"Are you going down to the house, Egerton?" enquired Mr Berners at Brookes, of a brother M.P., about four o'clock in the early part of the spring of 1839.
"The moment I have sealed this letter; we will walk down together, if you like!" and in a few minutes they left the club.
"Our fellows are in a sort of fright about this Jamaica bill," said Mr Egerton in an undertone, as if he were afraid a passer-by might overhear him. "Don't say anything about it, but there's a screw loose."
"The deuce! But how do you mean?"
"They say the Rads are going to throw us over."
"Talk, talk. They have threatened this half-a-dozen times. Smoke, sir; it will end in smoke."
"I hope it may; but I know, in great confidence mind you, that Lord John was saying something about it yesterday."
"That may be; I believe our fellows are heartily sick of the business, and perhaps would be glad of an excuse to break up the government: but we must not have Peel in; nothing could prevent a dissolution."
"Their fellows go about and say that Peel would not dissolve if he came in."
"He has had enough of dissolutions they say."
"Why, after all they have not done him much harm. Even —34 was a hit."
"Whoever dissolves," said Mr Egerton, "I don't think there will be much of a majority either way in our time."
"We have seen strange things," said Mr Berners.
"They never would think of breaking up the government without making their peers," said Mr Egerton.
"The Queen is not over partial to making more peers; and when parties are in the present state of equality, the Sovereign is no longer a mere pageant."
"They say her Majesty is more touched about these affairs of the Chartists than anything else," said Mr Egerton.
"They are rather queer; but for my part I have no serious fears of a Jacquerie."
"Not if it comes to an outbreak; but a passive resistance Jacquerie is altogether a different thing. When we see a regular Convention assembled in London and holding its daily meetings in Palace Yard; and a general inclination evinced throughout the country to refrain from the consumption of exciseable articles, I cannot help thinking that affairs are more serious than you imagine. I know the government are all on the 'qui vive.'"
"Just the fellows we wanted!" exclaimed Lord Fitz-Heron, who was leaning on the arm of Lord Milford, and who met Mr Egerton and his friend in Pall Mall.
"We want a brace of pairs," said Lord Milford. "Will you two fellows pair?"
"I must go down," said Mr Egerton; "but I will pair from halfpast seven to eleven."
"I just paired with Ormsby at White's," said Berners; "not half an hour ago. We are both going to dine at Eskdale's, and so it was arranged. Have you any news to-day?"
"Nothing; except that they say that Alfred Mountchesney is going to marry Lady Joan Fitz-Warene," said Lord Milford.
"She has been given to so many," said Mr Egerton.
"It is always so with these great heiresses," said his companion. "They never marry. They cannot bear the thought of sharing their money. I bet Lady Joan will turn out another specimen of the TABITHA CROESUS."
"Well, put down our pair, Egerton," said Lord Fitz-Heron. "You do not dine at Sidonia's by any chance?"
"Would that I did! You will have the best dishes and the best guests. I feed at old Malton's; perhaps a tete a tete: Scotch broth, and to tell him the news!"
"There is nothing like being a dutiful nephew, particularly when one's uncle is a bachelor and has twenty thousand a-year," said Lord Milford. "Au revoir! I suppose there will be no division to-night."
Egerton and Berners walked on a little further. As they came to the Golden Ball, a lady quitting the shop was just about to get into her carriage; she stopped as she recognized them. It was Lady Firebrace.
"Ah! Mr Berners, how d'ye do? You were just the person I wanted to see! How is Lady Augusta, Mr Egerton? You have no idea, Mr Berners, how I have been fighting your battles!"
"Really, Lady Firebrace," said Mr Berners rather uneasy, for he had perhaps like most of us a peculiar dislike to being attacked or cheapened. "You are too good."
"Oh! I don't care what a person's politics are!" exclaimed Lady Firebrace with an air of affectionate devotion. "I should be very glad indeed to see you one of us. You know your father was! But if any one is my friend I never will hear him attacked behind his back without fighting his battles; and I certainly did fight yours last night."
"Pray tell me where it was?"
"Confound Lady Crumbleford!" said Mr Berners indignant but a little relieved.
"No, no; Lady Crumbleford told Lady Alicia Severn."
"Yes, yes," said Berners, a little pale, for he was touched.
"But I cannot stop," said Lady Firebrace. "I must be with Lady St Julians exactly at a quarter past four;" and she sprang into her carriage.
"I would sooner meet any woman in London than Lady Firebrace," said Mr Berners; "she makes me uneasy for the day: she contrives to convince me that the whole world are employed behind my back in abusing or ridiculing me."
"It is her way," said Egerton; "she proves her zeal by showing you that you are odious. It is very successful with people of weak nerves. Scared at their general unpopularity, they seek refuge with the very person who at the same time assures them of their odium and alone believes it unjust. She rules that poor old goose, Lady Gramshawe, who feels that Lady Firebrace makes her life miserable, but is convinced that if she break with the torturer, she loses her only friend."
