Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 47

Lady Roehampton, in her stately mansion in St. James’ Square, found life very different from what she had experienced in her Andalusian dream. For three months she had been the constant companion of one of the most fascinating of men, whose only object had been to charm and delight her. And in this he had entirely succeeded. From the moment they arrived in London, however, they seemed to be separated, and although when they met, there was ever a sweet smile and a kind and playful word for her, his brow, if not oppressed with care, was always weighty with thought. Lord Roehampton was little at his office; he worked in a spacious chamber on the ground floor of his private residence, and which was called the Library, though its literature consisted only of Hansard, volumes of state papers, shelves of treatises, and interminable folios of parliamentary reports. He had not been at home a week before the floor of the apartment was literally covered with red boxes, all containing documents requiring attention, and which messengers were perpetually bringing or carrying away. Then there were long meetings of the Cabinet almost daily, and daily visits from ambassadors and foreign ministers, which prevented the transaction of the current business, and rendered it necessary that Lord Roehampton should sit up late in his cabinet, and work sometimes nearly till the hours of dawn. There had been of course too some arrears of business, for secretaries of state cannot indulge with impunity in Andalusian dreams, but Lord Roehampton was well served. His under-secretaries of state were capable and experienced men, and their chief had not been altogether idle in his wanderings. He had visited Paris, and the capital of France in those days was the capital of diplomacy. The visit of Lord Roehampton had settled some questions which might have lingered for years, and had given him that opportunity of personal survey which to a statesman is invaluable.

Although it was not the season, the great desert had, comparatively speaking, again become peopled. There were many persons in town, and they all called immediately on Lady Roehampton. The ministerial families and the diplomatic corps alone form a circle, but there is also a certain number of charming people who love London in November, and lead there a wondrous pleasant life of real amusement, until their feudal traditions and their domestic duties summon them back to their Christmas homes.

Lord and Lady Roehampton gave constant dinners, and after they had tried two or three, he expressed his wish to his wife that she should hold a small reception after these dinners. He was a man of great tact, and he wished to launch his wife quietly and safely on the social ocean. “There is nothing like practising before Christmas, my love,” he would say; “you will get your hand in, and be able to hold regular receptions in the spring.” And he was quite right. The dinners became the mode, and the assemblies were eagerly appreciated. The Secretary of the Treasury whispered to an Under–Secretary of State — “This marriage was a coup. We have got another house.”

Myra had been a little anxious about the relations between Lord Roehampton and her brother. She felt, with a woman’s instinct, that her husband might not be overpleased by her devotion to Endymion, and she could not resist the conviction that the disparity of age which is easily forgotten in a wife, and especially in a wife who adores you, assumes a different, and somewhat distasteful character, when a great statesman is obliged to recognise it in the shape of a boyish brother-in-law. But all went right, for the sweetness of Lord Roehampton’s temper was inexhaustible. Endymion had paid several visits to St. James’ square before Myra could seize the opportunity, for which she was ever watching, to make her husband and her brother acquainted.

“And so you are one of us,” said Lord Roehampton, with his sweetest smile and in his most musical tone, “and in office. We must try to give you a lift.” And then he asked Endymion who was his chief, and how he liked him, and then he said, “A good deal depends on a man’s chief. I was under your grandfather when I first entered parliament, and I never knew a pleasanter man to do business with. He never made difficulties; he always encouraged one. A younker likes that.”

Lady Roehampton was desirous of paying some attention to all those who had been kind to her brother; particularly Mr. Waldershare and Lord Beaumaris — and she wished to invite them to her house. “I am sure Waldershare would like to come,” said Endymion, “but Lord Beaumaris, I know, never goes anywhere, and I have myself heard him say he never would.”

“Yes, my lord was telling me Lord Beaumaris was quite farouche, and it is feared that we may lose him. That would be sad,” said Myra, “for he is powerful.”

“I should like very much if you could give me a card for Mr. Trenchard,” said Endymion; “he is not in society, but he is quite a gentleman.”

“You shall have it, my dear. I have always liked Mr. Trenchard, and I dare say, some day or other, he may be of use to you.”

