Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 84

Very shortly after the prorogation of parliament, an incident occurred which materially affected the position of Endymion. Lord Roehampton had a serious illness. Having a fine constitution, he apparently completely rallied from the attack, and little was known of it by the public. The world also, at that moment, was as usual much dispersed and distracted; dispersed in many climes, and distracted by the fatigue and hardships they annually endure, and which they call relaxation. Even the colleagues of the great statesman were scattered, and before they had realised that he had been seriously ill, they read of him in the fulfilment of his official duties. But there was no mistake as to his state under his own roof. Lord Roehampton had, throughout the later period of his life, been in the habit of working at night. It was only at night that he could command that abstraction necessary for the consideration of great affairs. He was also a real worker. He wrote his own despatches, whenever they referred to matters of moment. He left to the permanent staff of his office little but the fulfilment of duties which, though heavy and multifarious, were duties of routine. The composition of these despatches was a source to Lord Roehampton of much gratification and excitement. They were of European fame, and their terse argument, their clear determination, and often their happy irony, were acknowledged in all the cabinets, and duly apprehended.

The physicians impressed upon Lady Roehampton that this night-work must absolutely cease. A neglect of their advice must lead to serious consequences; following it, there was no reason why her husband should not live for years, and continue to serve the State. Lord Roehampton must leave the House of Commons; he must altogether change the order of his life; he must seek more amusement in society, and yet keep early hours; and then he would find himself fresh and vigorous in the morning, and his work would rather benefit than distress him. It was all an affair of habit.

Lady Roehampton threw all her energies into this matter. She entertained for her lord a reverential affection, and his life to her seemed a precious deposit, of which she was the trustee. She succeeded where the physicians would probably have failed. Towards the end of the year Lord Roehampton was called up to the House of Lords for one of his baronies, and Endymion was informed that when parliament met, he would have to represent the Foreign Office in the House of Commons.

Waldershare heartily congratulated him. “You have got what I most wished to have in the world; but I will not envy you, for envy is a vile passion. You have the good fortune to serve a genial chief. I had to deal with a Harley — cold, suspicious, ambiguous, pretending to be profound, and always in a state of perplexity.”

It was not a very agreeable session. The potato famine did something more than repeal the corn laws. It proved that there was no floating capital left in the country; and when the Barings and Rothschilds combined, almost as much from public spirit as from private speculation, to raise a loan of a few millions for the minister, they absolutely found the public purse was exhausted, and had to supply the greater portion of the amount from their own resources. In one of the many financial debates that consequently occurred, Trenchard established himself by a clear and comprehensive view of the position of affairs, and by modestly reminding the House, that a year ago he had predicted the present condition of things, and indicated its inevitable cause.

This was the great speech on a great night, and Mr. Bertie Tremaine walked home with Trenchard. It was observed that Mr. Bertie Tremaine always walked home with the member who had made the speech of the evening.

“Your friends did not behave well to you,” he said in a hollow voice to Trenchard. “They ought to have made you Secretary of the Treasury. Think of this. It is an important post, and may lead to anything; and, so far as I am concerned, it would give me real pleasure to see it.”

But besides the disquietude of domestic affairs, famine and failures competing in horrible catastrophe and the Bank Act suspended, as the year advanced matters on the Continent became not less dark and troubled. Italy was mysteriously agitated; the pope announced himself a reformer; there were disturbances in Milan, Ancona, and Ferrara; the Austrians threatened the occupation of several States, and Sardinia offered to defend His Holiness from the Austrians. In addition to all this, there were reform banquets in France, a civil war in Switzerland, and the King of Prussia thought it prudent to present his subjects with a Constitution.

The Count of Ferroll about this time made a visit to England. He was always a welcome guest there, and had received the greatest distinction which England could bestow upon a foreigner; he had been elected an honorary member of White’s. “You may have troubles here,” he said to Lady Montfort, “but they will pass; you will have mealy potatoes again and plenty of bank notes, but we shall not get off so cheaply. Everything is quite rotten throughout the Continent. This year is tranquillity to what the next will be. There is not a throne in Europe worth a year’s purchase. My worthy master wants me to return home and be minister; I am to fashion for him a new constitution. I will never have anything to do with new constitutions; their inventors are always the first victims. Instead of making a constitution, he should make a country, and convert his heterogeneous domains into a patriotic dominion.”

