The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 32

‘What Business is it of Yours?’

Things had not gone altogether smoothly with the Duchess herself since the breaking up of the party at Gatherum Castle — nor perhaps quite smoothly with the Duke. It was now March. The House was again sitting, and they were both in London — but till they came to town they had remained at the Castle, and that huge mansion had not been found to be more comfortable by either of them as it became empty. For a time the Duchess had been cowed by her husband’s stern decision; but as he again became gentle to her — almost seeming by his manner to apologize for his unwonted roughness — she plucked up her spirit and declared herself that she would not give up the battle. All that she did — was it not for his sake? And why should she not have her ambition in life as well as he have his? And had she not succeeded in all that she had done? Could it be right that she should be asked to abandon everything, to own herself to have been defeated, to be shown to have failed before all the world, because such a one as Major Pountney had made a fool of himself? She attributed it all to Major Pountney; — very wrongly. When a man’s mind is veering towards some decision, some conclusion which he has been perhaps slow in reaching, it is probably a little thing which at last fixes his mind and clenches his thoughts. The Duke had been gradually teaching himself to hate the crowd around him and to reprobate his wife’s strategy, before he had known that there was a Major Pountney under his roof. Others had offended him, and first and foremost among them his own colleague, Sir Orlando. The Duchess hardly read his character aright, and certainly did not understand his present motives, when she thought that all might be forgotten as soon as the disagreeable savour of the Major should have passed away.

But in nothing, as she thought, had her husband been so silly as in his abandonment of Silverbridge. When she heard that the day was fixed for declaring the vacancy, she ventured to ask him a question. His manner to her lately had been more than urbane, more than affectionate — it had almost been that of a lover. He had petted her and caressed her when they met, and once even said that nothing should really trouble him as long as he had her with him. Such a speech as that never in his life had he made before to her! So she plucked up her courage and asked her question — not exactly on that occasion, but soon afterwards. ‘May I not say a word to Sprugeon about the election?’

‘Not a word!’ And he looked at her as he had looked on that day when he had told her of the Major’s sins. She tossed her head and pouted her lips and walked on without speaking. If it was to be so, then indeed would she have failed. And, therefore, though in his general manner he was loving to her, things were not going smooth with her.

And things were not going smooth with him because there had reached him a most troublous dispatch from Sir Orlando Drought only two days before the Cabinet meeting at which the points to be made in the Queen’s speech were to be decided. It had been already agreed that a proposition should be made to Parliament by the Government, for an extension of the country suffrage, with some slight redistribution of seats. The towns with less than 20,000 inhabitants were to take in some increased portion of the country parishes around. But there was not enough of a policy in this to satisfy Sir Orlando, nor was the conduct of the bill through the House to be placed in his hands. That was to be entrusted to Mr Monk, and Mr Monk would be, if not nominally the leader, yet the chief man of the Government of the House of Commons. This was displeasing to Sir Orlando, and he had, therefore, demanded from the Prime Minister more of a ‘policy’. Sir Orlando’s present idea of a policy was the building of four bigger ships of war than had ever been built before — with larger guns, and more men, and thicker iron plates, and, above all, with a greater expenditure of money. He had even gone so far as to say, though not in his semi-official letter to the Prime Minister, that he thought that ‘The Salvation of the Empire’ should be the cry of the Coalition party. ‘After all,’ he said, ‘what the people care about is the Salvation of the Empire!’ Sir Orlando was at the head of the Admiralty; and if glory was to be achieved by the four ships, it would rest first on the head of Sir Orlando.

Now the Duke thought that the Empire was safe, and had been throughout his political life averse to increasing the army and the navy estimates. He regarded the four ships as altogether unnecessary — and when reminded that he might in this way consolidate the Coalition, said that he would rather do without the Coalition and the four ships than have to do with both of them together — an opinion which was thought by some to be almost traitorous to the party as now organized. The secrets of Cabinets are not to be disclosed lightly, but it came to be understood — as what is done at Cabinet meetings generally does come to be understood — that there was something like disagreement. The Prime Minister, the Duke of St Bungay, and Mr Monk were altogether against the four ships. Sir Orlando, who was supported by Lord Drummond and another of his old friends. At the advice of the elder Duke, a paragraph was hatched, in which it was declared that her Majesty, ‘having regard to the safety of the nation and the possible, though happily not probable, chances of war, thought that the present strength of the navy should be considered’. ‘It will give him scope for a new gun-boat on an altered principle,’ said the Duke of St Bungay. But the Prime Minister, could he have his own way, would have given Sir Orlando no scope whatever. He would have let the Coalition have gone to the dogs and have fallen himself into infinite political ruin, but that he did not dare that men should thereafter say of him that this attempt at government had failed because he was stubborn, imperious, and self-confident. He had known when he took his present place he must yield to others; but he had not known how terrible it would be to have to yield when a principle is in question — how great was the suffering when a man finds himself compelled to do that which he thinks should not be done! Therefore, though he had been strangely loving to his wife, the time had not gone smoothly with him.

