When the elder Mr Maule had sufficiently recovered from the perturbation of mind and body into which he had been thrown by the ill-timed and ill-worded proposition of his son to enable him to resume the accustomed tenour of his life, he arrayed himself in his morning winter costume and went forth in quest of a lady. So much was told some few chapters back, but the name of the lady was not then disclosed. Starting from Victoria Street, Westminster, he walked slowly across St James’s Park and the Green Park till he came out in Piccadilly, near the bottom of Park Lane. As he went up the Lane he looked at his boots, at his gloves, and at his trousers, and saw that nothing was unduly soiled. The morning air was clear and frosty, and had enabled him to dispense with the costly comfort of a cab. Mr Maule hated cabs in the morning — preferring never to move beyond the tether of his short daily constitutional walk. A cab for going out to dinner was a necessity — but his income would not stand two or three cabs a day. Consequently he never went north of Oxford Street, or east of the theatres, or beyond Eccleston Square towards the river. The regions of South Kensington and New Brompton were a trouble to him, as he found it impossible to lay down a limit in that direction which would not exclude him from things which he fain would not exclude. There are dinners given at South Kensington which such a man as Mr Maule cannot afford not to eat. In Park Lane he knocked at the door of a very small house — a house that might almost be called tiny by comparison of its dimensions with those around it, and then asked for Madame Goesler. Madame Goesler had that morning gone into the country. Mr Maule in his blandest manner expressed some surprise, having understood that she had not long since returned from Harrington Hall. To this the servant assented, but went on to explain that she had been in town only a day or two when she was summoned down to Matching by a telegram. It was believed, the man said, that the Duke of Omnium was poorly. “Oh! indeed — I am sorry to hear that,” said Mr Maule, with a wry face. Then, with steps perhaps a little less careful, he walked back across the park to his club. On taking up the evening paper he at once saw a paragraph stating that the Duke of Omnium’s condition today was much the same as yesterday; but that he had passed a quiet night. That very distinguished but now aged physician, Sir Omicron Pie, was still staying at Matching Priory. “So old Omnium is going off the hooks at last,” said Mr Maule to a club acquaintance.
The club acquaintance was in Parliament, and looked at the matter from a strictly parliamentary point of view. “Yes, indeed. It has given a deal of trouble.”
Mr Maule was not parliamentary, and did not understand. “Why trouble — except to himself? He’ll leave his Garter and strawberry-leaves, and all his acres behind him.”
“What is Gresham to do about the Exchequer when he comes in? I don’t know whom he’s to send there. They talk of Bonteen, but Bonteen hasn’t half weight enough. They’ll offer it to Monk, but Monk’ll never take office again.”
“Ah, yes. Planty Pall was Chancellor of the Exchequer. I suppose he must give that up now?”
The parliamentary acquaintance looked up at the unparliamentary man with that mingled disgust and pity which parliamentary gentlemen and ladies always entertain for those who have not devoted their minds to the constitutional forms of the country. “The Chancellor of the Exchequer can’t very well sit in the House of Lords, and Palliser can’t very well help becoming Duke of Omnium. I don’t know whether he can take the decimal coinage question with him, but I fear not. They don’t like it at all in the city.”
“I believe I’ll go and play a rubber of whist,” said Mr Maule. He played his whist, and lost thirty points without showing the slightest displeasure, either by the tone of his voice or by any grimace of his countenance. And yet the money which passed from his hands was material to him. But he was great at such efforts as these, and he understood well the fluctuations of the whist table. The half-crowns which he had paid were only so much invested capital.
He dined at his club this evening, and joined tables with another acquaintance who was not parliamentary. Mr Parkinson Seymour was a man much of his own stamp, who cared not one straw as to any difficulty which the Prime Minister might feel in filling the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. There were men by dozens ready and willing, and no doubt able — or at any rate, one as able as the other — to manage the taxes of the country. But the blue riband and the Lord Lieutenancy of Barsetshire were important things — which would now be in the gift of Mr Daubeny; and Lady Glencora would at last be a duchess — with much effect on Society, either good or bad. And Planty Pall would be a duke, with very much less capability, as Mr Parkinson Seymour thought, for filling that great office, than that which the man had displayed who was now supposed to be dying at Matching. “He has been a fine old fellow,” said Mr Parkinson Seymour.
“Very much so. There ain’t many of that stamp left.”
“I don’t know one,” continued the gentleman, with enthusiasm. “They all go in for something now, just as Jones goes in for being a bank clerk. They are politicians, or gamblers, or, by heaven, tradesmen, as some of them are. The Earl of Tydvil and Lord Merthyr are in partnership together working their own mines — by the Lord, with a regular deed of partnership, just like two cheesemongers. The Marquis of Maltanops has a share in a bitter beer house at Burton. And the Duke of Discount, who married old Ballance’s daughter, and is brother-in-law to young George Advance, retains his interest in the house in Lombard Street. I know it for a fact.”
