On the third morning the Duke suddenly asked a question of Madame Goesler. The two were again sitting near to each other, and the Duke was again holding her hand; but Lady Glencora was also in the room. "Have you not been staying with Lord Chiltern?"
"He is a friend of yours."
"I used to know his wife before they were married."
"Why does he go on writing me letters about a wood?" This he asked in a wailing voice, as though he were almost weeping. "I know nothing of Lord Chiltern. Why does he write to me about the wood? I wish he wouldn't write to me."
"He does not know that you are ill, Duke. By-the-bye, I promised to speak to Lady Glencora about it. He says that foxes are poisoned at Trumpeton Wood."
"I don't believe a word of it," said the Duke. "No one would poison foxes in my wood. I wish you'd see about it, Glencora. Plantagenet will never attend to anything. But he shouldn't write to me. He ought to know better than to write letters to me. I will not have people writing letters to me. Why don't they write to Fothergill?" and then the Duke began in truth to whimper.
"I'll put it all right," said Lady Glencora.
"I wish you would. I don't like them to say there are no foxes; and Plantagenet never will attend to anything." The wife had long since ceased to take the husband's part when accusations such as this were brought against him. Nothing could make Mr. Palliser think it worth his while to give up any shred of his time to such a matter as the preservation of foxes.
On the fourth day the catastrophe happened which Lady Glencora had feared. A fly with a pair of horses from the Matching Road station was driven up to the door of the Priory, and Lady Hartletop was announced. "I knew it," said Lady Glencora, slapping her hand down on the table in the room in which she was sitting with Madame Goesler. Unfortunately the old lady was shown into the room before Madame Goesler could escape, and they passed each other on the threshold. The Dowager Marchioness of Hartletop was a very stout old lady, now perhaps nearer to seventy than sixty-five years of age, who for many years had been the intimate friend of the Duke of Omnium. In latter days, during which she had seen but little of the Duke himself, she had heard of Madame Max Goesler, but she had never met that lady. Nevertheless, she knew the rival friend at a glance. Some instinct told her that that woman with the black brow and the dark curls was Madame Goesler. In these days the Marchioness was given to waddling rather than to walking, but she waddled past the foreign female,—as she had often called Madame Max,—with a dignified though duck-like step. Lady Hartletop was a bold woman; and it must be supposed that she had some heart within her or she would hardly have made such a journey with such a purpose. "Dear Lady Hartletop," said Lady Glencora, "I am so sorry that you should have had this trouble."
"I must see him," said Lady Hartletop. Lady Glencora put both her hands together piteously, as though deprecating her visitor's wrath. "I must insist on seeing him."
"Sir Omicron has refused permission to any one to visit him."
"I shall not go till I've seen him. Who was that lady?"
"A friend of mine," said Lady Glencora, drawing herself up.
"She is—, Madame Goesler."
"That is her name, Lady Hartletop. She is my most intimate friend."
"Does she see the Duke?"
Lady Glencora, when expressing her fear that the woman would come to Matching, had confessed that she was afraid of Lady Hartletop. And a feeling of dismay—almost of awe—had fallen upon her on hearing the Marchioness announced. But when she found herself thus cross-examined, she resolved that she would be bold. Nothing on earth should induce her to open the door of the Duke's room to Lady Hartletop, nor would she scruple to tell the truth about Madame Goesler. "Yes," she said, "Madame Goesler does see the Duke."
"And I am to be excluded!"
"My dear Lady Hartletop, what can I do? The Duke for some time past has been accustomed to the presence of my friend, and therefore her presence now is no disturbance. Surely that can be understood."
"I should not disturb him."
"He would be inexpressibly excited were he to know that you were even in the house. And I could not take it upon myself to tell him."
Then Lady Hartletop threw herself upon a sofa, and began to weep piteously. "I have known him for more than forty years," she moaned, through her choking tears. Lady Glencora's heart was softened, and she was kind and womanly; but she would not give way about the Duke. It would, as she knew, have been useless, as the Duke had declared that he would see no one except his eldest nephew, his nephew's wife, and Madame Goesler.
That evening was very dreadful to all of them at Matching,—except to the Duke, who was never told of Lady Hartletop's perseverance. The poor old woman could not be sent away on that afternoon, and was therefore forced to dine with Mr. Palliser. He, however, was warned by his wife to say nothing in the lady's presence about his uncle, and he received her as he would receive any other chance guest at his wife's table. But the presence of Madame Goesler made the chief difficulty. She herself was desirous of disappearing for that evening, but Lady Glencora would not permit it. "She has seen you, my dear, and asked about you. If you hide yourself, she'll say all sorts of things." An introduction was therefore necessary, and Lady Hartletop's manner was grotesquely grand. She dropped a very low curtsey, and made a very long face, but she did not say a word. In the evening the Marchioness sat close to Lady Glencora, whispering many things about the Duke; and condescending at last to a final entreaty that she might be permitted to see him on the following morning. "There is Sir Omicron," said Lady Glencora, turning round to the little doctor. But Lady Hartletop was too proud to appeal to Sir Omicron, who, as a matter of course, would support the orders of Lady Glencora. On the next morning Madame Goesler did not appear at the breakfast-table, and at eleven Lady Hartletop was taken back to the train in Lady Glencora's carriage. She had submitted herself to discomfort, indignity, fatigue, and disappointment; and it had all been done for love. With her broad face, and her double chin, and her heavy jowl, and the beard that was growing round her lips, she did not look like a romantic woman; but, in spite of appearances, romance and a duck-like waddle may go together. The memory of those forty years had been strong upon her, and her heart was heavy because she could not see that old man once again. Men will love to the last, but they love what is fresh and new. A woman's love can live on the recollection of the past, and cling to what is old and ugly. "What an episode!" said Lady Glencora, when the unwelcome visitor was gone;—"but it's odd how much less dreadful things are than you think they will be. I was frightened when I heard her name; but you see we've got through it without much harm."
A week passed by, and still the Duke was living. But now he was too weak to be moved from one room to another, and Madame Goesler passed two hours each day sitting by his bedside. He would lie with his hand out upon the coverlid, and she would put hers upon it; but very few words passed between them. He grumbled again about the Trumpeton Woods, and Lord Chiltern's interference, and complained of his nephew's indifference. As to himself and his own condition, he seemed to be, at any rate, without discomfort, and was certainly free from fear. A clergyman attended him, and gave him the sacrament. He took it,—as the champagne prescribed by Sir Omicron, or the few mouthfuls of chicken broth which were administered to him by the old lady with the smart cap; but it may be doubted whether he thought much more of the one remedy than of the other. He knew that he had lived, and that the thing was done. His courage never failed him. As to the future, he neither feared much nor hoped much; but was, unconsciously, supported by a general trust in the goodness and the greatness of the God who had made him what he was. "It is nearly done now, Marie," he said to Madame Goesler one evening. She only pressed his hand in answer. His condition was too well understood between them to allow of her speaking to him of any possible recovery. "It has been a great comfort to me that I have known you," he said.
"A great comfort;—only I wish it had been sooner. I could have talked to you about things which I never did talk of to any one. I wonder why I should have been a duke, and another man a servant."
"God Almighty ordained such difference."
"I'm afraid I have not done it well;—but I have tried; indeed I have tried." Then she told him he had ever lived as a great nobleman ought to live. And, after a fashion, she herself believed what she was saying. Nevertheless, her nature was much nobler than his; and she knew that no man should dare to live idly as the Duke had lived.
The Duke's Will
On the ninth day after Madame Goesler's arrival the Duke died, and Lady Glencora Palliser became Duchess of Omnium. But the change probably was much greater to Mr. Palliser than to his wife. It would seem to be impossible to imagine a greater change than had come upon him. As to rank, he was raised from that of a simple commoner to the very top of the tree. He was made master of almost unlimited wealth, Garters, and lord-lieutenancies; and all the added grandeurs which come from high influence when joined to high rank were sure to be his. But he was no more moved by these things than would have been a god, or a block of wood. His uncle was dead; but his uncle had been an old man, and his grief on that score was moderate. As soon as his uncle's body had been laid in the family vault at Gatherum, men would call him Duke of Omnium; and then he could never sit again in the House of Commons. It was in that light, and in that light only, that he regarded the matter. To his uncle it had been everything to be Duke of Omnium. To Plantagenet Palliser it was less than nothing. He had lived among men and women with titles all his life, himself untitled, but regarded by them as one of themselves, till the thing, in his estimation, had come to seem almost nothing. One man walked out of a room before another man; and he, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, had, during a part of his career, walked out of most rooms before most men. But he cared not at all whether he walked out first or last,—and for him there was nothing else in it. It was a toy that would perhaps please his wife, but he doubted even whether she would not cease to be Lady Glencora with regret. In himself this thing that had happened had absolutely crushed him. He had won for himself by his own aptitudes and his own industry one special position in the empire,—and that position, and that alone, was incompatible with the rank which he was obliged to assume! His case was very hard, and he felt it;—but he made no complaint to human ears. "I suppose you must give up the Exchequer," his wife said to him. He shook his head, and made no reply. Even to her he could not explain his feelings.
