Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 17

After securing his room in Warwick Street, Mr. Ferrars called on his political chiefs. Though engrossed with affairs, the moment his card was exhibited he was seen, cordially welcomed, and addressed in confidence. Not only were his claims acknowledged without being preferred, but an evidently earnest hope was expressed that they might be fully satisfied. No one had suffered more for the party and no one had worked harder or more effectively for it. But at present nothing could be done and nothing more could be said. All depended on Peel. Until he arrived nothing could be arranged. Their duties were limited to provisionally administering the affairs of the country until his appearance.

It was many days, even weeks, before that event could happen. The messenger would travel to Rome night and day, but it was calculated that nearly three weeks must elapse before his return. Mr. Ferrars then went to the Carlton Club, which he had assisted in forming three or four years before, and had established in a house of modern dimensions in Charles Street, St. James. It was called then the Charles Street gang, and none but the thoroughgoing cared to belong to it. Now he found it flourishing in a magnificent mansion on Carlton Terrace, while in very sight of its windows, on a plot of ground in Pall Mall, a palace was rising to receive it. It counted already fifteen hundred members, who had been selected by an omniscient and scrutinising committee, solely with reference to their local influence throughout the country, and the books were overflowing with impatient candidates of rank, and wealth, and power.

Three years ago Ferrars had been one of the leading spirits of this great confederacy, and now he entered the superb chamber, and it seemed to him that he did not recognise a human being. Yet it was full to overflowing, and excitement and anxiety and bustle were impressed on every countenance. If he had heard some of the whispers and remarks, as he entered and moved about, his self-complacency would scarcely have been gratified.

“Who is that?” inquired a young M.P. of a brother senator not much more experienced.

“Have not the remotest idea; never saw him before. Barron is speaking to him; he will tell us. I say, Barron, who is your friend?”

“That is Ferrars!”

“Ferrars! who is he?”

“One of our best men. If all our fellows had fought like him against the Reform Bill, that infernal measure would never have been carried.”

“Oh! ah! I remember something now,” said the young M.P., “but anything that happened before the election of ‘32 I look upon as an old almanack.”

However, notwithstanding the first and painful impression of strangers and strangeness, when a little time had elapsed Ferrars found many friends, and among the most distinguished present. Nothing could be more hearty than their greeting, and he had not been in the room half an hour before he had accepted an invitation to dine that very day with Lord Pomeroy.

It was a large and rather miscellaneous party, but all of the right kidney. Some men who had been cabinet ministers, and some who expected to be; several occupiers in old days of the secondary offices; both the whips, one noisy and the other mysterious; several lawyers of repute who must be brought into parliament, and some young men who had distinguished themselves in the reformed house and whom Ferrars had never seen before. “It is like old days,” said the husband of Zenobia to Ferrars, who sate next to him; “I hope it will float, but we shall know nothing till Peel comes.”

“He will have difficulty with his cabinet so far as the House of Commons is concerned,” said an old privy councillor “They must have seats, and his choice is very limited.”

“He will dissolve,” said the husband of Zenobia. “He must.”

“Wheugh!” said the privy councillor, and he shrugged his shoulders.

“The old story will not do,” said the husband of Zenobia. “We must have new blood. Peel must reconstruct on a broad basis.”

“Well, they say there is no lack of converts,” said the old privy councillor.

All this, and much more that he heard, made Ferrars ponder, and anxiously. No cabinet without parliament. It was but reasonable. A dissolution was therefore in his interest. And yet, what a prospect! A considerable expenditure, and yet with a considerable expenditure a doubtful result. Then reconstruction on a broad basis — what did that mean? Neither more nor less than rival candidates for office. There was no lack of converts. He dare say not. A great deal had developed since his exile at Hurstley — things which are not learned by newspapers, or even private correspondence. He spoke to Barron after dinner. He had reason to believe Barron was his friend. Barron could give no opinion about dissolution; all depended on Peel. But they were acting, and had been acting for some time, as if dissolution were on the cards. Ferrars had better call upon him tomorrow, and go over the list, and see what would be done for him. He had every claim.

The man with every claim called on Barron on the morrow, and saw his secret list, and listened to all his secret prospects and secret plans. There was more than one manufacturing town where there was an opening; decided reaction, and a genuine Conservative feeling. Barron had no doubt that, although a man might not get in the first time he stood, he would ultimately. Ultimately was not a word which suited Mr. Ferrars. There were several old boroughs where the freemen still outnumbered the ten-pounders, and where the prospects were more encouraging; but the expense was equal to the goodness of the chance, and although Ferrars had every claim, and would no doubt be assisted, still one could not shut one’s eyes to the fact that the personal expenditure must be considerable. The agricultural boroughs must be fought, at least this time, by local men. Something might be done with an Irish borough; expense, comparatively speaking inconsiderable, but the politics deeply Orange.

Gloom settled on the countenance of this spoiled child of politics, who had always sate for a close borough, and who recoiled from a contest like a woman, when he pictured to himself the struggle and exertion and personal suffering he would have to encounter and endure, and then with no certainty of success. The trained statesman, who had anticipated the mass of his party on Catholic emancipation, to become an Orange candidate! It was worse than making speeches to ten-pounders and canvassing freemen!

“I knew things were difficult,” said Ferrars; “but I was in hopes that there were yet some seats that we might command.”

“No doubt there are,” said Mr. Barron; “but they are few, and they are occupied — at least at present. But, after all, a thousand things may turn up, and you may consider nothing definitely arranged until Sir Robert arrives. The great thing is to be on the spot.”

Ferrars wrote to his wife daily, and kept her minutely acquainted with the course of affairs. She agreed with Barron that the great thing was to be on the spot. She felt sure that something would turn up. She was convinced that Sir Robert would send for him, offer him the cabinet, and at the same time provide him with a seat. Her own inclination was still in favour of a great colonial or foreign appointment. She still hankered after India; but if the cabinet were offered, as was certain, she did not consider that William, as a man of honour, could refuse to accept the trust and share the peril.

So Ferrars remained in London under the roof of the Rodneys. The feverish days passed in the excitement of political life in all its manifold forms, grave council and light gossip, dinners with only one subject of conversation, and that never palling, and at last, even evenings spent again under the roof of Zenobia, who, the instant her winter apartments were ready to receive the world, had hurried up to London and raised her standard in St. James’ Square. “It was like old days,” as her husband had said to Ferrars when they met after a long separation.

Was it like old days? he thought to himself when he was alone. Old days, when the present had no care, and the future was all hope; when he was proud, and justly proud, of the public position he had achieved, and of all the splendid and felicitous circumstances of life that had clustered round him. He thought of those away, and with whom during the last three years he had so continuously and intimately lived. And his hired home that once had been associated only in his mind with exile, imprisonment, misfortune, almost disgrace, became hallowed by affection, and in the agony of the suspense which now involved him, and to encounter which he began to think his diminished nerve unequal, he would have bargained for the rest of his life to pass undisturbed in that sweet solitude, in the delights of study and the tranquillity of domestic love.

A little not unamiable weakness this, but it passed off in the morning like a dream, when Mr. Ferrars heard that Sir Robert had arrived.

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