For a few days the whole Harold Smith party held their heads very high. It was not only that their man had been made a Cabinet minister; but a rumour had got abroad that Lord Brock, in selecting him, had amazingly strengthened his party, and done much to cure the wounds which his own arrogance and lack of judgement had inflicted on the body politic of his Government. So said the Harold-Smithians, much elated. And when we consider what Harold had himself achieved, we need not be surprised that he himself was somewhat elated also. It must be a proud day for any man when he first walks into a Cabinet. But when a humble-minded man thinks of such a phase of life, his mind becomes lost in wondering what a Cabinet is. Are they gods that attend there or men? Do they sit on chairs, or hang about on clouds? When they speak, is the music of the spheres audible in their Olympian mansion, making heaven drowsy with its harmony? In what way do they congregate? In what order do they address each other? Are the voices of all the deities free and equal? If plodding Themis from the Home Department, or Ceres from the Colonies, heard with as rapt attention as powerful Pallas of the Foreign Office, the goddess that is never seen without her lance and helmet? Does our Whitehall Mars make eyes there at bright young Venus of the Privy Seal, disgusting that quaint tinkering Vulcan, who is blowing his bellows at our Exchequer, not altogether unsuccessfully? Old Saturn of the Woolsack sits there mute, we will say, a relic of other days, as seated in this divan. The hall in which he rules is now elsewhere. Is our Mercury of the Post Office ever ready to fly nimbly from globe to globe, as great Jove may order him, while Neptune, unaccustomed to the waves, offers needful assistance to the Apollo of the India Board? How Juno sits apart, glum and huffy, uncared for, Council President though she be, great in name, but despised among gods — that we can guess. If Bacchus and Cupid share Trade and the Board of Words between them, the fitness of things will have been as fully consulted as is usual. And modest Diana of the Petty Bag, latest summoned to these banquets of ambrosia — does she not cling retiring near the doors, hardly able as yet to make her low voice heard among her brother deities? But Jove, great Jove — old Jove, the King of Olympus, hero among gods and men, how does he carry himself in these councils summoned by his voice? Does he lie there at his ease, with his purple cloak cut from the firmament round his shoulders? Is his thunderbolt ever at his hand to reduce a recreant god to order? Can he proclaim silence in that immortal hall? Is it not there, as elsewhere, in all places, and among all nations, that a king of gods and a king of men is and will be king, rules and will rule, over those who are smaller than himself?
Harold Smith, when he was summoned to the august hall of divine councils, did feel himself to be a proud man; but we may perhaps conclude that at the first meeting or two he did not attempt to take a very leading part. Some of my readers may have sat at vestries, and will remember how mild, and, for the most part, mute is a new-comer at their board. He agrees generally, with abated enthusiasm; but should he differ, he apologizes for the liberty. But anon, when the voices of his colleagues have become habitual in his ears — when the strangeness of the room is gone, and the table before him is known and trusted — he throws off his awe and dismay, and electrifies his brotherhood by the vehemence of his declamation and the violence of his thumping. So let us suppose it will be with Harold Smith, perhaps in the second or third season of his Cabinet practice. Alas! alas! that such pleasures should be so fleeting! And then, too, there came upon him a blow which somewhat modified his triumph — a cruel, dastard blow, from a hand which should have been friendly to him, from one to whom he had fondly looked to buoy him up in the great course that was before him. It had been said by his friends that in obtaining Harold Smith’s services the Prime Minister had infused new young healthy blood into his body. Harold himself had liked the phrase, and had seen at a glance how it might have been made to tell by some friendly Supplehouse or the like. But why should a Supplehouse out of Elysium be friendly to a Harold Smith within it? Men lapped in Elysium, steeped to the neck in bliss, must expect to see their friends fall off from them. Human nature cannot stand it. If I want to get anything from my old friend Jones, I like to see him shoved up into a high place. But if Jones, even in his high place, can do nothing for me, then his exaltation above my head is an insult and an injury. Who ever believes his own dear intimate companion to be fit for the highest promotion? Mr Supplehouse had known Mr Smith too closely to think much of his young blood.
Consequently, there appeared an article in the Jupiter, which was by no means complimentary to the ministry in general. It harped a good deal on the young-blood view of the question, and seemed to insinuate that Harold Smith was not much better than diluted water. ‘The Prime Minister,’ the article said, ‘having lately recruited his impaired vigour by a new infusion of aristocratic influence of the highest moral tone, had again added to himself another tower of strength chosen from among the people. What might he not hope, now that he possessed the services of Lord Brittleback and Mr Harold Smith! Revoted in a Medea’s cauldron of such potency, all his effete limbs — and it must be acknowledged that some of them had become very effete — would come forth young and round and robust. A new energy would diffuse itself through every department; India would be saved and quieted; the ambition of France would be tamed; evenhanded reform would remodel our courts of law and parliamentary elections; and Utopia would be realized. Such, it seems, is the result expected in the ministry from Mr Harold Smith’s young blood!’