"There goes a man who is as much altered as any fellow of our time."
"Not in his looks; I was thinking the other night that he was better-looking than ever."
"Oh! no; not in his looks; but in his life. I was at Christchurch with him, and we entered the world about the same time. I was rather before him. He did everything; and did it well. And now one never sees him, except at the House. He goes nowhere; and they tell me he is a regular reading man."
"Do you think he looks to office?"
"He does not put himself forward."
"He attends; and his brother will always be able to get anything for him," said Egerton.
"Oh! he and Marney never speak; they hate each other."
"By Jove! However there is his mother; with this marriage of hers and Deloraine House, she will be their grandest dame."
"She is the only good woman the tories have: I think their others do them harm, from Lady St Julians down to your friend Lady Firebrace. I wish Lady Deloraine were with us. She keeps their men together wonderfully; makes her house agreeable; and then her manner—it certainly is perfect; natural, and yet refined."
"Lady Mina Blake has an idea that far from looking to office, Egremont's heart is faintly with his party; and that if it were not for the Marchioness—"
"We might gain him, eh?"
"Hem; I hardly know that: he has got crotchets about the people I am told."
"What, the ballot and household suffrage?"
"Gad, I believe it is quite a different sort of a thing. I do not know what it is exactly; but I understand he is crotchetty."
"Well, that will not do for Peel. He does not like crotchetty men. Do you see that, Egerton?"
At this moment, Mr Egerton and his friend were about to step over from Trafalgar square to Charing Cross. They observed the carriages of Lady St Julians and the Marchioness of Deloraine drawn up side by side in the middle of the street, and those two eminent stateswomen in earnest conversation. Egerton and Berners bowed and smiled, but could not hear the brief but not uninteresting words that have nevertheless reached us.
"I give them eleven," said Lady St Julians.
"Well, Charles tells me," said Lady Deloraine, "that Sir Thomas says so, and he certainly is generally right; but it is not Charles' own opinion."
"Sir Thomas, I know, gives them eleven," said Lady St Julians; "and that would satisfy me; and we will say eleven. But I have a list here," and she slightly elevated her brow, and then glanced at Lady Deloraine with a piquant air, "which proves that they cannot have more than nine; but this is in the greatest confidence: of course between us there can be no secrets. It is Mr Tadpole's list; nobody has seen it but me; not even Sir Robert. Lord Grubminster has had a stroke: they are concealing it, but Mr Tadpole has found it out. They wanted to pair him off with Colonel Fantomme, who they think is dying: but Mr Tadpole has got a Mesmerist who has done wonders for him, and who has guaranteed that he shall vote. Well, that makes a difference of one."
"And then Sir Henry Churton—"
"Oh! you know it," said Lady St Julians, looking slightly mortified. "Yes: he votes with us."
Lady Deloraine shook her head. "I think," she said, "I know the origin of that report. Quite a mistake. He is in a bad humour, has been so the whole session, and he was at Lady Alice Fermyne's, and did say all sorts of things. All that is true. But he told Charles this morning on a committee, that he should vote with the Government."
"Stupid man!" exclaimed Lady St Julians; "I never could bear him. And I have sent his vulgar wife and great staring daughter a card for next Wednesday! Well, I hope affairs will soon be brought to a crisis, for I do not think I can bear much longer this life of perpetual sacrifice," added Lady St Julians a little out of temper, both because she had lost a vote and found her friend and rival better informed than herself.
"There is no chance of a division to-night," said Lady Deloraine.
"That is settled," said Lady St Julians. "Adieu, my dear friend. We meet, I believe, at dinner?"
"Plotting," said Mr Egerton to Mr Berners, as they passed the great ladies.
"The only consolation one has," said Berners, "is, that if they do turn us out, Lady Deloraine and Lady St Julians must quarrel, for they both want the same thing."
"Lady Deloraine will have it," said Egerton.
Here they picked up Mr Jermyn, a young tory M.P., who perhaps the reader may remember at Mowbray Castle; and they walked on together, Egerton and Berners trying to pump him as to the expectations of his friends.
"How will Trodgits go?" said Egerton.
"I think Trodgits will stay away," said Jermyn.
"Who do you give that new man to—that north-country borough fellow;—what's his name?" said Berners.
"Blugsby! Oh, Blugsby dined with Peel," said Jermyn.
"Our fellows say dinners are no good," said Egerton; "and they certainly are a cursed bore: but you may depend upon it they do for the burgesses. We don't dine our men half enough. Now Blugsby was just the sort of fellow to be caught by dining with Peel: and I dare say they made Peel remember to take wine with him. We got Melbourne to give a grand feed the other day to some of our men who want attention they say, and he did not take wine with a single guest. He forgot. I wonder what they are doing at the House! Here's Spencer May, he will tell us. Well, what is going on?"
"WISHY is up, and WASHY follows."
"No division, of course?"
"Not a chance; a regular covey ready on both sides."