"It is all right," said Mr Tadpole. "They are out. Lord Melbourne has been with the Queen and recommended her Majesty to send for the Duke, and the Duke has recommended her Majesty to send for Sir Robert."
"Are you sure?" said Mr Taper.
"I tell you Sir Robert is on his road to the palace at this moment; I saw him pass, full-dressed."
"It is too much," said Mr Taper.
"Now what are we to do?" said Mr Tadpole.
"We must not dissolve," said Mr Taper. "We have no cry."
"As much cry as the other fellows," said Mr Tadpole; "but no one of course would think of dissolution before the next registration. No, no; this is a very manageable Parliament, depend upon it. The malcontent radicals who have turned them out are not going to bring them in. That makes us equal. Then we have an important section to work upon—the Sneaks, the men who are afraid of a dissolution. I will be bound we make a good working conservative majority of five-and-twenty out of the sneaks."
"With the Treasury patronage," said Mr Taper; "fear and favour combined. An impending dissolution, and all the places we refuse our own men, we may count on the Sneaks."
"Then there are several religious men who have wanted an excuse for a long time to rat," said Mr Tadpole. "We must get Sir Robert to make some kind of a religious move, and that will secure Sir Litany Lax and young Mr Salem."
"It will never do to throw over the Church Commission," said Mr Taper. "Commissions and committees ought always to be supported."
"Besides it will frighten the saints," said Mr Tadpole. "If we could get him to speak at Exeter Hall—were it only a slavery meeting—that would do."
"It is difficult," said Taper; "he must be pledged to nothing—not even to the right of search. Yet if we could get up something with a good deal of sentiment and no principle involved; referring only to the past, but with his practised powers touching the present. What do you think of a monument to Wilberforce or a commemoration of Clarkson?"
"There is a good deal in that," said Mr Tadpole. "At present go about and keep our fellows in good humour. Whisper nothings that sound like something. But be discreet; do not let there be more than half a hundred fellows who believe they are going to be Under Secretaries of State. And be cautious about titles. If they push you, give a wink and press your finger to your lip. I must call here," continued Mr Tadpole as he stopped before the house of the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine. "This gentleman is my particular charge. I have been cooking him these three years. I had two notes from him yesterday, and can delay a visit no longer. The worst of it is, he expects that I shall bear him the non-official announcement of his being sent to Ireland, of which he has about as much chance as I have of being Governor-General of India. It must be confessed ours is critical work sometimes, friend Taper; but never mind—what we have to do to individuals Peel has to with a nation, and therefore we ought not to complain."
The Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine wanted Ireland and Lord de Mowbray wanted the Garter. Lord Marney, who wanted the Buckhounds, was convinced that neither of his friends had the slightest chance of obtaining their respective objects, but believed that he had a very good one of securing his own if he used them for his purpose, and persuaded them to combine together for the common good. So at his suggestion they had all met together at the duke's, and were in full conference on the present state of affairs, while Tadpole and Taper were engaged in that interesting and instructive conversation of which we have snatched a passage.
"You may depend upon it," said Lord Marney, "that nothing is to be done by delicacy. It is not delicacy that rules the House of Lords. What has kept us silent for years? Threats; and threats used in the most downright manner. We were told that if we did not conform absolutely and without appeal to the will and pleasure of one individual, the cards would be thrown up. We gave in; the game has been played, and won. I am not at all clear that it has been won by those tactics—but gained it is; and now what shall we do? In my opinion it is high time to get rid of the dictatorship. The new ruse now for the palace is to persuade her Majesty that Peel is the only man who can manage the House of Lords. Well, then it is exactly the time to make certain persons understand that the House of Lords are not going to be tools any longer merely for other people. Rely upon it a bold united front at this moment would be a spoke in the wheel. We three form the nucleus; there are plenty to gather round. I have written to Marisforde; he is quite ripe. Lord Hounslow will be here to-morrow. The thing is to be done; and if we are not firm the grand conservative triumph will only end in securing the best posts both at home and abroad for one too powerful family."
"Who had never been heard of in the time of my father," said the duke.
"Nor in the time of mine," said Lord de Mowbray.
