« ZurückWeiter »
minister as the ostensible chief of his party. If this were accepted, there was no office which Lord Oldcastle was not willing thạt Mr. Beaufort should offer to his friend. Such was the Italian policy intended to be pursued in negotiating a union.
On the receipt of the message, which simply, as we have said, desired a meeting, Beaufort instantly communicated with Wentworth, who told him that under the circumstances he could not but comply.
" It is useless," said Beaufort ; " to separate us is impossible.”
“ I know it,” returned Wentworth; "but the terms may have been altered; besides, there is a high recommendation, which must not be disobeyed.”
Beaufort complied, assuring Wentworth that he was but an agent to hear, but not to determine; and never did the friends honour or confide in one another more than when they separated.
On meeting, the wary minister was most adroit as to his object. All notion of severing Beaufort from his party was abandoned, and pardon even begged for former attempts to overcome what was still treated as a prejudice that stood in the way of duty; but though a prejudice, an honourable one. This being set at rest, even the uti possidetis was also abandoned by Lord Oldcastle.
“I feel,” said Lord Oldcastle, “ that the country is every thing, and I should little honour myself if any ambition of mine stood in the way of an advantageous arrangement. I am therefore even prepared to quit my present station, if that shoạld be deemed necessary for his majesty's service."
The frank mind of Beaufort was struck with the proof of disinterestedness which this seemed to give; and, in the simplicity of his heart, he complimented the premier on the purity of his patriotism, which could thus yield his power to a rival, for the sake of the public weal.
“Stop,” said Lord Oldcastle, with a mixture of dignity and candour, nor give me more credit than I deserve. Though I said I should little honour myself if an obstinacy in retaining my present situation were to stand in the way of a proper arrangement, it follows not that I should dishonour myself to procure it."
Beaufort expressing his wonder at the meaning of this, the Lord Oldcastle went on.
& Forgive me, Mr. Beaufort, if I feel I have a right to some personal pride as well as Mr. Wentworth. His would be wounded, it seems, were he to serve under me; would mine then be unhurt were I to serve under him? I have already been placed at the head, by our common sovereign; he has not yet been so honoured. If the country require it now, I am ready to retire; but it follows not that I am to be called upon to serve under one who has almost refused to acknowledge me even as an equal. Still this need not prevent what we all so much desire; it will only be necessary that I and my friends should withdraw from power altogether, and leave Mr. Wentworth to form a government as well as he can,”
He said this with an air of generous self-sacrifice; but to a less unsuspecting observer than Beaufort, something sardonic "might perhaps have been discovered Jurking in the corner of his lip, when he pronounced the words as well as he can.
Be this as it may, Beaufort was embarrassed at intimation; as the secession of Lord Oldcastle and his friends would leave the government weaker, even in the hands of Wentworth, than it was at the then actual crisis. It became necessary, therefore, to ask whether Lord Qldcastle, by retiring, meant to deny his support to any new government that might be formed?
“As to that,” replied the wary politician, “I can only say it must depend upon circumstances that may arise. For though I am not one of those who would drive headlong into opposition as a thing of course, because I had laid down my power; yet, even though I mįght promise
neral support, who can see into fùturity ?" The candour of Beaufort could not but admit this; and his confiding nature, little practised in the wiles, or even the language of party, almost tempted him to think that these professions of Lord Oldcastle might satisfy his friend. Being pushed to it, too, by the penetrating minister,—who saw that his sense of honour had been touched by what he had said, Beaufort acknowledged that it might be too much to expect Lord Oldcastle to quit the post of prime minister, and take office under a man who had refused to serve under him; and such was his dilemma, that he was preparing to break up the conference, when Lord Oldcastle, observing that he had sufficiently excited his fears for the country, as well as his sense of
contending difficulties, now brought forward a mezzo termino.
“Come," said Lord Oldcastle, “ though it is clear that I cannot serve under Mr. Wentworth, nor he under me, why should we not both serve under a third person ?"
• To find him!” said Beaufort, much surprised, and rather thrown off his guard.
“ Yourself !” cried Lord Oldcastle. “ Impossible !"
“And why so? You have great family connexions; great abilities; great command in debate; much popularity. There can be no objection, therefore, in those who might reject one another, to own you as chief."
Beaufort felt astounded; he drew his breath quick; he thought of Wentworth; thought of the country; and, as a momentary flush crimsoned his cheek, Lord Oldcastle believed he saw hesitation on his brow.
“Mr. Wentworth may have his choice of offices," said Lord Oldcastle,“ provided only that he is not first. And to give more strength and dignity still to your own part of the arrangements, an elevation in the peerage to your father might perhaps, by giving you title, though not intrinsically necessary, add an ornament at least to the real strength of the union.”