The Neuchatels were not in town, but Myra saw them frequently, and Mr. Neuchatel often dined in St. James’ Square — but the ladies always declined every invitation of the kind. They came up from Hainault to see Myra, but looked as if nothing but their great affection would prompt such a sacrifice, and seemed always pining for Arcadia. Endymion, however, not unfrequently continued his Sunday visits to Hainault, to which Mr. Neuchatel had given him a general welcome. This young gentleman, indeed, soon experienced a considerable change in his social position. Invitations flocked to him, and often from persons whom he did not know, and who did not even know him. He went by the name of Lady Roehampton’s brother, and that was a sufficient passport.

“We are trying to get up a carpet dance to-night,” said Belinda to a fair friend. “What men are in town?”

“Well, there is Mr. Waldershare, who has just left me.”

“I have asked him.

“Then there is Lord Willesden and Henry Grantley — I know they are passing through town — and there is the new man, Lady Roehampton’s brother.”

“I will send to Lord Willesden and Henry Grantley immediately, and perhaps you will send a card, which I will write here, for me to the new man.”

And in this way Mr. Ferrars soon found that he was what is called “everywhere.”

One of the most interesting acquaintances that Lady Roehampton made was a colleague of her husband, and that was Mr. Sidney Wilton, once the intimate friend of her father. He had known herself and her brother when they were children, indeed from the cradle. Mr. Sidney Wilton was in the perfection of middle life, and looked young for his years. He was tall and pensive, and naturally sentimental, though a long political career, for he had entered the House of Commons for the family borough the instant he was of age, had brought to this susceptibility a salutary hardness. Although somewhat alienated from the friend of his youth by the course of affairs, for Mr. Sidney Wilton had followed Lord Roehampton, while Mr. Ferrars had adhered to the Duke of Wellington, he had not neglected Ferrars in his fall, but his offers of assistance, frankly and generously made, had been coldly though courteously rejected, and no encouragement had been given to the maintenance of their once intimate acquaintance.

Mr. Sidney Wilton was much struck by the appearance of Lady Roehampton. He tried to compare the fulfilment of her promise with the beautiful and haughty child whom he used to wonder her parents so extravagantly spoiled. Her stature was above the average height of women and finely developed and proportioned. But it was in the countenance — in the pellucid and commanding brow, the deep splendour of her dark blue eyes softened by long lashes, her short upper lip, and the rich profusion of her dark chestnut hair — that his roused memory recalled the past; and he fell into a mood of agitated contemplation.

The opportunities which he enjoyed of cultivating her society were numerous, and Mr. Wilton missed none. He was frequently her guest, and being himself the master of a splendid establishment, he could offer her a hospitality which every one appreciated. Lord Roehampton was peculiarly his political chief, and they had always been socially intimate. As the trusted colleague of her husband — as one who had known her in her childhood, and as himself a man singularly qualified, by his agreeable conversation and tender and deferential manner, to make his way with women — Mr. Sidney Wilton had no great difficulty, particularly in that happy demi-season which precedes Christmas, in establishing relations of confidence and intimacy with Lady Roehampton.

The cabinets were over: the government had decided on their measures, and put them in a state of preparation, and they were about to disperse for a month. The seat of Lord Roehampton was in the extreme north of England, and a visit to it was inconvenient at this moment, and especially at this season. The department of Lord Roehampton was very active at this time, and he was unwilling that the first impression by his wife of her future home should be experienced at a season little favourable to the charms of a northern seat. Mr. Sidney Wilton was the proprietor of the most beautiful and the most celebrated villa in England; only twenty miles from town, seated on a wooded crest of the swan-crowned Thames, with gardens of delight, and woods full of pheasants, and a terrace that would have become a court, glancing over a wide expanse of bower and glade, studded with bright halls and delicate steeples, and the smoke of rural homes.

