby refused—men are so selfish. Treeby could have left him there, and the traveller might have remained a week, told all he had seen, and as much more as he liked. My lord cannot stand Treeby more than two days, and Treeby cannot stand my lord for a longer period, and that is why they are such friends."
"A sound basis of agreement," said Lord Roehampton. "I believe absence is often a great element of charm."
"But, a nos moutons," resumed Lady Montfort. "You see now why I am so anxious for a conclusion of our affair. I think it is ripe?"
"Why do you?" said Lord Roehampton.
"Well, she must be very much in love with you."
"Has she told you so?"
"No; but she looks in love."
"She has never told me so," said Lord Roehampton.
"Have you told her?"
"Well, I have not," said her companion. "I like the family—all of them. I like Neuchatel particularly. I like his house and style of living. You always meet nice people there, and bear the last thing that has been said or done all over the world. It is a house where you are sure not to be dull."
"You have described a perfect home," said Lady Montfort, "and it awaits you."
"Well, I do not know," said Lord Roehampton. "Perhaps I am fastidious, perhaps I am content; to be noticed sometimes by a Lady Montfort should, I think, satisfy any man."
"Well, that is gallant, but it is not business, my dear lord. You can count on my devotion even when you are married; but I want to see you on a pinnacle, so that if anything happens there shall be no question who is to be the first man in this country."
The meeting of parliament caused also the return of Waldershare to England, and brought life and enjoyment to our friends in Warwick Street. Waldershare had not taken his seat in the autumn session. After the general election, he had gone abroad with Lord Beaumaris, the young nobleman who had taken them to the Derby, and they had seen and done many strange things. During all their peregrinations, however, Waldershare maintained a constant correspondence with Imogene, occasionally sending her a choice volume, which she was not only to read, but to prove her perusal of it by forwarding to him a criticism of its contents.
Endymion was too much pleased to meet Waldershare again, and told him of the kind of intimacy he had formed with Colonel Albert and all about the baron. Waldershare was much interested in these details, and it was arranged that an opportunity should be taken to make the colonel and Waldershare acquainted.
This, however, was not an easy result to bring about, for Waldershare insisted on its not occurring formally, and as the colonel maintained the utmost reserve with the household, and Endymion had no room of reception, weeks passed over without Waldershare knowing more of Colonel Albert personally than sometimes occasionally seeing him mount his horse.
In the meantime life in Warwick Street, so far as the Rodney family were concerned, appeared to have re-assumed its pleasant, and what perhaps we are authorised in styling its normal condition. They went to the play two or three times a week, and there Waldershare or Lord Beaumaris, frequently both, always joined them; and then they came home to supper, and then they smoked; and sometimes there was a little singing, and sometimes a little whist. Occasionally there was only conversation, that is to say, Waldershare held forth, dilating on some wondrous theme, full of historical anecdote, and dazzling paradox, and happy phrase. All listened with interest, even those who did not understand him. Much of his talk was addressed really to Beaumaris, whose mind he was forming, as well as that of Imogene. Beaumaris was an hereditary Whig, but had not personally committed himself, and the ambition of Waldershare was to transform him not only into a Tory, but one of the old rock, a real Jacobite. "Is not the Tory party," Waldershare would exclaim, "a succession of heroic spirits, 'beautiful and swift,' ever in the van, and foremost of their age?—Hobbes and Bolingbroke, Hume and Adam Smith, Wyndham and Cobham, Pitt and Grenville, Canning and Huskisson?—Are not the principles of Toryism those popular rights which men like Shippen and Hynde Cotton flung in the face of an alien monarch and his mushroom aristocracy?—Place bills, triennial bills, opposition to standing armies, to peerage bills?—Are not the traditions of the Tory party the noblest pedigree in the world? Are not its illustrations that glorious martyrology, that opens with the name of Falkland and closes with the name of Canning?"
"I believe it is all true," whispered Lord Beaumaris to Sylvia, who had really never heard of any of these gentlemen before, but looked most sweet and sympathetic.
"He is a wonderful man—Mr. Waldershare," said Mr. Vigo to Rodney, "but I fear not practical."
One day, not very long after his return from his travels, Waldershare went to breakfast with his uncle, Mr. Sidney Wilton, now a cabinet minister, still unmarried, and living in Grosvenor Square. Notwithstanding the difference of their politics, an affectionate intimacy subsisted between them; indeed Waldershare was a favourite of his uncle, who enjoyed the freshness of his mind, and quite appreciated his brilliancy of thought and speech, his quaint reading and effervescent imagination.
"And so you think we are in for life, George," said Mr. Wilson, taking a piece of toast. "I do not."
