Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 3

"Strangers must withdraw."

"Division: clear the gallery. Withdraw."

"Nonsense; no; it's quite ridiculous; quite absurd. Some fellow must get up. Send to the Carlton; send to the Reform; send to Brookes's. Are your men ready? No; are your's? I am sure I can't say. What does it mean? Most absurd! Are there many fellows in the library? The smoking-room is quite full. All our men are paired till half-past eleven. It wants five minutes to the halfhour. What do you think of Trenchard's speech? I don't care for ourselves; I am sorry for him. Well that is very charitable. Withdraw, withdraw; you must withdraw."

"Where are you going, Fitztheron?" said a Conservative whipling.

"I must go; I am paired till half-past eleven, and it wants some minutes, and my man is not here."

"Confound it!"

"How will it go?"

"Gad, I don't know."

"Fishy eh?"

"Deuced!" said the under-whip in an under-tone, pale and speaking behind his teeth.

The division bell was still ringing; peers and diplomatists and strangers were turned out; members came rushing in from library and smoking-room; some desperate cabs just arrived in time to land their passengers in the waiting-room. The doors were locked.

The mysteries of the Lobby are only for the initiated. Three quarters of an hour after the division was called, the result was known to the exoteric world. Majority for Ministers thirty-seven! Never had the opposition made such a bad division, and this too on their trial of strength for the session. Everything went wrong. Lord Milford was away without a pair. Mr Ormsby, who had paired with Mr Berners, never came, and let his man poll; for which he was infinitely accursed, particularly by the expectant twelve hundred a-yearers, but not wanting anything himself, and having an income of forty thousand pounds paid quarterly, Mr Ormsby bore their reported indignation like a lamb.

There were several other similar or analogous mischances; the whigs contrived to poll Lord Grubminster in a wheeled chair; he was unconscious but had heard as much of the debate as a good many. Colonel Fantomme on the other hand could not come to time; the mesmerist had thrown him into a trance from which it was fated he should never awake: but the crash of the night was a speech made against the opposition by one of their own men, Mr Trenchard, who voted with the government.

"The rest may be accounted for," said Lady St Julians to Lady Deloraine the morning after; "it is simply vexatious; it was a surprise and will be a lesson: but this affair of this Mr Trenchard—and they tell me that William Loraine was absolutely cheering him the whole time—what does it mean? Do you know the man?"

"I have heard Charles speak of him, and I think much in his favour," said Lady Deloraine; "if he were here, he would tell us more about it. I wonder he does not come: he never misses looking in after a great division and giving me all the news."

"Do you know, my dear friend," said Lady St Julians with an air of some solemnity, "I am half meditating a great stroke? This is not a time for trifling. It is all very well for these people to boast of their division of last night, but it was a surprise, and as great to them as to us. I know there is dissension in the camp; ever since that Finality speech of Lord John, there has been a smouldering sedition. Mr Tadpole knows all about it; he has liaisons with the frondeurs. This affair of Trenchard may do us the greatest possible injury. When it comes to a fair fight, the government have not more than twelve or so. If this Mr Trenchard and three or four others choose to make themselves of importance—you see? The danger is imminent, it must be met with decision."

"And what do you propose doing?"

"Has he a wife?"

"I really do not know. I wish Charles would come, perhaps he could tell us."

"I have no doubt he has," said Lady St Julians. "One would have met him, somehow or other in the course of two years, if he had not been married. Well, married or unmarried, with his wife, or without his wife,—I shall send him a card for Wednesday." And Lady St Julians paused, overwhelmed as it were by the commensurate vastness of her idea and her sacrifice.

"Do not you think it would be rather sudden?" said Lady Deloraine.

"What does that signify? He will understand it; he will have gained his object; and all will be right."

"But are you sure it is his object? We do not know the man."

