The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 21

The Duchess’s New Swan.

When the party had been about a week collected at Gatherum Castle, Ferdinand Lopez had manifestly become the favourite of the Duchess for the time, and had, at her instance, promised to remain there for some further days. He had hardly spoken to the Duke since he had been in the house — but then but few of that motley assembly did talk much with the Duke. Gunner and Pountney had gone away — the Captain having declared his dislike of the upstart Portuguese to be so strong that he could not stay in the same house with him any longer, and the Major, who was of a stronger mind, having resolved that he would put the intruder down. ‘It is horrible to think what power money has in these days,’ said the Captain. The Captain had shaken the dust of Gatherum altogether from his feet, but the Major had so arranged that a bed was to be found for him in October — for another happy week; but he was not to return till bidden by the Duchess. ‘You won’t forget; — now will you, Duchess?’ he said, imploring her to remember him as he took his leave. ‘I did take a deal of trouble about the code; — didn’t I?’ ‘They don’t seem to me to care for the code,’ said the Duchess, ‘but, nevertheless, ‘I’ll remember.’

‘Who, in the name of all that’s wonderful, was that I saw you with in the garden?’ the Duchess said to her husband one afternoon.

‘It was Lady Rosina De Courcy, I suppose!’

‘Heaven and earth! — what a companion for you to choose.’

‘Why not? — why shouldn’t I talk to Lady Rosina De Courcy?’

‘I’m not jealous a bit, if you mean that I don’t think Lady Rosina will steal your heart from me. But why you should pick her out of all the people here, when there are so many would think their fortunes made if you would only take a turn with them, I cannot imagine.’

‘But I don’t want to make anyone’s fortune,’ said the Duke: ‘and certainly not in that way.’

‘What could you be saying to her?’

‘She was talking about her family. I rather like Lady Rosina. She is living all alone, it seems and almost in poverty. Perhaps there is nothing so sad in the world as the female scions of a noble but impoverished stock.’

‘Nothing so dull, certainly.’

‘People are not dull to me, if they are real. I pity that poor lady. She is proud of her blood and yet not ashamed of her poverty.’

‘Whatever might come of her blood she has been all her life willing enough to get rid of her poverty. It isn’t above three years since she was trying her best to marry that brewer at Silverbridge. I wish you could give your time a little to some of the other people.’

‘To go and shoot arrows?’

‘No; — I don’t want you to shoot arrows. You might act the part of host without shooting. Can’t you walk about with anybody except Lady Rosina De Courcy?’

‘I was walking about with Sir Orlando Drought last Sunday, and I very much prefer Lady Rosina.’

‘There has been no quarrel?’ asked the Duchess sharply.

‘Oh dear no.’

‘Of course he’s an empty-headed idiot. Everybody has always known that. And he’s put above his place in the House. But it wouldn’t do to quarrel with him now.’

‘I don’t think I am a quarrelsome man, Cora. I don’t remember at this moment that I have ever quarrelled with anybody to your knowledge. But I may perhaps be permitted to —’

‘Snub a man, you mean. Well I wouldn’t ever snub Sir Orlando very much, if I were you; though I can understand that it might be both pleasant and easy.’

‘I wish you wouldn’t put slang phrases into my mouth, Cora. If I think that a man intrudes upon me, I am of course bound to let know my opinion.’

‘Sir Orlando has — intruded!’

‘By no means. He is in a position which justifies his saying many things to me which another might not say. But then, again, he is a man whose opinion does not go far with me, and I have not the knack of seeming to agree with a man while I let his words pass idly by me.’

‘That is quite true, Plantagenet.’

‘And, therefore, I was uncomfortable with Sir Orlando, while I was able to sympathize with Lady Rosina.’

‘What do you think of Ferdinand Lopez?’ asked the Duchess, with studied abruptness.

‘Think of Mr Lopez! I haven’t thoughy of him at all. Why should I think of him?’

‘I want you to think of him. I think he’s a very pleasant fellow, and I’m sure he’s a rising man.’

‘You might think the latter, and perhaps feel sure of the former.’

‘Very well. Then, to oblige you, I’ll think the latter and feel sure of the former. I suppose it’s true that Mr Grey is going on this mission to Persia?’ Mr Grey was the Duke’s intimate friend, and was at this time member for the neighbouring borough of Silverbridge.

‘I think he will go. I’ve no doubt about it. He is to go after Christmas.’

‘And will give up his seat?’

The Duke did not answer her immediately. It had only just been decided — decided by his friend and himself — that the seat should be given up when the journey to Persia was undertaken. Mr Grey, somewhat in opposition to the Duke’s advice, had resolved that he could not be in Persia and do his duty in the House of Commons at the same time. But this resolution had only now been made known to the Duke, and he was rather puzzled to think how the Duchess had been able to be so quick upon him. He had, indeed, kept the matter back from the Duchess, feeling that she would have something to say about it, which might possibly be unpleasant, as soon as the tidings should reach her. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I think he will give up his seat. That is his purpose, though I think it is unnecessary.’

‘Let Mr Lopez have it.’

‘Mr Lopez!’

‘Yes — he is a clever man, a rising man, a man who is sure to do well, and who will be of use to you. Just take the trouble to talk to him. It is assistance of that kind that you want. You Ministers go on shuffling the old cards till they are so worn out and dirty that one can hardly tell the pips on them.’

‘I am one of the dirty old cards myself,’ said the Duke.

‘That’s nonsense, you know. A man who is at the head of affairs as you are can’t be included among the pack I am speaking of. What you want is new blood, or new wood, or new metal, or whatever you may choose to call it. Take my advice and try this man. He isn’t a pauper. It isn’t money that he wants.’

