The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 14

The New Member for Silverbridge

Lord Silverbridge was informed that it would be right that he should go down to Silverbridge a few days before the election, to make himself known to the electors. As the day for the election drew near it was understood that there would be no other candidate. The Conservative side was the popular side among the tradesmen of Silverbridge. Silverbridge had been proud to be honoured by the services of the heir of the House of Omnium, even while that heir had been a Liberal — had regarded it as so much a matter of course that the borough should be at his disposal that no question as to politics had ever arisen while he retained the seat. And had the Duke chosen to continue to send them Liberals, one after another, when he went into the House of Lords, there would have been no question as to the fitness of the man, or men so sent. Silverbridge had been supposed to be a Liberal as a matter of course; — because the Pallisers were Liberals. But when the matter was remitted to themselves; — when the Duke declared that he would not interfere any more, for it was thus that the borough had obtained its freedom; — then the borough began to feel conservative predilections. ‘If his Grace really does mean us to do just what we please ourselves which is a thing we never thought of asking from his Grace, then we find, having turned the matter over among ourselves, that we are upon the whole Conservative.’ In this spirit the borough had elected a certain Mr Fletcher; but in doing so the borough had still a shade of fear that it would offend the Duke. The House of Palliser, Gatherum Castle, the Duke of Omnium, and this special Duke himself, were all so great in the eyes of the borough, that the first and only strong feeling in the borough was the one of duty. The borough did not altogether enjoy being enfranchised. But when the Duke had spoken once, twice, and thrice, then with a hesitating heart the borough returned Mr Fletcher. Now Mr Fletcher was wanted elsewhere, having been persuaded to stand for the county, and it was a comfort to the borough that it could resettle itself beneath the warmth of the wings of the Pallisers.

So the matter stood when Lord Silverbridge was told that his presence in the borough for a few hours would be taken as a compliment. Hitherto no one knew him at Silverbridge. During his boyhood he had not been much at Gatherum Castle, and had done his best to eschew the place since he had ceased to be a boy. All the Pallisers took a pride in Gatherum Castle, but they all disliked it. ‘Oh yes, I’ll go down,’ he said to Mr Morton, who was up in town. ‘I needn’t go to the great barrack I suppose.’ The great barrack was the Castle. ‘I’ll put up at the Inn.’ Mr Morton begged the heir to come to his own house; but Silverbridge declared that he would prefer the Inn, and so the matter was settled. He was to meet sundry politicians — Mr Spurgeon and Mr Sprout and Mr Du Boung — who would like to be thanked for what they had been done. But who was to go with him? He would naturally have asked Tregear, but from Tregear he had for the last week or two been, not perhaps estranged, but separated. He had been much taken up with racing. He had gone down to Chester with Major Tifto, and under the Major’s auspicious influences had won a little money; — and now he was very anxiously preparing himself for the Newmarket Second Spring Meeting. He had therefore passed much of his time with Major Tifto. And when this visit to Silverbridge was pressed on him he thoughtlessly asked Tifto to go with him. Tifto was delighted. Lord Silverbridge was to be met at Silverbridge by various well-known politicians from the neighbourhood, and Major Tifto was greatly elated by the prospect of such an introduction into the political world.

But no sooner had the offer been made by Lord Silverbridge than he saw his own indiscretion. Tifto was very well for Chester or Newmarket, very well perhaps for the Beargarden, but not very well for an electioneering expedition. An idea came to the young nobleman that if it should be his fate to represent Silverbridge in Parliament for the next twenty years, it would be well that Silverbridge should entertain respecting him some exalted estimation — that Silverbridge should be taught to regard him as a fit son of his father and a worthy specimen of the British political nobility. Struck by serious reflection of this nature he did open his mind to Tregear. ‘I am very fond of Tifto,’ he said, ‘but I don’t know whether he’s just the sort of fellow to take down to an election.’

‘I should think not,’ said Tregear very decidedly.

‘He’s a very good fellow, you know,’ said Silverbridge. ‘I don’t know an honester man than Tifto anywhere.’

‘I dare say. Or rather, I don’t dare say. I know nothing about the Major’s honesty, and I doubt whether you do. He rides very well.’

