The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 23

Frank Tregear Wants a Friend

Six or seven weeks had passed since Tregear had made his communication to the Duke, and during that time he had heard not a word about the girl he loved. He knew, indeed, that she was at the Horns, and probably had reason to suppose that she was being guarded there, as it were, out of his reach. This did not surprise him; nor did he regard it as a hardship. It was to be expected that she should be kept out of his sight. But this was a state of things to which, as he thought, there should not be more than a moderate amount of submission. Six weeks was not a very long period, but it was perhaps long enough for evincing that respect which he owed to the young lady’s father. Something must be done some day. How could he expect her to be true to him unless he took some means of showing himself to be true to her?

In these days he did not live very much with her brother. He not only disliked, but distrusted Major Tifto, and had so expressed himself as to give rise to angry words. Silverbridge had said that he knew how to take care of himself. Tregear had replied that he had his doubts on that matter. Then the Member of Parliament had declared that at any rate he did not intend to be taken care of by Frank Tregear! In such a state of things it was not possible that there should be any close confidence as to Lady Mary. Nor does it often come to pass that the brother is the confidant of his sister’s lover. Brothers hardly like their sisters to have lovers, though they are often well satisfied that their sisters should find husbands. Tregear’s want of rank and wealth added something to this feeling in the mind this brother, so that Silverbridge, though he felt himself to be deterred by friendship from any open opposition, still was almost inimical. ‘It won’t do, you know,’ he had said to his brother Gerald, shaking his head.

Tregear, however, was determined to be active in the matter, to make some effort, to speak to somebody. But how to make an effort — and to whom should he speak? Thinking of all this he remembered that Mrs Finn had sent for him and had told him to go with his love story to the Duke. She had been almost severe with him; — but after the interview was over, he had felt that she had acted well and wisely. He therefore determined that he would go to Mrs Finn.

She had as yet received no answer from the Duke, though nearly a fortnight had elapsed since she had written her letter. During that time she had become very angry. She felt that he was not treating her as a gentleman should treat a lady, and certainly not as the husband of her late friend should have treated the friend of his late wife. She had a proud consciousness of having behaved well to the Pallisers, and now this head of the Pallisers was rewarding her by evil treatment. She had been generous; he was ungenerous. She had been honest; he was deficient even in that honesty for which she had given him credit. And she had been unable to obtain any of that consolation which could have come to her from talking of her wrongs. She could not complain to her husband because there were reasons that made it essential that her husband should not quarrel with the Duke. She was hot with indignation at the very moment that Tregear was announced.

He began by apologising for his intrusion, and she of course assured him that he was welcome. ‘After the liberty which I took with you, Mr Tregear, I am only too well pleased that you should come to see me.’

‘I am afraid,’ he said, ‘that I was a little rough.’

‘A little warm; — but that was to be expected. A gentleman never likes to be interfered with on such a matter.’

‘The position was and is difficult, Mrs Finn.’

‘And I am bound to acknowledge the very ready way in which you did what I asked you to do.’

‘And now, Mrs Finn, what is to come next?’

‘Ah!’

‘Something must be done! You know of course that the Duke did not receive me with any great favour.’

‘I did not suppose he would.’

‘Nor did I. Of course he would object to such a marriage. But a man in these days cannot dictate to his daughter what husband she should marry.’

‘Perhaps he can dictate to her what husband she shall not marry.’

‘Hardly that. He may put impediments in the way; and the Duke will do so. But if I am happy enough to have won the affection of his daughter — so as to make it essential to her happiness that she should become my wife — he will give way.’

‘What am I to say, Mr Tregear?’

‘Just what you think.’

‘Why should I be made to say what I think on so delicate a matter? Or of what use would by my thoughts? Remember how far I am removed from her.’

‘You are his friend.’

‘Not at all! No one less so!’ As she said this she could not hinder the colour from coming into her face. ‘I was her friend — lady Glencora’s; but with the death of my friend there was an end of all that.’

‘You were staying with him — at his request. You told me so yourself.’

‘I shall never stay with him again. But all that, Mr Tregear, is of no matter. I do not mean to say a word against him; — not a word. But if you wish to interest any one as being the Duke’s friend, then I can assure you that I am the last person in London to whom you should come. I know no one to whom the Duke is likely to entertain any feelings so little kind towards me.’ This she said in a peculiarly solemn way that startled Tregear. But before he could answer her a servant entered the room with a letter. She recognised at once the Duke’s handwriting. Here was the answer for which she had been so long waiting in silent expectation! She could not keep it unread till he was gone. ‘Will you allow me a moment,’ she whispered, and then she opened the envelope. As she read the few words her eyes became laden with tears. They quite sufficed to relieve the injured pride which had sat so heavy at her heart. ‘I believe I did you a wrong, and therefore I ask you your pardon!’ It was so like what she had believed the man to be! She could not be longer angry with him. And yet the very last words she had spoken were words complaining of his conduct. ‘This is from the Duke,’ she said, putting the letter back into its envelope.

‘Oh, indeed.’