"Well, I go upon this," said Waldershare. "It is quite clear that Peel has nothing to offer the country, and the country will not rally round a negation. When he failed in '34 they said there had not been sufficient time for the reaction to work. Well, now, since then, it has had nearly three years, during which you fellows have done everything to outrage every prejudice of the constituency, and yet they have given you a majority."
"Yes, that is all very well," replied Mr. Wilton, "but we are the Liberal shop, and we have no Liberal goods on hand; we are the party of movement, and must perforce stand still. The fact is, all the great questions are settled. No one will burn his fingers with the Irish Church again, in this generation certainly not, probably in no other; you could not get ten men together in any part of the country to consider the corn laws; I must confess I regret it. I still retain my opinion that a moderate fixed duty would be a wise arrangement, but I quite despair in my time of any such advance of opinion; as for the ballot, it is hardly tolerated in debating societies. The present government, my dear George, will expire from inanition. I always told the cabinet they were going on too fast. They should have kept back municipal reform. It would have carried us on for five years. It was our only piece de resistance."
"I look upon the House of Commons as a mere vestry," said Waldershare. "I believe it to be completely used up. Reform has dished it. There are no men, and naturally, because the constituencies elect themselves, and the constituencies are the most mediocre of the nation. The House of Commons now is like a spendthrift living on his capital. The business is done and the speeches are made by men formed in the old school. The influence of the House of Commons is mainly kept up by old social traditions. I believe if the eldest sons of peers now members would all accept the Chiltern hundreds, and the House thus cease to be fashionable, before a year was past, it would be as odious and as contemptible as the Rump Parliament."
"Well, you are now the eldest son of a peer," said Sidney Wilton, smiling. "Why do you not set an example, instead of spending your father's substance and your own in fighting a corrupt borough?"
"I am vox clamantis," said Waldershare. "I do not despair of its being done. But what I want is some big guns to do it. Let the eldest son of a Tory duke and the eldest son of a Whig duke do the same thing on the same day, and give the reason why. If Saxmundham, for example, and Harlaxton would do it, the game would be up."
"On the contrary," said Mr. Wilton, "Saxmundham, I can tell you, will be the new cabinet minister."
"Degenerate land!" exclaimed Waldershare. "Ah! in the eighteenth century there was always a cause to sustain the political genius of the country,—the cause of the rightful dynasty."
"Well, thank God, we have got rid of all those troubles," said Mr. Wilton.
"Rid of them! I do not know that. I saw a great deal of the Duke of Modena this year, and tried as well as I could to open his mind to the situation."
"You traitor!" exclaimed Mr. Wilton. "If I were Secretary of State, I would order the butler to arrest you immediately, and send you to the Tower in a hack cab; but as I am only a President of a Board and your uncle, you will escape."
"Well, I should think all sensible men," said Waldershare, "of all parties will agree, that before we try a republic, it would be better to give a chance to the rightful heir."
"Well, I am not a republican," said Mr. Wilton, "and I think Queen Victoria, particularly if she make a wise and happy marriage, need not much fear the Duke of Modena."
"He is our sovereign lord, all the same," said Waldershare. "I wish he were more aware of it himself. Instead of looking to a restoration to his throne, I found him always harping on the fear of French invasion. I could not make him understand that France was his natural ally, and that without her help, Charlie was not likely to have his own again."
"Well, as you admire pretenders, George, I wish you were in my shoes this morning, for I have got one of the most disagreeable interviews on hand which ever fell to my lot."
"How so, my dear uncle?" said Waldershare, in a tone of sympathy, for he saw that the countenance of Mr. Wilton was disturbed.
"My unhappy ward," said Mr. Wilton; "you know, of course, something about him."
"Well, I was at school and college," said Waldershare, "when it all happened. But I have just heard that you had relations with him."
"The most intimate; and there is the bitterness. There existed between his mother Queen Agrippina and myself ties of entire friendship. In her last years and in her greatest adversity she appealed to me to be the guardian of her son. He inherited all her beauty and apparently all her sweetness of disposition. I took the greatest pains with him. He was at Eton, and did well there. He was very popular; I never was so deceived in a boy in my life. I though him the most docile of human beings, and that I had gained over him an entire influence. I am sure it would have been exercised for his benefit. In short, I may say it now, I looked upon him as a son, and he certainly would have been my heir; and yet all this time, from his seventeenth year, he was immersed in political intrigue, and carrying on plots against the sovereign of his country, even under my own roof."
"How very interesting!" said Waldershare.
"It may be interesting to you; I know what it cost me. The greatest anxiety and sorrow, and even nearly compromised my honour. Had I not a large-hearted chief and a true man of the world to deal with, I must have retired from the government."
