But, as Mr. Tadpole observed, with much originality, at the Carlton, they were dancing on a volcano. It was December, and the harvest was not yet all got in, the spring corn had never grown, and the wheat was rusty; there was, he well knew, another deficiency in the revenue, to be counted by millions; wise men shook their heads and said the trade was leaving the country, and it was rumoured that the whole population of Paisley lived on the rates.
“Lord Roehampton thinks that something must be done about the corn laws,” murmured Berengaria one day to Endymion, rather crestfallen; “but they will try sugar and timber first. I think it all nonsense, but nonsense is sometimes necessary.”
This was the first warning of that famous budget of 1841 which led to such vast consequences, and which, directly or indirectly, gave such a new form and colour to English politics. Sidney Wilton and his friends were at length all-powerful in the cabinet, because, in reality, there was nobody to oppose them. The vessel was waterlogged. The premier shrugged his shoulders; and Lord Roehampton said, “We may as well try it, because the alternative is, we shall have to resign.”
Affairs went on badly for the ministry during the early part of the session. They were more than once in a minority, and on Irish questions, which then deeply interested the country; but they had resolved that their fate should be decided by their financial measures, and Mr. Sidney Wilton and his friends were still sanguine as to the result. On the last day of April the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced the budget, and proposed to provide for the deficiency by reducing the protective duties on sugar and timber. A few days after, the leader of the House of Commons himself announced a change in the corn laws, and the intended introduction of grain at various-priced duties per quarter.
Then commenced the struggle of a month. Ultimately, Sir Robert Peel himself gave notice of a resolution of want of confidence in the ministry; and after a week’s debate, it was carried, in an almost complete house, by a majority of one!
It was generally supposed that the ministry would immediately resign. Their new measures had not revived their popularity, and the parliament in which they had been condemned had been elected under their own advice and influence. Mr. Sidney Wilton had even told Endymion to get their papers in order; and all around the somewhat dejected private secretary there were unmistakable signs of that fatal flitting which is peculiarly sickening to the youthful politician.
He was breakfasting in his rooms at the Albany with not a good appetite. Although he had for some time contemplated the possibility of such changes — and contemplated them, as he thought, with philosophy — when it came to reality and practice, he found his spirit was by no means so calm, or his courage so firm, as he had counted on. The charms of office arrayed themselves before him. The social influence, the secret information, the danger, the dexterity, the ceaseless excitement, the delights of patronage which everybody affects to disregard, the power of benefiting others, and often the worthy and unknown which is a real joy — in eight-and-forty hours or so, all these, to which he had now been used for some time, and which with his plastic disposition had become a second nature, were to vanish, and probably never return. Why should they? He took the gloomiest view of the future, and his inward soul acknowledged that the man the country wanted was Peel. Why might he not govern as long as Pitt? He probably would. Peel! his father’s friend! And this led to a train of painful but absorbing memories, and he sat musing and abstracted, fiddling with an idle egg-spoon.
His servant came in with a note, which he eagerly opened. It ran thus: “I must see you instantly. I am here in the brougham, Cork Street end. Come directly. B. M.”
Endymion had to walk up half the Albany, and marked the brougham the whole way. There was in it an eager and radiant face.
“You had better get in,” said Lady Montfort, “for in these stirring times some of the enemy may be passing. And now,” she continued, when the door was fairly shut, “nobody knows it, not five people. They are going to dissolve.”
“To dissolve!” exclaimed Endymion. “Will that help us?”
“Very likely,” said Berengaria. “We have had our share of bad luck, and now we may throw in. Cheap bread is a fine cry. Indeed it is too shocking that there should be laws which add to the price of what everybody agrees is the staff of life. But you do nothing but stare, Endymion; I thought you would be in a state of the greatest excitement!”
“I am rather stunned than excited.”
“Well, but you must not be stunned, you must act. This is a crisis for our party, but it is something more for you. It is your climacteric. They may lose; but you must win, if you will only bestir yourself. See the whips directly, and get the most certain seat you can. Nothing must prevent your being in the new parliament.”
“I see everything to prevent it,” said Endymion. “I have no means of getting into parliament — no means of any kind.”
