The Earl of Roehampton was the strongest member of the government, except, of course, the premier himself. He was the man from whose combined force and flexibility of character the country had confidence that in all their councils there would be no lack of courage, yet tempered with adroit discretion. Lord Roehampton, though an Englishman, was an Irish peer, and was resolved to remain so, for he fully appreciated the position, which united social distinction with the power of a seat in the House of Commons. He was a very ambitious, and, as it was thought, worldly man, deemed even by many to be unscrupulous, and yet he was romantic. A great favourite in society, and especially with the softer sex, somewhat late in life, he had married suddenly a beautiful woman, who was without fortune, and not a member of the enchanted circle in which he flourished. The union had been successful, for Lord Roehampton was gifted with a sweet temper, and, though people said he had no heart, with a winning tenderness of disposition, or at least of manner, which at the same time charmed and soothed. He had been a widower for two years, and the world was of opinion that he ought to marry again, and form this time a becoming alliance. In addition to his many recommendations he had now the inestimable reputation, which no one had ever contemplated for him, of having been a good husband.
Berengaria, Countess of Montfort, was a great friend of Lord Roehampton. She was accustomed to describe herself as “the last of his conquests,” and though Lord Roehampton read characters and purposes with a glance, and was too sagacious to be deceived by any one, even by himself, his gratified taste, for he scarcely had vanity, cherished the bright illusion of which he was conscious, and he responded to Lady Montfort half sportively, half seriously, with an air of flattered devotion. Lord Roehampton had inherited an ample estate, and he had generally been in office; for he served his apprenticeship under Perceval and Liverpool, and changed his party just in time to become a member of the Cabinet of 1831. Yet with all these advantages, whether it were the habit of his life, which was ever profuse, or that neglect of his private interests which almost inevitably accompanies the absorbing duties of public life, his affairs were always somewhat confused, and Lady Montfort, who wished to place him on a pinnacle, had resolved that he should marry an heiress. After long observation and careful inquiry and prolonged reflection, the lady she had fixed upon was Miss Neuchatel; and she it was who had made Lord Roehampton cross the room and address Adriana after her song.
“He is not young,” reasoned Lady Montfort to herself, “but his mind and manner are young, and that is everything. I am sure I meet youth every day who, compared with Lord Roehampton, could have no chance with my sex — men who can neither feel, nor think, nor converse. And then he is famous, and powerful, and fashionable, and knows how to talk to women. And this must all tell with a banker’s daughter, dying, of course, to be a grande dame. It will do. He may not be young, but he is irresistible. And the father will like it, for he told me in confidence, at dinner, that he wished Lord Roehampton to be prime minister; and with this alliance he will be.”
The plot being devised by a fertile brain never wanting in expedients, its development was skilfully managed, and its accomplishment anticipated with confidence. It was remarkable with what dexterity the Neuchatel family and Lord Roehampton were brought together. Berengaria’s lord and master was in the country, which he said he would not quit; but this did not prevent her giving delightful little dinners and holding select assemblies on nights when there was no dreadful House of Commons, and Lord Roehampton could be present. On most occasions, and especially on these latter ones, Lady Montfort could not endure existence without her dear Adriana. Mr. Neuchatel, who was a little in the plot, who at least smiled when Berengaria alluded to her enterprise, was not wanting in his contributions to its success. He hardly ever gave one of his famous banquets to which Lord Roehampton was not invited, and, strange to say, Lord Roehampton, who had the reputation of being somewhat difficult on this head, always accepted the invitations. The crowning social incident, however, was when Lord Roehampton opened his own house for the first time since his widowhood, and received the Neuchatels at a banquet not inferior to their own. This was a great triumph for Lady Montfort, who thought the end was at hand.
“Life is short,” she said to Lord Roehampton that evening. “Why not settle it to-night?”
“Well,” said Lord Roehampton, “you know I never like anything precipitate. Besides, why should the citadel surrender when I have hardly entered on my first parallel?”
“Ah! those are old-fashioned tactics,” said Lady Montfort.
“Well, I suppose I am an old-fashioned man.”
“Be serious, now. I want it settled before Easter. I must go down to my lord then, and even before; and I should like to see this settled before we separate.”
“Why does not Montfort come up to town?” said Lord Roehampton. “He is wanted.”
“Well,” said Lady Montfort, with half a sigh, “it is no use talking about it. He will not come. Our society bores him, and he must be amused. I write to him every day, and sometimes twice a day, and pass my life in collecting things to interest him. I would never leave him for a moment, only I know then that he would get wearied of me; and he thinks now — at least, he once said so — that he has never had a dull moment in my company.”
“How can he find amusement in the country?” said Lord Roehampton. “There is no sport now, and a man cannot always be reading French novels.”
“Well, I send amusing people down to him,” said Berengaria. “It is difficult to arrange, for he does not like toadies, which is so unreasonable, for I know many toadies who are very pleasant. Treeby is with him now, and that is excellent, for Treeby contradicts him, and is scientific as well as fashionable, and gives him the last news of the Sun as well as of White’s. I want to get this great African traveller to go down to him; but one can hardly send a perfect stranger as a guest. I wanted Treeby to take him, but Treeby refused — men are so selfish. Treeby could have left him there, and the traveller might have remained a week, told all he had seen, and as much more as he liked. My lord cannot stand Treeby more than two days, and Treeby cannot stand my lord for a longer period, and that is why they are such friends.”
“A sound basis of agreement,” said Lord Roehampton. “I believe absence is often a great element of charm.”
“But, a nos moutons,” resumed Lady Montfort. “You see now why I am so anxious for a conclusion of our affair. I think it is ripe?”
“Why do you?” said Lord Roehampton.
“Well, she must be very much in love with you.”
“Has she told you so?”
“No; but she looks in love.”
“She has never told me so,” said Lord Roehampton.
“Have you told her?”
“Well, I have not,” said her companion. “I like the family — all of them. I like Neuchatel particularly. I like his house and style of living. You always meet nice people there, and bear the last thing that has been said or done all over the world. It is a house where you are sure not to be dull.”
“You have described a perfect home,” said Lady Montfort, “and it awaits you.”
“Well, I do not know,” said Lord Roehampton. “Perhaps I am fastidious, perhaps I am content; to be noticed sometimes by a Lady Montfort should, I think, satisfy any man.”
“Well, that is gallant, but it is not business, my dear lord. You can count on my devotion even when you are married; but I want to see you on a pinnacle, so that if anything happens there shall be no question who is to be the first man in this country.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49