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The Duke's Daughter and The Fugitives vol. 1/3

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So we all like to believe. But after all, it is highly doubtful whether there is more content, as the moralists of the eighteenth century imagined, in a cottage than in a palace; and the palace has the best of it in so many other ways. The Duchess had met with many vexations in her life, but no more than we all meet with, nor of a severer kind; and she had her coronet, and her finery, and her beautiful ducal houses, and the devotion of all that surrounded her, to the good. So while we have no occasion to be envious, we have none, on the other hand, to plume ourselves upon the advantages of humble position. Duchess or no duchess, however, this lady had sense, a precious gift. And she had need to have it, as the following narrative will show. For the Duke, on his side, did not possess that most valuable quality. He was far more proud than a duke has any occasion to be. On that pinnacle of rank, if on any height imaginable, a man may permit himself to think simply of his position, and to form no over-estimate of his own grandeur. But the Duke of Billingsgate was very proud, and believed devoutly that he himself and his family tree, and the strawberry-leaves which grew on the top of it, overshadowed the world. He thought it made an appreciable difference to the very sunshine; and as for the county under his shadow, he felt towards it as the old gods might have felt towards the special lands of which they were the patrons tutelary. He expected incense upon all the altars, and a sort of perpetual adoration. It would have pleased him to have men swear by him and dedicate churches in his honour, had such things been in accordance with modern manners: he would have felt it to be only natural. He liked people to come into his presence with diffidence and awe; and though he was frank of accost, and of elaborate affability, as an English gentleman is obliged to be in these days, talking to the commonalty almost as if he forgot they were his inferiors, he never did forget the fact, and it offended him deeply if they appeared to forget it in word or deed. He was very gracious to the little county ladies who would come to dine at the Castle when he was in the country, but he half wondered how they could have the courage to place a little trembling hand upon his ducal arm, and he liked those all the better who did tremble and were overcome by the honour. He had spent enormously in his youth, keeping up the state and splendour which he thought were necessary to his rank, and which he still thought necessary though his means were now straitened. And it cannot be denied that he was angry with the world because his means were straitened, and felt it a disgrace to the country that one of its earliest dukedoms should be humiliated to the necessity of discharging superfluous footmen and lessening the number of horses in the stables. He thought this came, like so many other evils, of the radicalism of the times. Dukes did not need to retrench when things were as they ought to be, and a strong paramount Government held the reins of State. The Duke, however, retrenched as little as was possible. He did it always under protest. When strong representations on the part of his agents and lawyers induced him against his will to cut off one source of expense, he had a great tendency to burst out into another on an unforeseen occasion and a different side—a tendency which made him very difficult to manage and a great trouble to all connected with him.

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