These conversations had taken place in the chief saloon, which was contiguous to the ball-room, and which was nearly as full of guests. Endymion, moving in the opposite direction, entered another drawing-room, where the population was sparse. It consisted of couples apparently deeply interested in each other. Some faces were radiant, and some pensive and a little agitated, but they all agreed in one expression, that they took no interest whatever in the solitary Endymion. Even their whispered words were hushed as he passed by, and they seemed, with their stony, unsympathising glance, to look upon him as upon some inferior being who had intruded into their paradise. In short, Endymion felt all that embarrassment, mingled with a certain portion of self contempt, which attends the conviction that we are what is delicately called de trop.
He advanced and took refuge in another room, where there was only a single, and still more engrossed pair; but this was even more intolerable to him. Shrinking from a return to the hostile chamber he had just left, he made a frantic rush forward with affected ease and alacrity, and found himself alone in the favourite morning room of Lady Montfort.
He threw himself on a sofa, and hid his face in his hand, and gave a sigh, which was almost a groan. He was sick at heart; his extremities were cold, his brain was feeble. All hope, and truly all thought of the future, deserted him. He remembered only the sorrowful, or the humiliating, chapters in his life. He wished he had never left Hurstley. He wished he had been apprenticed to Farmer Thornberry, that he had never quitted his desk at Somerset House, and never known more of life than Joe's and the Divan. All was vanity and vexation of spirit. He contemplated finishing his days in the neighbouring stream, in which, but a few days ago, he was bathing in health and joy.
Time flew on; he was unconscious of its course; no one entered the room, and he wished never to see a human face again, when a voice sounded, and he heard his name.
He looked up; it was Lady Montfort. He did not speak, but gave her, perhaps unconsciously, a glance of reproach and despair.
"What is the matter with you?" she said.
"That is nonsense. Something must have happened. I have missed you so long, but was determined to find you. Have you a headache?"
"Come back; come back with me. It is so odd. My lord has asked for you twice."
"I want to see no one."
"Oh! but this is absurd—and on a day like this, when every thing has been so successful, and every one is so happy."
"I am not happy, and I am not successful."
"You perfectly astonish me," said Lady Montfort; "I shall begin to believe that you have not so sweet a temper as I always supposed."
"It matters not what my temper is."
"I think it matters a great deal. I like, above all things, to live with good-tempered people."
"I hope you may not be disappointed. My temper is my own affair, and I am content always to be alone."
"Why! you are talking nonsense, Endymion."
"Probably; I do not pretend to be gifted. I am not one of those gentlemen who cannot fail. I am not the man of the future."
"Well! I never was so surprised in my life," exclaimed Lady Montfort. "I never will pretend to form an opinion of human character again. Now, my dear Endymion, rouse yourself, and come back with me. Give me your arm. I cannot stay another moment; I dare say I have already been wanted a thousand times."
"I cannot go back," said Endymion; "I never wish to see anybody again. If you want an arm, there is the Count of Ferroll, and I hope you may find he has a sweeter temper than I have."
Lady Montfort looked at him with a strange and startled glance. It was a mixture of surprise, a little disdain, some affection blended with mockery. And then exclaiming "Silly boy!" she swept out of the room.
"I do not like the prospect of affairs," said Mr. Sidney Wilton to Endymion as they were posting up to London from Montfort Castle; a long journey, but softened in those days by many luxuries, and they had much to talk about.
"The decline of the revenue is not fitful; it is regular. Our people are too apt to look at the state of the revenue merely in a financial point of view. If a surplus, take off taxes; if a deficiency, put them on. But the state of the revenue should also be considered as the index of the condition of the population. According to my impression, the condition of the people is declining; and why? because they are less employed. If this spreads, they will become discontented and disaffected, and I cannot help remembering that, if they become troublesome, it is our office that will have to deal with them."
"This bad harvest is a great misfortune," said Endymion.
"Yes, but a bad harvest, though unquestionably a great, perhaps the greatest, misfortune for this country, is not the entire solution of our difficulties—I would say, our coming difficulties. A bad harvest touches the whole of our commercial system: it brings us face to face with the corn laws. I wish our chief would give his mind to that subject. I believe a moderate fixed duty of about twelve shillings a quarter would satisfy every one, and nothing then could shake this country."
Endymion listened with interest to other views of his master, who descanted on them at much length. Private secretaries know everything about their chiefs, and Endymion was not ignorant that among many of the great houses of the Whig party, and indeed among the bulk of what was called "the Liberal" party generally, Mr. Sidney Wilton was looked upon, so far as economical questions were concerned, as very crotchety, indeed a dangerous character. Lord Montfort was the only magnate who was entirely opposed to the corn laws, but then, as Berengaria would remark, "Simon is against all laws; he is not a practical man."
Mr. Sidney Wilton reverted to these views more than once in the course of their journey. "I was not alarmed about the Chartists last year. Political trouble in this country never frightens me. Insurrections and riots strengthen an English government; they gave a new lease even to Lord Liverpool when his ministry was most feeble and unpopular; but economical discontent is quite another thing. The moment sedition arises from taxation, or want of employment, it is more dangerous and more difficult to deal with in this country than any other."
"Lord Roehampton seemed to take rather a sanguine view of the situation after the Bed-Chamber business in the spring," observed Endymion, rather in an inquiring than a dogmatic spirit.
"Lord Roehampton has other things to think of," said Mr. Wilton. "He is absorbed, and naturally absorbed, in his department, the most important in the state, and of which he is master. But I am obliged to look at affairs nearer home. Now, this Anti-Corn-Law League, which they established last year at Manchester, and which begins to be very busy, though nobody at present talks of it, is, in my mind, a movement which ought to be watched. I tell you what; it occurred to me more than once during that wondrous pageant, that we have just now been taking part in, the government wants better information than they have as to the state of the country, the real feelings and condition of the bulk of the population. We used to sneer at the Tories for their ignorance of these matters, but after all, we, like them, are mainly dependent on quarter sessions; on the judgment of a lord-lieutenant and the statistics of a bench of magistrates. It is true we have introduced into our subordinate administration at Whitehall some persons who have obtained the reputation of distinguished economists, and we allow them to guide us. But though ingenious men, no doubt, they are chiefly bankrupt tradesmen, who, not having been able to manage their own affairs, have taken upon themselves to advise on the conduct of the country—pedants and prigs at the best, and sometimes impostors. No; this won't do. It is useless to speak to the chief; I did about the Anti-Corn-Law League; he shrugged his shoulders and said it was a madness that would pass. I have made up my mind to send somebody, quite privately, to the great scenes of national labour. He must be somebody whom nobody knows, and nobody suspects of being connected with the administration, or we shall never get the truth—and the person I have fixed upon is yourself."
"But am I equal to such a task?" said Endymion modestly, but sincerely.
"I think so," said Mr. Wilton, "or, of course, I would not have fixed upon you. I want a fresh and virgin intelligence to observe and consider the country. It must be a mind free from prejudice, yet fairly informed on the great questions involved in the wealth of nations. I know you have read Adam Smith, and not lightly. Well, he is the best guide, though of course we must adapt his principles to the circumstances with which we have to deal. You have good judgment, great industry, a fairly quick perception, little passion—perhaps hardly enough; but that is probably the consequence of the sorrows and troubles of early life. But, after all, there is no education like adversity."
"If it will only cease at the right time," said Endymion.
"Well, in that respect, I do not think you have anything to complain of," said Mr. Wilton. "The world is all before you, and I mistake if you do not rise. Perseverance and tact are the two qualities most valuable for all men who would mount, but especially for those who have to step out of the crowd. I am sure no one can say you are not assiduous, but I am glad always to observe that you have tact. Without tact you can learn nothing. Tact teaches you when to be silent. Inquirers who are always inquiring never learn anything."
Lancashire was not so wonderful a place forty years ago as it is at present, but, compared then with the rest of England, it was infinitely more striking. For a youth like Endymion, born and bred in our southern counties, the Berkshire downs varied by the bustle of Pall-Mall and the Strand—Lancashire, with its teeming and toiling cities, its colossal manufactories and its gigantic chimneys, its roaring engines and its flaming furnaces, its tramroads and its railroads, its coal and its cotton, offered a far greater contrast to the scenes in which he had hitherto lived, than could be furnished by almost any country of the European continent.
Endymion felt it was rather a crisis in his life, and that his future might much depend on the fulfilment of the confidential office which had been entrusted to him by his chief. He summoned all his energies, concentrated his intelligence on the one subject, and devoted to its study and comprehension every moment of his thought and time. After a while, he had made Manchester his head-quarters. It was even then the centre of a network of railways, and gave him an easy command of the contiguous districts.
