On the evening of the day that Egremont had met Sybil in the Abbey of Westminster, and subsequently parted from her under circumstances so distressing, the Countess of Marney held a great assembly at the family mansion in St James Square, which Lord Marney had intended to have let to a new club, and himself and his family to have taken refuge for a short season at an hotel, but he drove so hard a bargain that before the lease was signed, the new club, which mainly consisted of an ingenious individual who had created himself secretary, had vanished. Then it was agreed that the family mansion should be inhabited for the season by the family; and to-night Arabella was receiving all that great world of which she herself was a distinguished ornament.
"We come to you as early as possible my dear Arabella," said Lady Deloraine to her daughter-in-law.
"You are always so good! Have you seen Charles? I was in hopes he would have come," Lady Marney added in a somewhat mournful tone.
"He is at the House: otherwise I am sure he would have been here," said Lady Deloraine, glad that she had so good a reason for an absence, which under any circumstances she well knew would have occurred.
"I fear you will be sadly in want of beaus this evening, my love. We dined at the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine's, and all our cavaliers vanished. They talk of an early division."
"I really wish all these divisions were over," said Lady Marney. "They are very anti-social. Ah! here is Lady de Mowbray."
Alfred Mountchesney hovered round Lady Joan Fitz-Warene, who was gratified by the devotion of the Cupid of May Fair. He uttered inconceivable nothings, and she replied to him in incomprehensible somethings. Her learned profundity and his vapid lightness effectively contrasted. Occasionally he caught her eye and conveyed to her the anguish of his soul in a glance of self-complacent softness.
Lady St Julians leaning on the arm of the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine stopped to speak to Lady Joan. Lady St Julians was determined that the heiress of Mowbray should marry one of her sons. She watched therefore with a restless eye all those who attempted to monopolize Lady Joan's attention, and contrived perpetually to interfere with their manoeuvres. In the midst of a delightful conversation that seemed to approach a crisis, Lady St Julians was sure to advance, and interfere with some affectionate appeal to Lady Joan, whom she called her "dear child" and "sweetest love," while she did not deign even to notice the unhappy cavalier whom she had thus as it were unhorsed.
"My sweet child!" said Lady St Julians to Lady Joan, "you have no idea how unhappy Frederick is this evening, but he cannot leave the House, and I fear it will be a late affair."
Lady Joan looked as if the absence or presence of Frederick was to her a matter of great indifference, and then she added, "I do not think the division so important as is generally imagined. A defeat upon a question of colonial government does not appear to me of sufficient weight to dissolve a cabinet."
"Any defeat will do that now," said Lady St Julians, "but to tell you the truth I am not very sanguine. Lady Deloraine says they will be beat: she says the radicals will desert them; but I am not so sure. Why should the radicals desert them? And what have we done for the radicals? Had we indeed foreseen this Jamaica business, and asked some of them to dinner, or given a ball or two to their wives and daughters! I am sure if I had had the least idea that we had so good a chance of coming in, I should not have cared myself to have done something; even to have invited their women."
"But you are such a capital partisan, Lady St Julians," said the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine, who with the viceroyalty of Ireland dexterously dangled before his eyes for the last two years, had become a thorough conservative and had almost as much confidence in Sir Robert as in Lord Stanley.
"I have made great sacrifices," said Lady St Julians. "I went once and stayed a week at Lady Jenny Spinner's to gain her looby of a son and his eighty thousand a-year, and Lord St Julians proposed him at White's; and then after all the whigs made him a peer! They certainly make more of their social influences than we do. That affair of that Mr Trenchard was a blow. Losing a vote at such a critical time, when if I had had only a remote idea of what was passing through his mind, I would have even asked him to Barrowley for a couple of days."
A foreign diplomatist of distinction had pinned Lord Marney, and was dexterously pumping him as to the probable future.
"But is the pear ripe?" said the diplomatist.
"The pear is ripe if we have courage to pluck it," said Lord Marney; "but our fellows have no pluck."
"But do you think that the Duke of Wellington—" and here the diplomatist stopped and looked up in Lord Marney's face, as if he would convey something that he would not venture to express.
"Here he is," said Lord Marney, "he will answer the question himself."
Lord Deloraine and Mr Ormsby passed by; the diplomatist addressed them: "You have not been to the Chamber?"
"No," said Lord Deloraine; "but I hear there is hot work. It will be late."
"Do you think—," said the diplomatist, and he looked up in the face of Lord Deloraine.
"I think that in the long run everything will have an end," said Lord Deloraine.
"Ah!" said the diplomatist.
"Bah!" said Lord Deloraine as he walked away with Mr Ormsby. "I remember that fellow—a sort of equivocal attache at Paris, when we were there with Monmouth at the peace: and now he is a quasi ambassador, and ribboned and starred to the chin."
"The only stars I have got," said Mr Ormsby demurely, "are four stars in India stock."