I think, too, that she did regret the change in her name, though she was by no means indifferent to the rank. As Lady Glencora she had made a reputation which might very possibly fall away from her as Duchess of Omnium. Fame is a skittish jade, more fickle even than Fortune, and apt to shy, and bolt, and plunge away on very trifling causes. As Lady Glencora Palliser she was known to every one, and had always done exactly as she had pleased. The world in which she lived had submitted to her fantasies, and had placed her on a pedestal from which, as Lady Glencora, nothing could have moved her. She was by no means sure that the same pedestal would be able to carry the Duchess of Omnium. She must begin again, and such beginnings are dangerous; As Lady Glencora she had almost taken upon herself to create a rivalry in society to certain very distinguished, and indeed illustrious, people. There were only two houses in London, she used to say, to which she never went. The "never" was not quite true;—but there had been something in it. She doubted whether as Duchess of Omnium she could go on with this. She must lay down her mischief, and abandon her eccentricity, and in some degree act like other duchesses. "The poor old man," she said to Madame Goesler; "I wish he could have gone on living a little longer." At this time the two ladies were alone together at Matching. Mr. Palliser, with the cousins, had gone to Gatherum, whither also had been sent all that remained of the late Duke, in order that fitting funeral obsequies might be celebrated over the great family vault.
"He would hardly have wished it himself, I think."
"One never knows,—and as far as one can look into futurity one has no idea what would be one's own feelings. I suppose he did enjoy life."
"Hardly, for the last twelve months," said Madame Goesler.
"I think he did. He was happy when you were about him; and he interested himself about things. Do you remember how much he used to think of Lady Eustace and her diamonds? When I first knew him he was too magnificent to care about anything."
"I suppose his nature was the same."
"Yes, my dear; his nature was the same, but he was strong enough to restrain his nature, and wise enough to know that his magnificence was incompatible with ordinary interests. As he got to be older he broke down, and took up with mere mortal gossip. But I think it must have made him happier."
"He showed his weakness in coming to me," said Madame Goesler, laughing.
"Of course he did;—not in liking your society, but in wanting to give you his name. I have often wondered what kind of things he used to say to that old Lady Hartletop. That was in his full grandeur, and he never condescended to speak much then. I used to think him so hard; but I suppose he was only acting his part. I used to call him the Grand Lama to Plantagenet when we were first married,—before Planty was born. I shall always call him Silverbridge now instead of Planty."
"I would let others do that."
"Of course I was joking; but others will, and he will be spoilt. I wonder whether he will live to be a Grand Lama or a popular Minister. There cannot be two positions further apart. My husband, no doubt, thinks a good deal of himself as a statesman and a clever politician,—at least I suppose he does; but he has not the slightest reverence for himself as a nobleman. If the dear old Duke were hobbling along Piccadilly, he was conscious that Piccadilly was graced by his presence, and never moved without being aware that people looked at him, and whispered to each other,—'There goes the Duke of Omnium.' Plantagenet considers himself inferior to a sweeper while on the crossing, and never feels any pride of place unless he is sitting on the Treasury Bench with his hat over his eyes."
"He'll never sit on the Treasury Bench again."
"No;—poor dear. He's an Othello now with a vengeance, for his occupation is gone. I spoke to him about your friend and the foxes, and he told me to write to Mr. Fothergill. I will as soon as it's decent. I fancy a new duchess shouldn't write letters about foxes till the old Duke is buried. I wonder what sort of a will he'll have made. There's nothing I care twopence for except his pearls. No man in England had such a collection of precious stones. They'd been yours, my dear, if you had consented to be Mrs. O."
The Duke was buried and the will was read, and Plantagenet Palliser was addressed as Duke of Omnium by all the tenantry and retainers of the family in the great hall of Gatherum Castle. Mr. Fothergill, who had upon occasion in former days been driven by his duty to remonstrate with the heir, was all submission. Planty Pall had come to the throne, and half a county was ready to worship him. But he did not know how to endure worship, and the half county declared that he was stern and proud, and more haughty even than his uncle. At every "Grace" that was flung at him he winced and was miserable, and declared to himself that he should never become accustomed to his new life. So he sat all alone, and meditated how he might best reconcile the forty-eight farthings which go to a shilling with that thorough-going useful decimal, fifty.
But his meditations did not prevent him from writing to his wife, and on the following morning, Lady Glencora,—as she shall be called now for the last time,—received a letter from him which disturbed her a good deal. She was in her room when it was brought to her, and for an hour after reading it hardly knew how to see her guest and friend, Madame Goesler. The passage in the letter which produced this dismay was as follows:—"He has left to Madame Goesler twenty thousand pounds and all his jewels. The money may be very well, but I think he has been wrong about the jewellery. As to myself I do not care a straw, but you will be sorry; and then people will talk. The lawyers will, of course, write to her, but I suppose you had better tell her. They seem to think that the stones are worth a great deal of money; but I have long learned never to believe any statement that is made to me. They are all here, and I suppose she will have to send some authorised person to have them packed. There is a regular inventory, of which a copy shall be sent to her by post as soon as it can be prepared." Now it must be owned that the duchess did begrudge her friend the duke's collection of pearls and diamonds.
About noon they met. "My dear," she said, "you had better hear your good fortune at once. Read that,—just that side. Plantagenet is wrong in saying that I shall regret it. I don't care a bit about it. If I want a ring or a brooch he can buy me one. But I never did care about such things, and I don't now. The money is all just as it should be." Madame Goesler read the passage, and the blood mounted up into her face. She read it very slowly, and when she had finished reading it she was for a moment or two at a loss for her words to express herself. "You had better send one of Garnett's people," said the Duchess, naming the house of a distinguished jeweller and goldsmith in London.
"It will hardly need," said Madame Goesler.
"You had better be careful. There is no knowing what they are worth. He spent half his income on them, I believe, during part of his life." There was a roughness about the Duchess of which she was herself conscious, but which she could not restrain, though she knew that it betrayed her chagrin.
Madame Goesler came gently up to her and touched her arm caressingly. "Do you remember," said Madame Goesler, "a small ring with a black diamond,—I suppose it was a diamond,—which he always wore?"
"I remember that he always did wear such a ring."
"I should like to have that," said Madame Goesler.
"You have them all,—everything. He makes no distinction."
"I should like to have that, Lady Glen,—for the sake of the hand that wore it. But, as God is great above us, I will never take aught else that has belonged to the Duke."
"Not take them!"
"Not a gem; not a stone; not a shilling."
"But you must."
"I rather think that I can be under no such obligation," she said, laughing. "Will you write to Mr. Palliser,—or I should say, to the Duke,—to-night, and tell him that my mind is absolutely made up?"
"I certainly shall not do that."
"Then I must. As it is, I shall have pleasant memories of his Grace. According to my ability I have endeavoured to be good to him, and I have no stain on my conscience because of his friendship. If I took his money and his jewels,—or rather your money and your jewels,—do you think I could say as much?"
"Everybody takes what anybody leaves them by will."
"I will be an exception to the rule, Lady Glen. Don't you think that your friendship is more to me than all the diamonds in London?"
"You shall have both, my dear," said the Duchess,—quite in earnest in her promise. Madame Goesler shook her head. "Nobody ever repudiates legacies. The Queen would take the jewels if they were left to her."
"I am not the Queen. I have to be more careful what I do than any queen. I will take nothing under the Duke's will. I will ask a boon which I have already named, and if it be given me as a gift by the Duke's heir, I will wear it till I die. You will write to Mr. Palliser?"
"I couldn't do it," said the Duchess.
"Then I will write myself." And she did write, and of all the rich things which the Duke of Omnium had left to her, she took nothing but the little ring with the black stone which he had always worn on his finger.
An Editor's Wrath
On that Sunday evening in London Mr. Low was successful in finding the Vice-Chancellor, and the great judge smiled and nodded, listened to the story, and acknowledged that the circumstances were very peculiar. He thought that an injunction to restrain the publication might be given at once upon Mr. Finn's affidavit; and that the peculiar circumstances justified the peculiarity of Mr. Low's application. Whether he would have said as much had the facts concerned the families of Mr. Joseph Smith and his son-in-law Mr. John Jones, instead of the Earl of Brentford and the Right Honourable Robert Kennedy, some readers will perhaps doubt, and may doubt also whether an application coming from some newly-fledged barrister would have been received as graciously as that made by Mr. Low, Q.C. and M.P.,—who would probably himself soon sit on some lofty legal bench. On the following morning Phineas and Mr. Low,—and no doubt also Mr. Vice-Chancellor Pickering,—obtained early copies of the People's Banner, and were delighted to find that Mr. Kennedy's letter did not appear in it. Mr. Low had made his calculation rightly. The editor, considering that he would gain more by having the young member of Parliament and the Standish family, as it were, in his hands than by the publication of a certain libellous letter, had resolved to put the document back for at least twenty-four hours, even though the young member neither came nor wrote as he had promised. The letter did not appear, and before ten o'clock Phineas Finn had made his affidavit in a dingy little room behind the Vice-Chancellor's Court. The injunction was at once issued, and was of such potency that should any editor dare to publish any paper therein prohibited, that editor and that editor's newspaper would assuredly be crumpled up in a manner very disagreeable, if not altogether destructive. Editors of newspapers are self-willed, arrogant, and stiff-necked, a race of men who believe much in themselves and little in anything else, with no feelings of reverence or respect for matters which are august enough to other men;—but an injunction from a Court of Chancery is a power which even an editor respects. At about noon Vice-Chancellor Pickering's injunction was served at the office of the People's Banner in Quartpot Alley, Fleet Street. It was done in duplicate,—or perhaps in triplicate,—so that there should be no evasion; and all manner of crumpling was threatened in the event of any touch of disobedience. All this happened on Monday, March the first, while the poor dying Duke was waiting impatiently for the arrival of his friend at Matching. Phineas was busy all the morning till it was time that he should go down to the House. For as soon as he could leave Mr. Low's chambers in Lincoln's Inn he had gone to Judd Street, to inquire as to the condition of the man who had tried to murder him. He there saw Mr. Kennedy's cousin, and received an assurance from that gentleman that Robert Kennedy should be taken down at once to Loughlinter. Up to that moment not a word had been said to the police as to what had been done. No more notice had been taken of the attempt to murder than might have been necessary had Mr. Kennedy thrown a clothes-brush at his visitor's head. There was the little hole in the post of the door with the bullet in it, just six feet above the ground; and there was the pistol, with five chambers still loaded, which Macpherson had cunningly secured on his return from church, and given over to the cousin that same evening. There was certainly no want of evidence, but nobody was disposed to use it.