Endymion had more than once inquired after the Anti-Corn-Law League, but had not as yet been so fortunate as to attend any of their meetings. They were rarer than they afterwards soon became, and the great manufacturers did not encourage them. "I do not like extreme views," said one of the most eminent one day to Endymion. "In my opinion, we should always avoid extremes;" and he paused and looked around, as if he had enunciated a heaven-born truth, and for the first time. "I am a Liberal; so we all are here. I supported Lord Grey, and I support Lord Melbourne, and I am, in everything, for a liberal policy. I don't like extremes. A wise minister should take off the duty on cotton wool. That is what the country really wants, and then everybody would be satisfied. No; I know nothing about this League you ask about, and I do not know any one—that is to say, any one respectable—who does. They came to me to lend my name. 'No,' I said, 'gentlemen; I feel much honoured, but I do not like extremes;' and they went away. They are making a little more noise now, because they have got a man who has the gift of the gab, and the people like to go and hear him speak. But as I said to a friend of mine, who seemed half inclined to join them, 'Well; if I did anything of that sort, I would be led by a Lancashire lad. They have got a foreigner to lead them, a fellow out of Berkshire; an agitator—and only a print-work after all. No; that will never do.'"
Notwithstanding these views, which Endymion found very generally entertained by the new world in which he mixed, he resolved to take the earliest opportunity of attending the meeting of the League, and it soon arrived.
It was an evening meeting, so that workmen—or the operatives, as they were styled in this part of the kingdom—should be able to attend. The assembly took place in a large but temporary building; very well adapted to the human voice, and able to contain even thousands. It was fairly full to-night; and the platform, on which those who took a part in the proceedings, or who, by their comparatively influential presence, it was supposed, might assist the cause, was almost crowded.
"He is going to speak to-night," said an operative to Endymion. "That is why there is such an attendance."
Remembering Mr. Wilton's hint about not asking unnecessary questions which often arrest information, Endymion did not inquire who "he" was; and to promote communication merely observed, "A fine speaker, then, I conclude?"
"Well, he is in a way," said the operative. "He has not got Hollaballoo's voice, but he knows what he is talking about. I doubt their getting what they are after; they have not the working classes with them. If they went against truck, it would be something."
The chairman opened the proceedings; but was coldly received, though he spoke sensibly and at some length. He then introduced a gentleman, who was absolutely an alderman, to move a resolution condemnatory of the corn laws. The august position of the speaker atoned for his halting rhetoric, and a city which had only just for the first time been invested with municipal privileges was hushed before a man who might in time even become a mayor.
Then the seconder advanced, and there was a general burst of applause.
"There he is," said the operative to Endymion; "you see they like him. Oh, Job knows how to do it!"
Endymion listened with interest, soon with delight, soon with a feeling of exciting and not unpleasing perplexity, to the orator; for he was an orator, though then unrecognised, and known only in his district. He was a pale and slender man, with a fine brow and an eye that occasionally flashed with the fire of a creative mind. His voice certainly was not like Hollaballoo's. It was rather thin, but singularly clear. There was nothing clearer except his meaning. Endymion never heard a case stated with such pellucid art; facts marshalled with such vivid simplicity, and inferences so natural and spontaneous and irresistible, that they seemed, as it were, borrowed from his audience, though none of that audience had arrived at them before. The meeting was hushed, was rapt in intellectual delight, for they did not give the speaker the enthusiasm of their sympathy. That was not shared, perhaps, by the moiety of those who listened to him. When his case was fairly before them, the speaker dealt with his opponents—some in the press, some in parliament—with much power of sarcasm, but this power was evidently rather repressed than allowed to run riot. What impressed Endymion as the chief quality of this remarkable speaker was his persuasiveness, and he had the air of being too prudent to offend even an opponent unnecessarily. His language, though natural and easy, was choice and refined. He was evidently a man who had read, and not a little; and there was no taint of vulgarity, scarcely a provincialism, in his pronunciation.
He spoke for rather more than an hour; and frequently during this time, Endymion, notwithstanding his keen interest in what was taking place, was troubled, it might be disturbed, by pictures and memories of the past that he endeavoured in vain to drive away. When the orator concluded, amid cheering much louder than that which had first greeted him, Endymion, in a rather agitated voice, whispered to his neighbour, "Tell me—is his name Thornberry?"
"That is your time of day," said the operative. "Job Thornberry is his name, and I am on his works."
"And yet you do not agree with him?"
"Well; I go as far as he goes, but he does not go so far as I go; that's it."
"I do not see how a man can go much farther," said Endymion. "Where are his works? I knew your master when he was in the south of England, and I should like to call on him."
"My employer," said the operative. "They call themselves masters, but we do not. I will tell you. His works are a mile out of town; but it seems only a step, for there are houses all the way. Job Thornberry & Co.'s Print-works, Pendleton Road—any one can guide you—and when you get there, you can ask for me, if you like. I am his overlooker, and my name is ENOCH CRAGGS."
"You are not much altered," said Thornberry, as he retained Endymion's hand, and he looked at him earnestly; "and yet you have become a man. I suppose I am ten years your senior. I have never been back to the old place, and yet I sometimes think I should like to be buried there. The old man has been here, and more than once, and liked it well enough; at least, I hope so. He told me a good deal about you all; some sorrows, and, I hope, some joys. I heard of Miss Myra's marriage; she was a sweet young lady; the gravest person I ever knew; I never knew her smile. I remember they thought her proud, but I always had a fancy for her. Well; she has married a topsawyer—I believe the ablest of them all, and probably the most unprincipled; though I ought not to say that to you. However, public men are spoken freely of. I wish to Heaven you would get him to leave off tinkering those commercial treaties that he is always making such a fuss about. More pernicious nonsense was never devised by man than treaties of commerce. However, their precious most favoured nation clause will break down the whole concern yet. But you wish to see the works; I will show them to you myself. There is not much going on now, and the stagnation increases daily. And then, if you are willing, we will go home and have a bit of lunch—I live hard by. My best works are my wife and children: I have made that joke before, as you can well fancy."
This was the greeting, sincere but not unkind, of Job Thornberry to Endymion on the day after the meeting of the Anti-Corn-Law League. To Endymion it was an interesting, and, as he believed it would prove, a useful encounter.
The print-works were among the most considerable of their kind at Manchester, but they were working now with reduced numbers and at half-time. It was the energy and the taste and invention of Thornberry that had given them their reputation, and secured them extensive markets. He had worked with borrowed capital, but had paid off his debt, and his establishment was now his own; but, stimulated by his success, he had made a consignment of large amount to the United States, where it arrived only to be welcomed by what was called the American crash.
Turning from the high road, a walk of half a mile brought them to a little world of villas; varying in style and size, but all pretty, and each in its garden. "And this is my home," said Thornberry, opening the wicket, "and here is my mistress and the young folks"—pointing to a pretty woman, but with an expression of no inconsiderable self-confidence, and with several children clinging to her dress and hiding their faces at the unexpected sight of a stranger. "My eldest is a boy, but he is at school," said Thornberry. "I have named him, after one of the greatest men that ever lived, John Hampden."
"He was a landed proprietor," observed Endymion rather drily; "and a considerable one."
"I have brought an old friend to take cheer with us," continued Thornberry; "one whom I knew before any here present; so show your faces, little people;" and he caught up one of the children, a fair child like its mother, long-haired and blushing like a Worcestershire orchard before harvest time. "Tell the gentleman what you are."
"A free-trader," murmured the infant.
Within the house were several shelves of books well selected, and the walls were adorned with capital prints of famous works of art. "They are chiefly what are called books of reference," said Thornberry, as Endymion was noticing his volumes; "but I have not much room, and, to tell you the truth, they are not merely books of reference to me—I like reading encyclopaedia. The 'Dictionary of Dates' is a favourite book of mine. The mind sometimes wants tone, and then I read Milton. He is the only poet I read—he is complete, and is enough. I have got his prose works too. Milton was the greatest of Englishmen."
The repast was simple, but plenteous, and nothing could be neater than the manner in which it was served.
"We are teetotallers," said Thornberry; "but we can give you a good cup of coffee."
"I am a teetotaller too at this time of the day," said Endymion; "but a good cup of coffee is, they say, the most delicious and the rarest beverage in the world."
"Well," continued Thornberry; "it is a long time since we met, Mr. Ferrars—ten years. I used to think that in ten years one might do anything; and a year ago, I really thought I had done it; but the accursed laws of this blessed country, as it calls itself, have nearly broken me, as they have broken many a better man before me."
