And yet all this time, there were certain influences at work in the great body of the nation, neither foreseen, nor for some time recognised, by statesmen and those great capitalists on whose opinion statesmen much depend, which were stirring, as it were, like the unconscious power of the forces of nature, and which were destined to baffle all the calculations of persons in authority and the leading spirits of all parties, strengthen a perplexed administration, confound a sanguine opposition, render all the rhetoric, statistics, and subscriptions of the Anti-Corn Law League fruitless, and absolutely make the Chartists forget the Charter.
"My friends will not assist themselves by resisting the government measures," said Mr. Neuchatel, with his usual calm smile, half sceptical, half sympathetic. "The measures will do no good, but they will do no harm. There are no measures that will do any good at this moment. We do not want measures; what we want is a new channel."
That is exactly what was wanted. There was abundant capital in the country and a mass of unemployed labour. But the markets on which they had of late depended, the American especially, were overworked and overstocked, and in some instances were not only overstocked, but disturbed by war, as the Chinese, for example—and capital and labour wanted "a new channel."
The new channel came, and all the persons of authority, alike political and commercial, seemed quite surprised that it had arrived; but when a thing or a man is wanted, they generally appear. One or two lines of railway, which had been long sleepily in formation, about this time were finished, and one or two lines of railway, which had been finished for some time and were unnoticed, announced dividends, and not contemptible ones. Suddenly there was a general feeling in the country, that its capital should be invested in railways; that the whole surface of the land should be transformed, and covered, as by a network, with these mighty means of communication. When the passions of the English, naturally an enthusiastic people, are excited on a subject of finance, their will, their determination, and resource, are irresistible. This was signally proved in the present instance, for they never ceased subscribing their capital until the sum entrusted to this new form of investment reached an amount almost equal to the national debt; and this too in a very few years. The immediate effect on the condition of the country was absolutely prodigious. The value of land rose, all the blast furnaces were relit, a stimulant was given to every branch of the home trade, the amount suddenly paid in wages exceeded that ever known in this country, and wages too at a high rate. Large portions of the labouring classes not only enjoyed comfort, but commanded luxury. All this of course soon acted on the revenue, and both customs and especially excise soon furnished an ample surplus.
It cannot be pretended that all this energy and enterprise were free in their operation from those evils which, it seems, must inevitably attend any extensive public speculation, however well founded. Many of the scenes and circumstances recalled the days of the South Sea Scheme. The gambling in shares of companies which were formed only in name was without limit. The principal towns of the north established for that purpose stock exchanges of their own, and Leeds especially, one-fifth of whose population had been authoritatively described in the first session of the new parliament as dependent on the poor-rates, now boasted a stock exchange which in the extent of its transactions rivalled that of the metropolis. And the gambling was universal, from the noble to the mechanic. It was confined to no class and to no sex. The scene which took place at the Board of Trade on the last day on which plans could be lodged, and when midnight had arrived while crowds from the country were still filling the hall, and pressing at the doors, deserved and required for its adequate representation the genius of a Hogarth. This was the day on which it was announced that the total number of railway projects, on which deposits had been paid, had reached nearly to eight hundred.
What is remarkable in this vast movement in which so many millions were produced, and so many more promised, is, that the great leaders of the financial world took no part in it. The mighty loan-mongers, on whose fiat the fate of kings and empires sometimes depended, seemed like men who, witnessing some eccentricity of nature, watch it with mixed feelings of curiosity and alarm. Even Lombard Street, which never was more wanted, was inactive, and it was only by the irresistible pressure of circumstances that a banking firm which had an extensive country connection was ultimately forced to take the leading part that was required, and almost unconsciously lay the foundation of the vast fortunes which it has realised, and organise the varied connection which it now commands. All seemed to come from the provinces, and from unknown people in the provinces.
But in all affairs there must be a leader, and a leader appeared. He was more remarkable than the movement itself. He was a London tradesman, though a member of parliament returned for the first time to this House of Commons. This leader was Mr. Vigo.
Mr. Vigo had foreseen what was coming, and had prepared for it. He agreed with Mr. Neuchatel, what was wanted was "a new channel." That channel he thought he had discovered, and he awaited it. He himself could command no inconsiderable amount of capital, and he had a following of obscure rich friends who believed in him, and did what he liked. His daily visits to the City, except when he was travelling over England, and especially the north and midland counties, had their purpose and bore fruit. He was a director, and soon the chairman and leading spirit, of a railway which was destined to be perhaps our most important one. He was master of all the details of the business; he had arrived at conclusions on the question of the gauges, which then was a pons asinorum for the multitude, and understood all about rolling stock and permanent ways, and sleepers and branch lines, which were then cabalistic terms to the general. In his first session in parliament he had passed quietly and almost unnoticed several bills on these matters, and began to be recognised by the Committee of Selection as a member who ought to be "put on" for questions of this kind.
The great occasion had arrived, and Mr. Vigo was equal to it. He was one of those few men who awake one day and find themselves famous. Suddenly it would seem that the name of Mr. Vigo was in everybody's mouth. There was only one subject which interested the country, and he was recognised as the man who best understood it. He was an oracle, and, naturally, soon became an idol. The tariff of the ministers was forgotten, the invectives of the League were disregarded, their motions for the repeal of the corn laws were invariably defeated by large and contemptuous majorities. The House of Commons did nothing but pass railway bills, measures which were welcomed with unanimity by the House of Lords, whose estates were in consequence daily increasing in value. People went to the gallery to see Mr. Vigo introduce bills, and could scarcely restrain their enthusiasm at the spectacle of so much patriotic energy, which secured for them premiums for shares, which they held in undertakings of which the first sod was not yet cut. On one morning, the Great Cloudland Company, of which he was chairman, gave their approval of twenty-six bills, which he immediately introduced into parliament. Next day, the Ebor and North Cloudland sanctioned six bills under his advice, and affirmed deeds and agreements which affected all the principal railway projects in Lancashire and Yorkshire. A quarter of an hour later, just time to hurry from one meeting to another, where he was always received with rampant enthusiasm, Newcastle and the extreme north accepted his dictatorship. During a portion of two days, he obtained the consent of shareholders to forty bills, involving an expenditure of ten millions; and the engagements for one session alone amounted to one hundred and thirty millions sterling.
Mr. Neuchatel shrugged his shoulders, but no one would listen even to Mr. Neuchatel, when the prime minister himself, supposed to be the most wary of men, and especially on financial subjects, in the very white heat of all this speculation, himself raised the first sod on his own estate in a project of extent and importance.
Throughout these extraordinary scenes, Mr. Vigo, though not free from excitement, exhibited, on the whole, much self-control. He was faithful to his old friends, and no one profited more in this respect than Mr. Rodney. That gentleman became the director of several lines, and vice-chairman of one over which Mr. Vigo himself presided. No one was surprised that Mr. Rodney therefore should enter parliament. He came in by virtue of one of those petitions that Tadpole was always cooking, or baffling. Mr. Rodney was a supporter of the ministry, and Mr. Vigo was a Liberal, but Mr. Vigo returned Mr. Rodney to parliament all the same, and no one seemed astonished or complained. Political connection, political consistency, political principle, all vanished before the fascination of premiums.
As for Endymion, the great man made him friendly and earnest overtures, and offered, if he would give his time to business, which, as he was in opposition, would be no great sacrifice, to promote and secure his fortune. But Endymion, after due reflection, declined, though with gratitude, these tempting proposals. Ferrars was an ambitious man, but not too imaginative a one. He had a main object in life, and that was to regain the position which had been forfeited, not by his own fault. His grandfather and his father before him had both been privy councillors and ministers of state. There had, indeed, been more than the prospect of his father filling a very prominent position. All had been lost, but the secret purpose of the life of Endymion was that, from being a clerk in a public office, he should arrive by his own energies at the station to which he seemed, as it were, born. To accomplish this he felt that the entire devotion of his labour and thought was requisite. His character was essentially tenacious, and he had already realised no inconsiderable amount of political knowledge and official experience. His object seemed difficult and distant, but there was nothing wild or visionary in its pursuit. He had achieved some of the first steps, and he was yet very young. There were friends about him, however, who were not content with what they deemed his moderate ambition, and thought they discerned in him qualities which might enable him to mount to a higher stage. However this might be, his judgment was that he must resist the offers of Mr. Vigo, though they were sincerely kind, and so he felt them.
In the meantime, he frequently met that gentleman, and not merely in the House of Commons. Mr. St. Barbe would have been frantically envious could he have witnessed and perused the social invitations that fell like a continuous snow-storm on the favoured roof of Mr. Vigo. Mr. Vigo was not a party question. He dined with high patricians who forgot their political differences, while they agreed in courting the presence of this great benefactor of his country. The fine ladies were as eager in their homage to this real patriot, and he might be seen between rival countesses, who emulated each other in their appreciation of his public services. These were Mr. Vigo's dangerous suitors. He confessed to Endymion one day that he could not manage the great ladies. "Male swells," he would say laughingly, "I have measured physically and intellectually." The golden youth of the country seemed fascinated by his society, repeated his sententious bons-mot, and applied for shares in every company which he launched into prosperous existence.
