The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope
Chapter 42. Retribution.
The Duchess had been at work with her husband for the last two months in the hope of renewing her autumnal festivities, but had been lamentably unsuccessful. The Duke had declared that there should be no more rural crowds, no repetition of what he called London turned loose on his own grounds. He could not forget the necessity which had been imposed upon him of turning Major Pountney out of his house, or the change that had been made in his gardens, or his wife's attempt to conquer him at Silverbridge. 'Do you mean,' she said, 'that we are to have nobody?' He replied that he thought it would be best to go to Matching. 'And live a Darby and Joan life?' said the Duchess.
'I said nothing of Darby and Joan. Whatever may be my feelings I hardly think that you are fitted for that kind of thing. Matching is not so big as Gatherum, but it is not a cottage. Of course you can ask your own friends.'
'I don't know what you mean by my own friends. I endeavour always to ask yours.'
'I don't know that Major Pountney, and Captain Gunner, and Mr Lopez were ever among the number of my friends.'
'I suppose you mean Lady Rosina?' said the Duchess. 'I shall be happy to have her at Matching, if you wish it.'
'I should like to see Lady Rosina De Courcy at Matching very much.'
'And is there to be nobody else? I'm afraid I should find it rather dull while you two were opening your hearts to each other.' Here he looked at her angrily. 'Can you think of anybody besides Lady Rosina?'
'I suppose you will wish to have Mrs Finn.'
'What an arrangement! Lady Rosina for you to flirt with, and Mrs Finn for me to grumble to.'
'That is an odious word,' said the Prime Minister.
'What;--flirting? I don't see anything bad about the word. The thing is dangerous. But you are quite at liberty if you don't go beyond Lady Rosina. I should like to know whether you would wish anybody else to come?' Of course he made no becoming answer to this question, and of course no becoming answer was expected. He knew that she was trying to provoke him because he would not let her do this year as she had done last. The house, he had no doubt, would be full to overflowing when he got there. He could not help that. But as compared with Gatherum Castle the house at Matching was small, and his domestic authority sufficed at any rate for shutting up Gatherum for the time.
I do not know whether at times her sufferings were not as acute as his own. He, at any rate, was Prime Minister, and it seemed to her that she was to be reduced to nothing. At the beginning of it all he had, with unwonted tenderness asked her for her sympathy in his undertaking, and, according to her power, she had given it to him with her whole heart. She had thought that she had seen a way by which she might assist him in his great employment, and she had worked at it like a slave. Every day she told herself that she did not, herself, love the Captain Gunners and Major Pountneys, nor the Sir Orlandos, nor, indeed the Lady Rosinas. She had not followed the bent of her own inclination when she had descended to sheets and towels, and busied herself to establish an archery-ground. She had not shot an arrow during the whole season, nor had she cared who had won and who had lost. It had not been for her own personal delight that she had kept open house for forty persons throughout four months of the year, in doing which he had never taken an ounce of labour off her shoulders by any single word or deed! It had all been done for his sake,--that his reign might be long and triumphant, that the world might say that his hospitality was noble and full, that his name might be in men's mouths, and that he might prosper as a British Minister. Such, at least, were the assertions which she made to herself, when she thought of her own grievances and her own troubles. And how she was angry with her husband. It was very well for him to ask for her sympathy, but he had none to give her in return! He could not pity her failures,--even though he had himself caused them! If he had a grain of intelligence about him he must, she thought, understand well enough how sore it must be for her to descend from her princely entertainments to solitude at Matching, and thus to own before all the world that she was beaten. Then when she asked him for advice, when she was really anxious to know how far she might go in filling her house without offending him, he told her to ask Lady Rosina De Courcy! If he chose to be ridiculous he might. She would ask Lady Rosina De Courcy. In her active anger she did write to Lady Rosina De Courcy a formal letter, in which she said that the Duke hoped to have the pleasure of her ladyship's company at Matching Park on the 1st August. It was an absurd letter, somewhat long, written very much in the Duke's name, with overwhelming expressions of affection, instigated in the writer's mind partly by the fun of supposition that such a man as her husband should flirt with such a woman as Lady Rosina. There was something too of anger in what she wrote, some touch of revenge. She sent off this invitation, and she sent no other. Lady Rosina took it all in good part, and replied saying that she should have the greatest pleasure in going to Matching! She had declared to herself that she would ask none but those he had named, and in accordance with her resolution she sent out no other written invitation.