At noon the injunction was served in Quartpot Alley, and was put into Mr. Slide's hands on his arrival at the office at three o'clock. That gentleman's duties required his attendance from three till five in the afternoon, and then again from nine in the evening till any hour in the morning at which he might be able to complete the People's Banner for that day's use. He had been angry with Phineas when the Sunday night passed without a visit or letter at the office, as a promise had been made that there should be either a visit or a letter; but he had felt sure, as he walked into the city from his suburban residence at Camden Town, that he would now find some communication on the great subject. The matter was one of most serious importance. Such a letter as that which was in his possession would no doubt create much surprise, and receive no ordinary attention. A People's Banner could hardly ask for a better bit of good fortune than the privilege of first publishing such a letter. It would no doubt be copied into every London paper, and into hundreds of provincial papers, and every journal so copying it would be bound to declare that it was taken from the columns of the People's Banner. It was, indeed, addressed "To the Editor of the People's Banner" in the printed slip which Mr. Slide had shown to Phineas Finn, though Kennedy himself had not prefixed to it any such direction. And the letter, in the hands of Quintus Slide, would not simply have been a letter. It might have been groundwork for, perhaps, some half-dozen leading articles, all of a most attractive kind. Mr. Slide's high moral tone upon such an occasion would have been qualified to do good to every British matron, and to add virtues to the Bench of Bishops. All this he had postponed with some inadequately defined idea that he could do better with the property in his hands by putting himself into personal communication with the persons concerned. If he could manage to reconcile such a husband to such a wife,—or even to be conspicuous in an attempt to do so; and if he could make the old Earl and the young Member of Parliament feel that he had spared them by abstaining from the publication, the results might be very beneficial. His conception of the matter had been somewhat hazy, and he had certainly made a mistake. But, as he walked from his home to Quartpot Alley, he little dreamed of the treachery with which he had been treated. "Has Phineas Finn been here?" he asked as he took his accustomed seat within a small closet, that might be best described as a glass cage. Around him lay the debris of many past newspapers, and the germs of many future publications. To all the world except himself it would have been a chaos, but to him, with his experience, it was admirable order. No; Mr. Finn had not been there. And then, as he was searching among the letters for one from the Member for Tankerville, the injunction was thrust into his hands. To say that he was aghast is but a poor form of speech for the expression of his emotion.
He had been "done"—"sold,"—absolutely robbed by that wretchedly false Irishman whom he had trusted with all the confidence of a candid nature and an open heart! He had been most treacherously misused! Treachery was no adequate word for the injury inflicted on him. The more potent is a man, the less accustomed to endure injustice, and the more his power to inflict it,—the greater is the sting and the greater the astonishment when he himself is made to suffer. Newspaper editors sport daily with the names of men of whom they do not hesitate to publish almost the severest words that can be uttered;—but let an editor be himself attacked, even without his name, and he thinks that the thunderbolts of heaven should fall upon the offender. Let his manners, his truth, his judgment, his honesty, or even his consistency be questioned, and thunderbolts are forthcoming, though they may not be from heaven. There should certainly be a thunderbolt or two now, but Mr. Slide did not at first quite see how they were to be forged.
He read the injunction again and again. As far as the document went he knew its force, and recognised the necessity of obedience. He might, perhaps, be able to use the information contained in the letter from Mr. Kennedy, so as to harass Phineas and Lady Laura and the Earl, but he was at once aware that it must not be published. An editor is bound to avoid the meshes of the law, which are always infinitely more costly to companies, or things, or institutions, than they are to individuals. Of fighting with Chancery he had no notion; but it should go hard with him if he did not have a fight with Phineas Finn. And then there arose another cause for deep sorrow. A paragraph was shown to him in a morning paper of that day which must, he thought, refer to Mr. Kennedy and Phineas Finn. "A rumour has reached us that a member of Parliament, calling yesterday afternoon upon a right honourable gentleman, a member of a late Government, at his hotel, was shot at by the latter in his sitting room. Whether the rumour be true or not we have no means of saying, and therefore abstain from publishing names. We are informed that the gentleman who used the pistol was out of his mind. The bullet did not take effect." How cruel it was that such information should have reached the hands of a rival, and not fallen in the way of the People's Banner! And what a pity that the bullet should have been wasted! The paragraph must certainly refer to Phineas Finn and Kennedy. Finn, a Member of Parliament, had been sent by Slide himself to call upon Kennedy, a member of the late Government, at Kennedy's hotel. And the paragraph must be true. He himself had warned Finn that there would be danger in the visit. He had even prophesied murder,—and murder had been attempted! The whole transaction had been, as it were, the very goods and chattels of the People's Banner, and the paper had been shamefully robbed of its property. Mr. Slide hardly doubted that Phineas Finn had himself sent the paragraph to an adverse paper, with the express view of adding to the injury inflicted upon the Banner. That day Mr. Slide hardly did his work effectively within his glass cage, so much was his mind affected, and at five o'clock, when he left his office, instead of going at once home to Mrs. Slide at Camden Town, he took an omnibus, and went down to Westminster. He would at once confront the traitor who had deceived him.
It must be acknowledged on behalf of this editor that he did in truth believe that he had been hindered from doing good. The whole practice of his life had taught him to be confident that the editor of a newspaper must be the best possible judge,—indeed the only possible good judge,—whether any statement or story should or should not be published. Not altogether without a conscience, and intensely conscious of such conscience as did constrain him, Mr. Quintus Slide imagined that no law of libel, no injunction from any Vice-Chancellor, no outward power or pressure whatever was needed to keep his energies within their proper limits. He and his newspaper formed together a simply beneficent institution, any interference with which must of necessity be an injury to the public. Everything done at the office of the People's Banner was done in the interest of the People,—and, even though individuals might occasionally be made to suffer by the severity with which their names were handled in its columns, the general result was good. What are the sufferings of the few to the advantage of the many? If there be fault in high places, it is proper that it be exposed. If there be fraud, adulteries, gambling, and lasciviousness,—or even quarrels and indiscretions among those whose names are known, let every detail be laid open to the light, so that the people may have a warning. That such details will make a paper "pay" Mr. Slide knew also; but it is not only in Mr. Slide's path of life that the bias of a man's mind may lead him to find that virtue and profit are compatible. An unprofitable newspaper cannot long continue its existence, and, while existing, cannot be widely beneficial. It is the circulation, the profitable circulation,—of forty, fifty, sixty, or a hundred thousand copies through all the arteries and veins of the public body which is beneficent. And how can such circulation be effected unless the taste of the public be consulted? Mr. Quintus Slide, as he walked up Westminster Hall, in search of that wicked member of Parliament, did not at all doubt the goodness of his cause. He could not contest the Vice-Chancellor's injunction, but he was firm in his opinion that the Vice-Chancellor's injunction had inflicted an evil on the public at large, and he was unhappy within himself in that the power and majesty and goodness of the press should still be hampered by ignorance, prejudice, and favour for the great. He was quite sure that no injunction would have been granted in favour of Mr. Joseph Smith and Mr. John Jones.
He went boldly up to one of the policemen who sit guarding the door of the lobby of our House of Commons, and asked for Mr. Finn. The Cerberus on the left was not sure whether Mr. Finn was in the House, but would send in a card if Mr. Slide would stand on one side. For the next quarter of an hour Mr. Slide heard no more of his message, and then applied again to the Cerberus. The Cerberus shook his head, and again desired the applicant to stand on one side. He had done all that in him lay. The other watchful Cerberus standing on the right, observing that the intruder was not accommodated with any member, intimated to him the propriety of standing back in one of the corners. Our editor turned round upon the man as though he would bite him;—but he did stand back, meditating an article on the gross want of attention to the public shown in the lobby of the House of Commons. Is it possible that any editor should endure any inconvenience without meditating an article? But the judicious editor thinks twice of such things. Our editor was still in his wrath when he saw his prey come forth from the House with a card,—no doubt his own card. He leaped forward in spite of the policeman, in spite of any Cerberus, and seized Phineas by the arm. "I want just to have a few words," he said. He made an effort to repress his wrath, knowing that the whole world would be against him should he exhibit any violence of indignation on that spot; but Phineas could see it all in the fire of his eye.
