The jousting was very successful; though some were necessarily discomfited, almost every one contrived to obtain some distinction. But the two knights who excelled and vanquished every one except themselves were the Black Knight and the Knight of the White Rose. Their exploits were equal at the close of the first day, and on the second they were to contend for the principal prize of the tournament, for which none else were entitled to be competitors. This was a golden helm, to be placed upon the victor’s brow by the Queen of Beauty.
There was both a banquet and a ball on this day, and the excitement between the adventures of the morning and the prospects of the morrow was great. The knights, freed from their armour, appeared in fanciful dresses of many-coloured velvets. All who had taken part in the pageant retained their costumes, and the ordinary guests, if they yielded to mediaeval splendour, successfully asserted the taste of Paris and its sparkling grace, in their exquisite robes, and wreaths and garlands of fantastic loveliness.
Berengaria, full of the inspiration of success, received the smiling congratulations of everybody, and repaid them with happy suggestions, which she poured forth with inexhaustible yet graceful energy. The only person who had a gloomy air was Endymion. She rallied him. “I shall call you the Knight of the Woeful Countenance if you approach me with such a visage. What can be the matter with you?”
“Nothing,” repeated Endymion, looking rather away.
The Knight of the Dolphin came up and said, “This is a critical affair tomorrow, my dear Lady Montfort. If the Count Ferroll is discomfited by the prince, it may be a casus belli. You ought to get Lord Roehampton to interfere and prevent the encounter.”
“The Count of Ferroll will not be discomfited,” said Lady Montfort. “He is one of those men who never fail.”
“Well, I do not know,” said the Knight of the Dolphin musingly. “The prince has a stout lance, and I have felt it.”
“He had the best of it this morning,” said Endymion rather bitterly. “Every one thought so, and that it was very fortunate for the Count of Ferroll that the heralds closed the lists.”
“It might have been fortunate for others,” rejoined Lady Montfort. “What is the general opinion?” she added, addressing the Knight of the Dolphin. “Do not go away, Mr. Ferrars. I want to give you some directions about tomorrow.”
“I do not think I shall be at the place tomorrow,” muttered Endymion.
“What!” exclaimed Berengaria; but at this moment Mr. Sidney Wilton came up and said, “I have been looking at the golden helm. It is entrusted to my care as King of the Tournament. It is really so beautiful, that I think I shall usurp it.”
“You will have to settle that with the Count of Ferroll,” said Berengaria.
“The betting is about equal,” said the Knight of the Dolphin.
“Well, we must have some gloves upon it,” said Berengaria.
Endymion walked away.
He walked away, and the first persons that met his eye were the prince and the Count of Ferroll in conversation. It was sickening. They seemed quite gay, and occasionally examined together a paper which the prince held in his hand, and which was an official report by the heralds of the day’s jousting. This friendly conversation might apparently have gone on for ever had not the music ceased and the count been obliged to seek his partner for the coming dance.
“I wonder you can speak to him,” said Endymion, going up to the prince. “If the heralds had not — many think, too hastily — closed the lists this morning, you would have been the victor of the day.”
“My dear child! what can you mean?” said the prince. “I believe everything was closed quite properly, and as for myself, I am entirely satisfied with my share of the day’s success.”
“If you had thrown him,” said Endymion, “he could not with decency have contended for the golden helm.”
“Oh! that is what you deplore,” said the prince. “The Count of Ferroll and I shall have to contend for many things more precious than golden helms before we die.”
“I believe he is a very overrated man,” said Endymion.
“Why?” said the prince.
“I detest him,” said Endymion.
“That is certainly a reason why you should not overrate him,” said the prince.
“There seems a general conspiracy to run him up,” said Endymion with pique.
“The Count of Ferroll is the man of the future,” said the prince calmly.
“That is what Mr. Neuchatel said to me yesterday. I suppose he caught it from you.”
“It is an advantage, a great advantage, for me to observe the Count of Ferroll in this intimate society,” said the prince, speaking slowly, “perhaps even to fathom him. But I am not come to that yet. He is a man neither to love nor to detest. He has himself an intelligence superior to all passion, I might say all feeling; and if, in dealing with such a being, we ourselves have either, we give him an advantage.”
“Well, all the same, I hope you will win the golden helm tomorrow,” said Endymion, looking a little perplexed.
“The golden casque that I am ordained to win,” said the prince, “is not at Montfort Castle. This, after all, is but Mambrino’s helmet.”
