For the first day or two after the resignation of the Ministry the Duchess appeared to take no further notice of the matter. An ungrateful world had repudiated her husband, and he had foolishly assisted and given way to the repudiation. All her grand aspirations were at an end. All her triumphs were over. And worse than that, there was present to her a conviction that she had never really triumphed. There never had come the happy moment in which she had felt herself to be dominant over other women. She had toiled, struggled, she had battled and occasionally submitted; and yet there was present to her a feeling that she had stood higher in public estimation as Lady Glencora Palliser — whose position had been all her own and had not depended on her husband — than now she had done as the Duchess of Omnium, and wife of the Prime Minister of England. She had meant to be something, she knew not what, greater than had been the wives of other Prime Ministers and other Dukes, and now she felt that in her failure she had been almost ridiculous. And the failure, she thought, had been his — or hers — rather than that of circumstances. If he had been less scrupulous and more persistent it might have been different — of if she had been more discreet. Sometimes she felt hew own failing so violently as to acquit him almost entirely. At other times she was almost beside herself with anger because all her losses seemed to have arisen from want of stubbornness on his part. When he had told her that he and his followers had determined to resign because they had beaten their foes by only a majority of nine, she took it into her head that he was in fault. Why should he go while his supporters were more numerous than his opponents? It was useless to bid him think it over again. Though she was far from understanding all the circumstances of the game, she did know that he could not remain after having arranged with his colleagues that he would go. So she became cross and sullen, and while he was going to Windsor and back and setting his house in order, and preparing the way for his successor — whoever that successor might be — she was moody and silent, dreaming over some impossible condition of things in accordance with which he might have remained Prime Minister — almost for ever.
On the Sunday after the fatal division — the division which the Duchess would not allow to have been fatal — she came across him somewhere in the house. She had hardly spoken to him since he had come into her room that night and told her that all was over. She had said that she was unwell and had kept out of sight, and he had been here and there, between Windsor and the Treasury Chambers, and had been glad to escape from her ill-humour. But she could not endure any longer the annoyance of having to get all her news from Mrs Finn — second hand, or third hand, and now found herself driven to capitulate. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘how is it all going to be? I suppose you do not know or you would have told me?’
‘There is very little to tell.’
‘Mr Monk is to be Prime Minister?’ she asked.
‘I did not say so. But it is not impossible.’
‘Has the Queen sent for him?’
‘Not as yet. Her Majesty has seen both Mr Gresham and Mr Daubney as well as myself. It does not seem a very easy thing to make a Ministry at present.’
‘Why should not you go back?’
‘I do not think that is on the cards.’
‘Why not? Ever so many men have done it, after going out — and why not you? I remember Mr Mildmay doing it twice. It is always the thing, when the man who has been sent for makes a mess of it, for the old minister to have another chance.’
‘But what if the old minister will not take the chance?’
‘Then it is the old minister’s fault. Why shouldn’t you take the chance as well as another? It isn’t many days ago since you were quite anxious to remain in. I thought you were going to break your heart because people even talked of your going.’
‘I was going to break my heart, as you call it,’ he said, smiling, ‘not because people talked of my ceasing to be minister, but because the feeling of the House of Commons justified people in so saying. I hope you see the difference.’
‘No, I don’t. And there is no difference. The people we are talking about are the members — and they have supported you. You could go on if you chose. I’m sure Mr Monk wouldn’t leave you.’
‘It is just what Mr Monk would do, and ought to do. No one is less likely than Mr Monk to behave badly in such an emergency. The more I see of Mr Monk, the higher I think of him.’
‘He has his own game to play as well as others.’
‘I think he has no game to play but that of his country. It is no use our discussing it, Cora.’
‘Of course I understand nothing, because I’m a woman.’
‘You understand a great deal — but not quite all. You may at any rate understand this — that our troubles are at an end. You were saying the other day that the labours of being a Prime Minister’s wife had been almost too many for you.’
‘I never said so. As long as you didn’t give way no labour was too much for me. I would have done anything — slaved morning and night — so that we might have succeeded. I hate being beat. I’d sooner be cut to pieces.’
