There are very few temperaments that can resist an universal and unceasing festival in a vast and beautiful metropolis. It is inebriating, and the most wonderful of all its accidents is how the population can ever calm and recur to the monotony of ordinary life. When all this happens, too, in a capital blessed with purple skies, where the moonlight is equal to our sunshine, and where half the population sleep in the open air and wish for no roof but the heavens, existence is a dream of phantasy and perpetual loveliness, and one is at last forced to believe that there is some miraculous and supernatural agency that provides the ever-enduring excitement and ceaseless incidents of grace and beauty.
After the great ceremony of the morrow in the cathedral, and when Myra, kneeling at the altar with her husband, received, under a canopy of silver brocade, the blessings of a cardinal and her people, day followed day with court balls and municipal banquets, state visits to operas, and reviews of sumptuous troops. At length the end of all this pageantry and enthusiasm approached, and amid a blaze of fireworks, the picturesque population of this fascinating city tried to return to ordinary feeling and to common sense.
If amid this graceful hubbub and this glittering riot any one could have found time to remark the carriage and conduct of an individual, one might have observed, and perhaps been surprised at, the change in those of Miss Neuchatel. That air of pensive resignation which distinguished her seemed to have vanished. She never wore that doleful look for which she was too remarkable in London saloons, and which marred a countenance favoured by nature and a form intended for gaiety and grace. Perhaps it was the influence of the climate, perhaps the excitement of the scene, perhaps some rapture with the wondrous fortunes of the friend whom she adored, but Adriana seemed suddenly to sympathise with everybody and to appreciate everything; her face was radiant, she was in every dance, and visited churches and museums, and palaces and galleries, with keen delight. With many charms, the intimate friend of their sovereign, and herself known to be noble and immensely rich, Adriana became the fashion, and a crowd of princes were ever watching her smiles, and sometimes offering her their sighs.
“I think you enjoy our visit more than any one of us,” said Endymion to her one day, with some feeling of surprise.
“Well, one cannot mope for ever,” said Miss Neuchatel; “I have passed my life in thinking of one subject, and I feel now it made me very stupid.”
Endymion felt embarrassed, and, though generally ready, had no repartee at command. Lord Waldershare, however, came to his relief, and claimed Adriana for the impending dance.
This wondrous marriage was a grand subject for “our own correspondents,” and they abounded. Among them were Jawett and St. Barbe. St. Barbe hated Jawett, as indeed he did all his brethren, but his appointment in this instance he denounced as an infamous job. “Merely to allow him to travel in foreign parts, which he has never done, without a single qualification for the office! However, it will ruin his paper, that is some consolation. Fancy sending here a man who has never used his pen except about those dismal statistics, and what he calls first principles! I hate his style, so neat and frigid. No colour, sir. I hate his short sentences, like a dog barking; we want a word-painter here, sir. My description of the wedding sold one hundred and fifty thousand, and it is selling now. If the proprietors were gentlemen, they would have sent me an unlimited credit, instead of their paltry fifty pounds a day and my expenses; but you never meet a liberal man now — no such animal known. What I want you to do for me, Lord Waldershare, is to get me invited to the Villa Aurea when the court moves there. It will be private life there, and that is the article the British public want now. They are satiated with ceremonies and festivals. They want to know what the royal pair have for dinner when they are alone, how they pass their evenings, and whether the queen drives ponies.”
“So far as I am concerned,” said Waldershare, “they shall remain state secrets.”
“I have received no special favours here,” rejoined St. Barbe, “though, with my claims, I might have counted on the uttermost. However, it is always so. I must depend on my own resources. I have a retainer, I can tell you, my lord, from the ‘Rigdum Funidos,’ in my pocket, and it is in my power to keep up such a crackling of jokes and sarcasms that a very different view would soon be entertained in Europe of what is going on here than is now the fashion. The ‘Rigdum Funidos’ is on the breakfast-table of all England, and sells thousands in every capital of the world. You do not appreciate its power; you will now feel it.”
“I also am a subscriber to the ‘Rigdum Funidos,’” said Waldershare, “and tell you frankly, Mr. St. Barbe, that if I see in its columns the slightest allusion to any persons or incident in this country, I will take care that you be instantly consigned to the galleys; and, this being a liberal government, I can do that without even the ceremony of a primary inquiry.”
“You do not mean that?” said St. Barbe; “of course, I was only jesting. It is not likely that I should say or do anything disagreeable to those whom I look upon as my patrons — I may say friends — through life. It makes me almost weep when I remember my early connection with Mr. Ferrars, now an under-secretary of state, and who will mount higher. I never had a chance of being a minister, though I suppose I am not more incapable than others who get the silver spoon into their mouths. And then his divine sister! Quite an heroic character! I never had a sister, and so I never had even a chance of being nearly related to royalty. But so it has been throughout my life. No luck, my lord; no luck. And then they say one is misanthropical. Hang it! who can help being misanthropical when he finds everybody getting on in life except himself?”