This was cruel enough, but even this was hardly so cruel as the words with which the article ended. By that time irony had been dropped, and the writer spoke out earnestly his opinion on the matter. ‘We beg to assure Lord Brock,’ said the article, ‘that such alliances as these will not save him from the speedy fall with which his arrogance and want of judgement threaten to overwhelm it. As regards himself we shall be sorry to hear of his resignation. He is in many respects the best statesman that we possess for the emergencies of the present period. But if he be so ill-judged as to rest on such men as Mr Harold Smith and Lord Brittleback for his assistants in the work which is before him, he must not expect that the country will support him. Mr Harold Smith is not made of the stuff from which Cabinet ministers should be formed.’ Mr Harold Smith, as he read this, seated at his breakfast-table, recognized, or said that he recognized, the hand of Mr Supplehouse in every touch. That phrase about the effete limbs was Supplehouse all over, as was also the realization of Utopia. ‘When he wants to be witty, he always talks about Utopia,’ said Mr Harold Smith — to himself: for Mrs Harold Smith was not usually present in the flesh at these matutinal meals. And then he went down to his office, and saw in the glance of every man that he met an announcement that that article in the Jupiter had been read. His private secretary tittered in evident allusion to the article, and the way in which Buggins took his coat made it clear that it was well known in the messengers’ lobby. ‘He won’t have to fill up my vacancy when I go,’ Buggins was saying to himself. And then in the course of the morning came the Cabinet council, the second that he had attended, and he read in the countenance of every god and goddess there assembled that their chief was thought to have made another mistake. If Mr Supplehouse could have been induced to write in another strain, then indeed that new blood might have been felt to have been efficacious.
All this was a great drawback to his happiness, but still it could not rob him of the fact of his position. Lord Brock could not ask him to resign because the Jupiter had been written against him; nor was Lord Brock the man to desert a new colleague for such a reason. So Harold Smith girded his loins, and went about his duties of the Petty Bag with a new zeal. ‘Upon my word, the Jupiter is right,’ said young Robarts to himself, as he finished his fourth dozen of private notes explanatory of everything in and about the Petty Bag Office. Harold Smith required that his private secretary’s notes should be so terribly precise. But nevertheless, in spite of his drawbacks, Harold Smith was happy in his new honours, and Mrs Harold Smith enjoyed them also. She certainly, among her acquaintances, did quiz the new Cabinet minister not a little, and it may be a question whether she was not as hard upon him as the writer in the Jupiter. She whispered a great deal to Miss Dunstable about new blood, and talked of going down to Westminster Bridge to see whether the Thames were really on fire. But though she laughed, she triumphed, and though she flattered herself that she bore her honours without any outward sign, the world knew that she was triumphing, and ridiculed her elation.
About this time she also gave a party — not a pure-minded conversazione like Mrs Proudie, but a downright wicked worldly dance, at which there were fiddles, ices, and champagne sufficient to run away with the first quarter’s salary accruing to Harold Smith from the Petty Bag Office. To us this ball is chiefly memorable from the fact that Lady Lufton was among the guests. Immediately on her arrival in town she received cards from Mrs H Smith for herself and Griselda, and was about to send back a reply at once declining the honour. What had she to do at the house of Mr Sowerby’s sister? But it so happened that at that moment her son was with her, and as he expressed a wish that she should go, she yielded. Had there been nothing in his tone of persuasion more than ordinary — had it merely had reference to herself — she would have smiled on him for his kind solicitude, have made out some occasion for kissing his forehead as she thanked him, and would still have declined. But he had reminded her both of himself and Griselda. ‘You might as well go, mother, for the sake of meeting me,’ he said; ‘Mrs Harold Smith caught me the other day, and would not liberate me till I had given her a promise.’
‘That is an attraction, certainly,’ said Lady Lufton. ‘I do like going to a house when I know that you will be there.’
‘And now that Miss Grantly is with you — you owe it to her to do the best you can for her.’
