Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 26

The Duke’s Will

On the ninth day after Madame Goesler’s arrival the Duke died, and Lady Glencora Palliser became Duchess of Omnium. But the change probably was much greater to Mr Palliser than to his wife. It would seem to be impossible to imagine a greater change than had come upon him. As to rank, he was raised from that of a simple commoner to the very top of the tree. He was made master of almost unlimited wealth, Garters, and lord-lieutenancies; and all the added grandeurs which come from high influence when joined to high rank were sure to be his. But he was no more moved by these things than would have been a god, or a block of wood. His uncle was dead; but his uncle had been an old man, and his grief on that score was moderate. As soon as his uncle’s body had been laid in the family vault at Gatherum, men would call him Duke of Omnium; and then he could never sit again in the House of Commons. It was in that light, and in that light only, that he regarded the matter. To his uncle it had been everything to be Duke of Omnium. To Plantagenet Palliser it was less than nothing. He had lived among men and women with titles all his life, himself untitled, but regarded by them as one of themselves, till the thing, in his estimation, had come to seem almost nothing. One man walked out of a room before another man; and he, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, had, during a part of his career, walked out of most rooms before most men. But he cared not at all whether he walked out first or last — and for him there was nothing else in it. It was a toy that would perhaps please his wife, but he doubted even whether she would not cease to be Lady Glencora with regret. In himself this thing that had happened had absolutely crushed him. He had won for himself by his own aptitudes and his own industry one special position in the empire — and that position, and that alone, was incompatible with the rank which he was obliged to assume! His case was very hard, and he felt it — but he made no complaint to human ears. “I suppose you must give up the Exchequer,” his wife said to him. He shook his head, and made no reply. Even to her he could not explain his feelings.

I think, too, that she did regret the change in her name, though she was by no means indifferent to the rank. As Lady Glencora she had made a reputation which might very possibly fall away from her as Duchess of Omnium. Fame is a skittish jade, more fickle even than Fortune, and apt to shy, and bolt, and plunge away on very trifling causes. As Lady Glencora Palliser she was known to everyone, and had always done exactly as she had pleased. The world in which she lived had submitted to her fantasies, and had placed her on a pedestal from which, as Lady Glencora, nothing could have moved her. She was by no means sure that the same pedestal would be able to carry the Duchess of Omnium. She must begin again, and such beginnings are dangerous. As Lady Glencora she had almost taken upon herself to create a rivalry in society to certain very distinguished, and indeed illustrious, people. There were only two houses in London, she used to say, to which she never went. The “never” was not quite true — but there had been something in it. She doubted whether as Duchess of Omnium she could go on with this. She must lay down her mischief, and abandon her eccentricity, and in some degree act like other duchesses. “The poor old man,” she said to Madame Goesler; “I wish he could have gone on living a little longer.” At this time the two ladies were alone together at Matching. Mr Palliser, with the cousins, had gone to Gatherum, whither also had been sent all that remained of the late Duke, in order that fitting funeral obsequies might be celebrated over the great family vault.

“He would hardly have wished it himself, I think.”

“One never knows — and as far as one can look into futurity one has no idea what would be one’s own feelings. I suppose he did enjoy life.”

“Hardly, for the last twelve months,” said Madame Goesler.

“I think he did. He was happy when you were about him; and he interested himself about things. Do you remember how much he used to think of Lady Eustace and her diamonds? When I first knew him he was too magnificent to care about anything.”

“I suppose his nature was the same.”

“Yes, my dear; his nature was the same, but he was strong enough to restrain his nature, and wise enough to know that his magnificence was incompatible with ordinary interests. As he got to be older he broke down, and took up with mere mortal gossip. But I think it must have made him happier.”

“He showed his weakness in coming to me,” said Madame Goesler, laughing.

“Of course he did — not in liking your society, but in wanting to give you his name. I have often wondered what kind of things he used to say to that old Lady Hartletop. That was in his full grandeur, and he never condescended to speak much then. I used to think him so hard; but I suppose he was only acting his part. I used to call him the Grand Lama to Plantagenet when we were first married — before Planty was born. I shall always call him Silverbridge now instead of Planty.”

“I would let others do that.”

“Of course I was joking; but others will, and he will be spoilt. I wonder whether he will live to be a Grand Lama or a popular Minister. There cannot be two positions further apart. My husband, no doubt, thinks a good deal of himself as a statesman and a clever politician — at least I suppose he does; but he has not the slightest reverence for himself as a nobleman. If the dear old Duke were hobbling along Piccadilly, he was conscious that Piccadilly was graced by his presence, and never moved without being aware that people looked at him, and whispered to each other — There goes the Duke of Omnium. Plantagenet considers himself inferior to a sweeper while on the crossing, and never feels any pride of place unless he is sitting on the Treasury Bench with his hat over his eyes.”

