Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 71

The interview between the heads of the two great houses of Montfort and Beaumaris, on which the fate of a ministry might depend, for it should always be recollected that it was only by a majority of one that Sir Robert Peel had necessitated the dissolution of parliament, was not carried on exactly in the spirit and with the means which would have occurred to and been practised by the race of Tadpoles and Tapers.

Lord Beaumaris was a very young man, handsome, extremely shy, and one who had only very recently mixed with the circle in which he was born. It was under the influence of Imogene that, in soliciting an interview with Lord Montfort, he had taken for him an unusual, not to say unprecedented step. He had conjured up to himself in Lord Montfort the apparition of a haughty Whig peer, proud of his order, prouder of his party, and not over-prejudiced in favour of one who had quitted those sacred ranks, freezing with arrogant reserve and condescending politeness. In short, Lord Beaumaris was extremely nervous when, ushered by many servants through many chambers, there came forward to receive him the most sweetly mannered gentleman alive, who not only gave him his hand, but retained his guest’s, saying, “We are a sort of cousins, I believe, and ought to have been acquainted before, but you know perhaps my wretched state,” though what that was nobody exactly did know, particularly as Lord Montfort was sometimes seen wading in streams breast-high while throwing his skilful line over the rushing waters. “I remember your grandfather,” he said, “and with good cause. He pouched me at Harrow, and it was the largest pouch I ever had. One does not forget the first time one had a five-pound note.”

And then when Lord Beaumaris, blushing and with much hesitation, had stated the occasion of his asking for the interview that they might settle together about the representation of Northborough in harmony with the old understanding between the families which he trusted would always be maintained, Lord Montfort assured him that he was personally obliged to him by his always supporting Odo, regretted that Odo would retire, and then said if Lord Beaumaris had any brother, cousin, or friend to bring forward, he need hardly say Lord Beaumaris might count upon him. “I am a Whig,” he continued, “and so was your father, but I am not particularly pleased with the sayings and doings of my people. Between ourselves, I think they have been in a little too long, and if they do anything very strong, if, for instance, they give office to O’Connell, I should not be at all surprised if I were myself to sit on the cross benches.”

It seems there was no member of the Beaumaris family who wished at this juncture to come forward, and being assured of this, Lord Montfort remarked there was a young man of promise who much wished to enter the House of Commons, not unknown, he believed, to Lord Beaumaris, and that was Mr. Ferrars. He was the son of a distinguished man, now departed, who in his day had been a minister of state. Lord Montfort was quite ready to support Mr. Ferrars, if Lord Beaumaris approved of the selection, but he placed himself entirely in his hands.

Lord Beaumaris, blushing, said he quite approved of the selection; knew Mr. Ferrars very well, and liked him very much; and if Lord Montfort sanctioned it, would speak to Mr. Ferrars himself. He believed Mr. Ferrars was a Liberal, but he agreed with Lord Montfort, that in these days gentlemen must be all of the same opinion if not on the same side, and so on. And then they talked of fishing appropriately to a book of very curious flies that was on the table, and they agreed if possible to fish together in some famous waters that Lord Beaumaris had in Hampshire, and then, as he was saying farewell, Lord Montfort added, “Although I never pay visits, because really in my wretched state I cannot, there is no reason why our wives should not know each other. Will you permit Lady Montfort to have the honour of paying her respects to Lady Beaumaris?”

Talleyrand or Metternich could not have conducted an interview more skilfully. But these were just the things that Lord Montfort did not dislike doing. His great good nature was not disturbed by a single inconvenient circumstance, and he enjoyed the sense of his adroitness.

The same day the cards of Lord and Lady Montfort were sent to Piccadilly Terrace, and on the next day the cards of Lord and Lady Beaumaris were returned to Montfort House. And on the following day, Lady Montfort, accompanied by Lady Roehampton, would find Lady Beaumaris at home, and after a charming visit, in which Lady Montfort, though natural to the last degree, displayed every quality which could fascinate even a woman, when she put her hand in that of Imogene to say farewell, added, “I am delighted to find that we are cousins.”

A few days after this interview, parliament was dissolved. It was the middle of a wet June, and the season received its coup de grace. Although Endymion had no rival, and apparently no prospect of a contest, his labours as a candidate were not slight. The constituency was numerous, and every member of it expected to be called upon. To each Mr. Ferrars had to expound his political views, and to receive from each a cordial assurance of a churlish criticism. All this he did and endured, accompanied by about fifty of the principal inhabitants, members of his committee, who insisted on never leaving his side, and prompting him at every new door which he entered with contradictory reports of the political opinions of the indweller, or confidential informations how they were to be managed and addressed.