"Certainly," said Phineas, retiring to the side of the lobby, with a conviction that the distance between him and the House was already sufficient.
"Can't you come down into Westminster Hall?"
"I should only have to come up again. You can say what you've got to say here."
"I've got a great deal to say. I never was so badly treated in my life;—never." He could not quite repress his voice, and he saw that a policeman looked at him. Phineas saw it also.
"Because we have hindered you from publishing an untrue and very slanderous letter about a lady!"
"You promised me that you'd come to me yesterday."
"I think not. I think I said that you should hear from me,—and you did."
"You call that truth,—and honesty!"
"Certainly I do. Of course it was my first duty to stop the publication of the letter."
"You haven't done that yet."
"I've done my best to stop it. If you have nothing more to say I'll wish you good evening."
"I've a deal more to say. You were shot at, weren't you?"
"I have no desire to make any communication to you on anything that has occurred, Mr. Slide. If I stayed with you all the afternoon I could tell you nothing more. Good evening."
"I'll crush you," said Quintus Slide, in a stage whisper; "I will, as sure as my name is Slide."
Phineas looked at him and retired into the House, whither Quintus Slide could not follow him, and the editor of the People's Banner was left alone in his anger.
"How a cock can crow on his own dunghill!" That was Mr. Slide's first feeling, as with a painful sense of diminished consequence he retraced his steps through the outer lobbies and down into Westminster Hall. He had been browbeaten by Phineas Finn, simply because Phineas had been able to retreat within those happy doors. He knew that to the eyes of all the policemen and strangers assembled Phineas Finn had been a hero, a Parliamentary hero, and he had been some poor outsider,—to be ejected at once should he make himself disagreeable to the Members. Nevertheless, had he not all the columns of the People's Banner in his pocket? Was he not great in the Fourth Estate,—much greater than Phineas Finn in his estate? Could he not thunder every night so that an audience to be counted by hundreds of thousands should hear his thunder;—whereas this poor Member of Parliament must struggle night after night for an opportunity of speaking; and could then only speak to benches half deserted; or to a few Members half asleep,—unless the Press should choose to convert his words into thunderbolts. Who could doubt for a moment with which lay the greater power? And yet this wretched Irishman, who had wriggled himself into Parliament on a petition, getting the better of a good, downright English John Bull by a quibble, had treated him with scorn,—the wretched Irishman being for the moment like a cock on his own dunghill. Quintus Slide was not slow to tell himself that he also had an elevation of his own, from which he could make himself audible. In former days he had forgiven Phineas Finn more than once. If he ever forgave Phineas Finn again might his right hand forget its cunning, and never again draw blood or tear a scalp.
The First Thunderbolt
It was not till after Mr. Slide had left him that Phineas wrote the following letter to Lady Laura:—
House of Commons, 1st March, 18—
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I have a long story to tell, which I fear I shall find difficult in the telling; but it is so necessary that you should know the facts that I must go through with it as best I may. It will give you very great pain; but the result as regards your own position will not I think be injurious to you.
Yesterday, Sunday, a man came to me who edits a newspaper, and whom I once knew. You will remember when I used to tell you in Portman Square of the amenities and angers of Mr. Slide,—the man who wanted to sit for Loughton. He is the editor. He brought me a long letter from Mr. Kennedy himself, intended for publication, and which was already printed, giving an elaborate and, I may say, a most cruelly untrue account of your quarrel. I read the letter, but of course cannot remember the words. Nor if I could remember them should I repeat them. They contained all the old charges with which you are familiar, and which your unfortunate husband now desired to publish in consummation of his threats. Why Mr. Slide should have brought me the paper before publishing it I can hardly understand. But he did so;—and told me that Mr. Kennedy was in town. We have managed among us to obtain a legal warrant for preventing the publication of the letter, and I think I may say that it will not see the light.
When Mr. Slide left me I called on Mr. Kennedy, whom I found in a miserable little hotel, in Judd Street, kept by Scotch people named Macpherson. They had come from the neighbourhood of Loughlinter, and knew Mr. Kennedy well. This was yesterday afternoon, Sunday, and I found some difficulty in making my way into his presence. My object was to induce him to withdraw the letter;—for at that time I doubted whether the law could interfere quickly enough to prevent the publication.
I found your husband in a very sad condition. What he said or what I said I forget; but he was as usual intensely anxious that you should return to him. I need not hesitate now to say that he is certainly mad. After a while, when I expressed my assured opinion that you would not go back to Loughlinter, he suddenly turned round, grasped a revolver, and fired at my head. How I got out of the room I don't quite remember. Had he repeated the shot, which he might have done over and over again, he must have hit me. As it was I escaped, and blundered down the stairs to Mrs. Macpherson's room.
They whom I have consulted in the matter, namely, Barrington Erle and my particular friend, Mr. Low,—to whom I went for legal assistance in stopping the publication,—seem to think that I should have at once sent for the police, and given Mr. Kennedy in charge. But I did not do so, and hitherto the police have, I believe, no knowledge of what occurred. A paragraph appeared in one of the morning papers to-day, giving almost an accurate account of the matter, but mentioning neither the place nor any of the names. No doubt it will be repeated in all the papers, and the names will soon be known. But the result will be simply a general conviction as to the insanity of poor Mr. Kennedy,—as to which they who know him have had for a long time but little doubt.
The Macphersons seem to have been very anxious to screen their guest. At any other hotel no doubt the landlord would have sent for the police;—but in this case the attempt was kept quite secret. They did send for George Kennedy, a cousin of your husband's, whom I think you know, and whom I saw this morning. He assures me that Robert Kennedy is quite aware of the wickedness of the attempt he made, and that he is plunged in deep remorse. He is to be taken down to Loughlinter to-morrow, and is,—so says his cousin,—as tractable as a child. What George Kennedy means to do, I cannot say; but for myself, as I did not send for the police at the moment, as I am told I ought to have done, I shall now do nothing. I don't know that a man is subject to punishment because he does not make complaint. I suppose I have a right to regard it all as an accident if I please.
But for you this must be very important. That Mr. Kennedy is insane there cannot now, I think, be a doubt; and therefore the question of your returning to him,—as far as there has been any question,—is absolutely settled. None of your friends would be justified in allowing you to return. He is undoubtedly mad, and has done an act which is not murderous only on that conclusion. This settles the question so perfectly that you could, no doubt, reside in England now without danger. Mr. Kennedy himself would feel that he could take no steps to enforce your return after what he did yesterday. Indeed, if you could bring yourself to face the publicity, you could, I imagine, obtain a legal separation which would give you again the control of your own fortune. I feel myself bound to mention this; but I give you no advice. You will no doubt explain all the circumstances to your father.
I think I have now told you everything that I need tell you. The thing only happened yesterday, and I have been all the morning busy, getting the injunction, and seeing Mr. George Kennedy. Just before I began this letter that horrible editor was with me again, threatening me with all the penalties which an editor can inflict. To tell the truth, I do feel confused among them all, and still fancy that I hear the click of the pistol. That newspaper paragraph says that the ball went through my whiskers, which was certainly not the case;—but a foot or two off is quite near enough for a pistol ball.
The Duke of Omnium is dying, and I have heard to-day that Madame Goesler, our old friend, has been sent for to Matching. She and I renewed our acquaintance the other day at Harrington.
God bless you.
Your most sincere friend,
Do not let my news oppress you. The firing of the pistol is a thing done and over without evil results. The state of Mr. Kennedy's mind is what we have long suspected; and, melancholy though it be, should contain for you at any rate this consolation,—that the accusations made against you would not have been made had his mind been unclouded.
Twice while Finn was writing this letter was he rung into the House for a division, and once it was suggested to him to say a few words of angry opposition to the Government on some not important subject under discussion. Since the beginning of the Session hardly a night had passed without some verbal sparring, and very frequently the limits of parliamentary decorum had been almost surpassed. Never within the memory of living politicians had political rancour been so sharp, and the feeling of injury so keen, both on the one side and on the other. The taunts thrown at the Conservatives, in reference to the Church, had been almost unendurable,—and the more so because the strong expressions of feeling from their own party throughout the country were against them. Their own convictions also were against them. And there had for a while been almost a determination through the party to deny their leader and disclaim the bill. But a feeling of duty to the party had prevailed, and this had not been done. It had not been done; but the not doing of it was a sore burden on the half-broken shoulders of many a man who sat gloomily on the benches behind Mr. Daubeny. Men goaded as they were, by their opponents, by their natural friends, and by their own consciences, could not bear it in silence, and very bitter things were said in return. Mr. Gresham was accused of a degrading lust for power. No other feeling could prompt him to oppose with a factious acrimony never before exhibited in that House,—so said some wretched Conservative with broken back and broken heart,—a measure which he himself would only be too willing to carry were he allowed the privilege of passing over to the other side of the House for the purpose. In these encounters, Phineas Finn had already exhibited his prowess, and, in spite of his declarations at Tankerville, had become prominent as an opponent to Mr. Daubeny's bill. He had, of course, himself been taunted, and held up in the House to the execration of his own constituents; but he had enjoyed his fight, and had remembered how his friend Mr. Monk had once told him that the pleasure lay all on the side of opposition. But on this evening he declined to speak. "I suppose you have hardly recovered from Kennedy's pistol," said Mr. Ratler, who had, of course, heard the whole story. "That, and the whole affair together have upset me," said Phineas. "Fitzgibbon will do it for you; he's in the House." And so it happened that on that occasion the Honourable Laurence Fitzgibbon made a very effective speech against the Government.
