“Well, you have made up your government?” asked Lady Montfort of the prime minister as he entered her boudoir. He shook his head.
“Have you seen her?” he inquired.
“No, not yet; I suppose she will see me as soon as any one.”
“I am told she is utterly overwhelmed.”
“She was devoted to him; it was the happiest union I ever knew; but Lady Roehampton is not the woman to be utterly overwhelmed. She has too imperial a spirit for that.”
“It is a great misfortune,” said the prime minister. “We have not been lucky since we took the reins.”
“Well, there is no use in deploring. There is nobody else to take the reins, so you may defy misfortunes. The question now is, what are you going to do?”
“Well, there seems to me only one thing to do. We must put Rawchester there.”
“Rawchester!” exclaimed Lady Montfort, “what, ‘Niminy–Piminy’?”
“Well, he is conciliatory,” said the premier, “and if you are not very clever, you should be conciliatory.”
“He never knows his own mind for a week together.”
“We will take care of his mind,” said the prime minister, “but he has travelled a good deal, and knows the public men.”
“Yes,” said Lady Montfort, “and the public men, I fear, know him.”
“Then he can make a good House of Lords’ speech, and we have a first-rate man in the Commons; so it will do.”
“I do not think your first-rate man in the House of Commons will remain,” said Lady Montfort drily.
“You do not mean that?” said the prime minister, evidently alarmed.
“His health is delicate,” said Lady Montfort; “had it not been for his devotion to Lord Roehampton, I know he thought of travelling for a couple of years.”
“Ferrars’ health delicate?” said the premier; “I thought he was the picture of health and youthful vigour. Health is one of the elements to be considered in calculating the career of a public man, and I have always predicted an eminent career for Ferrars, because, in addition to his remarkable talents, he had apparently such a fine constitution.”
“No health could stand working under Lord Rawchester.”
“Well, but what am I to do? I cannot make Mr. Ferrars secretary of state.”
The prime minister looked considerably perplexed. Such a promotion could not possibly have occurred to him. Though a man of many gifts, and a statesman, he had been educated in high Whig routine, and the proposition of Lady Montfort was like recommending him to make a curate a bishop.
“Well,” he said, “Ferrars is a very clever fellow. He is our rising young man, and there is no doubt that, if his health is not so delicate as you fear, he will mount high; but though our rising young man, he is a young man, much too young to be a secretary of state. He wants age, larger acquaintance with affairs, greater position, and more root in the country.”
“What was Mr. Canning’s age, who held Mr. Ferrars’ office, when he was made secretary of state? and what root in the country had he?”
When the prime minister got back to Downing Street, he sent immediately for his head whip. “Look after Ferrars,” he said; “they are trying to induce him to resign office. If he does, our embarrassments will be extreme. Lord Rawchester will be secretary of state; send a paragraph at once to the papers announcing it. But look after Ferrars, and immediately, and report to me.”
Lord Roehampton had a large entailed estate, though his affairs were always in a state of confusion. That seems almost the inevitable result of being absorbed in the great business of governing mankind. If there be exceptions among statesmen of the highest class, they will generally be found among those who have been chiefly in opposition, and so have had leisure and freedom of mind sufficient to manage their estates. Lord Roehampton had, however, extensive powers of charging his estate in lieu of dower, and he had employed them to their utmost extent; so his widow was well provided for. The executors were Mr. Sidney Wilton and Endymion.
After a short period, Lady Roehampton saw Adriana, and not very long after, Lady Montfort. They both of them, from that time, were her frequent, if not constant, companions, but she saw no one else. Once only, since the terrible event, was she seen by the world, and that was when a tall figure, shrouded in the darkest attire, attended as chief mourner at the burial of her lord in Westminster Abbey. She remained permanently in London, not only because she had no country house, but because she wished to be with her brother. As time advanced, she frequently saw Mr. Sidney Wilton, who, being chief executor of the will, and charged with all her affairs, had necessarily much on which to consult her. One of the greatest difficulties was to provide her with a suitable residence, for of course, she was not to remain in the family mansion in St. James’ Square. That difficulty was ultimately overcome in a manner highly interesting to her feelings. Her father’s mansion in Hill Street, where she had passed her prosperous and gorgeous childhood, was in the market, and she was most desirous to occupy it. “It will seem like a great step towards the restoration,” she said to Endymion. “My plans are, that you should give up the Albany, and that we should live together. I should like to live together in Hill Street; I should like to see our nursery once more. The past then will be a dream, or at least all the past that is disagreeable. My fortune is yours; as we are twins, it is likely that I may live as long as you do. But I wish you to be the master of the house, and in time receive your friends in a manner becoming your position. I do not think that I shall ever much care to go out again, but I may help you at home, and then you can invite women; a mere bachelor’s house is always dull.”
