On the same night that Sybil was encountering so many dangers, the saloons of Deloraine House blazed with a thousand lights to welcome the world of power and fashion to a festival of almost unprecedented magnificence. Fronting a royal park, its long lines of illumined windows and the bursts of gay and fantastic music that floated from its walls attracted the admiration and curiosity of another party that was assembled in the same fashionable quarter, beneath a canopy not less bright and reclining on a couch scarcely less luxurious, for they were lit by the stars and reposed upon the grass.
"I say, Jim," said a young genius of fourteen stretching himself upon the turf, "I pity them ere jarvies a sitting on their boxes all the night and waiting for the nobs what is dancing. They as no repose."
"But they as porter," replied his friend, a sedater spirit with the advantage of an additional year or two of experience. "They takes their pot of half-and-half by turns, and if their name is called, the link what they subscribe for to pay, sings out 'here;' and that's the way their guvners is done."
"I think I should like to be a link Jim," said the young one.
"I wish you may get it," was the response: "it's the next best thing to a crossing: it's what every one looks to when he enters public life, but he soon finds 'taint to be done without a deal of interest. They keeps it to themselves, and never lets any one in unless he makes himself very troublesome and gets up a party agin 'em."
"I wonder what the nobs has for supper," said the young one pensively. "Lots of kidneys I dare say."
"Oh! no; sweets is the time of day in these here blowouts: syllabubs like blazes, and snapdragon as makes the flunkys quite pale."
"I would thank you, sir, not to tread upon this child," said a widow. She had three others with her, slumbering around, and this was the youngest wrapt in her only shawl.
"Madam," replied the person whom she addressed, in tolerable English, but with a marked accent, "I have bivouacked in many lands, but never with so young a comrade: I beg you a thousand pardons."
"Sir, you are very polite. These warm nights are a great blessing, but I am sure I know not what we shall do in the fall of the leaf."
"Take no thought of the morrow," said the foreigner, who was a Pole; had served as a boy beneath the suns of the Peninsula under Soult and fought against Diebitsch on the banks of the icy Vistula. "It brings many changes." And arranging the cloak which he had taken that day out of pawn around him, he delivered himself up to sleep with that facility which is not uncommon among soldiers.
Here broke out a brawl: two girls began fighting and blaspheming; a man immediately came up, chastised and separated them. "I am the Lord Mayor of the night," he said, "and I will have no row here. 'Tis the like of you that makes the beaks threaten to expel us from our lodgings." His authority seemed generally recognized, the girls were quiet, but they had disturbed a sleeping man, who roused himself, looked around him and said with a scared look, "Where am I? What's all this?"
"Oh! it's nothin'," said the elder of the two lads we first noticed, "only a couple of unfortinate gals who've prigged a watch from a cove what was lushy and fell asleep under the trees between this and Kinsington."
"I wish they had not waked me," said the man, "I walked as far as from Stokenchurch, and that's a matter of forty miles, this morning to see if I could get some work, and went to bed here without any supper. I'm blessed if I worn't dreaming of a roast leg of pork."
"It has not been a lucky day for me," rejoined the lad, "I could not find a single gentleman's horse to hold, so help me, except one what was at the House of Commons, and he kept me there two mortal hours and said when he came out, that he would remember me next time. I ain't tasted no wittals to-day except some cat's-meat and a cold potatoe what was given me by a cabman; but I have got a quid here, and if you are very low I'll give you half."
In the meantime Lord Valentine and the Princess Stephanie of Eurasberg with some companions worthy of such a pair, were dancing a new Mazurka before the admiring assembly at Deloraine House. The ball was in the statue gallery illumined on this night in the Russian fashion, which while it diffused a brilliant light throughout the beautiful chamber, was peculiarly adapted to develope the contour of the marble forms of grace and loveliness that were ranged around.
"Where is Arabella?" enquired Lord Marney of his mother, "I want to present young Huntingford to her. He can be of great use to me, but he bores me so, I cannot talk to him. I want to present him to Arabella."
"Arabella is in the blue drawing-room. I saw her just now with Mr Jermyn and Charles. Count Soudriaffsky is teaching them some Russian tricks."
"What are Russian tricks to me; she must talk to young Huntingford; everything depends on his working with me against the Cut-and-Come-again branch-line; they have refused me my compensation, and I am not going to have my estate cut up into ribbons without compensation."
"My dear Lady Deloraine," said Lady de Mowbray. "How beautiful your gallery looks to-night! Certainly there is nothing in London that lights up so well."
"Its greatest ornaments are its guests. I am charmed to see Lady Joan looking so well."
"You think so?"
"I wish—" and here Lady de Mowbray gave a smiling sigh. "What do you think of Mr Mountchesney?"
"He is universally admired."
"So every one says, and yet—"
"Well what do you think of the Dashville, Fitz?" said Mr Berners to Lord Fitzheron, "I saw you dancing with her."
"I can't bear her: she sets up to be natural and is only rude; mistakes insolence for innocence; says everything which comes first to her lips and thinks she is gay when she is only giddy."
"'Tis brilliant," said Lady Joan to Mr Mountchesney.
"When you are here," he murmured.