‘It is odd that it should have come while you were here.’

‘Is it — is it — about Lady Mary?’

‘No; — at least — not directly. I perhaps spoke more harshly about him than I should have done. The truth is I had expected a line from him, and it had not come. Now it is here; but I do not suppose I shall ever see much of him. My intimacy was with her. But I would not wish you to remember what I said just now, if — if —’

‘If what, Mrs Finn? You mean perhaps, if I should ever be allowed to call myself his son-in-law. It may seem to you to be arrogant, but it is an honour which I expect to win.’

‘Faint heart — you know, Mr Tregear.’

‘Exactly. One has to tell oneself that very often. You will help me?’

‘Certainly not,’ she said, as though she were much startled. ‘How can I help you?’

‘By telling me what I should do. I suppose if I were to go down to Richmond I should not be admitted.’

‘If you ask me, I think not; — not to see Lady Mary. Lady Cantrip would perhaps see you.’

‘She is acting the part of-Duenna.’

‘As I should do so, if Lady Mary were staying with me. You don’t suppose that if she were here I would let her see you in my house without her father’s leave?’

‘I suppose not.’

‘Certainly not; and therefore I conceive that Lady Cantrip will not do so either.’

‘I wish she were here.’

‘It would be of no use. I should be a dragon in guarding her.’

‘I wish you would let me feel that you were like a sister to me in this matter.’

‘But I am not your sister, nor yet your aunt, nor yet your grandmother. What I mean is that I cannot be on your side.’

‘Can you not?’

‘No, Mr Tregear. Think how long I have known these other people.’

‘But just now you said that he was your enemy.’

‘I did say so; but as I have unsaid it since, you as a gentleman will not remember my words. At any rate I cannot help you in this.’

‘I shall write to her.’

‘It can be nothing to me. If you write she will show your letter either to her father or to Lady Cantrip.’

‘But she will read it first.’

‘I cannot tell you how that may be. In fact I am the very last person in the world to whom you should come for assistance in this matter. If I gave any assistance to anybody I should be bound to give it to the Duke.’

‘I cannot understand that, Mrs Finn.’

‘Nor can I explain it, but it would be so. I shall always be very glad to see you, and I do feel that we ought to be friends — because I took such a liberty with you. But in this matter I cannot help you.’

When she said this he had to take his leave. It was impossible that he should further press his case upon her, though he would have been very glad to extract from her some kindly word. It is such a help in a difficulty to have somebody who will express even a hope that the difficulty is perhaps not invincible! He had no one to comfort him in this matter. There was one dear friend — as a friend dearer than any other — to whom he might go, and who would after some fashion bid him prosper. Mabel would encourage him. She had said that she would do so. But in making that promise she had told him that Romeo would not have spoken of his love for Juliet to Rosaline, whom he had loved before he saw Juliet. No doubt she had gone on to tell him that he might come to her and talk freely of his love for Lady Mary — but after what had been said before he felt that he could not do so without leaving a sting behind. When a man’s heart goes well with him — so well as to be in some degree oppressive to him even by its prosperity — when the young lady has jumped into his arms, and the father and the mother have been quite willing, then he wants no confidant. He does not care to speak very much off the matter which among his friends is apt to become a subject for raillery. When you call a man Benedict he does not come to you with ecstatic descriptions of the beauty and the wit of his Beatrice. But no one was likely to call him Benedict in reference to Lady Mary.

In spite of his manner, in spite of his apparent self-sufficiency, this man was very soft within. Less than two years back he had been willing to sacrifice all the world for his cousin Mabel, and his cousin Mabel had told him that he was wrong. ‘It does not pay to sacrifice the world for love.’ So cousin Mabel had said, and had added something as to its being necessary that she should marry a rich man, and expedient that he should marry a rich woman. He had thought much about it, and had declared to himself that on no account would he marry a woman for her money. Then he had encountered Lady Mary Palliser. There had been no doubt, no resolution after that, no thinking about it — but downright love. There was nothing left of real regret for his cousin in his bosom. She had been right. That love had been impossible. But this would be possible — ah, so deliciously possible — if only her father and mother would assist! The mother, imprudent in this as in all things, had assented. The reader knows the rest.

It was in every way possible. ‘She will have money enough,’ the Duchess had said, ‘if only her father can be brought to give it to you.’ So Tregear had set his heart upon it, and had said to himself that the thing was to be done. Then his friend the Duchess had died, and the real difficulties had commenced. From that day he had not seen his love, or heard from her. How was he to know whether she would be true to him? And where was he to seek for that sympathy which he felt to be so necessary to him? A wild idea had come into his head that Mrs Finn would be his friend; — but she had repudiated him.

He went straight home and at once wrote to the girl. The letter was a simple love-letter, and as such need not be given here. In what sweetest language he could find he assured her that even though he should never be allowed to see her or to hear from her, that still he should cling to her. And then he added this passage: ‘If your love for me be what I think it is to be, no one can have a right to keep us apart. Pray be sure that I shall not change. If you change let me know it; — but I shall as soon expect the heavens to fall.’

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