There was music as they re-entered the drawing-room. Sir Vavasour attached himself to Egremont.
"It is a great pleasure for me to see you again, Mr Egremont;" said the worthy baronet. "Your father was my earliest and kindest friend. I remember you at Firebrace, a very little boy. Happy to see you again, Sir, in so eminent a position; a legislator—one of our legislators. It gave me a sincere satisfaction to observe your return."
"You are very kind, Sir Vavasour."
"But it is a responsible position," continued the baronet. "Think you they'll stand? A majority. I suppose, they have; but, I conclude, in time; Sir Robert will have it in time? We must not be in a hurry; 'the more haste'—you know the rest. The country is decidedly conservative. All that we want now is a strong government, that will put all things to rights. If the poor king had lived—"
"He would have sent these men to the right-abouts;" said Egremont, a young politician, proud of his secret intelligence.
"Ah! the poor king!" said Sir Vavasour, shaking his head.
"He was entirely with us," said Egremont.
"Poor man" said Sir Vavasour.
"You think it was too late, then?" said his companion.
"You are a young man entering political life," said the baronet, taking Egremont kindly by the arm, and leading him to a sofa; "everything depends on the first step. You have a great opportunity. Nothing can be done by a mere individual. The most powerful body in this country wants a champion."
"But you can depend on Peel?" said Egremont.
"He is one of us: we ought to be able to depend on him. But I have spoken to him for an hour, and could get nothing out of him."
"He is cautious; but depend upon it, he will stand or fall by the land."
"I am not thinking of the land," said Sir Vavasour; "of something much more important; with all the influence of the land, and a great deal more besides; of an order of men who are ready to rally round the throne, and are, indeed, if justice were done to them, its natural and hereditary champions (Egremont looked perplexity); I am speaking," added Sir Vavasour, in a solemn voice, "I am speaking of the baronets."
"The baronets! And what do they want?"
"Their rights; their long withheld rights. The poor king was with us. He has frequently expressed to me and other deputies, his determination to do us justice; but he was not a strong-minded man," said Sir Vavasour, with a sigh; "and in these revolutionary and levelling times, he had a hard task perhaps. And the peers, who are our brethren, they were, I fear, against us. But in spite of the ministers, and in spite of the peers, had the poor king lived, we should at least have had the badge," added Sir Vavasour mournfully.
"It would have satisfied Sir Grosvenor le Draughte," said Sir Vavasour; "and he had a strong party with him; he was for compromise, but d— him, his father was only an accoucheur."
"And you wanted more?" inquired Egremont, with a demure look.
"All, or nothing," said Sir Vavasour; "principle is ever my motto—no expediency. I made a speech to the order at the Clarendon; there were four hundred of us; the feeling was very strong."
"A powerful party," said Egremont.
"And a military order, sir, if properly understood. What could stand against us? The Reform Bill could never have passed if the baronets had been organized."
"I have no doubt you could bring us in now," said Egremont.
"That is exactly what I told Sir Robert. I want him to be brought in by his own order. It would be a grand thing."
"There is nothing like esprit de corps," said Egremont.
"And such a body!" exclaimed Sir Vavasour, with animation. "Picture us for a moment, to yourself going down in procession to Westminster for example to hold a chapter. Five or six hundred baronets in dark green costume,—the appropriate dress of equites aurati; each not only with his badge, but with his collar of S.S.; belted and scarfed; his star glittering; his pennon flying; his hat white with a plume of white feathers; of course the sword and the gilt spurs. In our hand, the thumb ring and signet not forgotten, we hold our coronet of two balls!"
Egremont stared with irrepressible astonishment at the excited being, who unconsciously pressed his companion's arm, as he drew this rapid sketch of the glories so unconstitutionally withheld from him.
"A magnificent spectacle!" said Egremont.
"Evidently the body destined to save this country," eagerly continued Sir Vavasour. "Blending all sympathies: the crown of which they are the peculiar champions; the nobles of whom they are the popular branch; the people who recognize in them their natural leaders. But the picture is not complete. We should be accompanied by an equal number of gallant knights, our elder sons, who, the moment they come of age, have the right to claim knighthood of their sovereign, while their mothers and wives, no longer degraded to the nomenclature of a sheriff's lady, but resuming their legal or analogical dignities, and styled the 'honourable baronetess,' with her coronet and robe, or the 'honourable knightess,' with her golden collar of S.S., and chaplet or cap of dignity, may either accompany the procession, or ranged in galleries in a becoming situation, rain influence from above."
"I am all for their going in the procession," said Egremont.
"The point is not so clear," said Sir Vavasour solemnly; "and indeed, although we have been firm in defining our rightful claims in our petitions, as for 'honorary epithets, secondary titles, personal decorations, and augmented heraldic bearings.' I am not clear if the government evinced a disposition for a liberal settlement of the question, I would not urge a too stringent adherence to every point. For instance, I am prepared myself, great as would be the sacrifice, even to renounce the claim of secondary titles for our eldest sons, if for instance they would secure us our coronet."
"Fie, fie, Sir Vavasour," said Egremont very seriously, "remember principle: no expediency, no compromise."
"You are right," said the baronet, colouring a little; "and do you know, Mr Egremont, you are the only individual I have yet met out of the Order, who has taken a sensible view of this great question, which, after all, is the question of the day."