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- OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 130/159 -
'Don't repeat to me what that man says in the newspaper.'
'You shouldn't regard the man, Plantagenet. You shouldn't allow the paper to come into your hands.'
'Am I to be afraid of seeing what men say of me? Never! But you need not repeat it, at any rate if it be false.' She had not seen the article in question or she certainly would not have repeated the accusation it contained. 'I have quarrelled with no colleague. If such a one as Lord Drummond chooses to think himself injured, am I to stoop to him? Nothing strikes me so much in all this as the ill-nature of the world at large. When they used to bait a bear tied to a stake, everyone around would cheer the dogs and help torment the helpless animal. It is much the same now, only they have a man instead of a bear for their pleasure.'
'I will never help the dogs again,' she said, coming up to him and clinging him within the embrace of his arm.
He knew that he had been Quixotic, and he would sit in his chair repeating the word to himself aloud, till he himself began to fear that he would do it in company. But the thing had been done and could not be undone. He had had the bestowal of one Garter, and he had given it to Lord Earlybird! It was,--he told himself, but not correctly,--the only thing he had done on his own undivided responsibility since he had been Prime Minister.
The last days of July had passed, and it had been at last decided that the Session should close on the 11th August. Now the 11th of August was thought to be a great deal too near the 12th to allow of such an arrangement being considered satisfactory. A great many members were angry at the arrangement. It had been said all through June and into July that it was to be an early Session, and yet things had been so mismanaged that when the end came everything could not be finished without keeping members of Parliament in town on the 11th August! In the memory of the present legislators there had never been anything so awkward. The fault, if there was a fault, was attributable to Mr Monk. In all probability the delay was unavoidable. A minister cannot control long-winded gentlemen, and when gentlemen are very long- winded there must be delay. No doubt a strong minister can exercise some control, and it is certain that long-winded gentlemen find an unusual scope for their breath when the reigning dynasty is weak. In that way Mr Monk and the Duke may have been responsible, but they were blamed as though they, for their own special amusement, detained gentlemen in town. Indeed the gentlemen were not detained. They grumbled and growled and then fled,--but their grumblings and growlings were heard even after their departure.
'Well;--what do you think of it all?' the Duke said one day to Mr Monk at the Treasury, affecting an air of cheery good-humour.
'I think,' said Mr Monk, 'that the country is very prosperous. I don't know that I ever remember trade to have been more evenly satisfactory.'
'Ah, yes. That's very well for the country, and ought, I suppose, to satisfy me.'
'It satisfies me,' said Mr Monk.
'And me, in a way. But if you were walking about in a very tight pair of boots, in agony with your feet, would you be able just then to relish the news that agricultural wages in that parish had gone up sixpence a week?'
'I'd take my boots off, and then try,' said Mr Monk.
'That's just what I'm thinking of doing. If I had my boots off all that prosperity would be so pleasant to me! But, you see, you can't take your boots off in company. And it may be that you have a walk before you, and that no boots will be worse for your feet than tight ones.'
'We'll have our boots off soon, Duke,' said Mr Monk, speaking of the recess.
'And when shall we be quit of them altogether? Joking apart, they have to be worn if the country requires it.'
'And it may be that you and I think upon the whole they may be worn with advantage. What does the country say to that?'
'The country never says the reverse. We have not had a majority against us this Session on any Government question.'
'But we have had narrowing majorities. What will the House do as to the Lords' amendments on the Bankruptcy Bill? There was a bill that had gone down from the House of Commons, but had not originated with the Government. It had, however, been fostered by ministers of the House of Lords, and had been sent back with certain amendments for which the Lord Chancellor had made himself responsible. It was therefore now almost a Government measure. The manipulation of this measure had been one of the causes of the prolonged sitting of the Houses.'
'Grogram says they will take the amendments.'
'And if they don't?'
'Why then,' said Mr Monk, 'the Lords must take our rejection.'
'And we shall have been beaten,' said the Duke.
'And simply because the House desires to beat us. I am told Sir Timothy Beeswax intends to speak and vote against the amendments.'
'What,--Sir Timothy on one side, and Sir Gregory on the other?'
'So Lord Ramsden tells me,' said the Duke. 'If it be so, what are we to do?'
'Certainly not go out in August,' said Mr Monk.
When the time came for the consideration of the Lords' amendments in the House of Commons,--and it did not come till the 8th of August,--the matter was exactly as the Duke had said. Sir Gregory Grogram, with a deal of earnestness, supported the Lords' amendments,--as he was in honour bound to do. The amendment had come from his chief, the Lord Chancellor, and had indeed been discussed with Sir Gregory before it had been proposed. He was very much in earnest;--but it was evident from Sir Gregory's earnestness that he expected a violent opposition. Immediately after him rose Sir Timothy. Now Sir Timothy was a pretentious man, who assumed to be not only an advocate but a lawyer. And he assumed also to be a political magnate. He went into the matter at great length. He began by saying that it was not a party question. The bill, which he had had the honour of supporting before it went from their own House, had been a private bill. As such it had received a general support from the Government. It had been materially altered in the other House under the auspices of his noble friend on the woolsack, but from those alterations he was obliged to dissent. Then he said some very heavy things against the Lord Chancellor, and increased in acerbity as he described what he called the altered mind of his honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General. He then made some very uncomplimentary allusions to the Prime Minister, whom he accused of being more than ordinarily reserved with his subordinates. The speech was manifestly arranged and delivered with the express view of damaging the Coalition, of which at the time he himself made a part. Men observed that things were very much altered when such a course as that was taken in the House of Commons. But that course was taken on this occasion by Sir Timothy Beeswax, and was so far taken with success that the Lords' amendments were rejected and the Government was beaten in a thin House, by a large majority--composed partly of its own men. 'What am I to do?' asked the Prime Minister of the old Duke.
The old Duke's answer was exactly the same as that given by Mr Monk. 'We cannot resign in August.' And then he went on. 'We must wait and see how things go at the beginning of next Session. The chief question is whether Sir Timothy should not be asked to resign.'
Then the Session was at an end, and they who had been staunch to last got out of town as quick as the trains could carry them.
MRS LOPEZ PREPARES TO MOVE.
The Duchess of Omnium was not the most discreet woman in the world. That was admitted by her best friends, and was the great sin alleged against her by her worst enemies. In her desire to say sharp things, she would say the sharp thing in the wrong place, and in her wish to be good-natured she was apt to run into offences. Just as she was about to leave town, which did not take place for some days after Parliament had risen, she made an indiscreet proposition to her husband. 'Should you mind asking Mrs Lopez down to Matching? We shall only be a small party.'
Now the very name of Lopez was terrible to the Duke's ears. Anything which recalled the wretch and that wretched tragedy to the Duke's mind gave him a stab. The Duchess ought to have felt that any communication between her husband and even the man's widow was to be avoided rather than sought. 'Quite out of the question!' said the Duke, drawing himself up.
'Why out of the question?'
'There are a thousand reasons I could not have it.'
'Then I shall say nothing more about it. But there's a romance there,--something quite touching.'
'You don't mean that she has---a lover?'
'And she lost her husband only the other day,--lost him in so
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