It would be wronging the truth to say that the ambition of Beaufort was not flattered by all this, though he never departed one instant from his prevailing wish to see Wentworth in power, not only influencing, but directing the destinies of his country. Of this he felt there was not a chance, while Lord Oldcastle continued where he was; and as little, should the latter be removed, without coalescing with the Wentworth party. He could have wished some other third person had been named as chief, and actually did name more than one, but they were all objected to by Lord Oldcastle, either as deficient in court interest, in abilities, or in extensive connexions. short,” said my lord, “aut Cæsar, aut nullus. It is for you to say whether you will refuse to save the country, where you can do it so easily.'
The excitement of Beaufort's mind was not allayed by these topics. He was sincerely patriotic; sincerely loyal to Wentworth; and sincerely ready to spurn all personal advantages at the expense of honour. But he was ambitious; and he saw no sacrifice of honour in consenting to be at least the bearer of these proposals to his friend and
to his party, with a view to consult them. This was all he promised, and this he performed.
The astonishment of Wentworth when he heard the result of the conference is not to be painted. We have described him as subject to momentary starts of suspicion and anger, during which his invectives were terrible; upon the present occasion they were uncontrollable, when he found that his friend had even listened to a plan which he called insidious, and, to a most offensive degree, degrading to himself; and though he was too just to Beaufort to accuse him of any treachery in hearing it, yet the very thought that he had not rejected with scorn and contempt what he called an evident design (so evident that a baby might see through it) to lower him (Wentworth), surprised Beaufort into a vehemence that carried torture and death to his sensibility, which we have described as so irritable.
“I will not,” said Wentworth, “glance at the palpable snares laid for your own ambition, at the small price of my degradation; I will not inquire into the reasons which prevented you from seeing through such treachery."
“Stop!” interrupted Beaufort, with emotions which were unbearable; nor glance on your part at what it tears my soul to pieces to think you could imagine.”
“ I imagine nothing against your honour,” cried Wentworth. But it was too late for explanation : horror had seized
upon the soul of Beaufort; the too sensate jealousy in regard to his character, which has been mentioned, had now got complete hold of him; and, in a tremor which seemed to proceed from a breaking heart, he burst from the house to seek his own home. There, after ordering the doors to be closed against all visiters, he buried himself in his chamber.
The whole passed so quickly that this sudden move. ment could not be prevented; and Wentworth was content to remain a full hour by himself, ruminating over the new aspect of things; during which he repented him of his vehemence towards his friend, for whose return, or at least for some tidings from him, he began anx. / iously to wish. But his friend came not, and the amiable, though warm-tempered Wentworth, with an appeased spirit, and a desire to atone for his offensive and unintena tional expressions, sallied forth to seek the friend he feared he had injured.
What was his surprise, and we may add, his alarmi, when he was not only refused admittance, but fairly told by the porter that it was his master's last order that he should be refused particularly to him.
“I would not be so bold as to tell you, sir,” said the porter, “but for fear there be something wrong between two such good gentlemen; for indeed, sir, my master seems quite desperate.”
Wentworth, in alarm, repeated the attempt that night, and again the next day, but in vain; nor did they see each other till they met in the House; when the high-wrought resentment of Beaufort was so great, that the advances of his friend (who still continued to make them) were proudly and moodily rejected.
This did not escape observation among those who were most interested to observe; for it had already been whispered that Lord Oldcastle had made overtures to Mr. Beaufort, which had been accepted, and that a quarrel had been the consequence between him and his former friend. The rumour seemed thus too fully confirmed, ånd both sides were fixed in most exciting attention towards the behaviour of the two leaders. Agreeably to all practice, particularly in party, every thing was at once taken for granted on either side. The ministerialists openly boasted that Beaufort had agreed to their terms. They named his very office and title, and assumed an air and tone of confidence upon it which made universal impression. On the other hand, Mr. Wentworth's party, discomfited and imposed upon by what they felt would be a severe blow to their reputation, as well as.interest, and confirmed in their suspicions by the cold and resentful conduct of Beaufort, could no longer restrain their indignation. They showed it by shunning him, and forming themselves into groups to hold conversations, of which it was evident to himself that he was the subject. This maddened him still more; and though he would not retire from the House, fearing that it might confirm the suspicions which could not now be concealed from him, he was evidently ripe for any catastrophe, and ready.to lay down his life rather than suffer the supposition that his honour had been sullied.
Wentworth saw all this, and implored him, through a friend, to retire with him, thinking that by soothing and explanation, he might restore him to himself. But Ho! the unfortunate Beaufort only became the more