‘Cora, your geese are all swans.’

‘That’s not fair. I have never brought to you a goose yet. My swans have been swans. Who was it brought you and your pet swan of all, Mr Grey, together? I won’t name any names, but it is your swans have been geese.’

‘It is not for me to return a member for Silverbridge.’ When he said this, she gave him a look which almost upset even his gravity, a look which was almost the same as asking him whether he would not —“tell it to the marines.” ‘You don’t quite understand these things, Cora,’ he continued. ‘The influence which owners of property may have in boroughs is decreasing every day, and there arises the question whether a conscientious man will any longer use such influence.’

‘I don’t think you’d like to see a man from Silverbridge opposing you in the House.’

‘I may have to bear worse even than that.’

‘Well; — there it is. The man is here and you have the opportunity of knowing him. Of course I have not hinted at the matter to him. If there were any Palliser wanted the borough I wouldn’t say a word. What more patriotic thing can a patron do with his borough than to select a man who is unknown to him, not related to him, a perfect stranger, merely for his worth?’

‘But I do not know what may be the worth of Mr Lopez.’

‘I will guarantee that,’ said the Duchess. Whereupon the Duke laughed, and then left her.

The Duchess had spoken with absolute truth when she told her husband that she had not said a word to Mr Lopez about Silverbridge, but it was not long before she did say a word. On that same day she found herself alone with him in the garden — or so much alone as to be able to speak with him privately. He had certainly made the best use of his time since he had been at the Castle, having secured the good-will of many of the ladies, and the displeasure of most of the men. ‘You have never been in Parliament, I think,’ said the Duchess.

‘I have never even tried to get there.’

‘Perhaps you dislike the idea of that kind of life.’

‘No, indeed,’ he said. ‘So far from it, that I regard it as the highest kind of life there is in England. A seat in Parliament gives a man a status in this country which it has never done elsewhere.’

‘Then why don’t you try it?’

‘Because I’ve got into another groove. I’ve become essentially a City man — one of those men who take up the trade of making money generally.’

‘And does that content you?’

‘No, Duchess; — certainly not. Instead of contenting me, it disgusts me. Not but that I like the money — only it is so insufficient a use of one’s life. I suppose I shall try to get into Parliament some day. Seats in Parliament don’t grow like blackberries on bushes.’

‘Pretty nearly,’ said the Duchess.

‘Not in my part of the country. These good things seem to be appointed to fall in the way of some men, and not of others. If there were a general election going on tomorrow, I should not know how to look for a seat.’

‘They are to be found sometimes even without a general election.’

‘Are you alluding to anything now?’

‘Well; — yes, I am. But I’m very discreet, and do not like to do more than allude. I fancy that Mr Grey, the member for Silverbridge, is going to Persia. Mr Grey is a Member of Parliament. Members of Parliament ought to be in London and not in Persia. It is generally supposed that no man in England is more prone to do what he ought to do than Mr Grey. Therefore, Mr Grey will cease to be Member for Silverbridge. That’s logic, isn’t it?’

‘Has your Grace any logic equally strong to prove that I can follow him in the borough?’

‘No; — or if I have, the logic that I should use in that matter must for the present be kept to myself.’ She certainly had a little syllogism in her head as to the Duke ruling the borough, the Duke’s wife ruling the Duke, and therefore the Duke’s wife ruling the borough; but she did not think it prudent to utter this on the present occasion. ‘I think it much better that men in Parliament should be unmarried,’ said the Duchess.

‘But I am going to be married,’ said he.

‘Going to be married, are you?’

‘I have no right to say so, because the lady’s father has rejected me.’ Then he told her the whole story, and so told it as to secure her entire sympathy. In telling it he never said that he was a rich man, he never boasted that that search after wealth of which he had spoken, had been successful; but he gave her to understand that there was no objection to him at all on the score of money. ‘You may have heard of the family,’ he said.

‘I have heard of the Whartons of course, and know that there is a baronet — but I know nothing more of them. He is not a man of large property, I think.’

‘My Miss Wharton, the one I would fain call mine — is the daughter of a London barrister. He, I believe, is rich.’

‘Then she will be an heiress.’

‘I suppose so; — but that consideration has had no weight with me. I have always regarded myself as the architect of my own fortune, and have no wish to owe my material comfort to a wife.’

‘Sheer love!’ suggested the Duchess.

‘Yes, I think so. It’s very ridiculous, is it not?’

‘And why does the rich barrister object?’

‘The rich barrister, Duchess, is an out and out old Tory, who thinks that his daughter ought to marry no one but an English Tory. I am not exactly that.’

‘A man does not hamper his daughter in these days by politics, when she is falling in love.’

‘There are other cognate reasons. He does not like a foreigner. Now I am an Englishman, but I have a foreign name. He does not think a name so grandly Saxon as Wharton should be changed to one so meanly Latin as Lopez.’

‘The lady does not object to the Latinity?’

‘I fancy not.’

‘Or to the bearer of it.’

‘Ah; — there I must not boast. But in simple truth there is only the father’s ill-will between us.’

‘With plenty of money on both sides?’ asked the Duchess. Lopez shrugged his shoulders. A shrug at such a time may mean anything, but the Duchess took this shrug as signifying that that question was so surely settled as to admit of no difficulty. ‘Then,’ said the Duchess, ‘the old gentleman may as well give way at once. Of course his daughter will be too many for him.’ In this way the Duchess of Omnium became the best friend of Ferdinand Lopez.

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