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- OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 10/159 -


'Haven't I given reasons? I will not have my daughter encourage an adventurer,--a man of whom nobody knows anything. That is reason sufficient.'

'He has a business, and lives with gentlemen. He is Everett's friend. He is well educated;--oh, so much better than most men that one meets. And he is clever. Papa, I wish you knew him better than you do.'

'I do not want to know him better.'

'Is not that prejudice, papa?'

'My dear Emily,' said Mr Wharton, striving to wax into anger that he might be firm against her. 'I don't think it becomes you to ask your father such a question as that. You ought to believe that it is the chief object of my life to do the best I can for my children.'

'I am sure it is.'

'And you ought to feel that, as I have had a long experience in the world, my judgement about a young man might be trusted.'

That was a statement which Miss Wharton was not prepared to admit. She had already professed herself willing to submit to her father's judgement, and did not now by any means contemplate rebellion against parental authority. But she did feel that on a matter so vital to her she had a right to plead her cause before judgement should be given, and she was not slow to assure herself, even as this interview went on, that her love for the man was strong enough to entitle her to assure her father that her happiness depended on his reversal of the sentence already pronounced. 'You know, papa, that I trust you,' she said, 'And I have promised you that I will not disobey you. If you tell me that I am never to see Mr Lopez again, I will not see him.'

'You are a good girl. You were always a good girl.'

'But I think that you ought to hear me.' Then he stood still with his hands in his trouser pockets looking at her. He did not want to hear a word, but he felt that he would be a tyrant if he refused. 'If you tell me that I am not to see him, I shall not see him. But I shall be very unhappy. I do love him, and I shall never love anyone else in the same way.'

'That is nonsense, Emily. There is Arthur Fletcher.'

'I am sure you will never ask me to marry a man I do not love, and I shall never love Arthur Fletcher. If this is to be as you say, it will make me very, very wretched. It is right that you should know the truth. If it is only because Mr Lopez has a foreign name--'

'It isn't only that; no one knows anything about him, or where one might inquire even.'

'I think you should inquire, papa, and be quite certain before you pronounce such a sentence against me. It will be a crushing blow.' He looked at her, and saw that there was a fixed purpose in her countenance of which he had never before seen similar signs. 'You claim a right to my obedience, and I acknowledge it. I am sure you believe me when I promise not to see him without your permission.'

'I do believe you. Of course I believe you.'

'But if I do that for you, papa, I think that you ought to be very sure, on my account, that I haven't to bear such unhappiness for nothing. You'll think about it, papa,--will you not, before you quite decide?' She leaned against him as she spoke, and he kissed her. 'Good night, now, papa. You will think about it?'

'I will. I will. Of course I will.'

And he began the process of thinking about it immediately,-- before the door was closed behind her. But what was there to think about? Nothing that she had said altered in the least his idea about the man. He was convinced as ever that unless there was much to conceal there would not be so much concealment. But a feeling began to grow upon him already that his daughter had a mode of pleading with him which he would not ultimately be able to resist. He had the power, he knew, of putting an end to the thing altogether. He had only to say resolutely and unchangeably that the thing shouldn't be, and it wouldn't. If he could steel his heart against his daughter's sorrow for, say, a twelvemonth, the victory would be won. But he already began to fear that he lacked the power to steel his heart against his daughter.

CHAPTER 6

AN OLD FRIEND GOES TO WINDSOR.

'And what are they going to make you now?'

