Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 66

Lady Montfort drove off to the private residence of the Secretary of the Treasury, who was of course in the great secret. She looked over his lists, examined his books, and seemed to have as much acquaintance with electioneering details as that wily and experienced gentleman himself. “Is there anything I can do?” she repeatedly inquired; “command me without compunction. Is it any use giving any parties? Can I write any letters? Can I see anybody?”

“If you could stir up my lord a little?” said the secretary inquiringly.

“Well, that is difficult,” said Lady Montfort, “perhaps impossible. But you have all his influence, and when there is a point that presses you must let me know.”

“If he would only speak to his agents?” said the secretary, “but they say he will not, and he has a terrible fellow in —— shire, who I hear is one of the stewards for a dinner to Sir Robert.”

“I have stopped all that,” said Lady Montfort. “That was Odo’s doing, who is himself not very sound; full of prejudices about O’Connell, and all that stuff. But he must go with his party. You need not fear about him.”

“Well! it is a leap in the dark,” said the secretary.

“Oh! no,” said Lady Montfort, “all will go right. A starving people must be in favour of a government who will give them bread for nothing. By the by, there is one thing, my dear Mr. Secretary, you must remember. I must have one seat, a certain seat, reserved for my nomination.”

“A certain seat in these days is a rare gem,” said the secretary.

“Yes, but I must have it nevertheless,” said Lady Montfort. “I don’t care about the cost or the trouble — but it must be certain.”

Then she went home and wrote a line to Endymion, to tell him that it was all settled, that she had seen his sister, who agreed with her that it must be done, and that she had called on the Secretary of the Treasury, and had secured a certain seat. “I wish you could come to luncheon,” she added, “but I suppose that is impossible; you are always so busy. Why were you not in the Foreign Office? I am now going to call on the Tory women to see how they look, but I shall be at home a good while before seven, and of course count on seeing you.”

In the meantime, Endymion by no means shared the pleasurable excitement of his fair friend. His was an agitated walk from the Albany to Whitehall, where he resumed his duties moody and disquieted. There was a large correspondence this morning, which was a distraction and a relief, until the bell of Mr. Sidney Wilton sounded, and he was in attendance on his chief.

“It is a great secret,” said Mr. Wilton, “but I think I ought to tell you; instead of resigning, the government have decided to dissolve. I think it a mistake, but I stand by my friends. They believe the Irish vote will be very large, and with cheap bread will carry us through. I think the stronger we shall be in Ireland the weaker we shall be in England, and I doubt whether our cheap bread will be cheap enough. These Manchester associations have altered the aspect of affairs. I have been thinking a good deal about your position. I should like, before we broke up, to have seen you provided for by some permanent office of importance in which you might have been useful to the state, but it is difficult to manage these things suddenly. However, now we have time at any rate to look about us. Still, if I could have seen you permanently attached to this office in a responsible position, I should have been glad. I impressed upon the chief yesterday that you are most fit for it.”

“Oh! do not think of me, dear sir; you have been always too kind to me. I shall be content with my lot. All I shall regret is ceasing to serve you.”

Lady Montfort’s carriage drove up to Montfort House just as Endymion reached the door. She took his arm with eagerness; she seemed breathless with excitement. “I fear I am very late, but if you had gone away I should never have pardoned you. I have been kept by listening to all the new appointments from Lady Bellasyse. They quite think we are out; you may be sure I did not deny it. I have so much to tell you. Come into my lord’s room; he is away fishing. Think of fishing at such a crisis! I cannot tell you how pleased I was with my visit to Lady Roehampton. She quite agreed with me in everything. ‘It must be done,’ she said. How every right! and I have almost done it. I will have a certain seat; no chances. Let us have something to fall back upon. If not in office we shall be in opposition. All men must sometime or other be in opposition. There you will form yourself. It is a great thing to have had some official experience. It will save you from mares’ nests, and I will give parties without end, and never rest till I see you prime minister.”

So she threw herself into her husband’s easy chair, tossed her parasol on the table, and then she said, “But what is the matter with you, Endymion? you look quite sad. You do not mean you really take our defeat — which is not certain yet — so much to heart. Believe me, opposition has its charms; indeed, I sometimes think the principal reason why I have enjoyed our ministerial life so much is, that it has been from the first a perpetual struggle for existence.”

“I do not pretend to be quite indifferent to the probably impending change,” said Endymion, “but I cannot say there is anything about it which would affect my feelings very deeply.”

“What is it, then?”