"And yet a ball in a gallery of art is not in my opinion in good taste. The associations which are suggested by sculpture are not festive. Repose is the characteristic of sculpture. Do not you think so?"
"Decidedly," said Mr Mountchesney. "We danced in the gallery at Matfield this Christmas, and I thought all the time that a gallery is not the place for a ball; it is too long and too narrow."
Lady Joan looked at him, and her lip rather curled.
"I wonder if Valentine has sold that bay cob of his," said Lord Milford to Lord Eugene de Vere.
"I wonder," said Lord Eugene.
"I wish you would ask him, Eugene," said Lord Milford, "you understand, I don't want him to know I want it."
"'Tis such a bore to ask questions," said Lord Eugene.
"Shall we carry Chichester?" asked Lady Firebrace of Lady St Julians.
"Oh! do not speak to me ever again of the House of Commons," she replied in a tone of affected despair. "What use is winning our way by units? It may take years. Lord Protocol says that 'one is enough.' That Jamaica affair has really ended by greatly strengthening them."
"I do not despair," said Lady Firebrace. "The unequivocal adhesion of the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine is a great thing. It gives us the northern division at a dissolution."
"That is to say in five years, my dear Lady Firebrace. The country will be ruined before that."
"We shall see. Is it a settled thing between Lady Joan and Mr Mountchesney?"
"Not the slightest foundation. Lady Joan is a most sensible girl, as well as a most charming person and my dear friend. She is not in a hurry to marry, and quite right. If indeed Frederick were a little more steady—but nothing shall ever induce me to consent to his marrying her, unless I thought he was worthy of her."
"You are such a good mother," exclaimed Lady Firebrace, "and such a good friend! I am glad to hear it is not true about Mr Mountchesney."
"If you could only help me, my dear Lady Firebrace, to put an end to that affair between Frederick and Lady Wallington. It is so silly, and getting talked about; and in his heart too he really loves Lady Joan; only he is scarcely aware of it himself."
"We must manage it," said Lady Firebrace, with a look of encouraging mystery.
"Do, my dear creature; speak to him; he is very much guided by your opinion. Tell him everybody is laughing at him, and any other little thing that occurs to you."
"I will come directly," said Lady Marney to her husband, "only let me see this."
"Well, I will bring Huntingford here. Mind you speak to him a great deal; take his arm, and go down to supper with him if you can. He is a very nice sensible young fellow, and you will like him very much I am sure; a little shy at first, but he only wants bringing out."
A dexterous description of one of the most unlicked and unlickable cubs that ever entered society with forty thousand a year; courted by all, and with just that degree of cunning that made him suspicious of every attention.
"This dreadful Lord Huntingford!" said Lady Marney.
"Jermyn and I will intefere," said Egremont, "and help you."
"No, no," said Lady Marney shaking her head, "I must do it."
At this moment, a groom of the chambers advanced and drew Egremont aside, saying in a low tone, "Your servant, Mr Egremont, is here and wishes to see you instantly."
"My servant! Instantly! What the deuce can be the matter? I hope the Albany is not on fire," and he quitted the room.
In the outer hall, amid a crowd of footmen, Egremont recognized his valet who immediately came forward.
"A porter has brought this letter, sir, and I thought it best to come on with it at once."
The letter directed to Egremont, bore also on its superscription these words. "This letter must be instantly carried by the bearer to Mr Egremont wherever he may be."
Egremont with some change of countenance drew aside, and opening the letter read it by a lamp at hand. It must have been very brief; but the face of him to whom it was addressed became, as he perused its lines, greatly agitated. When he had finished reading it, he seemed for a moment lost in profound thought; then looking up he dismissed his servant without instructions, and hastening back to the assembly, he enquired of the groom of the chambers whether Lord John Russell, whom he had observed in the course of the evening, was still present; and he was answered in the affirmative.
About a quarter of an hour after this incident, Lady Firebrace said to Lady St Julians in a tone of mysterious alarm. "Do you see that?"
"Do not look as if you observed them: Lord John and Mr Egremont, in the furthest window, they have been there these ten minutes in the most earnest conversation. I am afraid we have lost him."
"I have always been expecting it," said Lady St Julians. "He breakfasts with that Mr Trenchard and does all those sorts of things. Men who breakfast out are generally liberals. Have not you observed that? I wonder why?"
"It shows a restless revolutionary mind," said Lady Firebrace, "that can settle to nothing; but must be running after gossip the moment they are awake."
"Yes," said Lady St Julians. "I think those men who breakfast out or who give breakfasts are generally dangerous characters; at least, I would not trust them. The whigs are very fond of that sort of thing. If Mr Egremont joins them, I really do not see what shadow of a claim Lady Deloraine can urge to have anything."
"She only wants one thing," said Lady Firebrace, "and we know she cannot have that."
"Because Lady St Julians will have it."
"You are too kind," with many smiles.
"No, I assure you Lord Masque told me that her Majesty—" and here Lady Firehrace whispered.
"Well," said Lady St Julians evidently much gratified, "I do not think I am one who am likely to forget my friends."
"That I am sure you are not!" said Lady Firebrace.