On the morning of the same day that Mr Egerton and his friend Mr Berners walked down together to the House of Commons, as appears in our last chapter, Egremont had made a visit to his mother, who had married since the commencement of this history the Marquis of Deloraine, a great noble who had always been her admirer. The family had been established by a lawyer, and recently in our history. The present Lord Deloraine, though he was gartered and had been a viceroy, was only the grandson of an attorney, but one who, conscious of his powers, had been called to the bar and died an ex-chancellor. A certain talent was hereditary in the family. The attorney's son had been a successful courtier, and had planted himself in the cabinet for a quarter of a century. It was a maxim in this family to make great alliances; so the blood progressively refined, and the connections were always distinguished by power and fashion. It was a great hit, in the second generation of an earldom, to convert the coronet into that of a marquis; but the son of the old chancellor lived in stirring times, and cruised for his object with the same devoted patience with which Lord Anson watched for the galleon. It came at last, as everything does if men are firm and calm. The present marquis, through his ancestry and his first wife, was allied with the highest houses of the realm and looked their peer. He might have been selected as the personification of aristocracy: so noble was his appearance, so distinguished his manner; his bow gained every eye, his smile every heart. He was also very accomplished, and not ill-informed; had read a little, and thought a little, and was in every respect a most superior man; alike famed for his favour by the fair, and the constancy of his homage to the charming Lady Marney.
Lord Deloraine was not very rich; but he was not embarrassed, and had the appearance of princely wealth; a splendid family mansion with a courtyard; a noble country-seat with a magnificent park, including a quite celebrated lake, but with very few farms attached to it. He however held a good patent place which had been conferred on his descendants by the old chancellor, and this brought in annually some thousands. His marriage with Lady Marney was quite an affair of the heart; her considerable jointure however did not diminish the lustre of his position.
It was this impending marriage, and the anxiety of Lady Marney to see Egremont's affairs settled before it took place, which about a year and a half ago had induced her to summon him so urgently from Mowedale, which the reader perhaps may have not forgotten. And now Egremont is paying one of his almost daily visits to his mother at Deloraine House.
"A truce to politics, my dear Charles," said Lady Marney; "you must be wearied with my inquiries. Besides, I do not take the sanguine view of affairs in which some of our friends indulge. I am one of those who think the pear is not ripe. These men will totter on, and longer perhaps than even themselves imagine. I want to speak of something very different. To-morrow, my dear son, is your birth-day. Now I should grieve were it to pass without your receiving something which showed that its recollection was cherished by your mother. But of all silly things in the world, the silliest is a present that is not wanted. It destroys the sentiment a little perhaps but it enhances the gift, if I ask you in the most literal manner to assist me in giving you something that really would please you?"
"But how can I, my dear mother?" said Egremont. "You have ever been so kind and so generous that I literally want nothing."
"Oh! you cannot be such a fortunate man as to want nothing, Charles," said Lady Marney with a smile. "A dressing-case you have: your rooms are furnished enough: all this is in my way; but there are such things as horses and guns of which I know nothing, but which men always require. You must want a horse or a gun, Charles. Well, I should like you to get either; the finest, the most valuable that money can purchase. Or a brougham, Charles; what do you think of a new brougham? Would you like that Barker should build you a brougham?"
"You are too good, my dear mother. I have horses and guns enough; and my present carriage is all I can desire."
"You will not assist me, then? You are resolved that I shall do something very stupid. For to give you something I am determined."
"Well my dear mother," said Egremont smiling and looking round, "give me something that is here."
"Choose then," said Lady Marney, and she looked round the blue satin walls of her apartment, covered with cabinet pictures of exquisite art, and then at her tables crowded with precious and fantastic toys.
"It would be plunder, my dear mother," said Egremont.
"No, no; you have said it; you shall choose something. Will you have those vases?" and she pointed to an almost matchless specimen of old Sevres porcelain.
"They are in too becoming a position to be disturbed," said Egremont, "and would ill suit my quiet chambers, where a bronze or a marble is my greatest ornament. If you would permit me, I would rather choose a picture?"
"Then select one at once," said Lady Marney; "I make no reservation, except that Watteau, for it was given me by your father before we were married. Shall it be this Cuyp?"
"I would rather choose this," said Egremont, and he pointed to the portrait of a saint by Allori: the face of a beautiful young girl, radiant and yet solemn, with rich tresses of golden brown hair, and large eyes dark as night, fringed with ebon lashes that hung upon the glowing cheek.
"Ah! you choose that! Well, that was a great favourite of poor Sir Thomas Lawrence. But for my part I have never seen any one in the least like it, and I think I am sure that you have not."
"It reminds me—" said Egremont musingly.
"Of what you have dreamed," said Lady Marney.
"Perhaps so," said Egremont; "indeed I think it must have been a dream."
"Well, the vision shall still hover before you," said his mother; "and you shall find this portrait to-morrow over your chimney in the Albany."