Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 12

The morrow brought a bright autumnal morn, and every one woke, if not happy, interested. There was much to see and much to do. The dew was so heavy that the children were not allowed to quit the broad gravel walk that bounded one side of the old house, but they caught enticing vistas of the gleamy glades, and the abounding light and shade softened and adorned everything. Every sight and sound too was novel, and from the rabbit that started out of the grove, stared at them and then disappeared, to the jays chattering in the more distant woods, all was wonderment at least for a week. They saw squirrels for the first time, and for the first time beheld a hedgehog. Their parents were busy in the house; Mr. Ferrars unpacking and settling his books, and his wife arranging some few articles of ornamental furniture that had been saved from the London wreck, and rendering their usual room of residence as refined as was in her power. It is astonishing how much effect a woman of taste can produce with a pretty chair or two full of fancy and colour, a table clothed with a few books, some family miniatures, a workbag of rich material, and some toys that we never desert. “I have not much to work with,” said Mrs. Ferrars, with a sigh, “but I think the colouring is pretty.”

On the second day after their arrival, the rector and his wife made them a visit. Mr. Penruddock was a naturalist, and had written the history of his parish. He had escaped being an Oxford don by being preferred early to this college living, but he had married the daughter of a don, who appreciated the grand manners of their new acquaintances, and who, when she had overcome their first rather awe-inspiring impression, became communicative and amused them much with her details respecting the little world in which they were now to live. She could not conceal her wonderment at the beauty of the twins, though they were no longer habited in those dresses which had once astonished even Mayfair.

Part of the scheme of the new life was the education of the children by their parents. Mr. Ferrars had been a distinguished scholar, and was still a good one. He was patient and methodical, and deeply interested in his contemplated task. So far as disposition was concerned the pupil was not disappointing. Endymion was of an affectionate disposition and inclined to treat his father with deference. He was gentle and docile; but he did not acquire knowledge with facility, and was remarkably deficient in that previous information on which his father counted. The other pupil was of a different temperament. She learned with a glance, and remembered with extraordinary tenacity everything she had acquired. But she was neither tender nor deferential, and to induce her to study you could not depend on the affections, but only on her intelligence. So she was often fitful, capricious, or provoking, and her mother, who, though accomplished and eager, had neither the method nor the self-restraint of Mr. Ferrars, was often annoyed and irritable. Then there were scenes, or rather ebullitions on one side, for Myra was always unmoved and enraging from her total want of sensibility. Sometimes it became necessary to appeal to Mr. Ferrars, and her manner to her father, though devoid of feeling, was at least not contemptuous. Nevertheless, on the whole the scheme, as time went on, promised to be not unsuccessful. Endymion, though not rapidly, advanced surely, and made some amends for the years that had been wasted in fashionable private schools and the then frivolity of Eton. Myra, who, notwithstanding her early days of indulgence, had enjoyed the advantage of admirable governesses, was well grounded in more than one modern language, and she soon mastered them. And in due time, though much after the period on which we are now touching, she announced her desire to become acquainted with German, in those days a much rarer acquirement than at present. Her mother could not help her in this respect, and that was perhaps an additional reason for the study of this tongue, for Myra was impatient of tuition, and not unjustly full of self-confidence. She took also the keenest interest in the progress of her brother, made herself acquainted with all his lessons, and sometimes helped him in their achievement.

Though they had absolutely no acquaintance of any kind except the rector and his family, life was not dull. Mr. Ferrars was always employed, for besides the education of his children, he had systematically resumed a habit in which he had before occasionally indulged, and that was political composition. He had in his lofty days been the author of more than one essay, in the most celebrated political publication of the Tories, which had commanded attention and obtained celebrity. Many a public man of high rank and reputation, and even more than one Prime Minister, had contributed in their time to its famous pages, but never without being paid. It was the organic law of this publication, that gratuitous contributions should never be admitted. And in this principle there was as much wisdom as pride. Celebrated statesmen would point with complacency to the snuff-box or the picture which had been purchased by their literary labour, and there was more than one bracelet on the arm of Mrs. Ferrars, and more than one genet in her stable, which had been the reward of a profound or a slashing article by William.

What had been the occasional diversion of political life was now to be the source of regular income. Though living in profound solitude, Ferrars had a vast sum of political experience to draw upon, and though his training and general intelligence were in reality too exclusive and academical for the stirring age which had now opened, and on which he had unhappily fallen, they nevertheless suited the audience to which they were particularly addressed. His Corinthian style, in which the Maenad of Mr. Burke was habited in the last mode of Almack’s, his sarcasms against the illiterate and his invectives against the low, his descriptions of the country life of the aristocracy contrasted with the horrors of the guillotine, his Horatian allusions and his Virgilian passages, combined to produce a whole which equally fascinated and alarmed his readers.