"How could he manage it?" said Waldershare.
"You have no conception of the devices and resources of the secret societies of Europe," said Mr. Wilton. "His drawing-master, his fencing-master, his dancing-master, all his professors of languages, who delighted me by their testimony to his accomplishments and their praises of his quickness and assiduity, were active confederates in bringing about events which might have occasioned an European war. He left me avowedly to pay a visit in the country, and I even received letters from him with the postmark of the neighbouring town; letters all prepared beforehand. My first authentic information as to his movements was to learn, that he had headed an invading force, landed on the shores which he claimed as his own, was defeated and a prisoner."
"I remember it," said Waldershare. "I had just then gone up to St. John's, and I remember reading it with the greatest excitement."
"All this was bad enough," said Mr. Wilton, "but this is not my sorrow. I saved him from death, or at least a dreadful imprisonment. He was permitted to sail to America on his parole that he would never return to Europe, and I was required, and on his solemn appeal I consented, to give my personal engagement that the compact should be sacred. Before two years had elapsed, supported all this time, too, by my bounty, there was an attempt, almost successful, to assassinate the king, and my ward was discovered and seized in the capital. This time he was immured, and for life, in the strongest fortress of the country; but secret societies laugh at governments, and though he endured a considerable imprisonment, the world has recently been astounded by hearing that he had escaped. Yes; he is in London and has been here, though in studied obscurity, for some little time. He has never appealed to me until within these few days, and now only on the ground that there are some family affairs which cannot be arranged without my approval. I had great doubts whether I should receive him. I feel I ought not to have done so. But I hesitated, and I know not what may be the truth about women, but of this I am quite sure, the man who hesitates is lost."
"How I should like to present at the interview, my dear uncle!" said Waldershare.
"And I should not be sorry to have a witness," said Mr. Wilton, "but it is impossible. I am ashamed to say how unhinged I feel; no person, and no memories, ought to exercise such an influence over one. To tell you the truth, I encouraged your pleasant gossip at breakfast by way of distraction at this moment, and now"——
At this moment, the groom of the chambers entered and announced "His royal highness, Prince Florestan."
Mr. Wilton, who was too agitated to speak, waved his hand to Waldershare to retire, and his nephew vanished. As Waldershare was descending the staircase, he drew back on a landing-place to permit the prince to advance undisturbed. The prince apparently did not observe him, but when Waldershare caught the countenance of the visitor, he started.
"I know, sir, you are prejudiced against me," said Prince Florestan, bowing before Mr. Wilton with a sort of haughty humility, "and therefore I the more appreciate your condescension in receiving me."
"I have no wish to refer to the past," said Mr. Wilton somewhat sternly. "You mentioned in your letter that my co-operation was necessary with reference to your private affairs, of which I once was a trustee, and under those circumstances I felt it my duty to accede to your request. I wish our communication to be limited to that business."
"It shall be so strictly," said the prince; "you may remember, sir, that at the unhappy period when we were deprived of our throne, the name of Queen Agrippina was inscribed on the great book of the state for a considerable sum, for which the credit of the state was pledged to her. It was strictly her private property, and had mainly accrued through the sale of the estates of her ancestors. This sum was confiscated, and several other amounts, which belonged to members of our house and to our friends. It was an act of pure rapine, so gross, that as time revolved, and the sense of justice gradually returned to the hearts of men, restitution was made in every instance except my own, though I have reason to believe that individual claim was the strongest. My bankers, the house of Neuchatel, who have much interested themselves in this matter, and have considerable influence with the government that succeeded us, have brought things to this pass, that we have reason to believe our claim would be conceded, if some of the foreign governments, and especially the government of this country, would signify that the settlement would not be disagreeable to them." And the prince ceased, and raising his eyes, which were downcast as he spoke, looked Mr. Wilton straight in the face.
"Before such a proposal could even be considered by Her Majesty's Government," said Mr. Wilton with a reddening cheek, "the intimation must be made to them by authority. If the minister of your country has such an intimation to make to ours, he should address himself to the proper quarter, to Lord Roehampton."
"I understand," said Prince Florestan; "but governments, like individuals, sometimes shrink from formality. The government of my country will act on the intimation, but they do not care to make it an affair of despatches."
"There is only one way of transacting business," said Mr. Wilton frigidly, and as if, so far as he was concerned, the interview was ended.
"I have been advised on high authority," said Prince Florestan, speaking very slowly, "that if any member of the present cabinet will mention in conversation to the representative of my country here, that the act of justice would not be disagreeable to the British Government, the affair is finished."
