The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 11

Carlton Terrace.

Certainly the thing was done very well by Lady Glen — as many in the political world persisted in calling her even in these days. She had not as yet quite carried out her plan — the doing of which would have required her to reconcile her husband to some excessive abnormal expenditure, and to have obtained from him a deliberate sanction for appropriation and probably sale of property. She never could find the proper moment for doing this, having with all her courage — low down in some corner of her heart — a wholesome fear of a certain quiet power which her husband possessed. She could not bring herself to make her proposition; — but she almost acted as though it had been made and approved. Her house was always gorgeous with flowers. Of course there would be the bill; — and he, when he saw the exotics, and the whole place turned into a bower of every fresh blooming floral glories, must know that there would be the bill. And when he found that there was an archducal dinner-party every week and an almost imperial reception twice a week; that at these receptions a banquet was always provided; when he was asked to whether she might buy a magnificent pair of bay carriage-horses, as to which she assured him that nothing so lovely had ever as yet been seen stepping in the streets of London — of course he must know that the bill would come. It was better, perhaps, to do it in this way, than to make any direct proposition. And then, early in June, she spoke to him as the guests to be invited to Gatherum Castle in August. ‘Do you want to go to Gatherum in August?’ he asked in surprise. For she hated the place, and had hardly been content to spend ten days there every year at Christmas.

‘I think it should be done,’ she said solemnly. ‘One cannot quite consider just now what one likes oneself.’

‘Why not?’

‘You would hardly go to a small place like Matching in your present position. There are so many people whom you should entertain! You would probably have two or three of the foreign ministers down for a time.’

‘We always used to find plenty of room at Matching.’

‘But you did not always use to be Prime Minister. It is only for such a time as this that such a house as Gatherum is serviceable.’

He was silent for a moment, thinking about it, and then gave way without another word. She was probably right. There was the huge pile of magnificent buildings; and somebody, at any rate, had thought that it behoved a Duke of Omnium to live in such a palace. It ought to be done at any time, it ought to be done now. In that his wife had been right. ‘Very well. Let us go there.’

‘I’ll manage it all,’ said the Duchess, ‘I and Locock.’ Locock was the house-steward.

‘I remember once,’ said the Duke, and he smiled as he spoke with a peculiarly sweet expression, which would at times come across his generally inexpressive face — ‘I remember once that some First Minister of the Crown gave evidence as the amount of his salary, saying that his place entailed upon him expenses higher than his stipend would defray. I begin to think that my experience will be the same.’

‘Does that fret you?’

‘No, Cora; — it certainly does not fret me, or I should not allow it. But I think there should be a limit. No man is ever rich enough to squander.’

Though they were to squander her fortune — the money which she had brought — for the next ten years at a much greater rate than she contemplated, they might do so without touching the Palliser property. Of that she was quite sure. And the squandering was to be all for his glory — so that he might retain his position as a popular Prime Minister. For an instant it occurred to her that she would tell him all this. But she checked herself, and the idea of what she had been about to say brought the blood into her face. Never yet had she in talking to him alluded to her own wealth.

‘Of course we are spending money,’ she said. ‘If you give me a hint to hold my hand, I will hold it.’

He had looked at her; and read it all in her face. ‘God knows,’ he said, ‘you’ve a right to do it if it pleases you.’

‘For your sake!’ Then he stooped down and kissed her twice, and left her to arrange her parties as she pleased. After that she congratulated herself that she had not made the direct proposition, knowing that she might now do pretty much as she pleased.

Then there were solemn cabinets held, at which she presided, and Mrs Finn and Locock assisted. At other cabinets it is supposed that, let a leader be ever so autocratic by disposition and superior by intelligence, still he must not unfrequently yield to the opinion of his colleagues. But in this cabinet the Duchess always had her own way, though she was very persistent in asking for counsel. Locock was frightened about the money. Hitherto money had come without a word, out of the common, spoken to the Duke. The Duke had always signed certain cheques, but they had been normal cheques, and the money in its natural course had flown in to meet them; — but now he must be asked to sign abnormal cheques. That, indeed, had already been done; but still the money had been there. A large balance, such as had always stood to his credit, would stand a bigger racket than had yet been made. But Locock was sure that the balance ought not to be much further reduced — and that steps must be taken. Something must be sold! The idea of selling anything was dreadful to the mind of Locock! Or else money must be borrowed! Now the management of the Palliser property had always been conducted on principles antagonistic to borrowing. ‘But his Grace has never spent his income,’ said the Duchess. That was true. But the money, as it showed a tendency to heap itself up, had been used for the purchase of other bits of property, or for the amelioration of the estates generally. ‘You don’t mean to say that we can’t get money if we want it!’ Locock was profuse in his assurance that any amount of money could be obtained — only that something had to be done. ‘Then let something be done,’ said the Duchess, going on with her general plans. ‘Many people are rich,’ said the Duchess afterwards to her friend, ‘and some people are very rich indeed; but nobody seems to be rich enough to have ready money to do just what he wishes. It all goes into a grand sum total, which is never to be touched without a feeling of sacrifice. I suppose you have always enough for anything.’ It was well known that the present Mrs Finn, as Madame Goesler, had been a wealthy woman.