‘What has that to do with it?’

‘Nothing on earth. Therefore I advise you not to take him to Silverbridge.’

‘You needn’t preach.’

‘You may call it what you like. Tifto would not hold his tongue, and there is nothing he could say there which would not be to your prejudice.’

‘Will you go?’

‘If you wish it,’ said Tregear.

‘What will the governor say?’

‘That must be your look out. In a political point of view I shall not disgrace you. I shall hold my tongue and look like a gentleman — neither of which is in Tifto’s power.’

And so it was settled, that on the day but one after this conversation Lord Silverbridge and Tregear should go together to Silverbridge. But the Major, when on that same night his noble friend’s altered plans were explained to him, did not bear the disappointment with equanimity. ‘Isn’t that a little strange?’ he said, becoming very red in the face.

‘What do you call strange?’ said the Lord.

‘Well; — I’d made all my arrangements. When a man has been asked to do a thing like that, he doesn’t like to be put off.’

‘The truth is, Tifto, when I came to think of it, I saw that, going down to these fellows about Parliament and all that sort of thing, I ought to have a political atmosphere, and not a racing or a betting or a hunting atmosphere.’

‘There isn’t a man in London who cares more about politics than I do — and not many perhaps who understand them better. To tell you the truth, my Lord, I think you are throwing me over.’

‘I’ll make it up to you,’ said Silverbridge, meaning to be kind. ‘I’ll go down to Newmarket with you and stick to you like wax.’

‘No doubt you’ll do that,’ said Tifto, who, like a fool, failed to see where his advantage lay. ‘I can be useful at Newmarket, and so you’ll stick to me.’

‘Look here, Major Tifto,’ said Silverbridge; ‘if you are dissatisfied, you and I can easily separate ourselves.’

‘I am not dissatisfied,’ said the little man, almost crying.

‘Then don’t talk as though you were. As to Silverbridge, I shall not want you there. When I asked you I was only thinking what would be pleasant to both of us; but since that I have remembered that business must be business.’ Even this did not reconcile the angry little man, who as he turned away declared himself within his own little bosom that he would ‘take it out of Silverbridge for that.’

Lord Silverbridge and Tregear went down to the borough together, and on the journey something was said about Lady Mary — and something also about Lady Mabel. ‘From the first, you know,’ said Lady Mary’s brother, ‘I never thought it would answer.’

‘Why not answer?’

‘Because I knew the governor would not have it. Money and rank and those sort of things are not particular charming to me. But still things should go together. It is all very silly for you and me to be pals, but of course it will be expected that Mary should marry some —’

‘Some swell?’

‘Some swell if you would have it.’

‘You mean to call yourself a swell.’

‘Yes I do,’ said Silverbridge, with considerable resolution. ‘You ought not to make yourself disagreeable, because you understand all about it as well as anybody. Chance has me the eldest son of a Duke and heir to an enormous fortune. Chance has made my sister the daughter of a Duke, and an heiress also. My intimacy ought to be proof at any rate to you that I don’t on that account set myself up above other fellows. But when you come to talk of marriage of course it is a serious thing.’

‘But you have told me more than once that you have no objection on your own score.’

‘Nor have I.’

‘You are only saying what the Duke will think.’

‘I am telling you that it is impossible, and I told you so before. You and she will be kept apart, and so —’

‘And so she’ll forget me.’

‘Something of that kind.’

‘Of course I have to trust her for that. If she forgets me, well and good.’

‘She needn’t forget you. Lord bless me! you talk as though the thing were not done every day. You’ll hear some morning that she is going to marry some fellow who has a lot of money and a good position; and what difference will it make then whether she has forgotten you or no? It might almost have been supposed that the young man had been acquainted with his mother’s history.’

After this there was a pause, and there arose some conversation about other things, and a cigar was smoked. Then Tregear returned once more to the subject. ‘There is one thing I wish to say about it all.’

‘What is that?’

‘I want you to understand that nothing else will turn me away from my intention but such a marriage on her part as that of which you speak. Nothing that your father can do will turn me.’

‘She can’t marry without his leave.’

‘Perhaps not.’

‘That he’ll never give — and I don’t suppose you look forward to waiting till his death.’