Lady Firebrace and Lady Maud Fitz-Warene were announced: they had just come from the Commons; a dame and damsel full of political enthusiasm. Lady Firebrace gave critical reports and disseminated many contradictory estimates of the result; Lady Maud talked only of a speech made by Lord Milford, which from the elaborate noise she made about it, you would have supposed to have been the oration of the evening; on the contrary, it had lasted only a few minutes and in a thin house had been nearly inaudible; but then, as Lady Maud added, "it was in such good taste!"
Alfred Mountchesney and Lady Joan Fitz-Warene passed Lady Marney who was speaking to Lord Deloraine. "Do you think," said Lady Marney, "that Mr Mountchesney will bear away the prize?"
Lord Deloraine shook his head. "These great heiresses can never make up their minds. The bitter drop rises in all their reveries."
"And yet," said Lady Marney, "I would just as soon be married for my money as my face."
Soon after this there was a stir in the saloons; a murmur, the ingress of many gentlemen: among others Lord Valentine, Lord Milford, Mr Egerton, Mr Berners, Lord Fitz-Heron, Mr Jermyn. The House was up; the great Jamaica division was announced; the radicals had thrown over the government, who left in a majority of only five, had already intimated their sense of the unequivocal feeling of the House with respect to them. It was known that on the morrow the government would resign.
Lady Deloraine, prepared for the great result, was calm: Lady St Julians, who had not anticipated it, was in a wild flutter of distracted triumph. A vague yet dreadful sensation came over her in the midst of her joy that Lady Deloraine had been beforehand with her; had made her combinations with the new Minister; perhaps even sounded the Court. At the same time that in this agitating vision the great offices of the palace which she had apportioned to herself and her husband seemed to elude her grasp; the claims and hopes and interests of her various children haunted her perplexed consciousness. What if Charles Egremont were to get the place which she had projected for Frederick or Augustus? What if Lord Marney became master of the horse? Or Lord Deloraine went again to Ireland? In her nervous excitement she credited all these catastrophes; seized upon "the Duke" in order that Lady Deloraine might not gain his ear, and resolved to get home as soon as possible, in order that she might write without a moment's loss of time to Sir Robert.
"They will hardly go out without making some peers," said Sir Vavasour Firebrace to Mr Jermyn.
"Why they have made enough."
"Hem! I know Tubbe Swete has a promise, and so has Cockawhoop. I don't think Cockawhoop could show again at Boodle's without a coronet."
"I don't see why these fellows should go out," said Mr Ormsby. "What does it signify whether ministers have a majority of five, or ten or twenty? In my time, a proper majority was a third of the House. That was Lord Liverpool's majority. Lord Monmouth used to say that there were ten families in this country who, if they could only agree, could always share the government. Ah! those were the good old times! We never had adjourned debates then; but sate it out like gentlemen who had been used all their lives to be up all night, and then supped at Watier's afterwards."
"Ah! my dear Ormsby," said Mr Berners, "do not mention Watier's; you make my mouth water."
"Shall you stand for Birmingham, Ormsby, if there be a dissolution?" said Lord Fitz-Heron.
"I have been asked," said Mr Ormsby; "but the House of Commons is not the House of Commons of my time, and I have no wish to re-enter it. If I had a taste for business, I might be a member of the Marylebone vestry."
"All I repeat," said Lord Marney to his mother, as he rose from the sofa where he had been some time in conversation with her, "that if there be any idea that I wish Lady Marney should be a lady in waiting, it is an error, Lady Deloraine. I wish that to be understood. I am a domestic man, and I wish Lady Marney to be always with me; and what I want I want for myself. I hope in arranging the household the domestic character of every member of it will be considered. After all that has occurred the country expects that."
"But my dear George, I think it is really premature—"
"I dare say it is; but I recommend you, my dear mother, to be alive. I heard Lady St Julians just now in the supper room asking the Duke to promise her that her Augustus should be a Lord of the Admiralty. She said the Treasury would not do, as there was no house, and that with such a fortune as his wife brought him he could not hire a house under a thousand a-year."
"He will not have the Admiralty," said Lady Deloraine.
"She looks herself to the Robes."
"Poor woman!" said Lady Deloraine.
"Is it quite true?" said a great whig dame to Mr Egerton, one of her own party.
"Quite," he said.
"I can endure anything except Lady St Julian's glance of triumph," said the whig dame. "I really think if it were only to ease her Majesty from such an infliction, they ought to have held on."
"And must the household be changed?" said Mr Egerton. "Do not look so serious," said the whig dame smiling with fascination; "we are surrounded by the enemy."
"Will you be at home to-morrow early?" said Mr Egerton.
"As early as you please."
"Very well, we will talk then. Lady Charlotte has heard something; nous verrons."
"Courage; we have the Court with us, and the Country cares for nothing."