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The Prime Minister

by Anthony Trollope



The first months of the session went on very much as the last session had gone. The ministry did nothing brilliant. As far as the outer world could see, they seemed to be firm enough. There was no opposing party in the House strong enough to get a vote against them on any subject. Outsiders, who only studied politics in the columns of their newspapers, imagined the Coalition to be very strong. But they who were inside, members themselves, and the club quidnuncs who were always rubbing their shoulders against members, knew better. The opposition to the Coalition was within the Coalition itself. Sir Orlando Drought had not been allowed to build his four ships, and was consequently eager in his fears that the country would be invaded by the combined forces of Germany and France, that India would be sold by those powers to Russia, that Canada would be annexed to the States, that a great independent Roman Catholic hierarchy would be established in Ireland, and that Malta and Gibraltar would be taken away from us; - all of which evils would be averted by the building of four big ships. A wet blanket of so terrible a size was in itself pernicious to the Cabinet, and heartrending to the poor Duke. But Sir Orlando could do worse even than this. As he was not to build his four ships, neither should Mr Monk be allowed to readjust the country suffrage. When the skeleton of Mr Monk's scheme was discussed in the Cabinet, Sir Orlando would not agree to it. The gentlemen, he said, who had joined the present Government with him, would never consent to a measure which would be so utterly destructive of the county's interest. If Mr Monk insisted on his measure in its proposed form, he must, with very great regret, place his resignation in the Duke's hands, and he believed that his friends would find themselves compelled to follow the same course. Then our Duke consulted the old Duke. The old Duke's advice was the same as ever. The Queen's Government was the main object. The present ministry enjoyed the support of the country, and he considered it the duty of the First Lord of the Treasury to remain at his post. The country was in no hurry, and the question of suffrages in the counties might still be delayed. Then he added a little counsel which might be called quite private, as it was certainly intended for no other ears than those of his younger friend. 'Give Sir Orlando rope enough and he'll hang himself. His own party are becoming tired of him. If you quarrel with him this session, Drummond, and Ramsden, and Beeswax, would go out with him, and the Government would be broken up; but next session you may get rid of him safely.'

'I wish it were broken up,' said the Prime Minister.

'You have your duty to do by the country and the Queen, and you mustn't regard your own wishes. Next session, let Monk be ready with his bill again, - the same measure exactly. Let Sir Orlando resign then if he will. Should he do so I doubt whether anyone would go with him. Drummond does not like him much better than do you and I do.' The poor Prime Minister was forced to obey. The old Duke was his only trusted counsellor, and he found himself constrained by his conscience to do as that counsellor counselled him. When, however, Sir Orlando, in his place as Leader of the House, in answer to some question from a hot and disappointed Radical, averred that the whole of Her Majesty's Government had been quite in unison on this question of the country's suffrage, he was hardly able to restrain himself. 'If there be a difference of opinion they must be kept in the background,' said the Duke of St Bungay. 'Nothing can justify a direct falsehood,' said the Duke of Omnium. Thus it came to pass that the only real measure which the Government had in hand was one by which Phineas Finn hoped so to increase the power of Irish municipalities as to make the Home Rulers believe that a certain amount of Home Rule was being conceded to them. It was not a great measure, and poor Phineas Finn hardly believed in it. And thus the Duke's ministry came to be called the Faineants.

But the Duchess, though she had been much snubbed, still persevered. Now and again she would declare herself to be brokenhearted, and would say that things might go their own way, that she would send in her resignation, that she would retire into private life, and milk cows, that she would shake hands with no more parliamentary cads and "cadesses", - a word which her Grace condescended to coin for her own use, that she would spend the next three years in travelling about the world; and lastly, that, let there come whatever of it whatever might, Sir Orlando Drought should never again be invited into any house of which she was the mistress. This last threat, which was perhaps the most indiscreet of them all, she absolutely made good - thereby adding very greatly to her husband's difficulties.

