It happened that there were at this time certain matters of business to be settled between the Duke of Omnium and his nephew Mr Palliser, respecting which the latter called upon his uncle on the morning after the Duke had committed himself by his offer. Mr Palliser had come by appointment made with Mr Fothergill, the Duke’s man of business, and had expected to meet Mr Fothergill. Mr Fothergill, however, was not with the Duke, and the uncle told the nephew that the business had been postponed. Then Mr Palliser asked some question as to the reason of such postponement, not meaning much by his question — and the Duke, after a moment’s hesitation, answered him, meaning very much by his answer. “The truth is, Plantagenet, that it is possible that I may marry, and if so this arrangement would not suit me.”
“Are you going to be married?” asked the astonished nephew.
“It is not exactly that — but it is possible that I may do so. Since I proposed this matter to Fothergill, I have been thinking over it, and I have changed my mind. It will make but little difference to you; and after all you are a far richer man than I am.”
“I am not thinking of money, Duke,” said Plantagenet Palliser.
“Of what then were you thinking?”
“Simply of what you told me. I do not in the least mean to interfere.”
“I hope not, Plantagenet.”
“But I could not hear such a statement from you without some surprise. Whatever you do I hope will tend to make you happy.”
So much passed between the uncle and the nephew, and what the uncle told to the nephew, the nephew of course told to his wife. “He was with her again, yesterday,” said Lady Glencora, “for more than an hour. And he had been half the morning dressing himself before he went to her.”
“He is not engaged to her, or he would have told me,” said Plantagenet Palliser.
“I think he would, but there is no knowing. At the present moment I have only one doubt — whether to act upon him or upon her.”
“I do not see that you can do good by going to either.”
“Well, we will see. If she be the woman I take her to be, I think I could do something with her. I have never supposed her to be a bad woman — never. I will think of it.” Then Lady Glencora left her husband, and did not consult him afterwards as to the course she would pursue. He had his budget to manage, and his speeches to make. The little affair of the Duke and Madame Goesler, she thought it best to take into her own hands without any assistance from him. “What a fool I was,” she said to herself, to have her down there when the Duke was at Matching!”
Madame Goesler, when she was left alone, felt that now indeed she must make up her mind. She had asked for two days. The intervening day was a Sunday, and on the Monday she must send her answer. She might doubt at any rate for this one night — the Saturday night — and sit playing, as it were, with the coronet of a duchess in her lap. She had been born the daughter of a small country attorney, and now a duke had asked her to be his wife — and a duke who was acknowledged to stand above other dukes! Nothing at any rate could rob her of that satisfaction. Whatever resolution she might form at last, she had by her own resources reached a point of success in remembering which there would always be a keen gratification. It would be much to be Duchess of Omnium; but it would be something also to have refused to be a Duchess of Omnium. During that evening, that night, and the next morning, she remained playing with the coronet in her lap. She would not go to church. What good could any sermon do her while that bauble was dangling before her eyes? After church-time, about two o’clock, Phineas Finn came to her. Just at this period Phineas would come to her often — sometimes full of a new decision to forget Violet Effingham altogether, at others minded to continue his siege let the hope of success be ever so small. He had now heard that Violet and Lord Chiltern had in truth quarrelled, and was of course anxious to be advised to continue the siege. When he first came in and spoke a word or two, in which there was no reference to Violet Effingham, there came upon Madame Goesler a strong wish to decide at once that she would play no longer with the coronet, that the gem was not worth the cost she would be called upon to pay for it. There was something in the world better for her than the coronet — if only it might be had. But within ten minutes he had told her the whole tale about Lord Chiltern, and how he had seen Violet at Lady Baldock’s — and how there might yet be hope for him. What would she advise him to do? “Go home, Mr Finn,” she said, and write a sonnet to her eyebrow. See if that will have any effect.”
“Ah, well! It is natural that you should laugh at me; but somehow, I did not expect it from you.”
“Do not be angry with me. What I mean is that such little things seem to influence this Violet of yours.”
“Do they? I have not found that they do so.”
“If she had loved Lord Chiltern she would not have quarrelled with him for a few words. If she had loved you, she would not have accepted Lord Chiltern. If she loves neither of you, she should say so. I am losing my respect for her.”
“Do not say that, Madame Goesler. I respect her as strongly as I love her.” Then Madame Goesler almost made up her mind that she would have the coronet. There was a substance about the coronet that would not elude her grasp.
Late that afternoon, while she was still hesitating, there came another caller to the cottage in Park Lane. She was still hesitating, feeling that she had as yet another night before her. Should she be Duchess of Omnium or not? All that she wished to be, she could not be — but to be Duchess of Omnium was within her reach. Then she began to ask herself various questions. Would the Queen refuse to accept her in her new rank? Refuse! How could any Queen refuse to accept her? She had not done aught amiss in life. There was no slur on her name; no stain on her character. What though her father had been a small attorney, and her first husband a Jew banker! She had broken no law of God or man, had been accused of breaking no law, which breaking or which accusation need stand in the way of her being as good a duchess as any other woman! She was sitting thinking of this, almost angry with herself at the awe with which the proposed rank inspired her, when Lady Glencora was announced to her.
