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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Once more that Exclusion Bill of theirs came forward


With

all my love for His Majesty I am forced to confess that he presented a very poor spectacle on that occasion. Not only did he largely yield to the popular clamour, and profess himself willing, within reason, to befriend any measures for the repression of Popery; but he stood at the fire afterwards in the House of Lords, for a great while, warming his back and laughing with his friends. I was in the gallery and saw it myself. Laughter is a very good thing, but a seemly gravity is no less good. As might be expected of curs, they barked all the louder when there was no one to stand up to them; and within a week, after numerous insulting proposals made to honour that horde of lying informers that had done so much mischief already, and of preferring such men as Dr. Tonge to high positions in the Church, once more that Exclusion Bill of theirs came forward.

The Commons passed it, as might be expected, since my Lord Shaftesbury had packed that House with his own nominees.

I was in Whitehall on the night that it was debated in the Lords--four days later--and up to ten o'clock His Majesty had not returned from the House; for he was present at that debate--a very unusual thing with him. I went up and down for a little while outside His Majesty's lodgings; and about half-past ten I saw Mr. Chiffinch coming.

"His Majesty is not back yet," he said; and presently he proposed that we should

go to the House ourselves.

* * * * *

From the little gallery whither he conducted me, I had a very good view of the House, and, yet more, of one of the strangest sights ever seen there.

Upon the carpet that was laid by the fire, for it was a cold night, stood His Majesty himself with a circle of friends about him. Now and again there came up to him one of the Peers for whom he had sent; he talked to him a few minutes; and then let him go; for he was doing nothing else than solicit each of them for his vote.

The cry was raised presently to clear the House; and we went away; for their Lordships were to record their votes; and we had not stood half an hour in the court outside, before there came a great cheering and shouting; followed hard by a great booing from the crowds that stood packed outside. My Lords had thrown out the Exclusion Bill by above two-thirds of their number--which was ninety-three. Presently His Majesty came out by his private way, laughing and jesting aloud with two or three others.

It was to be expected that the country-party would make some retort to this; and what that retort was I heard a few days later, from a couple of gentlemen who came into the parlour at the Covent Garden tavern where I was taking my supper. They came in very eagerly, talking together, and when they had sat down, one of them turned to me.

"You have heard the news, sir?"

"No, sir. What news?"

"My Lord Stafford is to be tried for his life."

I did not know what political complexion these two were of; so I looked wise and inquired how that was known.

"A clerk that is in the House of Lords told me, sir. I have always found his information to be correct."

This was all very well for the clerk's friend, thought I; but not enough for me; and so soon as I had finished my supper and bidden them good-night I was off to Mr. Chiffinch.

"Why yes," he said. "It is like to be true enough. I had heard talk of it, but no more. It is he whom they have chosen as the weakest of the Five in the Tower; and if they can prevail against him they will proceed against the rest, I suppose. I wonder who the informers will be."


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