“He’ll never sit on the Treasury Bench again.”

“No — poor dear. He’s an Othello now with a vengeance, for his occupation is gone. I spoke to him about your friend and the foxes, and he told me to write to Mr Fothergill. I will as soon as it’s decent. I fancy a new duchess shouldn’t write letters about foxes till the old Duke is buried. I wonder what sort of a will he’ll have made. There’s nothing I care twopence for except his pearls. No man in England had such a collection of precious stones. They’d been yours, my dear, if you had consented to be Mrs O.”

The Duke was buried and the will was read, and Plantagenet Palliser was addressed as Duke of Omnium by all the tenantry and retainers of the family in the great hall of Gatherum Castle. Mr Fothergill, who had upon occasion in former days been driven by his duty to remonstrate with the heir, was all submission. Planty Pall had come to the throne, and half a county was ready to worship him. But he did not know how to endure worship, and the half county declared that he was stern and proud, and more haughty even than his uncle. At every “Grace” that was flung at him he winced and was miserable, and declared to himself that he should never become accustomed to his new life. So he sat all alone, and meditated how he might best reconcile the forty-eight farthings which go to a shilling with that thorough-going useful decimal, fifty.

But his meditations did not prevent him from writing to his wife, and on the following morning, Lady Glencora — as she shall be called now for the last time — received a letter from him which disturbed her a good deal. She was in her room when it was brought to her, and for an hour after reading it hardly knew how to see her guest and friend, Madame Goesler. The passage in the letter which produced this dismay was as follows: “He has left to Madame Goesler twenty thousand pounds and all his jewels. The money may be very well, but I think he has been wrong about the jewellery. As to myself I do not care a straw, but you will be sorry; and then people will talk. The lawyers will, of course, write to her, but I suppose you had better tell her. They seem to think that the stones are worth a great deal of money; but I have long learned never to believe any statement that is made to me. They are all here, and I suppose she will have to send some authorised person to have them packed. There is a regular inventory, of which a copy shall be sent to her by post as soon as it can be prepared.” Now it must be owned that the duchess did begrudge her friend the duke’s collection of pearls and diamonds.

About noon they met. “My dear,” she said, “you had better hear your good fortune at once. Read that — just that side. Plantagenet is wrong in saying that I shall regret it. I don’t care a bit about it. If I want a ring or a brooch he can buy me one. But I never did care about such things, and I don’t now. The money is all just as it should be.” Madame Goesler read the passage, and the blood mounted up into her face. She read it very slowly, and when she had finished reading it she was for a moment or two at a loss for her words to express herself. “You had better send one of Garnett’s people,” said the Duchess, naming the house of a distinguished jeweller and goldsmith in London.

“It will hardly need,” said Madame Goesler.

“You had better be careful. There is no knowing what they are worth. He spent half his income on them, I believe, during part of his life.” There was a roughness about the Duchess of which she was herself conscious, but which she could not restrain, though she knew that it betrayed her chagrin.

Madame Goesler came gently up to her and touched her arm caressingly. “Do you remember,” said Madame Goesler, “a small ring with a black diamond — I suppose it was a diamond — which he always wore?”

“I remember that he always did wear such a ring.”

“I should like to have that,” said Madame Goesler.

“You have them all — everything. He makes no distinction.”

“I should like to have that, Lady Glen — for the sake of the hand that wore it. But, as God is great above us, I will never take aught else that has belonged to the Duke.”

“Not take them!”

“Not a gem; not a stone; not a shilling.”

“But you must.”

“I rather think that I can be under no such obligation,” she said, laughing. “Will you write to Mr Palliser — or I should say, to the Duke — tonight, and tell him that my mind is absolutely made up?”

“I certainly shall not do that.”

“Then I must. As it is, I shall have pleasant memories of His Grace. According to my ability I have endeavoured to be good to him, and I have no stain on my conscience because of his friendship. If I took his money and his jewels — or rather your money and your jewels — do you think I could say as much?”

“Everybody takes what anybody leaves them by will.”

“I will be an exception to the rule, Lady Glen. Don’t you think that your friendship is more to me than all the diamonds in London?”

“You shall have both, my dear,” said the Duchess — quite in earnest in her promise. Madame Goesler shook her head. “Nobody ever repudiates legacies. The Queen would take the jewels if they were left to her.”

“I am not the Queen. I have to be more careful what I do than any queen. I will take nothing under the Duke’s will. I will ask a boon which I have already named, and if it be given me as a gift by the Duke’s heir, I will wear it till I die. You will write to Mr Palliser?”

“I couldn’t do it,” said the Duchess.

“Then I will write myself.” And she did write, and of all the rich things which the Duke of Omnium had left to her, she took nothing but the little ring with the black stone which he had always worn on his finger.

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