Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 74

“Go and talk to Adriana,” said Lady Roehampton to her brother. “It seems to me you never speak to her.”

Endymion looked a little confused.

“Lady Montfort has plenty of friends here,” his sister continued. “You are not wanted, and you should always remember those who have been our earliest and kindest friends.”

There was something in Lady Roehampton’s words and look which rather jarred upon him. Anything like reproach or dissatisfaction from those lips and from that countenance, sometimes a little anxious but always affectionate, not to say adoring, confused and even agitated him. He was tempted to reply, but, exercising successfully the self-control which was the result rather of his life than of his nature, he said nothing, and, in obedience to the intimation, immediately approached Miss Neuchatel.

About this time Waldershare arrived at Paris, full of magnificent dreams which he called plans. He was delighted with his office; it was much the most important in the government, and more important because it was not in the cabinet. Well managed, it was power without responsibility. He explained to Lady Beaumaris that an Under–Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with his chief in the House of Lords, was “master of the situation.” What the situation was, and what the under-secretary was to master, he did not yet deign to inform Imogene; but her trust in Waldershare was implicit, and she repeated to Lord Beaumaris, and to Mrs. Rodney, with an air of mysterious self-complacency, that Mr. Waldershare was “master of the situation.” Mrs. Rodney fancied that this was the correct and fashionable title of an under-secretary of state. Mr. Waldershare was going to make a collection of portraits of Under–Secretaries for Foreign Affairs whose chiefs had been in the House of Lords. It would be a collection of the most eminent statesmen that England had ever produced. For the rest, during his Italian tour, Waldershare seemed to have conducted himself with distinguished discretion, and had been careful not to solicit an audience of the Duke of Modena in order to renew his oath of allegiance.

When Lady Montfort successfully tempted Lady Roehampton to be her travelling companion to Paris, the contemplated visit was to have been a short one —“a week, perhaps ten days at the outside.” The outside had been not inconsiderably passed, and yet the beautiful Berengaria showed no disposition of returning to England. Myra was uneasy at her own protracted absence from her lord, and having made a last, but fruitless effort to induce Lady Montfort to accompany her, she said one day to Endymion, “I think I must ask you to take me back. And indeed you ought to be with my lord some little time before the meeting of Parliament.”

Endymion was really of the same opinion, though he was conscious of the social difficulty which he should have to encounter in order to effect his purpose. Occasionally a statesman in opposition is assisted by the same private secretary who was his confidant when in office; but this is not always the case — perhaps not even generally. In the present instance, the principal of Lord Roehampton’s several secretaries had been selected from the permanent clerks in the Foreign Office itself, and therefore when his chief retired from his official duties, the private secretary resumed his previous post, an act which necessarily terminated all relations between himself and the late minister, save those of private, though often still intimate, acquaintance.

Now one of the great objects of Lady Roehampton for a long time had been, that her brother should occupy a confidential position near her husband. The desire had originally been shared, and even warmly, by Lady Montfort; but the unexpected entrance of Endymion into the House of Commons had raised a technical difficulty in this respect which seemed to terminate the cherished prospect. Myra, however, was resolved not to regard these technical difficulties, and was determined to establish at once the intimate relations she desired between her husband and her brother. This purpose had been one of the principal causes which induced her to accompany Lady Montfort to Paris. She wanted to see Endymion, to see what he was about, and to prepare him for the future which she contemplated.

The view which Lady Montfort took of these matters was very different from that of Lady Roehampton. Lady Montfort was in her riding habit, leaning back in an easy chair, with her whip in one hand and the “Charivari” in the other, and she said, “Are you not going to ride today, Endymion?”

“I think not. I wanted to talk to you a little about my plans, Lady Montfort.”

“Your plans? Why should you have any plans?”

“Well, Lady Roehampton is about to return to England, and she proposes I should go with her.”

“Why?”

And then Endymion entered into the whole case, the desirableness of being with Lord Roehampton before the meeting of parliament, of assisting him, working with him, acting for him, and all the other expedient circumstances of the situation.

Lady Montfort said nothing. Being of an eager nature, it was rather her habit to interrupt those who addressed her, especially on matters she deemed disagreeable. Her husband used to say, “Berengaria is a charming companion, but if she would only listen a little more, she would have so much more to tell me.” On the present occasion, Endymion had no reason to complain that he had not a fair opportunity of stating his views and wishes. She was quite silent, changed colour occasionally, bit her beautiful lip, and gently but constantly lashed her beautiful riding habit. When he paused, she inquired if he had done, and he assenting, she said, “I think the whole thing preposterous. What can Lord Roehampton have to do before the meeting of parliament? He has not got to write the Queen’s speech. The only use of being in opposition is that we may enjoy ourselves. The best thing that Lord Roehampton and all his friends can do is travel for a couple of years. Ask the Count of Ferroll what he thinks of the situation. He will tell you that he never knew one more hopeless. Taxes and tariffs — that’s the future of England, and, so far as I can see, it may go on for ever. The government here desires nothing better than what they call Peace. What they mean by peace is agiotage, shares at a premium, and bubble companies. The whole thing is corrupt, as it ever must be when government is in the hands of a mere middle class, and that, too, a limited one; but it may last hopelessly long, and in the meantime, ‘Vive la bagatelle!’”

“These are very different views from those which, I had understood, were to guide us in opposition,” said Endymion, amazed.

“There is no opposition,” rejoined Lady Montfort, somewhat tartly. “For a real opposition there must be a great policy. If your friend, Lord Roehampton, when he was settling the Levant, had only seized upon Egypt, we should have been somewhere. Now, we are the party who wanted to give, not even cheap bread to the people, but only cheaper bread. Faugh!”

“Well, I do not think the occupation of Egypt in the present state of our finances”——

“Do not talk to me about ‘the present state of our finances.’ You are worse than Mr. Sidney Wilton. The Count of Ferroll says that a ministry which is upset by its finances must be essentially imbecile. And that, too, in England — the richest country in the world!”

“Well, I think the state of the finances had something to do with the French Revolution,” observed Endymion quietly.

“The French Revolution! You might as well talk of the fall of the Roman Empire. The French Revolution was founded on nonsense — on the rights of man; when all sensible people in every country are now agreed, that man has no rights whatever.”

“But, dearest Lady Montfort,” said Endymion, in a somewhat deprecating tone, “about my returning; for that is the real subject on which I wished to trouble you.”

“You have made up your mind to return,” she replied. “What is the use of consulting me with a foregone conclusion? I suppose you think it a compliment.”

“I should be very sorry to do anything without consulting you,” said Endymion.

“The worst person in the world to consult,” said Lady Montfort impatiently. “If you want advice, you had better go to your sister. Men who are guided by their sisters seldom make very great mistakes. They are generally so prudent; and, I must say, I think a prudent man quite detestable.”

Endymion turned pale, his lips quivered. What might have been the winged words they sent forth it is now impossible to record, for at that moment the door opened, and the servant announced that her ladyship’s horse was at the door. Lady Montfort jumped up quickly, and saying, “Well, I suppose I shall see you before you go,” disappeared.

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