Mr. Vigo purchased a splendid mansion in St. James' Square, where invitations to his banquets were looked upon almost as commands. His chief cook was one of the celebrities of Europe, and though he had served emperors, the salary he received from Mr. Vigo exceeded any one he had hitherto condescended to pocket. Mr. Vigo bought estates, hired moors, lavished his money, not only with profusion, but with generosity. Everything was placed at his command, and it appeared that there was nothing that he refused. "When this excitement is over," said Mr. Bertie Tremaine, "I hope to induce him to take India."
In the midst of this commanding effulgence, the calmer beam of Mr. Rodney might naturally pass unnoticed, yet its brightness was clear and sustained. The Rodneys engaged a dwelling of no mean proportion in that favoured district of South Kensington, which was then beginning to assume the high character it has since obtained. Their equipages were distinguished, and when Mrs. Rodney entered the Park, driving her matchless ponies, and attended by outriders, and herself bright as Diana, the world leaning over its palings witnessed her appearance with equal delight and admiration.
We have rather anticipated, for the sake of the subject, in our last chapter, and we must now recur to the time when, after his return from Paris, Endymion entered into what was virtually his first session in the House of Commons. Though in opposition, and with all the delights of the most charming society at his command, he was an habitual and constant attendant. One might have been tempted to believe that he would turn out to be, though a working, only a silent member, but his silence was only prudence. He was deeply interested and amused in watching the proceedings, especially when those took part in them with whom he was acquainted. Job Thornberry occupied a leading position in the debates. He addressed the House very shortly after he took his seat, and having a purpose and a most earnest one, and being what is styled a representative man of his subject, the House listened to him at once, and his place in debate was immediately recognised. The times favoured him, especially during the first and second session, while the commercial depression lasted; afterwards, he was always listened to, because he had great oratorical gifts, a persuasive style that was winning, and, though he had no inconsiderable powers of sarcasm, his extreme tact wisely guided him to restrain for the present that dangerous, though most effective, weapon.
The Pythagorean school, as Waldershare styled Mr. Bertie Tremaine and his following, very much amused Endymion. The heaven-born minister air of the great leader was striking. He never smiled, or at any rate contemptuously. Notice of a question was sometimes publicly given from this bench, but so abstruse in its nature and so quaint in its expression, that the House never comprehended it, and the unfortunate minister who had to answer, even with twenty-four hours' study, was obliged to commence his reply by a conjectural interpretation of the query formally addressed to him. But though they were silent in the House, their views were otherwise powerfully represented. The weekly journal devoted to their principles was sedulously circulated among members of the House. It was called the "Precursor," and systematically attacked not only every institution, but, it might be said, every law, and all the manners and customs, of the country. Its style was remarkable, never excited or impassioned, but frigid, logical, and incisive, and suggesting appalling revolutions with the calmness with which one would narrate the ordinary incidents of life. The editor of the "Precursor" was Mr. Jawett, selected by that great master of human nature, Mr. Bertie Tremaine. When it got about, that the editor of this fearful journal was a clerk in a public office, the indignation of the government, or at least of their supporters, was extreme, and there was no end to the punishments and disgrace to which he was to be subjected; but Waldershare, who lived a good deal in Bohemia, was essentially cosmopolitan, and dabbled in letters, persuaded his colleagues not to make the editor of the "Precursor" a martyr, and undertook with their authority to counteract his evil purposes by literary means alone.
Being fully empowered to take all necessary steps for this object, Waldershare thought that there was no better mode of arresting public attention to his enterprise than by engaging for its manager the most renowned pen of the hour, and he opened himself on the subject in the most sacred confidence to Mr. St. Barbe. That gentleman, invited to call upon a minister, sworn to secrecy, and brimful of state secrets, could not long restrain himself, and with admirable discretion consulted on his views and prospects Mr. Endymion Ferrars.
"But I thought you were one of us," said Endymion; "you asked me to put you in the way of getting into Brooks'!"
"What of that?" said Mr. St. Barbe; "and when you remember what the Whigs owe to literary men, they ought to have elected me into Brooks' without my asking for it."
"Still, if you be on the other side?"
"It is nothing to do with sides," said Mr. St. Barbe; "this affair goes far beyond sides. The 'Precursor' wants to put down the Crown; I shall put down the 'Precursor.' It is an affair of the closet, not of sides—an affair of the royal closet, sir. I am acting for the Crown, sir; the Crown has appealed to me. I save the Crown, and there must be personal relations with the highest," and he looked quite fierce.
"Well, you have not written your first article yet," said Endymion. "I shall look forward to it with much interest."
After Easter, Lord Roehampton said to Endymion that a question ought to be put on a subject of foreign policy of importance, and on which he thought the ministry were in difficulties; "and I think you might as well ask it, Endymion. I will draw up the question, and you will give notice of it. It will be a reconnaissance."
The notice of this question was the first time Endymion opened his mouth in the House of Commons. It was an humble and not a very hazardous office, but when he got on his legs his head swam, his heart beat so violently, that it was like a convulsion preceding death, and though he was only on his legs for a few seconds, all the sorrows of his life seemed to pass before him. When he sate down, he was quite surprised that the business of the House proceeded as usual, and it was only after some time that he became convinced that no one but himself was conscious of his sufferings, or that he had performed a routine duty otherwise than in a routine manner.
The crafty question, however, led to some important consequences. When asked, to the surprise of every one the minister himself replied to it. Waldershare, with whom Endymion dined at Bellamy's that day, was in no good humour in consequence.
When Lord Roehampton had considered the ministerial reply, he said to Endymion, "This must be followed up. You must move for papers. It will be a good opportunity for you, for the House is up to something being in the wind, and they will listen. It will be curious to see whether the minister follows you. If so, he will give me an opening."
Endymion felt that this was the crisis of his life. He knew the subject well, and he had all the tact and experience of Lord Roehampton to guide him in his statement and his arguments. He had also the great feeling that, if necessary, a powerful arm would support him. It was about a week before the day arrived, and Endymion slept very little that week, and the night before his motion not a wink. He almost wished he was dead as he walked down to the House in the hope that the exercise might remedy, or improve, his languid circulation; but in vain, and when his name was called and he had to rise, his hands and feet were like ice.
Lady Roehampton and Lady Montfort were both in the ventilator, and he knew it.
It might be said that he was sustained by his utter despair. He felt so feeble and generally imbecile, that he had not vitality enough to be sensible of failure.
He had a kind audience, and an interested one. When he opened his mouth, he forgot his first sentence, which he had long prepared. In trying to recall it and failing, he was for a moment confused. But it was only for a moment; the unpremeditated came to his aid, and his voice, at first tremulous, was recognised as distinct and rich. There was a murmur of sympathy, and not merely from his own side. Suddenly, both physically and intellectually, he was quite himself. His arrested circulation flowed, and fed his stagnant brain. His statement was lucid, his arguments were difficult to encounter, and his manner was modest. He sate down amid general applause, and though he was then conscious that he had omitted more than one point on which he had relied, he was on the whole satisfied, and recollected that he might use them in reply, a privilege to which he now looked forward with feelings of comfort and confidence.
The minister again followed him, and in an elaborate speech. The subject evidently, in the opinion of the minister, was of too delicate and difficult a character to trust to a subordinate. Overwhelmed as he was with the labours of his own department, the general conduct of affairs, and the leadership of the House, he still would undertake the representation of an office with whose business he was not familiar. Wary and accurate he always was, but in discussions on foreign affairs, he never exhibited the unrivalled facility with which he ever treated a commercial or financial question, or that plausible promptness with which, at a moment's notice, he could encounter any difficulty connected with domestic administration.
All these were qualities which Lord Roehampton possessed with reference to the affairs over which he had long presided, and in the present instance, following the minister, he was particularly happy. He had a good case, and he was gratified by the success of Endymion. He complimented him and confuted his opponent, and, not satisfied with demolishing his arguments, Lord Roehampton indulged in a little raillery which the House enjoyed, but which was never pleasing to the more solemn organisation of his rival.
No language can describe the fury of Waldershare as to the events of this evening. He looked upon the conduct of the minister, in not permitting him to represent his department, as a decree of the incapacity of his subordinate, and of the virtual termination of the official career of the Under-Secretary of State. He would have resigned the next day had it not been for the influence of Lady Beaumaris, who soothed him by suggesting, that it would be better to take an early opportunity of changing his present post for another.
