Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 80

Notwithstanding the great political, and consequently social, changes that had taken place, no very considerable alteration occurred in the general life of those chief personages in whose existence we have attempted to interest the reader. However vast may appear to be the world in which we move, we all of us live in a limited circle. It is the result of circumstances; of our convenience and our taste. Lady Beaumaris became the acknowledged leader of Tory society, and her husband was so pleased with her position, and so proud of it, that he in a considerable degree sacrificed his own pursuits and pleasures for its maintenance. He even refused the mastership of a celebrated hunt, which had once been an object of his highest ambition, that he might be early and always in London to support his wife in her receptions. Imogene herself was universally popular. Her gentle and natural manners, blended with a due degree of self-respect, her charming appearance, and her ready but unaffected sympathy, won every heart. Lady Roehampton was her frequent guest. Myra continued her duties as a leader of society, as her lord was anxious that the diplomatic world should not forget him. These were the two principal and rival houses. The efforts of Lady Montfort were more fitful, for they were to a certain degree dependent on the moods of her husband. It was observed that Lady Beaumaris never omitted attending the receptions of Lady Roehampton, and the tone of almost reverential affection with which she ever approached Myra was touching to those who were in the secret, but they were few.

No great change occurred in the position of Prince Florestan, except that in addition to the sports to which he was apparently devoted, he gradually began to interest himself in the turf. He had bred several horses of repute, and one, which he had named Lady Roehampton, was the favourite for a celebrated race. His highness was anxious that Myra should honour him by being his guest. This had never occurred before, because Lord Roehampton felt that so avowed an intimacy with a personage in the peculiar position of Prince Florestan was hardly becoming a Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; but that he was no longer, and being the most good-natured man that ever lived, and easily managed in little things, he could not refuse Myra when she consulted him, as they call it, on the subject, and it was settled that Lord and Lady Roehampton were to dine with Prince Florestan. The prince was most anxious that Mr. Sidney Wilton should take this occasion of consenting to a reconciliation with him, and Lady Roehampton exerted herself much for this end. Mr. Sidney Wilton was in love with Lady Roehampton, and yet on this point he was inexorable. Lord and Lady Beaumaris went, and Lady Montfort, to whom the prince had addressed a private note of his own that quite captivated her, and Mr. and Mrs. Neuchatel and Adriana. Waldershare, Endymion, and Baron Sergius completed the guests, who were received by the Duke of St. Angelo and a couple of aides-decamp. When the prince entered all rose, and the ladies curtseyed very low. Lord Roehampton resumed his seat immediately, saying to his neighbour, “I rose to show my respect to my host; I sit down to show that I look upon him as a subject like myself.”

“A subject of whom?” inquired Lady Montfort.

“There is something in that,” said Lord Roehampton, smiling.

The Duke of St. Angelo was much disturbed by the conduct of Lord Roehampton, which had disappointed his calculations, and he went about lamenting that Lord Roehampton had a little gout.

They had assembled in the library and dined on the same floor. The prince was seated between Lady Montfort, whom he accompanied to dinner, and Lady Roehampton. Adriana fell to Endymion’s lot. She looked very pretty, was beautifully dressed, and for her, was even gay. Her companion was in good spirits, and she seemed interested and amused. The prince never spoke much, but his remarks always told. He liked murmuring to women, but when requisite, he could throw a fly over the table with adroitness and effect. More than once during the dinner he whispered to Lady Roehampton: “This is too kind — your coming here. But you have always been my best friend.” The dinner would have been lively and successful even if Waldershare had not been there, but he today was exuberant and irresistible. His chief topic was abuse of the government of which he was a member, and he lavished all his powers of invective and ridicule alike on the imbecility of their policy and their individual absurdities. All this much amused Lady Montfort, and gave Lord Roehampton an opportunity to fool the Under–Secretary of State to the top of his bent.

“If you do not take care,” said Mr. Neuchatel, “they will turn you out.”

“I wish they would,” said Waldershare. “That is what I am longing for. I should go then all over the country and address public meetings. It would be the greatest thing since Sacheverell.”

“Our people have not behaved well to Mr. Waldershare,” whispered Imogene to Lord Roehampton, “but I think we shall put it all right.”

“Do you believe it?” inquired Lady Montfort of Lord Roehampton. He had been speaking to her for some little time in a hushed tone, and rather earnestly.

“Indeed I do; I cannot well see what there is to doubt about it. We know the father very well — an excellent man; he was the parish priest of Lady Roehampton before her marriage, when she lived in the country. And we know from him that more than a year ago something was contemplated. The son gave up his living then; he has remained at Rome ever since. And now I am told he returns to us, the Pope’s legate and an archbishop in partibus!”

