While parliaments were dissolving and ministries forming, the disappointed seeking consolation and the successful enjoying their triumph, Simon, Earl of Montfort, who just missed being a great philosopher, was reading “Topsy Turvy,” which infinitely amused him; the style so picturesque and lambent! the tone so divertingly cynical! And if the knowledge of society in its pages was not so distinguished as that of human nature generally, this was a deficiency obvious only to a comparatively limited circle of its readers.
Lord Montfort had reminded Endymion of his promise to introduce the distinguished author to him, and accordingly, after due researches as to his dwelling-place, Mr. Ferrars called in Jermyn Street and sent up his card, to know whether Mr. St. Barbe would receive him. This was evidently not a matter-of-course affair, and some little time had elapsed when the maid-servant appeared, and beckoned to Endymion to follow her upstairs.
In the front drawing-room of the first floor, robed in a flaming dressing-gown, and standing with his back to the fire and to the looking-glass, the frame of which was encrusted with cards of invitation, the former colleague of Endymion received his visitor with a somewhat haughty and reserved air.
“Well, I am delighted to see you again,” said Endymion.
No reply but a ceremonious bow.
“And to congratulate you,” Endymion added after a moment’s pause. “I hear of nothing but of your book; I suppose one of the most successful that have appeared for a long time.”
“Its success is not owing to your friends,” said Mr. St. Barbe tartly.
“My friends!” said Endymion; “what could they have done to prevent it?”
“They need not have dissolved parliament,” said Mr. St. Barbe with irritation. “It was nearly fatal to me; it would have been to anybody else. I was selling forty thousand a month; I believe more than Gushy ever reached; and so they dissolved parliament. The sale went down half at once — and now you expect me to support your party!”
“Well, it was unfortunate, but the dissolution could hardly have done you any permanent injury, and you could scarcely expect that such an event could be postponed even for the advantage of an individual so distinguished as yourself.”
“Perhaps not,” said St. Barbe, apparently a little mollified, “but they might have done something to show their regret at it.”
“Something!” said Endymion, “what sort of thing?”
“The prime minister might have called on me, or at least written to me a letter. I want none of their honours; I have scores of letters every day, suggesting that some high distinction should be conferred on me. I believe the nation expects me to be made a baronet. By the by, I heard the other day you had got into parliament. I know nothing of these matters; they do not interest me. Is it the fact?”
“Well, I was so fortunate, and there are others of your old friends, Trenchard, for example.”
“You do not mean to say that Trenchard is in parliament!” said St. Barbe, throwing off all his affected reserve. “Well, it is too disgusting! Trenchard in parliament, and I obliged to think it a great favour if a man gives me a frank! Well, representative institutions have seen their day. That is something.”
“I have come here on a social mission,” said Endymion in a soothing tone. “There is a great admirer of yours who much wishes to make your acquaintance. Trusting to our old intimacy, of which of course I am very proud, it was even hoped that you might waive ceremony, and come and dine.”
“Quite impossible!” exclaimed St. Barbe, and turning round, he pointed to the legion of invitations before him. “You see, the world is at my feet. I remember that fellow Seymour Hicks taking me to his rooms to show me a card he had from a countess. What would he say to this?”
“Well, but you cannot be engaged to dinner every day,” said Endymion; “and you really may choose any day you like.”
“Well, there are not many dinners among them, to be sure,” said St. Barbe. “Small and earlies. How I hate a ‘small and early’! Shown into a room where you meet a select few who have been asked to dinner, and who are chewing the cud like a herd of kine, and you are expected to tumble before them to assist their digestion! Faugh! No, sir; we only dine out now, and we think twice, I can tell you, before we accept even an invitation to dinner. Who’s your friend?”
“Well, my friend is Lord Montfort.”
“You do not mean to say that! And he is an admirer of mine?”
“An enthusiastic admirer.”
“I will dine with Lord Montfort. There is no one who appreciates so completely and so highly the old nobility of England as myself. They are a real aristocracy. None of the pinchbeck pedigrees and ormolu titles of the continent. Lord Montfort is, I think, an earl. A splendid title, earl! an English earl; count goes for nothing. The Earl of Montfort! An enthusiastic admirer of mine! The aristocracy of England, especially the old aristocracy, are highly cultivated. Sympathy from such a class is to be valued. I care for no other — I have always despised the million of vulgar. They have come to me, not I to them, and I have always told them the truth about themselves, that they are a race of snobs, and they rather like being told so. And now for your day?”
“Why not this day if you be free? I will call for you about eight, and take you in my brougham to Montfort House.”
“You have got a brougham! Well, I suppose so, being a member of parliament, though I know a good many members of parliament who have not got broughams. But your family, I remember, married into the swells. I do not grudge it you. You were always a good comrade to me. I never knew a man more free from envy than you, Ferrars, and envy is an odious vice. There are people I know, who, when they hear I have dined with the Earl of Montfort, will invent all sorts of stories against me, and send them to what they call the journals of society.”
“Well, then, it shall be today,” said Endymion, rising.
“It shall be today, and to tell the truth, I was thinking this morning where I should dine today. What I miss here are the cafes. Now in Paris you can dine every day exactly as it suits your means and mood. You may dine for a couple of francs in a quiet, unknown street, and very well; or you may dine for a couple of napoleons in a flaming saloon, with windows opening on a crowded boulevard. London is deficient in dining capability.”
“You should belong to a club. Do you not?”
“So I was told by a friend of mine the other day — one of your great swells. He said I ought to belong to the Athenaeum, and he would propose me, and the committee would elect me as a matter of course. They rejected me and selected a bishop. And then people are surprised that the Church is in danger!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53