On the next morning from the columns of the People's Banner was hurled the first of those thunderbolts with which it was the purpose of Mr. Slide absolutely to destroy the political and social life of Phineas Finn. He would not miss his aim as Mr. Kennedy had done. He would strike such blows that no constituency should ever venture to return Mr. Finn again to Parliament; and he thought that he could also so strike his blows that no mighty nobleman, no distinguished commoner, no lady of rank should again care to entertain the miscreant and feed him with the dainties of fashion. The first thunderbolt was as follows:—
We abstained yesterday from alluding to a circumstance which occurred at a small hotel in Judd Street on Sunday afternoon, and which, as we observe, was mentioned by one of our contemporaries. The names, however, were not given, although the persons implicated were indicated. We can see no reason why the names should be concealed. Indeed, as both the gentlemen concerned have been guilty of very great criminality, we think that we are bound to tell the whole story,—and this the more especially as certain circumstances have in a very peculiar manner placed us in possession of the facts.
It is no secret that for the last two years Lady Laura Kennedy has been separated from her husband, the Honourable Robert Kennedy, who, in the last administration, under Mr. Mildmay, held the office of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; and we believe as little a secret that Mr. Kennedy has been very persistent in endeavouring to recall his wife to her home. With equal persistence she has refused to obey, and we have in our hands the clearest possible evidence that Mr. Kennedy has attributed her obstinate refusal to influence exercised over her by Mr. Phineas Finn, who three years since was her father's nominee for the then existing borough of Loughton, and who lately succeeded in ousting poor Mr. Browborough from his seat for Tankerville by his impetuous promises to support that very measure of Church Reform which he is now opposing with that venom which makes him valuable to his party. Whether Mr. Phineas Finn will ever sit in another Parliament we cannot, of course, say, but we think we can at least assure him that he will never again sit for Tankerville.
On last Sunday afternoon Mr. Finn, knowing well the feeling with which he is regarded by Mr. Kennedy, outraged all decency by calling upon that gentleman, whose address he obtained from our office. What took place between them no one knows, and, probably, no one ever will know. But the interview was ended by Mr. Kennedy firing a pistol at Mr. Finn's head. That he should have done so without the grossest provocation no one will believe. That Mr. Finn had gone to the husband to interfere with him respecting his wife is an undoubted fact,—a fact which, if necessary, we are in a position to prove. That such interference must have been most heartrending every one will admit. This intruder, who had thrust himself upon the unfortunate husband on the Sabbath afternoon, was the very man whom the husband accuses of having robbed him of the company and comfort of his wife. But we cannot, on that account, absolve Mr. Kennedy of the criminality of his act. It should be for a jury to decide what view should be taken of that act, and to say how far the outrageous provocation offered should be allowed to palliate the offence. But hitherto the matter has not reached the police. Mr. Finn was not struck, and managed to escape from the room. It was his manifest duty as one of the community, and more especially so as a member of Parliament, to have reported all the circumstances at once to the police. This was not done by him, nor by the persons who keep the hotel. That Mr. Finn should have reasons of his own for keeping the whole affair secret, and for screening the attempt at murder, is clear enough. What inducements have been used with the people of the house we cannot, of course, say. But we understand that Mr. Kennedy has been allowed to leave London without molestation.
Such is the true story of what occurred on Sunday afternoon in Judd Street, and, knowing what we do, we think ourselves justified in calling upon Major Mackintosh to take the case into his own hands.
Now Major Mackintosh was at this time the head of the London constabulary.
It is quite out of the question that such a transaction should take place in the heart of London at three o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, and be allowed to pass without notice. We intend to keep as little of what we know from the public as possible, and do not hesitate to acknowledge that we are debarred by an injunction of the Vice-Chancellor from publishing a certain document which would throw the clearest light upon the whole circumstance. As soon as possible after the shot was fired Mr. Finn went to work, and, as we think, by misrepresentations, obtained the injunction early on yesterday morning. We feel sure that it would not have been granted had the transaction in Judd Street been at the time known to the Vice-Chancellor in all its enormity. Our hands are, of course, tied. The document in question is still with us, but it is sacred. When called upon to show it by any proper authority we shall be ready; but, knowing what we do know, we should not be justified in allowing the matter to sleep. In the meantime we call upon those whose duty it is to preserve the public peace to take the steps necessary for bringing the delinquents to justice.
The effect upon Mr. Finn, we should say, must be his immediate withdrawal from public life. For the last year or two he has held some subordinate but permanent place in Ireland, which he has given up on the rumour that the party to which he has attached himself is likely to return to office. That he is a seeker after office is notorious. That any possible Government should now employ him, even as a tide-waiter, is quite out of the question; and it is equally out of the question that he should be again returned to Parliament, were he to resign his seat on accepting office. As it is, we believe, notorious that this gentlemen cannot maintain the position which he holds without being paid for his services, it is reasonable to suppose that his friends will recommend him to retire, and seek his living in some obscure, and, let us hope, honest profession.
Mr. Slide, when his thunderbolt was prepared, read it over with delight, but still with some fear as to probable results. It was expedient that he should avoid a prosecution for libel, and essential that he should not offend the majesty of the Vice-Chancellor's injunction. Was he sure that he was safe in each direction? As to the libel, he could not tell himself that he was certainly safe. He was saying very hard things both of Lady Laura and of Phineas Finn, and sailing very near the wind. But neither of those persons would probably be willing to prosecute; and, should he be prosecuted, he would then, at any rate, be able to give in Mr. Kennedy's letter as evidence in his own defence. He really did believe that what he was doing was all done in the cause of morality. It was the business of such a paper as that which he conducted to run some risk in defending morals, and exposing distinguished culprits on behalf of the public. And then, without some such risk, how could Phineas Finn be adequately punished for the atrocious treachery of which he had been guilty? As to the Chancellor's order, Mr. Slide thought that he had managed that matter very completely. No doubt he had acted in direct opposition to the spirit of the injunction, but legal orders are read by the letter, and not by the spirit. It was open to him to publish anything he pleased respecting Mr. Kennedy and his wife, subject, of course, to the general laws of the land in regard to libel. The Vice-Chancellor's special order to him referred simply to a particular document, and from that document he had not quoted a word, though he had contrived to repeat all the bitter things which it contained, with much added venom of his own. He felt secure of being safe from any active anger on the part of the Vice-Chancellor.
The article was printed and published. The reader will perceive that it was full of lies. It began with a lie in that statement that "we abstained yesterday from alluding to circumstances" which had been unknown to the writer when his yesterday's paper was published. The indignant reference to poor Finn's want of delicacy in forcing himself upon Mr. Kennedy on the Sabbath afternoon, was, of course, a tissue of lies. The visit had been made almost at the instigation of the editor himself. The paper from beginning to end was full of falsehood and malice, and had been written with the express intention of creating prejudice against the man who had offended the writer. But Mr. Slide did not know that he was lying, and did not know that he was malicious. The weapon which he used was one to which his hand was accustomed, and he had been led by practice to believe that the use of such weapons by one in his position was not only fair, but also beneficial to the public. Had anybody suggested to him that he was stabbing his enemy in the dark, he would have averred that he was doing nothing of the kind, because the anonymous accusation of sinners in high rank was, on behalf of the public, the special duty of writers and editors attached to the public press. Mr. Slide's blood was running high with virtuous indignation against our hero as he inserted those last cruel words as to the choice of an obscure but honest profession.
Phineas Finn read the article before he sat down to breakfast on the following morning, and the dagger went right into his bosom. Every word told upon him. With a jaunty laugh within his own sleeve he had assured himself that he was safe against any wound which could be inflicted on him from the columns of the People's Banner. He had been sure that he would be attacked, and thought that he was armed to bear it. But the thin blade penetrated every joint of his harness, and every particle of the poison curdled in his blood. He was hurt about Lady Laura; he was hurt about his borough of Tankerville; he was hurt by the charges against him of having outraged delicacy; he was hurt by being handed over to the tender mercies of Major Mackintosh; he was hurt by the craft with which the Vice-Chancellor's injunction had been evaded; but he was especially hurt by the allusions to his own poverty. It was necessary that he should earn his bread, and no doubt he was a seeker after place. But he did not wish to obtain wages without working for them; and he did not see why the work and wages of a public office should be less honourable than those of any other profession. To him, with his ideas, there was no profession so honourable, as certainly there were none which demanded greater sacrifices or were more precarious. And he did believe that such an article as that would have the effect of shutting against him the gates of that dangerous Paradise which he desired to enter. He had no great claim upon his party; and, in giving away the good things of office, the giver is only too prone to recognise any objections against an individual which may seem to relieve him from the necessity of bestowing aught in that direction. Phineas felt that he would almost be ashamed to show his face at the clubs or in the House. He must do so as a matter of course, but he knew that he could not do so without confessing by his visage that he had been deeply wounded by the attack in the People's Banner.