He had also told her to ask Mrs Finn. Now this had become almost a matter of course. There had grown up from accidental circumstances so strong a bond between these two women, that it was taken for granted by both their husbands that they should be nearly always within reach of one another. And the two husbands were also on kindly, if not affectionate, terms with each other. The nature of the Duke's character was such that, with a most loving heart, he was hardly capable of that opening out of himself to another which is necessary for positive friendship. There was a stiff reserve about him, of which he was himself only too conscious, which almost prohibited friendship. But he liked Mr Finn both as a man and a member of his party, and was always satisfied to have him as a guest. The Duchess, therefore, had taken it for granted that Mrs Finn would come to her,--and that Mr Finn would come also any time that he might be able to escape from Ireland. But, when the invitation was verbally conveyed, Mr Finn had gone to the Admiralty, and had already made arrangements for going to sea, as a gallant sailor should. 'We are going away in the "Black Watch" for a couple of months,' said Mrs Finn. Now the "Black Watch" was an Admiralty yacht.
'Heavens and earth!' ejaculated the Duchess.
'It is always done. The First Lord would have his epaulets stripped if he didn't go to sea in August.'
'And must you go with him?'
'I have promised.'
'I think it very unkind,--very hard upon me. Of course you know that I should want you.'
'But if my husband wants me too?'
'Bother your husband! I wish with all my heart I had never helped make up the match.'
'It would have been made up all the same, Lady Glen.'
'You know that I cannot get on without you. And he ought to know it too. There isn't another person in the world that I can really say a thing to.'
'Why don't you have Mrs Grey?'
'She's going to Persia with her husband. And then she is not wicked enough. She always lectured me, and she does it still. What do you think is going to happen?'
'Nothing terrible, I hope,' said Mrs Finn, mindful of her husband's new honours at the Admiralty, and hoping that the Duke might not have repeated his threat of resigning.
'We are going to Matching.'
'So I supposed.'
'And whom do you think we are going to have?'
'Not Major Pountney?'
'No;--not at my asking.'
'Not Mr Lopez?'
'Nor yet Mr Lopez. Guess again.'
'I suppose there will be a dozen to guess.'
'No,' shrieked the Duchess. 'There will only be one. I have asked one,--at his special desire,--and as you won't come I shall ask nobody else. When I pressed him to name a second he named you. I'll obey him to the letter. Now, my dear, who do you think is the chosen one,--the one person who is to solace the perturbed spirit of the Prime Minister for the three months of the autumn.'
'Mr Warburton, I should say.'
'Oh, Mr Warburton! No doubt Mr Warburton will come as part of his luggage and possibly half-a-dozen Treasury clerks. He declares, however, that there is nothing to do, and therefore Mr Warburton's strength alone may suffice to help him to do it. There is to be one unnecessary guest,--unnecessary, that is, for official purpose, though,--oh,--so much needed for his social happiness. Guess one more.'
'Knowing the spirit of mischief that is in you,--perhaps it is Lady Rosina.'
'Of course it is Lady Rosina,' said the Duchess, clapping her hands together. 'And I should like to know what you mean by spirit of mischief! I asked him, and he himself said that he particularly wished to have Lady Rosina at Matching. Now, I'm not a jealous woman,--am I?'
'Not of Lady Rosina.'
'I don't think they'll do any harm together, but it is particular, you know. However, she is to come. And nobody else is to come. I did count upon you.' Then Mrs Finn counselled her very seriously as to the taste of such a joke, explaining to her that the Duke had certainly not intended that invitations should be confined to Lady Rosina. But it was not all joke with the Duchess. She had been driven almost to despair, and was very angry with her husband. He had brought the thing upon himself, and must now make the best of it. She would ask nobody else. She declared that there was nobody whom she could ask with propriety. She was tired of asking. Let her ask whom she would, he was dissatisfied. The only two people he cared to see were Lady Rosina and the old Duke. She had asked Lady Rosina for his sake. Let him ask his old friend himself if he pleased.
The Duke and Duchess with all the family went down together, and Mr Warburton went with them. The Duchess had said not a word more to her husband about his guests, nor had he alluded to the subject. But each was labouring under a conviction that the other was misbehaving, and with that feeling it was impossible that there should be confidence between them. He busied himself with books and papers,--always turning over those piles of newspapers to see what evil was said of himself,--and speaking only now and again to his private secretary. She engaged herself with the children or pretended to read a novel. Her heart was sore within her. She had wished to punish him, but in truth she was punishing herself.
