There was a dinner-party at Mr. Neuchatel’s, to which none were asked but the high government clique. It was the last dinner before the dissolution: “The dinner of consolation, or hope,” said Lord Roehampton. Lady Montfort was to be one of the guests. She was dressed, and her carriage in the courtyard, and she had just gone in to see her lord before she departed.
Lord Montfort was extremely fond of jewels, and held that you could not see them to advantage, or fairly judge of their water or colour, except on a beautiful woman. When his wife was in grand toilette, and he was under the same roof, he liked her to call on him in her way to her carriage, that he might see her flashing rivieres and tiaras, the lustre of her huge pearls, and the splendour of her emeralds and sapphires and rubies.
“Well, Berengaria,” he said in a playful tone, “you look divine. Never dine out again in a high dress. It distresses me. Bertolini was the only man who ever caught the tournure of your shoulders, and yet I am not altogether satisfied with his work. So, you are going to dine with that good Neuchatel. Remember me kindly to him. There are few men I like better. He is so sensible, knows so much, and so much of what is going on. I should have liked very much to have dined with him, but he is aware of my unfortunate state. Besides, my dear, if I were better I should not have enough strength for his dinners. They are really banquets; I cannot stand those ortolans stuffed with truffles and those truffles stuffed with ortolans. Perhaps he will come and dine with us some day off a joint.”
“The Queen of Mesopotamia will be here next week, Simon, and we must really give her what you call a joint, and then we can ask the Neuchatels and a few other people.”
“I was in hopes the dissolution would have carried everybody away,” said Lord Montfort rather woefully. “I wish the Queen of Mesopotamia were a candidate for some borough; I think she would rather like it.”
“Well, we could not return her, Simon; do not touch on the subject. But what have you got to amuse today?”
“Oh! I shall do very well. I have got the head of the French detective police to dine with me, and another man or two. Besides, I have got here a most amusing book, ‘Topsy Turvy;’ it comes out in numbers. I like books that come out in numbers, as there is a little suspense, and you cannot deprive yourself of all interest by glancing at the last page of the last volume. I think you must read ‘Topsy Turvy,’ Berengaria. I am mistaken if you do not hear of it. It is very cynical, which authors, who know a little of the world, are apt to be, and everything is exaggerated, which is another of their faults when they are only a trifle acquainted with manners. A little knowledge of the world is a very dangerous thing, especially in literature. But it is clever, and the man writes a capital style; and style is everything, especially in fiction.”
“And what is the name of the writer, Simon?”
“You never heard of it; I never did; but my secretary, who lives much in Bohemia, and is a member of the Cosmopolitan and knows everything, tells me he has written some things before, but they did not succeed. His name is St. Barbe. I should like to ask him to dinner if I knew how to get at him.”
“Well, adieu! Simon,” and, with an agitated heart, though apparent calmness, she touched his forehead with her lips. “I expect an unsatisfactory dinner.”
“Adieu! and if you meet poor Ferrars, which I dare say you will, tell him to keep up his spirits. The world is a wheel, and it will all come round right.”
The dinner ought not to have been unsatisfactory, for though there was no novelty among the guests, they were all clever and distinguished persons and united by entire sympathy. Several of the ministers were there, and the Roehamptons, and Mr. Sidney Wilton, and Endymion was also a guest. But the general tone was a little affected and unnatural; forced gaiety, and a levity which displeased Lady Montfort, who fancied she was unhappy because the country was going to be ruined, but whose real cause of dissatisfaction at the bottom of her heart was the affair of “the family seat.” Her hero, Lord Roehampton, particularly did not please her today. She thought him flippant and in bad taste, merely because he would not look dismal and talk gloomily.
“I think we shall do very well,” he said. “What cry can be better than that of ‘Cheap bread?’ It gives one an appetite at once.”
“But the Corn–Law League says your bread will not be cheap,” said Melchior Neuchatel.
“I wonder whether the League has really any power in the constituencies,” said Lord Roehampton. “I doubt it. They may have in time, but then in the interval trade will revive. I have just been reading Mr. Thornberry’s speech. We shall hear more of that man. You will not be troubled about any of your seats?” he said, in a lower tone of sympathy, addressing Mrs. Neuchatel, who was his immediate neighbour.
“Our seats?” said Mrs. Neuchatel, as if waking from a dream. “Oh, I know nothing about them, nor do I understand why there is a dissolution. I trust that parliament will not be dissolved without voting the money for the observation of the transit of Venus.”
“I think the Roman Catholic vote will carry us through,” said a minister.
“Talking of Roman Catholics,” said Mr. Wilton, “is it true that Penruddock has gone over to Rome?”
“No truth in it,” replied a colleague. “He has gone to Rome — there is no doubt of that, and he has been there some time, but only for distraction. He had overworked himself.”
“He might have been a Dean if he had been a practical man,” whispered Lady Montfort to Mr. Neuchatel, “and on the high road to a bishopric.”