"Royal and Norman blood like ours," said Lord Marney, "is not to be thrown over in that way."
It was just at this moment that a servant entered with a card, which the duke looking at said "It is Tadpole; shall we have him in? I dare say he will tell us something." And notwithstanding the important character of their conference, political curiosity and perhaps some private feeling which not one of them cared to acknowledge, made them unanimously agree that Mr Tadpole should be admitted.
"Lord Marney and Lord de Mowbray with the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine," thought Mr Tadpole, as he was ushered into the library and his eye, practised in machinations and prophetic in manoeuvres surveyed the three nobles. "This looks like business and perhaps means mischief. Very lucky I called!" With an honest smile he saluted them all.
"What news from the palace, Tadpole?" inquired the duke.
"Sir Robert is there," replied Tadpole.
"That's good news," exclaimed his grace, echoed by Lord de Mowbray, and backed up with a faint bravo from Lord Marney.
Then arose a conversation in which all affected much interest respecting the Jamaica debate; whether the whigs had originally intended to resign; whether it were Lord Melbourne or Lord John who had insisted on the step; whether if postponed they could have tided over the session; and so on. Tadpole, who was somewhat earnest in his talk, seemed to have pinned the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine; Lord Marney who wanted to say a word alone to Lord de Mowbray had dexterously drawn that personage aside on the pretence of looking at a picture. Tadpole, who had a most frank and unsophisticated mien had an eye for every corner of a room, seized the opportunity for which he had been long cruising. "I don't pretend to be behind the scenes, duke; but it was said to me to-day, 'Tadpole, if you do chance to see the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine you may say that positively Lord Killcroppy will not go to Ireland.'"
A smile of satisfaction played over the handsome face of the duke—instantly suppressed lest it might excite suspicion; and then with a friendly and very significant nod that intimated to Tadpole not to dwell on the subject at the present moment, the duke with a rather uninterested air recurred to the Jamaica debate, and soon after appealed on some domestic point to his son-in-law. This broke up the conversation between Lord de Mowbray and Lord Marney. Lord de Mowbray advancing was met accidentally on purpose by Mr Tadpole, who seemed anxious to push forward to Lord Marney.
"You have heard of Lord Ribbonville?" said Tadpole in a suppressed tone.
"Can't live the day out. How fortunate Sir Robert is! Two garters to begin with!"
Tadpole had now succeeded in tackling Lord Marney alone; the other peers were far out of ear-shot. "I don't pretend to be behind the scenes, my Lord," said the honest gentleman in a peculiarly confidential tone, and with a glance that spoke volumes of state secrecy; "but it was said to me to-day, 'Tadpole, if you do chance to meet Lord Marney, you may say that positively Lord Rambrooke will not have the Buck-hounds.'"
"All I want," said Lord Marney, "is to see men of character about her Majesty. This is a domestic country, and the country expects that no nobleman should take household office whose private character is not inexpugnable. Now that fellow Rambrooke keeps a French woman. It is not much known, but it is a fact."
"Dreadful!" exclaimed Mr Tadpole. "I have no doubt of it. But he has no chance of the Buck-hounds, you may rely on that. Private character is to be the basis of the new government. Since the Reform Act that is a qualification much more esteemed by the constituency than public services. We must go with the times, my Lord. A virtuous middle class shrink with horror from French actresses; and the Wesleyans—the Wesleyans must be considered, Lord Marney."
"I always subscribe to them," said his Lordship.
"Ah!" said Mr Tadpole mysteriously, "I am glad to hear that. Nothing I have heard to-day has given me so much pleasure as those few words. One may hardly jest on such a subject," he added with a sanctimonious air; "but I think I may say"—and here he broke into a horse smile—"I think I may say that those subscriptions will not be without their fruit." And with a bow honest Tadpole disappeared, saying to himself as he left the house, "If you were ready to be conspirators when I entered the room, my Lords, you were at least prepared to be traitors when I quitted it."
In the meantime Lord Marney in the best possible humour said to Lord de Mowbray, "You are going to White's are you? If so take me."
"I am sorry, my dear Lord, but I have an appointment in the city. I have got to go to the Temple, and I am already behind my time."