Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 53

Endymion was a little agitated when he arrived at the door of Montfort House, a huge family mansion, situate in a court-yard and looking into the Green Park. When the door was opened he found himself in a large hall with many servants, and he was ushered through several rooms on the ground floor, into a capacious chamber dimly lighted, where there were several gentlemen, but not his hostess. His name was announced, and then a young man came up to him and mentioned that Lord and Lady Montfort would soon be present, and then talked to him about the weather. The Count of Ferroll arrived after Endymion, and then another gentleman whose name he could not catch. Then while he was making some original observations on the east wind, and, to confess the truth, feeling anything but at his ease, the folding doors of a further chamber brilliantly lighted were thrown open, and almost at the same moment Lady Montfort entered, and, taking the Count of Ferroll’s arm, walked into the dining-room. It was a round table, and Endymion was told by the same gentleman who had already addressed him, that he was to sit by Lady Montfort.

“Lord Montfort is a little late today,” she said, “but he wished me not to wait for him. And how are you after our parliamentary banquet?” she said, turning to Endymion; “I will introduce you to the Count of Ferroll.”

The Count of Ferroll was a young man, and yet inclined to be bald. He was chief of a not inconsiderable mission at our court. Though not to be described as a handsome man, his countenance was striking; a brow of much intellectual development, and a massive jaw. He was tall, broad-shouldered, with a slender waist. He greeted Endymion with a penetrating glance, and then with a winning smile.

The Count of Ferroll was the representative of a kingdom which, if not exactly created, had been moulded into a certain form of apparent strength and importance by the Congress of Vienna. He was a noble of considerable estate in a country where possessions were not extensive or fortunes large, though it was ruled by an ancient, and haughty, and warlike aristocracy. Like his class, the Count of Ferroll had received a military education; but when that education was completed, he found but a feeble prospect of his acquirements being called into action. It was believed that the age of great wars had ceased, and that even revolutions were for the future to be controlled by diplomacy. As he was a man of an original, not to say eccentric, turn of mind, the Count of Ferroll was not contented with the resources and distraction of his second-rate capital. He was an eminent sportsman, and, for some time, took refuge and found excitement in the breadth of his dark forests, and in the formation of a stud, which had already become celebrated. But all this time, even in the excitement of the chase, and in the raising of his rare-breed steeds, the Count of Ferroll might be said to have been brooding over the position of what he could scarcely call his country, but rather an aggregation of lands baptized by protocols, and christened and consolidated by treaties which he looked upon as eminently untrustworthy. One day he surprised his sovereign, with whom he was a favourite, by requesting to be appointed to the legation at London, which was vacant. The appointment was at once made, and the Count of Ferroll had now been two years at the Court of St. James’.

The Count of Ferroll was a favourite in English society, for he possessed every quality which there conduces to success. He was of great family and of distinguished appearance, munificent and singularly frank; was a dead-shot, and the boldest of riders, with horses which were the admiration alike of Melton and Newmarket. The ladies also approved of him, for he was a consummate waltzer, and mixed with a badinage gaily cynical a tone that could be tender and a bewitching smile.

But his great friend was Lady Montfort. He told her everything, and consulted her on everything; and though he rarely praised anybody, it had reached her ears that the Count of Ferroll had said more than once that she was a greater woman than Louise of Savoy or the Duchesse de Longueville.

There was a slight rustling in the room. A gentleman had entered and glided into his unoccupied chair, which his valet had guarded. “I fear I am not in time for an oyster,” said Lord Montfort to his neighbour.

The gentleman who had first spoken to Endymion was the secretary of Lord Montfort; then there was a great genius who was projecting a suspension bridge over the Tyne, and that was in Lord Montfort’s country. A distinguished officer of the British Museum completed the party with a person who sate opposite Endymion, and whom in the dim twilight he had not recognised, but whom he now beheld with no little emotion. It was Nigel Penruddock. They had not met since his mother’s funeral, and the associations of the past agitated Endymion. They exchanged recognitions; that of Nigel was grave but kind.

The conversation was what is called general, and a great deal on suspension bridges. Lord Montfort himself led off on this, in order to bring out his distinguished guest. The Count of Ferroll was also interested on this subject, as his own government was making inquiries on the matter. The gentleman from the British Museum made some remarks on the mode in which the ancient Egyptians moved masses of granite, and quoted Herodotus to the civil engineer. The civil engineer had never heard of Herodotus, but he said he was going to Egypt in the autumn by desire of Mehemet Ali, and he would undertake to move any mass which was requisite, even if it were a pyramid itself. Lady Montfort, without disturbing the general conversation, whispered in turns to the Count of Ferroll and Endymion, and told the latter that she had paid a visit to Lady Roehampton in the morning — a most delightful visit. There was no person she admired so much as his sister; she quite loved her. The only person who was silent was Nigel, but Lady Montfort, who perceived everything, addressed him across the table with enthusiasm about some changes he had made in the services of some church, and the countenance of Nigel became suffused like a young saint who has a glimpse of Paradise.

After dinner Lady Montfort led Endymion to her lord, and left him seated by his host. Lord Montfort was affable and natural in his manner. He said, “I have not yet made the acquaintance of Lady Roehampton, for I never go out; but I hope to do so, for Lady Montfort tells me she is quite captivating.”

“She is a very good sister,” said Endymion.

“Lady Montfort has told me a great deal about yourself, and all of it I was glad to hear. I like young men who rise by their merits, and Mr. Sidney Wilton tells Lady Montfort that yours are distinguished.”

“Mr. Sidney Wilton is a kind master, sir.”

“Well, I was his fag at Harrow, and I thought him so,” said Lord Montfort. “And now about your office; tell me what you do. You were not there first, Lady Montfort says. Where were you first? Tell me all about it. I like detail.”

It was impossible to resist such polished and amiable curiosity, and Endymion gratified it with youthful grace. He even gave Lord Montfort a sketch of St. Barbe, inspired probably by the interview of the morning. Lord Montfort was quite amused with this, and said he should so much like to know Mr. St. Barbe. It was clear, when the party broke up, that Endymion had made a favourable impression, for Lord Montfort said, “You came here today as Lady Montfort’s friend, but you must come in future as mine also. And will you understand, I dine at home every day when I am in town, and I give you a general invitation. Come as often as you like; you will be always welcome. Only let the house know your intention an hour before dinner-time, as I have a particular aversion to the table being crowded, or seeing an empty chair.”

Lady Montfort had passed much of the evening in earnest conversation with Nigel, and when the guests quitted the room, Nigel and Endymion walked away together.

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