Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 24

When the twins had separated, they had resolved on a system of communication which had been, at least on the part of Myra, scrupulously maintained. They were to interchange letters every week, and each letter was to assume, if possible, the shape of a journal, so that when they again met no portion of the interval should be a blank in their past lives. There were few incidents in the existence of Myra; a book, a walk, a visit to the rectory, were among the chief. The occupations of their father were unchanged, and his health seemed sustained, but that of her mother was not satisfactory. Mrs. Ferrars had never rallied since the last discomfiture of her political hopes, and had never resumed her previous tenour of life. She was secluded, her spirits uncertain, moods of depression succeeded by fits of unaccountable excitement, and, on the whole, Myra feared a general and chronic disturbance of her nervous system. His sister prepared Endymion for encountering a great change in their parent when he returned home. Myra, however, never expatiated on the affairs of Hurstley. Her annals in this respect were somewhat dry. She fulfilled her promise of recording them, but no more. Her pen was fuller and more eloquent in her comments on the life of her brother, and of the new characters with whom he had become acquainted. She delighted to hear about Mr. Jawett, and especially about Mr. St. Barbe, and was much pleased that he had been to the Derby, though she did not exactly collect who were his companions. Did he go with that kind Mr. Trenchant? It would seem that Endymion’s account of the Rodney family had been limited to vague though earnest acknowledgments of their great civility and attention, which added much to the comfort of his life. Impelled by some of these grateful though general remarks, Mrs. Ferrars, in a paroxysm of stately gratitude, had sent a missive to Sylvia, such as a sovereign might address to a deserving subject, at the same time acknowledging and commending her duteous services. Such was the old domestic superstition of the Rodneys, that, with all their worldliness, they treasured this effusion as if it had really emanated from the centre of power and courtly favour.

Myra, in her anticipation of speedily meeting her brother, was doomed to disappointment. She had counted on Endymion obtaining some holidays in the usual recess, but in consequence of having so recently joined the office, Endymion was retained for summer and autumnal work, and not until Christmas was there any prospect of his returning home.

The interval between midsummer and that period, though not devoid of seasons of monotony and loneliness, passed in a way not altogether unprofitable to Endymion. Waldershare, who had begun to notice him, seemed to become interested in his career. Waldershare knew all about his historic ancestor, Endymion Carey. The bubbling imagination of Waldershare clustered with a sort of wild fascination round a living link with the age of the cavaliers. He had some Stuart blood in his veins, and his ancestors had fallen at Edgehill and Marston Moor. Waldershare, whose fancies alternated between Stafford and St. Just, Archbishop Laud and the Goddess of Reason, reverted for the moment to his visions on the banks of the Cam, and the brilliant rhapsodies of his boyhood. His converse with Nigel Penruddock had prepared Endymion in some degree for these mysteries, and perhaps it was because Waldershare found that Endymion was by no means ill-informed on these matters, and therefore there was less opportunity of dazzling and moulding him, which was a passion with Waldershare, that he soon quitted the Great Rebellion for pastures new, and impressed upon his pupil that all that had occurred before the French Revolution was ancient history. The French Revolution had introduced the cosmopolitan principle into human affairs instead of the national, and no public man could succeed who did not comprehend and acknowledge that truth. Waldershare lent Endymion books, and book with which otherwise he would not have become acquainted. Unconsciously to himself, the talk of Waldershare, teeming with knowledge, and fancy, and playfulness, and airy sarcasm of life, taught him something of the art of conversation — to be prompt without being stubborn, to refute without argument, and to clothe grave matters in a motley garb.

But in August Waldershare disappeared, and at the beginning of September, even the Rodneys had gone to Margate. St. Barbe was the only clerk left in Endymion’s room. They dined together almost every day, and went on the top of an omnibus to many a suburban paradise. “I tell you what,” said St. Barbe, as they were watching one day together the humours of the world in the crowded tea-garden and bustling bowling-green of Canonbury Tavern; “a fellow might get a good chapter out of this scene. I could do it, but I will not. What is the use of lavishing one’s brains on an ungrateful world? Why, if that fellow Gushy were to write a description of this place, which he would do like a penny-a-liner drunk with ginger beer, every countess in Mayfair would be reading him, not knowing, the idiot, whether she ought to smile or shed tears, and sending him cards with ‘at home’ upon them as large as life. Oh! it is disgusting! absolutely disgusting. It is a nefarious world, sir. You will find it out some day. I am as much robbed by that fellow Gushy as men are on the highway. He is appropriating my income, and the income of thousands of honest fellows. And then he pretends he is writing for the people! The people! What does he know about the people? Annals of the New Cut and Saffron Hill. He thinks he will frighten some lord, who will ask him to dinner. And that he calls Progress. I hardly know which is the worst class in this country — the aristocracy, the middle class, or what they call the people. I hate them all.”