‘I certainly do, Ludovic; and I have to thank you for reminding me of my duty so gallantly.’ And so she said that she would go to Mrs Harold Smith’s. Poor lady! She gave much more weight to those few words about Miss Grantly than they deserved. It rejoiced her heart to think that her son was anxious to meet Griselda — that he should perpetrate this little ruse in order to gain his wish. But he had spoken out of the mere emptiness of his mind, without thought of what he was saying, excepting that he wished to please his mother. But nevertheless he went to Mrs Harold Smith’s, and when there he did dance more than once with Griselda Grantly — to the manifest discomfiture of Lord Dumbello. He came in late, and at the moment Lord Dumbello was moving slowly up the room, with Griselda on his arm, while Lady Lufton was sitting near looking on with unhappy eyes. And then Griselda sat down, with Lord Dumbello stood mute at her elbow.
‘Ludovic,’ whispered his mother, ‘Griselda is absolutely bored by that man, who follows like a ghost. Do go and rescue her.’ He did go and rescue her, and afterwards danced with her for the best part of an hour consequently. He knew that the world gave Lord Dumbello the credit of admiring the young lady, and was quite alive to the pleasure of filling his brother nobleman’s heart with jealousy and anger. Moreover, Griselda was in his eyes very beautiful, and had she been one whit more animated, or had his mother’s tactics been but a thought better concealed, Griselda might have been asked that night to share the vacant throne at Lufton, in spite of all that had been said and sworn in the drawing-room of Framley parsonage. It must be remembered that our gallant, gay Lothario had passed some considerable number of days with Miss Grantly in his mother’s house, and the danger of such contiguity must be remembered also. Lord Lufton was by no means a man capable of seeing beauty unmoved or of spending hours with a young lady without some approach to tenderness. Had there been no such approach it is probable that Lady Lufton would not have pursued the matter. But, according to her ideas on such subjects, her son Ludovic had on some occasions shown quite sufficient partiality for Miss Grantly to justify her in her hopes, and to lead her to think that nothing but opportunity was wanted. Now, at this ball of Mrs Smith’s, he did, for a while, seem to be taking advantage of such opportunity, and his mother’s heart was glad. If things should turn out well on this evening she would forgive Mrs Harold Smith all her sins. And for a while it looked as though things would turn out well. Not that it must be supposed that Lord Lufton had come there with any intention of making love to Griselda, or that he ever had any fixed thought that he was doing so. Young men in such matters are so often without any fixed thoughts! They are such absolute moths. They amuse themselves with the light of the beautiful candle, fluttering about, on and off, in and out of the flame with dazzled eyes, till in a rash moment they rush in too near the wick, and then fall with singed wings and crippled legs, burnt up and reduced to tinder by the consuming fire of matrimony. Happy marriages, men say, are made in heaven, and I believe it. Most marriages are fairly happy, in spite of Sir Cresswell Cresswell; and yet how little care is taken on earth towards such a result! —-‘I hope my mother is using you well?’ said Lord Lufton to Griselda, as they were standing together in a doorway between the dances.
‘Oh, yes; she is very kind.’
‘You have been rash to trust yourself in the hands of so very staid and demure a person. And, indeed, you owe your presence to Mrs Harold Smith’s first Cabinet ball altogether to me. I don’t know whether you are aware of that.’
‘Oh, yes; Lady Lufton told me.’
‘And are you grateful or otherwise? Have I done you an injury or a benefit? Which do you find best, sitting with a novel in the corner of a sofa in Bruton Street, or pretending to dance polkas here with Lord Dumbello?’
‘I don’t know what you mean. I haven’t stood up with Lord Dumbello all the evening. We were going to dance a quadrille, but we didn’t.’
‘Exactly; just what I say; — pretending to do it. Even that’s a good deal for Lord Dumbello, isn’t it?’ And then Lord Lufton, not being a pretender himself, put his arm round her waist, and away they went up and down the room, and across and about, with an energy which showed that what Griselda lacked in her tongue, she made up with her feet. Lord Dumbello, in the meantime, stood by, observant, thinking to himself that Lord Lufton was a glib-tongued, empty-headed ass, and reflecting that if his rival were to break the tendons of his leg in one of those rapid evolutions, or suddenly come by any other dreadful misfortune, such as the loss of all his property, absolute blindness, or chronic lumbago, it would only serve him right. And in that frame of mind he went to bed, in spite of the prayer which no doubt he said as to his forgiveness of other people’s trespasses. And then, when they were again standing, Lord Lufton, in the little intervals between his violent gasps for fresh breath, asked Griselda if she liked London. ‘Pretty well,’ said Griselda, gasping also a little herself.
‘I am afraid — you were very dull — down at Framley.’
‘Oh, no; — I liked it particularly.’
