The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 38

Sir Orlando Retires.

‘He is a horrid man. He came here and quarrelled with the other man in my house, or rather down at Richmond, and made a fool of himself, and then quarrelled with his wife and took her away. What fools, what asses, what horrors men are! How impossible it is to be civil and gracious without getting into a mess. I am tempted to say that I will never know anybody any more.’ Such was the complaint made by the Duchess to Mrs Finn a few days after the Richmond party, and from this it was evident that the latter affair had not passed without notice.

‘Did he make a noise about it?’ asked Mrs Finn.

‘There was not a row, but there was enough of a quarrel to be visible and audible. He walked about and talked loud to the poor woman. Of course it was my own fault. But the man was clever and I liked him, and people told me that he was of the right sort.’

‘The Duke heard of it?’

‘No; — and I hope he won’t. It would be such a triumph for him, after all the fuss at Silverbridge. But he never heard of anything. If two men fought a duel in his own dining-room he would be the last man in London to know about it.’

‘Then say nothing about it, and don’t ask the men anymore.’

‘You may be sure I won’t ask the man with the wife any more. The other man is in Parliament and can’t be thrown over so easily — and it wasn’t his fault. But I’m getting so sick of it all! I’m told that Sir Orlando has complained to Plantagenet that he isn’t asked to the dinners.’

‘Impossible!’

‘Don’t you mention it, but he has. Warburton has told me so.’ Warburton was one of the Duke’s private secretaries.

‘What did the Duke say?’

‘I don’t quite know. Warburton is one of my familiars, but I didn’t like to ask him for more than he chose to tell me. Warburton suggested that I should invite Sir Orlando at once; but there I was obdurate. Of course, if Plantagenet tells me I’ll ask the man to come every day of the week; — but it is one of those things that I shall need to be told directly. My idea is, you know, that they had better get rid of Sir Orlando — and that if Sir Orlando chooses to kick over the traces, he may be turned loose without any danger. One has little birds that give one all manner of information, and one little bird has told me that Sir Orlando and Mr Roby don’t speak. Mr Roby is not very much himself, but he is a good straw to show which way the wind blows. Plantagenet certainly sent no message about Sir Orlando, and I’m afraid the gentleman must look for his dinners elsewhere.’

The Duke had in truth expressed himself very plainly to Mr Warburton; but with so much indiscreet fretfulness that the discreet private secretary had not told it even to the Duchess.

‘This kind of thing argues a want of cordiality that may be fatal to us,’ Sir Orlando had said somewhat grandiloquently to the Duke, and the Duke had made — almost no reply. ‘I suppose I may ask my own guests into my own house,’ he had said afterwards to Mr Warburton, ‘though in public life I am everybody’s slave.’ Mr Warburton, anxious of course to maintain the unity of the party, had told the Duchess so much as would, he thought, induce her to give way, but he had not repeated the Duke’s own observations, which were, Mr Warburton thought, hostile to the interests of the party. The Duchess only smiled and made a little grimace, with which the private secretary was already well acquainted. And Sir Orlando received no invitation.