"I doubt whether any one of my colleagues would be prepared to undertake a personal interference of that kind with a foreign government," said Mr. Wilton stiffly. "For my own part, I have had quite enough of such interpositions never to venture on them again."
"The expression of feeling desired would involve no sort of engagement," said the imperturbable prince.
"That depends on the conscience of the individual who interferes. No man of honour would be justified in so interposing if he believed he was thus furnishing arms against the very government of which he solicited the favour."
"But why should he believe this?" asked the prince with great calmness.
"I think upon reflection," said Mr. Wilton, taking up at the same time an opened letter which was before him, as if he wished to resume the private business on which he had been previously engaged, "that your royal highness might find very adequate reasons for the belief."
"I would put this before you with great deference, sir," said the prince. "Take my own case; is it not more likely that I should lead that life of refined retirement, which I really desire, were I in possession of the means to maintain such a position with becoming dignity, than if I were distressed, and harassed, and disgusted, every day, with sights and incidents which alike outrage my taste and self-respect? It is not prosperity, according to common belief, that makes conspirators."
"You were in a position, and a refined position," rejoined Mr. Wilton sharply; "you had means adequate to all that a gentleman could desire, and might have been a person of great consideration, and you wantonly destroyed all this."
"It might be remembered that I was young."
"Yes, you were young, very young, and your folly was condoned. You might have begun life again, for to the world at least you were a man of honour. You had not deceived the world, whatever you might have done to others."
"If I presume to make another remark," said the prince calmly, but pale, "it is only, believe me, sir, from the profound respect I feel for you. Do not misunderstand these feelings, sir. They are not unbecoming the past. Now that my mother has departed, there is no one to whom I am attached except yourself. I have no feeling whatever towards any other human being. All my thought and all my sentiment are engrossed by my country. But pardon me, dear sir, for so let me call you, if I venture to say that, in your decision on my conduct, you have never taken into consideration the position which I inherited."
"I do not follow you, sir."
"You never will remember that I am the child of destiny," said Prince Florestan. "That destiny will again place me on the throne of my fathers. That is as certain as I am now speaking to you. But destiny for its fulfilment ordains action. Its decrees are inexorable, but they are obscure, and the being whose career it directs is as a man travelling in a dark night; he reaches his goal even without the aid of stars or moon."
"I really do not understand what destiny means," said Mr. Wilton. "I understand what conduct means, and I recognise that it should be regulated by truth and honour. I think a man had better have nothing to do with destiny, particularly if it is to make him forfeit his parole."
"Ah! sir, I well know that on that head you entertain a great prejudice in my respect. Believe me it is not just. Even lawyers acknowledge that a contract which is impossible cannot be violated. My return from America was inevitable. The aspirations of a great people and of many communities required my presence in Europe. My return was the natural development of the inevitable principle of historical necessity."
"Well, that principle is not recognised by Her Majesty's Ministers," said Mr. Wilton, and both himself and the prince seemed to rise at the same time.
"I thank you, sir, for this interview," said his royal highness. "You will not help me, but what I require will happen by some other means. It is necessary, and therefore it will occur."
The prince remounted his horse, and rode off quickly till he reached the Strand, where obstacles to rapid progress commenced, and though impatient, it was some time before he reached Bishopsgate Street. He entered the spacious courtyard of a noble mansion, and, giving his horse to the groom, inquired for Mr. Neuchatel, to whom he was at once ushered,—seated in a fine apartment at a table covered with many papers.
"Well, my prince," said Mr. Neuchatel with a smiling eye, "what brings such a great man into the City to-day? Have you seen your great friend?" And then Prince Florestan gave Mr. Neuchatel a succinct but sufficient summary of his recent interview.
"Ah!" said Mr. Neuchatel, "so it is, so it is; I dare say if you were received at St. James', Mr. Sidney Wilton would not be so very particular; but we must take things as we find them. If our fine friends will not help us, you must try us poor business men in the City. We can manage things here sometimes which puzzle them at the West End. I saw you were disturbed when you came in. Put on a good countenance. Nobody should ever look anxious except those who have no anxiety. I dare say you would like to know how your account is. I will send for it. It is not so bad as you think. I put a thousand pounds to it in the hope that your fine friend would help us, but I shall not take it off again. My Louis is going to-night to Paris, and he shall call upon the ministers and see what can be done. In the meantime, good appetite, sir. I am going to luncheon, and there is a place for you. And I will show you my Gainsborough that I have just bought, from a family for whom it was painted. The face is divine, very like our Miss Ferrars. I am going to send the picture down to Hainault. I won't tell you what I gave for it, because perhaps you would tell my wife and she would be very angry. She would want the money for an infant school. But I think she has schools enough. Now to lunch."