Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 40

The meeting of parliament caused also the return of Waldershare to England, and brought life and enjoyment to our friends in Warwick Street. Waldershare had not taken his seat in the autumn session. After the general election, he had gone abroad with Lord Beaumaris, the young nobleman who had taken them to the Derby, and they had seen and done many strange things. During all their peregrinations, however, Waldershare maintained a constant correspondence with Imogene, occasionally sending her a choice volume, which she was not only to read, but to prove her perusal of it by forwarding to him a criticism of its contents.

Endymion was too much pleased to meet Waldershare again, and told him of the kind of intimacy he had formed with Colonel Albert and all about the baron. Waldershare was much interested in these details, and it was arranged that an opportunity should be taken to make the colonel and Waldershare acquainted.

This, however, was not an easy result to bring about, for Waldershare insisted on its not occurring formally, and as the colonel maintained the utmost reserve with the household, and Endymion had no room of reception, weeks passed over without Waldershare knowing more of Colonel Albert personally than sometimes occasionally seeing him mount his horse.

In the meantime life in Warwick Street, so far as the Rodney family were concerned, appeared to have reassumed its pleasant, and what perhaps we are authorised in styling its normal condition. They went to the play two or three times a week, and there Waldershare or Lord Beaumaris, frequently both, always joined them; and then they came home to supper, and then they smoked; and sometimes there was a little singing, and sometimes a little whist. Occasionally there was only conversation, that is to say, Waldershare held forth, dilating on some wondrous theme, full of historical anecdote, and dazzling paradox, and happy phrase. All listened with interest, even those who did not understand him. Much of his talk was addressed really to Beaumaris, whose mind he was forming, as well as that of Imogene. Beaumaris was an hereditary Whig, but had not personally committed himself, and the ambition of Waldershare was to transform him not only into a Tory, but one of the old rock, a real Jacobite. “Is not the Tory party,” Waldershare would exclaim, “a succession of heroic spirits, ‘beautiful and swift,’ ever in the van, and foremost of their age? — Hobbes and Bolingbroke, Hume and Adam Smith, Wyndham and Cobham, Pitt and Grenville, Canning and Huskisson? — Are not the principles of Toryism those popular rights which men like Shippen and Hynde Cotton flung in the face of an alien monarch and his mushroom aristocracy? — Place bills, triennial bills, opposition to standing armies, to peerage bills? — Are not the traditions of the Tory party the noblest pedigree in the world? Are not its illustrations that glorious martyrology, that opens with the name of Falkland and closes with the name of Canning?”

“I believe it is all true,” whispered Lord Beaumaris to Sylvia, who had really never heard of any of these gentlemen before, but looked most sweet and sympathetic.

“He is a wonderful man — Mr. Waldershare,” said Mr. Vigo to Rodney, “but I fear not practical.”

One day, not very long after his return from his travels, Waldershare went to breakfast with his uncle, Mr. Sidney Wilton, now a cabinet minister, still unmarried, and living in Grosvenor Square. Notwithstanding the difference of their politics, an affectionate intimacy subsisted between them; indeed Waldershare was a favourite of his uncle, who enjoyed the freshness of his mind, and quite appreciated his brilliancy of thought and speech, his quaint reading and effervescent imagination.

“And so you think we are in for life, George,” said Mr. Wilson, taking a piece of toast. “I do not.”

“Well, I go upon this,” said Waldershare. “It is quite clear that Peel has nothing to offer the country, and the country will not rally round a negation. When he failed in ‘34 they said there had not been sufficient time for the reaction to work. Well, now, since then, it has had nearly three years, during which you fellows have done everything to outrage every prejudice of the constituency, and yet they have given you a majority.”

“Yes, that is all very well,” replied Mr. Wilton, “but we are the Liberal shop, and we have no Liberal goods on hand; we are the party of movement, and must perforce stand still. The fact is, all the great questions are settled. No one will burn his fingers with the Irish Church again, in this generation certainly not, probably in no other; you could not get ten men together in any part of the country to consider the corn laws; I must confess I regret it. I still retain my opinion that a moderate fixed duty would be a wise arrangement, but I quite despair in my time of any such advance of opinion; as for the ballot, it is hardly tolerated in debating societies. The present government, my dear George, will expire from inanition. I always told the cabinet they were going on too fast. They should have kept back municipal reform. It would have carried us on for five years. It was our only piece de resistance.”

“I look upon the House of Commons as a mere vestry,” said Waldershare. “I believe it to be completely used up. Reform has dished it. There are no men, and naturally, because the constituencies elect themselves, and the constituencies are the most mediocre of the nation. The House of Commons now is like a spendthrift living on his capital. The business is done and the speeches are made by men formed in the old school. The influence of the House of Commons is mainly kept up by old social traditions. I believe if the eldest sons of peers now members would all accept the Chiltern hundreds, and the House thus cease to be fashionable, before a year was past, it would be as odious and as contemptible as the Rump Parliament.”

“Well, you are now the eldest son of a peer,” said Sidney Wilton, smiling. “Why do you not set an example, instead of spending your father’s substance and your own in fighting a corrupt borough?”