"I am sorry to hear this," said Endymion; "I trust it is but a passing cloud."
"It is not a cloud," said Thornberry; "it is a storm, a tempest, a wreck—but not only for me. Your great relative, my Lord Roehampton, must look to it, I can tell you that. What is happening in this country, and is about to happen, will not be cured or averted by commercial treaties—mark my words."
"But what would cure it?" said Endymion.
"There is only one thing that can cure this country, and it will soon be too late for that. We must have free exchange."
"Free exchange!" murmured Endymion thoughtfully.
"Why, look at this," said Thornberry. "I had been driving a capital trade with the States for nearly five years. I began with nothing, as you know. I had paid off all my borrowed capital; my works were my own, and this house is a freehold. A year ago I sent to my correspondent at New York the largest consignment of goods I had ever made and the best, and I cannot get the slightest return for them. My correspondent writes to me that there is no end of corn and bread-stuffs which he could send, if we could only receive them; but he knows very well he might as well try and send them to the moon. The people here are starving and want these bread-stuffs, and they are ready to pay for them by the products of their labour—and your blessed laws prevent them!"
"But these laws did not prevent your carrying on a thriving trade with America for five years, according to your own account," said Endymion. "I do not question what you say; I am asking only for information."
"What you say is fairly said, and it has been said before," replied Thornberry; "but there is nothing in it. We had a trade, and a thriving trade, with the States; though, to be sure, it was always fitful and ought to have been ten times as much, even during those five years. But the fact is, the state of affairs in America was then exceptional. They were embarked in great public works in which every one was investing his capital; shares and stocks abounded, and they paid us for our goods with them."
"Then it would rather seem that they have no capital now to spare to purchase our goods?"
"Not so," said Thornberry sharply, "as I have shown; but were it so, it does not affect my principle. If there were free exchange, we should find employment and compensation in other countries, even if the States were logged, which I don't believe thirty millions of people with boundless territory ever can be."
"But after all," said Endymion, "America is as little in favour of free exchange as we are. She may send us her bread-stuffs; but her laws will not admit our goods, except on the payment of enormous duties."
"Pish!" said Thornberry; "I do not care this for their enormous duties. Let me have free imports, and I will soon settle their duties."
"To fight hostile tariffs with free imports," said Endymion; "is not that fighting against odds?"
"Not a bit. This country has nothing to do but to consider its imports. Foreigners will not give us their products for nothing; but as for their tariffs, if we were wise men, and looked to our real interests, their hostile tariffs, as you call them, would soon be falling down like an old wall."
"Well, I confess," said Endymion, "I have for some time thought the principle of free exchange was a sound one; but its application in a country like this would be very difficult, and require, I should think, great prudence and moderation."
"By prudence and moderation you mean ignorance and timidity," said Thornberry scornfully.
"Not exactly that, I hope," said Endymion; "but you cannot deny that the home market is a most important element in the consideration of our public wealth, and it mainly rests upon the agriculture of the country."
"Then it rests upon a very poor foundation," said Thornberry.
"But if any persons should be more tempted than others by free exchange, it should be the great body of the consumers of this land, who pay unjust and excessive prices for every article they require. No, my dear Mr. Ferrars; the question is a very simple one, and we may talk for ever, and we shall never alter it. The laws of this country are made by the proprietors of land, and they make them for their own benefit. A man with a large estate is said to have a great stake in the country because some hundreds of people or so are more or less dependent on him. How has he a greater interest in the country than a manufacturer who has sunk 100,000 pounds in machinery, and has a thousand people, as I had, receiving from him weekly wages? No home market, indeed! Pah! it is an affair of rent, and nothing more or less. And England is to be ruined to keep up rents. Are you going? Well, I am glad we have met. Perhaps we shall have another talk together some day. I shall not return to the works. There is little doing there, and I must think now of other things. The subscriptions to the League begin to come in apace. Say what they like in the House of Commons and the vile London press, the thing is stirring."
Wishing to turn the conversation a little, Endymion asked Mrs. Thornberry whether she occasionally went to London.
"Never was there," she said, in a sharp, clear voice; "but I hope to go soon."
"You will have a great deal to see."
"All I want to see, and hear, is the Rev. Servetus Frost," replied the lady. "My idea of perfect happiness is to hear him every Sunday. He comes here sometimes, for his sister is settled here; a very big mill. He preached here a month ago. Should not I have liked the bishop to have heard him, that's all! But he would not dare to go; he could not answer a point."
"My wife is of the Unitarian persuasion," said Thornberry. "I am not. I was born in our Church, and I keep to it; but I often go to chapel with my wife. As for religion generally, if a man believes in his Maker and does his duty to his neighbours, in my mind that is sufficient."
Endymion bade them good-bye, and strolled musingly towards his hotel.
Just as he reached the works again, he encountered Enoch Craggs, who was walking into Manchester.
"I am going to our institute," said Enoch. "I do not know why, but they have put me on the committee."
"And, I doubt not, they did very wisely," said Endymion.
"Master Thornberry was glad to see you?" said Enoch.
"And I was glad to see him."
"He has got the gift of speech," said Enoch.
"And that is a great gift."
"If wisely exercised, and I will not say he is not exercising it wisely. Certainly for his own purpose, but whether that purpose is for the general good—query?"
"He is against monopoly," observed Endymion inquiringly.
"Query again?" said Enoch.
"Well; he is opposed to the corn laws."
"The corn laws are very bad laws," said Enoch, "and the sooner we get rid of them the better. But there are worse things than the corn laws."
"Hem!" said Endymion.
"There are the money laws," said Enoch.
"I did not know you cared so much about them at Manchester," said Endymion. "I thought it was Birmingham that was chiefly interested about currency."
"I do not care one jot about currency," said Enoch; "and, so far as I can judge, the Birmingham chaps talk a deal of nonsense about the matter. Leastwise, they will never convince me that a slip of irredeemable paper is as good as the young queen's head on a twenty-shilling piece. I mean the laws that secure the accumulation of capital, by which means the real producers become mere hirelings, and really are little better than slaves."
"But surely without capital we should all of us be little better than slaves?"
"I am not against capital," replied Enoch. "What I am against is capitalists."
"But if we get rid of capitalists we shall soon get rid of capital."
"No, no," said Enoch, with his broad accent, shaking his head, and with a laughing eye. "Master Thornberry has been telling you that. He is the most inveterate capitalist of the whole lot; and I always say, though they keep aloof from him at present, they will be all sticking to his skirts before long. Master Thornberry is against the capitalists in land; but there are other capitalists nearer home, and I know more about them. I was reading a book the other day about King Charles—Charles the First, whose head they cut off—I am very liking to that time, and read a good deal about it; and there was Lord Falkland, a great gentleman in those days, and he said, when Archbishop Laud was trying on some of his priestly tricks, that, 'if he were to have a pope, he would rather the pope were at Rome than at Lambeth.' So I sometimes think, if we are to be ruled by capitalists, I would sooner, perhaps, be ruled by gentlemen of estate, who have been long among us, than by persons who build big mills, who come from God knows where, and, when they have worked their millions out of our flesh and bone, go God knows where. But perhaps we shall get rid of them all some day—landlords and mill-lords."
"And whom will you substitute for them?"
"The producers," said Enoch, with a glance half savage, half triumphant.
"What can workmen do without capital?"
"Why, they make the capital," said Enoch; "and if they make the capital, is it not strange that they should not be able to contrive some means to keep the capital? Why, Job was saying the other day that there was nothing like a principle to work upon. It would carry all before it. So say I. And I have a principle too, though it is not Master Thornberry's. But it will carry all before it, though it may not be in my time. But I am not so sure of that."
"And what is it?" asked Endymion.
This strangely-revived acquaintance with Job Thornberry was not an unfruitful incident in the life of Endymion. Thornberry was a man of original mind and singular energy; and, although of extreme views on commercial subjects, all his conclusions were founded on extensive and various information, combined with no inconsiderable practice. The mind of Thornberry was essentially a missionary one. He was always ready to convert people; and he acted with ardour and interest on a youth who, both by his ability and his social position, was qualified to influence opinion. But this youth was gifted with a calm, wise judgment, of the extent and depth of which he was scarcely conscious himself; and Thornberry, like all propagandists, was more remarkable for his zeal and his convictions, than for that observation and perception of character which are the finest elements in the management of men and affairs.
"What you should do," said Thornberry, one day, to Endymion, "is to go to Scotland; go to the Glasgow district; that city itself, and Paisley, and Kilmarnock—keep your eye on Paisley. I am much mistaken if there will not soon be a state of things there which alone will break up the whole concern. It will burst it, sir; it will burst it."
