It was useless to ask who could it be? It could only be one person; and yet how could it have been managed? So completely and so promptly! Her lord, too, away; the only being, it would seem, who could have effected for her such a purpose, and he the last individual to whom, perhaps, she would have applied. Was it a dream? The long twilight was dying away, and it dies away in the Albany a little sooner than it does in Park Lane; and so he lit the candles on his mantel-piece, and then again unfolded the document carefully, and read it and reread it. It was not a dream. He held in his hand firmly, and read with his eyes clearly, the evidence that he was the uncontrolled master of no slight amount of capital, and which, if treated with prudence, secured to him for life an absolute and becoming independence. His heart beat and his cheek glowed.
What a woman! And how true were Myra’s last words at Hurstley, that women would be his best friends in life! He ceased to think; and, dropping into his chair, fell into a reverie, in which the past and the future seemed to blend, with some mingling of a vague and almost ecstatic present. It was a dream of fair women, and even fairer thoughts, domestic tenderness and romantic love, mixed up with strange vicissitudes of lofty and fiery action, and passionate passages of eloquence and power. The clock struck and roused him from his musing. He fell from the clouds. Could he accept this boon? Was his doing so consistent with that principle of independence on which he had resolved to build up his life? The boon thus conferred might be recalled and returned; not legally indeed, but by a stronger influence than any law — the consciousness on his part that the feeling of interest in his life which had prompted it might change — would, must change. It was the romantic impulse of a young and fascinating woman, who had been to him invariably kind, but who had a reputation for caprice, which was not unknown to him. It was a wild and beautiful adventure; but only that.
He walked up and down his rooms for a long time, sometimes thinking, sometimes merely musing; sometimes in a pleased but gently agitated state of almost unconsciousness. At last he sate down at his writing-table, and wrote for some time; and then directing the letter to the Countess of Montfort, he resolved to change the current of his thoughts, and went to a club.
Morning is not romantic. Romance is the twilight spell; but morn is bright and joyous, prompt with action, and full of sanguine hope. Life has few difficulties in the morning, at least, none which we cannot conquer; and a private secretary to a minister, young and prosperous, at his first meal, surrounded by dry toast, all the newspapers, and piles of correspondence, asking and promising everything, feels with pride and delight the sense of powerful and responsible existence. Endymion had glanced at all the leading articles, had sorted in the correspondence the grain from the chaff, and had settled in his mind those who must be answered and those who must be seen. The strange incident of last night was of course not forgotten, but removed, as it were, from his consciousness in the bustle and pressure of active life, when his servant brought him a letter in a handwriting he knew right well. He would not open it till he was alone, and then it was with a beating heart and a burning cheek.
LADY MONTFORT’S LETTER
“What is it all about? and what does it all mean? I should have thought some great calamity had occurred if, however distressing, it did not appear in some sense to be gratifying. What is gratifying? You deal in conundrums, which I never could find out. Of course I shall be at home to you at any time, if you wish to see me. Pray come on at once, as I detest mysteries. I went to the play last night with your sister. We both of us rather expected to see you, but it seems neither of us had mentioned to you we were going. I did not, for I was too low-spirited about your affairs. You lost nothing. The piece was stupid beyond expression. We laughed heartily, at least I did, to show we were not afraid. My lord came home last night suddenly. Odo is going to stand for the county, and his borough is vacant. What an opportunity it would have been for you! a certain seat. But I care for no boroughs now. My lord will want you to dine with him today; I hope you can come. Perhaps he will not be able to see you this morning, as his agent will be with him about these elections. Adieu!”
If Lady Montfort did not like conundrums, she had succeeded, however, in sending one sufficiently perplexing to Endymion. Could it be possible that the writer of this letter was the unknown benefactress of the preceding eve? Lady Montfort was not a mystifier. Her nature was singularly frank and fearless, and when Endymion told her everything that had occurred, and gave her the document which originally he had meant to bring with him in order to return it, her amazement and her joy were equal.
“I wish I had sent it,” said Lady Montfort, “but that was impossible. I do not care who did send it; I have no female curiosity except about matters which, by knowledge, I may influence. This is finished. You are free. You cannot hesitate as to your course. I never could speak to you again if you did hesitate. Stop here, and I will go to my lord. This is a great day. If we can settle only today that you shall be the candidate for our borough, I really shall not much care for the change of ministry.”