The minister was wrong. He was not fond of trusting youth, but it is a confidence which should be exercised, particularly in the conduct of a popular assembly. If the under-secretary had not satisfactorily answered Endymion, which no one had a right to assume, for Waldershare was a brilliant man, the minister could have always advanced to the rescue at the fitting time. As it was, he made a personal enemy of one who naturally might have ripened into a devoted follower, and who from his social influence, as well as from his political talents, was no despicable foe.
Notwithstanding the great political, and consequently social, changes that had taken place, no very considerable alteration occurred in the general life of those chief personages in whose existence we have attempted to interest the reader. However vast may appear to be the world in which we move, we all of us live in a limited circle. It is the result of circumstances; of our convenience and our taste. Lady Beaumaris became the acknowledged leader of Tory society, and her husband was so pleased with her position, and so proud of it, that he in a considerable degree sacrificed his own pursuits and pleasures for its maintenance. He even refused the mastership of a celebrated hunt, which had once been an object of his highest ambition, that he might be early and always in London to support his wife in her receptions. Imogene herself was universally popular. Her gentle and natural manners, blended with a due degree of self-respect, her charming appearance, and her ready but unaffected sympathy, won every heart. Lady Roehampton was her frequent guest. Myra continued her duties as a leader of society, as her lord was anxious that the diplomatic world should not forget him. These were the two principal and rival houses. The efforts of Lady Montfort were more fitful, for they were to a certain degree dependent on the moods of her husband. It was observed that Lady Beaumaris never omitted attending the receptions of Lady Roehampton, and the tone of almost reverential affection with which she ever approached Myra was touching to those who were in the secret, but they were few.
No great change occurred in the position of Prince Florestan, except that in addition to the sports to which he was apparently devoted, he gradually began to interest himself in the turf. He had bred several horses of repute, and one, which he had named Lady Roehampton, was the favourite for a celebrated race. His highness was anxious that Myra should honour him by being his guest. This had never occurred before, because Lord Roehampton felt that so avowed an intimacy with a personage in the peculiar position of Prince Florestan was hardly becoming a Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; but that he was no longer, and being the most good-natured man that ever lived, and easily managed in little things, he could not refuse Myra when she consulted him, as they call it, on the subject, and it was settled that Lord and Lady Roehampton were to dine with Prince Florestan. The prince was most anxious that Mr. Sidney Wilton should take this occasion of consenting to a reconciliation with him, and Lady Roehampton exerted herself much for this end. Mr. Sidney Wilton was in love with Lady Roehampton, and yet on this point he was inexorable. Lord and Lady Beaumaris went, and Lady Montfort, to whom the prince had addressed a private note of his own that quite captivated her, and Mr. and Mrs. Neuchatel and Adriana. Waldershare, Endymion, and Baron Sergius completed the guests, who were received by the Duke of St. Angelo and a couple of aides-de-camp. When the prince entered all rose, and the ladies curtseyed very low. Lord Roehampton resumed his seat immediately, saying to his neighbour, "I rose to show my respect to my host; I sit down to show that I look upon him as a subject like myself."
"A subject of whom?" inquired Lady Montfort.
"There is something in that," said Lord Roehampton, smiling.
The Duke of St. Angelo was much disturbed by the conduct of Lord Roehampton, which had disappointed his calculations, and he went about lamenting that Lord Roehampton had a little gout.
They had assembled in the library and dined on the same floor. The prince was seated between Lady Montfort, whom he accompanied to dinner, and Lady Roehampton. Adriana fell to Endymion's lot. She looked very pretty, was beautifully dressed, and for her, was even gay. Her companion was in good spirits, and she seemed interested and amused. The prince never spoke much, but his remarks always told. He liked murmuring to women, but when requisite, he could throw a fly over the table with adroitness and effect. More than once during the dinner he whispered to Lady Roehampton: "This is too kind—your coming here. But you have always been my best friend." The dinner would have been lively and successful even if Waldershare had not been there, but he to-day was exuberant and irresistible. His chief topic was abuse of the government of which he was a member, and he lavished all his powers of invective and ridicule alike on the imbecility of their policy and their individual absurdities. All this much amused Lady Montfort, and gave Lord Roehampton an opportunity to fool the Under-Secretary of State to the top of his bent.
"If you do not take care," said Mr. Neuchatel, "they will turn you out."
"I wish they would," said Waldershare. "That is what I am longing for. I should go then all over the country and address public meetings. It would be the greatest thing since Sacheverell."
"Our people have not behaved well to Mr. Waldershare," whispered Imogene to Lord Roehampton, "but I think we shall put it all right."
"Do you believe it?" inquired Lady Montfort of Lord Roehampton. He had been speaking to her for some little time in a hushed tone, and rather earnestly.
"Indeed I do; I cannot well see what there is to doubt about it. We know the father very well—an excellent man; he was the parish priest of Lady Roehampton before her marriage, when she lived in the country. And we know from him that more than a year ago something was contemplated. The son gave up his living then; he has remained at Rome ever since. And now I am told he returns to us, the Pope's legate and an archbishop in partibus!"
"It is most interesting," said Lady Montfort. "I was always his great admirer."
"I know that; you and Lady Roehampton made me go and hear him. The father will be terribly distressed."
"I do not care at all about the father," said Lady Montfort; "but the son had such a fine voice and was so very good-looking. I hope I shall see him."
They were speaking of Nigel Penruddock, whose movements had been a matter of much mystery during the last two years. Rumours of his having been received into the Roman Church had been often rife; sometimes flatly, and in time faintly, contradicted. Now the facts seemed admitted, and it would appear that he was about to return to England not only as a Roman Catholic, but as a distinguished priest of the Church, and, it was said, even the representative of the Papacy.
All the guests rose at the same time—a pleasant habit—and went upstairs to the brilliantly lighted saloons. Lord Roehampton seated himself by Baron Sergius, with whom he was always glad to converse. "We seem here quiet and content?" said the ex-minister inquiringly.
"I hope so, and I think so," said Sergius. "He believes in his star, and will leave everything to its influence. There are to be no more adventures."
"It must be a great relief to Lord Roehampton to have got quit of office," said Mrs. Neuchatel to Lady Roehampton. "I always pitied him so much. I never can understand why people voluntarily incur such labours and anxiety."
"You should join us," said Mr. Neuchatel to Waldershare. "They would be very glad to see you at Brooks'."
"Brooks' may join the October Club which I am going to revive," said Waldershare.
"I never heard of that club," said Mr. Neuchatel.
"It was a much more important thing than the Bill of Rights or the Act of Settlement," said Waldershare, "all the same."
"I want to see his mother's portrait in the farther saloon," said Lady Montfort to Myra.
"Let us go together." And Lady Roehampton rose, and they went.
It was a portrait of Queen Agrippina by a master hand, and admirably illumined by reflected light, so that it seemed to live.
"She must have been very beautiful," said Lady Montfort.
"Mr. Sidney Wilton was devotedly attached to her, my lord has told me," said Lady Roehampton.
"So many were devotedly attached to her," said Lady Montfort.
"Yes; she was like Mary of Scotland, whom some men are in love with even to this day. Her spell was irresistible. There are no such women now."
"Yes; there is one," said Lady Montfort, suddenly turning round and embracing Lady Roehampton; "and I know she hates me, because she thinks I prevent her brother from marrying."
"Dear Lady Montfort, how can you use such strong expressions? I am sure there can be only one feeling of Endymion's friends to you, and that is gratitude for your kindness to him."
"I have done nothing for him; I can do nothing for him. I felt that when we were trying to get him into parliament. If he could marry, and be independent, and powerful, and rich, it would be better, perhaps, for all of us."
"I wish he were independent, and powerful, and rich," said Myra musingly. "That would be a fairy tale. At present, he must be content that he has some of the kindest friends in the world."
"He interests me very much; no one so much. I am sincerely, even deeply attached to him; but it is like your love, it is a sister's love. There is only one person I really love in the world, and alas! he does not love me!" And her voice was tremulous.
"Do not say such things, dear Lady Montfort. I never can believe what you sometimes intimate on that subject. Do you know, I think it a little hallucination."
Lady Montfort shook her head with a truly mournful expression, and then suddenly, her beautiful face wreathed with smiles, she said in a gay voice, "We will not think of such sorrows. I wish them to be entombed in my heart, but the spectres will rise sometimes. Now about your brother. I do not mean to say that it would not be a great loss to me if he married, but I wish him to marry if you do. For myself, I must have a male friend, and he must be very clever, and thoroughly understand politics. You know you deprived me of Lord Roehampton," she continued smilingly, "who was everything I could desire; and the Count of Ferroll would have suited me excellently, but then he ran away. Now Endymion could not easily run away, and he is so agreeable and so intelligent, that at last I thought I had found a companion worth helping—and I meant, and still mean, to work hard—until he is prime minister."
"I have my dreams too about that," said Lady Roehampton, "but we are all about the same age, and can wait a little."
"He cannot be minister too soon," said Lady Montfort. "It was not being minister soon that ruined Charles Fox."
