Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 58

What was most remarkable, and most interesting, in the character of Berengaria was her energy. She had the power of exciting others to action in a degree rarely possessed. She had always some considerable object in contemplation, occasionally more than one, and never foresaw difficulties. Her character was, however, singularly feminine; she never affected to be a superior woman. She never reasoned, did not read much, though her literary taste was fine and fastidious. Though she required constant admiration and consequently encouraged it, she was not a heartless coquette. Her sensibility was too quick, and as the reign of her favourites was sometimes brief, she was looked upon as capricious. The truth is, what seemed whimsical in her affections was occasioned by the subtlety of her taste, which was not always satisfied by the increased experience of intimacy. Whenever she made a friend not unworthy of her, she was constant and entirely devoted.

At present, Berengaria had two great objects; one was to sustain the Whig government in its troubles, and the other was to accomplish an unprecedented feat in modern manners, and that was no less than to hold a tournament, a real tournament, in the autumn, at the famous castle of her lord in the North of England.

The lord-lieutenant had not been in his county for two years; he had even omitted to celebrate Christmas at his castle, which had shocked everybody, for its revelry was looked upon almost as the tenure by which the Montforts held their estates. His plea of ill health, industriously circulated by all his agents, obtained neither sympathy nor credence. His county was rather a weak point with Lord Montfort, for though he could not bear his home, he was fond of power, and power depended on his territorial influence. The representation of his county by his family, and authority in the local parliamentary boroughs, were the compensations held out to him for the abolition of his normal seats. His wife dexterously availed herself of this state of affairs to obtain his assent to her great project, which, it would appear, might not only amuse him, but, in its unprecedented magnificence and novelty, must sweep away all discontents, and gratify every class.

Lord Montfort had placed unlimited resources at the disposal of Berengaria for the fulfilment of her purpose, and at times even showed some not inconsiderable though fitful interest in her progress. He turned over the drawings of the various costumes and armour with a gracious smile, and, having picked up on such subjects a great deal of knowledge, occasionally made suggestions which were useful and sometimes embarrassing. The heralds were all called into council, and Garter himself deigned to regulate the order of proceedings. Some of the finest gentlemen in London, of both parties in the state, passed the greater part of their spring mornings in jousting, and in practising all the manoeuvres of the lists. Lady Montfort herself was to be the Queen of the Tournament, and she had prevailed on Lady Roehampton to accept the supreme office of Queen of Beauty.

It was the early part of May, and Zenobia held one of her great assemblies. Being in high good humour, sanguine and prophetic of power, she had asked all the great Whig ladies, and, the times being critical, they had come. Berengaria seemed absorbed by the details of her tournament. She met many of her knights, and she conferred with them all; the Knight of the Bleeding Heart, the Knight of Roses, the Knight of the Crystal Shield.

Endymion, who was not to be a knight, but a gentleman-at-arms in attendance on the Queen of the Tournament, mentioned that Prince Florestan much wished to be a jouster; he had heard this from the Duke of St. Angelo, and Lady Montfort, though she did not immediately sanction, did not absolutely refuse, the request.

Past midnight, there was a sudden stir in the saloons. The House of Commons had broken up and many members were entering. There had been a division on the Jamaica question, and the ministers had only a majority of five. The leader of the House of Commons had intimated, not to say announced, their consequent resignation.

“Have you heard what they say?” said Endymion anxiously to Lady Montfort.

“Yes, I heard; but do not look so grave.”

“Do I look grave?”

“As if it were the last day.”

“I fear it is.”

“I am not so sure. I doubt whether Sir Robert thinks it ripe enough; and after all, we are not in a minority. I do not see why we should have resigned. I wish I could see Lord Roehampton.”

Affairs did not proceed so rapidly as the triumphant Zenobia expected. They were out, no question about that; but it was not so certain who was in. A day passed and another day, and even Zenobia, who knew everything before anybody, remained in the dark. The suspense became protracted and even more mysterious. Almost a week had elapsed; noble lords and right honourable gentlemen were calling on Sir Robert every morning, according to the newspapers, but no one could hear from any authority of any appointments being really made. At last, there was a whisper very late one night at Crockford’s, which was always better informed on these matters than the political clubs, and people looked amazed, and stared incredulously in each other’s face. But it was true; there was a hitch, and in four-and-twenty hours the cause of the hitch was known. It seemed that the ministry really had resigned, but Berengaria, Countess of Montfort, had not followed their example.

What a dangerous woman! even wicked! Zenobia was for sending her to the Tower at once. “It was clearly impossible,” she declared, “for Sir Robert to carry on affairs with such a Duchesse de Longueville always at the ear of our young Queen, under the pretence forsooth of being the friend of Her Majesty’s youth.”

This was the famous Bed–Chamber Plot, in which the Conservative leaders, as is now generally admitted, were decidedly in error, and which terminated in the return of the Whigs to office.

“But we must reconstruct,” said Lady Montfort to the prime minister. “Sidney Wilton must be Secretary of State. And you,” she said to Endymion, when she communicated to him the successful result of her interference, “you will go with him. It is a great thing at your age to be private secretary to a Secretary of State.”

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