But by the middle of June the parties at the house in Carlton Terrace were as frequent and as large as ever. Indeed it was all party with her. The Duchess possessed a pretty little villa down at Richmond, on the river, called The Horns, and gave parties there when there were none in London. She had picnics, and flower parties, and tea parties, and afternoons, and evenings, on the lawn, - till half London was always on its way to Richmond or back again. How she worked! And yet from day to day she swore that the world was ungrateful. Everybody went. She was so far successful that nobody thought of despising her parties. It was quite the thing to go to the Duchess's, whether at Richmond or in London. But people abused her and laughed at her. They said that she intrigued to get political support for her husband,-and worse than that, they said that she failed. She did not fail altogether. The world was not taken captive as she had intended. Young members of Parliament did not become hotly enthusiastic in support of her and her husband as she had hoped that they would do. She had not become an institution of granite, as her dreams had fondly told her might be possible, - for there had been moments in which she had almost thought that she could rule England by giving dinner and supper parties, by ices and champagne. But in a dull, phlegmatic way, they who ate the ices and drank the champagne were true to her. There was a feeling abroad that 'Glencora' was a 'good sort of fellow' and ought to be supported. And when the ridicule became too strong, or the abuse too sharp, men would take up the cudgels for her, and fight her battles; - a little too openly, perhaps, as they would do it under her eyes, and in her hearing, and would tell her what they had done, mistaking on such occasions her good humour for sympathy. There was just enough success to prevent that abandonment of her project which she so often threatened, but not enough to make her triumphant. She was too clever not to see that she was ridiculed. She knew that men called her Glencora among themselves. She was herself quite alive to the fact that she herself was wanting in dignity, and that with all the means at her disposal, with all her courage and all her talents, she did not quite play the part of the really great lady. But she did not fail to tell herself that labour continued would at last be successful, and she was strong to bear the buffets of the illnatured. She did not think that she brought first-class materials to her work, but she believed, - a belief so erroneous as, alas, it is common, - that first-rate results might be achieved by second-rate means.

'We had such a battle about your Grace last night,' Captain Gunner said to her.

'And were you my knight?'

'Indeed I was. I never heard such nonsense.'

'What were they saying?'

'Oh, the old story; - that you were like Martha, busying yourself about many things.'

'Why shouldn't I busy myself about many things? It is a pity, Captain Gunner, that some of you men have not something to busy yourselves about.' All this was unpleasant. She could on such an occasion make up her mind to drop any Captain Gunner who had ventured to take too much upon himself: but she felt that in the efforts she had made after popularity, she had submitted herself to unpleasant familiarities; - and though persistent in her course, she was still angry about herself.

When she had begun her campaign as the Prime Minister's wife, one of her difficulties had been with regard to money. An abnormal expenditure became necessary, for which her husband's express sanction must be obtained, and steps taken in which his personal assistance would be necessary; - but this had been done, and there was now no further impediment in that direction. It seemed to be understood that she was to spend what money she pleased. There had been various contests between them, but in every contest she had gained something. He had been majestically indignant with her in reference to the candidature at Silverbridge, - but, as is usual with many of us, had been unable to maintain his anger about two things at the same time. Or, rather, in the majesty of his anger about her interference, he had disdained to descend to the smaller faults of her extravagance. He had seemed to concede everything else to her, on condition that he should be allowed to be imperious in reference to the borough. In that matter she had given way, never having opened her mouth about it after that one unfortunate word to Mr Sprugeon. But, having done so, she was entitled to squander her thousands without remorse, - and she squandered them. 'It is your five-and-twenty thousand pounds, my dear,' she once said to Mrs Finn, who often took upon herself to question the prudence of all this expenditure. This referred to a certain sum of money which had been left by the old Duke to Madame Goesler, as she was then called, - a legacy which that lady had repudiated. The money had, in truth, been given away to a relation of the Duke's by the joint consent of the lady and the Duke himself, but the Duchess was pleased to refer to it occasionally as a still existing property.

'My five-and-twenty thousand pounds, as you call it, would not go very far.'

'What's the use of money if you don't spend it? The Duke would go on collecting it and buying more property, - which always means more trouble, - not because he is avaricious, but because for the time that comes easier than spending. Supposing he had married a woman without a shilling, he would still have been a rich man. As it is, my property was more even than his own. If we can do any good by spending the money, why shouldn't it be spent?'

'If you can do any good!'

'It all comes round to that. It isn't because I like always to live in a windmill! I have come to hate it. At this moment I would give worlds to be down at Matching with no one but the children, and to go about in a straw hat and muslin gown. I have a fancy that I could sit under a tree and read a sermon, and think it the sweetest recreation. But I've made the attempt to do all this, and it so mean to fail!'

'But where is to be the end of it?'

'There shall be no end as long as he is Prime Minister. He is the first man in England. Some people would say the first in Europe - or in the world. A Prince should entertain like a Prince.'

'He need not be always entertaining.'

'Hospitality should run from a man with his wealth, and his position, like water from a fountain. As his hand is known to be full, so it should be known to be open. When the delight of his friends is in question, he should know nothing of cost. Pearls should drop from him as from a fairy. But I don't think you understand me.'

'Not when the pearls are to be picked up by Captain Gunners, Lady Glen.'

'I can't make the men any better, - nor yet the women. They are poor mean creatures. The world is made up of such. I don't know that Captain Gunner is worse than Sir Orlando Drought or Sir Timothy Beeswax. People seen by the mind are exactly different to things seen by the eye. They grow smaller and smaller as you come nearer down to them, whereas things become bigger. I remember when I used to think that members of the Cabinet were almost gods, and now they seem to be no bigger than shoe-blacks,only less picturesque. He told me the other day of the time when he gave up going into power for the sake of taking me abroad. Ah! me; how much was happening then, - and how much has happened since that! We didn't know you then.'