On the day of their arrival, the father and mother, with Lord Silverbridge, the eldest son, who was from Eton, and the private Secretary dined together. As the Duke sat at table, he began to think how long it was since such a state of things had happened before, and his heart softened towards her. Instead of being made angry by the strangeness of the proceeding, he took delight in it, and in the course of the evening spoke a word to signify his satisfaction. 'I'm afraid it won't last long,' she said, 'for Lady Rosina comes tomorrow.'
'You bid me to ask her yourself.'
Then he perceived it all;--how she had taken advantage of his former answer to her and had acted upon it in a spirit of contradictory petulance. But he resolved that he would forgive it and endeavour to bring her back to him. 'I thought we were both joking,' he said good-humouredly.
'Oh no! I never suspected you of a joke. At any rate she is coming.'
'She will do neither of us any harm. And Mrs Finn?'
'You have sent her to sea.'
'She may be at sea,--and he too; but it is without my sending. The First Lord, I believe, usually does go a cruise. Is there nobody else?'
'Nobody else,--unless you have asked anyone.'
'Not a creature. Well;--so much the better. I dare say Lady Rosina will get on very well.'
'You will have to talk to her,' said the Duchess.
'I will do my best.'
Lady Rosina came and no doubt did think it odd. But she did not say so, and it really did seem to the Duchess as though all her vengeance had been blown away by the winds. And she too laughed at the matter,--to herself and began to feel less cross and less perverse. The world did not come to an end because she and her husband with Lady Rosina and her boy and the private Secretary sat down to dinner every day together. The parish clergyman with the neighbouring squire and his wife and daughter did come one day,--to the relief of M. Millepois, who had begun to feel that the world had collapsed. And every day at a certain hour the Duke and Lady Rosina walked together for an hour and a half in the Park. The Duchess would have enjoyed it, instead of suffering, could she only have had her friend, Mrs Finn, to hear her jokes. 'Now, Plantagenet,'she said, 'do tell me one thing. What does she talk about?'
'The troubles of her family generally, I think.'
'That can't last for ever.'
'She wears cork soles to her boots and she thinks a good deal about them.'
'And you listen to her?'
'Why not? I can talk about cork soles as well as anything else. Anything that may do material good to the world at large, or even to yourself privately, is a fit subject for conversation to rational people.'
'I suppose I never was one of them.'
'But I can talk upon anything,' continued the Duke, 'as long as the talker talks in good faith and does not say things that should not be said, or deal with matters that are offensive. I could talk for an hour about bankers' accounts, but I should not expect a stranger to ask me the state of my own. She almost persuaded me to send to Mr Sprout of Silverbridge and get some cork soles of my own.'
'Don't do anything of the kind,' said the Duchess with animation; --as though she had secret knowledge that cork soles were specially fatal to the family of the Pallisers.
'Why not, my dear?'
'He was a man who especially, above all others, threw me over at Silverbridge.' Then again there came upon his brow that angry frown which during the last few days had been dissipated by the innocence of Lady Rosina's conversation. 'Of course I don't mean to ask you to take any interest in the borough again. You have said that you wouldn't, and you are always as good as your word.'
'I hope so.'
'But I certainly would not employ a tradesman just at your elbow who has directly opposed what was generally understood in the town to be your interests.'
'What did Mr Sprout do? This is the first I have heard of it.'
'He got Mr Du Boung to stand against Mr Lopez.'
'I am very glad for the sake of the borough that Mr Lopez did not get in.'
'So am I. But that has nothing to do with it. Mr Sprout knew at any rate what my wishes were, and went directly against them.'
'You were not entitled to have wishes in the matter, Glencora.'
'That's all very well;--but I had, and he knew it. As for the future, of course the thing is over. But you have done everything for the borough.'
'You mean the borough has done much for me.'
'I know what I mean very well;--and I shall take it very ill if a shilling out of the Castle ever goes into Mr Sprout's pocket again.'
It is needless to trouble the reader at length with the sermon which he preached her on the occasion,--showing the utter corruption which must come from the mixing up of politics with trade, or with the scorn which she threw into the few words with which she interrupted him from time to time. 'Whether a man makes good shoes, at a reasonable price, and charges for them honestly,--that is what you have to consider,' said the Duke impressively.
'I'd rather pay double for bad shoes to a man who did not thwart me.'
'You should not condescend to be thwarted in such a matter. You lower yourself by admitting such a feeling.' And yet he writhed himself under the lashes of Mr Slide!
'I know an enemy when I see him,' said the Duchess, 'and as long as I live I'll treat an enemy as an enemy.'
