The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 25

A Family Breakfast-Table

Lord Silverbridge had paid all his Derby losses without any difficulty. They had not been very heavy for a man in his position, and the money had come without remonstrance. When asking for it he was half-ashamed of himself, but could still find consolation in remembering how much worse had plunged many young men whom he knew. He had never ‘plunged’. In fact he had made the most prudent book in the world; and had so managed his affairs that even now the horse which had been beaten was worth more than all he had lost and paid. ‘This is getting serious,’ he had said to his partner when, on making out a rough account, he had brought in the Major in a debtor to him of more than a thousand pounds. The Major remarked that as he was half-owner of the horses his partner had good security for the money. Then something of an unwritten arrangement was made. The ‘Prime Minister’ was now one of the favourites for the Leger. If the horse won that race there would be money enough for everything. If that race were lost, then there should be a settlement by the transfer of the stud to the younger partner. ‘He’s safe to pull it off,’ said the Major.

At this time both his sons were living with the Duke in London. It had been found impracticable to send Lord Gerald back to Cambridge. The doors of Trinity were closed against him. But some interest had been made in his favour, and he was to be transferred to Oxford. All the truth had been told, and there had been a feeling that the lad should be allowed another chance. He could not however go to his new Alma Mater till after the long vacation. In the meantime he was to be taken by a tutor down to a Cottage on Dartmoor and there be made to read — with such amusement in the meantime as might be got from fishing, and playing cricket with the West Devon county club. ‘It isn’t very bright look-out for the summer,’ his brother had said to him, ‘but it’s better then breaking out on the loose altogether. You be a credit to the family and all that sort of thing. Then I’ll give up the borough to you. But mind you stick to the Liberals. I’ve made an ass of myself.’ However in these early days of June Lord Gerald had not yet got his tutor.

Though the father and the two young men were living together they did not see very much of each other. The Duke breakfasted at nine and the repast was a very simple one. When they failed to appear, he did not scold — but would simply be disappointed. At dinner they never met. It was supposed that Lord Gerald passed his mornings at reading, and some little attempts were made in that direction. It is to be feared they did not come to much. Silverbridge was very kind to Gerald, feeling an increased tenderness for him on account of that Cambridge mishap. Now they were much together, and occasionally, by a strong effort, would grace their father’s breakfast-table with their company.

It was not often that he either reproached them or preached to them. Though he could not live with them on almost equal terms, as some fathers can live with their sons, though he could not laugh at their fun or make them laugh at his wit, he knew that it would have been better both for him and them if he had possessed this capacity. Though the life which they lived was distasteful to him — though racehorses were an abomination to him, and the driving of coaches a folly, and club-life a manifest waste of time, still he recognised these things as being, if not necessary, yet unavoidable evils. To Gerald he would talk about Oxford, avoiding all allusion to past Cambridge misfortunes; but in the presence of Silverbridge, whose Oxford career had been so peculiarly unfortunate, he would make no allusion to either of the universities. To his eldest son he would talk of Parliament which of all subjects would have been the most congenial had they agreed in politics. As it was he could speak more freely to him on that than any other matter.

One Thursday night as the two brothers went to bed on returning from the Beargarden, at a not very late hour, they agreed that they would ‘give the governor a turn’ the next morning — by which they meant that they would drag themselves out of bed in time to breakfast with him. The worst of it is that he will never let them get anything to eat, said Gerald. But Silverbridge explained that he had taken the matter into his own hands, and had specially ordered broiled salmon and stewed kidneys. ‘He won’t like it, you know,’ said Gerald. ‘I’m sure he thinks it wicked to eat anything but toasted bacon before lunch.’

At a very little after nine Silverbridge was in the breakfast-room, and there found his father. ‘I suppose Gerald is not up yet,’ said the Duke almost crossly.

‘Oh yes he is, sir. He’ll be here directly.’

‘Have you seen him this morning?’

‘No; I haven’t seen him. But I know he’ll be here. He said he would, last night.’

‘You speak of it as if it were an undertaking.’

‘No, not that, sir. But we are not always quite up to time.’

‘No; indeed you are not. Perhaps you sit late at the House.’

‘Sometimes I do,’ said the young member, with a feeling almost akin to shame as he remembered all the hours spent at the Beargarden. ‘I have had Gerald there in the Gallery sometimes. It is just as well he should know what is being done.’