‘There’s no help for it now, Cora. The Lord Mayor, you know, is only Lord Mayor for one year, and must then go back to private life.’
‘But men have been Prime Ministers for ten years at a time. If you have made up your mind, I suppose we may as well give up. I shall think it your own fault.’ He still smiled. ‘I shall,’ she said.
‘I can only speak as I feel.’
‘I don’t think you would speak as you do if you knew how much your words hurt me. In such a matter as this I should not be justified in allowing your opinions to have weight with me. But your sympathy would be so much to me!’
‘When I thought I was making you ill, I wished you might be spared.’
‘My illness would be nothing, but my honour is everything. I, too, have something to bear as well as you, and if you cannot approve of what I do, at any rate be silent.’
‘Yes; — I can be silent.’ Then he slowly left her. As he went she was almost tempted to yield, and to throw herself into his arms, and to promise that she would be soft to him, and to say that she was sure that all that he did was for the best. But she could not bring herself as yet to be good-humoured. If he had only been a little stronger, a little thicker-skinned, made of clay a little coarser, a little other than he was, it might have been so different!
Early on that Sunday afternoon she had herself driven to Mrs Finn’s house in Park Lane, instead of waiting for her friend. Latterly she had but seldom done this, finding that her presence at home was much wanted. She had been filled with, perhaps, foolish ideas of the necessity of doing something — of adding something to the strength of her husband’s position — and had certainly been diligent in her work. But now she might run about like any other woman. ‘This is an honour, Duchess,’ said Mrs Finn.
‘Don’t be sarcastic, Marie. We have nothing further to do with the bestowal of honours. Why didn’t he make everybody a peer or a baronet while he was about it? Lord Finn! I don’t see why he shouldn’t have been Lord Finn. I’m sure he deserved it for the way in which he attacked Sir Timothy Beeswax.’
‘I don’t think he’d like it.’
‘They all say so, but I suppose they do like it, or they wouldn’t make it. And I’d have made Locock a knight; — Sir James Locock. He’s have made a more knightly knight that Sir Timothy. When a man has power he ought to use it. It makes people respect him. Mr Daubney made a duke, and people think more of that than anything he did. Is Mr Finn going to join the new Ministry?’
‘If you can tell me, Duchess, who is to be the next minister, I can give a guess.’
‘Then he certainly will.’
‘Or Mr Daubney.’
‘Then he certainly won’t.’
‘Or Mr Gresham.’
‘That I could not answer.’
‘Or the Duke of Omnium.’
‘That would depend on his Grace. If the Duke came back, Mr Finn’s services would be at his disposal, whether in or out of office.’
‘Very prettily said, my dear. I never look round this room without thinking of the first time I came here. Do you remember, when I found the old man sitting there?’ The old man alluded to was the late Duke.
‘I am not likely to forget it, Duchess.’
‘How I hated you when I saw you! What a fright I thought you were! I pictured you to myself as a sort of ogre, willing to eat up everybody for the gratification of your own vanity.’
‘I was very vain, but there was a little pride with it.’
‘And now it has come to pass that I can’t very well live without you. How he did love you!’
‘His Grace was very good to me.’
‘It would have done no great harm, after all, if he had made you Duchess of Omnium.’
‘Very great harm to me, Lady Glen. As it is I got a friend that I love dearly, and a husband that I love dearly too. In the other case I should have made neither. Perhaps I may say that, in that other case my life would not have been brightened by the affection of the present Duchess.’
‘One can’t tell how it would have gone, but I well remember the state I was in then.’ The door opened and Phineas Finn entered the room. ‘What, Mr Finn, are you at home? I thought everybody was crowding down at the clubs, to know who is to be what. We are settled. We are quiet. We have nothing to do to disturb ourselves. But you ought to be in all the flutter of renewed expectation.’
‘I am waiting my destiny in calm seclusion. I hope the Duke is well?’
‘As well as can be expected. He doesn’t walk about his room with a poniard in his hand — ready for himself or Sir Orlando; nor is he sitting crowned like Bacchus, drinking the health of the new Ministry with Lord Drummond and Sir Timothy. He is probably sipping a cup of coffee over a blue-book in dignified retirement. You should go and see him.’