‘If he sees her happiness really depends on it he will give his leave. It all depends on that. If I judge your father rightly, he’s just as soft-hearted as other people. The man who holds out is not the man of the firmest opinion, but the man of the hardest heart.’

‘Somebody will talk Mary over.’

‘If so, the thing is over. It all depends on her.’ Then he went on to tell his friend that he had spoken of his engagement with Lady Mabel. ‘I have mentioned it to no soul but to your father and her.’

‘Why to her?’

‘Because we were friends together as children. I never had a sister, but she has been more like a sister to me than anyone else. Do you object to her knowing it?’

‘Not particularly. It seems to me now that everybody knows everything. There are no longer any secrets.’

‘She is a special friend.’

‘Of yours,’ said Silverbridge.

‘And of yours,’ said Tregear.

‘Well, yes; — in a sort of way. She is the jolliest girl I know.’

‘Take her all round, for beauty, intellect, good sense, and fun at the same time. I don’t know anyone equal to her.’

‘It’s a pity you didn’t fall in love with her.’

‘We knew each other too early for that. And then she has not a shilling. I should think myself dishonest if I did not tell you that I could not afford any girl who hadn’t money. A man must live — and a woman too.’

At the station they were met by Mr Spurgeon and Mr Sprout, who, with many apologies for the meanness of such entertainment, took them up to the George and Vulture, which was supposed for the nonce to be the Conservative hotel in the town. Here they were met by other men of importance in the borough, and among them by Mr Du Boung. Now Mr Sprout and Mr Spurgeon were Conservatives but Mr Du Boung was a strong Liberal.

‘We are, all of us, particularly glad to see your Lordship among us,’ said Mr Du Boung.

‘I have told his Lordship how perfectly satisfied you are to see the borough in his Lordship’s hands,’ said Mr Spurgeon.

‘I am sure it could not be in better,’ said Mr Du Boung. ‘For myself I an quite willing to postpone any particular shade of politics to the advantage of having your father’s son as our representative.’ This Mr Du Boung said with much intention of imparting both grace and dignity to the occasion. He thought that he was doing a great thing for the House of Omnium, and that the House of Omnium ought to know it.

‘That’s very kind of you,’ said Lord Silverbridge, who had not read as carefully as he should have done the letters which had been sent to him, and did not therefore quite understand the position.

‘Mr Du Boung had intended to stand himself,’ said Mr Sprout.

‘But retired in your lordship’s favour,’ said Mr Spurgeon.

‘I thought you gave it up because there was hardly a footing for a Liberal,’ said his Lordship, very imprudently.

‘The borough was always liberal till the last election,’ said Mr Du Boung, drawing himself up.

‘The borough wishes on this occasion to be magnanimous,’ said Mr Sprout, probably having on his mind some confusion between magnanimity and unanimity.

‘As your Lordship is coming among us, the borough is anxious to sink politics altogether for the moment,’ said Mr Spurgeon. There had no doubt been a compact between the Spurgeon and the Sprout party and the Du Boung party in accordance with which it had been arranged that Mr Du Boung should be entitled to a certain amount of glorification in the presence of Lord Silverbridge.

‘And it was in compliance with that wish on the part of the borough, my Lord,’ said Mr Du Boung — ‘as to which my own feelings were quite as strong as that of any other gentleman in the borough — that I conceived it to be my duty to give way.’

‘His Lordship is quite aware how much he owes to Mr Du Boung,’ said Tregear. Whereupon Lord Silverbridge bowed.

‘And now what are we to do?’ said Lord Silverbridge.

Then there was a little whispering between Mr Sprout and Mr Spurgeon. ‘Perhaps, Mr Du Boung,’ said Spurgeon, ‘his lordship had better call first on Dr Tempest.’

‘Perhaps,’ said the injured brewer, ‘as it is to be a party affair after all I had better retire from the scene.’

‘I thought all that was to be given up,’ said Tregear.

‘Oh, certainly,’ said Sprout. ‘Suppose we go to Mr Walker first?’

‘I’m up to anything,’ said Lord Silverbridge; ‘but of course everybody understands that I am a Conservative.’

‘Oh dear, yes,’ said Spurgeon.