“Means must be found,” said Lady Montfort. “We cannot stop now to talk about means. That would be a mere waste of time. The thing must be done. I am now going to your sister, to consult with her. All you have got to do is to make up your mind that you will be in the next parliament, and you will succeed; for everything in this world depends upon will.”
“I think everything in this world depends upon woman,” said Endymion.
“It is the same thing,” said Berengaria.
Adriana was with Lady Roehampton when Lady Montfort was announced.
Adriana came to console; but she herself was not without solace, for, if there were a change of government, she would see more of her friend.
“Well; I was prepared for it,” said Lady Roehampton. “I have always been expecting something ever since what they called the Bed–Chamber Plot.”
“Well; it gave us two years,” said Lady Montfort; “and we are not out yet.”
Here were three women, young, beautiful, and powerful, and all friends of Endymion — real friends. Property does not consist merely of parks and palaces, broad acres, funds in many forms, services of plate, and collections of pictures. The affections of the heart are property, and the sympathy of the right person is often worth a good estate.
These three charming women were cordial, and embraced each other when they met; but the conversation flagged, and the penetrating eye of Myra read in the countenance of Lady Montfort the urgent need of confidence.
“So, dearest Adriana,” said Lady Roehampton, “we will drive out together at three o’clock. I will call on you.” And Adriana disappeared.
“You know it?” said Lady Montfort when they were alone. “Of course you know it. Besides, I know you know it. What I have come about is this; your brother must be in the new parliament.”
“I have not seen him; I have not mentioned it to him,” said Myra, somewhat hesitatingly.
“I have seen him; I have mentioned it to him,” said Lady Montfort decidedly. “He makes difficulties; there must be none. He will consult you. I came on at once that you might be prepared. No difficulty must be admitted. His future depends on it.”
“I live for his future,” said Lady Roehampton.
“He will talk to you about money. These things always cost money. As a general rule, nobody has money who ought to have it. I know dear Lord Roehampton is very kind to you; but, all his life, he never had too much money at his command; though why, I never could make out. And my lord has always had too much money; but I do not much care to talk to him about these affairs. The thing must be done. What is the use of a diamond necklace if you cannot help a friend into parliament? But all I want to know now is that you will throw no difficulties in his way. Help him, too, if you can.”
“I wish Endymion had married,” replied Myra.
“Well; I do not see how that would help affairs,” said Lady Montfort. “Besides, I dislike married men. They are very uninteresting.”
“I mean, I wish,” said Lady Roehampton musingly, “that he had made a great match.”
“That is not very easy,” said Lady Montfort, “and great matches are generally failures. All the married heiresses I have known have shipwrecked.”
“And yet it is possible to marry an heiress and love her,” said Myra.
“It is possible, but very improbable.”
“I think one might easily love the person who has just left the room.”
“Adriana. Do not you agree with me?”
“Miss Neuchatel will never marry,” said Lady Montfort, “unless she loses her fortune.”
“Well; do you know, I have sometimes thought that she liked Endymion? I never could encourage such a feeling; and Endymion, I am sure, would not. I wish, I almost wish,” added Lady Roehampton, trying to speak with playfulness, “that you would use your magic influence, dear Lady Montfort, and bring it about. He would soon get into parliament then.”
“I have tried to marry Miss Neuchatel once,” said Lady Montfort, with a mantling cheek, “and I am glad to say I did not succeed. My match-making is over.”
There was a dead silence; one of those still moments which almost seem inconsistent with life, certainly with the presence of more than one human being. Lady Roehampton seemed buried in deep thought. She was quite abstracted, her eyes fixed, and fixed upon the ground. All the history of her life passed through her brain — all the history of their lives; from the nursery to this proud moment, proud even with all its searching anxiety. And yet the period of silence could be counted almost by seconds. Suddenly she looked up with a flushed cheek and a dazed look, and said, “It must be done.”
Lady Montfort sprang forward with a glance radiant with hope and energy, and kissed her on both cheeks. “Dearest Lady Roehampton,” she exclaimed, “dearest Myra! I knew you would agree with me. Yes! it must be done.”
“You will see him perhaps before I do?” inquired Myra rather hesitatingly.
“I see him every day at the same time,” replied Lady Montfort. “He generally walks down to the House of Commons with Mr. Wilton, and when they have answered questions, and he has got all the news of the lobby, he comes to me. I always manage to get home from my drive to give him half an hour before dinner.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53