In those days Sir Orlando was unhappy and irritable, doubtful of further success as regarded the Coalition, but quite resolved to put the house down about the ears of the inhabitants rather than to leave it with gentle resignation. To him it seemed to be impossible that the Coalition should exist without him. He too had moments of high-vaulting ambition, in which he had almost felt himself to be the great man required by the country, the one ruler who could gather together in his grasp the reins of government and drive the State coach single-handed safe through its difficulties for the next half-dozen years. There are men who cannot conceive of themselves that anything should be difficult for them, and again others who cannot bring themselves so to trust themselves as to think that they can ever achieve anything great. Samples of each sort from time to time rise high in political life, carried thither apparently by Epicurean concourse of atoms; and it often happens that the more confident samples are by no means the most capable. The concourse of atoms had carried Sir Orlando so high that he could not but think himself intended for something higher. But the Duke, who had really been wafted to the very top, had always doubted himself, believing himself capable of doing some one thing by dint of industry, but with no further confidence in his own powers. Sir Orlando had perceived something of his leader’s weakness, and had thought that he might profit by it. He was not only a distinguished member of the Cabinet, but even the recognised Leader of the House of Commons. He looked out the facts and found that for five-and-twenty years out of the last thirty the Leader of the House of Commons had been the Head of Government. He felt that he would be mean not to stretch out his hand and take the prize destined for him. The Duke was a poor timid man who had very little to say for himself. Then came the little episode about the dinners. It had become very evident to the world that the Duchess of Omnium had cut Sir Orlando Drought — that the Prime Minister’s wife, who was great in hospitality, would not admit the First Lord of the Admiralty into her house. The doings of Gatherum Castle, and in Carlton Terrace, and at The Horns were watched much too closely by the world at large to allow such omissions to be otherwise than conspicuous. Since the commencement of the session there had been a series of articles in the “People’s Banner” violently abusive of the Prime Minister, and in one or two of these the indecency of these exclusions had been exposed with great strength of language. And the Editor of the “People’s Banner” had discovered that Sir Orlando Drought was the one man in Parliament fit to rule the nation. Till Parliament should discover this fact, or at least acknowledge it, — the discovery having been happily made by the “People’s Banner” — the Editor of the “People’s Banner” thought there could be no hope for the country. Sir Orlando of course saw all these articles, and his very heart believed that a man at length sprung up among them fit to conduct a newspaper. The Duke also unfortunately saw the “People’s Banner”. In his old happy days two papers a day, one in the morning and the other before dinner, sufficed to tell him all that he wanted to know. Now he felt it necessary to see almost every rag that was published. And he would skim through them all till he found lines in which he himself was maligned, and then, with sore heart and irritated nerves, would pause over every contumelious word. He would have bitten his tongue out rather that have spoken of the tortures he endured, but he was tortured and did endure. He knew the cause of the bitter personal attacks upon him — of the abuse with which he was loaded, and of the ridicule, infinitely more painful to him, with which his wife’s social splendour was bespattered. He remembered well the attempt with which Mr Quintus Slide had made to obtain an entrance into his house, and his own scornful rejection of that gentleman’s overtures. He knew — no man knew better — the real value of that able Editor’s opinion. And yet every word of it was gall and wormwood to him. In every paragraph there was a scourge which hit him on the raw and opened the wounds which he could show to no kind surgeon, for which he could find solace in no friendly treatment. Not even to his wife could he condescend to say that Mr Quintus Slide had hurt him.

Then Sir Orlando had come himself. Sir Orlando explained himself gracefully. He of course could understand that no gentleman had a right to complain because he was not asked to another gentleman’s house. But the affairs of the country were above private considerations; and he, actuated by public feelings, would condescend to do that which under other circumstances would be impossible. The public press, which was every vigilant, had suggested that there was some official estrangement, because Sir Orlando had not been included in the list of guests invited by His Grace. Did not his Grace think that there might be seeds of, — he would not quite say decay for the Coalition, in such a state of things? The Duke paused for a moment, and then said that he thought there were no such seeds. Sir Orlando bowed haughtily and withdrew — swearing at that moment that the Coalition should be made to fall into a thousand shivers. This had all taken place a fortnight before the party at The Horns from which poor Mrs Lopez had been withdrawn so hastily.

But Sir Orlando, when he commenced the proceeding consequent on this resolution, did not find all that support which he had expected. Unfortunately there had been an uncomfortable word or two between him and Mr Roby, the political Secretary at the Admiralty. Mr Roby had never quite seconded Sir Orlando’s ardour in the matter of the four ships, and Sir Orlando in his pride of place had ventured to snub Mr Roby. Now Mr Roby could perhaps bear a snubbing perhaps as well as any other official subordinate — but he was one who would study the question and assure himself that it was, or that it was not, worth his while to bear it. He, too, had discussed with his friends the condition of the Coalition, and had come to some conclusions rather adverse to Sir Orlando than otherwise. When, therefore, the First Secretary sounded him as to the expediency of some step in the direction of a firmer political combination than at present existing — by which of course was meant the dethronement of the present Prime Minister — Mr Roby had snubbed him! Then there had been slight official criminations and recriminations, till a state of things had come to pass which almost justified the statement by the Duchess to Mrs Finn.