‘Indeed, no — very far from that. I haven’t a shilling.’

‘What has happened?’ asked the Duchess, pretending to be frightened.

‘You forget that I’ve got a husband of my own, and that he has to be consulted.’

‘That must be nonsense. But don’t you think women are fools to marry when they’ve got anything of their own, and could be their own mistresses? I couldn’t have been. I was made to marry before I was old enough to assert myself.’

‘And how well they did for you!’

‘Pas si mal. — He’s Prime Minister, which is a great thing, and I begin to find myself filled to the full with political ambition. I feel myself to be a Lady Macbeth, prepared for the murder of any Duncan or any Daubney who may stand in my lord’s way. In the mean time, like Lady Macbeth herself, we must attend to the banquetings. Her lord appeared and misbehaved himself; my lord won’t show himself at all — which I think is worse.’

Our old friend Phineas Finn, who had now reached a higher place in politics than even his political dreams had assigned to him, though he was a Member of Parliament, was much away from London in these days. New brooms sweep clean; and official new brooms, I think, sweep cleaner than any other. Who has not watched at the commencement of a Ministry some Secretary, some Lord, or some Commissioner, who intends by fresh Herculean labours to cleanse the Augean stables just committed to his care? Who does not know the gentleman at the Home Office, who means to reform the police and put an end to malefactors; or the new Minister at the Board of Works, who is to make London beautiful as by a magician’s stroke — or, above all, the new First Lord, who is resolved that he will really build a fleet, purge the dockyards, and save us half a million a year at the same time? Phineas Finn was bent on unriddling the Irish sphinx. Surely something might be done to prove to his susceptible countrymen that at the present moment no curse could be laid upon them so heavy as that of having to rule themselves apart from England; and he thought that this might be easier, as he became from day to day more thoroughly convinced that those Home Rulers who were all around him in the House were altogether of the same opinion. Had some inscrutable decree of fate ordained and made it certain — with a certainty not to be disturbed — that no candidate would be returned to Parliament who would not assert the earth to be triangular, there would rise immediately a clamorous assertion of triangularity among political aspirants. The test would be innocent. Candidates have swallowed, and daily do swallow, many a worse one. As might be this doctrine of a great triangle, so is the doctrine of Home Rule. Why is a gentleman of property to be kept out in the cold by some O’Mullins because he will not mutter an unmeaning shibboleth? ‘Triangular? Yes — or lozenge-shaped, if you please; but, gentlemen, I am the man for Tipperary.’ Phineas Finn, having seen, or thought that he had seen, all this, began, from the very first moment of his appointment, to consider painfully within himself whether the genuine services of an honest and patriotic man might compass some remedy for the present ill-boding ferment of the country. What was in it that the Irish really did want; — what that they wanted, and had not got, and which might with propriety be conceded to them? What was it that the English really would refuse to sanction, even though it might not be wanted? He found himself beating about among the rocks as to Catholic education and Papal interference, the passage among which might be made clearer to him in Irish atmosphere than in that of Westminster. There he was away a good deal in these days, travelling backwards and forwards as he might be wanted for any debate. But as his wife did not accompany him on these fitful journeys, she was able to give her time very much to the Duchess.