Lady Montfort was a long time away. Endymion would have liked to have gone forth on his affairs, but she had impressed upon him so earnestly to wait for her return that he felt he could not retire. The room was one to which he was not unaccustomed, otherwise, its contents would not have been uninteresting; her portrait by more than one great master, a miniature of her husband in a Venetian dress upon her writing-table — a table which wonderfully indicated alike the lady of fashion and the lady of business, for there seemed to be no form in which paper could be folded and emblazoned which was there wanting; quires of letter paper, and note paper, and notelet paper, from despatches of state to billet-doux, all were ready; great covers with arms and supporters, more moderate ones with “Berengaria” in letters of glittering fancy, and the destined shells of diminutive effusions marked only with a golden bee. There was another table covered with trinkets and precious toys; snuff-boxes and patch-boxes beautifully painted, exquisite miniatures, rare fans, cups of agate, birds glittering with gems almost as radiant as the tropic plumage they imitated, wild animals cut out of ivory, or formed of fantastic pearls — all the spoils of queens and royal mistresses.
Upon the walls were drawings of her various homes; that of her childhood, as well as of the hearths she ruled and loved. There were a few portraits on the walls also of those whom she ranked as her particular friends. Lord Roehampton was one, another was the Count of Ferroll.
Time went on; on a little table, by the side of evidently her favourite chair, was a book she had been reading. It was a German tale of fame, and Endymion, dropping into her seat, became interested in a volume which hitherto he had never seen, but of which he had heard much.
Perhaps he had been reading for some time; there was a sound, he started and looked up, and then, springing from his chair, he said, “Something has happened!”
Lady Montfort was quite pale, and the expression of her countenance distressed, but when he said these words she tried to smile, and said, “No, no, nothing, nothing — at least nothing to distress you. My lord hopes you will be able to dine with him today, and tell him all the news.” And then she threw herself into a chair and sighed. “I should like to have a good cry, as the servants say — but I never could cry. I will tell you all about it in a moment. You were very good not to go.”
It seems that Lady Montfort saw her lord before the agent, who was waiting, had had his interview, and the opportunity being in every way favourable, she felt the way about obtaining his cousin’s seat for Endymion. Lord Montfort quite embraced this proposal. It had never occurred to him. He had no idea that Ferrars contemplated parliament. It was a capital idea. He could not bear reading the parliament reports, and yet he liked to know a little of what was going on. Now, when anything happened of interest, he should have it all from the fountain-head. “And you must tell him, Berengaria,” he continued, “that he can come and dine here whenever he likes, in boots. It is a settled thing that M.P.‘s may dine in boots. I think it a most capital plan. Besides, I know it will please you. You will have your own member.”
Then he rang the bell, and begged Lady Montfort to remain and see the agent. Nothing like the present time for business. They would make all the arrangements at once, and he would ask the agent to dine with them today, and so meet Mr. Ferrars.
So the agent entered, and it was all explained to him, calmly and clearly, briefly by my lord, but with fervent amplification by his charming wife. The agent several times attempted to make a remark, but for some time he was unsuccessful; Lady Montfort was so anxious that he should know all about Mr. Ferrars, the most rising young man of the day, the son of the Right Honourable William Pitt Ferrars, who, had he not died, would probably have been prime minister, and so on.
“Mr. Ferrars seems to be everything we could wish,” said the agent, “and as you say, my lady, though he is young, so was Mr. Pitt, and I have little doubt, after what you say, my lady, that it is very likely he will in time become as eminent. But what I came up to town particularly to impress upon my lord is, that if Mr. Odo will not stand again, we are in a very great difficulty.”
“Difficulty about what?” said Lady Montfort impatiently.
“Well, my lady, if Mr. Odo stands, there is great respect for him. The other side would not disturb him. He has been member for some years, and my lord has been very liberal. But the truth is, if Mr. Odo does not stand, we cannot command the seat.”
“Not command the seat! Then our interest must have been terribly neglected.”
“I hope not, my lady,” said the agent. “The fact is, the property is against us.”
“I thought it was all my lord’s.”
“No, my lady; the strong interest in the borough is my Lord Beaumaris. It used to be about equal, but all the new buildings are in Lord Beaumaris’ part of the borough. It would not have signified if things had remained as in the old days. The grandfather of the present lord was a Whig, and always supported the Montforts, but that’s all changed. The present earl has gone over to the other side, and, I hear, is very strong in his views.”
Lady Montfort had to communicate all this to Endymion. “You will meet the agent at dinner, but he did not give me a ray of hope. Go now; indeed, I have kept you too long. I am so stricken that I can scarcely command my senses. Only think of our borough being stolen from us by Lord Beaumaris! I have brought you no luck, Endymion; I have done you nothing but mischief; I am miserable. If you had attached yourself to Lady Beaumaris, you might have been a member of parliament.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53