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- OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 150/159 -
me to come down. You will never probably have another chance of being present at your brother's marriage.' This he said in a tone that was almost lachrymose.
'A wedding, Everett, should be merry.'
'I don't know about that. It is a very serious sort of thing, to my way of thinking. When Mary got your letter it nearly broke her heart. I think I have a right to expect it, and if you don't come I shall feel myself injured. I don't see what is the use of having a family if the members of it do not stick together. What would you think if I were to desert you?'
'Desert you, Everett!'
Well, yes;--it is something of the kind. I have made my request, and you can comply with it or not as you please.'
'I will go,' she said very slowly. Then she left him and went to her own room to think in what description of garments she could appear at a wedding with the least violence to the condition of her life.
'I have got her to say she'll come,' he said to his father that evening. 'If you leave her to me, I'll bring her round.'
Soon after that,--within a day or two,--there came out a paragraph in one of the fashionable newspapers of the day, saying that an alliance had been arranged between the heir to the Wharton title and property and the daughter of the present baronet. I think that this had probably originated in the club gossip. I trust it did not spring directly from the activity or ambition of Everett himself.
WHO WILL IT BE?
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.'
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