The Duchess was on the whole very successful with her parties. There were people who complained that she had everybody; that there was no selection whatever as to politics, principles, rank, morals — or even manners. But in such a work as the Duchess has now taken in hand, it was impossible that she should escape censure. They who really knew what was being done were aware that nobody was asked to that house without an idea that his or her presence might be desirable — in however remote a degree. Paragraphs in newspapers go for much, and therefore the writers and editors of such paragraphs were there — sometimes with their wives. Mr Broune, of the “Breakfast Table”, was to be seen there constantly, with his wife Lady Carbury, and poor old Booker of the “Literary Chronicle”. City men can make a budget popular or the reverse, and therefore the Mills Happertons of the day were welcome. Rising barristers might be wanted to become Solicitors-General. The pet Orpheus of the hour, the young tragic actor who was thought to have a real Hamlet within him, the old painter who was sill strong with hope, even the little trilling poet, though he trilled never so faintly, and the somewhat wooden novelist, all had tongues of their own, and certain modes of expression, which might assist or injure the Palliser Coalition — as the Duke’s Ministry was now called.

‘Who is that man? I’ve seen him here before. The Duchess was talking to him ever so long just now.’ The question was asked by Mr Rattler of Mr Roby. About half-an-hour before this time Mr Rattler had essayed to get a few words with the Duchess, beginning with the communication of some small political secret. But the Duchess did not care much for the Rattlers attached to her husband’s Government. They were men whose services could be had for a certain payment — and when paid for were, the Duchess thought, at the Premier’s command without further trouble. Of course they came to the receptions, and were entitled to a smile apiece when they entered. But they were entitled to nothing more, and on this occasion, Rattler had felt himself to be snubbed. It did not occur to him to abuse the Duchess. The Duchess was too necessary for abuse — just at present. But any friend of the Duchess — and favourite for the moment — was of course open to remark.

‘He is a man named Lopez,’ said Roby, ‘a friend of Happerton; — a very clever fellow they say.’

‘Did you ever see him anywhere else?’

‘Well, yes — I have met him at dinner.’

‘He was never in the House. What does he do?’ Rattler was distressed to think that any drone should have made it way into the hive of working bees.

‘Oh; — money, I fancy.’

‘He’s not a partner at Hunky’s, is he?’

‘I fancy not. I think I should have known if he was.’

‘She ought to remember that people make use of coming here,’ said Rattler. She was, of course, the Duchess. ‘It’s not like a private house. And whatever influence outsiders get by coming, so much she loses. Somebody ought to explain that to her.’

‘I don’t think you or I could do that,’ replied Mr Roby.

‘I’ll tell the Duke in a minute,’ said Rattler. Perhaps he thought he could tell the Duke, but we may be allowed to doubt whether his prowess would not have fallen below the necessary pitch when he met the Duke’s eye.

Lopez was there for the third time, about the middle of June, and had certainly contrived to make himself personally known to the Duchess. There had been a deputation from the City to the Prime Minister asking for a subsidized mail, via San Francisco, to Japan. And Lopez, though he had no interest in Japan, had contrived to be one of the number. He had contrived also, as the deputation was departing, to say a word on his own account to the Minister, and had ingratiated himself. The Duke had remembered him, and had suggested that he should have a card. And now he was among the flowers and the greatness, the beauty, the politics, and the fashion of the Duchess’s gatherings for the third time. ‘It is very well done — very well, indeed,’ said Mr Boffin to him. Lopez had been dining with Mr and Mrs Boffin, and had now again encountered his late host and hostess. Mr Boffin was a gentleman who had belonged to the late Ministry, but had somewhat out-Heroded Herod in his Conservatism, so as to have been considered to be unfit for the Coalition. Of course, he was proud of his own staunchness, and a little inclined to criticize the lax principles of men who, for the sake of carrying on her Majesty’s Government, could be Conservatives one day and Liberals the next. He was a labourious, honest man — but hardly of calibre sufficient not to regret his own honesty in such an emergency as the present. It is easy for most of us to keep our hands from picking and stealing when picking and stealing plainly lead to prison diet and prison garments. But when silks and satins come of it, and with the silks and satins general respect, the net result of honesty does not seem to be so secure. Whence will come the reward, and when? On whom the punishment, and where? A man will not, surely, be damned for belonging to a Coalition Ministry? Boffin was a little puzzled as he thought on all this, but in the meantime was very proud of his own constancy.

‘I think it so lovely,’ said Mrs Boffin. ‘You look down through an Elysium of rhododendrons into a Paradise of mirrors. I don’t think there was anything like it in London before.’

‘I don’t know that we ever had anybody at the same time, rich enough to do this kind of thing as it is done now,’ said Boffin, ‘and powerful enough to get such people together. If the country can be ruled by flowers and looking-glasses, of course it is very well.’

‘Flowers and looking-glasses won’t prevent the country being ruled well,’ said Lopez.

‘I’m not so sure of that,’ continued Boffin. ‘We all know what the bread and games came to in Rome.’