“It is this business about which you and Myra are so kindly interesting yourselves,” said Endymion with some emotion; “I do not think I could go into parliament.”

“Not go into parliament!” exclaimed Lady Montfort. “Why, what are men made for except to go into parliament? I am indeed astounded.”

“I do not disparage parliament,” said Endymion; “much the reverse. It is a life that I think would suit me, and I have often thought the day might come”——

“The day has come,” said Lady Montfort, “and not a bit too soon. Mr. Fox went in before he was of age, and all young men of spirit should do the same. Why! you are two-and-twenty!”

“It is not my age,” said Endymion hesitatingly; “I am not afraid about that, for from the life which I have led of late years, I know a good deal about the House of Commons.”

“Then what is it, dear Endymion?” said Lady Montfort impatiently.

“It will make a great change in my life,” said Endymion calmly, but with earnestness, “and one which I do not feel justified in accepting.”

“I repeat to you, that you need give yourself no anxiety about the seat,” said Lady Montfort. “It will not cost you a shilling. I and your sister have arranged all that. As she very wisely said, ‘It must be done,’ and it is done. All you have to do is to write an address, and make plenty of speeches, and you are M.P. for life, or as long as you like.”

“Possibly; a parliamentary adventurer, I might swim or I might sink; the chances are it would be the latter, for storms would arise, when those disappear who have no root in the country, and no fortune to secure them breathing time and a future.”

“Well, I did not expect, when you handed me out of my carriage today, that I was going to listen to a homily on prudence.”

“It is not very romantic, I own,” said Endymion, “but my prudence is at any rate not a commonplace caught up from copy-books. I am only two-and-twenty, but I have had some experience, and it has been very bitter. I have spoken to you, dearest lady, sometimes of my earlier life, for I wished you to be acquainted with it, but I observed also you always seemed to shrink from such confidence, and I ceased from touching on what I saw did not interest you.”

“Quite a mistake. It greatly interested me. I know all about you and everything. I know you were not always a clerk in a public office, but the spoiled child of splendour. I know your father was a dear good man, but he made a mistake, and followed the Duke of Wellington instead of Mr. Canning. Had he not, he would probably be alive now, and certainly Secretary of State, like Mr. Sidney Wilton. But you must not make a mistake, Endymion. My business in life, and your sister’s too, is to prevent your making mistakes. And you are on the eve of making a very great one if you lose this golden opportunity. Do not think of the past; you dwell on it too much. Be like me, live in the present, and when you dream, dream of the future.”

“Ah! the present would be adequate, it would be fascination, if I always had such a companion as Lady Montfort,” said Endymion, shaking his head. “What surprises me most, what indeed astounds me, is that Myra should join in this counsel — Myra, who knows all, and who has felt it perhaps deeper even than I did. But I will not obtrude these thoughts on you, best and dearest of friends. I ought not to have made to you the allusions to my private position which I have done, but it seemed to me the only way to explain my conduct, otherwise inexplicable.”

“And to whom ought you to say these things if not to me,” said Lady Montfort, “whom you called just now your best and dearest friend? I wish to be such to you. Perhaps I have been too eager, but, at any rate, it was eagerness for your welfare. Let us then be calm. Speak to me as you would to Myra. I cannot be your twin, but I can be your sister in feeling.”

He took her hand and gently pressed it to his lips; his eyes would have been bedewed, had not the dreadful sorrows and trials of his life much checked his native susceptibility. Then speaking in a serious tone, he said, “I am not without ambition, dearest Lady Montfort; I have had visions which would satisfy even you; but partly from my temperament, still more perhaps from the vicissitudes of my life, I have considerable waiting powers. I think if one is patient and watches, all will come of which one is capable; but no one can be patient who is not independent. My wants are moderate, but their fulfilment must be certain. The break-up of the government, which deprives me of my salary as a private secretary, deprives me of luxuries which I can do without — a horse, a brougham, a stall at the play, a flower in my button-hole — but my clerkship is my freehold. As long as I possess it, I can study, I can work, I can watch and comprehend all the machinery of government. I can move in society, without which a public man, whatever his talents or acquirements, is in life playing at blind-man’s buff. I must sacrifice this citadel of my life if I go into parliament. Do not be offended, therefore, if I say to you, as I shall say to Myra, I have made up my mind not to surrender it. It is true I have the misfortune to be a year older than Charles Fox when he entered the senate, but even with this great disadvantage I am sometimes conceited enough to believe that I shall succeed, and to back myself against the field.”

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