In direct disobedience to her husband the Duchess did speak a word to Mr Sprugeon. When at the Castle she was frequently driven through Silverbridge, and on one occasion had her carriage stopped at the ironmonger’s door. Out came Mr Sprugeon, and there were at first half-a-dozen standing by who could hear what she said. Millepois the cook wanted to have some new kind of iron plate erected in the kitchen. Of course she had provided herself beforehand with her excuse. As a rule, when the cook wanted anything done, he did not send word to the tradesman by the Duchess. But on this occasion the Duchess was personally most anxious. She wanted to see how the iron plate would work. It was to be a particular kind of iron plate. Then, having watched her opportunity, she said her word, ‘I suppose we shall be safe with Mr Lopez?’ When Mr Sprugeon was about to reply, she shook her head and went on about the iron plate. This would be quite enough to let Mr Sprugeon understand that she was still anxious about the borough. Mr Sprugeon was an intelligent man, and possessed of discretion to a certain extent. As soon as he saw the little frown and shake of the head, he understood it all. He and the Duchess had a secret together. Would not everything about the Castle in which a morsel of iron was employed want renewing? And would not the Duchess take care that it should all be renewed by Sprugeon? But then he must be active, and his activity would be of no avail unless others helped him. So he whispered a word to Sprout, and it soon became known that the Castle interest was all alive.

But unfortunately the Duke was also on the alert. The Duke had been very much in earnest when he made up his mind that the old custom should be abandoned at Silverbridge and had endeavoured to impress that determination of his upon his wife. The Duke knew more about his property and was better acquainted with its details than his wife or others believed. He heard that in spite of all his orders the Castle interest was being maintained, and a word was said to him which seemed to imply that this was his wife’s doings. It was then about the middle of February, and arrangements were in process for the removal of the family to London. The Duke had already been up to London for the meeting of Parliament, and had now come back to Gatherum, purporting to return to London with his wife. Then it was that it was hinted to him that her Grace was still anxious as to the election — and had manifested her anxiety. The rumour hurt him, though he did not in the least believe it. It showed to him, as he thought, not that his wife had been false to him — as in truth she had been — but that even her name could not be kept free from slander. And when he spoke to her on the subject, he did so rather with the view of proving to her how necessary it was that she should keep herself altogether aloof from such matters, than with any wish to make further inquiry. But he elicited the whole truth. ‘It is so hard to kill an old-established evil,’ he said.

‘What evil have you failed to kill now?’

‘Those people at Silverbridge still say I want to return a member for them.’

‘Oh; that’s the evil! You know I think instead of killing an evil, you have murdered an excellent institution.’ This at any rate was very imprudent on the part of the Duchess. After that disobedient word spoken to Mr Sprugeon, she should have been more on her guard.

‘As to that, Glencora, I must judge for myself.’

‘Oh yes — you have been jury, and judge, and executioner.’

‘I have done as I thought right to do. I am sorry that I should fail to carry you with me in such a matter, but even failing in that I must do my duty. You will at any rate agree with me that when I say the thing should be done, it should be done.’

‘If you wanted to destroy the house, and cut down all the trees, and turn the place into a wilderness, I suppose you would only have to speak. Of course I know it would be wrong that I should have an opinion. As “man” you are of course to have your own way.’ She was in one of her most aggravating moods. Though he might compel her to obey, he could not compel her to hold her tongue.

‘Glencora, I don’t think you know how much you add to my troubles, or you would not speak to me like that.’

‘What am I to say? It seems to me that any more suicidal thing than throwing away the borough never was done. Who will thank you? What additional support will you get? How will it increase your power? It’s like King Lear throwing off his clothes in the storm because his daughters turned him out. And you didn’t do it because you thought it right.’

‘Yes, I did,’ he said, scowling.

‘You did it because Major Pountney disgusted you. You kicked him out. Why wouldn’t that satisfy without sacrificing the borough? It isn’t what I think or say about it, but that everybody is thinking and saying the same thing.’

‘I choose that it will be so.’

‘Very well.’

‘And I don’t choose your name shall be mixed up in it. They say at Silverbridge that you are canvassing for Mr Lopez.’

‘Who says so?’

‘I presume it’s not true.’

‘Who says so, Plantagenet?’

‘It matters not who has said so. If it be untrue, I presume it to be false.’

‘Of course it is false.’ Then the Duchess remembered her word to Mr Sprugeon, and the cowardice of the lie was heavy on her. I doubt whether she would have been so shocked by the idea of falsehood as to have been kept back from it had she before resolved that it would save her; but she was not in her practice a false woman, her courage being too high for falsehood. It now seemed to her that by this lie she was owning herself to be quelled and brought into absolute subjection by her husband. So she burst forth the truth. ‘Now I think of it, I did say a word to Mr Sprugeon. I told him that, that I hoped Mr Lopez would be returned. I don’t know whether you call that canvassing.’

‘I desired you not to speak to Mr Sprugeon.’

‘That’s all very well, Plantagenet, but if you desire me to hold my tongue altogether, what am I to do?’

‘What business is this of yours?’

