The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 20

Sir Orlando’s Policy.

When the guests began to arrive our friend the Duchess had apparently got through her little difficulties, for she received them with that open, genial hospitality which is so delightful as coming evidently from the heart. There had not been another word between her and her husband as to the manner in which the thing was to be done, and she had determined that the offensive word should pass altogether out of her memory. The first comer was Mrs Finn — who came indeed rather as an assistant hostess than as a mere guest, and to her the Duchess uttered a few playful hints as to her troubles. ‘Considering the time, haven’t we done marvels? Because it does look nice — doesn’t it? There are no dirt heaps about, and it’s all as green as though it had been there since the conquest. He doesn’t like it because it looks new. And we’ve got forty-five bedrooms made up. The servants are all turned out over the stables somewhere — quite comfortable, I assure you. Indeed they like it. And by knocking down the ends of two passages we’ve brought everything together. And the rooms are all numbered, just like an inn. It was the only way. And I keep one book myself, and Locock has another. I have everybody’s room, and where it is, and how long the tenant is to be allowed to occupy it. And here’s the way everybody is to take everybody down to dinner for the next fortnight. Of course that must be altered, but it is easier when we have a sort of settled basis. And I have some private notes as to who should flirt with whom.’

‘You’d better not let that lie about.’

‘Nobody could understand a word of it if they had it. A. B. always means X.Y.Z. And this is the code of the Gatherum Archery Ground. I never drew a bow in my life — not a real bow in the flesh, that is, my dear — and yet I’ve made ’em all out, and had them printed. The way to make a thing go down is to give it some special importance. And I’ve gone through the bill of fare for the first week with Millepois, who is a perfect gentleman — perfect.’ Then she gave a little sigh as she remembered that word from her husband, which had wounded her. ‘I used to think that Plantagenet worked hard when he was doing his decimal coinage; but I don’t think he ever stuck to it as I have done.’

‘What does the Duke say to it all?’

‘Ah; well, upon the whole he behaves like an angel. He behaves so well that half my time I think I’ll shut it all up and have done with it — for his sake. And then, the other half, I’m determined to go on with it — again for his sake.’

‘He has not been displeased?’

‘Ask no questions, my dear, and you’ll hear no stories. You haven’t been married twice without knowing that women can’t have everything smooth. He only said one word. It was rather hard to bear, but it has passed away.’

That afternoon there was quite a crowd. Among the first comers were Mr and Mrs Roby, and Mr and Mrs Rattler. And there were Sir Orlando and Lady Drought, Lord Ramsden and Sir Timothy Beeswax. These gentlemen with their wives represented, for the time, the ministry of which the Duke was the head, and had been asked in order that their fealty and submission might be thus rivetted. There were also there Mr and Mrs Boffin, with Lord Thrift and his daughter Angelica, who had belonged to former ministries — one on the Liberal and one on the Conservative side — and who were now among the Duke’s guests, in order that they and others might see how wide the Duke wished to open his hands. And there was our friend Ferdinand Lopez, who had certainly made the best use of his opportunities in securing for himself so great a social advantage as an invitation to Gatherum Castle. How could any father, who was simply a barrister, refuse to receive as his son-inlaw a man who had been a guest of the Duke of Omnium’s country house? And then there were certain people from the neighbourhood; — Frank Gresham of Greshambury, with his wife and daughter, the master of the hounds in those parts, a rich squire of old blood, and head of the family to which one of the aspirant Prime Ministers of the day belonged. And Lord Chiltern, another master of fox hounds, two counties off; — and also an old friend of ours — had been asked to meet him, and had brought his wife. And there Lady Rosina de Courcy, an old maid, the sister of the present Earl de Courcy, who lived not far off, and had been accustomed to come to Gatherum Castle on state occasions for the last thirty years — the only relic in those parts of a family which had lived there for many years in great pride of place, for the elder brother, the Earl, was a ruined man, and her younger brothers were living with their wives abroad, and her sisters had married, rather lowly in the world, and her mother now was dead, and Lady Rosina lived alone in a little cottage outside the old park palings, and still held fast within her bosom all the old pride of the De Courcys. And then there were Captain Gunner and Major Pountney, two middle-aged young men, presumably belonging to the army, whom the Duchess had lately enlisted among her followers as being useful in their way. They could eat their dinners without being shy, dance on occasions, though very unwillingly, talk a little, and run on messages; — and they knew the peerage by heart, and could tell the details of every unfortunate marriage for the last twenty years. Each thought himself, especially since this last promotion, to be indispensably necessary to the formation of London society, and was comfortable in a conviction that he had thoroughly succeeded in life by acquiring the privilege of sitting down to dinner three times a week with peers and peeresses.