About the fall of the leaf the offices were all filled again, and among the rest Trenchard returned. “His brother has been ill,” said St. Barbe. “They say that Trenchard is very fond of him. Fond of a brother who keeps him out of four thousand pounds per annum! What will man not say? And yet I could not go and congratulate Trenchard on his brother’s death. It would be ‘bad taste.’ Trenchard would perhaps never speak to me again, though he had been lying awake all night chuckling over the event. And Gushy takes an amiable view of this world of hypocrisy and plunder. And that is why Gushy is so popular!”

There was one incident at the beginning of November, which eventually exercised no mean influence on the life of Endymion. Trenchard offered one evening to introduce him as a guest to a celebrated debating society, of which Trenchard was a distinguished member. This society had grown out of the Union at Cambridge, and was originally intended to have been a metropolitan branch of that famous association. But in process of time it was found that such a constitution was too limited to ensure those numbers and that variety of mind desirable in such an institution. It was therefore opened to the whole world duly qualified. The predominant element, however, for a long time consisted of Cambridge men.

This society used to meet in a large room, fitted up as much like the House of Commons as possible, and which was in Freemason’s Tavern, in Great Queen Street. Some hundred and fifty members were present when Endymion paid his first visit there, and the scene to Endymion was novel and deeply interesting. Though only a guest, he was permitted to sit in the body of the chamber, by the side of Trenchard, who kindly gave him some information, as the proceedings advanced, as to the principal personages who took part in them.

The question to-night was, whether the decapitation of Charles the First were a justifiable act, and the debate was opened in the affirmative by a young man with a singularly sunny face and a voice of music. His statement was clear and calm. Though nothing could be more uncompromising than his opinions, it seemed that nothing could be fairer than his facts.

“That is Hortensius,” said Trenchard; “he will be called this term. They say he did nothing at the university, and is too idle to do anything at the bar; but I think highly of him. You should hear him in reply.”

The opening speech was seconded by a very young man, in a most artificial style, remarkable for its superfluity of intended sarcasm, which was delivered in a highly elaborate tone, so that the speaker seemed severe without being keen.

“’Tis the new Cambridge style,” whispered Trenchard, “but it will not go down here.”

The question having been launched, Spruce arose, a very neat speaker; a little too mechanical, but plausible. Endymion was astonished at the dexterous turns in his own favour which he gave to many of the statements of Hortensius, and how he mangled and massacred the seconder, who had made a mistake in a date.

“He is the Tory leader,” said Trenchard. “There are not twenty Tories in our Union, but we always listen to him. He is sharp, Jawett will answer him.”

And, accordingly, that great man rose. Jawett, in dulcet tones of philanthropy, intimated that he was not opposed to the decapitation of kings; on the contrary, if there were no other way of getting rid of them, he would have recourse to such a method. But he did not think the case before them was justifiable.

“Always crotchety,” whispered Trenchard.

Jawett thought the whole conception of the opening speech erroneous. It proceeded on the assumption that the execution of Charles was the act of the people; on the contrary, it was an intrigue of Cromwell, who was the only person who profited by it.

Cromwell was vindicated and panegyrised in a flaming speech by Montreal, who took this opportunity of denouncing alike kings and bishops, Church and State, with powerful invective, terminating his address by the expression of an earnest hope that he might be spared to witness the inevitable Commonwealth of England.

“He only lost his election for Rattleton by ten votes,” said Trenchard. “We call him the Lord Protector, and his friends here think he will be so.”

The debate was concluded, after another hour, by Hortensius, and Endymion was struck by the contrast between his first and second manner. Safe from reply, and reckless in his security, it is not easy to describe the audacity of his retorts, or the tumult of his eloquence. Rapid, sarcastic, humorous, picturesque, impassioned, he seemed to carry everything before him, and to resemble his former self in nothing but the music of his voice, which lent melody to scorn, and sometimes reached the depth of pathos.

Endymion walked home with Mr. Trenchard, and in a musing mood. “I should not care how lazy I was,” said Endymion, “if I could speak like Hortensius.”


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