The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 16

Poor Boy

The new member for Silverbridge, when he entered the House to take the oath, was supported on the right and left by two staunch old Tories. Mr Monk had seen him a few minutes previously — Mr Monk who of all Liberals was the firmest and than whom no one had been more staunch to the Duke — and had congratulated him on his election, expressing at the same time some gentle regrets. ‘I only wish you could have come among us on the other side,’ he said.

‘But I couldn’t,’ said the young Lord.

‘I am sure nothing but a conscientious feeling would have separated you from your father’s friends,’ said the old Liberal. And then they were parted, and the member for Silverbridge was bustled up to the table between the two staunch Tories.

Of what else was done on that occasion nothing shall be said here. No political work was required from him, except that of helping for an hour or two to crowd the Government benches. But we will follow him as he left the House. There were one or two others quite as anxious as to his political career as any staunch old Liberal. At any rate one other. He had promised that as soon as he could get away from the House he would go to Belgrave Square and tell Lady Mabel Grex all about it. When he reached the square it was past seven, but Lady Mabel and Miss Cassewary were still in the drawing-room. ‘There seemed to be a great deal of bustle, and I didn’t understand much about it, said the Member.

‘But you heard speeches?’ These were the speeches made on the proposing and seconding of the address.

‘Oh yes; — Lupon did it very well. Lord George didn’t seem to be quite as good. Then Sir Timothy Beeswax made a speech, and then Mr Monk. After that I saw other fellows going away, so I bolted too.’

‘If I were a member of Parliament I would never leave it while the House was sitting,’ said Miss Cassewary.

‘If all were like that there wouldn’t be seats for them to sit on, said Silverbridge.

‘A persistent member will always find a seat,’ continued the positive old lady.

‘I am sure that Lord Silverbridge means to do his duty,’ said Lady Mabel.

‘Oh yes; — I’ve thought a good deal about it, and I mean to try. As long as a man isn’t called upon to speak I don’t see why it shouldn’t be easy enough.’

‘I’m so glad to hear you say so! Of course after a little time you will speak. I should like to hear you make your first speech.’

‘If I thought you were there, I’m sure I should not make it at all.’ Just at this period Miss Cassewary, saying something as to the necessity of dressing, and cautioning her young friend that there was not much time to be lost, left the room.

‘Dressing does not take me more than ten minutes,’ said Lady Mabel. Miss Cassewary declared this to be nonsense, but she nevertheless left the room. Whether she would have done so if Lord Silverbridge had not been Lord Silverbridge, but had been some young man with whom it would not have been expedient that Lady Mabel should fall in love, may perhaps be doubted. Lady Mabel herself would not have remained. She had quite related the duties of life, had had her little romance — and had acknowledged that it was foolish.

‘I do so hope that you will do well,’ she said, going back to the parliamentary duties.

‘I don’t think I shall ever do much. I shall never be like my father.’

‘I don’t see why not.’

‘There never was anybody like him. I am always amusing myself, but he never cared for amusement.’

‘You are very young.’

‘As far as I can learn he was just as he is now at my age. My mother has told me that long before she married him he used to spend all his time in the House. I wonder whether you would mind reading the letter he wrote to me when he heard of my election.’ Then he took the epistle out of his pocket and handed it to Lady Mabel.

‘He means what he says.’

‘He always does that.’

‘And he really hopes that you will put your shoulder to the wheel — even though you must do so in opposition to him.’

‘That makes no difference. I think my father is a very fine fellow.’

‘Shall you do as he tells you?’

‘Well — I suppose not; — except that he advises me to hold my tongue. I think I shall do that. I mean to go down there, you know, and I daresay I shall be much the same as others.’

‘Has he talked to you much about it?’

‘No; — he never talks much. Every now and then he will give me a downright lecture, or he will write me a letter like that; but he never talks to any of us.’

‘How very odd.’

‘Yes; he is odd. He seems to be fretful when we are with him. A good many things make him unhappy.’

‘Your poor mother’s death.’

‘That first; — and then there are other things. I suppose he didn’t like the way I came to an end in Oxford.’

‘You were a boy then.’

‘Of course I was very sorry for it — though I hated Oxford. It was neither one thing nor another. You were your own master and yet you were not.’

‘Now you must be your own master.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘You must marry, and become a lord of the Treasury. When I was a child I acted as a child. You know all about that.’

‘Oh yes. And now I must throw off childish things. You mean that I mustn’t paint any man’s house? Eh, Lady Mab.’

‘That and the rest of it. You are a legislator now.’

‘So is Popplecourt, who took his seat in the House of Lords two or three months ago. He’s the biggest young fool I know out. He couldn’t even paint a house.’

