The task which Lady Glencora had taken upon herself was not a very easy one. No doubt Lord Fawn was a man subservient to the leaders of his party, much afraid of the hard judgment of those with whom, he was concerned, painfully open to impression from what he would have called public opinion, to a certain extent a coward, most anxious to do right so that he might not be accused of being in the wrong, and at the same time gifted with but little of that insight into things which teaches men to know what is right and what is wrong. Lady Glencora, having perceived all this, felt that he was a man upon whom a few words from her might have an effect. But even Lady Glencora might hesitate to tell a gentleman that he ought to marry a lady, when the gentleman had already declared his intention of not marrying and had attempted to justify his decision almost publicly by a reference to the lady’s conduct! Lady Glencora almost felt that she had undertaken too much as she turned over in her mind the means she had of performing her promise to Lady Eustace.
The five-farthing bill had been laid upon the table on a Tuesday, and was to be read the first time on the following Monday week. On the Wednesday Lady Glencora had written to the duke, and had called in Hertford Street. On the following Sunday she was at Matching, looking after the duke; but she returned to London on the Tuesday, and on the Wednesday there was a little dinner at Mr. Palliser’s house, given avowedly with the object of further friendly discussion respecting the new Palliser penny. The prime minister was to be there, and Mr. Bonteen, and Barrington Erle, and those special members of the Government who would be available for giving special help to the financial Hercules of the day. A question, perhaps of no great practical importance, had occurred to Mr. Palliser, but one which, if overlooked, might be fatal to the ultimate success of the measure. There is so much in a name, and then an ounce of ridicule is often more potent than a hundredweight of argument. By what denomination should the fifth part of a penny be hereafter known? Some one had, ill-naturedly, whispered to Mr. Palliser that a farthing meant a fourth, and at once there arose a new trouble, which for a time bore very heavily on him. Should he boldly disregard the original meaning of the useful old word; or should he venture on the dangers of new nomenclature? October, as he said to himself, is still the tenth month of the year, November the eleventh, and so on, though by these names they are so plainly called the eighth and ninth. All France tried to rid itself of this absurdity and failed. Should he stick by the farthing; or should he call it a fifthing, a quint, or a semitenth? “There’s the ‘Fortnightly Review’ comes out but once a month,” he said to his friend Mr. Bonteen, “and I’m told that it does very well.” Mr. Bonteen, who was a rational man, thought the “Review” would do better if it were called by a more rational name, and was very much in favour of “a quint.” Mr. Gresham had expressed an opinion, somewhat off hand, that English people would never be got to talk about quints, and so there was a difficulty. A little dinner was therefore arranged, and Mr. Palliser, as was his custom in such matters, put the affair of the dinner into his wife’s hands. When he was told that she had included Lord Fawn among the guests he opened his eyes. Lord Fawn, who might be good enough at the India Office, knew literally nothing about the penny.
“He’ll take it as the greatest compliment in the world,” said Lady Glencora.
“I don’t want to pay Lord Fawn a compliment,” said Mr. Palliser.
“But I do,” said Lady Glencora. And so the matter was arranged.
It was a very nice little dinner. Mrs. Gresham and Mrs. Bonteen were there, and the great question of the day was settled in two minutes, before the guests went out of the drawing-room.
“Stick to your farthing,” said Mr. Gresham.
“I think so,” said Mr. Palliser.
“Quint’s a very easy word,” said Mr. Bonteen.
“But squint is an easier,” said Mr. Gresham, with all a prime minister’s jocose authority.
“They’d certainly be called cock-eyes,” said Barrington Erie.
“There’s nothing of the sound of a quarter in farthing,” said Mr. Palliser.
“Stick to the old word,” said Mr. Gresham. And so the matter was decided while Lady Glencora was flattering Lord Fawn as to the manner in which he had finally arranged the affair of the Sawab of Mygawb. Then they went down to dinner, and not a word more was said that evening about the new penny by Mr. Palliser.
Before dinner Lady Glencora had exacted a promise from Lord Fawn that he would return to the drawing-room. Lady Glencora was very clever at such work, and said nothing then of her purpose. She did not want her guests to run away, and therefore Lord Fawn — Lord Fawn especially — must stay. If he were to go there would be nothing spoken of all the evening, but that weary new penny. To oblige her he must remain; and, of course, he did remain. “Whom do you think I saw the other day?” said Lady Glencora, when she got her victim into a corner. Of course Lord Fawn had no idea whom she might have seen. Up to that moment no suspicion of what was coming upon him had crossed his mind. “I called upon poor Lady Eustace and found her in bed.” Then did Lord Fawn blush up to the roots of his hair, and for a moment he was stricken dumb. “I do feel for her so much! I think she has been so hardly used!”
He was obliged to say something. “My name has of course been much mixed up with hers.”
“Yes, Lord Fawn, I know it has. And it is because I am so sure of your high-minded generosity and — and thorough devotion, that I have ventured to speak to you. I am sure there is nothing you would wish so much as to get at the truth.”
“Certainly, Lady Glencora.”
“All manner of stories have been told about her, and, as I believe, without the slightest foundation. They tell me now that she had an undoubted right to keep the diamonds; that even if Sir Florian did not give them to her, they were hers under his will. Those lawyers have given up all idea of proceeding against her.”
“Because the necklace has been stolen.”
“Altogether independently of that. Do you see Mr. Eustace, and ask him if what I say is not true. If it had not been her own she would have been responsible for the value, even though it were stolen; and with such a fortune as hers they would never have allowed her to escape. They were as bitter against her as they could be; weren’t they?”
“Mr. Camperdown thought that the property should be given up.”
“Oh yes; that’s the man’s name; a horrid man. I am told that he was really most cruel to her. And then, because a lot of thieves had got about her — after the diamonds, you know, like flies round a honeypot — and took first her necklace and then her money, they were impudent enough to say that she had stolen her own things!”
“I don’t think they quite said that, Lady Glencora.”
“Something very much like it, Lord Fawn. I have no doubt in my own mind who did steal all the things.”
“Who was it?”
“Oh, one mustn’t mention names in such an affair without evidence. At any rate she has been very badly treated, and I shall take her up. If I were you I would go and call upon her. I would indeed. I think you owe it to her. Well, duke, what do you think of Plantagenet’s penny now? Will it ever be worth two half-pence?” This question was asked of the Duke of St. Bungay, a great nobleman whom all Liberals loved, and a member of the Cabinet. He had come in since dinner, and had been asking a question or two as to what had been decided.
“Well, yes; if properly invested I think it will. I’m glad it is not to contain five semitenths. A semitenth would never have been a popular form of money in England. We hate new names so much that we have not yet got beyond talking of fourpenny bits.”
“There’s a great deal in a name, isn’t there? You don’t think they’ll call them Pallisers, or Palls, or anything of that sort, do you? I shouldn’t like to hear that under the new regime two lollypops were to cost three Palls. But they say it never can be carried this session, and we sha’n’t be in, in the next year.”
“Who says so? Don’t be such a prophetess of evil, Lady Glencora. I mean to be in for the next three sessions, and I mean to see Palliser’s measure carried through the House of Lords next session. I shall be paying for my mutton chops at so many quints a chop yet. Don’t you think so, Fawn?”
“I don’t know what to think,” said Lord Fawn, whose mind was intent on other matters. After that he left the room as quickly as he could, and escaped out into the street. His mind was very much disturbed. If Lady Glencora was determined to take up the cudgels for the woman he had rejected, the comfort and peace of his life would be over. He knew well enough how strong was Lady Glencora.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55