Endymion had returned to his labours, after the death of his mother, much dispirited. Though young and hopeful, his tender heart could not be insensible to the tragic end. There is anguish in the recollection that we have not adequately appreciated the affection of those whom we have loved and lost. It tortured him to feel that he had often accepted with carelessness or indifference the homage of a heart that had been to him ever faithful in its multiplied devotion. Then, though he was not of a melancholy and brooding nature, in this moment of bereavement he could not drive from his mind the consciousness that there had long been hanging over his home a dark lot, as it were, of progressive adversity. His family seemed always sinking, and he felt conscious how the sanguine spirit of his mother had sustained them in their trials. His father had already made him the depositary of his hopeless cares; and if anything happened to that father, old and worn out before his time, what would become of Myra?
Nigel, who in their great calamity seemed to have thought of everything, and to have done everything, had written to the chief of his office, and also to Mr. Trenchard, explaining the cause of the absence of Endymion from his duties. There were no explanations, therefore, necessary when he reappeared; no complaints, but only sympathy and general kindness. In Warwick Street there was unaffected sorrow; Sylvia wept and went into the prettiest mourning for her patroness, and Mr. Rodney wore a crape on his hat. “I never saw her,” said Imogene, “but I am told she was heavenly.”
Waldershare was very kind to Endymion, and used to take him to the House of Commons on interesting evenings, and, if he succeeded in getting Endymion a place under the gallery, would come and talk to him in the course of the night, and sometimes introduce him to the mysteries of Bellamy’s, where Endymion had the satisfaction of partaking of a steak in the presence of statesmen and senators.
“You are in the precincts of public life,” said Waldershare; “and if you ever enter it, which I think you will,” he would add thoughtfully, “it will be interesting for you to remember that you have seen these characters, many of whom will then have passed away. Like the shades of a magic lantern,” he added, with something between a sigh and a smile. “One of my constituents send me a homily this morning, the burthen of which was, I never thought of death. The idiot! I never think of anything else. It is my weakness. One should never think of death. One should think of life. That is real piety.”
This spring and summer were passed tranquilly by Endymion, but not unprofitably. He never went to any place of public amusement, and, cherishing his sorrow, declined those slight openings to social life which occasionally offered themselves even to him; but he attended his debating club with regularity, and, though silent, studied every subject which was brought before it. It interested him to compare their sayings and doings with those of the House of Commons, and he found advantage in the critical comparison. Though not in what is styled society, his mind did not rust from the want of intelligent companions. The clear perception, accurate knowledge, and unerring judgment of Trenchard, the fantastic cynicism of St. Barbe, and all the stores of the exuberant and imaginative Waldershare, were brought to bear on a young and plastic intelligence, gifted with a quick though not a too profound sensibility which soon ripened into tact, and which, after due discrimination, was tenacious of beneficial impressions.
In the autumn, Endymion returned home for a long visit and a happy one. He found Nigel settled at Hurstley, and almost domesticated at the hall; his father more cheerful than his sister’s earlier letters had led him to suppose; and she herself so delighted by the constant companionship of her brother that she seemed to have resumed all her original pride of life.
Nearly two years’ acquaintance, however limited, with the world, had already exercised a ripening influence over Endymion. Nigel soon perceived this, though, with a native tact which circumstances had developed, Endymion avoided obtruding his new conclusions upon his former instructor. But that deep and eager spirit, unwilling ever to let a votary escape, and absorbed intellectually by one vast idea, would not be baffled. Nigel had not renounced the early view of Endymion taking orders, and spoke of his London life as an incident which, with his youth, he might in time only look upon as an episode in his existence.
“I trust I shall ever be a devoted son of the Church,” said Endymion; “but I confess I feel no predisposition to take orders, even if I had the opportunity, which probably I never shall have. If I were to choose my career it would be public life. I am on the last step of the ladder, and I do not suppose that I can ever be anything but a drudge. But even that would interest me. It brings one in contact with those who are playing the great game. One at least fancies one comprehends something of the government of mankind. Mr. Waldershare takes me often to the House of Commons, and I must say, I am passionately fond of it.”
After Endymion’s return to London that scene occurred between Nigel and Myra, in the glade at Hurstley, which we have noticed in the preceding chapter. In the evening of that day Nigel did not pay his accustomed visit to the hall, and the father and the daughter were alone. Then it was, notwithstanding evident agitation, and even with some degree of solemnity, that Mr. Ferrars broke to his daughter that there was a subject on which he wished seriously to confer with her.
“Is it about Nigel?” she inquired with calmness.
“It is about Nigel.”
“I have seen him, and he has spoken to me.”
“And what have you replied?”
“What I fear will not be satisfactory to you, sir, but what is irrevocable.”
“Your union would give me life and hope,” said Mr. Ferrars; and then, as she remained silent, he continued after a pause: “For its happiness there seems every security. He is of good family, and with adequate means, and, I firmly believe, no inconsiderable future. His abilities are already recognised; his disposition is noble. As for his personal qualities, you are a better judge than I am; but, for my part, I never saw a countenance that more became the beauty and nobility of his character.”
“I think him very good-looking,” said Myra, “and there is no doubt he is clever, and he has shown himself, on more than one occasion, amiable.”
“Then what more can you require?” said Mr. Ferrars.
“I require nothing; I do not wish to marry.”
“But, my daughter, my dearest daughter,” said Mr. Ferrars, “bear with the anxiety of a parent who is at least devoted to you. Our separation would be my last and severest sorrow, and I have had many; but there is no necessity to consider that case, for Nigel is content, is more than content, to live as your husband under this roof.”
“So he told me.”
“And that removed one objection that you might naturally feel?”
“I certainly should never leave you, sir,” said Myra, “and I told Nigel so; but that contingency had nothing to do with my decision. I declined his offer, because I have no wish to marry.”
“Women are born to be married,” said Mr. Ferrars.
“And yet I believe most marriages are unhappy,” said Myra.
“Oh! if your objection to marry Nigel arises from an abstract objection to marriage itself,” said Mr. Ferrars, “it is a subject which we might talk over calmly, and perhaps remove your prejudices.”
“I have no objection against marriage,” rejoined Myra. “It is likely enough that I may marry some day, and probably make an unhappy marriage; but that is not the question before us. It is whether I should marry Nigel. That cannot be, my dear father, and he knows it. I have assured him so in a manner which cannot be mistaken.”
“We are a doomed family!” exclaimed the unhappy Mr. Ferrars, clasping his hands.
“So I have long felt,” said Myra. “I can bear our lot; but I want no strangers to be introduced to share its bitterness, and soothe us with their sympathy.”
“You speak like a girl,” said Mr. Ferrars, “and a headstrong girl, which you always have been. You know not what you are talking about. It is a matter of life or death. Your decorous marriage would have saved us from absolute ruin.”
“Alone, I can meet absolute ruin,” said Myra. “I have long contemplated such a contingency, and am prepared for it. My marriage with Nigel could hardly save you, sir, from such a visitation, if it be impending. But I trust in that respect, if in no other, you have used a little of the language of exaggeration. I have never received, and I have never presumed to seek, any knowledge of your affairs; but I have assumed, that for your life, somehow or other, you would be permitted to exist without disgrace. If I survive you, I have neither care nor fear.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07