The list of guests has by no means been made as complete here as it was to be found in the county newspapers, and in the “Morning Post” of the time, but enough of names has been given to show of what nature was the party. ‘The Duchess has got rather a rough lot to begin with,’ said the Major to the Captain.

‘Oh, yes. I knew that. She wanted me to be useful, so of course I came. I shall stay here this week, and then be back in September.’ Up to that moment Captain Gunner had not received any invitation for September, but then there was no reason why he should not do so.

‘I’ve been getting up the archery code with her,’ said Pountney, ‘and I was pledged to come down and set it going. That little Gresham girl isn’t a bad-looking thing.’

‘Rather flabby,’ said Captain Gunner.

‘Very nice colour. She’ll have a lot of money, you know.’

‘There’s a brother,’ said the Captain.

‘Oh, yes; there’s a brother, who will have the Greshambury property, but she’s to have her mother’s money. There’s a very odd story about all that, you know.’ Then the Major told the story, and told every particular of it wrongly. ‘A man might do worse than look there,’ said the Major. A man might have done worse, because Miss Gresham was a very nice girl; but of course the Major was all wrong about the money.

‘Well; — now you’ve tried it, what do you think about it?’ This question was put by Sir Timothy to Sir Orlando as they sat in a corner of the archery ground, under the shelter of a tent looking on while Major Pountney taught Mrs Boffin how to fix an arrow on to her bow string. It was quite understood that Sir Timothy was inimical to the Coalition though he still belonged to it, and that he would assist in breaking it up if only there was a fair chance of his belonging to the party which would remain in power. Sir Timothy had been badly treated, and did not forget it. Now Sir Orlando had also of late shown some symptoms of a disturbed ambition. He was the Leader of the House of Commons, and it had become an almost recognized law of the Constitution that the leader of the House of Commons should be the First Minister of Crown. It was at least understood by many that such was Sir Orlando’s reading of the laws of the Constitution.

‘We’ve got along, you know,’ said Sir Orlando.

‘Yes; — yes. We’ve got along. Can you imagine any possible concatenation of circumstances in which we should not get along? There’s always too much good sense in the House for an absolute collapse. But are you contented?’

‘I won’t say I’m not,’ said the cautious baronet. ‘I didn’t look for very great things from a Coalition, and I didn’t look for very great things from the Duke.’

‘It seems to me that the one achievement to which we’ve all looked has been the reaching the end of the Sessions in safety. We’ve done that certainly.’

‘It is a great thing to do, Sir Timothy. Of course the main work of Parliament is to raise supplies — and, when that has been done with ease, when all the money wanted has been voted without a break-down, of course Ministers are very glad to get rid of the Parliament. It is as much a matter of course that a Minister should dislike Parliament now as that a Stuart King should have done so two hundred and fifty years ago. To get a Session over and done with is an achievement and a delight.’

‘No ministry can go on long on that far niente principle, and no Minister who accedes to it will remain long in any ministry.’ Sir Timothy in saying this might be alluding to the Duke, or the reference might be to Sir Orlando himself. ‘Of course, I’m not in the Cabinet, and am not entitled to say a word; but I think that if I were in the Cabinet, and I were anxious — which I confess I’m not — for a continuation of the present state of things, I should endeavour to obtain from the Duke some idea of his policy for the next Session.’ Sir Orlando was a man of certain parts. He could speak volubly — and yet slowly — so that reporters and others could hear him. He was patient, both in the House and in his office, and had the great gift of doing what he was told by men who understood things better than he did himself. He never went very far astray in his official business, because he always obeyed the clerks and followed precedents. He had been a useful man — and would still have remained so had he not been lifted a little too high. Had he been only one in the ruck on the Treasury Bench he would have been useful to the end; but special honour and special place had been assigned to him, and therefore he desired still bigger things. The Duke’s mediocrity of talent and of energy and of general governing power had been so often mentioned of late in Sir Orlando’s hearing, that Sir Orlando had gradually come to think that he was the Duke’s equal in the Cabinet, and perhaps it behoved him to lead the Duke. At the commencement of their joint operations he had held the Duke in some awe, and perhaps something of that feeling in reference to the Duke personally still restrained him. The Duke of Omnium had always been big people. But still it might be his duty to say a word to the Duke. Sir Orlando assured himself that if ever convinced of the propriety of doing so, he could say a word even to the Duke of Omnium. ‘I am confident that we should not go on quite as we are at present,’ said Sir Timothy as he closed the conversation.

‘Where did they pick him up?’ said the Major to the Captain, pointing with his head to Ferdinand Lopez, who was shooting with Angelica Thrift and Mr Boffin and one of the Duke’s private secretaries.

‘The Duchess found him somewhere. He’s one of those fabulously rich fellows out of the City who make a hundred thousand pounds at a blow. They say his people were grandees of Spain.’

‘Does anybody know him?’ asked the Major.