The party broke up. The prince made a sign to Waldershare, which meant a confidential cigar, and in a few minutes they were alone together.
"What women!" exclaimed the prince. "Not to be rivalled in this city, and yet quite unlike each other."
"And which do you admire most, sir?" said Waldershare.
The prince trimmed his cigar, and then he said, "I will tell you this day five years."
The ecclesiastical incident mentioned at the dinner described in our last chapter, produced a considerable effect in what is called society. Nigel Penruddock had obtained great celebrity as a preacher, while his extreme doctrines and practices had alike amazed, fascinated, and alarmed a large portion of the public. For some time he had withdrawn from the popular gaze, but his individuality was too strong to be easily forgotten, even if occasional paragraphs as to his views and conduct, published, contradicted, and reiterated, were not sufficient to sustain, and even stimulate, curiosity. That he was about to return to his native land, as the Legate of His Holiness, was an event which made many men look grave, and some female hearts flutter.
The memory of Lady Roehampton could not escape from the past, and she could not recall it and all the scenes at Hurstley without emotion; and Lady Montfort remembered with some pride and excitement, that the Legate of the Pope had been one of her heroes. It was evident that he had no wish to avoid his old acquaintances, for shortly after his arrival, and after he had assembled his suffragans, and instructed the clergy of his district, for dioceses did not then exist, Archbishop Penruddock, for so the Metropolitan of Tyre simply styled himself, called upon both these ladies.
His first visit was to Myra, and notwithstanding her disciplined self-control, her intense pride, and the deep and daring spirit which always secretly sustained her, she was nervous and agitated, but only in her boudoir. When she entered the saloon to welcome him, she seemed as calm as if she were going to an evening assembly.
Nigel was changed. Instead of that anxious and moody look which formerly marred the refined beauty of his countenance, his glance was calm and yet radiant. He was thinner, it might almost be said emaciated, which seemed to add height to his tall figure.
Lady Roehampton need not have been nervous about the interview, and the pain of its inevitable associations. Except one allusion at the end of his visit, when his Grace mentioned some petty grievance, of which he wished to relieve his clergy, and said, "I think I will consult your brother; being in the opposition, he will be less embarrassed than some of my friends in the government, or their supporters," he never referred to the past. All he spoke of was the magnitude of his task, the immense but inspiring labours which awaited him, and his deep sense of his responsibility. Nothing but the Divine principle of the Church could sustain him. He was at one time hopeful that His Holiness might have thought the time ripe for the restoration of the national hierarchy, but it was decreed otherwise. Had it been accorded, no doubt it would have assisted him. A prelate in partibus is, in a certain sense, a stranger, whatever his duties, and the world is more willing when it is appealed to by one who has "a local habitation and a name;" he is identified with the people among whom he lives. There was much to do. The state of the Catholic poor in his own district was heartrending. He never could have conceived such misery, and that too under the shadow of the Abbey. The few schools which existed were wretched, and his first attention must be given to this capital deficiency. He trusted much to female aid. He meant to invite the great Catholic ladies to unite with him in a common labour of love. In this great centre of civilisation, and wealth, and power, there was need of the spirit of a St. Ursula.
No one seemed more pleased by the return of Archbishop Penruddock than Lord Montfort. He appeared to be so deeply interested in his Grace's mission, sought his society so often, treated him with such profound respect, almost ceremony, asked so many questions about what was happening at Rome, and what was going to be done here—that Nigel might have been pardoned if he did not despair of ultimately inducing Lord Montfort to return to the faith of his illustrious ancestors. And yet, all this time, Lord Montfort was only amusing himself; a new character was to him a new toy, and when he could not find one, he would dip into the "Memoirs of St. Simon."
Instead of avoiding society, as was his wont in the old days, the Archbishop sought it. And there was nothing exclusive in his social habits; all classes and all creeds, all conditions and orders of men, were alike interesting to him; they were part of the mighty community, with all whose pursuits, and passions, and interests, and occupations he seemed to sympathise, but respecting which he had only one object—to bring them back once more to that imperial fold from which, in an hour of darkness and distraction, they had miserably wandered. The conversion of England was deeply engraven on the heart of Penruddock; it was his constant purpose, and his daily and nightly prayer.
So the Archbishop was seen everywhere, even at fashionable assemblies. He was a frequent guest at banquets which he never tasted, for he was a smiling ascetic, and though he seemed to be preaching or celebrating high mass in every part of the metropolis, organising schools, establishing convents, and building cathedrals, he could find time to move philanthropic resolutions at middle-class meetings, attend learned associations, and even occasionally send a paper to the Royal Society.
The person who fell most under the influence of the archbishop was Waldershare. He was fairly captivated by him. Nothing would satisfy Waldershare till he had brought the archbishop and Prince Florestan together. "You are a Roman Catholic prince, sir," he would say. "It is absolute folly to forego such a source of influence and power as the Roman Catholic Church. Here is your man; a man made for the occasion, a man who may be pope. Come to an understanding with him, and I believe you will regain your throne in a year."
"But, my dear Waldershare, it is very true I am a Roman Catholic, but I am also the head of the Liberal party in my country, and perhaps also on the continent of Europe, and they are not particularly affected to archbishops and popes."
"Old-fashioned twaddle of the Liberal party," exclaimed Waldershare. "There is more true democracy in the Roman Catholic Church than in all the secret societies of Europe."
"There is something in that," said the prince musingly, "and my friends are Roman Catholics, nominally Roman Catholics. If I were quite sure your man and the priests generally were nominally Roman Catholics, something might be done."
"As for that," said Waldershare, "sensible men are all of the same religion."
"And pray what is that?" inquired the prince.
"Sensible men never tell."
Perhaps there was no family which suited him more, and where the archbishop became more intimate, than the Neuchatels. He very much valued a visit to Hainault, and the miscellaneous and influential circles he met there—merchant princes, and great powers of Lombard Street and the Stock Exchange. The Governor of the Bank happened to be a high churchman, and listened to the archbishop with evident relish. Mrs. Neuchatel also acknowledged the spell of his society, and he quite agreed with her that people should be neither so poor nor so rich. She had long mused over plans of social amelioration, and her new ally was to teach her how to carry them into practice. As for Mr. Neuchatel, he was pleased that his wife was amused, and liked the archbishop as he liked all clever men. "You know," he would say, "I am in favour of all churches, provided, my lord archbishop, they do not do anything very foolish. Eh? So I shall subscribe to your schools with great pleasure. We cannot have too many schools, even if they only keep young people from doing mischief."
The prosperity of the country was so signal, while Mr. Vigo was unceasingly directing millions of our accumulated capital, and promises of still more, into the "new channel," that it seemed beyond belief that any change of administration could even occur, at least in the experience of the existing generation. The minister to whose happy destiny it had fallen to gratify the large appetites and reckless consuming powers of a class now first known in our social hierarchy as "Navvies," was hailed as a second Pitt. The countenance of the opposition was habitually dejected, with the exception of those members of it on whom Mr. Vigo graciously conferred shares, and Lady Montfort taunted Mr. Sidney Wilton with inquiries, why he and his friends had not made railroads, instead of inventing nonsense about cheap bread. Job Thornberry made wonderful speeches in favour of total and immediate repeal of the corn laws, and the Liberal party, while they cheered him, privately expressed their regret that such a capital speaker, who might be anything, was not a practical man. Low prices, abundant harvests, and a thriving commerce had rendered all appeals, varied even by the persuasive ingenuity of Thornberry, a wearisome irritation; and, though the League had transplanted itself from Manchester to the metropolis, and hired theatres for their rhetoric, the close of 1845 found them nearly reduced to silence.
Mr. Bertie Tremaine, who was always studying the spirit of the age, announced to the initiated that Mr. Vigo had something of the character and structure of Napoleon, and that he himself began to believe, that an insular nation, with such an enormous appetite, was not adapted to cosmopolitan principles, which were naturally of a character more spiritual and abstract. Mr. Bertie Tremaine asked Mr. Vigo to dinner, and introduced him to several distinguished youths of extreme opinions, who were dining off gold plate. Mr. Vigo was much flattered by his visit; his host made much of him; and he heard many things on the principles of government, and even of society, in the largest sense of the expression, which astonished and amused him. In the course of the evening he varied the conversation—one which became the classic library and busts of the surrounding statesmen—by promising to most of the guests allotments of shares in a new company, not yet launched, but whose securities were already at a high premium.
Endymion, in the meantime, pursued the even tenor of his way. Guided by the experience, unrivalled knowledge, and consummate tact of Lord Roehampton, he habitually made inquiries, or brought forward motions, which were evidently inconvenient or embarrassing to the ministry; and the very circumstance, that he was almost always replied to by the prime minister, elevated him in the estimation of the House as much as the pertinence of his questions, and the accurate information on which he founded his motions. He had not taken the House with a rush like Job Thornberry, but, at the end of three sessions, he was a personage universally looked upon as one who was "certain to have office."