"What else can be his object?" said Lady St Julians. "People get into Parliament to get on; their aims are indefinite. If they have indulged in hallucinations about place before they enter the House, they are soon freed from such distempered fancies; they find they have no more talent than other people, and if they had, they learn that power, patronage and pay are reserved for us and our friends. Well then like practical men, they look to some result, and they get it. They are asked out to dinner more than they would be; they move rigmarole resolutions at nonsensical public meetings; and they get invited with their women to assemblies at their leader's where they see stars and blue ribbons, and above all, us, whom they little think in appearing on such occasions, make the greatest conceivable sacrifice. Well then, of course such people are entirely in one's power, if one only had time and inclination to notice them. You can do anything with them. Ask them to a ball, and they will give you their votes; invite them to dinner and if necessary they will rescind them; but cultivate them, remember their wives at assemblies and call their daughters, if possible, by their right names; and they will not only change their principles or desert their party for you; but subscribe their fortunes if necessary and lay down their lives in your service."

"You paint them to the life, my dear Lady St Julians," said Lady Deloraine laughing; "but with such knowledge and such powers, why did you not save our boroughs?"

"We had lost our heads, then, I must confess," said Lady St Julians. "What with the dear King and the dear Duke, we really had brought ourselves to believe that we lived in the days of Versailles or nearly; and I must admit I think we had become a little too exclusive. Out of the cottage circle, there was really no world, and after all we were lost not by insulting the people but by snubbing the aristocracy."

The servant announced Lady Firebrace. "Oh! my dear Lady Deloraine. Oh! my dear Lady St Julians!" and she shook her head.

"You have no news, I suppose," said Lady St Julians.

"Only about that dreadful Mr Trenchard; you know the reason why he ratted?"

"No, indeed," said Lady St Julians with a sigh.

"An invitation to Lansdowne House, for himself and his wife!"

"Oh! he is married then?"

"Yes; she is at the bottom of it all. Terms regularly settled beforehand. I have a note here—all the facts." And Lady Firebrace twirled in her hand a bulletin from Mr Tadpole.

"Lansdowne House is destined to cross me," said Lady St Julians with bitterness.

"Well it is very provoking," said Lady Deloraine, "when you had made up your mind to ask them for Wednesday."

"Yes, that alone is a sacrifice," said Lady St Julians.

"Talking over the division I suppose," said Egremont as he entered.

"Ah! Mr Egremont," said Lady St Julians. "What a hachis you made of it."

Lady Firebrace shook her head, as it were reproachfully.

"Charles," said Lady Deloraine, "we were talking of this Mr Trenchard. Did I not once hear you say you knew something of him?"

"Why, he is one of my intimate acquaintance."

"Heavens! what a man for a friend!" said Lady St Julians.

"Heavens!" echoed Lady Firebrace raising her hands.

"And why did you not present him to me, Charles," said Lady Deloraine.

"I did; at Lady Peel's."

"And why did you not ask him here?"

"I did several times; but he would not come."

"He is going to Lansdowne House, though," said Lady Firebrace.

"I suppose you wrote the leading article in the Standard which I have just read," said Egremont smiling. "It announces in large type the secret reasons of Mr Trenchard's vote."

"It is a fact," said Lady Firebrace.

"That Trenchard is going to Lansdowne House to-night; very likely. I have met him at Lansdowne House half-a-dozen times. He is very intimate with the family and lives in the same county."

"But his wife," said Lady Firebrace; "that's the point: he never could get his wife there before."

"He has none," said Egremont very quietly.

"Then we may regain him," said Lady St Julians with energy. "You shall make a little dinner to Greenwich, Mr Egremont, and I will sit next to him."

"Fortunate Trenchard!" said Egremont. "But do you know I fear he is hardly worthy of his lot. He has a horror of fine ladies; and there is nothing in the world he more avoids than what you call society. At home, as this morning when I breakfasted with him, or in a circle of his intimates, he is the best company in the world; no one so well informed, fuller of rich humour, and more sincerely amiable. He is popular with all who know him—except Taper, Lady St Julians, and Tadpole, Lady Firebrace."

"Well, I think I will ask him still for Wednesday," said Lady St Julians; "and I will write him a little note. If society is not his object, what is?"

"Ay!" said Egremont, "there is a great question for you and Lady Firebrace to ponder over. This is a lesson for you fine ladies, who think you can govern the world by what you call your social influences: asking people once or twice a-year to an inconvenient crowd in your house; now haughtily smirking, and now impertinently staring, at them; and flattering yourselves all this time, that to have the occasional privilege of entering your saloons and the periodical experience of your insolent recognition, is to be a reward for great exertions, or if necessary an inducement to infamous tergiversation."

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