These contributions occasioned some communications with the editor or publisher of the Review, which were not without interest. Parcels came down by the coach, enclosing not merely proof sheets, but frequently new books — the pamphlet of the hour before it was published, or a volume of discoveries in unknown lands. It was a link to the world they had quitted without any painful associations. Otherwise their communications with the outside world were slight and rare. It is difficult for us, who live in an age of railroads, telegraphs, penny posts and penny newspapers, to realise how uneventful, how limited in thought and feeling, as well as in incident, was the life of an English family of retired habits and limited means, only forty years ago. The whole world seemed to be morally, as well as materially, “adscripti glebae.”

Mr. and Mrs. Ferrars did not wish to move, but had they so wished, it would have been under any circumstances for them a laborious and costly affair. The only newspaper they saw was the “Evening Mail,” which arrived three times a week, and was the “Times” newspaper with all its contents except its advertisements. As the “Times” newspaper had the credit of mainly contributing to the passing of Lord Grey’s Reform Bill, and was then whispered to enjoy the incredible sale of twelve thousand copies daily, Mr. Ferrars assumed that in its columns he would trace the most authentic intimations of coming events. The cost of postage was then so heavy, that domestic correspondence was necessarily very restricted. But this vexatious limitation hardly applied to the Ferrars. They had never paid postage. They were born and had always lived in the franking world, and although Mr. Ferrars had now himself lost the privilege, both official and parliamentary, still all their correspondents were frankers, and they addressed their replies without compunction to those who were free. Nevertheless, it was astonishing how little in their new life they cared to avail themselves of this correspondence. At first Zenobia wrote every week, almost every day, to Mrs. Ferrars, but after a time Mrs. Ferrars, though at first pleased by the attention, felt its recognition a burthen. Then Zenobia, who at length, for the first time in her life, had taken a gloomy view of affairs, relapsed into a long silence, and in fact had nearly forgotten the Ferrars, for as she herself used to say, “How can one recollect people whom one never meets?”

In the meantime, for we have been a little anticipating in our last remarks, the family at Hurstley were much pleased with the country they now inhabited. They made excursions of discovery into the interior of their world, Mrs. Ferrars and Myra in the pony-chair, her husband and Endymion walking by their side, and Endymion sometimes taking his sister’s seat against his wish, but in deference to her irresistible will. Even Myra could hardly be insensible to the sylvan wildness of the old chase, and the romantic villages in the wooded clefts of the downs. As for Endymion he was delighted, and it seemed to him, perhaps he unconsciously felt it, that this larger and more frequent experience of nature was a compensation for much which they had lost.

After a time, when they had become a little acquainted with simple neighbourhood, and the first impression of wildness and novelty had worn out, the twins were permitted to walk together alone, though within certain limits. The village and its vicinity was quite free, but they were not permitted to enter the woods, and not to wander on the chase out of sight of the mansion. These walks alone with Endymion were the greatest pleasure of his sister. She delighted to make him tell her of his life at Eton, and if she ever sighed it was when she lamented that his residence there had been so short. Then they found an inexhaustible fund of interest and sympathy in the past. They wondered if they ever should have ponies again. “I think not,” said Myra, “and yet how merry to scamper together over this chase!”

“But they would not let us go,” said Endymion, “without a groom.”

“A groom!” exclaimed Myra, with an elfish laugh; “I believe, if the truth were really known, we ought to be making our own beds and washing our own dinner plates.”

“And are you sorry, Myra, for all that has happened?” asked Endymion.

“I hardly know what has happened. They keep it very close. But I am too astonished to be sorry. Besides, what is the use of whimpering?”

“I cried very much one day,” said Endymion.

“Ah, you are soft, dear darling. I never cried in my life, except once with rage.”

At Christmas a new character appeared on the stage, the rector’s son, Nigel. He had completed a year with a private tutor, and was on the eve of commencing his first term at Oxford, being eighteen, nearly five years older than the twins. He was tall, with a countenance of remarkable intelligence and power, though still softened by the innocence and bloom of boyhood. He was destined to be a clergyman. The twins were often thrown into his society, for though too old to be their mere companion, his presence was an excuse for Mrs. Penruddock more frequently joining them in their strolls, and under her auspices their wanderings had no limit, except the shortness of the days; but they found some compensation for this in their frequent visits to the rectory, which was a cheerful and agreeable home, full of stuffed birds, and dried plants, and marvellous fishes, and other innocent trophies and triumphs over nature.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19