The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 78

The Duke Returns to Office

That farewell took place on the Friday morning. Tregear as he walked out of the Square knew now that he had been the cause of a great shipwreck. At first when that passionate love had been declared — he could hardly remember whether with the fullest passion by him or by her — he had been as a god walking upon air. That she who seemed to be so much above him should have owned that she was all his own seemed then to be world enough for him. For a few weeks he lived a hero to himself, and was able to tell himself that for him, the glory of a passion was sufficient. In those halcyon moments no common human care is allowed to intrude itself. To one who has thus entered in upon the heroism of romance his own daily work, his dinners, clothes, income, father and mother, sisters and brothers, his own street and house are nothing. Hunting, shooting, rowing, Alpine-climbing, even speeches in Parliament — if they perchance have been attained to — all become leather or prunella. The heavens have been opened to him and he walks among them like a god. So it had been with Tregear. Then had come the second phase of his passion — which is not uncommon young men who soar high in their first assaults. He was told that it would not do; and was not so told by the hard-pressed parent, but by the young lady herself. And she had spoken so reasonably, that he had yielded, and had walked away with the sudden feeling of a vile return to his own mean belongings, to his lodgings, and his income, which not a few ambitious young men have experienced. But she had convinced him. Then had come the journey to Italy, and the reader knows all the rest. He certainly had not derogated in transferring his affections — but it may be doubted whether in his second love he had walked among the stars as in the first. A man can hardly mount twice among the stars. But he had been as eager — and as true. And he had succeeded, without any flaw on his conscience. It had been agreed, when that first disruption took place, that he and Mabel should be friends; and, as to friends, he had told her of his hopes. When first she had mingled something of sarcasm in her congratulations, though it had annoyed him, it had hardly made him unhappy. When she called him Romeo and spoke of herself as Rosaline, he took her remark as indicating some petulance rather than an enduring love. That had been womanly and he could forgive it. He had his other great and solid happiness to support him. Then he had believed that she would soon marry, if not Silverbridge, then some other fitting young nobleman, and that all would be well. But now things were very far from well. The storm which was now howling round her afflicted her much.

Perhaps the bitterest feeling of all was that her love should have been so much stronger, so much more enduring than his own. He could not but remember how in his first agony he had blamed her because she had declared that they should be severed. He had then told himself that such severing would be to him impossible, and that her nature been as high as his, it would have been as impossible to her. Which nature must he now regard as the higher? She had done her best to rid herself of the load of her passion and had failed. But he had freed himself with convenient haste. All that he had said as the manliness of conquering grief had been wise enough. But still he could not quit himself of some feeling of disgrace in that he had changed and she had not. He tried to comfort himself with reflecting that Mary was all his own — that in the matter he had been victorious and happy; — but for an hour or two he thought more of Mabel than Mary.

When the time came in which he could employ himself he called for Silverbridge, and they walked together across the park to Westminster. Silverbridge was gay and full of eagerness as to the coming ministerial statement, but Tregear could not turn his mind from the work of the morning. ‘I don’t seem to care very much about it,’ he said at last.

‘I do care very much,’ said Silverbridge.

‘What difference will it make?’

‘I breakfasted with the governor this morning, and I have not seen him in such good spirits since — well for a long time.’ The date to which Silverbridge would have referred, had he not checked himself was that of the evening on which it had been agreed between him and his father that Mabel Grex should be promoted to the seat of the highest honour in the house of Palliser — but that was a matter which must henceforward be buried in silence. ‘He did not say much, but I feel perfectly sure that he and Mr Monk have arranged a new government.’

‘I don’t see any matter for joy in that to Conservatives like you and me.’

‘He is my father — and as he is going to be your father-in-law I should have thought that you would have been pleased.’

‘Oh, yes; — if he likes it. But I have heard so often of the crushing cares of office, and I had thought that of all living men he had been the most crushed by them.’

All that had to be done in the House of Commons on that afternoon was finished before five o’clock. By half-past five the House, and all the purlieus of the House, were deserted. And yet at four, immediately after prayers, there had been such a crowd that members had been unable to find seats! Tregear and Silverbridge having been early succeeded, but those who had been less careful were obliged to listen as best they could in the galleries. The stretching out of necks and the holding of hands behind the ears did not last long. Sir Timothy had not much to say, but what he did say was spoken with dignity which seemed to anticipate future exaltation rather than present downfall. There had arisen a question in regard to revenue — he need hardly tell them that it was the question in reference to brewers’ licences which the honourable gentlemen opposite had alluded on the previous day — as to which unfortunately he was not in accord with his noble friend the Prime Minister. Under the circumstances it was hardly possible that they should at once proceed to business, and he therefore moved that the House should stand adjourned till Tuesday next. That was the whole statement.