‘Everybody will soon know him,’ answered the Captain. ‘I think I heard that he’s going to stand for some place in the Duke’s interest. He don’t look like the sort of fellow I like; but he’s got money and he comes, and he’s good-looking — and therefore he’ll be a success.’ In answer to this the Major only grunted. The Major was a year or two older than the Captain, and therefore less willing even than his friend to admit the claims of new comers to the social honours.

Just at this moment the Duchess walked across the ground up to the shooters, accompanied by Mrs Finn and Lady Chiltern. She had not been seen in the gardens before that day, and of course a little concourse was made around her. The Major and the Captain, who had been driven away by the success of Ferdinand Lopez, returned with their sweetest smiles. Mr Boffin put down his treatise on the nature of Franchises, which he was studying in order that he might lead an opposition against the Ministry next Session, and even Sir Timothy Beeswax, who had done his work with Sir Orlando, joined the throng.

‘Now I do hope,’ said the Duchess, ‘that you are all shooting by the new code. That is, and is to be, the Gatherum Archery Code, and I shall break my heart if anybody rebels.’

‘There are only two men,’ said Major Pountney very gravely, ‘who won’t take the trouble to understand it.’

‘Mr Lopez,’ said the Duchess, pointing her finger at our friend, ‘are you that rebel?’

‘I fear I did suggest —’ began Mr Lopez.

‘I will have no suggestions — nothing but obedience. Here are Sir Timothy Beeswax and Mr Boffin, and Sir Orlando Drought is not far off; and here is Mr Rattler, than whom no authority on such a subject can be better. Ask them whether in other matters suggestions are wanted.’

‘Of course not,’ said Major Pountney.

‘Now, Mr Lopez, will you or will you not be guided by a strict and close interpretation of the Gatherum Code. Because, if not, I’m afraid we shall feel constrained to accept your resignation.’

‘I won’t resign and I will obey,’ said Lopez.

‘A good ministerial reply,’ said the Duchess.

‘I don’t doubt but that in time you’ll ascend to high office and become a pillar of the Gatherum constitution. How does he shoot, Miss Thrift?’

‘He will shoot very well indeed, Duchess, if he goes on and practises,’ said Angelica, whose life for the past seven years had been devoted to archery. Major Pountney retired far away into the park, a full quarter of a mile off, and smoked a cigar under a tree. Was it for that he had absolutely given up a month to drawing out this code of rules, going backwards and forwards, two or three times to the printers in his desire to carry out the Duchess’s wishes? ‘Women are so d-d ungrateful!’ This fellow Lopez, had absolutely been allowed to make a good score off his own intractable disobedience.

The Duchess’s little joke about Ministers generally, and the advantages of submission on their part to their chief, was thought by some who heard it not to have been made in good taste. The joke was just a joke as the Duchess would be sure to make — meaning very little, but still not altogether pointless. It was levelled rather at her husband than at her husband’s colleagues who were present, and was so understood by those who really knew her — as did Mrs Finn and Mr Warburton, the private secretary. But Sir Orlando and Sir Timothy and Mr Rattler, who were all within hearing, thought that the Duchess had intended to allude to the servile nature of their position; and Mr Boffin, who hear it, rejoiced within himself, comforting himself with the reflection that his withers were unwrung, and thinking with what pleasure he might carry the anecdote into the farthest corners of the clubs. Poor Duchess! It is pitiful to think that after such Herculean labours she should injure the cause by one slight unconsidered word, more, perhaps, than she had advanced in all her energy.

During this time the Duke was at the Castle; but he showed himself seldom to his guests — so acting, as the reader will I hope understand, from no sense of importance of his own personal presence, but influenced by a conviction that a public man should not waste his time. He breakfasted in his own room, because he could thus eat his breakfast in ten minutes. He read all the papers in solitude, because he was thus enabled to give his mind to their contents. Life had always been too serious to him to be wasted. Every afternoon he walked for the sake of exercise, and would have accepted any companion if any companion had especially offered himself. But he went off by some side-door, finding the side-door to be convenient, and therefore when seen by others was supposed to desire to remain unseen. ‘I had no idea there was so much pride about the Duke,’ Mr Boffin said to his old colleague, Sir Orlando. ‘Is it pride?’ asked Sir Orlando. ‘It may be shyness,’ said the wise Boffin. ‘The two things are so alike you can never tell the difference. But the man who is cursed by either should hardly be a Prime Minister.’