There was ever so much of it, in the course of which the Duke declared his purpose of sending at once to Mr Sprout for ever so many cork soles, and the Duchess,--most imprudently,--declared her purpose of ruining Mr Sprout. There was something in this threat which grated terribly against the Duke's sense of honour; --that his wife should threaten to ruin a poor tradesman, that she should do so in reference to the political affairs of the borough which he all but owned, that she should do so in declared opposition to him! Of course he ought to have known that her sin consisted simply in her determination to vex him at the moment. A more good-natured woman did not live;--or one less prone to ruin anyone. But any reference to the Silverbridge election brought back upon him the remembrance of the cruel attacks which had been made upon him, and rendered him for the time moody, morose, and wretched. So they again parted ill friends, and hardly spoke when they met at dinner.
The next morning there reached Matching a letter which greatly added to his bitterness of spirit against the world in general and against her in particular. The letter, though marked 'private', had been opened, as were all letters, by Mr Warburton, but the private Secretary thought it necessary to show the letter to the Prime Minister. He, when he had read it, told Warburton that it did not signify, and maintained for half an hour an attitude of quiescence. Then he walked forth, having the letter hidden in his hand, and finding his wife alone, gave it her to read. 'See what you have brought upon me,' he said, 'by your interference and disobedience.' The letter was as follows:
Manchester Square, August 3, 187-
The Duke stood over her in her own room upstairs, with his back to the fireplace and his eyes fixed upon her while she was reading this letter. He gave her ample time, and she did not read it very quickly. Much of it indeed she perused twice, turning very red in the face as she did so. She was thus studious partly because the letter astounded even her, and partly because she wanted time to consider how she would meet his wrath. 'Well,' said he, 'what do you say to that?'
'The man is a blackguard,--of course.'
'He is so;--though I do not know that I wish to hear him called such a name by your lips. Let him be what he may he was your friend.'
'He was my acquaintance.'
'He was the man whom you selected to be your candidate for the borough in opposition to my wishes, and whom you continued to support in direct disobedience to my orders.'
'Surely, Plantagenet, we had all that about disobedience out before.'
'You cannot have such things "out",--as you call it. Evil-doing will not bury itself out of the way and be done with. Do you feel no shame at having your name mentioned a score of times with reprobation as that man mentions it,--at being written about by such a man as that?'
'Do you want me to roll in the gutter because I mistook him for a gentleman?'
'That was not all,--nor half. In your eagerness to serve such a miserable creature as this your forgot me entreaties, my commands, my position! I explained to you why, I, of al men, and you, of all women, as part of me, should not do this thing, and yet you did it, mistaking such a cur for a man! What am I to do? How am I to free myself from the impediments which you make for me? My enemies I can overcome,--but I cannot escape the pitfalls which are made for me by my own wife. I can only retire into private life and hope to console myself with my children and my books.'
There was a reality of tragedy about him which for the moment overcame her. She had no joke ready, no sarcasm, no feminine counter-grumble. Little as she agreed with him when he spoke of the necessity of retiring into private life because a man had written to him such a letter as this, incapable as she was of understanding fully the nature of the irritation which tormented him, still she knew that he was suffering, and acknowledged to herself that she had been the cause of the agony. 'I am sorry,' she ejaculated at last. 'What more can I say?'
'What am I to do? What can be said to the man? Warburton read the letter, and gave it me in silence. He could see the terrible difficulty.'
'Tear it in pieces, and then let there be an end of it.'
'I do not feel sure but that he has right on his side. He is, as you say, certainly a blackguard, or he would not make such a claim. He is taking advantage of the mistake made by a good- natured woman through her folly and her vanity;'--as he said this the Duchess gave an absurd little pout, but luckily he did not see it,--'and he knows very well that he is doing so. But still he has a show of justice on his side. There was, I suppose, no chance for him at Silverbridge after I had made myself fully understood. The money was absolutely wasted. It was your persuasion and your continued encouragement that led him to spend the money.'
'Pay it then. The loss will not hurt you.'
'Ah;--if we could but get out of our difficulty by paying! Suppose that I do pay it. I begin to think that I must pay it,-- that after all I cannot allow such a plea to remain unanswered. But when it is paid;--what then? Do you think such a payment made by the Queen's Minister will not be known to all the newspapers, and that I shall escape the charge of having bribed the man to hold his tongue?'
'It will be no bribe if you pay him because you think you ought.'
'But how shall I excuse it? There are things done which are holy as the heavens,--which are clear before God as the light of the sun, which leave no stain on the conscience, and which yet the malignity of man can invest with the very blackest of hell! I shall know why I pay this 500 pounds. Because she who of all the world is the nearest and dearest to me,'--she looked up into his face with amazement, as he stood stretching his arms out in energy,--'has in her impetuous folly committed a grievous blunder, from which she would not allow her husband to save her, this sum must be paid to the wretched craven. But I cannot tell the world that. I cannot say abroad that this small sacrifice of money was the justest means of retrieving the injury which you have done.'