‘I should be unwilling to trouble him when he is so much occupied.’
‘That is just what has done him all the harm in the world. Everybody presumes that he has so much to think of that nobody goes near him. Then he is left to boody over everything by himself till he becomes a sort of political hermit, or ministerial Lama, whom human eyes are not to look upon. It doesn’t matter now; does it?’ Visitor after visitor came in, and the Duchess chatted to them all, leaving the impression on everybody that heard her that she at least was not sorry to be relieved from the troubles attending her husband’s late position.
She sat there over an hour, and as she was taking her leave, she had a few words to whisper to Mrs Finn. ‘When this is all over,’ she said. ‘I mean to call on that Mrs Lopez.’
‘I thought you did go there.’
‘That was soon after the poor man had killed himself — when she was going away. Of course I only left a card. But I shall see her now if I can. We want to get her out of her melancholy if possible. I have a sort of feeling, you know, that among us we made the train run over him.’
‘I don’t think that.’
‘He got so horribly abused for what he did at Silverbridge; and I really don’t see why he wasn’t to have his money. It was I that made him spend it.’
‘He was, I fancy, a thoroughly bad man.’
‘But a wife doesn’t always want to be made a widow even if her husband be bad. I think I owe her something, and I would pay my debt if I knew how. I shall go and see her, and if she will marry this other man we’ll take her by the hand. Good-bye, dear. You’d better come to me early tomorrow, as I suppose we shall know something by eleven o’clock.’
In the course of that evening the Duke of St Bungay came to Carlton Terrace, and was closeted for some time with the late Prime Minister. He had been engaged during that and the last two previous days in lending his aid to various political manoeuvres and ministerial attempts, from which our Duke had kept himself altogether aloof. He did not go to Windsor, but as each successive competitor journeyed thither and returned, someone sent for the old Duke or went to seek his council. He was the Nestor of the occasion, and strove heartily to compose all quarrels, and so to arrange matters that a wholesome, moderately Liberal Ministry might be again installed for the good of the country and the comfort of all true Whigs. In such moments he almost ascended to the grand heights of patriotism, being always indifferent as to himself. Now he came to his late chief with a new project. Mr Gresham would attempt to form a Ministry if the Duke of Omnium would join him.
‘It is impossible!’ said the younger politician, folding his hands together and throwing himself back in the chair.
‘Listen to me before you answer me with such certainty. There are three or four gentlemen who, after the work of the last three years, bearing in mind the manner in which our defeat has just been accomplished, feel themselves disinclined to join Mr Gresham unless you will do so also. I may specially name Mr Monk and Mr Finn. I might perhaps add myself, were it not that I had hoped that in any event I might at length regard myself as exempt from further service. The old horse should be left to graze out his last days, ne peccet ad extremum ridendus. But you can’t consider yourself absolved on that score.’
‘There are other reasons.’
‘But the Queen’s service should count before everything. Gresham and Cantrip with their own friends can hardly make a Ministry as things are now unless Mr Monk will join them. I do not think that any other Chancellor of the Exchequer is at present possible.’
‘I will beseech Mr Monk not to let any feeling as to me stand in his way. Why should it?’
‘It is not only what you may think and he may think — but what others will think and say. The Coalition will have done all that ought to have been expected from it if our party in it can now join Mr Gresham.’
‘By all means. But I could give them no strength. They may be sure at any rate of what little I can do for them out of office.’
‘Mr Gresham made his acceptance of office — well, I will not say strictly conditional on your joining him. That would hardly be correct. But he has expressed himself quite willing to make the attempt with your aid, and doubtful whether he can succeed without it. He suggests that you should join him as President of the Council.’
‘If I were wanted at all I should take Privy Seal.’
‘Certainly not, my friend. If there were any question of my return we could reverse the offices. But I think I may say that my mind is fixed. If you wish it I will see Mr Monk and do all that I can to get him to go with you. But, for myself — I feel that it would be useless.’
At last, at the Duke’s pressing request, he agreed to take twenty-four hours before he gave his final answer to the proposition.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01