There was another new member who had also made way, though slowly, and that was Mr. Trenchard; he had distinguished himself on a difficult committee, on which he had guided a perplexed minister, who was chairman, through many intricacies. Mr. Trenchard watched the operations of Mr. Vigo, with a calm, cold scrutiny, and ventured one day to impart his conviction to Endymion that there were breakers ahead. "Vigo is exhausting the floating capital of the country," he said, and he offered to give him all the necessary details, if he would call the attention of the House to the matter. Endymion declined to do this, chiefly because he wished to devote himself to foreign affairs, and thought the House would hardly brook his interference also in finance. So he strongly advised Trenchard himself to undertake the task. Trenchard was modest, and a little timid about speaking; so it was settled that he should consult the leaders on the question, and particularly the gentleman who it was supposed would be their Chancellor of the Exchequer, if ever they were again called upon to form a ministry. This right honourable individual listened to Trenchard with the impatience which became a man of great experience addressed by a novice, and concluded the interview by saying, that he thought "there was nothing in it;" at the same time, he would turn it in his mind, and consult some practical men. Accordingly the ex- and future minister consulted Mr. Vigo, who assured him that he was quite right; that "there was nothing in it," and that the floating capital of the country was inexhaustible.
In the midst of all this physical prosperity, one fine day in August, parliament having just been prorogued, an unknown dealer in potatoes wrote to the Secretary of State, and informed him that he had reason to think that a murrain had fallen over the whole of the potato crops in England, and that, if it extended to Ireland, the most serious consequences must ensue.
This mysterious but universal sickness of a single root changed the history of the world.
"There is no gambling like politics," said Lord Roehampton, as he glanced at the "Times," at Princedown; "four cabinets in one week; the government must be more sick than the potatoes."
"Berengaria always says," said Lord Montfort, "that you should see Princedown in summer. I, on the contrary, maintain it is essentially a winter residence, for, if there ever be a sunbeam in England, Princedown always catches it. Now to-day, one might fancy one's self at Cannes."
Lord Montfort was quite right, but even the most wilful and selfish of men was generally obliged to pass his Christmas at his northern castle. Montforts had passed their Christmas in that grim and mighty dwelling-place for centuries. Even he was not strong enough to contend against such tradition. Besides, every one loves power, even if they do not know what to do with it. There are such things as memberships for counties, which, if public feeling be not outraged, are hereditary, and adjacent boroughs, which, with a little management and much expense, become reasonable and loyal. If the flag were rarely to wave on the proud keep of Montfort, all these satisfactory circumstances would be greatly disturbed and baffled; and if the ancient ensign did not promise welcome and hospitality at Christmas, some of the principal uses even of Earls of Montfort might be questioned.
There was another reason, besides the distance and the clime, why Lord Montfort disliked the glorious pile which every Englishman envied him for possession. The mighty domain of Montfort was an estate in strict settlement. Its lord could do nothing but enjoy its convenience and its beauty, and expend its revenues. Nothing could be sold or bought, not the slightest alteration—according to Lord Montfort—be made, without applying to trustees for their sanction. Lord Montfort spoke of this pitiable state of affairs as if he were describing the serfdom of the Middle Ages. "If I were to pull this bell-rope, and it came down," he would say, "I should have to apply to the trustees before it could be arranged."
Such a humiliating state of affairs had induced his lordship, on the very first occasion, to expend half a million of accumulations, which were at his own disposal, in the purchase of Princedown, which certainly was a very different residence from Montfort Castle, alike in its clime and character.
Princedown was situate in a southern county, hardly on a southern coast, for it was ten miles from the sea, though enchanting views of the Channel were frequent and exquisite. It was a palace built in old days upon the Downs, but sheltered and screened from every hostile wind. The full warmth of the south fell upon the vast but fantastic pile of the Renaissance style, said to have been built by that gifted but mysterious individual, John of Padua. The gardens were wonderful, terrace upon terrace, and on each terrace a tall fountain. But the most peculiar feature was the park, which was undulating and extensive, but its timber entirely ilex: single trees of an age and size not common in that tree, and groups and clumps of ilex, but always ilex. Beyond the park, and extending far into the horizon, was Princedown forest, the dominion of the red deer.
The Roehamptons and Endymion were the only permanent visitors at Princedown at this moment, but every day brought guests who stayed eight-and-forty hours, and then flitted. Lady Montfort, like the manager of a theatre, took care that there should be a succession of novelties to please or to surprise the wayward audience for whom she had to cater. On the whole, Lord Montfort was, for him, in an extremely good humour; never very ill; Princedown was the only place where he never was very ill; he was a little excited, too, by the state of politics, though he did not exactly know why; "though, I suppose," he would say to Lord Roehampton, "if you do come in again, there will be no more nonsense about O'Connell and all that sort of thing. If you are prudent on that head, and carry a moderate fixed duty, not too high, say ten shillings—that would satisfy everybody—I do not see why the thing might not go on as long as you liked."
Mr. Waldershare came down, exuberant with endless combinations of persons and parties. He foresaw in all these changes that most providential consummation, the end of the middle class.
Mr. Waldershare had become quite a favourite with Lord Montfort, who delighted to talk with him about the Duke of Modena, and imbibe his original views of English History. "Only," Lord Montfort would observe, "the Montforts have so much Church property, and I fancy the Duke of Modena would want us to disgorge."
St. Barbe had been invited, and made his appearance. There had been a degree of estrangement between him and his patron. St. Barbe was very jealous; he was indeed jealous of everybody and everything, and of late there was a certain Doctor Comeley, an Oxford don of the new school, who had been introduced to Lord Montfort, and was initiating him in all the mysteries of Neology. This celebrated divine, who, in a sweet silky voice, quoted Socrates instead of St. Paul, and was opposed to all symbols and formulas as essentially unphilosophical, had become the hero of "the little dinners" at Montfort House, where St. Barbe had been so long wont to shine, and who in consequence himself had become every day more severely orthodox.
"Perhaps we may meet to-day," said Endymion one morning to St. Barbe in Pall Mall as they were separating. "There is a little dinner at Montfort House."
"Confound your little dinners!" exclaimed the indignant St. Barbe; "I hope never to go to another little dinner, and especially at Montfort House. I do not want to be asked to dinner to tumble and play tricks to amuse my host. I want to be amused myself. One cannot be silent at these little dinners, and the consequence is, you say all the good things which are in your next number, and when it comes out, people say they have heard them before. No, sir, if Lord Montfort, or any other lord, wishes me to dine with him, let him ask me to a banquet of his own order, and where I may hold my tongue like the rest of his aristocratic guests."
Mr. Trenchard had come down and brought the news that the ministry had resigned, and that the Queen had sent for the leader of the opposition, who was in Scotland.
"I suppose we shall have to go to town," said Lady Roehampton to her brother, in a room, busy and full. "It is so difficult to be alone here," she continued in a whisper; "let us get into the gardens." And they escaped. And then, when they were out of hearing and of sight of any one, she said, "This is a most critical time of your life, Endymion; it makes me very anxious. I look upon it as certain that you will be in office, and in all probability under my lord. He has said nothing to me about it, but I feel quite assured it will happen. It will be a great event. Poor papa began by being an under-secretary of state!" she continued in a moody tone, half speaking to herself, "and all seemed so fair then, but he had no root. What I want, Endymion, is that you should have a root. There is too much chance and favour in your lot. They will fail you some day, some day too when I may not be by you. Even this great opening, which is at hand, would never have been at your command, but for a mysterious gift on which you never could have counted."
"It is very true, Myra, but what then?"
"Why, then, I think we should guard against such contingencies. You know what is in my mind; we have spoken of it before, and not once only. I want you to marry, and you know whom."
"Marriage is a serious affair!" said Endymion, with a distressed look.
"The most serious. It is the principal event for good or for evil in all lives. Had I not married, and married as I did, we should not have been here—and where, I dare not think."
"Yes; but you made a happy marriage; one of the happiest that was ever known, I think."
"And I wish you, Endymion, to make the same. I did not marry for love, though love came, and I brought happiness to one who made me happy. But had it been otherwise, if there had been no sympathy, or prospect of sympathy, I still should have married, for it was the only chance of saving you."
"Dearest sister! Everything I have, I owe to you."
"It is not much," said Myra, "but I wish to make it much. Power in every form, and in excess, is at your disposal if you be wise. There is a woman, I think with every charm, who loves you; her fortune may have no limit; she is a member of one of the most powerful families in England—a noble family I may say, for my lord told me last night that Mr. Neuchatel would be instantly raised to the peerage, and you hesitate! By all the misery of the past—which never can be forgotten—for Heaven's sake, be wise; do not palter with such a chance."