‘What did they come to?’ asked Mrs Boffin.

‘To a man burning in Rome, my dear, for his amusement, dressed in a satin petticoat and a wreath of roses.’

‘I don’t think the Duke will dress himself like that,’ said Mrs Boffin.

‘And I don’t think,’ said Lopez, ‘that the graceful expenditure of wealth in a rich man’s house has any tendency to demoralize the people.’

‘The attempt here,’ said Boffin severely, ‘is to demoralize the rulers of the people. I am glad to have come once to see how the thing is done; but as an independent member of the House of Commons I should not wish to be known to frequent the saloon of the Duchess.’ Then Mr Boffin took away Mrs Boffin, much to that lady’s regret.

‘This is fairy land,’ said Lopez to the Duchess, as he left the room.

‘Come and be a fairy then,’ she answered, very graciously. ‘We are always on the wing about this hour on Wednesday night.’ The words contained a general invitation for the season, and were esteemed by Lopez as an indication of great favour. It must be acknowledged of the Duchess that she was prone to make favourites, perhaps without adequate cause; though it must be conceded to her that she rarely altogether threw off from her anyone whom she had once taken to her good graces. It must also be confessed that when she had allowed herself to hate either a man or a woman, she generally hated on to the end. No Paradise could be too charming for her friends; no Pandemonium too frightful for her enemies. In reference to Mr Lopez she would have said, if interrogated, that she had taken the man up in obedience to her husband. But in truth she had liked the look and the voice of the man. Her husband before now had recommended men to her notice and kindness, whom at the first trial she had rejected from her good-will, and whom she had continued to reject ever afterwards, let her husband’s urgency be what it might.

Another old friend, of whom former chronicles were not silent, was at the Duchess’s that night, and there came across Mrs Finn. This was Barrington Erle, a politician of long standing, who was still looked upon by many as a young man, because he had always been known as a young man, and because he had never done anything to compromise his position in that respect. He had not married, or settled himself down in a house of his own, or become subject to gout, or given up being careful about the fitting of his clothes. No doubt the grey hairs were getting the better of the black hairs, both on his head and face, and marks of coming crows’ feet were to be seen if you looked close at him, and he had become careful about his great-coat and umbrella. He was in truth much nearer fifty than forty; — nevertheless he was felt in the House and among Cabinet Ministers and among the wives of members and Cabinet Ministers, to be a young man still. And when he was invited to become Secretary for Ireland it was generally felt that he was too young for the place. He declined it, however, and when he went to the Post-office, the gentlemen there all felt that they had had a boy put over them. Phineas Finn, who had become Secretary for Ireland, was in truth ten years the junior. But Phineas Finn had been twice married, and had gone through other phases of life, such as make a man old. ‘How does Phineas like it?’ Erle asked. Phineas Finn and Barrington Erle had gone through some political struggles together, and had been very intimate.

‘I hope not very much,’ said the lady.

‘Why so? Because he’s away so much?’

No; — not that. I should not grudge his absence if the work satisfied him. But I know him so well. The more he takes to it now — the more sanguine he is as to some special thing to be done — the more bitter will be the disappointment when he is disappointed. For there never really is anything special to be done; — is there, Mr Erle?’

‘I thing there is always a little too much zeal about Finn.’

‘Of course there is. And then with zeal there always goes a thin skin — and unjustifiable expectations, and biting despair, and contempt of others, and all the elements of unhappiness.’

‘That is a sad programme for your husband.’

‘He has recuperative faculties which bring him round at last:— but I really doubt whether he was made for a politician in this country. You remember Lord Brock?’

‘Dear old Brock; — of course I do. How should I not, if you remember him?’

‘Young men are boys at college, rowing in boats, when women have been ever so long out in the world. He was the very model of an English statesman. He loved his country dearly, and wished her to be, as he believed her to be, first among nations. But he had no belief in perpetuating her greatness by any grand improvements. Let things take their way naturally — with a slight direction hither or thither as thing might required. That was his method of ruling. He believed in men rather than measures. As long as he had the loyalty around him, he could be personally happy, and quite confident as to the country. He never broke his heart because he could not carry this or that reform. What would have hurt him would have been to be worsted in personal conflict. But he could always hold his own, and he was always happy. Your man with a thin skin, a vehement ambition, a scrupulous conscience, and a sanguine desire for rapid improvement, is never happy, and seldom a fortunate politician.’

