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- OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 20/159 -
'Upon my word I don't know where to make the exception. Why on earth anyone should want to know such a person as Lord Mongrober I can't understand. What does he bring into society?'
'But what does that do of itself? He is an insolent, bloated brute.'
'Papa, you are using strong language to-night.'
'And that Lady Eustace! Heaven and earth! Am I to be told that that creature is a lady?'
They had come to their own door, and while that was being opened, and as they went up into their own drawing-room, nothing was said, but then Emily began again. 'I wonder why you go to Aunt Harriet's at all. You don't like the people?'
'I didn't like any of them today.'
'Why do you go there? You don't like Aunt Harriet herself. You don't like Uncle Dick. You don't like Mr Lopez.'
'Certainly I do not.'
'I don't know who it is you do like.'
'I like Mr Fletcher.'
'It's no use saying that to me, papa.'
'You ask me a question, and I choose to answer it. I like Arthur Fletcher, because he is a gentleman,--because he is a gentleman of the class to which I belong myself; because he works, because I know all about him, so that I can be sure of him, being quite sure that he will say to me neither awkward things nor impertinent things. He will not talk to me about driving a mail coach like that foolish baronet, nor tell me the price of all the wines like your uncle.' Nor would Ferdinand Lopez do so, thought Emily to herself. 'But in all such matters, my dear, the great thing is like to like. I have spoken of a young person, merely because I wish you to understand that I can sympathize with others besides those of my own age. But to-night there was no one there at all like myself,--or, as I hope, like you. That man Roby is a chattering ass. How such a man can be useful to any government I can't conceive. Happerton was the best, but what had he to say for himself? I've always thought that there was very little wit wanted to make a fortune in the City.' In this frame of mind, Mr Wharton went off to bed, but not a word more was spoken about Ferdinand Lopez.
Certainly the thing was done very well by Lady Glen,--as many in the political world persisted in calling her even in these days. She had not as yet quite carried out her plan,--the doing of which would have required her to reconcile her husband to some excessive abnormal expenditure, and to have obtained from him a deliberate sanction for appropriation and probably sale of property. She never could find the proper moment for doing this, having with all her courage,--low down in some corner of her heart,--a wholesome fear of a certain quiet power which her husband possessed. She could not bring herself to make her proposition;--but she almost acted as though it had been made and approved. Her house was always gorgeous with flowers. Of course there would be the bill;--and he, when he saw the exotics, and the whole place turned into a bower of every fresh blooming floral glories, must know that there would be the bill. And when he found that there was an archducal dinner-party every week and an almost imperial reception twice a week; that at these receptions a banquet was always provided; when he was asked to whether she might buy a magnificent pair of bay carriage-horses, as to which she assured him that nothing so lovely had ever as yet been seen stepping in the streets of London,--of course he must know that the bill would come. It was better, perhaps, to do it in this way, than to make any direct proposition. And then, early in June, she spoke to him as the guests to be invited to Gatherum Castle in August. 'Do you want to go to Gatherum in August?' he asked in surprise. For she hated the place, and had hardly been content to spend ten days there every year at Christmas.
'I think it should be done,' she said solemnly. 'One cannot quite consider just now what one likes oneself.'
'You would hardly go to a small place like Matching in your present position. There are so many people whom you should entertain! You would probably have two or three of the foreign ministers down for a time.'
'We always used to find plenty of room at Matching.'
'But you did not always use to be Prime Minister. It is only for such a time as this that such a house as Gatherum is serviceable.'
He was silent for a moment, thinking about it, and then gave way without another word. She was probably right. There was the huge pile of magnificent buildings; and somebody, at any rate, had thought that it behoved a Duke of Omnium to live in such a palace. It ought to be done at any time, it ought to be done now. In that his wife had been right. 'Very well. Let us go there.'
'I'll manage it all,' said the Duchess, 'I and Locock.' Locock was the house-steward.
'I remember once,' said the Duke, and he smiled as he spoke with a peculiarly sweet expression, which would at times come across his generally inexpressive face,--'I remember once that some First Minister of the Crown gave evidence as the amount of his salary, saying that his place entailed upon him expenses higher than his stipend would defray. I begin to think that my experience will be the same.'
'Does that fret you?'
'No, Cora;--it certainly does not fret me, or I should not allow it. But I think there should be a limit. No man is ever rich enough to squander.'
Though they were to squander her fortune,--the money which she had brought,--for the next ten years at a much greater rate than she contemplated, they might do so without touching the Palliser property. Of that she was quite sure. And the squandering was to be all for his glory,--so that he might retain his position as a popular Prime Minister. For an instant it occurred to her that she would tell him all this. But she checked herself, and the idea of what she had been about to say brought the blood into her face. Never yet had she in talking to him alluded to her own wealth.
'Of course we are spending money,' she said. 'If you give me a hint to hold my hand, I will hold it.'
He had looked at her; and read it all in her face. 'God knows,' he said, 'you've a right to do it if it pleases you.'
'For your sake!' Then he stooped down and kissed her twice, and left her to arrange her parties as she pleased. After that she congratulated herself that she had not made the direct proposition, knowing that she might now do pretty much as she pleased.
Then there were solemn cabinets held, at which she presided, and Mrs Finn and Locock assisted. At other cabinets it is supposed that, let a leader be ever so autocratic by disposition and superior by intelligence, still he must not unfrequently yield to the opinion of his colleagues. But in this cabinet the Duchess always had her own way, though she was very persistent in asking for counsel. Locock was frightened about the money. Hitherto money had come without a word, out of the common, spoken to the Duke. The Duke had always signed certain cheques, but they had been normal cheques, and the money in its natural course had flown in to meet them;--but now he must be asked to sign abnormal cheques. That, indeed, had already been done; but still the money had been there. A large balance, such as had always stood to his credit, would stand a bigger racket than had yet been made. But Locock was sure that the balance ought not to be much further reduced,--and that steps must be taken. Something must be sold! The idea of selling anything was dreadful to the mind of Locock! Or else money must be borrowed! Now the management of the Palliser property had always been conducted on principles antagonistic to borrowing. 'But his Grace has never spent his income,' said the Duchess. That was true. But the money, as it showed a tendency to heap itself up, had been used for the purchase of other bits of property, or for the amelioration of the estates generally. 'You don't mean to say that we can't get money if we want it!' Locock was profuse in his assurance that any amount of money could be obtained,--only that something had to be done. 'Then let something be done,' said the Duchess, going on with her general plans. 'Many people are rich,' said the Duchess afterwards to her friend, 'and some people are very rich indeed; but nobody seems to be rich enough to have ready money to do just what he wishes. It all goes into a grand sum total, which is never to be touched without a feeling of sacrifice. I suppose you have always enough for anything.' It was well known that the present Mrs Finn, as Madame Goesler, had been a wealthy woman.
'Indeed, no,--very far from that. I haven't a shilling.'
'What has happened?' asked the Duchess, pretending to be frightened.
'You forget that I've got a husband of my own, and that he has to be consulted.'
'That must be nonsense. But don't you think women are fools to marry when they've got anything of their own, and could be their own mistresses? I couldn't have been. I was made to marry before I was old enough to assert myself.'
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