"My dear Charles," said Lady Marney to Egremont the morning after the Derby, as breakfasting with her in her boudoir he detailed some of the circumstances of the race, "we must forget your naughty horse. I sent you a little note this morning, because I wished to see you most particularly before you went out. Affairs," continued Lady Marney, first looking round the chamber to see whether there were any fairy listening to her state secrets, "affairs are critical."
"No doubt of that," thought Egremont, the horrid phantom of settling-day seeming to obtrude itself between his mother and himself; but not knowing precisely at what she was driving, he merely sipped his tea, and innocently replied, "Why?"
"There will be a dissolution," said Lady Marney.
"What are we coming in?"
Lady Marney shook her head.
"The present men will not better their majority," said Egremont.
"I hope not," said Lady Marney.
"Why you always said, that with another general election we must come in, whoever dissolved."
"But that was with the court in our favour," rejoined Lady Marney mournfully.
"What, has the king changed?" said Egremont. "I thought it was all right."
"All was right," said Lady Marney. "These men would have been turned out again, had he only lived three months more."
"Lived!" exclaimed Egremont.
"Yes," said Lady Marney; "the king is dying."
Slowly delivering himself of an ejaculation, Egremont leant back in his chair.
"He may live a month," said Lady Marnev; "he cannot live two. It is the greatest of secrets; known at this moment only to four individuals, and I communicate it to you, my dear Charles, in that absolute confidence which I hope will always subsist between us, because it is an event that may greatly affect your career."
"How so, my dear mother?"
"Marbury! I have settled with Mr Tadpole that you shall stand for the old borough. With the government in our hands, as I had anticipated at the general election, success I think was certain: under the circumstances which we must encounter, the struggle will be more severe, but I think we shall do it: and it will be a happy day for me to have our own again, and to see you in Parliament, my dear child."
"Well, my dear mother, I should like very much to be in Parliament, and particularly to sit for the old borough; but I fear the contest will be very expensive," said Egremont inquiringly.
"Oh! I have no doubt," said Lady Marney, "that we shall have some monster of the middle class, some tinker or tailor, or candlestick-maker, with his long purse, preaching reform and practising corruption: exactly as the liberals did under Walpole: bribery was unknown in the time of the Stuarts; but we have a capital registration, Mr Tadpole tells me. And a young candidate with the old name will tell," said Lady Marney, with a smile: "and I shall go down and canvass, and we must do what we can."
"I have great faith in your canvassing," said Egremont; "but still, at the same time, the powder and shot—"
"Are essential," said Lady Marney, "I know it, in these corrupt days: but Marney will of course supply those. It is the least he can do: regaining the family influence, and letting us hold up our heads again. I shall write to him the moment I am justified," said Lady Marney, "perhaps you will do so yourself, Charles."
"Why, considering I have not seen my brother for two years, and we did not part on the best possible terms—"
"But that is all forgotten."
"By your good offices, dear mother, who are always doing good: and yet," continued Egremont, after a moment's pause, "I am not disposed to write to Marney, especially to ask a favour."
"Well, I will write," said Lady Marney; "though I cannot admit it is any favour. Perhaps it would be better that you should see him first. I cannot understand why he keeps so at the Abbey. I am sure I found it a melancholy place enough in my time. I wish you had gone down there, Charles, if it had been only for a few days."
"Well I did not, my dear mother, and I cannot go now. I shall trust to you. But are you quite sure that the king is going to die?"
"I repeat to you, it is certain," replied Lady Marney, in a lowered voice, but a decided tone; "certain, certain, certain. My authority cannot be mistaken: but no consideration in the world must throw you off your guard at this moment; breathe not the shadow of what you know."
At this moment a servant entered and delivered a note to Lady Marney, who read it with an ironical smile. It was from Lady St Julians, and ran thus:—
"My dearest Lady Marney,
"It is a false report: he is ill, but not dangerously;
the hay fever; he always has it; nothing more:
I will tell my authority when we meet; I dare not write it.
It will satisfy you. I am going on with my quadrille.
"Most affectionately yours, "A. St J."
"Poor woman! she is always wrong," said Lady Marney throwing the note to Egremont. "Her quadrille will never take place, which is a pity, as it is to consist only of beauties and eldest sons. I suppose I must send her a line," and she wrote:
"My dearest Lady St Julians,
"How good of you to write to me, and send me such cheering news!
I have no doubt you are right: you always are:
I know he had the hay fever last year.
How fortunate for your quadrille, and how charming it will be!
Let me know if you hear anything further from your unmentionable quarter.
"Ever your affectionate "C.M."