The Coalition had many component parts, some coalescing without difficulty, but with no special cordiality. Such was the condition of things between the very conservative Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and his somewhat radical Chief Secretary, Mr Finn — between probably the larger number of those who were contented with the duties of their own offices and the pleasures and profits arising therefrom. Some by this time hardly coalesced at all, as was the case with Sir Gregory Grogram and Sir Timothy Beeswax, the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General; — and was especially the case with the Prime Minister and Sir Orlando Drought. But in one or two happy cases the Coalition was sincere and loyal — and in no case was this more so than with regard to Mr Rattler and Mr Roby. Mr Rattler and Mr Roby had throughout their long parliamentary lives belonged to opposite parties, and had been accustomed to regard each other with mutual jealousy and almost with mutual hatred. But now they had come to see how equal, how alike, and how sympathetic were their tastes, and how well each might help the other. As long as Mr Rattler could keep his place at the Treasury — and his ambition never stirred him to aught higher — he was quite contented that his old rival should be happy at the Admiralty. And that old rival, when he looked about him and felt his present comfort, when he remembered how short-lived had been the good things which had hitherto come in his way, and how little probable it was that long-lived good things should be his when the Coalition was broken up, manfully determined that loyalty to the present Head of Government was his duty. He had sat for too many years on the same bench with Sir Orlando to believe much in his power of governing the country. Therefore, when Sir Orlando dropped his hint Mr Roby did not take it.

‘I wonder whether it’s true that Sir Orlando complained to the Duke that he was not asked to dinner?’ said Mr Roby to Mr Rattler.

‘I should hardly think so. I can’t fancy that he would have the pluck,’ said Mr Rattler. ‘The Duke isn’t the easiest man in the world to speak about such a thing as that.’

‘It would be a monstrous thing for a man to do! But Drought’s head is quite turned. You can see that.’

‘We never thought much about him, you know, on our side.’

‘It was what your side thought about him,’ rejoined Roby, ‘that put him where he is now.’

‘It was the fate of accidents, Roby, which puts many of us in our places, and arranges our work for us, and makes us little men or big men. There are other men besides Drought who have been tossed up in a blanket till they don’t know whether their heads or their heels are highest.’

‘I quite believe the Duke,’ said Mr Roby, almost alarmed by the suggestion which his new friend had seemed to make.

‘So do I, Roby. He has not the obduracy of Lord Brock, nor the ineffable manner of Mr Mildmay, nor the brilliant intellect of Mr Gresham.’

‘Nor the picturesque imagination of Mr Daubney,’ said Mr Roby, feeling himself bound to support the character of his late chief.

‘Nor the audacity,’ said Mr Rattler. ‘But he has the peculiar gift of his own, and gifts fitted for the peculiar combination of circumstances, if he will only be content to use them. He is a just, unambitious, intelligent man, in whom after a while the country would come to have implicit confidence. But he is thin-skinned and ungenial.’

‘I have got into his boat,’ said Roby, enthusiastically, ‘and he will find that I shall be true to him.’

‘There is not better boat to be in at present,’ said the slightly sarcastic Rattler. ‘As to the Drought pinnace, it will be more difficult to get it afloat than the four ships themselves. To tell the truth honestly, Roby, we have to rid ourselves of Sir Orlando. I have a great regard for the man.’

‘I can’t say I ever liked him.’

‘I don’t talk about liking — but he has achieved success, and is to be regarded. Now he has lost his head, and he is bound to get a fall. The question is — who shall fall with him?’

‘I do not feel myself at all bound to sacrifice myself.’