The court moved to their favourite summer residence, a Palladian palace on a blue lake, its banks clothed with forests abounding with every species of game, and beyond them loftier mountains. The king was devoted to sport, and Endymion was always among his companions. Waldershare rather attached himself to the ladies, who made gay parties floating in gondolas, and refreshed themselves with picnics in sylvan retreats. It was supposed Lord Waldershare was a great admirer of the Princess of Montserrat, who in return referred to him as that “lovable eccentricity.” As the autumn advanced, parties of guests of high distinction, carefully arranged, periodically arrived. Now, there was more ceremony, and every evening the circle was formed, while the king and queen exchanged words, and sometimes ideas, with those who were so fortunate as to be under their roof. Frequently there were dramatic performances, and sometimes a dance. The Princess of Montserrat was invaluable in these scenes; vivacious, imaginative, a consummate mimic, her countenance, though not beautiful, was full of charm. What was strange, Adriana took a great fancy to her Highness, and they were seldom separated. The only cloud for Endymion in this happy life was, that every day the necessity of his return to England was more urgent, and every day the days vanished more quickly. That return to England, once counted by weeks, would soon be counted by hours. He had conferred once or twice with Waldershare on the subject, who always turned the conversation; at last Endymion reminded him that the time of his departure was at hand, and that, originally, it had been agreed they should return together.
“Yes, my dear Ferrars, we did so agree, but the agreement was permissive, not compulsory. My views are changed. Perhaps I shall never return to England again; I think of being naturalised here.”
The queen was depressed at the prospect of being separated from her brother. Sometimes she remonstrated with him for his devotion to sport which deprived her of his society; frequently in a morning she sent for him to her boudoir, that they might talk together as in old times. “The king has invited Lord and Lady Beaumaris to pay us a visit, and they are coming at once. I had hoped the dear Hainaults might have visited us here. I think she would have liked it. However, they will certainly pass the winter with us. It is some consolation to me not to lose Adriana.”
“The greatest,” said Endymion, “and she seems so happy here. She seems quite changed.”
“I hope she is happier,” said the queen, “but I trust she is not changed. I think her nearly perfection. So pure, even so exalted a mind, joined with so sweet a temper, I have never met. And she is very much admired too, I can tell you. The Prince of Arragon would be on his knees to her tomorrow, if she would only give a single smile. But she smiles enough with the Princess of Montserrat. I heard her the other day absolutely in uncontrollable laughter. That is a strange friendship; it amuses me.”
“The princess has immense resource.”
The queen suddenly rose from her seat; her countenance was disturbed.
“Why do we talk of her, or of any other trifler of the court, when there hangs over us so great a sorrow, Endymion, as our separation? Endymion, my best beloved,” and she threw her arms round his neck, “my heart! my life! Is it possible that you can leave me, and so miserable as I am?”
“Yes! miserable when I think of your position — and even my own. Mine own has risen like a palace in a dream, and may vanish like one. But that would not be a calamity if you were safe. If I quitted this world tomorrow, where would you be? It gives me sleepless nights and anxious days. If you really loved me as you say, you would save me this. I am haunted with the perpetual thought that all this glittering prosperity will vanish as it did with our father. God forbid that, under any circumstances, it should lead to such an end — but who knows? Fate is terribly stern; ironically just. O Endymion! if you really love me, your twin, half of your blood and life, who have laboured for you so much, and thought for you so much, and prayed for you so much — and yet I sometimes feel have done so little — O Endymion! my adored, my own Endymion, if you wish to preserve my life — if you wish me not only to live, but really to be happy as I ought to be and could be, but for one dark thought, help me, aid me, save me — you can, and by one single act.”
“One single act!”
“Yes! marry Adriana.”
“Ah!” and he sighed.
“Yes, Adriana, to whom we both of us owe everything. Were it not for Adriana, you would not be here, you would be nothing,” and she whispered some words which made him start, and alternately blush and look pale.
“Is it possible?” he exclaimed. “My sister, my beloved sister, I have tried to keep my brain cool in many trials. But I feel, as it were, as if life were too much for me. You counsel me to that which we should all repent.”
“Yes, I know it; you may for a moment think it a sacrifice, but believe me, that is all phantasy. I know you think your heart belongs to another. I will grant everything, willingly grant everything you could say of her. Yes, I admit, she is beautiful, she has many charms, has been to you a faithful friend, you delight in her society; such things have happened before to many men, to every man they say they happen, but that has not prevented them from being wise, and very happy too. Your present position, if you persist in it, is one most perilous. You have no root in the country; but for an accident you could not maintain the public position you have nobly gained. As for the great crowning consummation of your life, which we dreamed over at unhappy Hurstley, which I have sometimes dared to prophesy, that must be surrendered. The country at the best will look upon you only as a reputable adventurer to be endured, even trusted and supported, in some secondary post, but nothing more. I touch on this, for I see it is useless to speak of myself and my own fate and feelings; only remember, Endymion, I have never deceived you. I cannot endure any longer this state of affairs. When in a few days we part, we shall never meet again. And all the devotion of Myra will end in your destroying her.”
“My own, my beloved Myra, do with me what you like. If ——”
At this moment there was a gentle tap at the door, and the king entered.
“My angel,” he said, “and you too, my dear Endymion. I have some news from England which I fear may distress you. Lord Montfort is dead.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49