'Say it abroad. Say it everywhere.'
'Do you think I would have you spare me if it was my fault? And how would it hurt me? Will it be new to anyone that I have done a foolish thing? Will the newspapers disturb my peace? I sometimes think, Plantagenet, that I should have been the man, my skin is so thick; and that you should have been the woman, your is so tender.'
'But it is not so.'
'Take the advantage, nevertheless, of my toughness. Send him the 500 pounds without a word,--or make Warburton do so, or Mr Moreton. Make no secret of it. Then if the papers talk about it-'
'A question might be asked about it in the House.'
'Or if questioned in any way,--say what I did. Tell the exact truth. You are always saying that nothing but truth ever serves. Let the truth serve now. I shall not blench. Your saying it all in the House of Lords won't wound me half so much as your looking at me as you did now.'
'Did I wound you? God knows I would not hurt you willingly.'
'Never mind. Go on. I know you think I have brought it all on myself by my own wickedness. Pay this man the money, and then if anything is said about it, explain that it was my fault, and say that you paid the money because I had done wrong.'
When he came in she had been seated on a sofa, which she constantly used herself, and he had stood over her, masterful, imperious, and almost tyrannical. She had felt this tyranny, but had resented it less than usual,--or rather had been less determined in holding her own against him and asserting herself as his equal,--because she confessed to herself that she had injured him. She had, she thought, done but little, but that which she had done had produced this injury. So she had sat and endured the oppression of his standing posture. But now he sat down by her, very close to her, and put his hand upon her shoulder,--almost round her waist.
'Cora,' he said, 'you do not quite understand it.'
'I never understand anything, I think,' she answered.
'Not in this case,--perhaps never,--what it is that a husband feels about his wife. Do you think that I could say a word against you, even to a friend?'
'I never did. I never could. If my anger were at the hottest I would not confess to a human being that you were not perfect,-- except to yourself.'
'Oh, thank you! If you were to scold me vicariously I should feel it less.'
'Do not joke with me now, for I am so much in earnest. And if I could not consent that your conduct should be called in question even by a friend, do you suppose it possible that I could contrive an escape from a public censure by laying the blame publicly on you?'
'Stick to the truth;--that's what you always say.'
'I certainly shall stick to the truth. A man and his wife are one. For what she does he is responsible.'
'They couldn't hang you, you know, because I committed a murder.'
'I should be willing that they should do so. No;--if I pay this money I shall take the consequences. I shall not do it in any way under the rose. But I wish you would remember--'
'Remember what? I know I shall never forget all this trouble about that dirty little town, which I never will enter again as long as I live.'
'I wish you would think that in all that you do you are dealing with my feelings, with my heartstrings, with my reputation. You cannot divide yourself from me; nor, for the value of it all, would I wish that such a division were possible. You say that I am thin-skinned.'
'Certainly you are. What people call a delicate organization,-- whereas I am rough and thick and monstrously commonplace.'
'Then should you too be thin-skinned for my sake.'
'I wish I could make you thick-skinned for your own. It's the only way to be decently comfortable in such a coarse, rough-and- tumble world as this is.'
'Let us both do our best,' he said, now putting his arm round her and kissing her. 'I think I shall send the man his money at once. It is the best of two evils. And now let there never be a word more about it between us.'
Then he left her and went back,--not to the study in which he was wont, when at Matching, to work with his private secretary,-- but to a small inner closet of his own, in which many a bitter moment was spent while he thought over that abortive system of decimal coinage by which he had once hoped to make himself one of the great benefactors of his nation, revolving in his mind the troubles which his wife brought upon him, and regretting the golden inanity of the coronet which in the very prime of life had expelled him from the House of Commons. Here he seated himself, and for an hour neither stirred from his seat, nor touched a pen, nor opened a book. He was trying to calculate in his mind what might be the consequences of paying the money to Mr Lopez. But when the calculation slipped from him,--as it did,--then he demanded of himself whether strict high-minded justice did not call upon him to pay the money let the consequences be what they might. And here his mind was truer to him, and he was able to fix himself to a purpose,--though the resolution to which he came was not, perhaps, wise.
When the hour was over he went to his desk, drew a cheque for 500 pounds in favour of Ferdinand Lopez, and then caused his Secretary to send it in the following note:
Matching, August 4, 187-