So Endymion, without saying anything, quietly went to Glasgow and its district, and noted enough to make him resolve soon to visit there again; but the cabinet reassembled in the early part of November, and he had to return to his duties.
In his leisure hours, Endymion devoted himself to the preparation of a report, for Mr. Sidney Wilton, on the condition and prospects of the manufacturing districts of the North of England, with some illustrative reference to that of the country beyond the Tweed. He concluded it before Christmas, and Mr. Wilton took it down with him to Gaydene, to study it at his leisure. Endymion passed his holidays with Lord and Lady Montfort, at their southern seat, Princedown.
Endymion spoke to Lady Montfort a little about his labours, for he had no secrets from her; but she did not much sympathise with him, though she liked him to be sedulous and to distinguish himself. "Only," she observed, "take care not to be doctrinaire, Endymion. I am always afraid of that with you. It is Sidney's fault; he always was doctrinaire. It was a great thing for you becoming his private secretary; to be the private secretary of a cabinet minister is a real step in life, and I shall always be most grateful to Sidney, whom I love for appointing you; but still, if I could have had my wish, you should have been Lord Roehampton's private secretary. That is real politics, and he is a real statesman. You must not let Mr. Wilton mislead you about the state of affairs in the cabinet. The cabinet consists of the prime minister and Lord Roehampton, and, if they are united, all the rest is vapour. And they will not consent to any nonsense about touching the corn laws; you may be sure of that. Besides, I will tell you a secret, which is not yet Pulchinello's secret, though I daresay it will be known when we all return to town—we shall have a great event when parliament meets; a royal marriage. What think you of that? The young queen is going to be married, and to a young prince, like a prince in a fairy tale. As Lord Roehampton wrote to me this morning, 'Our royal marriage will be much more popular than the Anti-Corn-Law League.'"
The royal marriage was very popular; but, unfortunately, it reflected no splendour on the ministry. The world blessed the queen and cheered the prince, but shook its head at the government. Sir Robert Peel also—whether from his own motive or the irresistible impulse of his party need not now be inquired into—sanctioned a direct attack on the government, in the shape of a vote of want of confidence in them, immediately the court festivities were over, and the attack was defeated by a narrow majority.
"Nothing could be more unprincipled," said Berengaria, "after he had refused to take office last year. As for our majority, it is, under such circumstances, twenty times more than we want. As Lord Roehampton says, one is enough."
Trade and revenue continued to decline. There was again the prospect of a deficiency. The ministry, too, was kept in by the Irish vote, and the Irish then were very unpopular. The cabinet itself generally was downcast, and among themselves occasionally murmured a regret that they had not retired when the opportunity offered in the preceding year. Berengaria, however, would not bate an inch of confidence and courage. "You think too much," she said to Endymion, "of trade and finance. Trade always comes back, and finance never ruined a country, or an individual either if he had pluck. Mr. Sidney Wilton is a croaker. The things he fears will never happen; or, if they do, will turn out to be unimportant. Look to Lord Roehampton; he is the man. He does not care a rush whether the revenue increases or declines. He is thinking of real politics: foreign affairs; maintaining our power in Europe. Something will happen, before the session is over, in the Mediterranean;" and she pressed her finger to her lip, and then she added, "The country will support Lord Roehampton as they supported Pitt, and give him any amount of taxes that he likes."
In the meantime, the social world had its incidents as well as the political, and not less interesting. Not one of the most insignificant, perhaps, was the introduction into society of the Countess of Beaumaris. Her husband, sacrificing even his hunting, had come up to town at the meeting of parliament, and received his friends in a noble mansion on Piccadilly Terrace. All its equipments were sumptuous and refined, and everything had been arranged under the personal supervision of Mr. Waldershare. They commenced very quietly; dinners little but constant, and graceful and finished as a banquet of Watteau. No formal invitations; men were brought in to dinner from the House of Lords "just up," or picked up, as it were carelessly, in the House of Commons by Mr. Waldershare, or were asked by Imogene, at a dozen hours' notice, in billets of irresistible simplicity. Soon it was whispered about, that the thing to do was to dine with Beaumaris, and that Lady Beaumaris was "something too delightful." Prince Florestan frequently dined there; Waldershare always there, in a state of coruscation; and every man of fashion in the opposite ranks, especially if they had brains.
Then, in a little time, it was gently hoped that Imogene should call on their wives and mothers, or their wives and mothers call on her; and then she received, without any formal invitation, twice a week; and as there was nothing going on in London, or nothing half so charming, everybody who was anybody came to Piccadilly Terrace; and so as, after long observation, a new planet is occasionally discovered by a philosopher, thus society suddenly and indubitably discovered that there was at last a Tory house.
Lady Roehampton, duly apprised of affairs by her brother, had called on Lord and Lady Beaumaris, and had invited them to her house. It was the first appearance of Imogene in general society, and it was successful. Her large brown eyes, and long black lashes, her pretty mouth and dimple, her wondrous hair—which, it was whispered, unfolded, touched the ground—struck every one, and the dignified simplicity of her carriage was attractive. Her husband never left her side; while Mr. Waldershare was in every part of the saloons, watching her from distant points, to see how she got on, or catching the remarks of others on her appearance. Myra was kind to her as well as courteous, and, when the stream of arriving guests had somewhat ceased, sought her out and spoke to her; and then put her arm in hers, walked with her for a moment, and introduced her to one or two great personages, who had previously intimated their wish or their consent to that effect. Lady Montfort was not one of these. When parties are equal, and the struggle for power is intense, society loses much of its sympathy and softness. Lady Montfort could endure the presence of Tories, provided they were her kinsfolk, and would join, even at their houses, in traditionary festivities; but she shrank from passing the line, and at once had a prejudice against Imogene, who she instinctively felt might become a power for the enemy.
"I will not have you talk so much to that Lady Beaumaris," she said to Endymion.
"She is an old friend of mine," he replied.
"How could you have known her? She was a shop-girl, was not she, or something of that sort?"
"She and her family were very kind to me when I was not much better than a shop-boy myself," replied Endymion, with a mantling cheek. "They are most respectable people, and I have a great regard for her."
"Indeed! Well; I will not keep you from your Tory woman," said Berengaria rudely; and she walked away.
Altogether, this season of '40 was not a very satisfactory one in any respect, as regarded society or the country in general. Party passion was at its highest. The ministry retained office almost by a casting vote; were frequently defeated on important questions; and whenever a vacancy occurred, it was filled by their opponents. Their unpopularity increased daily, and it was stimulated by the general distress. All that Job Thornberry had predicted as to the state of manufacturing Scotland duly occurred. Besides manufacturing distress, they had to encounter a series of bad harvests. Never was a body of statesmen placed in a more embarrassing and less enviable position. There was a prevalent, though unfounded, conviction that they were maintained in power by a combination of court favour with Irish sedition.
Lady Montfort and Lord Roehampton were the only persons who never lost heart. She was defiant; and he ever smiled, at least in public. "What nonsense!" she would say. "Mr. Sidney Wilton talks about the revenue falling off! As if the revenue could ever really fall off! And then our bad harvests. Why, that is the very reason we shall have an excellent harvest this year. You cannot go on always having bad harvests. Besides, good harvests never make a ministry popular. Nobody thanks a ministry for a good harvest. What makes a ministry popular is some great coup in foreign affairs."
Amid all these exciting disquietudes, Endymion pursued a life of enjoyment, but also of observation and much labour. He lived more and more with the Montforts, but the friendship of Berengaria was not frivolous. Though she liked him to be seen where he ought to figure, and required a great deal of attention herself, she ever impressed on him that his present life was only a training for a future career, and that his mind should ever be fixed on the attainment of a high position. Particularly she impressed on him the importance of being a linguist. "There will be a reaction some day from all this political economy," she would say, "and then there will be no one ready to take the helm." Endymion was not unworthy of the inspiring interest which Lady Montfort took in him. The terrible vicissitudes of his early years had gravely impressed his character. Though ambitious, he was prudent; and, though born to please and be pleased, he was sedulous and self-restrained. Though naturally deeply interested in the fortunes of his political friends, and especially of Lord Roehampton and Mr. Wilton, a careful scrutiny of existing circumstances had prepared him for an inevitable change; and, remembering what was their position but a few years back, he felt that his sister and himself should be reconciled to their altered lot, and be content. She would still be a peeress, and the happy wife of an illustrious man; and he himself, though he would have to relapse into the drudgery of a public office, would meet duties the discharge of which was once the object of his ambition, coupled now with an adequate income and with many friends.