There was one difficulty still in this arrangement. The mansion in Hill Street was not to be let, it was for sale, and the price naturally for such a mansion in such a situation, was considerable; quite beyond the means of Lady Roehampton who had a very ample income, but no capital. This difficulty, however, vanished in a moment. Mr. Sidney Wilton purchased the house; he wanted an investment, and this was an excellent one; so Lady Roehampton became his tenant.
The change was great in the life of Myra, and she felt it. She loved her lord, and had cut off her beautiful hair, which reached almost to her feet, and had tied it round his neck in his coffin. But Myra, notwithstanding she was a woman, and a woman of transcendent beauty, had never had a romance of the heart. Until she married, her pride and love for her brother, which was part of her pride, had absorbed her being. When she married, and particularly as time advanced, she felt all the misery of her existence had been removed, and nothing could exceed the tenderness and affectionate gratitude, and truly unceasing devotion, which she extended to the gifted being to who she owed this deliverance. But it was not in the nature of things that she could experience those feelings which still echo in the heights of Meilleraie, and compared with which all the glittering accidents of fortune sink into insignificance.
The year rolled on, an agitated year of general revolution. Endymion himself was rarely in society, for all the time which the House of Commons spared to him he wished chiefly to dedicate to his sister. His brougham was always ready to take him up to Hill Street for one of those somewhat hurried, but amusing little dinners, which break the monotony of parliamentary life. And sometimes he brought a companion, generally Mr. Wilton, and sometimes they met Lady Montfort or Adriana, now ennobled as the daughter of Lord Hainault. There was much to talk about, even if they did not talk about themselves and their friends, for every day brought great events, fresh insurrections, new constitutions, changes of dynasties, assassinations of ministers, states of siege, evanescent empires, and premature republics.
On one occasion, having previously prepared his sister, who seemed not uninterested by the suggestion, Endymion brought Thornberry to dine in Hill Street. There was no one else present except Adriana. Job was a great admirer of Lady Roehampton, but was a little awestruck by her. He remembered her in her childhood, a beautiful being who never smiled. She received him very graciously, and after dinner, inviting him to sit by her on the sofa, referred with delicacy to old times.
“Your ladyship,” said Thornberry, “would not know that I live myself now at Hurstley.”
“Indeed!” said Myra, unaffectedly surprised.
“Well, it happened in this way; my father now is in years, and can no longer visit us as he occasionally did in Lancashire; so wishing to see us all, at least once more, we agreed to pay him a visit. I do not know how it exactly came about, but my wife took a violent fancy to the place. They all received us very kindly. The good rector and his dear kind wife made it very pleasant, and the archbishop was there — whom we used to call Mr. Nigel — only think! That is a wonderful affair. He is not at all high and mighty, but talked with us, and walked with us, just the same as in old days. He took a great fancy to my boy, John Hampden, and, after all, my boy is to go to Oxford, and not to Owens College, as I had first intended.”
“That is a great change.”
“Well, I wanted him to go to Owens College, I confess, but I did not care so much about Mill Hill. That was his mother’s fancy; she was very strong about that. It is a Nonconformist school, but I am not a Nonconformist. I do not much admire dogmas, but I am a Churchman as my fathers were. However, John Hampden is not to go to Mill Hill. He has gone to a sort of college near Oxford, which the archbishop recommended to us; the principal, and all the tutors are clergyman — of course of our Church. My wife was quite delighted with it all.”
“Well, that is a good thing.”
“And so,” continued Thornberry, “she got it into her head she should like to live at Hurstley, and I took the place. I am afraid I have been foolish enough to lay out a great deal of money there — for a place not my own. Your ladyship would not know the old hall. I have, what they call, restored it, and upon my word, except the new hall of the Clothworkers’ Company, where I dined the other day, I do not know anything of the kind that is prettier.”
“The dear old hall!” murmured Lady Roehampton.
In time, though no one mentioned it, everybody thought that if an alliance ultimately took place between Lady Roehampton and Mr. Sidney Wilton, it would be the most natural thing in the world, and everybody would approve it. True, he was her father’s friend, and much her senior, but then he was still good-looking, very clever, very much considered, and lord of a large estate, and at any rate he was a younger man than her late husband.
When these thoughts became more rife in society, and began to take the form of speech, the year was getting old, and this reminds us of a little incident which took place many months previously, at the beginning of the year, and which we ought to record.
Shortly after the death of Lord Roehampton, Prince Florestan called one morning in St. James’ Square. He said he would not ask Lady Roehampton to see him, but he was obliged suddenly to leave England, and he did not like to depart without personally inquiring after her. He left a letter and a little packet. And the letter ran thus:
“I am obliged, madam, to leave England suddenly, and it is probable that we shall never meet again. I should be happy if I had your prayers! This little jewel enclosed belonged to my mother, the Queen Agrippina. She told me that I was never to part with it, except to somebody I loved as much as herself. There is only one person in the world to whom I owe affection. It is to her who from the first was always kind to me, and who, through dreary years of danger and anxiety, has been the charm and consolation of the life of
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07