‘Quite as well.’

‘I shouldn’t wonder if he gets a seat some day.’

‘I don’t know how that may be.’

‘He won’t change as I have done. He’ll stick to your side. Indeed I think he’d do better in the House than I shall. He has more gift of the gab.’

‘That is not the first requisite.’

‘I know all that, sir. I’ve read your letter more than once, and I showed it to him.’

There was something sweet and pleasant in the young man’s manner by which the father could hardly not be captivated. They had now sat down, and the servant had brought in the unusual accessories for a morning feast. ‘What is all that?’ asked the Duke.

‘Gerald and I are so awfully hungry of a morning,’ said the son apologising.

‘Well; — it’s a very good thing to be hungry; — that is if you can get plenty to eat. Salmon is it? I don’t think I’ll have any myself. Kidneys! Not for me. I think I’ll take a bit of fried bacon. I also am hungry, but now awfully hungry.’

‘You never seem to me to eat anything, sir.’

‘Eating is an occupation from which I think a man takes the more pleasure the less he considers it. A rural labourer who sits on the ditch-side with his bread and cheese and an onion has more enjoyment out of it than any Lucullus.’

‘But he likes a good deal of it.’

‘I do not think he ever over-eats himself — which Lucullus does. I have envied the ploughman his power — his dura ilia — but never an epicure the appreciative skill of his palate. If Gerald does not make haste he will have to exercise neither the one nor the other upon that fish.’

‘I will leave a bit for him, sir — and here he is. You are twenty minutes late, Gerald. My father says that bread and cheese and onions would be better for you than salmon and stewed kidneys.’

‘No, Silverbridge; — I said no such thing; but that if he were a hedger and ditcher the bread and cheese would be as good.’

‘I should not mind trying them all,’ said Gerald. ‘Only one never does have such things for breakfast. Last winter a lot of us skated to Ely, and we ate two or three loaves of bread and a whole cheese, at a pot-house! And as for beer, we drank the public dry.’

‘It was because for the time you had been a hedger and ditcher.’

‘Proby was a ditcher I know, when he went right through into one of the dykes. Just push on that dish Silverbridge. It’s no good you having the trouble of helping me half-a-dozen times. I don’t think things are a bit the nicer because they cost a lot of money. I suppose that is what you mean, sir.’

‘Something of that kind, Gerald. Not to have money for your wants; — that must be troublesome.’

‘Very bad indeed,’ said Silverbridge, shaking his head wisely, as a Member of Parliament might do who felt that something should be done to put down such a lamentable state of things.

‘I don’t complain,’ said Gerald. ‘No fellow ever had less right to complain. But I never felt that I had quite enough. Of course it was my own fault.’

‘I should say so, my boy. But then there are a great many like you. Let their means be what they may, they never have quite enough. To be in any difficulty with regard to money — to owe what you cannot pay, or even to have to abstain from things which you have told yourself are necessary to yourself or to those who depend on you — creates a feeling of meanness.’

‘That is what I have always felt,’ said Silverbridge. ‘I cannot bear to think that I should like to have a thing and that I cannot afford it.’

‘You do not quite understand me, I fear. The only case in which you can be justified in desiring that which you cannot afford is when the thing is necessary; — as bread may be, or clothes.’

‘As when a fellow wants a lot of new breeches before he has paid his tailor’s bill.’

‘As when a poor man,’ said the Duke impressively, ‘may long to give his wife a new gown, or his children boots to keep their feet from the mud and snow.’ Then he paused a moment, but the serious tone of his voice and the energy of his words had sent Gerald headlong among his kidneys. ‘I say that in such cases money must be regarded as a blessing.’

‘A ten-pound note will do so much,’ said Silverbridge.

‘But beyond that it ought to have no power of conferring happiness, and certainly cannot drive away sorrow. Not though you build palaces out into the deep, can that help you. You read your Horace I hope. “Scandunt eodum quo dominus minae.”’

‘I recollect that,’ said Gerald. ‘Black care sits behind the horseman.’

‘Even though he have groom riding after him beautiful with exquisite boots. As far as I have been able to look into the world —’

‘I suppose you know it as well as anybody,’ said Silverbridge — who was simply desirous of making himself pleasant to the ‘dear old governor’.