‘It was a great bore when you went — away, I know. There wasn’t a soul — about the house worth speaking to.’ And they remained silent for a minute till their lungs had become quiescent.
‘Not a soul,’ he continued — not of falsehood prepense, for he was not in fact thinking of what he was saying. It did not occur to him at the moment that he had truly found Griselda’s going a great relief, and that he had been able to do more in the way of conversation with Lucy Robarts in one hour than with Miss Grantly during a month of intercourse in the same house. But, nevertheless, we should not be hard upon him. All is fair in love and war; and if this was not love, it was the usual thing that stands in counterpart for it.
‘Not a soul,’ said Lord Lufton. ‘I was very nearly hanging myself in the Park next morning — only it rained.’
‘What nonsense! You had your mother to talk to.’
‘Oh, my mother — yes; and you may tell me too, if you please, that Captain Culpepper was there. I do love my mother dearly; but do you think that she could make up for your absence?’ And then his voice was very tender, and so were his eyes.
‘And Miss Robarts; I thought you admired her very much?’
‘What, Lucy Robarts?’ said Lord Lufton, feeling that Lucy’s name was more than he at present knew how to manage. Indeed that name destroyed all the life there was in that little flirtation. ‘I do like Lucy Robarts, certainly. She is very clever; but it so happened that I saw little or nothing of her after you were gone.’ To this Griselda made no answer, but drew herself up, and looked as cold as Diana when she froze Orion in the cave. Nor could she be got to give more then monosyllabic answers to the three or four succeeding attempts at conversation which Lord Lufton made. And then they danced again, but Griselda’s steps were by no means so lively as before. What took place between them on that occasion was very little more than what has been here related. There may have been an ice or a glass of lemonade into the bargain, and perhaps the faintest possible attempt at hand-pressing. But if so, it was all on one side. To such overtures as that Griselda Grantly was as cold as any Diana. But little as all this was, it was sufficient to fill Lady Lufton’s mind and heart. No mother with six daughters was ever more anxious to get them off her hands, than Lady Lufton was to see her son married — married, that is, to some girl of the right sort. And now it really did seem as though he were actually going to comply with her wishes. She had watched him during the whole evening, painfully endeavouring not to be observed in doing so. She had seen Lord Dumbello’s failure and wrath, and she had seen her son’s victory and pride. Could it be the case that he had already said something, which was still allowed to be indecisive only through Griselda’s coldness? Might it not be the case, that by some judicious aid on her part, that indecision might be turned into certainty, and that coldness into warmth? But then any such interference requires so delicate a touch — as Lady Lufton was well aware. —‘Have you had a pleasant evening?’ Lady Lufton said, when she and Griselda were seated together with their feet on the fender of her ladyship’s dressing-room. Lady Lufton had especially invited her guest into this, her most private sanctum, to which as a rule none had admittance but her daughter, and sometimes Fanny Robarts. But to what sanctum might not such a daughter-inlaw as Griselda have admittance? ‘Oh, yes — very,’ said Griselda.
‘It seemed to me that you bestowed most of your smiles upon Ludovic.’ And Lady Lufton put on a look of good pleasure that such should have been the case.
‘Oh! I don’t know,’ said Griselda; ‘I did dance with him two or three times.’
‘Not once too often to please me, my dear. I like to see Ludovic dancing with my friends.’
‘I am sure I am very much obliged to you, Lady Lufton.’
‘Not at all, my dear. I don’t know where he could get so nice a partner.’ And then she paused a moment, not feeling how far she might go. In the meantime Griselda sat still, staring at the hot coals. ‘Indeed, I know that he admires you very much,’ continued Lady Lufton. —‘Oh! no, I am sure he doesn’t,’ said Griselda; and then there was another pause.
‘I can only say this,’ said Lady Lufton, ‘that if he does do so — and I believe he does — it would give me very great pleasure. For you know, my dear, that I am very fond of you myself.’
‘Oh! thank you,’ said Griselda, and stared at the coals more perseveringly than before.
‘He is a young man of a most excellent disposition — though he is my own son, I will say that — and if there should be anything between you and him —’
‘There isn’t, indeed, Lady Lufton.’
‘But if there should be, I should be delighted to think that Ludovic had made so good a choice.’
‘But there will never be anything of the sort, I’m sure, Lady Lufton. He is not thinking of such a thing in the least.’
‘Well, perhaps he may, some day. And now, good night, my dear.’
‘Good night, Lady Lufton.’ And Griselda kissed with the utmost composure, and betook herself to her own bedroom. Before she retired to sleep she looked carefully to her different articles of dress, discovering what amount of damage the evening’s wear and tear might have inflicted.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14