"If all be as you say, Myra, and I have no reason but your word to believe it is so—if, for example, of which I never saw any evidence, Mr. Neuchatel would approve, or even tolerate, this alliance—I have too deep and sincere a regard for his daughter, founded on much kindness to both of us, to mock her with the offer of a heart which she has not gained."
"You say you have a deep and sincere regard for Adriana," said his sister. "Why, what better basis for enduring happiness can there be? You are not a man to marry for romantic sentiment, and pass your life in writing sonnets to your wife till you find her charms and your inspiration alike exhausted; you are already wedded to the State, you have been nurtured in the thoughts of great affairs from your very childhood, and even in the darkest hour of our horrible adversity. You are a man born for power and high condition, whose name in time ought to rank with those of the great statesmen of the continent, the true lords of Europe. Power, and power alone, should be your absorbing object, and all the accidents and incidents of life should only be considered with reference to that main result."
"Well, I am only five-and-twenty after all. There is time yet to consider this."
"Great men should think of Opportunity, and not of Time. Time is the excuse of feeble and puzzled spirits. They make time the sleeping partner of their lives to accomplish what ought to be achieved by their own will. In this case, there certainly is no time like the present. The opportunity is unrivalled. All your friends would, without an exception, be delighted if you now were wise."
"I hardly think my friends have given it a thought," said Endymion, a little flushed.
"There is nothing that would please Lady Montfort more."
He turned pale. "How do you know that?" he inquired.
"She told me so, and offered to help me in bringing about the result."
"Very kind of her! Well, dearest Myra, you and Lord Roehampton have much to think of at this anxious moment. Let this matter drop. We have discussed it before, and we have discussed it enough. It is more than pain for me to differ from you on any point, but I cannot offer to Adriana a heart which belongs to another."
All the high expectations of December at Princedown were doomed to disappointment; they were a further illustration of Lord Roehampton's saying, that there was no gambling like politics. The leader of the opposition came up to town, but he found nothing but difficulties, and a few days before Christmas he had resigned the proffered trust. The protectionist ministry were to remain in office, and to repeal the corn laws. The individual who was most baulked by this unexpected result was perhaps Lord Roehampton. He was a man who really cared for nothing but office and affairs, and being advanced in life, he naturally regretted a lost opportunity. But he never showed his annoyance. Always playful, and even taking refuge in a bantering spirit, the world seemed to go light with him when everything was dark and everybody despondent.
The discontent or indignation which the contemplated revolution in policy was calculated to excite in the Conservative party generally were to a certain degree neutralised for the moment by mysterious and confidential communications, circulated by Mr. Tadpole and the managers of the party, that the change was to be accompanied by "immense compensations." As parliament was to meet as soon as convenient after Christmas, and the statement of the regenerated ministry was then to be made immediately, every one held his hand, as they all felt the blow must be more efficient when the scheme of the government was known.
The Montforts were obliged to go to their castle, a visit the sad necessity of which the formation of a new government, at one time, they had hoped might have prevented. The Roehamptons passed their Christmas with Mr. Sidney Wilton at Gaydene, where Endymion also and many of the opposition were guests. Waldershare took refuge with his friends the Beaumaris', full of revenge and unceasing combinations. He took down St. Barbe with him, whose services in the session might be useful. There had been a little misunderstanding between these two eminent personages during the late season. St. Barbe was not satisfied with his position in the new journal which Waldershare had established. He affected to have been ill-treated and deceived, and this with a mysterious shake of the head which seemed to intimate state secrets that might hereafter be revealed. The fact is, St. Barbe's political articles were so absurd that it was impossible to print them; but as his name stood high as a clever writer on matters with which he was acquainted, they permitted him, particularly as they were bound to pay him a high salary, to contribute essays on the social habits and opinions of the day, which he treated in a happy and taking manner. St. Barbe himself had such quick perception of peculiarities, so fine a power of observation, and so keen a sense of the absurd, that when he revealed in confidence the causes of his discontent, it was almost impossible to believe that he was entirely serious. It seems that he expected this connection with the journal in question to have been, to use his own phrase, "a closet affair," and that he was habitually to have been introduced by the backstairs of the palace to the presence of Royalty to receive encouragement and inspiration. "I do not complain of the pay," he added, "though I could get more by writing for Shuffle and Screw, but I expected a decoration. However, I shall probably stand for next parliament on the principles of the Mountain, so perhaps it is just as well."
Parliament soon met, and that session began which will long be memorable. The "immense compensations" were nowhere. Waldershare, who had only waited for this, resigned his office as Under-Secretary of State. This was a bad example and a blow, but nothing compared to the resignation of his great office in the Household by the Earl of Beaumaris. This involved unhappily the withdrawal of Lady Beaumaris, under whose bright, inspiring roof the Tory party had long assembled, sanguine and bold. Other considerable peers followed the precedent of Lord Beaumaris, and withdrew their support from the ministry. Waldershare moved the amendment to the first reading of the obnoxious bill; but although defeated by a considerable majority, the majority was mainly formed by members of the opposition. Among these was Mr. Ferrars, who it was observed never opened his lips during the whole session.
This was not the case with Mr. Bertie Tremaine and the school of Pythagoras. The opportunity long waited for had at length arrived. There was a great parliamentary connection deserted by their leaders. This distinguished rank and file required officers. The cabinet of Mr. Bertie Tremaine was ready, and at their service. Mr. Bertie Tremaine seconded the amendment of Waldershare, and took the occasion of expounding the new philosophy, which seemed to combine the principles of Bentham with the practice of Lord Liverpool. "I offered to you this," he said reproachfully to Endymion; "you might have been my secretary of state. Mr. Tremaine Bertie will now take it. He would rather have had an embassy, but he must make the sacrifice."
The debates during the session were much carried on by the Pythagoreans, who never ceased chattering. They had men ready for every branch of the subject, and the debate was often closed by their chief in mystical sentences, which they cheered like awestruck zealots.
The great bill was carried, but the dark hour of retribution at length arrived. The ministry, though sanguine to the last of success, and not without cause, were completely and ignominiously defeated. The new government, long prepared, was at once formed. Lord Roehampton again became secretary of state, and he appointed Endymion to the post under him. "I shall not press you unfairly," said Mr. Bertie Tremaine to Endymion, with encouraging condescension. "I wish my men for a season to comprehend what is a responsible opposition. I am sorry Hortensius is your solicitor-general, for I had intended him always for my chancellor."
Very shortly after the prorogation of parliament, an incident occurred which materially affected the position of Endymion. Lord Roehampton had a serious illness. Having a fine constitution, he apparently completely rallied from the attack, and little was known of it by the public. The world also, at that moment, was as usual much dispersed and distracted; dispersed in many climes, and distracted by the fatigue and hardships they annually endure, and which they call relaxation. Even the colleagues of the great statesman were scattered, and before they had realised that he had been seriously ill, they read of him in the fulfilment of his official duties. But there was no mistake as to his state under his own roof. Lord Roehampton had, throughout the later period of his life, been in the habit of working at night. It was only at night that he could command that abstraction necessary for the consideration of great affairs. He was also a real worker. He wrote his own despatches, whenever they referred to matters of moment. He left to the permanent staff of his office little but the fulfilment of duties which, though heavy and multifarious, were duties of routine. The composition of these despatches was a source to Lord Roehampton of much gratification and excitement. They were of European fame, and their terse argument, their clear determination, and often their happy irony, were acknowledged in all the cabinets, and duly apprehended.
The physicians impressed upon Lady Roehampton that this night-work must absolutely cease. A neglect of their advice must lead to serious consequences; following it, there was no reason why her husband should not live for years, and continue to serve the State. Lord Roehampton must leave the House of Commons; he must altogether change the order of his life; he must seek more amusement in society, and yet keep early hours; and then he would find himself fresh and vigorous in the morning, and his work would rather benefit than distress him. It was all an affair of habit.
Lady Roehampton threw all her energies into this matter. She entertained for her lord a reverential affection, and his life to her seemed a precious deposit, of which she was the trustee. She succeeded where the physicians would probably have failed. Towards the end of the year Lord Roehampton was called up to the House of Lords for one of his baronies, and Endymion was informed that when parliament met, he would have to represent the Foreign Office in the House of Commons.
Waldershare heartily congratulated him. "You have got what I most wished to have in the world; but I will not envy you, for envy is a vile passion. You have the good fortune to serve a genial chief. I had to deal with a Harley,—cold, suspicious, ambiguous, pretending to be profound, and always in a state of perplexity."
It was not a very agreeable session. The potato famine did something more than repeal the corn laws. It proved that there was no floating capital left in the country; and when the Barings and Rothschilds combined, almost as much from public spirit as from private speculation, to raise a loan of a few millions for the minister, they absolutely found the public purse was exhausted, and had to supply the greater portion of the amount from their own resources. In one of the many financial debates that consequently occurred, Trenchard established himself by a clear and comprehensive view of the position of affairs, and by modestly reminding the House, that a year ago he had predicted the present condition of things, and indicated its inevitable cause.
