“Well, something has happened at last,” said Lady Montfort with a wondering countenance; “it is too marvellous.”
“She goes to Osborne today,” continued Endymion, “and I suppose after that, in due course, it will be generally known. I should think the formal announcement would be made abroad. It has been kept wonderfully close. She wished you to know it first, at least from her. I do not think she ever hesitated about accepting him. There was delay from various causes; whether there should be a marriage by proxy first in this country, and other points; about religion, for example.”
“She enters the Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Tyre has received her. There is no difficulty and no great ceremonies in such matters. She was rebaptized, but only by way of precaution. It was not necessary, for our baptism, you know, is recognised by Rome.”
“And that was all!”
“All, with a first communion and confession. It is all consummated now; as you say, ‘It is too wonderful.’ A first confession, and to Nigel Penruddock, who says life is flat and insipid!”
“I shall write to her: I must write to her. I wonder if I shall see her before she departs.”
“That is certain if you wish it; she wishes it.”
“And when does she go? And who goes with her?”
“She will be under my charge,” said Endymion. “It is fortunate that it should happen at a time when I am free. I am personally to deliver her to the king. The Duke of St. Angelo, Baron Sergius, and the archbishop accompany her, and Waldershare, at the particular request of his Majesty.”
“And no lady?”
“She takes Adriana with her.”
“Adriana!” repeated Lady Montfort, and a cloud passed over her brow. There was a momentary pause, and then Lady Montfort said, “I wish she would take me.”
“That would be delightful,” said Endymion, “and most becoming — to have for a companion the greatest lady of our court.”
“She will not take me with her,” said Lady Montfort, sorrowfully but decisively, and shaking her head. “Dear woman! I loved her always, often most when I seemed least affectionate — but there was between us something”— and she hesitated. “Heigho! I may be the greatest lady of our court, but I am a very unhappy woman, Endymion, and what annoys and dispirits me most, sometimes quite breaks me down, is that I cannot see that I deserve my lot.”
It happened as Endymion foresaw; the first announcement came from abroad. King Florestan suddenly sent a message to his parliament, that his Majesty was about to present them with a queen. She was not the daughter of a reigning house, but she came from the land of freedom and political wisdom, and from the purest and most powerful court in Europe. His subjects soon learnt that she was the most beautiful of women, for the portrait of the Countess of Roehampton, as it were by magic, seemed suddenly to fill every window in every shop in the teeming and brilliant capital where she was about to reign.
It was convenient that these great events should occur when everybody was out of town. Lady Montfort alone remained, the frequent, if not constant, companion of the new sovereign. Berengaria soon recovered her high spirits. There was much to do and prepare in which her hints and advice were invaluable. Though she was not to have the honour of attending Myra to her new home, which, considering her high place in the English court, was perhaps hardly consistent with etiquette, for so she now cleverly put it, she was to pay her Majesty a visit in due time. The momentary despondency that had clouded her brilliant countenance had not only disappeared, but she had quite forgotten, and certainly would not admit, that she was anything but the most sanguine and energetic of beings, and rallied Endymion unmercifully for his careworn countenance and too frequent air of depression. The truth is, the great change that was impending was one which might well make him serious, and sometimes sad.
The withdrawal of a female influence, so potent on his life as that of his sister, was itself a great event. There had been between them from the cradle, which, it may be said, they had shared, a strong and perfect sympathy. They had experienced together vast and strange vicissitudes of life. Though much separated in his early youth, there had still been a constant interchange of thought and feeling between them. For the last twelve years or so, ever since Myra had become acquainted with the Neuchatel family, they may be said never to have separated — at least they had maintained a constant communication, and generally a personal one. She had in a great degree moulded his life. Her unfaltering, though often unseen, influence had created his advancement. Her will was more powerful than his. He was more prudent and plastic. He felt this keenly. He was conscious that, left to himself, he would probably have achieved much less. He remembered her words when they parted for the first time at Hurstley, “Women will be your best friends in life.” And that brought his thoughts to the only subject on which they had ever differed — her wished-for union between himself and Adriana. He felt he had crossed her there — that he had prevented the fulfilment of her deeply-matured plans. Perhaps, had that marriage taken place, she would never have quitted England. Perhaps; but was that desirable? Was it not fitter that so lofty a spirit should find a seat as exalted as her capacity? Myra was a sovereign! In this age of strange events, not the least strange. No petty cares and griefs must obtrude themselves in such majestic associations. And yet the days at Hainault were very happy, and the bright visits to Gaydene, and her own pleasant though stately home. His heart was agitated, and his eyes were often moistened with emotion. He seemed to think that all the thrones of Christendom could be no compensation for the loss of this beloved genius of his life, whom he might never see again. Sometimes, when he paid his daily visit to Berengaria, she who knew him by heart, who studied every expression of his countenance and every tone of his voice, would say to him, after a few minutes of desultory and feeble conversation, “You are thinking of your sister, Endymion?”
He did not reply, but gave a sort of faint mournful smile.
“This separation is a trial, a severe one, and I knew you would feel it,” said Lady Montfort. “I feel it; I loved your sister, but she did not love me. Nobody that I love ever does love me.”
“Oh! do not say that, Lady Montfort.”
“It is what I feel. I cannot console you. There is nothing I can do for you. My friendship, if you value it, which I will not doubt you do, you fully possessed before your sister was a Queen. So that goes for nothing.”
“I must say, I feel sometimes most miserable.”
“Nonsense, Endymion; if anything could annoy your sister more than another, it would be to hear of such feelings on your part. I must say she has courage. She has found her fitting place. Her brother ought to do the same. You have a great object in life, at least you had, but I have no faith in sentimentalists. If I had been sentimental, I should have gone into a convent long ago.”
“If to feel is to be sentimental, I cannot help it.”
“All feeling which has no object to attain is morbid and maudlin,” said Lady Montfort. “You say you are very miserable, and at the same time you do not know what you want. Would you have your sister dethroned? And if you would, could you accomplish your purpose? Well, then, what nonsense to think about her except to feel proud of her elevation, and prouder still that she is equal to it!”
“You always have the best of every argument,” said Endymion.
“Of course,” said Lady Montfort. “What I want you to do is to exert yourself. You have now a strong social position, for Sidney Wilton tells me the Queen has relinquished to you her mansion and the whole of her income, which is no mean one. You must collect your friends about you. Our government is not too strong, I can tell you. We must brush up in the recess. What with Mr. Bertie Tremaine and his friends joining the Protectionists, and the ultra-Radicals wanting, as they always do, something impossible, I see seeds of discomfiture unless they are met with energy. You stand high, and are well spoken of even by our opponents. Whether we stand or fall, it is a moment for you to increase your personal influence. That is the element now to encourage in your career, because you are not like the old fogies in the cabinet, who, if they go out, will never enter another again. You have a future, and though you may not be an emperor, you may be what I esteem more, prime minister of this country.”
“You are always so sanguine.”
“Not more sanguine than your sister. Often we have talked of this. I wish she were here to help us, but I will do my part. At present let us go to luncheon.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07