And among those friends, there were none with whom he maintained his relations more intimately than with the Neuchatels. He was often their guest both in town and at Hainault, and he met them frequently in society, always at the receptions of Lady Montfort and his sister. Zenobia used sometimes to send him a card; but these condescending recognitions of late had ceased, particularly as the great dame heard he was "always at that Lady Beaumaris's." One of the social incidents of his circle, not the least interesting to him, was the close attendance of Adriana and her mother on the ministrations of Nigel Penruddock. They had become among the most devoted of his flock; and this, too, when the rapid and startling development of his sacred offices had so alarmed the easy, though sagacious, Lord Roehampton, that he had absolutely expressed his wish to Myra that she should rarely attend them, and, indeed, gradually altogether drop a habit which might ultimately compromise her. Berengaria had long ago quitted him. This was attributed to her reputed caprice, yet it was not so. "I like a man to be practical," she said. "When I asked for a deanery for him the other day, the prime minister said he could hardly make a man a dean who believed in the Real Presence." Nigel's church, however, was more crowded than ever, and a large body of the clergy began to look upon him as the coming man.
Towards the end of the year the "great coup in foreign affairs," which Lady Montfort had long brooded over, and indeed foreseen, occurred, and took the world, who were all thinking of something else, entirely by surprise. A tripartite alliance of great powers had suddenly started into life; the Egyptian host was swept from the conquered plains of Asia Minor and Syria by English blue-jackets; St. Jean d'Acre, which had baffled the great Napoleon, was bombarded and taken by a British fleet; and the whole fortunes of the world in a moment seemed changed, and permanently changed.
"I am glad it did not occur in the season," said Zenobia. "I really could not stand Lady Montfort if it were May."
The ministry was elate, and their Christmas was right merrie. There seemed good cause for this. It was a triumph of diplomatic skill, national valour, and administrative energy. Myra was prouder of her husband than ever, and, amid all the excitement, he smiled on her with sunny fondness. Everybody congratulated her. She gave a little reception before the holidays, to which everybody came who was in town or passing through. Even Zenobia appeared; but she stayed a very short time, talking very rapidly. Prince Florestan paid his grave devoirs, with a gaze which seemed always to search into Lady Roehampton's inmost heart, yet never lingering about her; and Waldershare, full of wondrous compliments and conceits, and really enthusiastic, for he ever sympathised with action; and Imogene, gorgeous with the Beaumaris sapphires; and Sidney Wilton, who kissed his hostess's hand, and Adriana, who kissed her cheek.
"I tell you what, Mr. Endymion," said Mr. Neuchatel, "you should make Lord Roehampton your Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then your government might perhaps go on a little."
But, as Mr. Tadpole observed, with much originality, at the Carlton, they were dancing on a volcano. It was December, and the harvest was not yet all got in, the spring corn had never grown, and the wheat was rusty; there was, he well knew, another deficiency in the revenue, to be counted by millions; wise men shook their heads and said the trade was leaving the country, and it was rumoured that the whole population of Paisley lived on the rates.
"Lord Roehampton thinks that something must be done about the corn laws," murmured Berengaria one day to Endymion, rather crestfallen; "but they will try sugar and timber first. I think it all nonsense, but nonsense is sometimes necessary."
This was the first warning of that famous budget of 1841 which led to such vast consequences, and which, directly or indirectly, gave such a new form and colour to English politics. Sidney Wilton and his friends were at length all-powerful in the cabinet, because, in reality, there was nobody to oppose them. The vessel was waterlogged. The premier shrugged his shoulders; and Lord Roehampton said, "We may as well try it, because the alternative is, we shall have to resign."
Affairs went on badly for the ministry during the early part of the session. They were more than once in a minority, and on Irish questions, which then deeply interested the country; but they had resolved that their fate should be decided by their financial measures, and Mr. Sidney Wilton and his friends were still sanguine as to the result. On the last day of April the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced the budget, and proposed to provide for the deficiency by reducing the protective duties on sugar and timber. A few days after, the leader of the House of Commons himself announced a change in the corn laws, and the intended introduction of grain at various-priced duties per quarter.
Then commenced the struggle of a month. Ultimately, Sir Robert Peel himself gave notice of a resolution of want of confidence in the ministry; and after a week's debate, it was carried, in an almost complete house, by a majority of one!
It was generally supposed that the ministry would immediately resign. Their new measures had not revived their popularity, and the parliament in which they had been condemned had been elected under their own advice and influence. Mr. Sidney Wilton had even told Endymion to get their papers in order; and all around the somewhat dejected private secretary there were unmistakable signs of that fatal flitting which is peculiarly sickening to the youthful politician.
He was breakfasting in his rooms at the Albany with not a good appetite. Although he had for some time contemplated the possibility of such changes—and contemplated them, as he thought, with philosophy—when it came to reality and practice, he found his spirit was by no means so calm, or his courage so firm, as he had counted on. The charms of office arrayed themselves before him. The social influence, the secret information, the danger, the dexterity, the ceaseless excitement, the delights of patronage which everybody affects to disregard, the power of benefiting others, and often the worthy and unknown which is a real joy—in eight-and-forty hours or so, all these, to which he had now been used for some time, and which with his plastic disposition had become a second nature, were to vanish, and probably never return. Why should they? He took the gloomiest view of the future, and his inward soul acknowledged that the man the country wanted was Peel. Why might he not govern as long as Pitt? He probably would. Peel! his father's friend! And this led to a train of painful but absorbing memories, and he sat musing and abstracted, fiddling with an idle egg-spoon.
His servant came in with a note, which he eagerly opened. It ran thus: "I must see you instantly. I am here in the brougham, Cork Street end. Come directly. B. M."
Endymion had to walk up half the Albany, and marked the brougham the whole way. There was in it an eager and radiant face.
"You had better get in," said Lady Montfort, "for in these stirring times some of the enemy may be passing. And now," she continued, when the door was fairly shut, "nobody knows it, not five people. They are going to dissolve."
"To dissolve!" exclaimed Endymion. "Will that help us?"
"Very likely," said Berengaria. "We have had our share of bad luck, and now we may throw in. Cheap bread is a fine cry. Indeed it is too shocking that there should be laws which add to the price of what everybody agrees is the staff of life. But you do nothing but stare, Endymion; I thought you would be in a state of the greatest excitement!"
"I am rather stunned than excited."
"Well, but you must not be stunned, you must act. This is a crisis for our party, but it is something more for you. It is your climacteric. They may lose; but you must win, if you will only bestir yourself. See the whips directly, and get the most certain seat you can. Nothing must prevent your being in the new parliament."
"I see everything to prevent it," said Endymion. "I have no means of getting into parliament—no means of any kind."
"Means must be found," said Lady Montfort. "We cannot stop now to talk about means. That would be a mere waste of time. The thing must be done. I am now going to your sister, to consult with her. All you have got to do is to make up your mind that you will be in the next parliament, and you will succeed; for everything in this world depends upon will."
"I think everything in this world depends upon woman," said Endymion.
"It is the same thing," said Berengaria.
Adriana was with Lady Roehampton when Lady Montfort was announced.
Adriana came to console; but she herself was not without solace, for, if there were a change of government, she would see more of her friend.
"Well; I was prepared for it," said Lady Roehampton. "I have always been expecting something ever since what they called the Bed-Chamber Plot."
"Well; it gave us two years," said Lady Montfort; "and we are not out yet."
Here were three women, young, beautiful, and powerful, and all friends of Endymion—real friends. Property does not consist merely of parks and palaces, broad acres, funds in many forms, services of plate, and collections of pictures. The affections of the heart are property, and the sympathy of the right person is often worth a good estate.
These three charming women were cordial, and embraced each other when they met; but the conversation flagged, and the penetrating eye of Myra read in the countenance of Lady Montfort the urgent need of confidence.
"So, dearest Adriana," said Lady Roehampton, "we will drive out together at three o'clock. I will call on you." And Adriana disappeared.
"You know it?" said Lady Montfort when they were alone. "Of course you know it. Besides, I know you know it. What I have come about is this; your brother must be in the new parliament."
"I have not seen him; I have not mentioned it to him," said Myra, somewhat hesitatingly.
"I have seen him; I have mentioned it to him," said Lady Montfort decidedly. "He makes difficulties; there must be none. He will consult you. I came on at once that you might be prepared. No difficulty must be admitted. His future depends on it."
"I live for his future," said Lady Roehampton.
