“Duke,” he said, “I’m afraid I have kept you waiting.” And the two political allies shook each other by the hand.
The Duke was in a glow of delight. There had been no waiting. He was only too glad to find his friend at home. He had been prepared to wait, even if Mr. Palliser had been out. “And I suppose you guess why I’m come?” said the Duke.
“I would rather be told than have to guess,” said Mr. Palliser, smiling for a moment. But the smile quickly passed off his face as he remembered his pledge to his wife.
“He has resigned at last. What was said in the Lords last night made it necessary that he should do so, or that Lord Brock should declare himself able to support him through thick and thin. Of course, I can tell you everything now. He must have gone, or I must have done so. You know that I don’t like him in the Cabinet. I admire his character and his genius, but I think him the most dangerous man in England as a statesman. He has high principles,—the very highest; but they are so high as to be out of sight to ordinary eyes. They are too exalted to be of any use for everyday purposes. He is honest as the sun, I’m sure; but it’s just like the sun’s honesty,—of a kind which we men below can’t quite understand or appreciate. He has no instinct in politics, but reaches his conclusions by philosophical deduction. Now, in politics, I would a deal sooner trust to instinct than to calculation. I think he may probably know how England ought to be governed three centuries hence better than any man living, but of the proper way to govern it now, I think he knows less. Brock half likes him and half fears him. He likes the support of his eloquence, and he likes the power of the man; but he fears his restless activity, and thoroughly dislikes his philosophy. At any rate, he has left us, and I am here to ask you to take his place.”
The Duke, as he concluded his speech, was quite contented, and almost jovial. He was thoroughly satisfied with the new political arrangement which he was proposing. He regarded Mr. Palliser as a steady, practical man of business, luckily young, and therefore with a deal of work in him, belonging to the race from which English ministers ought, in his opinion, to be taken, and as being, in some respects, his own pupil. He had been the first to declare aloud that Plantagenet Palliser was the coming Chancellor of the Exchequer; and it had been long known, though no such declaration had been made aloud, that the Duke did not sit comfortably in the same Cabinet with the gentleman who had now resigned. Everything had now gone as the Duke wished; and he was prepared to celebrate some little ovation with his young friend before he left the house in Park Lane.
“And who goes out with him?” asked Mr. Palliser, putting off the evil moment of his own decision; but before the Duke could answer him, he had reminded himself that under his present circumstances he had no right to ask such a question. His own decision could not rest upon that point. “But it does not matter,” he said; “I am afraid I must decline the offer you bring me.”
“Decline it!” said the Duke, who could not have been more surprised had his friend talked of declining heaven.
“I fear I must.” The Duke had now risen from his chair, and was standing, with both his hands upon the table. All his contentment, all his joviality, had vanished. His fine round face had become almost ludicrously long; his eyes and mouth were struggling to convey reproach, and the reproach was almost drowned in vexation. Ever since Parliament had met he had been whispering Mr. Palliser’s name into the Prime Minister’s ear, and now—. But he could not, and would not, believe it. “Nonsense, Palliser,” he said. “You must have got some false notion into your head. There can be no possible reason why you should not join us. Finespun himself will support us, at any rate for a time.” Mr. Finespun was the gentleman whose retirement from the ministry the Duke of St. Bungay had now announced.
“It is nothing of that kind,” said Mr. Palliser, who perhaps felt himself quite equal to the duties proposed to him, even though Mr. Finespun should not support him. “It is nothing of that kind;—it is no fear of that sort that hinders me.”
“Then, for mercy’s sake, what is it? My dear Palliser, I looked upon you as being as sure in this matter as myself; and I had a right to do so. You certainly intended to join us a month ago, if the opportunity offered. You certainly did.”
“It is true, Duke. I must ask you to listen to me now, and I must tell you what I would not willingly tell to any man.” As Mr. Palliser said this a look of agony came over his face. There are men who can talk easily of all their most inmost matters, but he was not such a man. It went sorely against the grain with him to speak of the sorrow of his home, even to such a friend as the Duke; but it was essentially necessary to him that he should justify himself.
“Upon my word,” said the Duke, “I can’t understand that there should be any reason strong enough to make you throw your party over.”
“I have promised to take my wife abroad.”
“Is that it?” said the Duke, looking at him with surprise, but at the same time with something of returning joviality in his face. “Nobody thinks of going abroad at this time of the year. Of course, you can get away for a time when Parliament breaks up.”
“But I have promised to go at once.”
“Then, considering your position, you have made a promise which it behoves you to break. I am sure Lady Glencora will see it in that light.”
“You do not quite understand me, and I am afraid I must trouble you to listen to matters which, under other circumstances, it would be impertinent in me to obtrude upon you.” A certain stiffness of demeanour, and measured propriety of voice, much at variance with his former manner, came upon him as he said this.
“Of course, Palliser, I don’t want to interfere for a moment.”
“If you will allow me, Duke. My wife has told me that, this morning, which makes me feel that absence from England is requisite for her present comfort. I was with her when you came, and had just promised her that she should go.”
“But, Palliser, think of it. If this were a small matter, I would not press you; but a man in your position has public duties. He owes his services to his country. He has no right to go back, if it be possible that he should so do.”
“When a man has given his word, it cannot be right that he should go back from that.”
“Of course not. But a man may be absolved from a promise. Lady Glencora—”
“My wife would, of course, absolve me. It is not that. Her happiness demands it, and it is partly my fault that it is so. I cannot explain to you more fully why it is that I must give up the great object for which I have striven with all my strength.”
“Oh, no!” said the Duke. “If you are sure that it is imperative—”
“It is imperative.”
“I could give you twenty-four hours, you know.” Mr. Palliser did not answer at once, and the Duke thought that he saw some sign of hesitation. “I suppose it would not be possible that I should speak to Lady Glencora?”
“It could be of no avail, Duke. She would only declare, at the first word, that she would remain in London; but it would not be the less my duty on that account to take her abroad.”
“Well; I can’t say. Of course, I can’t say. Such an opportunity may not come twice in a man’s life. And at your age too! You are throwing away from you the finest political position that the world can offer to the ambition of any man. No one at your time of life has had such a chance within my memory. That a man under thirty should be thought fit to be Chancellor of the Exchequer, and should refuse it,—because he wants to take his wife abroad! Palliser, if she were dying, you should remain under such an emergency as this. She might go, but you should remain.”
Mr. Palliser remained silent for a moment or two in his chair; he then rose and walked towards the window, as he spoke. “There are things worse than death,” he said, when his back was turned. His voice was very low, and there was a tear in his eye as he spoke them; the words were indeed whispered, but the Duke heard them, and felt that he could not press him any more on the subject of his wife.
I knew there was a reason why I always loved their relationship– despite Plantagenet’s decimal coinage campaign, which ought to have been enough to put me off. Think about it: he loves her even while she’s in love with someone else– someone completely unworthy– and even though she is silly and snide. Even though she doesn’t love him. He passes up the chance at political power in order to save her from her own disordered passion, at great cost to himself. And finally, he’s triumphant: she does come to love him, and he does become Chancellor of the Exchequer.
It’s the Gospel, more or less. With stopovers in political economy and Gothic romance. Now I am even more happy about my candidate: my car (well, my mom’s car, at this point, technically) has a bumper sticker on it that says Plantagenet Palliser for President.