“But how is that to be done?”

“There is only one way; by blood and iron.”

“My dear count, you shock me!”

“I shall have to shock you a great deal more before the inevitable is brought about.”

“Well, I am glad that there is something,” said Lady Montfort, “which is inevitable. I hope it will come soon. I am sure this country is ruined. What with cheap bread at famine prices and these railroads, we seem quite finished. I thought one operation was to counteract the other; but they appear both to turn out equally fatal.”

Endymion had now one of those rare opportunities which, if men be equal to them, greatly affect their future career. As the session advanced, debates on foreign affairs became frequent and deeply interesting. So far as the ministry was concerned, the burthen of these fell on the Under–Secretary of State. He was never wanting. The House felt that he had not only the adequate knowledge, but that it was knowledge perfectly digested; that his remarks and conduct were those of a man who had given constant thought to his duties, and was master of his subject. His oratorical gifts also began to be recognised. The power and melody of his voice had been before remarked, and that is a gift which much contributes to success in a popular assembly. He was ready without being too fluent. There were light and shade in his delivery. He repressed his power of sarcasm; but if unjustly and inaccurately attacked, he could be keen. Over his temper he had a complete control; if, indeed, his entire insensibility to violent language on the part of an opponent was not organic. All acknowledged his courtesy, and both sides sympathised with a young man who proved himself equal to no ordinary difficulties. In a word, Endymion was popular, and that popularity was not diminished by the fact of his being the brother of Lady Roehampton, who exercised great influence in society, and who was much beloved.

As the year advanced external affairs became daily more serious, and the country congratulated itself that its interests were entrusted to a minister of the experience and capacity of Lord Roehampton. That statesman seemed never better than when the gale ran high. Affairs in France began to assume the complexion that the Count of Ferroll had prophetically announced. If a crash occurred in that quarter, Lord Roehampton felt that all Europe might be in a blaze. Affairs were never more serious than at the turn of the year. Lord Roehampton told his wife that their holidays must be spent in St. James’ Square, for he could not leave London; but he wished her to go to Gaydene, where they had been invited by Mr. Sidney Wilton to pass their Christmas as usual. Nothing, however, would induce her to quit his side. He seemed quite well, but the pressure of affairs was extreme; and sometimes, against all her remonstrances, he was again working at night. Such remonstrances on other subjects would probably have been successful, for her influence over him was extreme. But to a minister responsible for the interests of a great country they are vain, futile, impossible. One might as well remonstrate with an officer on the field of battle on the danger he was incurring. She said to him one night in his library, where she paid him a little visit before she retired, “My heart, I know it is no use my saying anything, and yet — remember your promise. This night-work makes me very unhappy.”

“I remember my promise, and I will try not to work at night again in a hurry, but I must finish this despatch. If I did not, I could not sleep, and you know sleep is what I require.”

“Good night, then.”

He looked up with his winning smile, and held out his lips. “Kiss me,” he said; “I never felt better.”

Lady Roehampton after a time slumbered; how long she knew not, but when she woke, her lord was not at her side. She struck a light and looked at her watch. It was past three o’clock; she jumped out of bed, and, merely in her slippers and her robe de chambre, descended to the library. It was a large, long room, and Lord Roehampton worked at the extreme end of it. The candles were nearly burnt out. As she approached him, she perceived that he was leaning back in his chair. When she reached him, she observed he was awake, but he did not seem to recognise her. A dreadful feeling came over her. She took his hand. It was quite cold. Her intellect for an instant seemed to desert her. She looked round her with an air void almost of intelligence, and then rushing to the bell she continued ringing it till some of the household appeared. A medical man was near at hand, and in a few minutes arrived, but it was a bootless visit. All was over, and all had been over, he said, “for some time.”

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