‘We are all aware of that,’ said Sprout.

‘And very glad we’ve all of us been to hear of it,’ said the landlord.

‘Though there are some in the borough who could have wished, my Lord, that you had stuck to the old Palliser politics,’ said Mr Du Boung.

‘But I haven’t stuck to the Palliser politics. Just at present I think that order and all that sort of thing should be maintained.’

‘Hear, hear!’ said the landlord.

‘And now, as I have expressed my views generally, I am willing to go anywhere.’

‘Then we’ll go to Mr Walker first,’ said Spurgeon. Now it was understood that in the borough, among those who really had opinions of their own, Mr Walker the old attorney stood first as a Liberal, and Dr Tempest the old rector as a Conservative.

‘I am glad to see your Lordship in the town which gives you its name,’ said Mr Walker, who was a hale old gentleman with silvery-white hair, over seventy years of age. ‘I proposed your father for this borough on, I think, six or seven different occasions. They used to go in and out then whenever they changed their offices.’

‘We hope you’ll propose Lord Silverbridge now,’ said Mr Spurgeon.

‘Oh; well; — yes. He’s his father’s son, and I never knew anything but good of the family. I wish you were going to sit on the same side, my Lord.’

‘Times are changed a little, perhaps,’ said his Lordship.

‘The matter is not to be discussed now,’ said the old attorney. ‘I understand that. Only I hope you’ll excuse me if I say that a man ought to get up very early in the morning if he means to see further into politics than your father.’

‘Very early indeed,’ said Mr Du Boung, shaking his head.

‘That’s all right,’ said Lord Silverbridge.

‘I’ll propose you, my Lord. I need not wish you success, because there is no one to stand against you.’

Then they went to Dr Tempest, who was also an old man. ‘Yes, my Lord, I shall be proud to second you,’ said the rector. ‘I didn’t think that I should ever do that to one of your name of Silverbridge.’

‘I hope you think I’ve made a change for the better,’ said the candidate.

‘You’ve come over to my school of course, and I suppose I am bound to think that a change for the better. Nevertheless I have a kind of idea that certain people ought to be Tories and that other certain people ought to be Whigs. What does your father say about it?’

‘My father wishes me to be in the House, and that he has not quarrelled with me you may know by the fact that had there been a contest he would have paid my expenses.’

‘A father generally has to do that whether he approves of what his son is about or not,’ said the caustic old gentleman.

There was nothing else to be done. They all went back to the hotel, and Mr Spurgeon with Mr Sprout and the landlord clerk drank a glass of sherry at the candidate’s expense, wishing him political long life and prosperity. There was no one else whom it was thought necessary that the candidate should visit, and the next day he returned to town with the understanding that on the day appointed in the next week he should come back again to be elected.

And on the appointed day the two young men again went to Silverbridge, and after he had been declared duly elected, the new Member of Parliament made his first speech. There was a meeting in the town-hall and many were assembled anxious to hear — not the lad’s opinions, for which the probably nobody cared much — but the tone of his voice and to see his manner. Of what sort was the eldest son of the man of whom the neighbourhood had been so proud? For the county was in truth proud of their Duke. Of this son whom they had now made a Member of Parliament they at present only knew that he had been sent away from Oxford — not so very long ago — for painting the Dean’s house scarlet. The speech was not very brilliant. He told them that he was very much obliged to them for the honour they had done him. Though he could not follow exactly his father’s political opinions — he would always have before his eyes his father’s honesty and independence. He broke down two or three times and blushed, and repeated himself, and knocked his words a great deal too quickly one on top of another. But it was taken very well, and was better than expected. When it was over he wrote a line to the Duke.

‘MY DEAR FATHER,

‘I am Member of Parliament for Silverbridge — as you used to be in the days which I can first remember. I hope you won’t think that it does not make me unhappy to have differed from you. Indeed it does. I don’t think that anybody has ever done so well in politics as you have. But when a man does take up an opinion, I don’t see how he can help himself. Of course I could have kept myself quiet; — but then you wished me to be in the House. They were all very civil to me at Silverbridge, but there was very little said.

‘Your affectionate Son, ‘SILVERBRIDGE.’

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43