"He will talk to you about money. These things always cost money. As a general rule, nobody has money who ought to have it. I know dear Lord Roehampton is very kind to you; but, all his life, he never had too much money at his command; though why, I never could make out. And my lord has always had too much money; but I do not much care to talk to him about these affairs. The thing must be done. What is the use of a diamond necklace if you cannot help a friend into parliament? But all I want to know now is that you will throw no difficulties in his way. Help him, too, if you can."
"I wish Endymion had married," replied Myra.
"Well; I do not see how that would help affairs," said Lady Montfort. "Besides, I dislike married men. They are very uninteresting."
"I mean, I wish," said Lady Roehampton musingly, "that he had made a great match."
"That is not very easy," said Lady Montfort, "and great matches are generally failures. All the married heiresses I have known have shipwrecked."
"And yet it is possible to marry an heiress and love her," said Myra.
"It is possible, but very improbable."
"I think one might easily love the person who has just left the room."
"Adriana. Do not you agree with me?"
"Miss Neuchatel will never marry," said Lady Montfort, "unless she loses her fortune."
"Well; do you know, I have sometimes thought that she liked Endymion? I never could encourage such a feeling; and Endymion, I am sure, would not. I wish, I almost wish," added Lady Roehampton, trying to speak with playfulness, "that you would use your magic influence, dear Lady Montfort, and bring it about. He would soon get into parliament then."
"I have tried to marry Miss Neuchatel once," said Lady Montfort, with a mantling cheek, "and I am glad to say I did not succeed. My match-making is over."
There was a dead silence; one of those still moments which almost seem inconsistent with life, certainly with the presence of more than one human being. Lady Roehampton seemed buried in deep thought. She was quite abstracted, her eyes fixed, and fixed upon the ground. All the history of her life passed through her brain—all the history of their lives; from the nursery to this proud moment, proud even with all its searching anxiety. And yet the period of silence could be counted almost by seconds. Suddenly she looked up with a flushed cheek and a dazed look, and said, "It must be done."
Lady Montfort sprang forward with a glance radiant with hope and energy, and kissed her on both cheeks. "Dearest Lady Roehampton," she exclaimed, "dearest Myra! I knew you would agree with me. Yes! it must be done."
"You will see him perhaps before I do?" inquired Myra rather hesitatingly.
"I see him every day at the same time," replied Lady Montfort. "He generally walks down to the House of Commons with Mr. Wilton, and when they have answered questions, and he has got all the news of the lobby, he comes to me. I always manage to get home from my drive to give him half an hour before dinner."
Lady Montfort drove off to the private residence of the Secretary of the Treasury, who was of course in the great secret. She looked over his lists, examined his books, and seemed to have as much acquaintance with electioneering details as that wily and experienced gentleman himself. "Is there anything I can do?" she repeatedly inquired; "command me without compunction. Is it any use giving any parties? Can I write any letters? Can I see anybody?"
"If you could stir up my lord a little?" said the secretary inquiringly.
"Well, that is difficult," said Lady Montfort, "perhaps impossible. But you have all his influence, and when there is a point that presses you must let me know."
"If he would only speak to his agents?" said the secretary, "but they say he will not, and he has a terrible fellow in ——shire, who I hear is one of the stewards for a dinner to Sir Robert."
"I have stopped all that," said Lady Montfort. "That was Odo's doing, who is himself not very sound; full of prejudices about O'Connell, and all that stuff. But he must go with his party. You need not fear about him."
"Well! it is a leap in the dark," said the secretary.
"Oh! no," said Lady Montfort, "all will go right. A starving people must be in favour of a government who will give them bread for nothing. By the by, there is one thing, my dear Mr. Secretary, you must remember. I must have one seat, a certain seat, reserved for my nomination."
"A certain seat in these days is a rare gem," said the secretary.
"Yes, but I must have it nevertheless," said Lady Montfort. "I don't care about the cost or the trouble—but it must be certain."
Then she went home and wrote a line to Endymion, to tell him that it was all settled, that she had seen his sister, who agreed with her that it must be done, and that she had called on the Secretary of the Treasury, and had secured a certain seat. "I wish you could come to luncheon," she added, "but I suppose that is impossible; you are always so busy. Why were you not in the Foreign Office? I am now going to call on the Tory women to see how they look, but I shall be at home a good while before seven, and of course count on seeing you."
In the meantime, Endymion by no means shared the pleasurable excitement of his fair friend. His was an agitated walk from the Albany to Whitehall, where he resumed his duties moody and disquieted. There was a large correspondence this morning, which was a distraction and a relief, until the bell of Mr. Sidney Wilton sounded, and he was in attendance on his chief.
"It is a great secret," said Mr. Wilton, "but I think I ought to tell you; instead of resigning, the government have decided to dissolve. I think it a mistake, but I stand by my friends. They believe the Irish vote will be very large, and with cheap bread will carry us through. I think the stronger we shall be in Ireland the weaker we shall be in England, and I doubt whether our cheap bread will be cheap enough. These Manchester associations have altered the aspect of affairs. I have been thinking a good deal about your position. I should like, before we broke up, to have seen you provided for by some permanent office of importance in which you might have been useful to the state, but it is difficult to manage these things suddenly. However, now we have time at any rate to look about us. Still, if I could have seen you permanently attached to this office in a responsible position, I should have been glad. I impressed upon the chief yesterday that you are most fit for it."
"Oh! do not think of me, dear sir; you have been always too kind to me. I shall be content with my lot. All I shall regret is ceasing to serve you."
Lady Montfort's carriage drove up to Montfort House just as Endymion reached the door. She took his arm with eagerness; she seemed breathless with excitement. "I fear I am very late, but if you had gone away I should never have pardoned you. I have been kept by listening to all the new appointments from Lady Bellasyse. They quite think we are out; you may be sure I did not deny it. I have so much to tell you. Come into my lord's room; he is away fishing. Think of fishing at such a crisis! I cannot tell you how pleased I was with my visit to Lady Roehampton. She quite agreed with me in everything. 'It must be done,' she said. How every right! and I have almost done it. I will have a certain seat; no chances. Let us have something to fall back upon. If not in office we shall be in opposition. All men must sometime or other be in opposition. There you will form yourself. It is a great thing to have had some official experience. It will save you from mares' nests, and I will give parties without end, and never rest till I see you prime minister."
So she threw herself into her husband's easy chair, tossed her parasol on the table, and then she said, "But what is the matter with you, Endymion? you look quite sad. You do not mean you really take our defeat—which is not certain yet—so much to heart. Believe me, opposition has its charms; indeed, I sometimes think the principal reason why I have enjoyed our ministerial life so much is, that it has been from the first a perpetual struggle for existence."
"I do not pretend to be quite indifferent to the probably impending change," said Endymion, "but I cannot say there is anything about it which would affect my feelings very deeply."
"What is it, then?"
"It is this business about which you and Myra are so kindly interesting yourselves," said Endymion with some emotion; "I do not think I could go into parliament."
"Not go into parliament!" exclaimed Lady Montfort. "Why, what are men made for except to go into parliament? I am indeed astounded."
"I do not disparage parliament," said Endymion; "much the reverse. It is a life that I think would suit me, and I have often thought the day might come"——
"The day has come," said Lady Montfort, "and not a bit too soon. Mr. Fox went in before he was of age, and all young men of spirit should do the same. Why! you are two-and-twenty!"
"It is not my age," said Endymion hesitatingly; "I am not afraid about that, for from the life which I have led of late years, I know a good deal about the House of Commons."
"Then what is it, dear Endymion?" said Lady Montfort impatiently.
"It will make a great change in my life," said Endymion calmly, but with earnestness, "and one which I do not feel justified in accepting."
"I repeat to you, that you need give yourself no anxiety about the seat," said Lady Montfort. "It will not cost you a shilling. I and your sister have arranged all that. As she very wisely said, 'It must be done,' and it is done. All you have to do is to write an address, and make plenty of speeches, and you are M.P. for life, or as long as you like."
"Possibly; a parliamentary adventurer, I might swim or I might sink; the chances are it would be the latter, for storms would arise, when those disappear who have no root in the country, and no fortune to secure them breathing time and a future."
"Well, I did not expect, when you handed me out of my carriage to-day, that I was going to listen to a homily on prudence."
"It is not very romantic, I own," said Endymion, "but my prudence is at any rate not a commonplace caught up from copy-books. I am only two-and-twenty, but I have had some experience, and it has been very bitter. I have spoken to you, dearest lady, sometimes of my earlier life, for I wished you to be acquainted with it, but I observed also you always seemed to shrink from such confidence, and I ceased from touching on what I saw did not interest you."