It was on the day after this, that Sir Orlando thought that the moment had come in which it was his duty to say that salutary word to the Duke, which it was clearly necessary that some colleague should say, and which no colleague could have so good a right to say as he was who was Leader of the House of Commons. He understood clearly that though they were gathered together then at Gatherum Castle for festive purposes, yet that no time was unfit for the discussion of State matters. Does not all the world know that when in autumn the Bismarcks of the world, or they who are bigger than Bismarcks, meet at this or that delicious haunt of salubrity, the affairs of the world are then settled in little conclaves, with greater ease, rapidity, and certainty than in large parliaments or the dull chambers of public offices? Emperor meets Emperor, and King meets King, and as they wander among rural glades in fraternal intimacy, wars are arranged, and swelling territories are enjoyed in anticipation. Sir Orlando hitherto had known all this, but hardly as yet enjoyed it. He had been long in office, but these sweet confidences can of their very nature belong only to a very few. But now the time had manifestly come.

It was Sunday afternoon, and Sir Orlando caught the Duke in the very act of leaving the house for his walk. There was no archery, and many of the inmates of the Castle were asleep. There had been a question as to the propriety of Sabbath archery, in discussing which reference had been made to Laud’s book of sports, and the growing idea that the National Gallery should be opened on the Lord’s-day. But the Duchess would not have the archery. ‘We are just the people who shouldn’t prejudge the question,’ said the Duchess. The Duchess with various ladies, with the Pountneys and Gunners, and other obedient male followers, had been to church. None of the Ministers had of course been able to leave the swollen pouches which are always sent out from London on Saturday night — probably, we cannot but think — as arranged excuses for such defalcation, and had passed their mornings comfortably dozing over new novels. The Duke, always right in his purpose but generally wrong in his practice, had stayed at home working all the morning, thereby scandalizing the strict, and had gone to church in the afternoon, thereby offending the social. The church was close to the house, and he had gone back to change his coat and hat, and to get his stick. But as he was stealing our of the little side-gate, Sir Orlando was down upon him. ‘If your Grace is going for a walk, and will admit of company, I shall be delighted to attend you,’ said Sir Orlando. The Duke professed himself to be well-pleased. He would be glad to increase his personal intimacy with his colleague if it might be done pleasantly.

They had gone nearly a mile across the park, watching the stately movements of the herds of deer, and talking of this and that trifle, before Sir Orlando could bring about an opportunity for uttering his word. At last, he did it somewhat abruptly. ‘I think upon the whole we did pretty well this Session,’ he said, standing still under an old oak-tree.

‘Pretty well,’ re-echoed the Duke.

‘And I suppose we have not much to afraid of next Session?’

‘I am afraid of nothing,’ said the Duke.

‘But —;’ then Sir Orlando hesitated. The Duke, however, said not a word to help him on. Sir Orlando thought that the Duke looked more ducal than he had ever seen him look before. Sir Orlando remembered the old Duke, and suddenly found that the uncle and nephew were very like each other. But it does not become the leader of the House of Commons to be afraid of anyone. ‘Don’t you think,’ continued Sir Orlando, ‘we should try and arrange among ourselves something of a policy? I am not quite sure that a ministry without a distinct course of action before it can long enjoy the confidence of the country. Take the last half century. There have been various policies, commanding more or less of general assent; free trade —.’ Here Sir Orlando gave a kindly wave of his hand, showing that on behalf of a companion he was willing to place at the head of the list a policy which had not always commanded his own assent; —‘continued reform in Parliament, to which I have, with my whole heart, given my poor assistance.’ The Duke remembered how the bathers’ clothes were stolen, and that Sir Orlando had been one of the most nimble-fingered of thieves. ‘No popery, Irish grievances, the ballot, retrenchment, efficiency of the public service, all have had their time.’

‘Things to be done offer themselves, I suppose, because they are in themselves desirable; not because it is desirable to have something to do.’

‘Just so; — no doubt. But still, if you will think of it, no ministry can endure without a policy. During the latter part of the last Session, it was understood that we had to get ourselves in harness together, and nothing more was expected from us; but I think we should be prepared with a distinct policy for the coming year. I fear that nothing can be done in Ireland.’

‘Mr Finn has ideas —’

‘Ah, yes — well, your Grace. Mr Finn is a very clever young man certainly; but I don’t think we can support ourselves by his plan of Irish reform.’ Sir Orlando had been a little carried away by his own eloquence and the Duke’s tameness, and had interrupted the Duke. The Duke again looked ducal, but on this occasion Sir Orlando did not observe his countenance. ‘For myself, I think, I am in favour of increased armaments. I have been applying my mind to the subject, and I think I see that the people of this country do not object to a slightly rising scale of estimates in that direction. Of course there is the county suffrage —’

‘I will think of what you have been saying,’ said the Duke.

‘As to the county suffrage —’

‘I will think it over,’ said the Duke. ‘You see the oak. That is the largest tree we have here at Gatherum; and I doubt whether there be a larger one in this part of England.’ The Duke’s voice and words were not uncourteous, but there was something in them which hindered Sir Orlando from referring again on that occasion to county suffrages or increased armaments.

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