‘Mrs Finn, you understand it all better than anyone else that I ever knew.’

‘I have been watching it a long time, and of course very closely since I have been married.’

‘But you have an eye trained to see it all. What a useful member you would have made in government!’

‘But I should never have had the patience to sit all night upon that bench in the House of Commons. How men can do it! They mustn’t read. They can’t think because of the speaking. It doesn’t do for them to talk. I don’t believe they ever listen. It isn’t in human nature to listen hour after hour to such platitudes. I believe they fall into habit of half-wakeful sleeping, which carries them through the hours; but even that can’t be pleasant. I look upon the Treasury Bench in July as a sort of casual-ward, which we know to be necessary, but is almost too horrid to be contemplated.’

‘Men do get bread and skilly there certainly; but, Mrs Finn, we can go into the library and smoking-room.’

‘Oh, yes; — and a clerk in an office can read the newspapers instead of doing his duty. But there is a certain surveillance exercised, and a certain quantity of work exacted. I have met Lords of the Treasury out at dinner on Mondays and Thursdays, but we all regard them as boys who have shirked out of school. I think upon the whole, Mr Erle, we women have the best of it.’

‘I don’t suppose you will go in for your “rights”.’

‘Not by Act of Parliament, or by platform meeting. I have a great idea of a woman’s rights; but that is the way, I think, to throw them away. What do you think of the Duchess’s evenings?’

‘Lady Glen is in her way as great a woman as you are — perhaps greater, because nothing ever stops her.’

‘Whereas I have scruples.’

‘Her Grace has none. She has feelings and convictions which keep her straight, but no scruples. Look at her now talking to Sir Orlando Drought, a man she both hates and despises. I am sure she is looking forward to some happy time in which the Duke may pitch Sir Orlando overboard, and rule supreme, with me or some other subordinate leading the House of Commons simply as lieutenant. Such a time will never come, but that is her idea. But she is talking to Sir Orlando now as if she were pouring her full confidence into his ear; and Sir Orlando is believing her. Sir Orlando is in a seventh heaven, and she is measuring his credulity inch by inch.’

‘She makes the place very bright.’

‘And is spending an enormous deal of money,’ said Barrington Erle.

‘What does it matter?’

‘Well, no; — if the Duke likes it. I had an idea that the Duke would not like the display of the thing. There he is. Do you see him in the corner with his brother duke. He doesn’t look as if he were happy; does he? No one would think he was the master of everything here. He has got himself hidden almost behind the screen. I’m sure he doesn’t like it.’

‘He tries to like whatever she likes,’ said Mrs Finn.

As her husband was away in Ireland, Mrs Finn was staying in the house in Carlton Gardens. The Duchess at present required so much of her time that this was found to be convenient. When, therefore, the guests on the present occasion had all gone, the Duchess and Mrs Finn were left together. ‘Did you ever see anything so hopeless as he is?’ said the Duchess.

‘Who is hopeless?’

‘Heaven and earth! Plantagenet; — who else? Is there another man in the world would come in his own house, among his own guests, and speak only to one person? And, then, think of it! Popularity is the staff on which alone Ministers can lean in this country with security.’

‘Political but not social security.’

‘You know as well as I do that the two go together. We’ve seen enough of that even in our day. What broke up Mr Gresham’s Ministry? If he had stayed away people might have thought that he was reading blue-books, or calculating coinage, or preparing a speech. That would have been much better. But he comes in and sits for half an hour whispering to another duke! I hate dukes!’

‘He talks to the Duke of St Bungay because there is no one he trusts so much. A few years ago it would have been Mr Mildmay.’

‘My dear,’ said the Duchess angrily, ‘you treat me as though I were a child. Of course I know why he chooses that old man out of all the crowd. I don’t suppose he does from any stupid pride of rank. I know very well what set of ideas govern him. But that isn’t the point. He has to reflect what others think of it, and to endeavour to do what will please them. There was I telling tarradiddles by the yard to that old oaf Sir Orlando Drought, when a confidential word from Plantagenet would have had ten times more effect. And why can’t he speak a word to the people’s wives? They wouldn’t bit him. He has got to say a few words to you sometimes — to whom it doesn’t signify, my dear.’

‘I don’t know about that.’

‘But he never speaks to another woman. He was here this evening for exactly forty minutes, and he didn’t open his lips to a female creature. I watched him. How on earth am I to pull him through if he goes on in that way? Yes, Locock, I’ll go to bed, and I don’t think I’ll get up for a week.’

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