Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 21

It was only ten o’clock when Endymion returned to Warwick Street, and for the first time in his life used a pass-key, with which Mr. Rodney had furnished him in the morning, and reentered his new home. He thought he had used it very quietly, and was lighting his candle and about to steal up to his lofty heights, when from the door of the parlour, which opened into the passage, emerged Miss Imogene, who took the candlestick from his hand and insisted on waiting upon him.

“I thought I heard something,” she said; “you must let me light you up, for you can hardly yet know your way. I must see too if all is right; you may want something.”

So she tripped up lightly before him, showing, doubtless without premeditation, as well-turned an ankle and as pretty a foot as could fall to a damsel’s fortunate lot. “My sister and Mr. Rodney have gone to the play,” she said, “but they left strict instructions with me to see that you were comfortable, and that you wanted for nothing that we could supply.”

“You are too kind,” said Endymion, as she lighted the candles on his dressing-table, “and, to tell you the truth, these are luxuries I am not accustomed to, and to which I am not entitled.”

“And yet,” she said, with a glance of blended admiration and pity, “they tell me time was when gold was not good enough for you, and I do not think it could be.”

“Such kindness as this,” said Endymion, “is more precious than gold.”

“I hope you will find your things well arranged. All your clothes are in these two drawers; the coats in the bottom one, and your linen in those above. You will not perhaps be able to find your pocket-handkerchiefs at first. They are in this sachet; my sister made it herself. Mr. Rodney says you are to be called at eight o’clock and breakfast at nine. I think everything is right. Good-night, Mr. Endymion.”

The Rodney household was rather a strange one. The first two floors, as we have mentioned, were let, and at expensive rates, for the apartments were capacious and capitally furnished, and the situation, if not distinguished, was extremely convenient — quiet from not being a thoroughfare, and in the heart of civilisation. They only kept a couple of servants, but their principal lodgers had their personal attendants. And yet after sunset the sisters appeared and presided at their tea-table, always exquisitely dressed; seldom alone, for Mr. Rodney had many friends, and lived in a capacious apartment, rather finely furnished, with a round table covered with gaudy print-books, a mantelpiece crowded with vases of mock Dresden, and a cottage piano, on which Imogene could accompany her more than pleasing voice.

Somehow or other, the process is difficult to trace, Endymion not unfrequently found himself at Mrs. Rodney’s tea-table. On the first occasion or so, he felt himself a little shy and embarrassed, but it soon became natural to him, and he would often escape from the symposia at Joe’s, and, instead of the Divan, find in Warwick Street a more congenial scene. There were generally some young men there, who seemed delighted with the ladies, listened with enthusiasm to Imogene’s singing, and were allowed to smoke. They were evidently gentlemen, and indeed Mr. Rodney casually mentioned to Endymion that one of the most frequent guests might some day even be a peer of the realm. Sometimes there was a rubber of whist, and, if wanted, Mrs. Rodney took a hand in it; Endymion sitting apart and conversing with her sister, who amused him by her lively observations, indicating even flashes of culture; but always addressed him without the slightest pretence and with the utmost naturalness. This was not the case with Mr. Rodney; pretence with him was ingrained, and he was at first somewhat embarrassed by the presence of Endymion, as he could hardly maintain before his late patron’s son his favourite character of the aristocratic victim of revolution. And yet this drawback was more than counterbalanced by the gratification of his vanity in finding a Ferrars his habitual guest. Such a luxury seemed a dangerous indulgence, but he could not resist it, and the moth was always flying round the candle. There was no danger, however, and that Mr. Rodney soon found out. Endymion was born with tact, and it came to him as much from goodness of heart as fineness of taste. Mr. Rodney, therefore, soon resumed his anecdotes of great men and his personal experience of their sayings, manners, and customs, with which he was in the habit of enlivening or ornamenting the whist table; occasionally introducing Endymion to the notice of the table by mentioning in a low tone, “That is Mr. Ferrars, in a certain sense under my care; his father is a privy councillor, and had it not been for the revolution — for I maintain, and always will, the Reform Bill was neither more nor less than a revolution — would probably have been Prime Minister. He was my earliest and my best friend.”

When there were cards, there was always a little supper: a lobster and a roasted potato and that sort of easy thing, and curious drinks, which the sisters mixed and made, and which no one else, at least all said so, could mix and make. On fitting occasions a bottle of champagne appeared, and then the person for whom the wine was produced was sure with wonderment to say, “Where did you get this champagne, Rodney? Could you get me some?” Mr. Rodney shook his head and scarcely gave a hope, but subsequently, when the praise in consequence had continued and increased, would observe, “Do you really want some? I cannot promise, but I will try. Of course they will ask a high figure.”

“Anything they like, my dear Rodney.”

And in about a week’s time the gentleman was so fortunate as to get his champagne.