"Quite a mistake. It greatly interested me. I know all about you and everything. I know you were not always a clerk in a public office, but the spoiled child of splendour. I know your father was a dear good man, but he made a mistake, and followed the Duke of Wellington instead of Mr. Canning. Had he not, he would probably be alive now, and certainly Secretary of State, like Mr. Sidney Wilton. But you must not make a mistake, Endymion. My business in life, and your sister's too, is to prevent your making mistakes. And you are on the eve of making a very great one if you lose this golden opportunity. Do not think of the past; you dwell on it too much. Be like me, live in the present, and when you dream, dream of the future."
"Ah! the present would be adequate, it would be fascination, if I always had such a companion as Lady Montfort," said Endymion, shaking his head. "What surprises me most, what indeed astounds me, is that Myra should join in this counsel—Myra, who knows all, and who has felt it perhaps deeper even than I did. But I will not obtrude these thoughts on you, best and dearest of friends. I ought not to have made to you the allusions to my private position which I have done, but it seemed to me the only way to explain my conduct, otherwise inexplicable."
"And to whom ought you to say these things if not to me," said Lady Montfort, "whom you called just now your best and dearest friend? I wish to be such to you. Perhaps I have been too eager, but, at any rate, it was eagerness for your welfare. Let us then be calm. Speak to me as you would to Myra. I cannot be your twin, but I can be your sister in feeling."
He took her hand and gently pressed it to his lips; his eyes would have been bedewed, had not the dreadful sorrows and trials of his life much checked his native susceptibility. Then speaking in a serious tone, he said, "I am not without ambition, dearest Lady Montfort; I have had visions which would satisfy even you; but partly from my temperament, still more perhaps from the vicissitudes of my life, I have considerable waiting powers. I think if one is patient and watches, all will come of which one is capable; but no one can be patient who is not independent. My wants are moderate, but their fulfilment must be certain. The break-up of the government, which deprives me of my salary as a private secretary, deprives me of luxuries which I can do without—a horse, a brougham, a stall at the play, a flower in my button-hole—but my clerkship is my freehold. As long as I possess it, I can study, I can work, I can watch and comprehend all the machinery of government. I can move in society, without which a public man, whatever his talents or acquirements, is in life playing at blind-man's buff. I must sacrifice this citadel of my life if I go into parliament. Do not be offended, therefore, if I say to you, as I shall say to Myra, I have made up my mind not to surrender it. It is true I have the misfortune to be a year older than Charles Fox when he entered the senate, but even with this great disadvantage I am sometimes conceited enough to believe that I shall succeed, and to back myself against the field."
Mr. Waldershare was delighted when the great secret was out, and he found that the ministry intended to dissolve, and not resign. It was on a Monday that Lord John Russell made this announcement, and Waldershare met Endymion in the lobby of the House of Commons. "I congratulate you, my dear boy; your fellows, at least, have pluck. If they lose, which I think they will, they will have gained at least three months of power, and irresponsible power. Why! they may do anything in the interval, and no doubt will. You will see; they will make their chargers consuls. It beats the Bed-Chamber Plot, and I always admired that. One hundred days! Why, the Second Empire lasted only one hundred days. But what days! what excitement! They were worth a hundred years at Elba."
"Your friends do not seem quite so pleased as you are," said Endymion.
"My friends, as you call them, are old fogies, and want to divide the spoil among the ancient hands. It will be a great thing for Peel to get rid of some of these old friends. A dissolution permits the powerful to show their power. There is Beaumaris, for example; now he will have an opportunity of letting them know who Lord Beaumaris is. I have a dream; he must be Master of the Horse. I shall never rest till I see Imogene riding in that golden coach, and breaking the line with all the honours of royalty."
"Mr. Ferrars," said the editor of a newspaper, seizing his watched-for opportunity as Waldershare and Endymion separated, "do you think you could favour me this evening with Mr. Sidney Wilton's address? We have always supported Mr. Wilton's views on the corn laws, and if put clearly and powerfully before the country at this junction, the effect might be great, perhaps even, if sustained, decisive."
Eight-and-forty hours and more had elapsed since the conversation between Endymion and Lady Montfort; they had not been happy days. For the first time during their acquaintance there had been constraint and embarrassment between them. Lady Montfort no longer opposed his views, but she did not approve them. She avoided the subject; she looked uninterested in all that was going on around her; talked of joining her lord and going a-fishing; felt he was right in his views of life. "Dear Simon was always right," and then she sighed, and then she shrugged her pretty shoulders. Endymion, though he called on her as usual, found there was nothing to converse about; politics seemed tacitly forbidden, and when he attempted small talk Lady Montfort seemed absent—and once absolutely yawned.
What amazed Endymion still more was, that, under these rather distressing circumstances, he did not find adequate support and sympathy in his sister. Lady Roehampton did not question the propriety of his decision, but she seemed quite as unhappy and as dissatisfied as Lady Montfort.
"What you say, dearest Endymion, is quite unanswerable, and I alone perhaps can really know that; but what I feel is, I have failed in life. My dream was to secure you greatness, and now, when the first occasion arrives, it seems I am more than powerless."
"Dearest sister! you have done so much for me."
"Nothing," said Lady Roehampton; "what I have done for you would have been done by every sister in this metropolis. I dreamed of other things; I fancied, with my affection and my will, I could command events, and place you on a pinnacle. I see my folly now; others have controlled your life, not I—as was most natural; natural, but still bitter."
"It is so, Endymion. Let us deceive ourselves no longer. I ought not to have rested until you were in a position which would have made you a master of your destiny."
"But if there should be such a thing as destiny, it will not submit to the mastery of man."
"Do not split words with me; you know what I mean; you feel what I mean; I mean much more than I say, and you understand much more than I say. My lord told me to ask you to dine with us, if you called, but I will not ask you. There is no joy in meeting at present. I feel as I felt in our last year at Hurstley."
"Oh! don't say that, dear Myra!" and Endymion sprang forward and kissed her very much. "Trust me; all will come right; a little patience, and all will come right."
"I have had patience enough in life," said Lady Roehampton; "years of patience, the most doleful, the most dreary, the most dark and tragical. And I bore it all, and I bore it well, because I thought of you, and had confidence in you, and confidence in your star; and because, like an idiot, I had schooled myself to believe that, if I devoted my will to you, that star would triumph."
So, the reader will see, that our hero was not in a very serene and genial mood when he was buttonholed by the editor in the lobby, and, it is feared, he was unusually curt with that gentleman, which editors do not like, and sometimes reward with a leading article in consequence, on the character and career of our political chief, perhaps with some passing reference to jacks-in-office, and the superficial impertinence of private secretaries. These wise and amiable speculators on public affairs should, however, sometimes charitably remember that even ministers have their chagrins, and that the trained temper and imperturbable presence of mind of their aides-de-camp are not absolutely proof to all the infirmities of human nature.
Endymion had returned home from the lobby, depressed and dispirited. The last incident of our life shapes and colours our feelings. Ever since he had settled in London, his life might be said to have been happy, gradually and greatly prosperous. The devotion of his sister and the eminent position she had achieved, the friendship of Lady Montfort, and the kindness of society, who had received him with open arms, his easy circumstances after painful narrowness of means, his honourable and interesting position—these had been the chief among many other causes which had justly rendered Endymion Ferrars a satisfied and contented man. And it was more than to be hoped that not one of these sources would be wanting in his future. And yet he felt dejected, even to unhappiness. Myra figured to his painful consciousness only as deeply wounded in her feelings, and he somehow the cause; Lady Montfort, from whom he had never received anything but smiles and inspiring kindness, and witty raillery, and affectionate solicitude for his welfare, offended and estranged. And as for society, perhaps it would make a great difference in his position if he were no longer a private secretary to a cabinet minister and only a simple clerk; he could not, even at this melancholy moment, dwell on his impending loss of income, though that increase at the time had occasioned him, and those who loved him, so much satisfaction. And yet was he in fault? Had his decision been a narrow-minded and craven one? He could not bring himself to believe so—his conscience assured him that he had acted rightly. After all that he had experienced, he was prepared to welcome an obscure, but could not endure a humiliating position.
It was a long summer evening. The House had not sat after the announcement of the ministers. The twilight lingered with a charm almost as irresistible as among woods and waters. Endymion had been engaged to dine out, but had excused himself. Had it not been for the Montfort misunderstanding, he would have gone; but that haunted him. He had not called on her that day; he really had not courage to meet her. He was beginning to think that he might never see her again; never, certainly, on the same terms. She had the reputation of being capricious, though she had been constant in her kindness to him. Never see her again, or only see her changed! He was not aware of the fulness of his misery before; he was not aware, until this moment, that unless he saw her every day life would be intolerable.