This was the great speech on a great night, and Mr. Bertie Tremaine walked home with Trenchard. It was observed that Mr. Bertie Tremaine always walked home with the member who had made the speech of the evening.
"Your friends did not behave well to you," he said in a hollow voice to Trenchard. "They ought to have made you Secretary of the Treasury. Think of this. It is an important post, and may lead to anything; and, so far as I am concerned, it would give me real pleasure to see it."
But besides the disquietude of domestic affairs, famine and failures competing in horrible catastrophe and the Bank Act suspended, as the year advanced matters on the Continent became not less dark and troubled. Italy was mysteriously agitated; the pope announced himself a reformer; there were disturbances in Milan, Ancona, and Ferrara; the Austrians threatened the occupation of several States, and Sardinia offered to defend His Holiness from the Austrians. In addition to all this, there were reform banquets in France, a civil war in Switzerland, and the King of Prussia thought it prudent to present his subjects with a Constitution.
The Count of Ferroll about this time made a visit to England. He was always a welcome guest there, and had received the greatest distinction which England could bestow upon a foreigner; he had been elected an honorary member of White's. "You may have troubles here," he said to Lady Montfort, "but they will pass; you will have mealy potatoes again and plenty of bank notes, but we shall not get off so cheaply. Everything is quite rotten throughout the Continent. This year is tranquillity to what the next will be. There is not a throne in Europe worth a year's purchase. My worthy master wants me to return home and be minister; I am to fashion for him a new constitution. I will never have anything to do with new constitutions; their inventors are always the first victims. Instead of making a constitution, he should make a country, and convert his heterogeneous domains into a patriotic dominion."
"But how is that to be done?"
"There is only one way; by blood and iron."
"My dear count, you shock me!"
"I shall have to shock you a great deal more before the inevitable is brought about."
"Well, I am glad that there is something," said Lady Montfort, "which is inevitable. I hope it will come soon. I am sure this country is ruined. What with cheap bread at famine prices and these railroads, we seem quite finished. I thought one operation was to counteract the other; but they appear both to turn out equally fatal."
Endymion had now one of those rare opportunities which, if men be equal to them, greatly affect their future career. As the session advanced, debates on foreign affairs became frequent and deeply interesting. So far as the ministry was concerned, the burthen of these fell on the Under-Secretary of State. He was never wanting. The House felt that he had not only the adequate knowledge, but that it was knowledge perfectly digested; that his remarks and conduct were those of a man who had given constant thought to his duties, and was master of his subject. His oratorical gifts also began to be recognised. The power and melody of his voice had been before remarked, and that is a gift which much contributes to success in a popular assembly. He was ready without being too fluent. There were light and shade in his delivery. He repressed his power of sarcasm; but if unjustly and inaccurately attacked, he could be keen. Over his temper he had a complete control; if, indeed, his entire insensibility to violent language on the part of an opponent was not organic. All acknowledged his courtesy, and both sides sympathised with a young man who proved himself equal to no ordinary difficulties. In a word, Endymion was popular, and that popularity was not diminished by the fact of his being the brother of Lady Roehampton, who exercised great influence in society, and who was much beloved.
As the year advanced external affairs became daily more serious, and the country congratulated itself that its interests were entrusted to a minister of the experience and capacity of Lord Roehampton. That statesman seemed never better than when the gale ran high. Affairs in France began to assume the complexion that the Count of Ferroll had prophetically announced. If a crash occurred in that quarter, Lord Roehampton felt that all Europe might be in a blaze. Affairs were never more serious than at the turn of the year. Lord Roehampton told his wife that their holidays must be spent in St. James' Square, for he could not leave London; but he wished her to go to Gaydene, where they had been invited by Mr. Sidney Wilton to pass their Christmas as usual. Nothing, however, would induce her to quit his side. He seemed quite well, but the pressure of affairs was extreme; and sometimes, against all her remonstrances, he was again working at night. Such remonstrances on other subjects would probably have been successful, for her influence over him was extreme. But to a minister responsible for the interests of a great country they are vain, futile, impossible. One might as well remonstrate with an officer on the field of battle on the danger he was incurring. She said to him one night in his library, where she paid him a little visit before she retired, "My heart, I know it is no use my saying anything, and yet—remember your promise. This night-work makes me very unhappy."
"I remember my promise, and I will try not to work at night again in a hurry, but I must finish this despatch. If I did not, I could not sleep, and you know sleep is what I require."
"Good night, then."
He looked up with his winning smile, and held out his lips. "Kiss me," he said; "I never felt better."
Lady Roehampton after a time slumbered; how long she knew not, but when she woke, her lord was not at her side. She struck a light and looked at her watch. It was past three o'clock; she jumped out of bed, and, merely in her slippers and her robe de chambre, descended to the library. It was a large, long room, and Lord Roehampton worked at the extreme end of it. The candles were nearly burnt out. As she approached him, she perceived that he was leaning back in his chair. When she reached him, she observed he was awake, but he did not seem to recognise her. A dreadful feeling came over her. She took his hand. It was quite cold. Her intellect for an instant seemed to desert her. She looked round her with an air void almost of intelligence, and then rushing to the bell she continued ringing it till some of the household appeared. A medical man was near at hand, and in a few minutes arrived, but it was a bootless visit. All was over, and all had been over, he said, "for some time."
"Well, you have made up your government?" asked Lady Montfort of the prime minister as he entered her boudoir. He shook his head.
"Have you seen her?" he inquired.
"No, not yet; I suppose she will see me as soon as any one."
"I am told she is utterly overwhelmed."
"She was devoted to him; it was the happiest union I ever knew; but Lady Roehampton is not the woman to be utterly overwhelmed. She has too imperial a spirit for that."
"It is a great misfortune," said the prime minister. "We have not been lucky since we took the reins."
"Well, there is no use in deploring. There is nobody else to take the reins, so you may defy misfortunes. The question now is, what are you going to do?"
"Well, there seems to me only one thing to do. We must put Rawchester there."
"Rawchester!" exclaimed Lady Montfort, "what, 'Niminy-Piminy'?"
"Well, he is conciliatory," said the premier, "and if you are not very clever, you should be conciliatory."
"He never knows his own mind for a week together."
"We will take care of his mind," said the prime minister, "but he has travelled a good deal, and knows the public men."
"Yes," said Lady Montfort, "and the public men, I fear, know him."
"Then he can make a good House of Lords' speech, and we have a first-rate man in the Commons; so it will do."
"I do not think your first-rate man in the House of Commons will remain," said Lady Montfort drily.
"You do not mean that?" said the prime minister, evidently alarmed.
"His health is delicate," said Lady Montfort; "had it not been for his devotion to Lord Roehampton, I know he thought of travelling for a couple of years."
"Ferrars' health delicate?" said the premier; "I thought he was the picture of health and youthful vigour. Health is one of the elements to be considered in calculating the career of a public man, and I have always predicted an eminent career for Ferrars, because, in addition to his remarkable talents, he had apparently such a fine constitution."
"No health could stand working under Lord Rawchester."
"Well, but what am I to do? I cannot make Mr. Ferrars secretary of state."
The prime minister looked considerably perplexed. Such a promotion could not possibly have occurred to him. Though a man of many gifts, and a statesman, he had been educated in high Whig routine, and the proposition of Lady Montfort was like recommending him to make a curate a bishop.
"Well," he said, "Ferrars is a very clever fellow. He is our rising young man, and there is no doubt that, if his health is not so delicate as you fear, he will mount high; but though our rising young man, he is a young man, much too young to be a secretary of state. He wants age, larger acquaintance with affairs, greater position, and more root in the country."
"What was Mr. Canning's age, who held Mr. Ferrars' office, when he was made secretary of state? and what root in the country had he?"
When the prime minister got back to Downing Street, he sent immediately for his head whip. "Look after Ferrars," he said; "they are trying to induce him to resign office. If he does, our embarrassments will be extreme. Lord Rawchester will be secretary of state; send a paragraph at once to the papers announcing it. But look after Ferrars, and immediately, and report to me."
Lord Roehampton had a large entailed estate, though his affairs were always in a state of confusion. That seems almost the inevitable result of being absorbed in the great business of governing mankind. If there be exceptions among statesmen of the highest class, they will generally be found among those who have been chiefly in opposition, and so have had leisure and freedom of mind sufficient to manage their estates. Lord Roehampton had, however, extensive powers of charging his estate in lieu of dower, and he had employed them to their utmost extent; so his widow was well provided for. The executors were Mr. Sidney Wilton and Endymion.