‘He is not an elected legislator. It makes all the difference. I quite agree with what the Duke says. Lord Popplecourt can’t help himself. Whether he’s an idle young scamp or not, he must be a legislator. But when a man goes into if for himself, as you have done, he should make up his mind to be useful.’

‘I shall vote with my party of course.’

‘More than that, much more than that. if you didn’t care for politics you couldn’t have taken that line of your own.’ When she said this she knew that he had been talked into what he had done by Tregear — by Tregear, who had ambition, and intelligence, and capacity for forming an opinion of his own. ‘If you do not do it for your own sake, you will for the sake of those who — who — who are your friends,’ she said at last, not feeling quite able to tell him that he must do it for the sake of those that loved him.

‘There are not very many I suppose who care about it.’

‘Your father.’

‘Oh yes — my father.’

‘And Tregear.’

‘Tregear has got his own fish to fry.’

‘Are there none others? Do you think we care nothing about it here?’

‘Miss Cassewary?’

‘Well; — Miss Cassewary! A man might have a worse friend than Miss Cassewary; — and my father.’

‘I don’t suppose Lord Grex cares a straw about me.’

‘Indeed he does — a great many straws. And so do I. Do you think I don’t care a straw about you?’

‘I don’t know why you should.’

‘Because it is in my nature to be earnest. A girl comes out into the world so young that she becomes serious, and steady as it were, so much sooner than a man does.’

‘I always think that nobody is so full of chaff as you are, Lady Mab.’

‘I am not chaffing now in recommending you go to work in the world like a man.’ As she said this they were sitting on the same sofa, but with some space between them. When Miss Cassewary had left the room Lord Silverbridge was standing, but after a little he had fallen into the seat, at the extreme corner, and had gradually come a little nearer to her. Now in her energy she put our her hand, meaning perhaps to touch lightly the sleeve of his coat, meaning perhaps not quite to touch him at all. But as she did so he put out his hand and took hold of hers.

She drew it away, not seeming to allow it to remain in his grasp for a moment, but she did so, not angrily, or hurriedly, or with any flurry. She did it as though it were natural that he should take her hand and as natural that she should recover it. ‘Indeed I have hardly more than ten minutes left before dressing,’ she said, rising from her seat.

‘If you will say that you care about it, you yourself, I will do my best.’ As he made this declaration blushes covered his cheeks and forehead.

‘I do care about it — very much; I myself,’ said Lady Mabel, not blushing at all. Then there was a knock at the door, and Lady Mabel’s maid, putting her head in, declared that my Lord had come in and had already been some time in the dressing-room. ‘Good-bye, Lord Silverbridge,’ she said quite gaily, and rather more aloud than would have been necessary, had she not intended that the maid should also hear her.

‘Poor boy!’ she said to herself as she was dressing. ‘Poor boy!’ Then, when the evening was over she spoke to herself again about him. ‘Dear sweet boy!’ And then she sat and thought. How was it that she was so old a woman, while he was so little more than a child? How fair he was, how far removed from conceit, how capable of being made into man — in the process of time! What might not be expected from him if he could be kept in good hands for the next ten years! But in whose hands? What would she be in ten years, she who already seemed to know the town and all its belongings so well? And yet she was as young in years as he. He, as she knew, had passed his twenty-second birthday — and so had she. That was all. It might be good for her that she should marry him. She was ambitious. And such a marriage would satisfy her ambition. Through her father’s fault, and her brother’s she was likely to be poor. This man would certainly be rich. Many of those who were buzzing around her from day to day, were distasteful to her. From among them she knew that she could not take a husband, let their rank and wealth be what it might. She was too fastidious, too proud, too prone to think that things could be with her as she liked them! This last was in all things pleasant to her. Though he was but a boy, there was a certain boyish manliness about him. The very way in which he had grasped at her hand and had then blushed ruby-red at his own daring, had gone far with her. How gracious he was to look at! Dear sweet boy! Love him? No; — she did not know that she loved him. That dream was over. She was sure however that she liked him.

But could she love him? That a woman should not marry a man without loving him, she partly knew. But she thought she knew also that there must be exceptions. She would do her very best to love him. That other man should be banished from her very thoughts. She would be such a wife to him that he should never know that he lacked anything. Poor boy! Sweet dear boy! He, as he went away to his dinner, had his thoughts also about her. Of all the girls he knew she was the jolliest — and of all his friends she was the pleasantest. As she was anxious that he should go to work in the House of Commons he would go to work there. As for loving her! Well; — of course he must marry some day, and why not Lady Mab as well as anyone else.

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