The principal and most laborious incidents of the day were festivals which they styled luncheons, when the candidate and the ambulatory committee were quartered on some principal citizen with an elaborate banquet of several courses, and in which Mr. Ferrars’ health was always pledged in sparkling bumpers. After the luncheon came two or three more hours of what was called canvassing; then, in a state of horrible repletion, the fortunate candidate, who had no contest, had to dine with another principal citizen, with real turtle soup, and gigantic turbots, entrees in the shape of volcanic curries, and rigid venison, sent as a compliment by a neighbouring peer. This last ceremony was necessarily hurried, as Endymion had every night to address in some ward a body of the electors.

When this had been going on for a few days, the borough was suddenly placarded with posting bills in colossal characters of true blue, warning the Conservative electors not to promise their votes, as a distinguished candidate of the right sort would certainly come forward. At the same time there was a paragraph in a local journal that a member of a noble family, illustrious in the naval annals of the country, would, if sufficiently supported, solicit the suffrages of the independent electors.

“We think, by the allusion to the navy, that it must be Mr. Hood of Acreley,” said Lord Beaumaris’ agent to Mr. Ferrars, “but he has not the ghost of a chance. I will ride over and see him in the course of the day.”

This placard was of course Mr. Tadpole’s last effort, but that worthy gentleman soon forgot his mortification about Northborough in the general triumph of his party. The Whigs were nowhere, though Mr. Ferrars was returned without opposition, and in the month of August, still wondering at the rapid, strange, and even mysterious incidents, that had so suddenly and so swiftly changed his position and prospects in life, took his seat in that House in whose galleries he had so long humbly attended as the private secretary of a cabinet minister.

His friends were still in office, though the country had sent up a majority of ninety against them, and Endymion took his seat behind the Treasury bench, and exactly behind Lord Roehampton. The debate on the address was protracted for three nights, and then they divided at three o’clock in the morning, and then all was over. Lord Roehampton, who had vindicated the ministry with admirable vigour and felicity, turned round to Endymion, and smiling said in the sweetest tone, “I did not enlarge on our greatest feat, namely, that we had governed the country for two years without a majority. Peel would never have had the pluck to do that.”

Notwithstanding the backsliding of Lord Beaumaris and the unprincipled conduct of Mr. Waldershare, they were both rewarded as the latter gentleman projected — Lord Beaumaris accepted a high post in the Household, and Mr. Waldershare was appointed Under–Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Tadpole was a little glum about it, but it was inevitable. “The fact is,” as the world agreed, “Lady Beaumaris is the only Tory woman. They have nobody who can receive except her.”

The changes in the House of Commons were still greater than those in the administration. Never were so many new members, and Endymion watched them, during the first days, and before the debate on the address, taking the oaths at the table in batches with much interest. Mr. Bertie Tremaine was returned, and his brother, Mr. Tremaine Bertie. Job Thornberry was member for a manufacturing town, with which he was not otherwise connected. Hortensius was successful, and Mr. Vigo for a metropolitan borough, but what pleased Endymion more than anything was the return of his valued friend Trenchard, who a short time before had acceded to the paternal estate; all these gentlemen were Liberals, and were destined to sit on the same side of the House as Endymion.

After the fatal vote, the Whigs all left town. Society in general had been greatly dispersed, but parliament had to remain sitting until October.

“We are going to Princedown,” Lady Montfort said one day to Endymion, “and we had counted on seeing you there, but I have been thinking much of your position since, and I am persuaded, that we must sacrifice pleasure to higher objects. This is really a crisis in your life, and much, perhaps everything, depends on your not making a mistake now. What I want to see you is a great statesman. This is a political economy parliament, both sides alike thinking of the price of corn and all that. Finance and commerce are everybody’s subjects, and are most convenient to make speeches about for men who cannot speak French and who have had no education. Real politics are the possession and distribution of power. I want to see you give your mind to foreign affairs. There you will have no rivals. There are a great many subjects which Lord Roehampton cannot take up, but which you could very properly, and you will have always the benefit of his counsel, and, when necessary, his parliamentary assistance; but foreign affairs are not to be mastered by mere reading. Bookworms do not make chancellors of state. You must become acquainted with the great actors in the great scene. There is nothing like personal knowledge of the individuals who control the high affairs. That has made the fortune of Lord Roehampton. What I think you ought to do, without doubt ought to do, is to take advantage of this long interval before the meeting of parliament, and go to Paris. Paris is now the Capital of Diplomacy. It is not the best time of the year to go there, but you will meet a great many people of the diplomatic world, and if the opportunity offers, you can vary the scene, and go to some baths which princes and ministers frequent. The Count of Ferroll is now at Paris, and minister for his court. You know him; that is well. But he is my greatest friend, and, as you know, we habitually correspond. He will do everything for you, I am sure, for my sake. It is not pleasant to be separated; I do not wish to conceal that; I should have enjoyed your society at Princedown, but I am doing right, and you will some day thank me for it. We must soften the pang of separation by writing to each other every day, so when we meet again it will only be as if we had parted yesterday. Besides — who knows? — I may run over myself to Paris in the winter. My lord always liked Paris; the only place he ever did, but I am not very sanguine he will go; he is so afraid of being asked to dinner by our ambassador.”

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