He sat down at his table, covered with notes in every female handwriting except the right one, and with cards of invitation to banquets and balls and concerts, and "very earlies," and carpet dances—for our friend was a very fashionable young man—but what is the use of even being fashionable, if the person you love cares for you no more? And so out of very wantonness, instead of opening notes sealed or stamped with every form of coronet, he took up a business-like epistle, closed only with a wafer, and saying in drollery, "I should think a dun," he took out a script receipt for 20,000 pounds consols, purchased that morning in the name of Endymion Ferrars, Esq. It was enclosed in half a sheet of note-paper, on which were written these words, in a handwriting which gave no clue of acquaintanceship, or even sex: "Mind—you are to send me your first frank."
It was useless to ask who could it be? It could only be one person; and yet how could it have been managed? So completely and so promptly! Her lord, too, away; the only being, it would seem, who could have effected for her such a purpose, and he the last individual to whom, perhaps, she would have applied. Was it a dream? The long twilight was dying away, and it dies away in the Albany a little sooner than it does in Park Lane; and so he lit the candles on his mantel-piece, and then again unfolded the document carefully, and read it and re-read it. It was not a dream. He held in his hand firmly, and read with his eyes clearly, the evidence that he was the uncontrolled master of no slight amount of capital, and which, if treated with prudence, secured to him for life an absolute and becoming independence. His heart beat and his cheek glowed.
What a woman! And how true were Myra's last words at Hurstley, that women would be his best friends in life! He ceased to think; and, dropping into his chair, fell into a reverie, in which the past and the future seemed to blend, with some mingling of a vague and almost ecstatic present. It was a dream of fair women, and even fairer thoughts, domestic tenderness and romantic love, mixed up with strange vicissitudes of lofty and fiery action, and passionate passages of eloquence and power. The clock struck and roused him from his musing. He fell from the clouds. Could he accept this boon? Was his doing so consistent with that principle of independence on which he had resolved to build up his life? The boon thus conferred might be recalled and returned; not legally indeed, but by a stronger influence than any law—the consciousness on his part that the feeling of interest in his life which had prompted it might change—would, must change. It was the romantic impulse of a young and fascinating woman, who had been to him invariably kind, but who had a reputation for caprice, which was not unknown to him. It was a wild and beautiful adventure; but only that.
He walked up and down his rooms for a long time, sometimes thinking, sometimes merely musing; sometimes in a pleased but gently agitated state of almost unconsciousness. At last he sate down at his writing-table, and wrote for some time; and then directing the letter to the Countess of Montfort, he resolved to change the current of his thoughts, and went to a club.
Morning is not romantic. Romance is the twilight spell; but morn is bright and joyous, prompt with action, and full of sanguine hope. Life has few difficulties in the morning, at least, none which we cannot conquer; and a private secretary to a minister, young and prosperous, at his first meal, surrounded by dry toast, all the newspapers, and piles of correspondence, asking and promising everything, feels with pride and delight the sense of powerful and responsible existence. Endymion had glanced at all the leading articles, had sorted in the correspondence the grain from the chaff, and had settled in his mind those who must be answered and those who must be seen. The strange incident of last night was of course not forgotten, but removed, as it were, from his consciousness in the bustle and pressure of active life, when his servant brought him a letter in a handwriting he knew right well. He would not open it till he was alone, and then it was with a beating heart and a burning cheek.
LADY MONTFORT'S LETTER
"What is it all about? and what does it all mean? I should have thought some great calamity had occurred if, however distressing, it did not appear in some sense to be gratifying. What is gratifying? You deal in conundrums, which I never could find out. Of course I shall be at home to you at any time, if you wish to see me. Pray come on at once, as I detest mysteries. I went to the play last night with your sister. We both of us rather expected to see you, but it seems neither of us had mentioned to you we were going. I did not, for I was too low-spirited about your affairs. You lost nothing. The piece was stupid beyond expression. We laughed heartily, at least I did, to show we were not afraid. My lord came home last night suddenly. Odo is going to stand for the county, and his borough is vacant. What an opportunity it would have been for you! a certain seat. But I care for no boroughs now. My lord will want you to dine with him to-day; I hope you can come. Perhaps he will not be able to see you this morning, as his agent will be with him about these elections. Adieu!"
If Lady Montfort did not like conundrums, she had succeeded, however, in sending one sufficiently perplexing to Endymion. Could it be possible that the writer of this letter was the unknown benefactress of the preceding eve? Lady Montfort was not a mystifier. Her nature was singularly frank and fearless, and when Endymion told her everything that had occurred, and gave her the document which originally he had meant to bring with him in order to return it, her amazement and her joy were equal.
"I wish I had sent it," said Lady Montfort, "but that was impossible. I do not care who did send it; I have no female curiosity except about matters which, by knowledge, I may influence. This is finished. You are free. You cannot hesitate as to your course. I never could speak to you again if you did hesitate. Stop here, and I will go to my lord. This is a great day. If we can settle only to-day that you shall be the candidate for our borough, I really shall not much care for the change of ministry."
Lady Montfort was a long time away. Endymion would have liked to have gone forth on his affairs, but she had impressed upon him so earnestly to wait for her return that he felt he could not retire. The room was one to which he was not unaccustomed, otherwise, its contents would not have been uninteresting; her portrait by more than one great master, a miniature of her husband in a Venetian dress upon her writing-table—a table which wonderfully indicated alike the lady of fashion and the lady of business, for there seemed to be no form in which paper could be folded and emblazoned which was there wanting; quires of letter paper, and note paper, and notelet paper, from despatches of state to billet-doux, all were ready; great covers with arms and supporters, more moderate ones with "Berengaria" in letters of glittering fancy, and the destined shells of diminutive effusions marked only with a golden bee. There was another table covered with trinkets and precious toys; snuff-boxes and patch-boxes beautifully painted, exquisite miniatures, rare fans, cups of agate, birds glittering with gems almost as radiant as the tropic plumage they imitated, wild animals cut out of ivory, or formed of fantastic pearls—all the spoils of queens and royal mistresses.
Upon the walls were drawings of her various homes; that of her childhood, as well as of the hearths she ruled and loved. There were a few portraits on the walls also of those whom she ranked as her particular friends. Lord Roehampton was one, another was the Count of Ferroll.
Time went on; on a little table, by the side of evidently her favourite chair, was a book she had been reading. It was a German tale of fame, and Endymion, dropping into her seat, became interested in a volume which hitherto he had never seen, but of which he had heard much.
Perhaps he had been reading for some time; there was a sound, he started and looked up, and then, springing from his chair, he said, "Something has happened!"
Lady Montfort was quite pale, and the expression of her countenance distressed, but when he said these words she tried to smile, and said, "No, no, nothing, nothing,—at least nothing to distress you. My lord hopes you will be able to dine with him to-day, and tell him all the news." And then she threw herself into a chair and sighed. "I should like to have a good cry, as the servants say—but I never could cry. I will tell you all about it in a moment. You were very good not to go."
It seems that Lady Montfort saw her lord before the agent, who was waiting, had had his interview, and the opportunity being in every way favourable, she felt the way about obtaining his cousin's seat for Endymion. Lord Montfort quite embraced this proposal. It had never occurred to him. He had no idea that Ferrars contemplated parliament. It was a capital idea. He could not bear reading the parliament reports, and yet he liked to know a little of what was going on. Now, when anything happened of interest, he should have it all from the fountain-head. "And you must tell him, Berengaria," he continued, "that he can come and dine here whenever he likes, in boots. It is a settled thing that M.P.'s may dine in boots. I think it a most capital plan. Besides, I know it will please you. You will have your own member."
Then he rang the bell, and begged Lady Montfort to remain and see the agent. Nothing like the present time for business. They would make all the arrangements at once, and he would ask the agent to dine with them to-day, and so meet Mr. Ferrars.
So the agent entered, and it was all explained to him, calmly and clearly, briefly by my lord, but with fervent amplification by his charming wife. The agent several times attempted to make a remark, but for some time he was unsuccessful; Lady Montfort was so anxious that he should know all about Mr. Ferrars, the most rising young man of the day, the son of the Right Honourable William Pitt Ferrars, who, had he not died, would probably have been prime minister, and so on.
"Mr. Ferrars seems to be everything we could wish," said the agent, "and as you say, my lady, though he is young, so was Mr. Pitt, and I have little doubt, after what you say, my lady, that it is very likely he will in time become as eminent. But what I came up to town particularly to impress upon my lord is, that if Mr. Odo will not stand again, we are in a very great difficulty."