‘As far as my experience goes, the happiest man is he who, being above the troubles which money brings, has his hands the fullest of work. If I were to name the class of men whose lives are spent with the most thorough enjoyment, I think I should name that of barristers who are in large practice and also in Parliament.’

‘Isn’t it a great grind, sir?’ asked Silverbridge.

‘A very great grind, as you call it. And there may be the grind and not the success. But —’ He had now got up from his seat at the table and was standing with his back against the chimney-piece, and as he went on with his lecture — as the word ‘But’ came from his lips — he struck the fingers of one hand lightly on the palm of the other as he had been known to do at some happy flight of oratory in the House of Commons. ‘But it is the grind that makes the happiness. To feel that your hours are filled to overflowing, that you can hardly barely steal minutes enough for sleep, that the welfare of many is entrusted to you, that the world looks on and approves, that some good is always being done to others — above all things some good to your country; — that is happiness. For myself I can conceive none other.’

‘Books,’ suggested Gerald, as he put the last morsel of the last kidney into his mouth.

‘Yes, books! Cicero and Ovid have told us that to literature only could they look for consolation in their banishment. But then they speak of a remedy for sorrow, not of a source for joy. No young man should dare to neglect literature. At some period of his life he will surely need consolation. And he may be certain that should he live to be an old man, there will be none other — except religion. But for that feeling of self-contentment, which creates happiness — hard work, and hard work alone, can give it to you.’

‘Books are hard work themselves sometimes,’ said Gerald.

‘As for money,’ continued the father, not caring to note this interruption, ‘if it be regarded in any other light than an as a shield against want, as a rampart under the protection of which you may carry on your battle, it will fail you. I was born a rich man.’

‘Few people have cared so little about it as you,’ said the elder son.

‘And you, both of you, have been born to be rich.’ This assertion did not take the elder son by surprise. It was a matter of course. But Lord Gerald, who had never as yet heard anything as to his future destiny from his father, was interested by the statement. ‘When I think of all this — of what constitutes happiness — I am almost tempted to grieve that it should be so.’

‘If a large fortune were really a bad thing,’ said Gerald, ‘a man could I suppose get rid of it.’

‘No; — it is a thing of which a man cannot get rid — unless by shameful means. It is a burden which he must carry to the end.’

‘Does anybody wish to get rid of it, as Sinbad did of the Old Man?’ asked Gerald pertinaciously. ‘At any rate I have enjoyed the kidneys.’

‘You assured us just now that the bread and cheese at Ely were just as good.’ The Duke as he said this looked as though he knew that he had taken all the wind out of his adversary’s sails. ‘Though you add carriage to carriage, you will not be carried more comfortably.’

‘A second horse out hunting is a comfort,’ said Silverbridge.

‘Then at any rate don’t desire a third for show. But such comforts will cease to be joys when they become matters of course. That a boy who does not see a pudding once a year should enjoy a pudding when it comes I can understand; but the daily pudding, or the pudding twice a day, is soon no more than a simple daily bread — which will or will not be sweet as it shall or shall not have been earned.’ Then he went slowly to the door, but, as he stood with the handle of it in his hand, he turned round and spoke another word. ‘When, hereafter, Gerald, you may chance to think of that bread and cheese at Ely, always remember that you had skated from Cambridge.’

The two brothers then took themselves to some remote part of the house where arrangements had been made for smoking, and there they finished the conversation. ‘I was very glad to hear what he said about you, old boy.’ This of course came from Silverbridge.

‘I didn’t quite understand him.’

‘He meant you to understand that you wouldn’t be like other younger brothers.’

‘Then what I have will be taken from you.’

‘There is lots for three or four of us. I do agree that a fellow has as much as he can spend he ought not to want anything more. Morton was telling me the other day something about the settled estates. I sat in that office with him all one morning. I could not understand it all, but I observed that he said nothing about the Scotch property. You’ll be a laird, and I wish you joy with all my heart. The governor will tell you all about it before long. He’s going to have two eldest sons.’

‘What an unnatural piece of cruelty to me; — and so unnecessary!’

‘Why?’

‘He says that a property is no better than a burden. But I’ll try and bear it.’

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