“Madame Goesler,” said Lady Glencora, I am very glad to find you.”
“And I more than equally so, to be found,” said Madame Goesler, smiling with all her grace.
“My uncle has been with you since I saw you last?”
“Oh yes — more than once if I remember right. He was here yesterday at any rate.”
“He comes often to you then?”
“Not so often as I would wish, Lady Glencora. The Duke is one of my dearest friends.”
“It has been a quick friendship.”
“Yes — a quick friendship,” said Madame Goesler. Then there was a pause for some moments which Madame Goesler was determined that she would not break. It was clear to her now on what ground Lady Glencora had come to her, and she was fully minded that if she could bear the full light of the god himself in all his glory, she would not allow herself to be scorched by any reflected heat coming from the god’s niece. She thought she could endure anything that Lady Glencora might say; but she would wait and hear what might be said.
“I think, Madame Goesler, that I had better hurry on to my subject at once,” said Lady Glencora, almost hesitating as she spoke, and feeling that the colour was rushing up to her cheeks and covering her brow. “Of course what I have to say will be disagreeable. Of course I shall offend you. And yet I do not mean it.”
“I shall be offended at nothing, Lady Glencora, unless I think that you mean to offend me.”
“I protest that I do not. You have seen my little boy.”
“Yes, indeed. The sweetest child! God never gave me anything half so precious as that.”
“He is the Duke’s heir.”
“So I understand.”
“For myself, by my honour as a woman, I care nothing. I am rich and have all that the world can give me. For my husband, in this matter, I care nothing. His career he will make for himself, and it will depend on no title.”
“Why all this to me, Lady Glencora? What have I to do with your husband’s titles?”
“Much — if it be true that there is an idea of marriage between you and the Duke of Omnium.”
“Psha!” said Madame Goesler, with all the scorn of which she was mistress.
“It is untrue, then?” asked Lady Glencora.
“No — it is not untrue. There is an idea of such a marriage.”
“And you are engaged to him?”
“No — I am not engaged to him.”
“Has he asked you?”
“Lady Glencora, I really must say that such a cross-questioning from one lady to another is very unusual. I have promised not to be offended, unless I thought that you wished to offend me. But do not drive me too far.”
“Madame Goesler, if you will tell me that I am mistaken, I will beg your pardon, and offer to you the most sincere friendship which one woman can give another.”
“Lady Glencora, I can tell you nothing of the kind.”
“Then it is to be so! And have you thought what you would gain?”
“I have thought much of what I should gain: and something also of what I should lose.”
“You have money.”
“Yes, indeed; plenty — for wants so moderate as mine.”
“Well, yes; a sort of position. Not such as yours, Lady Glencora. That, if it be not born to a woman, can only come to her from a husband. She cannot win it for herself.”
“You are free as air, going where you like, and doing what you like.”
“Too free, sometimes,” said Madame Goesler.
“And what will you gain by changing all this simply for a title?”
“But for such a title, Lady Glencora! It may be little to you to be Duchess of Omnium, but think what it must be to me!”
“And for this you will not hesitate to rob him of all his friends, to embitter his future life, to degrade him among his peers — ”
“Degrade him! Who dares say that I shall degrade him? He will exalt me, but I shall no whit degrade him. You forget yourself, Lady Glencora.”
“Ask anyone. It is not that I despise you. If I did, would I offer you my hand in friendship? But an old man, over seventy, carrying the weight and burden of such rank as his, will degrade himself in the eyes of his fellows, if he marries a young woman without rank, let her be ever so clever, ever so beautiful. A Duke of Omnium may not do as he pleases, as may another man.”
“It may be well, Lady Glencora, for other dukes, and for the daughters and heirs and cousins of other dukes, that His Grace should try that question. I will, if you wish it, argue this matter with you on many points, but I will not allow you to say that I should degrade any man whom I might marry. My name is as unstained as your own.”
“I meant nothing of that,” said Lady Glencora.
“For him — I certainly would not willingly injure him. Who wishes to injure a friend? And, in truth, I have so little to gain, that the temptation to do him an injury, if I thought it one, is not strong. For your little boy, Lady Glencora, I think your fears are premature.” As she said this, there came a smile over her face, which threatened to break from control and almost become laughter. “But, if you will allow me to say so, my mind will not be turned against this marriage half so strongly by any arguments you can use as by those which I can adduce myself. You have nearly driven me into it by telling me I should degrade his house. It is almost incumbent on me to prove that you are wrong. But you had better leave me to settle the matter in my own bosom. You had indeed.”
After a while Lady Glencora did leave her — to settle the matter within her own bosom — having no other alternative.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14