Not very long afterwards the Prime Minister made another statement in the House of Lords. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer had very suddenly resigned and had thereby broken up the Ministry, he had found himself compelled to place his resignation in the hands of her Majesty. Then that House was also adjourned. On that afternoon all the clubs were alive with admiration at the great cleverness played by Sir Timothy in this transaction. It was not only that he had succeeded in breaking up the Ministry, and that he had done this without incurring violent disgrace; but he had done it as to throw all the reproach upon his late unfortunate colleague. It was thus that Mr Lupton explained it. Sir Timothy had been at the pains to ascertain on what matters connected with the revenue, Lord Drummond — or Lord Drummond’s closest advisers — had opinions of their own, opinions strong enough not to be abandoned, and having discovered that, he also discovered arguments on which to found an exactly opposite opinion. But as the Revenue had been entrusted specially to his unworthy hands, he was entitled to his own opinion in the matter. ‘The majority of the House,’ said Mr Lupton, ‘and the entire public, will no doubt give him credit for self-abnegation.’

All this happened on the Friday. During the Saturday it was considered probable that the Cabinet would come to terms with itself, and that internal wounds would be healed. The general opinion was that Lord Drummond would give way. But on the Sunday morning it was understood that Lord Drummond would not yield. It was reported that Lord Drummond was willing to purchase his separation from Sir Timothy even at the expense of his office. That Sir Timothy should give way seemed to be impossible. Had he done so it would have been impossible for him to recover the respect of the House. Then it was rumoured that two or three others had gone with Sir Timothy. And on Monday morning it was proclaimed that the Prime Minister was not in a position to withdraw his resignation. On the Tuesday the House met and Mr Monk announced, still from Opposition benches, that he had that morning been with the Queen. Then there was another adjournment, and all the Liberals knew that the gates of Paradise were again about to be opened to them.

This is only interesting to us as affecting the happiness and character of the Duke. He had consented to assist Mr Monk in forming a government, and to take office under Mr Monk’s leadership. He had had many contests with himself before he could bring himself to this submission. He knew that if anything could once again make him contented it would be work; he knew that if he could serve his country it was his duty to serve it; and he knew also that it was only by the adhesion of such men as himself that the tradition of his party could be maintained. But he had been Prime Minister — and he was sure he could never be Prime Minister again. There are in all matters certain little, almost hidden, signs, by which we can measure within our own bosoms the extent of our successes and our failures. Our Duke’s friends had told him that his Ministry had been serviceable to the country; but no one had ever suggested to him that he would again be asked to fill the place which he had filled. He had stopped a gap. He would beforehand have declared himself willing to serve his country even in this way; but having done so — having done that and no more than that — he felt that he had failed. He had in soreness declared to himself that he would never more take office. He had much to do to overcome this promise to himself; — but when he had brought himself to submit he was certainly a happier man.

There was no going to see the Queen. That on the present occasion was done simply by Mr Monk. But on the Wednesday morning his name appeared in the list of the new Cabinet as President of the Council. He was perhaps a little fidgety, a little too anxious to employ himself and to be employed, a little too desirous of immediate work; — but still he was happy and gracious to all those around him. ‘I suppose you like that particular office,’ Silverbridge said to him.

‘Well; yes; — not best of all, you know,’ and he smiled as he made this admission.

‘You mean Prime Minister.’

‘No, indeed I don’t. I am inclined to think that the Premier should always sit in your House. No, Silverbridge, if I could have my way — which is of course impossible, for I cannot put off my honours — I would return to my old place. I would return to the Exchequer where the work is hard and certain, where a man can do, or at any rate attempt to do, some special thing. A man there if he stick to that and does not travel beyond it, need not be popular, need not be a partisan, need not be eloquent, need not be a courtier. He should understand his profession, as should a lawyer or doctor. If he does that thoroughly he can serve his country without recourse to that parliamentary strategy for which I know that I am unfit.’

‘You can’t do that in the House of Lords, sir.’

‘No; no. I wish the title could have passed over my head, Silverbridge, and gone to you at once. I think we both should have been suited better. But there are things which one should not consider. Even in this place I may perhaps do something. Shall you attack us very bitterly?’

‘I am the only man who does not mean to change.’

‘How so?’

‘I shall stay where I am — on the Government side of the House.’

‘Are you clear about that, my boy?’

‘Quite clear.’

‘Such changes should not be made without very much consideration.’

‘I have already written to them at Silverbridge and have had three or four answers. Mr De Boung says that the borough is more than grateful. Mr Sprout regrets it much, and suggests a few months’ consideration. Mr Sprugeon seems to think it does not much signify.’

‘That is hardly complimentary.’

‘No; — not to me. But he is very civil to the family. As long as a Palliser represents the borough, Mr Sprugeon thinks that it does not matter on which side he may sit. I have had my little vagary, and I don’t think that I shall change again.’

‘I suppose that it is your republican bride-elect that has done that,’ said the Duke laughing.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43