‘I don’t know who does. Sir Timothy Beeswax, I suppose, will resent the injury done him. But I can hardly think that a strong government can be formed by Sir Orlando Drought and Sir Timothy Beeswax. Any secession is a weakness — of course; but I think we may survive it.’ And so Mr Rattler and Mr Roby made up their minds that the first Lord of the Admiralty might be thrown overboard without much danger to the Queen’s ship.

Sir Orlando, however, was quite in earnest. The man had spirit enough to feel that no alternative was left to him after he had condescended to suggest that he should be asked to dinner and had been refused. He tried Mr Roby, and found that Mr Roby was a mean fellow, wedded, as he told himself, to his salary. Then he sounded Lord Drummond, urging various reasons. The country was not safe without more ships. Mr Monk was altogether wrong about revenue. Mr Finn’s ideas about Ireland were revolutionary. But Lord Drummond thought that, upon the whole, the present Ministry served the country well, and considered himself bound to adhere to it. ‘He cannot beat the idea of being out of power,’ said Sir Orlando to himself. He next said a word to Sir Timothy; but Sir Timothy was not the man to be led by the nose by Sir Orlando. Sir Timothy had his grievance and meant to have his revenge, but he knew how to choose his own time. ‘The Duke’s not a bad fellow,’ said Sir Timothy — ‘perhaps a little weak, but well-meaning. I think we ought to stand by him a little longer. As for Finn’s Irish bill, I haven’t troubled myself about it.’ Then Sir Orlando declared himself that Sir Timothy was a coward, and resolved that he would act alone.

About the middle of July he went to the Duke at the Treasury, was closeted with him, and in a very long narration of his own differences, difficulties, opinions, and grievances, explained to the Duke that his conscience called upon him to resign. The Duke listened and bowed his head, and with one or two very gently-uttered word expressed his regret. Then Sir Orlando, in another long speech, laid bare his bosom to the Chief whom he was leaving, declaring the inexpressible sorrow with which he had found himself called upon to take a step which he feared might be prejudicial to the political status of a man whom he honoured so much as he did the Duke of Omnium. Then the Duke bowed again, but said nothing. The man had been guilty of the impropriety of questioning the way in which the Duke’s private hospitality was exercised, and the Duke could not bring himself to be genially civil to such an offender. Sir Orlando went on to say that he would of course explain his views in the Cabinet, but that he had thought it right to make them known to the Duke as soon as they were formed. ‘The best friends must part, Duke,’ he said as he took his leave. ‘I hope not, Sir Orlando. I hope not,’ said the Duke. But Sir Orlando had been too full of himself and of the words he had to speak, and of the thing he was about to do, to understand either the Duke’s words or his silence.

And so Sir Orlando resigned, and thus supplied the only morsel of political interest which the Session produced. ‘Take no more notice of him than if your footman was going,’ had been the advice of the old Duke. Of course there was a Cabinet meeting on the occasion, but even there the commotion was very slight, as every member knew before entering the room what it was that Sir Orlando intended to do. Lord Drummond said that the step was one to be much lamented. ‘Very much indeed,’ said the Duke of St Bungay. His word themselves were false and hypocritical, but the tone of his voice took away all the deceit. ‘I am afraid,’ said the Prime Minister, ‘from what Sir Orlando has said to me privately, that we cannot hope that he will change his mind.’ ‘That I certainly cannot do,’ said Sir Orlando, with all the dignified courage of a modern martyr.

On the next morning the papers were full of the political fact, and were blessed with a subject on which they could exercise their prophetical sagacity. The remarks made were generally favourable to the Government. Three or four of the morning papers were of opinion that though Sir Orlando had been a strong man, and a good public servant, the Ministry might exist without him. But the “People’s Banner” was able to expound to the people at large, that the only grain of salt by which the Ministry had been kept from putrefaction had been cast out, and that mortification, death and corruption, must ensue. It was one of Mr Quintus Slide’s greatest efforts.

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