There was one subject in which Mr. Rodney appeared to be particularly interested, and that was racing. The turf at that time had not developed into that vast institution of national demoralisation which it now exhibits. That disastrous character may be mainly attributed to the determination of our legislators to put down gaming-houses, which, practically speaking, substituted for the pernicious folly of a comparatively limited class the ruinous madness of the community. There were many influences by which in the highest classes persons might be discouraged or deterred from play under a roof; and in the great majority of cases such a habit was difficult, not to say impossible, to indulge. But in shutting up gaming-houses, we brought the gaming-table into the street, and its practices became the pursuit of those who would otherwise have never witnessed or even thought of them. No doubt Crockford’s had its tragedies, but all its disasters and calamities together would hardly equal a lustre of the ruthless havoc which has ensued from its suppression.

Nevertheless, in 1835 men made books, and Mr. Rodney was not inexpert in a composition which requires no ordinary qualities of character and intelligence; method, judgment, self-restraint, not too much imagination, perception of character, and powers of calculation. All these qualities were now in active demand and exercise; for the Derby was at hand, and the Rodney family, deeply interested in the result, were to attend the celebrated festival.

One of the young gentlemen, who sometimes smoked a cigar and sometimes tasted a lobster in their parlour, and who seemed alike and equally devoted to Mrs. Rodney and her sister, insisted upon taking them to Epsom in his drag, and they themselves were to select the party to accompany them. That was not difficult, for they were naturally all friends of their munificent host with one exception. Imogene stipulated that Endymion should be asked, and Mr. Rodney supported the suggestion. “He is the son of the privy councillor the Right Hon. William Pitt Ferrars, my earliest and my best friend, and in a certain sense is under my care.”

The drive to the Derby was not then shorn of its humours and glories. It was the Carnival of England, with equipages as numerous and various, and with banter not less quick and witty. It was a bright day — a day, no doubt, of wild hopes and terrible fears, but yet, on the whole, of joy and exultation. And no one was happier and prouder than pretty Mrs. Rodney, exquisitely dressed and sitting on the box of a patrician drag, beside its noble owner. On the seat behind them was Imogene, with Endymion on one side, and on the other the individual “who might one day be a peer.” Mr. Rodney and some others, including Mr. Vigo, faced a couple of grooms, who sat with folded arms and unmoved countenances, fastidiously stolid amid all the fun, and grave even when they opened the champagne.

The right horse won. Mr. Rodney and his friends pocketed a good stake, and they demolished their luncheon of luxuries with frantic gaiety.

“It is almost as happy as our little suppers in Warwick Street,” whispered their noble driver to his companion.

“Oh! much more than anything you can find there,” simpered Mrs. Rodney.

“I declare to you, some of the happiest hours of my life have been passed in Warwick Street,” gravely murmured her friend.

“I wish I could believe that,” said Mrs. Rodney.

As for Endymion, he enjoyed himself amazingly. The whole scene was new to him — he had never been at a race before, and this was the most famous of races. He did not know he had betted, but he found he too had won a little money, Mr. Rodney having put him on something, though what that meant he had not the remotest idea. Imogene, however, assured him it was all right — Mr. Rodney constantly put her on something. He enjoyed the luncheon too; the cold chicken, and the French pies, the wondrous salads, and the iced champagne. It seemed that Imogene was always taking care that his plate or his glass should be filled. Everything was delightful, and his noble host, who, always courteous, had hitherto been reserved, called him “Ferrars.”

What with the fineness of the weather, the inspirations of the excited and countless multitude, the divine stimulus of the luncheon, the kindness of his charming companions, and the general feeling of enjoyment and success that seemed to pervade his being, Endymion felt as he were almost acting a distinguished part in some grand triumph of antiquity, as returning home, the four splendid dark chestnuts swept along, two of their gay company playing bugles, and the grooms sitting with folded arms of haughty indifference.

Just at this moment his eye fell upon an omnibus full, inside and out, of clerks in his office. There was a momentary stoppage, and while he returned the salute of several of them, his quick eye could not avoid recognising the slightly surprised glance of Trenchard, the curious amazement of Seymour Hicks, and the indignant astonishment of St. Barbe.

“Our friend Ferrars seems in tiptop company,” said Trenchard.

“That may have been a countess on the box,” said Seymour Hicks, “for I observed an earl’s coronet on the drag. I cannot make out who it is.”

“There is no more advantage in going with four horses than with two,” said St. Barbe; “indeed, I believe you go slower. It is mere pride; puffed-up vanity. I should like to send those two grooms with their folded arms to the galleys — I hate those fellows. For my part, I never was behind four horses except in a stage-coach. No peer of the realm ever took me on his drag. However, a day of reckoning will come; the people won’t stand this much longer.”

Jawett was not there, for he disapproved of races.

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