He went in the first instance to Mr. Low, and was almost surprised that Mr. Low should not have yet even have heard that such an attack had been made. He had almost felt, as he walked to Lincoln's Inn, that everybody had looked at him, and that passers-by in the street had declared to each other that he was the unfortunate one who had been doomed by the editor of the People's Banner to seek some obscure way of earning his bread. Mr. Low took the paper, read, or probably only half read, the article, and then threw the sheet aside as worthless. "What ought I to do?"
"Nothing at all."
"One's first desire would be to beat him to a jelly."
"Of all courses that would be the worst, and would most certainly conduce to his triumph."
"Just so;—I only allude to the pleasure one would have, but which one has to deny oneself. I don't know whether he has laid himself open for libel."
"I should think not. I have only just glanced at it, and therefore can't give an opinion; but I should think you would not dream of such a thing. Your object is to screen Lady Laura's name."
"I have to think of that first."
"It may be necessary that steps should be taken to defend her character. If an accusation be made with such publicity as to enforce belief if not denied, the denial must be made, and may probably be best made by an action for libel. But that must be done by her or her friends,—but certainly not by you."
"He has laughed at the Vice-Chancellor's injunction."
"I don't think that you can interfere. If, as you believe, Mr. Kennedy be insane, that fact will probably soon be proved, and will have the effect of clearing Lady Laura's character. A wife may be excused for leaving a mad husband."
"And you think I should do nothing?"
"I don't see what you can do. You have encountered a chimney sweeper, and of course you get some of the soot. What you do do, and what you do not do, must depend at any rate on the wishes of Lady Laura Kennedy and her father. It is a matter in which you must make yourself subordinate to them."
Fuming and fretting, and yet recognising the truth of Mr. Low's words, Phineas left the chambers, and went down to his club. It was a Wednesday, and the House was to sit in the morning; but before he went to the House he put himself in the way of certain of his associates in order that he might hear what would be said, and learn if possible what was thought. Nobody seemed to treat the accusations in the newspaper as very serious, though all around him congratulated him on his escape from Mr. Kennedy's pistol. "I suppose the poor man really is mad," said Lord Cantrip, whom he met on the steps of one of the clubs.
"No doubt, I should say."
"I can't understand why you didn't go to the police."
"I had hoped the thing would not become public," said Phineas.
"Everything becomes public;—everything of that kind. It is very hard upon poor Lady Laura."
"That is the worst of it, Lord Cantrip."
"If I were her father I should bring her to England, and demand a separation in a regular and legal way. That is what he should do now in her behalf. She would then have an opportunity of clearing her character from imputations which, to a certain extent, will affect it, even though they come from a madman, and from the very scum of the press."
"You have read that article?"
"Yes;—I saw it but a minute ago."
"I need not tell you that there is not the faintest ground in the world for the imputation made against Lady Laura there."
"I am sure that there is none;—and therefore it is that I tell you my opinion so plainly. I think that Lord Brentford should be advised to bring Lady Laura to England, and to put down the charges openly in Court. It might be done either by an application to the Divorce Court for a separation, or by an action against the newspaper for libel. I do not know Lord Brentford quite well enough to intrude upon him with a letter, but I have no objection whatever to having my name mentioned to him. He and I and you and poor Mr. Kennedy sat together in the same Government, and I think that Lord Brentford would trust my friendship so far." Phineas thanked him, and assured him that what he had said should be conveyed to Lord Brentford.
The Spooner Correspondence
It will be remembered that Adelaide Palliser had accepted the hand of Mr. Maule, junior, and that she and Lady Chiltern between them had despatched him up to London on an embassy to his father, in which he failed very signally. It had been originally Lady Chiltern's idea that the proper home for the young couple would be the ancestral hall, which must be theirs some day, and in which, with exceeding prudence, they might be able to live as Maules of Maule Abbey upon the very limited income which would belong to them. How slight were the grounds for imputing such stern prudence to Gerard Maule both the ladies felt;—but it had become essential to do something; the young people were engaged to each other, and a manner of life must be suggested, discussed, and as far as possible arranged. Lady Chiltern was useful at such work, having a practical turn of mind, and understanding well the condition of life for which it was necessary that her friend should prepare herself. The lover was not vicious, he neither drank nor gambled, nor ran himself hopelessly in debt. He was good-humoured and tractable, and docile enough when nothing disagreeable was asked from him. He would have, he said, no objection to live at Maule Abbey if Adelaide liked it. He didn't believe much in farming, but would consent at Adelaide's request to be the owner of bullocks. He was quite ready to give up hunting, having already taught himself to think that the very few good runs in a season were hardly worth the trouble of getting up before daylight all the winter. He went forth, therefore, on his embassy, and we know how he failed. Another lover would have communicated the disastrous tidings at once to the lady; but Gerard Maule waited a week before he did so, and then told his story in half-a-dozen words. "The governor cut up rough about Maule Abbey, and will not hear of it. He generally does cut up rough."
"But he must be made to hear of it," said Lady Chiltern. Two days afterwards the news reached Harrington of the death of the Duke of Omnium. A letter of an official nature reached Adelaide from Mr. Fothergill, in which the writer explained that he had been desired by Mr. Palliser to communicate to her and the relatives the sad tidings. "So the poor old man has gone at last," said Lady Chiltern, with that affectation of funereal gravity which is common to all of us.
"Poor old Duke!" said Adelaide. "I have been hearing of him as a sort of bugbear all my life. I don't think I ever saw him but once, and then he gave me a kiss and a pair of earrings. He never paid any attention to us at all, but we were taught to think that Providence had been very good to us in making the Duke our uncle."
"He was very rich?"
"Horribly rich, I have always heard."
"Won't he leave you something? It would be very nice now that you are engaged to find that he has given you five thousand pounds."
"Very nice indeed;—but there is not a chance of it. It has always been known that everything is to go to the heir. Papa had his fortune and spent it. He and his brother were never friends, and though the Duke did once give me a kiss I imagine that he forgot my existence immediately afterwards."
"So the Duke of Omnium is dead," said Lord Chiltern when he came home that evening.
"Adelaide has had a letter to tell her so this afternoon."
"Mr. Fothergill wrote to me," said Adelaide;—"the man who is so wicked about the foxes."
"I don't care a straw about Mr. Fothergill; and now my mouth is closed against your uncle. But it's quite frightful to think that a Duke of Omnium must die like anybody else."
"The Duke is dead;—long live the Duke," said Lady Chiltern. "I wonder how Mr. Palliser will like it."
"Men always do like it, I suppose," said Adelaide.
"Women do," said Lord Chiltern. "Lady Glencora will be delighted to reign,—though I can hardly fancy her by any other name. By the bye, Adelaide, I have got a letter for you."
"A letter for me, Lord Chiltern!"
"Well,—yes; I suppose I had better give it you. It is not addressed to you, but you must answer it."
"What on earth is it?"
"I think I can guess," said Lady Chiltern, laughing. She had guessed rightly, but Adelaide Palliser was still altogether in the dark when Lord Chiltern took a letter from his pocket and handed it to her. As he did so he left the room, and his wife followed him. "I shall be upstairs, Adelaide, if you want advice," said Lady Chiltern.
The letter was from Mr. Spooner. He had left Harrington Hall after the uncourteous reception which had been accorded to him by Miss Palliser in deep disgust, resolving that he would never again speak to her, and almost resolving that Spoon Hall should never have a mistress in his time. But with his wine after dinner his courage came back to him, and he began to reflect once more that it is not the habit of young ladies to accept their lovers at the first offer. There was living with Mr. Spooner at this time a very attached friend, whom he usually consulted in all emergencies, and to whom on this occasion he opened his heart. Mr. Edward Spooner, commonly called Ned by all who knew him, and not unfrequently so addressed by those who did not, was a distant cousin of the Squire's, who unfortunately had no particular income of his own. For the last ten years he had lived at Spoon Hall, and had certainly earned his bread. The Squire had achieved a certain credit for success as a country gentleman. Nothing about his place was out of order. His own farming, which was extensive, succeeded. His bullocks and sheep won prizes. His horses were always useful and healthy. His tenants were solvent, if not satisfied, and he himself did not owe a shilling. Now many people in the neighbourhood attributed all this to the judicious care of Mr. Edward Spooner, whose eye was never off the place, and whose discretion was equal to his zeal. In giving the Squire his due, one must acknowledge that he recognised the merits of his cousin, and trusted him in everything. That night, as soon as the customary bottle of claret had succeeded the absolutely normal bottle of port after dinner, Mr. Spooner of Spoon Hall opened his heart to his cousin.
"I shall have to walk, then," said Ned.