'He has been a good husband to you.'

'And I have been a good wife to him! I have never had him for an hour out of my heart since that, or ever for a moment forgotten his interest. I can't live with him because he shuts himself up reading blue-books, and is always at his office or in the House; - but I would if I could. Am I not doing it all for him? You don't think that the Captain Gunnners are particularly pleasant to me! Think of your life and of mine. You have had lovers.'

'One in my life, - when I was entitled to have one.'

'Well; I am the Duchess of Omnium, and I am the wife of the Prime Minister, and I had a larger property of my own than any other young woman that ever was born; and I am myself too, - Glencora M'Cluskie that was, and I've made for myself a character that I'm not ashamed of. But I'd be the curate's wife tomorrow, and make puddings, if I could only have my own husband and my own children with me. What's the use of it all? I like you better than anybody else, but you do nothing but scold me.' Still the parties went on, and the Duchess laboured hard among her guests, and wore her jewels, and stood on her feet all the night, night after night, being civil to one person, bright to a second, confidential to a third, and sarcastic to an unfortunate fourth; - and in the morning she would work hard with her lists, seeing who had come to her and who had stayed away, and arranging who should be asked and who should be omitted.

In the meantime the Duke altogether avoided those things. At first he had been content to show himself, and escape as soon as possible; - but now he was never seen at all in his own house, except at certain heavy dinners. To Richmond he never went at all, and in his own house in town very rarely ever passed through the door that led into the reception rooms. He had not time for ordinary society. So said the Duchess. And many, perhaps the majority of those who frequented the house, really believed that his official duties were too onerous to leave him time for conversation. But in truth the hours were heavily with him as he sat alone in his study, sighing for some sweet parliamentary task, and regretting the days in which he was privileged to sit in the House of Commons till two o'clock in the morning, in the hope that he might get a clause or two passed in his bill for decimal coinage.

It was at The Horns at an afternoon party, given there in the gardens by the Duchess, early in July, that Arthur Fletcher first saw Emily after her marriage, and Lopez after the occurrence at Silverbridge. As it happened he came out upon the lawn after them, and found them speaking to the Duchess as they passed on. She had put herself out of her way to be civil to Mr and Mrs Lopez, feeling that she had in some degree injured him in reference to the election, and had therefore invited both him and his wife on more than one occasion. Arthur Fletcher was there as a young man well known in the world and a supporter of the Duke's government. The Duchess had taken up Arthur Fletcher, - as she was wont to take up new men, and had personally become tired of Lopez. Of course she had heard of the election, and had been told that Lopez had behaved badly. Of Mr Lopez she did not know enough to care anything, one way or the other; - but she still encouraged him because she had caused him disappointment. She had now detained them a minute on the terrace before the windows while she said a word, and Arthur Fletcher became one of the little party before he knew whom he was meeting. 'I am delighted,' she said, 'that you two Silverbridge heroes should meet together here as friends.' It was almost incumbent on her to say something, though it would have been better for her not to have alluded to their heroism. Mrs Lopez put out her hand, and Arthur Fletcher of course took it. Then the two men bowed slightly to each other, raising their hats. Arthur paused a moment with them, as they passed on from the Duchess, thinking that he would say something in a friendly tone. But he was silenced by the frown on the husband's face, and was almost constrained to go away without a word. It was very difficult for him even to be silent, as her greeting had been kind. But yet it was impossible for him to ignore the displeasure displayed in the man's countenance. So he touched his hat, and asking her to remember him affectionately to her father, turned off the path and went away.

'Why did you shake hands with that man?' said Lopez. It was the first time since their marriage that his voice had been that of an angry man and an offended husband.

'Why not, Ferdinand? He and I are very old friends, and we have not quarrelled.'

'You must take up your husband's friendships and your husband's quarrels. Did I not tell you that he had insulted you?'

'He never insulted me.'

'Emily, you must allow me to be the judge of that. He insulted you, and then he behaved like a poltroon down at Silverbridge, and I will not have you know him anymore. When I say so I suppose that will be enough.' He waited for a reply, but she said nothing. 'I ask you to tell me that you will obey me in this.'

'Of course he will not come to my house, nor should I think of going to his, if you disapproved.'

'Going to his house! He's unmarried.'

'Supposing he had a wife! Ferdinand, perhaps it will be better that you and I should not talk about him.'

'By G-,' said Lopez, 'there shall be no subject on which I will afraid to talk to my own wife. I insist upon your assuring me that you will never speak to him again.'