‘I suppose I may have my political sympathies as well as another. Really you are becoming so autocratic that I shall have to go in for women’s rights.’

‘You mean me to understand then that you intend to put yourself in opposition to me.’

‘What a fuss you make about it all!’ she said. ‘Nothing that one can do is right! You make me wish that I was a milkmaid or a farmer’s wife.’ So saying she bounced out of the room, leaving the Duke sick at heart, low in spirit, and doubtful whether he were right or wrong in his attempts to manage his wife. Surely he must be right in feeling that in his high office a clearer conduct and cleaner way of walking was expected from him than from other men! Noblesse oblige! To his uncle the privilege of returning a member to Parliament had been a thing of course; and when the radical newspapers of the day abused his uncle, his uncle took that abuse as a thing of course. The old Duke acted after his kind, and did not care what others said of him. And he himself, when he first came to his dukedom, was not as he was now. Duties, though they were heavy enough, were lighter then. Serious matters were less serious. There was this and that matter of public policy on which he was intent, but, thinking humbly of himself, he had not yet learned to conceive that he must fit his public conduct in all things to a straight rule of patriotic justice. Now it was different with him, and though the change was painful, he felt it to be imperative. He would fain have been as other men, but he could not. But in this change it was so needful to him that should carry with him the full sympathies of one person; — that she who was nearest to him of all should act with him! And now she had not only disobeyed him, but had told him, as some grocer’s wife might tell her husband, that he was ‘making a fuss of it all’!

And then, as he thought of the scene which has been described, he could not quite approve of himself. He knew that he was too self-conscious — that he was thinking too much about his own conduct and the conduct of others to him. The phrase had been odious to him, but still he could not acquit himself of ‘making a fuss’. Of one thing only was he sure — that a grievous calamity had befallen him when circumstances compelled him to become the Queen’s Prime Minister.

He said nothing further to his wife till they were in London together, and then he was tempted to caress her again, to be loving to her, and to show her that he had forgiven her. But she was brusque to him, as though she did not wish to be forgiven. ‘Cora,’ he said, ‘do not separate yourself from me.’

‘Separate myself! What on earth do you mean? I have not dreamed of such a thing.’ The Duchess answered him as though he had alluded to some actual separation.

‘I do not mean that. God forbid that a misfortune such as that should ever happen! Do not disjoin yourself from me in all these troubles.’

‘What am I to do when you scold me? You must know pretty well by this time that I don’t like being scolded. “I desired you not to speak to Mr Sprugeon!”’ As she repeated his words she imitated his manner and voice closely. ‘I shouldn’t dream of addressing the children with such magnificence of anger. “What business is it of yours!” No woman likes that sort of thing, and I’m not sure that I am acquainted with any woman who likes it much less than — Glencora, Duchess of Omnium.’ As she said these last words in a low whisper, she curtsied down to the ground.

‘You know how anxious I am,’ he began, ‘that you should share everything with me — even in politics. But in all things there must at last be one voice that shall be the ruling voice.’

‘And that is to be yours — of course.’

‘In such a matter it must be.’

‘And, therefore, I like to do a little business of my own behind your back. It’s human nature, and you’ve got to put up with it. I wish you had a better wife. I dare say there are many who would be better. There is the Duchess of St Bungay who never troubles her husband about politics, but only scolds him because the wind blows from the east. It is just possible that there might be worse.’

‘Oh, Glencora!’

‘You had better make the best you can of your bargain and not expect too much from her. And don’t ride over her with a very high horse. And let her have her own way a little if you really believe that she has your interest at heart.’

After this he was quite aware that she had got the better of him altogether. On that occasion he smiled and kissed her, and went his way. But he was by no means satisfied. That he should be thwarted by her, ate into his very heart — and it was a wretched thing to him that he could not make her understand his feeling in that respect. If it were to go on he must throw up everything. Ruat coelum fiat — proper subordination from his wife in regard to public matters! No wife had a fuller allowance of privilege, or more complete power in her hands, as to things fit for a woman’s management. But it was intolerable to him that she should seek to interfere with him in matters of a public nature. And she was constantly doing so. She had always this or that aspirant for office on hand — this or that job to be carried, though the jobs were not perhaps much in themselves; — this or that affair to be managed by her own political allies, such as Barrington Erle and Phineas Finn. And in his heart he suspected her of a design of managing the Government in her own way, with her own particular friend, Mrs Finn, for her Prime Minister. If he could in no other way put an end to such evils as these, he must put an end to his own political life. Ruat coelum fiat justitia. Now ‘justitia’ to him was not compatible with feminine interference in his own special work.

It may therefore be understood that things were not going very smoothly with the Duke and Duchess; and it may also be understood why the Duchess had very little to say to Mr Lopez about the election. She was aware that she owed something to Mr Lopez, whom she had certainly encouraged to stand for the borough, and she had therefore sent her card to his wife and was prepared to invite them both to her parties; — but just at present she was a little tired of Ferdinand Lopez, and perhaps unjustly disposed to couple him with the unfortunate wretch, Major Pountney.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/prime/chapter32.html

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