It was arranged that Lord and Lady Roehampton should pass their Christmas at Gaydene with Mr. Sidney Wilton, stay as long as they liked, go where they chose, but make it their headquarters. It was a most successful visit; for a great deal of business was done, as well as pleasure enjoyed. The ambassadors, who were always a little uneasy at Christmas when everybody is away, and themselves without country homes, were all invited down for that week. Lord Roehampton used to give them audiences after the shooting parties. He thought it was a specific against their being too long. He used to say, “The first dinner-bell often brings things to a point.” After Christmas there was an ever-varying stream of company, chiefly official and parliamentary. The banquet and the battue did not always settle the business, the clause, or the schedule, which the guests often came down to Gaydene ostensibly to accomplish, but they sent men back to town with increased energy and good humour, and kept the party in heart. Towards the end of the month the premier came down, and for him the Blue Ribbon Covert had been reserved, though he really cared little for sport. It was an eighteenth century tradition that knights of the garter only had been permitted to shoot this choice preserve, but Mr. Sidney Wilton, in this advanced age, did not of course revive such an ultra-exclusive practice, and he was particular in arranging the party to include Mr. Jorrocks. This was a Radical member to whom considerable office had been given at the reconstruction of 1835, when it was necessary that the Whigs should conciliate the Mountain. He was a pretentious, underbred, half-educated man, fluent with all the commonplaces of middle-class ambition, which are humorously called democratic opinions, but at heart a sycophant of the aristocracy. He represented, however, a large and important constituency, and his promotion was at first looked upon as a masterpiece of management. The Mountain, who knew Jorrocks by heart, and felt that they had in their ranks men in every sense his superior, and that he could be no representative of their intelligence and opinions, and so by degrees prepare for their gradual admission to the sacred land, at first sulked over the promotion of their late companion, and only did not publicly deride it from the feeling that by so doing they might be playing the game of the ministry. At the time of which we are writing, having become extremely discontented and wishing to annoy the government, they even affected dissatisfaction at the subordinate position which Jorrocks occupied in the administration, and it was generally said — had become indeed the slang of the party — that the test of the sincerity of the ministry to Liberal principles was to put Jorrocks in the cabinet. The countenance of the premier when this choice programme was first communicated to him was what might have been expected had he learnt of the sudden descent upon this isle of an invading force, and the Secretary of the Treasury whispered in confidence to one or two leaders of the Mountain, “that if they did not take care they would upset the government.”

“That is exactly what we want to do,” was the reply.

So it will be seen that the position of the ministry, previous to the meeting of parliament in 1839, was somewhat critical. In the meantime, its various members, who knew their man, lavished every practicable social attention on Jorrocks. The dinners they gave him were doubled; they got their women to call on his women; and Sidney Wilton, a member of an illustrious garter family, capped the climax by appointing him one of the party to shoot the Blue Ribbon Covert.

Mr. Wilton had invited Endymion to Gaydene, and, as his stay there could only be brief, had even invited him to repeat the visit. He was, indeed, unaffectedly kind to one whom he remembered so young, and was evidently pleased with him.

One evening, a day or two before the break-up of the party, while some charming Misses Playfellow, with an impudent brother, who all lived in the neighbourhood, were acting charades, Mr. Wilton said to Lady Roehampton, by whose side he was sitting in the circle —

“I have had a very busy morning about my office. There is to be a complete revolution in it. The whole system is to be reconstructed; half the present people are to be pensioned off, and new blood is to be introduced. It struck me that this might be an opening for your brother. He is in the public service — that is something; and as there are to be so many new men, there will be no jealousy as to his promotion. If you will speak to him about it, and he likes it, I will appoint him one of the new clerks; and then, if he also likes it, he shall be my private secretary. That will give him position, and be no mean addition to his income, you know, if we last — but that depends, I suppose, on Mr. Jorrocks.”

Lady Roehampton communicated all this to her brother on her return to London. “It is exactly what I wished,” she said. “I wanted you to be private secretary to a cabinet minister, and if I were to choose any one, except, of course, my lord, it would be Mr. Wilton. He is a perfect gentleman, and was dear papa’s friend. I understand you will have three hundred a year to begin with, and the same amount as his secretary. You ought to be able to live with ease and propriety on six hundred a year — and this reminds me of what I have been thinking of before we went to Gaydene. I think now you ought to have a more becoming residence. The Rodneys are good people, I do not doubt, and I dare say we shall have an opportunity of proving our sense of their services; but they are not exactly the people that I care for you to live with, and, at any rate, you cannot reside any longer in a garret. I have taken some chambers in the Albany, therefore, for you, and they shall be my contribution to your housekeeping. They are not badly furnished, but they belonged to an old general officer, and are not very new-fashioned; but we will go together and see them tomorrow, and I dare say I shall soon be able to make them comme il faut.”

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