Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 5

In the meantime, power and prosperity clustered round the roof and family of Ferrars. He himself was in the prime of manhood, with an exalted position in the world of politics, and with a prospect of the highest. The Government of which he was a member was not only deemed strong, but eternal. The favour of the Court and the confidence of the country were alike lavished upon it. The government of the Duke could only be measured by his life, and his influence was irresistible. It was a dictatorship of patriotism. The country, long accustomed to a strong and undisturbed administration, and frightened by the changes and catastrophes which had followed the retirement of Lord Liverpool, took refuge in the powerful will and splendid reputation of a real hero.

Mrs. Ferrars was as ambitious of social distinction as her husband was of political power. She was a woman of taste, but of luxurious taste. She had a passion for splendour, which, though ever regulated by a fine perception of the fitness of things, was still costly. Though her mien was in general haughty, she flattered Zenobia, and consummately. Zenobia, who liked handsome people, even handsome women, and persons who were dressed beautifully, was quite won by Mrs. Ferrars, against whom at first she was inclined to be a little prejudiced. There was an entire alliance between them, and though Mrs. Ferrars greatly influenced and almost ruled Zenobia, the wife of the minister was careful always to acknowledge the Queen of Fashion as her suzerain.

The great world then, compared with the huge society of the present period, was limited in its proportions, and composed of elements more refined though far less various. It consisted mainly of the great landed aristocracy, who had quite absorbed the nabobs of India, and had nearly appropriated the huge West Indian fortunes. Occasionally, an eminent banker or merchant invested a large portion of his accumulations in land, and in the purchase of parliamentary influence, and was in time duly admitted into the sanctuary. But those vast and successful invasions of society by new classes which have since occurred, though impending, had not yet commenced. The manufacturers, the railway kings, the colossal contractors, the discoverers of nuggets, had not yet found their place in society and the senate. There were then, perhaps, more great houses open than at the present day, but there were very few little ones. The necessity of providing regular occasions for the assembling of the miscellaneous world of fashion led to the institution of Almack’s, which died out in the advent of the new system of society, and in the fierce competition of its inexhaustible private entertainments.

The season then was brilliant and sustained, but it was not flurried. People did not go to various parties on the same night. They remained where they were assembled, and, not being in a hurry, were more agreeable than they are at the present day. Conversation was more cultivated; manners, though unconstrained, were more stately; and the world, being limited, knew itself much better. On the other hand, the sympathies of society were more contracted than they are at present. The pressure of population had not opened the heart of man. The world attended to its poor in its country parishes, and subscribed and danced for the Spitalfields weavers when their normal distress had overflowed, but their knowledge of the people did not exceed these bounds, and the people knew very little more about themselves. They were only half born.

The darkest hour precedes the dawn, and a period of unusual stillness often, perhaps usually, heralds the social convulsion. At this moment the general tranquillity and even content were remarkable. In politics the Whigs were quite prepared to extend to the Duke the same provisional confidence that had been accepted by Mr. Caning, and conciliation began to be an accepted phrase, which meant in practice some share on their part of the good things of the State. The country itself required nothing. There was a general impression, indeed, that they had been advancing at a rather rapid rate, and that it was as well that the reins should be entrusted to a wary driver. Zenobia, who represented society, was enraptured that the career of revolution had been stayed. She still mourned over the concession of the Manchester and Liverpool Railway in a moment of Liberal infatuation, but flattered herself that any extension of the railway system might certainly be arrested, and on this head the majority of society, perhaps even of the country, was certainly on her side.

“I have some good news for you,” said one of her young favourites as he attended her reception. “We have prevented this morning the lighting of Grosvenor Square by gas by a large majority.”

“I felt confident that disgrace would never occur,” said Zenobia, triumphant. “And by a large majority! I wonder how Lord Pomeroy voted.”

“Against us.”

“How can one save this country?” exclaimed Zenobia. “I believe now the story that he has ordered Lady Pomeroy not to go to the Drawing Room in a sedan chair.”

One bright May morning in the spring that followed the formation of the government that was to last for ever, Mrs. Ferrars received the world at a fanciful entertainment in the beautiful grounds of her Wimbledon villa. The day was genial, the scene was flushed with roses and pink thorns, and brilliant groups, amid bursts of music, clustered and sauntered on the green turf of bowery lawns. Mrs. Ferrars, on a rustic throne, with the wondrous twins in still more wonderful attire, distributed alternate observations of sympathetic gaiety to a Russian Grand Duke and to the serene heir of a German principality. And yet there was really an expression on her countenance of restlessness, not to say anxiety, which ill accorded with the dulcet tones and the wreathed smiles which charmed her august companions. Zenobia, the great Zenobia, had not arrived, and the hours were advancing. The Grand Duke played with the beautiful and haughty infants, and the German Prince inquired of Endymion whether he were destined to be one of His Majesty’s guards; but still Zenobia did not come, and Mrs. Ferrars could scarcely conceal her vexation. But there was no real occasion for it. For even at this moment, with avant-courier and outriders and badged postillions on her four horses of race, the lodge-gates were opening for the great lady, who herself appeared in the distance; and Mrs. Ferrars, accompanied by her distinguished guests, immediately rose and advanced to receive the Queen of Fashion. No one appreciated a royal presence more highly than Zenobia. It was her habit to impress upon her noble fellows of both sexes that there were relations of intimacy between herself and the royal houses of Europe, which were not shared by her class. She liked to play the part of a social mediator between the aristocracy and royal houses. A German Serenity was her delight, but a Russian Grand Duke was her embodiment of power and pomp, and sound principles in their most authentic and orthodox form. And yet though she addressed their highnesses with her usual courtly vivacity, and poured forth inquiries which seemed to indicate the most familiar acquaintance with the latest incidents from Schonbrunn or the Rhine, though she embraced her hostess, and even kissed the children, the practised eye of Mrs. Ferrars, whose life was a study of Zenobia, detected that her late appearance had been occasioned by an important cause, and, what was more, that Zenobia was anxious to communicate it to her. With feminine tact Mrs. Ferrars moved on with her guests until the occasion offered when she could present some great ladies to the princes; and then dismissing the children on appropriate missions, she was not surprised when Zenobia immediately exclaimed: “Thank heaven, we are at last alone! You must have been surprised I was so late. Well, guess what has happened?” and then as Mrs. Ferrars shook her head, she continued: “They are all four out!”

“All four!”

“Yes; Lord Dudley, Lord Palmerston, and Charles Grant follow Huskisson. I do not believe the first ever meant to go, but the Duke would not listen to his hypocritical explanations, and the rest have followed. I am surprised about Lord Dudley, as I know he loved his office.”

“I am alarmed,” said Mrs. Ferrars.

“Not the slightest cause for fear,” exclaimed the intrepid Zenobia. “It must have happened sooner or later. I am delighted at it. We shall now have a cabinet of our own. They never would have rested till they had brought in some Whigs, and the country hates the Whigs. No wonder, when we remember that if they had had their way we should have been wearing sabots at this time, with a French prefect probably in Holland House.”

“And whom will they put in the cabinet?” inquired Mrs. Ferrars.

“Our good friends, I hope,” said Zenobia, with an inspiring smile; “but I have heard nothing about that yet. I am a little sorry about Lord Dudley, as I think they have drawn him into their mesh; but as for the other three, especially Huskisson and Lord Palmerston, I can tell you the Duke has never had a quiet moment since they joined him. We shall now begin to reign. The only mistake was ever to have admitted them. I think now we have got rid of Liberalism for ever.”

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