This question was asked of her husband by a lady with whom perhaps the readers of this volume may have already formed some acquaintance. Chronicles of her early life have been written, at any rate copiously. The lady was the Duchess of Omnium, and her husband was of course the Duke. In order that the nature of the question asked by the Duchess may be explained, it must be stated that just at this time the political affairs of the nation had got themselves tied up into one of those truly desperate knots from which even the wisdom and experience of septuagenarian statesmen can see no unravelment. The heads of parties were at a standstill. In the House of Commons, there was, so to say, no majority on either side. The minds of members were so astray that, according to the best calculation that could be made, there would be a majority of about ten against any possible Cabinet. There would certainly be a majority against either of those well- tried, but, at this moment, little trusted Prime Ministers, Mr Gresham and Mr Daubney. There were certain men, nominally belonging to this or to the other party, who would certainly within a week of the nomination of a Cabinet in the House, oppose the Cabinet which they ought to support. Mr Daubney had been in power,--nay, was in power, though he had twice resigned. Mr Gresham had been twice sent for to Windsor, and had on one occasion undertaken and on another had refused to undertake to form a Ministry. Mr Daubney had tried two or three combinations, and had been at his wits' end. He was no doubt still in power,-- could appoint bishops, and make peers, and give away ribbons. But he couldn't pass a law, and certainly continued to hold his present uncomfortable position by no will of his own. But a Prime Minister cannot escape till he has succeeded in finding a successor; and though the successor be found and consents to make an attempt, the old unfortunate cannot be allowed to go free when the attempt is shown to be a failure. He has not absolutely given up the keys of his boxes, and no one will take them from him. Even a sovereign can abdicate; but the Prime Minister of a constitutional government is in bonds. The reader may therefore understand that the Duchess was asking her husband what place among the political rulers of the country had been offered to him by the last aspirant to the leadership of the Government.

But the reader should understand more than this, and may perhaps do so, if he has ever seen those former chronicles to which allusion has been made. The Duke, before he became a duke, had held very high office, having been the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When he was transferred, perforce, to the House of Lords, he had,--as it is not uncommon in such cases,--accepted a lower political station. This had displeased the Duchess, who was ambitious both on her own behalf and that of her lord,--and who thought that a Duke of Omnium should be nothing in the Government if not at any rate near the top. But after that, with the simple and single object of doing some special piece of work for the nation,--something which he fancied that nobody else would do if he didn't do it,--his Grace, of his own motion, at his own solicitation, had encountered further official degradation, very much to the disgust of the Duchess. And it was not the way with her Grace to hide such sorrows in the depth of her bosom. When affronted she would speak out, whether to her husband, or to another,--using irony rather than argument to support her cause and to vindicate her ways. The shafts of ridicule hurled by her against her husband in regard to his voluntary abasement had been many and sharp. They stung him, but never for a moment influenced him. It was her nature to say such things,--and he knew that they came rather from her uncontrolled spirit than from any malice. She was his wife too, and he had an idea that of little injuries of that sort there should be no end of bearing on the part of a husband. Sometimes he would endeavour to explain to her the motives which actuated him; but he had come to fear that they were and must be unintelligible to her. But he credited her with less than her real intelligence. She did understand the nature of his work and his reasons for doing it; and, after her own fashion, did what she conceived to be her own work in endeavouring to create within his bosom a desire for higher things. 'Surely,' she said to herself, 'if a man of his rank is to be a minister, he should be a great minister;--at any rate as great as his circumstances will make him. A man never can save his country by degrading himself.' In this he would probably have agreed; but his idea of degradation and hers hardly tallied.

When therefore she asked him what they were going to make him, it was as though some sarcastic housekeeper in a great establishment should ask the butler,--some butler too prone to yield in such matters,--whether the master had appointed him lately to the cleaning of shoes or the carrying of coals. Since these knots had become so very tight, and since the journeys to Windsor had become so very frequent, her Grace had asked many such questions, and had received but very indifferent replies. The Duke had sometimes declared that the matter was not ripe enough to allow him to make any answer. 'Of course,' said the Duchess, 'you should keep the secret. The editors of the evening papers haven't known it for above an hour.' At another time he told her that he had undertaken to give Mr Gresham his assistance in any way that might be asked.

'Joint undersecretary with Lord Fawn, I should say,' answered the Duchess. Then he told her that he believed an attempt would be made at a mixed ministry, but that he did not in the least know to whom the work of doing so would be confided. 'You will be about the last man who will be told,' replied the Duchess. Now, at this moment, he had, as she knew, come direct from the house of Mr Gresham, and she asked her question in her usual spirit.

'And what are they going to make you now?'


OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 10/159

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