“I am vox clamantis,” said Waldershare. “I do not despair of its being done. But what I want is some big guns to do it. Let the eldest son of a Tory duke and the eldest son of a Whig duke do the same thing on the same day, and give the reason why. If Saxmundham, for example, and Harlaxton would do it, the game would be up.”

“On the contrary,” said Mr. Wilton, “Saxmundham, I can tell you, will be the new cabinet minister.”

“Degenerate land!” exclaimed Waldershare. “Ah! in the eighteenth century there was always a cause to sustain the political genius of the country — the cause of the rightful dynasty.”

“Well, thank God, we have got rid of all those troubles,” said Mr. Wilton.

“Rid of them! I do not know that. I saw a great deal of the Duke of Modena this year, and tried as well as I could to open his mind to the situation.”

“You traitor!” exclaimed Mr. Wilton. “If I were Secretary of State, I would order the butler to arrest you immediately, and send you to the Tower in a hack cab; but as I am only a President of a Board and your uncle, you will escape.”

“Well, I should think all sensible men,” said Waldershare, “of all parties will agree, that before we try a republic, it would be better to give a chance to the rightful heir.”

“Well, I am not a republican,” said Mr. Wilton, “and I think Queen Victoria, particularly if she make a wise and happy marriage, need not much fear the Duke of Modena.”

“He is our sovereign lord, all the same,” said Waldershare. “I wish he were more aware of it himself. Instead of looking to a restoration to his throne, I found him always harping on the fear of French invasion. I could not make him understand that France was his natural ally, and that without her help, Charlie was not likely to have his own again.”

“Well, as you admire pretenders, George, I wish you were in my shoes this morning, for I have got one of the most disagreeable interviews on hand which ever fell to my lot.”

“How so, my dear uncle?” said Waldershare, in a tone of sympathy, for he saw that the countenance of Mr. Wilton was disturbed.

“My unhappy ward,” said Mr. Wilton; “you know, of course, something about him.”

“Well, I was at school and college,” said Waldershare, “when it all happened. But I have just heard that you had relations with him.”

“The most intimate; and there is the bitterness. There existed between his mother Queen Agrippina and myself ties of entire friendship. In her last years and in her greatest adversity she appealed to me to be the guardian of her son. He inherited all her beauty and apparently all her sweetness of disposition. I took the greatest pains with him. He was at Eton, and did well there. He was very popular; I never was so deceived in a boy in my life. I though him the most docile of human beings, and that I had gained over him an entire influence. I am sure it would have been exercised for his benefit. In short, I may say it now, I looked upon him as a son, and he certainly would have been my heir; and yet all this time, from his seventeenth year, he was immersed in political intrigue, and carrying on plots against the sovereign of his country, even under my own roof.”

“How very interesting!” said Waldershare.

“It may be interesting to you; I know what it cost me. The greatest anxiety and sorrow, and even nearly compromised my honour. Had I not a large-hearted chief and a true man of the world to deal with, I must have retired from the government.”

“How could he manage it?” said Waldershare.

“You have no conception of the devices and resources of the secret societies of Europe,” said Mr. Wilton. “His drawing-master, his fencing-master, his dancing-master, all his professors of languages, who delighted me by their testimony to his accomplishments and their praises of his quickness and assiduity, were active confederates in bringing about events which might have occasioned an European war. He left me avowedly to pay a visit in the country, and I even received letters from him with the postmark of the neighbouring town; letters all prepared beforehand. My first authentic information as to his movements was to learn, that he had headed an invading force, landed on the shores which he claimed as his own, was defeated and a prisoner.”

“I remember it,” said Waldershare. “I had just then gone up to St. John’s, and I remember reading it with the greatest excitement.”

“All this was bad enough,” said Mr. Wilton, “but this is not my sorrow. I saved him from death, or at least a dreadful imprisonment. He was permitted to sail to America on his parole that he would never return to Europe, and I was required, and on his solemn appeal I consented, to give my personal engagement that the compact should be sacred. Before two years had elapsed, supported all this time, too, by my bounty, there was an attempt, almost successful, to assassinate the king, and my ward was discovered and seized in the capital. This time he was immured, and for life, in the strongest fortress of the country; but secret societies laugh at governments, and though he endured a considerable imprisonment, the world has recently been astounded by hearing that he had escaped. Yes; he is in London and has been here, though in studied obscurity, for some little time. He has never appealed to me until within these few days, and now only on the ground that there are some family affairs which cannot be arranged without my approval. I had great doubts whether I should receive him. I feel I ought not to have done so. But I hesitated, and I know not what may be the truth about women, but of this I am quite sure, the man who hesitates is lost.”

“How I should like to present at the interview, my dear uncle!” said Waldershare.

“And I should not be sorry to have a witness,” said Mr. Wilton, “but it is impossible. I am ashamed to say how unhinged I feel; no person, and no memories, ought to exercise such an influence over one. To tell you the truth, I encouraged your pleasant gossip at breakfast by way of distraction at this moment, and now”——

At this moment, the groom of the chambers entered and announced “His royal highness, Prince Florestan.”

Mr. Wilton, who was too agitated to speak, waved his hand to Waldershare to retire, and his nephew vanished. As Waldershare was descending the staircase, he drew back on a landing-place to permit the prince to advance undisturbed. The prince apparently did not observe him, but when Waldershare caught the countenance of the visitor, he started.

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