“Old Omnium was above that kind of thing,” said Mr Maule.
“Lord bless you — quite another sort of man. There is nothing left like it now. With a princely income I don’t suppose he ever put by a shilling in his life. I’ve heard it said that he couldn’t afford to marry, living in the manner in which he chose to live. And he understood what dignity meant. None of them understand that now. Dukes are as common as dogs in the streets, and a marquis thinks no more of himself than a market-gardener. I’m very sorry the old duke should go. The nephew may be very good at figures, but he isn’t fit to fill his uncle’s shoes. As for Lady Glencora, no doubt as things go now she’s very popular, but she’s more like a dairy-maid than a duchess to my way of thinking.”
There was not a club in London, and hardly a drawing-room in which something was not said that day in consequence of the two bulletins which had appeared as to the condition of the old Duke — and in no club and in no drawing-room was a verdict given against the dying man. It was acknowledged everywhere that he had played his part in a noble and even in a princely manner, that he had used with a becoming grace the rich things that had been given him, and that he had deserved well of his country. And yet, perhaps, no man who had lived during the same period, or any portion of the period, had done less, or had devoted himself more entirely to the consumption of good things without the slightest idea of producing anything in return! But he had looked like a duke, and known how to set a high price on his own presence.
To Mr Maule the threatened demise of this great man was not without a peculiar interest. His acquaintance with Madame Goesler had not been of long standing, nor even as yet had it reached a close intimacy. During the last London season he had been introduced to her, and had dined twice at her house. He endeavoured to make himself agreeable to her, and he flattered himself that he had succeeded. It may be said of him generally, that he had the gift of making himself pleasant to women. When last she had parted from him with a smile, repeating the last few words of some good story which he had told her, the idea struck him that she after all might perhaps be the woman. He made his inquiries, and had learned that there was not a shadow of a doubt as to her wealth — or even to her power of disposing of that wealth as she pleased. So he wrote to her a pretty little note, in which he gave to her the history of that good story, how it originated with a certain Cardinal, and might be found in certain memoirs — which did not, however, bear the best reputation in the world. Madame Goesler answered his note very graciously, thanking him for the reference, but declaring that the information given was already so sufficient that she need prosecute the inquiry no further. Mr Maule smiled as he declared to himself that those memoirs would certainly be in Madame Goesler’s hands before many days were over. Had his intimacy been a little more advanced he would have sent the volume to her.
But he also learned that there was some romance in the lady’s life which connected her with the Duke of Omnium. He was diligent in seeking information, and became assured that there could be no chance for himself, or for any man, as long as the Duke was alive. Some hinted that there had been a private marriage — a marriage, however, which Madame Goesler had bound herself by solemn oaths never to disclose. Others surmised that she was the Duke’s daughter. Hints were, of course, thrown out as to a connection of another kind — but with no great vigour, as it was admitted on all hands that Lady Glencora, the Duke’s niece by marriage, and the mother of the Duke’s future heir, was Madame Goesler’s great friend. That there was a mystery was a fact very gratifying to the world at large; and perhaps, upon the whole, the more gratifying in that nothing had occurred to throw a gleam of light upon the matter since the fact of the intimacy had become generally known. Mr Maule was aware, however, that there could be no success for him as long as the Duke lived. Whatever might be the nature of the alliance, it was too strong to admit of any other while it lasted. But the Duke was a very old — or, at least, a very infirm man. And now the Duke was dying. Of course it was only a chance. Mr Maule knew the world too well to lay out any great portion of his hopes on a prospect so doubtful. But it was worth a struggle, and he would so struggle that he might enjoy success, should success come, without laying himself open to the pangs of disappointment. Mr Maule hated to be unhappy or uncomfortable, and therefore never allowed any aspiration to proceed to such length as to be inconvenient to his feelings should it not be gratified.
In the meantime Madame Max Goesler had been sent for, and had hurried off to Matching almost without a moment’s preparation. As she sat in the train, thinking of it, tears absolutely filled her eyes. “Poor dear old man,” she said to herself; and yet the poor dear old man had simply been a trouble to her, adding a most disagreeable task to her life, and one which she was not called on to perform by any sense of duty. “How is he?” she said anxiously, when she met Lady Glencora in the hall at Matching. The two women kissed each other as though they had been almost sisters since their birth. “He is a little better now, but he was very uneasy when we telegraphed this morning. He asked for you twice, and then we thought it better to send.”
“Oh, of course it was best,” said Madame Goesler.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14