He had taken her along one of the upper walks because it was desolate, and he could there speak to her, as he thought, without being heard. She had, almost unconsciously, made a faint attempt to lead him down the lawn, no doubt feeling averse to private conversations at the moment; but he had persevered, and had resented the little effort. The idea in his mind that she was unwilling to renounce the man, anxious to escape his order for such renunciation, added fuel to his jealousy. It was not enough for him that she had rejected this man and had accepted him. The man had been her lover, and she should be made to denounce the man. It might be necessary for him to control his feelings before old Wharton; - but he knew enough of his wife to be sure that would not speak evil of him or betray him to her father. Her loyalty to him, which he could understand though not appreciate, enabled him to be a tyrant to her. So now he repeated his order to her, pausing in the path, with a voice unintentionally loud, and frowning down upon her as he spoke. 'You must tell me, Emily, that you will never speak to him again.'

She was silent, looking up into his face, not with tremulous eyes, but with infinite woe written in them, had he been able to read the writing. She knew that he was disgracing himself, and yet he was the man whom she loved! 'If you bid me not to speak to him, I will not, - but he must know the reason why.'

'He shall know nothing from you. You do not mean to say that you would write to him.'

'Papa must tell him.'

'I will not have it so. In this matter, Emily, I will be the master, - as it is fit that I should be. I will not have you talk to your father about Mr Fletcher.'

'Why not, Ferdinand?'

'Because I have so decided. He is an old family friend. I can understand that, and do not therefore wish to interfere between him and your father. But he has taken upon himself to write an insolent letter to you as my wife, and to interfere in my affairs. As to what should be done between you and him, I must be the judge and not your father.'

'And I must not speak to papa about it?'


'Ferdinand, you make too little, I think, of the associations and affections of a whole life.'

'I will hear nothing about affection,' he said angrily.

'You cannot mean that, - that - you doubt me?'

'Certainly not. I think too much of myself and too little of him.' It did not occur to him to tell her that he thought too well of her for that. 'But the man who has offended me must be held to have offended you also.'

'You might say the same if it were my father.'

He paused at this, but only for a moment. 'Certainly I might. It is not probable, but no doubt I might do so. If your father were to quarrel with me, you would not, I suppose, hesitate between us?'

'Nothing on earth could divide me from you.'

'Nor me from you. In this very matter I am only taking your part, if you did but know it.' They had now passed on, and had met other persons, having made their way through a little shrubbery on to a further lawn; and she had hoped, as they were surrounded by people, that he would allow the matter to drop. She had been unable as yet to make up her mind as to what she should say if he pressed her hard. But, if it could be passed by, - if nothing more were demanded from her, - she would endeavour to forget it all, saying to herself that it had come from sudden passion. But he was too resolute for such a termination as that, and too keenly alive to the expediency of making her thoroughly subject to him. So he turned her round and took her back through the shrubbery, and in the middle of it stopped her again and renewed his demand.

'Promise me that you will not speak again to Mr Fletcher.'

'Then I must tell papa.'

'No; - you shall tell him nothing.'

'Ferdinand, if you exact a promise from me that I will not speak to Mr Fletcher, or bow to him should circumstances bring us together as they did just now, I must explain to my father why I have done so.'

'You will wilfully disobey me?'

'In that I must.' He glared at her, almost as though he were going to strike her, but she bore his look without flinching. 'I have left all my old friends, Ferdinand, and have given my heart and soul to you. No woman did so with a truer love or more devoted intention of doing her duty to her husband. Your affairs shall be my affairs.'

'Well; yes; rather.'

She was endeavouring to assure him of her truth, but could understand the sneer which was conveyed in his acknowledgment. 'But you cannot, nor can I for your sake, abolish the things which have been.'

'I wish you to abolish nothing that has been. I speak of the future.'

'Between our family and that of Mr Fletcher there has been old friendship which is still very dear to my father, - the memory of which is still very dear to me. At your request I am willing to put all that aside from me. There is no reason why I should ever see any of the Fletchers again. Our lives will be apart. Should we meet our greeting would be very slight. The separation can be effected without words. But if you demand an absolute promise,-I must tell my father.'

'We will go home at once,' he said instantly, and aloud. And home they went, back to London, without exchanging a word on the journey. He was absolutely black with rage, and she was content to remain silent. The promise was not given, nor indeed, was it exacted under the conditions which the wife had imposed upon it. He was most desirous to make her subject to his will in all things, and quite prepared to exercise tyranny over her to any extent, - so that her father should know nothing of it. He could not afford to quarrel with Mr Wharton. 'You had better go to bed,' he said, when he got her back to town; - and she went, if not to bed, at any rate into her own room.

Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 38 SIR ORLANDO RETIRES.

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