“It is most interesting,” said Lady Montfort. “I was always his great admirer.”

“I know that; you and Lady Roehampton made me go and hear him. The father will be terribly distressed.”

“I do not care at all about the father,” said Lady Montfort; “but the son had such a fine voice and was so very good-looking. I hope I shall see him.”

They were speaking of Nigel Penruddock, whose movements had been a matter of much mystery during the last two years. Rumours of his having been received into the Roman Church had been often rife; sometimes flatly, and in time faintly, contradicted. Now the facts seemed admitted, and it would appear that he was about to return to England not only as a Roman Catholic, but as a distinguished priest of the Church, and, it was said, even the representative of the Papacy.

All the guests rose at the same time — a pleasant habit — and went upstairs to the brilliantly lighted saloons. Lord Roehampton seated himself by Baron Sergius, with whom he was always glad to converse. “We seem here quiet and content?” said the exminister inquiringly.

“I hope so, and I think so,” said Sergius. “He believes in his star, and will leave everything to its influence. There are to be no more adventures.”

“It must be a great relief to Lord Roehampton to have got quit of office,” said Mrs. Neuchatel to Lady Roehampton. “I always pitied him so much. I never can understand why people voluntarily incur such labours and anxiety.”

“You should join us,” said Mr. Neuchatel to Waldershare. “They would be very glad to see you at Brooks’.”

“Brooks’ may join the October Club which I am going to revive,” said Waldershare.

“I never heard of that club,” said Mr. Neuchatel.

“It was a much more important thing than the Bill of Rights or the Act of Settlement,” said Waldershare, “all the same.”

“I want to see his mother’s portrait in the farther saloon,” said Lady Montfort to Myra.

“Let us go together.” And Lady Roehampton rose, and they went.

It was a portrait of Queen Agrippina by a master hand, and admirably illumined by reflected light, so that it seemed to live.

“She must have been very beautiful,” said Lady Montfort.

“Mr. Sidney Wilton was devotedly attached to her, my lord has told me,” said Lady Roehampton.

“So many were devotedly attached to her,” said Lady Montfort.

“Yes; she was like Mary of Scotland, whom some men are in love with even to this day. Her spell was irresistible. There are no such women now.”

“Yes; there is one,” said Lady Montfort, suddenly turning round and embracing Lady Roehampton; “and I know she hates me, because she thinks I prevent her brother from marrying.”

“Dear Lady Montfort, how can you use such strong expressions? I am sure there can be only one feeling of Endymion’s friends to you, and that is gratitude for your kindness to him.”

“I have done nothing for him; I can do nothing for him. I felt that when we were trying to get him into parliament. If he could marry, and be independent, and powerful, and rich, it would be better, perhaps, for all of us.”

“I wish he were independent, and powerful, and rich,” said Myra musingly. “That would be a fairy tale. At present, he must be content that he has some of the kindest friends in the world.”

“He interests me very much; no one so much. I am sincerely, even deeply attached to him; but it is like your love, it is a sister’s love. There is only one person I really love in the world, and alas! he does not love me!” And her voice was tremulous.

“Do not say such things, dear Lady Montfort. I never can believe what you sometimes intimate on that subject. Do you know, I think it a little hallucination.”

Lady Montfort shook her head with a truly mournful expression, and then suddenly, her beautiful face wreathed with smiles, she said in a gay voice, “We will not think of such sorrows. I wish them to be entombed in my heart, but the spectres will rise sometimes. Now about your brother. I do not mean to say that it would not be a great loss to me if he married, but I wish him to marry if you do. For myself, I must have a male friend, and he must be very clever, and thoroughly understand politics. You know you deprived me of Lord Roehampton,” she continued smilingly, “who was everything I could desire; and the Count of Ferroll would have suited me excellently, but then he ran away. Now Endymion could not easily run away, and he is so agreeable and so intelligent, that at last I thought I had found a companion worth helping — and I meant, and still mean, to work hard — until he is prime minister.”

“I have my dreams too about that,” said Lady Roehampton, “but we are all about the same age, and can wait a little.”

“He cannot be minister too soon,” said Lady Montfort. “It was not being minister soon that ruined Charles Fox.”

The party broke up. The prince made a sign to Waldershare, which meant a confidential cigar, and in a few minutes they were alone together.

“What women!” exclaimed the prince. “Not to be rivalled in this city, and yet quite unlike each other.”

“And which do you admire most, sir?” said Waldershare.

The prince trimmed his cigar, and then he said, “I will tell you this day five years.”

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