A knot of young dandies were discussing the chances of the morrow as Endymion was passing by, and as he knew most of them he joined the group.
“I hope to heaven,” said one, “that the Count of Ferroll will beat that foreign chap tomorrow; I hate foreigners.”
“So do I,” said a second, and there was a general murmur of assent.
“The Count of Ferroll is as much a foreigner as the prince,” said Endymion rather sharply.
“Oh! I don’t call him a foreigner at all,” said the first speaker. “He is a great favourite at White’s; no one rides cross country like him, and he is a deuced fine shot in the bargain.”
“I will back Prince Florestan against him either in field or cover,” said Endymion.
“Well, I don’t know your friend,” said the young gentleman contemptuously, “so I cannot bet.”
“I am sure your friend, Lady Montfort, my dear Dymy, will back the Count of Ferroll,” lisped a third young gentleman.
This completed the programme of mortification, and Endymion, hot and then cold, and then both at the same time, bereft of repartee, and wishing the earth would open and Montfort Castle disappear in its convulsed bosom, stole silently away as soon as practicable, and wandered as far as possible from the music and the bursts of revelry.
These conversations had taken place in the chief saloon, which was contiguous to the ball-room, and which was nearly as full of guests. Endymion, moving in the opposite direction, entered another drawing-room, where the population was sparse. It consisted of couples apparently deeply interested in each other. Some faces were radiant, and some pensive and a little agitated, but they all agreed in one expression, that they took no interest whatever in the solitary Endymion. Even their whispered words were hushed as he passed by, and they seemed, with their stony, unsympathising glance, to look upon him as upon some inferior being who had intruded into their paradise. In short, Endymion felt all that embarrassment, mingled with a certain portion of self contempt, which attends the conviction that we are what is delicately called de trop.
He advanced and took refuge in another room, where there was only a single, and still more engrossed pair; but this was even more intolerable to him. Shrinking from a return to the hostile chamber he had just left, he made a frantic rush forward with affected ease and alacrity, and found himself alone in the favourite morning room of Lady Montfort.
He threw himself on a sofa, and hid his face in his hand, and gave a sigh, which was almost a groan. He was sick at heart; his extremities were cold, his brain was feeble. All hope, and truly all thought of the future, deserted him. He remembered only the sorrowful, or the humiliating, chapters in his life. He wished he had never left Hurstley. He wished he had been apprenticed to Farmer Thornberry, that he had never quitted his desk at Somerset House, and never known more of life than Joe’s and the Divan. All was vanity and vexation of spirit. He contemplated finishing his days in the neighbouring stream, in which, but a few days ago, he was bathing in health and joy.
Time flew on; he was unconscious of its course; no one entered the room, and he wished never to see a human face again, when a voice sounded, and he heard his name.
He looked up; it was Lady Montfort. He did not speak, but gave her, perhaps unconsciously, a glance of reproach and despair.
“What is the matter with you?” she said.
“That is nonsense. Something must have happened. I have missed you so long, but was determined to find you. Have you a headache?”
“Come back; come back with me. It is so odd. My lord has asked for you twice.”
“I want to see no one.”
“Oh! but this is absurd — and on a day like this, when every thing has been so successful, and every one is so happy.”
“I am not happy, and I am not successful.”
“You perfectly astonish me,” said Lady Montfort; “I shall begin to believe that you have not so sweet a temper as I always supposed.”
“It matters not what my temper is.”
“I think it matters a great deal. I like, above all things, to live with good-tempered people.”
“I hope you may not be disappointed. My temper is my own affair, and I am content always to be alone.”
“Why! you are talking nonsense, Endymion.”
“Probably; I do not pretend to be gifted. I am not one of those gentlemen who cannot fail. I am not the man of the future.”
“Well! I never was so surprised in my life,” exclaimed Lady Montfort. “I never will pretend to form an opinion of human character again. Now, my dear Endymion, rouse yourself, and come back with me. Give me your arm. I cannot stay another moment; I dare say I have already been wanted a thousand times.”
“I cannot go back,” said Endymion; “I never wish to see anybody again. If you want an arm, there is the Count of Ferroll, and I hope you may find he has a sweeter temper than I have.”
Lady Montfort looked at him with a strange and startled glance. It was a mixture of surprise, a little disdain, some affection blended with mockery. And then exclaiming “Silly boy!” she swept out of the room.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49