“That is what we want, Lady Montfort,” said Mr. Neuchatel; “we want a few practical men. If we had a practical man as Chancellor of the Exchequer, we should not be in the scrape in which we now are.”
“It is not likely that Penruddock will leave the Church with a change of government possibly impending. We could do nothing for him with his views, but he will wait for Peel.”
“Oh! Peel will never stand those high-fliers. He put the Church into a Lay Commission during his last government.”
“Penruddock will never give up Anglicanism while there is a chance of becoming a Laud. When that chance vanishes, trust my word, Penruddock will make his bow to the Vatican.”
“Well, I must say,” said Lord Roehampton, “if I were a clergyman I should be a Roman Catholic.”
“Then you could not marry. What a compliment to Lady Roehampton!”
“Nay; it is because I could not marry that I am not a clergyman.”
Endymion had taken Adriana down to dinner. She looked very well, and was more talkative than usual.
“I fear it will be a very great confusion — this general election,” she said. “Papa was telling us that you think of being a candidate.”
“I am a candidate, but without a seat to captivate at present,” said Endymion; “but I am not without hopes of making some arrangement.”
“Well, you must tell me what your colours are.”
“And will you wear them?”
“Most certainly; and I will work you a banner if you be victorious.”
“I think I must win with such a prospect.”
“I hope you will win in everything.”
When the ladies retired, Berengaria came and sate by the side of Lady Roehampton.
“What a dreary dinner!” she said.
“Do you think so?”
“Well, perhaps it was my own fault. Perhaps I am not in good cue, but everything seems to me to go wrong.”
“Things sometimes do go wrong, but then they get right.”
“Well, I do not think anything will ever get right with me.”
“Dear Lady Montfort, how can you say such things? You who have, and have always had, the world at your feet — and always will have.”
“I do not know what you mean by having the world at my feet. It seems to me that I have no power whatever — I can do nothing. I am vexed about this business of your brother. Our people are so stupid. They have no resource. When I go to them and ask for a seat, I expect a seat, as I would a shawl at Howell and James’ if I asked for one. Instead of that they only make difficulties. What our party wants is a Mr. Tadpole; he out-manoeuvres them in every corner.”
“Well, I shall be deeply disappointed — deeply pained,” said Lady Roehampton, “if Endymion is not in this parliament, but if we fail I will not utterly despair. I will continue to do what I have done all my life, exert my utmost will and power to advance him.”
“I thought I had will and power,” said Lady Montfort, “but the conceit is taken out of me. Your brother was to me a source of great interest, from the first moment that I knew him. His future was an object in life, and I thought I could mould it. What a mistake! Instead of making his fortune I have only dissipated his life.”
“You have been to him the kindest and the most valuable of friends, and he feels it.”
“It is no use being kind, and I am valuable to no one. I often think if I disappeared tomorrow no one would miss me.”
“You are in a morbid mood, dear lady. To-morrow perhaps everything will be right, and then you will feel that you are surrounded by devoted friends, and by a husband who adores you.”
Lady Montfort gave a scrutinising glance at Lady Roehampton as she said this, then shook her head. “Ah! there it is, dear Myra. You judge from your own happiness; you do not know Lord Montfort. You know how I love him, but I am perfectly convinced he prefers my letters to my society.”
“You see what it is to be a Madame de Sevigne,” said Lady Roehampton, trying to give a playful tone to the conversation.
“You jest,” said Lady Montfort; “I am quite serious. No one can deceive me; would that they could! I have the fatal gift of reading persons, and penetrating motives, however deep or complicated their character, and what I tell you about Lord Montfort is unhappily too true.”
In the meantime, while this interesting conversation was taking place, the gentleman who had been the object of Lady Montfort’s eulogium, the gentleman who always out-manoeuvred her friends at every corner, was, though it was approaching midnight, walking up and down Carlton Terrace with an agitated and indignant countenance, and not alone.
“I tell you, Mr. Waldershare, I know it; I have it almost from Lord Beaumaris himself; he has declined to support our man, and no doubt will give his influence to the enemy.”
“I do not believe that Lord Beaumaris has made any engagement whatever.”
“A pretty state of affairs!” exclaimed Mr. Tadpole. “I do not know what the world has come to. Here are gentlemen expecting high places in the Household, and under-secretaryships of state, and actually giving away our seats to our opponents.”
“There is some family engagement about this seat between the Houses of Beaumaris and Montfort, and Lord Beaumaris, who is a young man, and who does not know as much about these things as you and I do, naturally wants not to make a mistake. But he has promised nothing and nobody. I know, I might almost say I saw the letter, that he wrote to Lord Montfort this day, asking for an interview tomorrow morning on the matter, and Lord Montfort has given him an appointment for tomorrow. This I know.”
“Well, I must leave it to you,” said Mr. Tadpole. “You must remember what we are fighting for. The constitution is at stake.”
“And the Church,” said Waldershare.
“And the landed interest, you may rely upon it,” said Mr. Tadpole.
“And your Lordship of the Treasury in posse, Tadpole. Truly it is a great stake.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07