"Not if I know it," said the Squire. "You don't suppose I'm going to let any woman have the command of Spoon Hall?"
"They do command,—inside, you know."
"No woman shall ever turn you out of this house, Ned."
"I'm not thinking of myself, Tom," said the cousin. "Of course you'll marry some day, and of course I must take my chance. I don't see why it shouldn't be Miss Palliser as well as another."
"The jade almost made me angry."
"I suppose that's the way with most of 'em. 'Ludit exultim metuitque tangi'." For Ned Spooner had himself preserved some few tattered shreds of learning from his school days. "You don't remember about the filly?"
"Yes I do; very well," said the Squire.
"'Nuptiarum expers.' That's what it is, I suppose. Try it again." The advice on the part of the cousin was genuine and unselfish. That Mr. Spooner of Spoon Hall should be rejected by a young lady without any fortune seemed to him to be impossible. At any rate it is the duty of a man in such circumstances to persevere. As far as Ned knew the world, ladies always required to be asked a second or a third time. And then no harm can come from such perseverance. "She can't break your bones, Tom."
There was much honesty displayed on this occasion. The Squire, when he was thus instigated to persevere, did his best to describe the manner in which he had been rejected. His powers of description were not very great, but he did not conceal anything wilfully. "She was as hard as nails, you know."
"I don't know that that means much. Horace's filly kicked a few, no doubt."
"She told me that if I'd go one way, she'd go the other!"
"They always say about the hardest things that come to their tongues. They don't curse and swear as we do, or there'd be no bearing them. If you really like her—"
"She's such a well-built creature! There's a look of blood about her I don't see in any of 'em. That sort of breeding is what one wants to get through the mud with."
Then it was that the cousin recommended a letter to Lord Chiltern. Lord Chiltern was at the present moment to be regarded as the lady's guardian, and was the lover's intimate friend. A direct proposal had already been made to the young lady, and this should now be repeated to the gentleman who for the time stood in the position of her father. The Squire for a while hesitated, declaring that he was averse to make his secret known to Lord Chiltern. "One doesn't want every fellow in the country to know it," he said. But in answer to this the cousin was very explicit. There could be but little doubt that Lord Chiltern knew the secret already; and he would certainly be rather induced to keep it as a secret than to divulge it if it were communicated to him officially. And what other step could the Squire take? It would not be likely that he should be asked again to Harrington Hall with the express view of repeating his offer. The cousin was quite of opinion that a written proposition should be made; and on that very night the cousin himself wrote out a letter for the Squire to copy in the morning. On the morning the Squire copied the letter,—not without additions of his own, as to which he had very many words with his discreet cousin,—and in a formal manner handed it to Lord Chiltern towards the afternoon of that day, having devoted his whole morning to the finding of a proper opportunity for doing so. Lord Chiltern had read the letter, and had, as we see, delivered it to Adelaide Palliser. "That's another proposal from Mr. Spooner," Lady Chiltern said, as soon as they were alone.
"I knew he'd go on with it. Men are such fools."
"I don't see that he's a fool at all;" said Lord Chiltern, almost in anger. "Why shouldn't he ask a girl to be his wife? He's a rich man, and she hasn't got a farthing."
"You might say the same of a butcher, Oswald."
"Mr. Spooner is a gentleman."
"You do not mean to say that he's fit to marry such a girl as Adelaide Palliser?"
"I don't know what makes fitness. He's got a red nose, and if she don't like a red nose,—that's unfitness. Gerard Maule's nose isn't red, and I dare say therefore he's fitter. Only, unfortunately, he has no money."
"Adelaide Palliser would no more think of marrying Mr. Spooner than you would have thought of marrying the cook."
"If I had liked the cook I should have asked her, and I don't see why Mr. Spooner shouldn't ask Miss Palliser. She needn't take him."
In the meantime Miss Palliser was reading the following letter:—
Spoon Hall, 11th March, 18—.
MY DEAR LORD CHILTERN,—
I venture to suppose that at present you are acting as the guardian of Miss Palliser, who has been staying at your house all the winter. If I am wrong in this I hope you will pardon me, and consent to act in that capacity for this occasion. I entertain feelings of the greatest admiration and warmest affection for the young lady I have named, which I ventured to express when I had the pleasure of staying at Harrington Hall in the early part of last month. I cannot boast that I was received on that occasion with much favour; but I know that I am not very good at talking, and we are told in all the books that no man has a right to expect to be taken at the first time of asking. Perhaps Miss Palliser will allow me, through you, to request her to consider my proposal with more deliberation than was allowed to me before, when I spoke to her perhaps with injudicious hurry.
So far the Squire adopted his cousin's words without alteration.
I am the owner of my own property,—which is more than everybody can say. My income is nearly L4,000 a year. I shall be willing to make any proper settlement that may be recommended by the lawyers,—though I am strongly of opinion that an estate shouldn't be crippled for the sake of the widow. As to refurnishing the old house, and all that, I'll do anything that Miss Palliser may please. She knows my taste about hunting, and I know hers, so that there need not be any difference of opinion on that score.
Miss Palliser can't suspect me of any interested motives. I come forward because I think she is the most charming girl I ever saw, and because I love her with all my heart. I haven't got very much to say for myself, but if she'll consent to be the mistress of Spoon Hall, she shall have all that the heart of a woman can desire.
Pray believe me,
My dear Lord Chiltern,
Yours very sincerely,
THOMAS PLATTER SPOONER.
As I believe that Miss Palliser is fond of books, it may be well to tell her that there is an uncommon good library at Spoon Hall. I shall have no objection to go abroad for the honeymoon for three or four months in the summer.
The postscript was the Squire's own, and was inserted in opposition to the cousin's judgment. "She won't come for the sake of the books," said the cousin. But the Squire thought that the attractions should be piled up. "I wouldn't talk of the honeymoon till I'd got her to come round a little," said the cousin. The Squire thought that the cousin was falsely delicate, and pleaded that all girls like to be taken abroad when they're married. The second half of the body of the letter was very much disfigured by the Squire's petulance; so that the modesty with which he commenced was almost put to the blush by a touch of arrogance in the conclusion. That sentence in which the Squire declared that an estate ought not to be crippled for the sake of the widow was very much questioned by the cousin. "Such a word as 'widow' never ought to go into such a letter as this." But the Squire protested that he would not be mealy-mouthed. "She can bear to think of it, I'll go bail; and why shouldn't she hear about what she can think about?" "Don't talk about furniture yet, Tom," the cousin said; but the Squire was obstinate, and the cousin became hopeless. That word about loving her with all his heart was the cousin's own, but what followed, as to her being mistress of Spoon Hall, was altogether opposed to his judgment. "She'll be proud enough of Spoon Hall if she comes here," said the Squire. "I'd let her come first," said the cousin.
We all know that the phraseology of the letter was of no importance whatever. When it was received the lady was engaged to another man; and she regarded Mr. Spooner of Spoon Hall as being guilty of unpardonable impudence in approaching her at all.
"A red-faced vulgar old man, who looks as if he did nothing but drink," she said to Lady Chiltern.
"He does you no harm, my dear."
"But he does do harm. He makes things very uncomfortable. He has no business to think it possible. People will suppose that I gave him encouragement."
"I used to have lovers coming to me year after year,—the same people,—whom I don't think I ever encouraged; but I never felt angry with them."
"But you didn't have Mr. Spooner."
"Mr. Spooner didn't know me in those days, or there is no saying what might have happened." Then Lady Chiltern argued the matter on views directly opposite to those which she had put forward when discussing the matter with her husband. "I always think that any man who is privileged to sit down to table with you is privileged to ask. There are disparities of course which may make the privilege questionable,—disparities of age, rank, and means."
"And of tastes," said Adelaide.
"I don't know about that.—A poet doesn't want to marry a poetess, nor a philosopher a philosopheress. A man may make himself a fool by putting himself in the way of certain refusal; but I take it the broad rule is that a man may fall in love with any lady who habitually sits in his company."
"I don't agree with you at all. What would be said if the curate at Long Royston were to propose to one of the FitzHoward girls?"
"The Duchess would probably ask the Duke to make the young man a bishop out of hand, and the Duke would have to spend a morning in explaining to her the changes which have come over the making of bishops since she was young. There is no other rule that you can lay down, and I think that girls should understand that they have to fight their battles subject to that law. It's very easy to say, 'No.'"
"But a man won't take 'No.'"
"And it's lucky for us sometimes that they don't," said Lady Chiltern, remembering certain passages in her early life.
The answer was written that night by Lord Chiltern after much consultation. As to the nature of the answer,—that it should be a positive refusal,—of course there could be no doubt; but then arose a question whether a reason should be given, or whether the refusal should be simply a refusal. At last it was decided that a reason should be given, and the letter ran as follows:—
MY DEAR MR. SPOONER,
I am commissioned to inform you that Miss Palliser is engaged to be married to Mr. Gerard Maule.
The young lady had consented to be thus explicit because it had been already determined that no secret should be kept as to her future prospects.
"He is one of those poverty-stricken wheedling fellows that one meets about the world every day," said the Squire to his cousin—"a fellow that rides horses that he can't pay for, and owes some poor devil of a tailor for the breeches that he sits in. They eat, and drink, and get along heaven only knows how. But they're sure to come to smash at last. Girls are such fools nowadays."