After a short period, Lady Roehampton saw Adriana, and not very long after, Lady Montfort. They both of them, from that time, were her frequent, if not constant, companions, but she saw no one else. Once only, since the terrible event, was she seen by the world, and that was when a tall figure, shrouded in the darkest attire, attended as chief mourner at the burial of her lord in Westminster Abbey. She remained permanently in London, not only because she had no country house, but because she wished to be with her brother. As time advanced, she frequently saw Mr. Sidney Wilton, who, being chief executor of the will, and charged with all her affairs, had necessarily much on which to consult her. One of the greatest difficulties was to provide her with a suitable residence, for of course, she was not to remain in the family mansion in St. James' Square. That difficulty was ultimately overcome in a manner highly interesting to her feelings. Her father's mansion in Hill Street, where she had passed her prosperous and gorgeous childhood, was in the market, and she was most desirous to occupy it. "It will seem like a great step towards the restoration," she said to Endymion. "My plans are, that you should give up the Albany, and that we should live together. I should like to live together in Hill Street; I should like to see our nursery once more. The past then will be a dream, or at least all the past that is disagreeable. My fortune is yours; as we are twins, it is likely that I may live as long as you do. But I wish you to be the master of the house, and in time receive your friends in a manner becoming your position. I do not think that I shall ever much care to go out again, but I may help you at home, and then you can invite women; a mere bachelor's house is always dull."
There was one difficulty still in this arrangement. The mansion in Hill Street was not to be let, it was for sale, and the price naturally for such a mansion in such a situation, was considerable; quite beyond the means of Lady Roehampton who had a very ample income, but no capital. This difficulty, however, vanished in a moment. Mr. Sidney Wilton purchased the house; he wanted an investment, and this was an excellent one; so Lady Roehampton became his tenant.
The change was great in the life of Myra, and she felt it. She loved her lord, and had cut off her beautiful hair, which reached almost to her feet, and had tied it round his neck in his coffin. But Myra, notwithstanding she was a woman, and a woman of transcendent beauty, had never had a romance of the heart. Until she married, her pride and love for her brother, which was part of her pride, had absorbed her being. When she married, and particularly as time advanced, she felt all the misery of her existence had been removed, and nothing could exceed the tenderness and affectionate gratitude, and truly unceasing devotion, which she extended to the gifted being to who she owed this deliverance. But it was not in the nature of things that she could experience those feelings which still echo in the heights of Meilleraie, and compared with which all the glittering accidents of fortune sink into insignificance.
The year rolled on, an agitated year of general revolution. Endymion himself was rarely in society, for all the time which the House of Commons spared to him he wished chiefly to dedicate to his sister. His brougham was always ready to take him up to Hill Street for one of those somewhat hurried, but amusing little dinners, which break the monotony of parliamentary life. And sometimes he brought a companion, generally Mr. Wilton, and sometimes they met Lady Montfort or Adriana, now ennobled as the daughter of Lord Hainault. There was much to talk about, even if they did not talk about themselves and their friends, for every day brought great events, fresh insurrections, new constitutions, changes of dynasties, assassinations of ministers, states of siege, evanescent empires, and premature republics.
On one occasion, having previously prepared his sister, who seemed not uninterested by the suggestion, Endymion brought Thornberry to dine in Hill Street. There was no one else present except Adriana. Job was a great admirer of Lady Roehampton, but was a little awestruck by her. He remembered her in her childhood, a beautiful being who never smiled. She received him very graciously, and after dinner, inviting him to sit by her on the sofa, referred with delicacy to old times.
"Your ladyship," said Thornberry, "would not know that I live myself now at Hurstley."
"Indeed!" said Myra, unaffectedly surprised.
"Well, it happened in this way; my father now is in years, and can no longer visit us as he occasionally did in Lancashire; so wishing to see us all, at least once more, we agreed to pay him a visit. I do not know how it exactly came about, but my wife took a violent fancy to the place. They all received us very kindly. The good rector and his dear kind wife made it very pleasant, and the archbishop was there—whom we used to call Mr. Nigel—only think! That is a wonderful affair. He is not at all high and mighty, but talked with us, and walked with us, just the same as in old days. He took a great fancy to my boy, John Hampden, and, after all, my boy is to go to Oxford, and not to Owens College, as I had first intended."
"That is a great change."
"Well, I wanted him to go to Owens College, I confess, but I did not care so much about Mill Hill. That was his mother's fancy; she was very strong about that. It is a Nonconformist school, but I am not a Nonconformist. I do not much admire dogmas, but I am a Churchman as my fathers were. However, John Hampden is not to go to Mill Hill. He has gone to a sort of college near Oxford, which the archbishop recommended to us; the principal, and all the tutors are clergyman—of course of our Church. My wife was quite delighted with it all."
"Well, that is a good thing."
"And so," continued Thornberry, "she got it into her head she should like to live at Hurstley, and I took the place. I am afraid I have been foolish enough to lay out a great deal of money there—for a place not my own. Your ladyship would not know the old hall. I have, what they call, restored it, and upon my word, except the new hall of the Clothworkers' Company, where I dined the other day, I do not know anything of the kind that is prettier."
"The dear old hall!" murmured Lady Roehampton.
In time, though no one mentioned it, everybody thought that if an alliance ultimately took place between Lady Roehampton and Mr. Sidney Wilton, it would be the most natural thing in the world, and everybody would approve it. True, he was her father's friend, and much her senior, but then he was still good-looking, very clever, very much considered, and lord of a large estate, and at any rate he was a younger man than her late husband.
When these thoughts became more rife in society, and began to take the form of speech, the year was getting old, and this reminds us of a little incident which took place many months previously, at the beginning of the year, and which we ought to record.
Shortly after the death of Lord Roehampton, Prince Florestan called one morning in St. James' Square. He said he would not ask Lady Roehampton to see him, but he was obliged suddenly to leave England, and he did not like to depart without personally inquiring after her. He left a letter and a little packet. And the letter ran thus:
"I am obliged, madam, to leave England suddenly, and it is probable that we shall never meet again. I should be happy if I had your prayers! This little jewel enclosed belonged to my mother, the Queen Agrippina. She told me that I was never to part with it, except to somebody I loved as much as herself. There is only one person in the world to whom I owe affection. It is to her who from the first was always kind to me, and who, through dreary years of danger and anxiety, has been the charm and consolation of the life of
On the evening of the day on which Prince Florestan personally left the letter with Lady Roehampton, he quitted London with the Duke of St. Angelo and his aides-de-camp, and, embarking in his steam yacht, which was lying at Southampton, quitted England. They pursued a prosperous course for about a week, when they passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, and, not long afterwards, cast anchor in a small and solitary bay. There the prince and his companions, and half-a-dozen servants, well armed and in military attire, left the yacht, and proceeded on foot into the country for a short distance, when they arrived at a large farmhouse. Here, it was evident, they were expected. Men came forward with many horses, and mounted, and accompanied the party which had arrived. They advanced about ten miles, and halted as they were approaching a small but fortified town.
The prince sent the Duke of St. Angelo forward to announce his arrival to the governor, and to require him to surrender. The governor, however, refused, and ordered the garrison to fire on the invaders. This they declined to do; the governor, with many ejaculations, and stamping with rage, broke his sword, and the prince entered the town. He was warmly received, and the troops, amounting to about twelve hundred men, placed themselves at his disposal. The prince remained at this town only a couple of hours, and at the head of his forces advanced into the country. At a range of hills he halted, sent out reconnoitring parties, and pitched his camp. In the morning, the Marquis of Vallombrosa, with a large party of gentlemen well mounted, arrived, and were warmly greeted. The prince learnt from them that the news of his invasion had reached the governor of the province, who was at one of the most considerable cities of the kingdom, with a population exceeding two hundred thousand, and with a military division for its garrison. "They will not wait for our arrival," said Vallombrosa, "but, trusting to their numbers, will come out and attack us."
The news of the scouts being that the mountain passes were quite unoccupied by the enemy, the prince determined instantly to continue his advance, and take up a strong position on the other side of the range, and await his fate. The passage was well effected, and on the fourth day of the invasion the advanced guard of the enemy were in sight. The prince commanded that no one should attend him, but alone and tying a white handkerchief round his sword, he galloped up to the hostile lines, and said in a clear, loud voice, "My men, this is the sword of my father!"
"Florestan for ever!" was the only and universal reply. The cheers of the advanced guard reached and were re-echoed by the main body. The commander-in-chief, bareheaded, came up to give in his allegiance and receive his majesty's orders. They were for immediate progress, and at the head of the army which had been sent out to destroy him, Florestan in due course entered the enthusiastic city which recognised him as its sovereign. The city was illuminated, and he went to the opera in the evening. The singing was not confined to the theatre. During the whole night the city itself was one song of joy and triumph, and that night no one slept.
After this there was no trouble and no delay. It was a triumphal march. Every town opened its gates, and devoted municipalities proffered golden keys. Every village sent forth its troop of beautiful maidens, scattering roses, and singing the national anthem which had been composed by Queen Agrippina. On the tenth day of the invasion King Florestan, utterly unopposed, entered the magnificent capital of his realm, and slept in the purple bed which had witnessed his princely birth.