"I don't think there has ever been much difference in that," said the cousin.
"Because a man greases his whiskers, and colours his hair, and paints his eyebrows, and wears kid gloves, by George, they'll go through fire and water after him. He'll never marry her."
"So much the better for her."
"But I hate such d—— impudence. What right has a man to come forward in that way who hasn't got a house over his head, or the means of getting one? Old Maule is so hard up that he can barely get a dinner at his club in London. What I wonder at is that Lady Chiltern shouldn't know better."
Madame Goesler remained at Matching till after the return of Mr. Palliser—or, as we must now call him, the Duke of Omnium—from Gatherum Castle, and was therefore able to fight her own battle with him respecting the gems and the money which had been left her. He brought to her with his own hands the single ring which she had requested, and placed it on her finger. "The goldsmith will soon make that all right," she said, when it was found to be much too large for the largest finger on which she could wear a ring. "A bit shall be taken out, but I will not have it reset."
"You got the lawyer's letter and the inventory, Madame Goesler?"
"Yes, indeed. What surprises me is that the dear old man should never have spoken of so magnificent a collection of gems."
"Orders have been given that they shall be packed."
"They may be packed or unpacked, of course, as your Grace pleases, but pray do not connect me with the packing."
"You must be connected with it."
"But I wish not to be connected with it, Duke. I have written to the lawyer to renounce the legacy, and, if your Grace persists, I must employ a lawyer of my own to renounce them after some legal form. Pray do not let the case be sent to me, or there will be so much trouble, and we shall have another great jewel robbery. I won't take it in, and I won't have the money, and I will have my own way. Lady Glen will tell you that I can be very obstinate when I please."
Lady Glencora had told him so already. She had been quite sure that her friend would persist in her determination as to the legacy, and had thought that her husband should simply accept Madame Goesler's assurances to that effect. But a man who had been Chancellor of the Exchequer could not deal with money, or even with jewels, so lightly. He assured his wife that such an arrangement was quite out of the question. He remarked that property was property, by which he meant to intimate that the real owner of substantial wealth could not be allowed to disembarrass himself of his responsibilities or strip himself of his privileges by a few generous but idle words. The late Duke's will was a very serious thing, and it seemed to the heir that this abandoning of a legacy bequeathed by the Duke was a making light of the Duke's last act and deed. To refuse money in such circumstances was almost like refusing rain from heaven, or warmth from the sun. It could not be done. The things were her property, and though she might, of course, chuck them into the street, they would no less be hers. "But I won't have them, Duke," said Madame Goesler; and the late Chancellor of the Exchequer found that no proposition made by him in the House had ever been received with a firmer opposition. His wife told him that nothing he could say would be of any avail, and rather ridiculed his idea of the solemnity of wills. "You can't make a person take a thing because you write it down on a thick bit of paper, any more than if you gave it her across a table. I understand it all, of course. She means to show that she didn't want anything from the Duke. As she refused the name and title, she won't have the money and jewels. You can't make her take them, and I'm quite sure you can't talk her over." The young Duke was not persuaded, but had to give the battle up,—at any rate, for the present.
On the 19th of March Madame Goesler returned to London, having been at Matching Priory for more than three weeks. On her journey back to Park Lane many thoughts crowded on her mind. Had she, upon the whole, done well in reference to the Duke of Omnium? The last three years of her life had been sacrificed to an old man with whom she had not in truth possessed aught in common. She had persuaded herself that there had existed a warm friendship between them;—but of what nature could have been a friendship with one whom she had not known till he had been in his dotage? What words of the Duke's speaking had she ever heard with pleasure, except certain terms of affection which had been half mawkish and half senile? She had told Phineas Finn, while riding home with him from Broughton Spinnies, that she had clung to the Duke because she loved him, but what had there been to produce such love? The Duke had begun his acquaintance with her by insulting her,—and had then offered to make her his wife. This,—which would have conferred upon her some tangible advantages, such as rank, and wealth, and a great name,—she had refused, thinking that the price to be paid for them was too high, and that life might even yet have something better in store for her. After that she had permitted herself to become, after a fashion, head nurse to the old man, and in that pursuit had wasted three years of what remained to her of her youth. People, at any rate, should not say of her that she had accepted payment for the three years' service by taking a casket of jewels. She would take nothing that should justify any man in saying that she had been enriched by her acquaintance with the Duke of Omnium. It might be that she had been foolish, but she would be more foolish still were she to accept a reward for her folly. As it was there had been something of romance in it,—though the romance of friendship at the bedside of a sick and selfish old man had hardly been satisfactory.
Even in her close connection with the present Duchess there was something which was almost hollow. Had there not been a compact between them, never expressed, but not the less understood? Had not her dear friend, Lady Glen, agreed to bestow upon her support, fashion, and all kinds of worldly good things,—on condition that she never married the old Duke? She had liked Lady Glencora,—had enjoyed her friend's society, and been happy in her friend's company,—but she had always felt that Lady Glencora's attraction to herself had been simply on the score of the Duke. It was necessary that the Duke should be pampered and kept in good humour. An old man, let him be ever so old, can do what he likes with himself and his belongings. To keep the Duke out of harm's way Lady Glencora had opened her arms to Madame Goesler. Such, at least, was the interpretation which Madame Goesler chose to give to the history of the last three years. They had not, she thought, quite understood her. When once she had made up her mind not to marry the Duke, the Duke had been safe from her;—as his jewels and money should be safe now that he was dead.
Three years had passed by, and nothing had been done of that which she had intended to do. Three years had passed, which to her, with her desires, were so important. And yet she hardly knew what were her desires, and had never quite defined her intentions. She told herself on this very journey that the time had now gone by, and that in losing these three years she had lost everything. As yet,—so she declared to herself now,—the world had done but little for her. Two old men had loved her; one had become her husband, and the other had asked to become so;—and to both she had done her duty. To both she had been grateful, tender, and self-sacrificing. From the former she had, as his widow, taken wealth which she valued greatly; but the wealth alone had given her no happiness. From the latter, and from his family, she had accepted a certain position. Some persons, high in repute and fashion, had known her before, but everybody knew her now. And yet what had all this done for her? Dukes and duchesses, dinner-parties and drawing-rooms,—what did they all amount to? What was it that she wanted?
She was ashamed to tell herself that it was love. But she knew this,—that it was necessary for her happiness that she should devote herself to some one. All the elegancies and outward charms of life were delightful, if only they could be used as the means to some end. As an end themselves they were nothing. She had devoted herself to this old man who was now dead, and there had been moments in which she had thought that that sufficed. But it had not sufficed, and instead of being borne down by grief at the loss of her friend, she found herself almost rejoicing at relief from a vexatious burden. Had she been a hypocrite then? Was it her nature to be false? After that she reflected whether it might not be best for her to become a devotee,—it did not matter much in what branch of the Christian religion, so that she could assume some form of faith. The sour strictness of the confident Calvinist or the asceticism of St. Francis might suit her equally,—if she could only believe in Calvin or in St. Francis. She had tried to believe in the Duke of Omnium, but there she had failed. There had been a saint at whose shrine she thought she could have worshipped with a constant and happy devotion, but that saint had repulsed her from his altar.
Mr. Maule, Senior, not understanding much of all this, but still understanding something, thought that he might perhaps be the saint. He knew well that audacity in asking is a great merit in a middle-aged wooer. He was a good deal older than the lady, who, in spite of all her experiences, was hardly yet thirty. But then he was,—he felt sure,—very young for his age, whereas she was old. She was a widow; he was a widower. She had a house in town and an income. He had a place in the country and an estate. She knew all the dukes and duchesses, and he was a man of family. She could make him comfortably opulent. He could make her Mrs. Maule of Maule Abbey. She, no doubt, was good-looking. Mr. Maule, Senior, as he tied on his cravat, thought that even in that respect there was no great disparity between them. Considering his own age, Mr. Maule, Senior, thought there was not perhaps a better-looking man than himself about Pall Mall. He was a little stiff in the joints and moved rather slowly, but what was wanting in suppleness was certainly made up in dignity.
He watched his opportunity, and called in Park Lane on the day after Madame Goesler's return. There was already between them an amount of acquaintance which justified his calling, and, perhaps, there had been on the lady's part something of that cordiality of manner which is wont to lead to intimate friendship. Mr. Maule had made himself agreeable, and Madame Goesler had seemed to be grateful. He was admitted, and on such an occasion it was impossible not to begin the conversation about the "dear Duke." Mr. Maule could afford to talk about the Duke, and to lay aside for a short time his own cause, as he had not suggested to himself the possibility of becoming pressingly tender on his own behalf on this particular occasion. Audacity in wooing is a great virtue, but a man must measure even his virtues. "I heard that you had gone to Matching, as soon as the poor Duke was taken ill," he said.
She was in mourning, and had never for a moment thought of denying the peculiarity of the position she had held in reference to the old man. She could not have been content to wear her ordinary coloured garments after sitting so long by the side of the dying man. A hired nurse may do so, but she had not been that. If there had been hypocrisy in her friendship the hypocrisy must be maintained to the end.