The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 30

What Came of the Meeting

Not a word was said in the cab as Lord Silverbridge took his sister to Carlton Terrace, and he leaving her without any reference to the scene which had taken place, when an idea struck him that this would be cruel. ‘Mary,’ he said, ‘I was very sorry for all that.’

‘It was not my doing.’

‘I suppose it was nobody’s doing. But I am very sorry that it occurred. I think you should have controlled yourself.’

‘No!’ she almost shouted.

‘I think so.’

‘No; — if you mean by controlling myself, holding my tongue. He is the man I love — whom I have promised to marry.’

‘But, Mary — do ladies generally embrace their lovers in public?’

‘No; — nor should I. I never did such a thing in my life before. But as he was there I had to show that I was not ashamed of him! Do you think I should have done it if you all had not been there?’ Then again she burst into tears.

He did not know quite what to make of it. Mabel Grex had declared that she had behaved like an angel. But yet, as he thought of what he had seen, he shuddered with vexation. ‘I was thinking of the governor.’

‘He shall be told everything.’

‘That you met Tregear?’

‘Certainly; and that I— kissed him. I will do nothing that I am ashamed to tell everybody.’

‘He will be very angry.’

‘I cannot help it. He should not treat me as he is doing. Mr Tregear is a gentleman. Why did he let him come? Why you bring him? But it is of no use. The thing is settled. Papa can break my heart, but he cannot make me say that I am not engaged to Mr Tregear.’

On that night Mary told the whole of her story to Lady Cantrip. There was nothing she tried to conceal. ‘I got up,’ she said, ‘and threw my arms round him. Is he not all the world to me?’

‘Had it been planned?’ asked Lady Cantrip.

‘No; — no! Nothing had been planned. They are cousins and very intimate, and he goes there constantly. Now I want you to tell papa all about it.’

Lady Cantrip began to think that it had been an evil day for her when she had agreed to take charge of this very determined young lady, but she consented to write to the Duke. As the girl was in her hands she must take care not to lay herself open to reproaches. As this objectionable lover had either contrived a meeting, or had met her without contriving, it was necessary that the Duke should be informed. ‘I would rather you wrote the letter,’ said Lady Mary. ‘But pray tell him that all along I have meant him to know about it.’

Till Lady Cantrip seated herself at her writing-table she did not know how great the difficulty would be. It cannot in any circumstance be easy to write to a father of his daughter’s love for an objectionable lover; but the Duke’s character added much to the severity of the task. And then that embrace! She knew that the Duke would be struck with horror as he read of such a tale, and she found herself almost struck with horror as she attempted to write it. When she came to the point she found that she could not write it. ‘I fear there was a good deal of warmth shown on both sides,’ she said, feeling that she was calumniating the man, as to whose warmth she had heard nothing. ‘It is quite clear,’ she added, ‘that this is not a passing fancy on her part.’

It was impossible that the Duke should be made to understand exactly what had occurred. That Silverbridge had taken Mary he did understand, and that they had together gone to Lord Grex’s house. He understood also that the meeting had taken place in the presence of Silverbridge and Lady Mabel. ‘No doubt it was all an accident,’ Lady Cantrip wrote. How could it be an accident?

‘You had Mary up in town on Friday?’ he said to his son on the following Sunday morning.

‘Yes, sir.’

‘And that friend of yours came in?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Do you not know what my wishes are?’

‘Certainly I do; — but I could not help his coming. You do not suppose that anybody had planned it?’

‘I hope not.’

‘It was simply an accident. Such an accident as must occur over and over again — unless Mary is to be locked up.’

‘Who talks of locking anybody up? What right have you to speak in that way?’

‘I only meant that of course they will stumble across each other in London.’

‘I think I will go abroad,’ said the Duke. He was silent for awhile, and then repeated his words. ‘I think I will go abroad.’

‘Not for long I hope, sir.’

‘Yes; — to live there. Why should I stay here? What good can I do here? Everything I see and everything I hear is a pain to me.’ The young man of course could not but go back in his mind to the last interview which he had had with his father, when the Duke had been so gracious and apparently so well pleased.

‘Is there anything else wrong — except about Mary?’ Silverbridge asked.

‘I am told Gerald owes about fifteen hundred pounds at Cambridge.’

‘So much as that! I knew that he had a few horses there.’

‘It is not the money, but the absence of principle — that a young man should have no feeling that he ought to live within certain prescribed means! Do you know what you have had from Mr Morton?’

‘Not exactly, sir.’

‘It is different with you. But a man, let him be who he may, should live within certain means. As for your sister, I think she will break my heart.’ Silverbridge found it impossible to say anything in answer to this. ‘Are you going to church?’ asked the Duke.

‘I was not thinking of doing so particularly.’

‘Do you not ever go?’

‘Yes; — sometimes. I will go with you now, if you like it, sir.’

‘I had thought of going, but my mind is too much harassed. I do not see why you should not go.’

But Silverbridge, though he had been willing to sacrifice his morning to his father — for it was, I fear, in that way that he looked at it — did not see any reason for performing a duty which his father himself omitted. And there were various matters also which harassed him. On the previous evening, after dinner, he had allowed himself to back the Prime Minister for the Leger to a very serious amount. In fact he had plunged, and now stood to lose some twenty thousand pounds on the doings of the last night. And he had made these bets under the influence of Major Tifto. It was the remembrance of this, after the promise he had made to his father, that annoyed him the most. He was imbued with a feeling that it behoved him as a man to ‘pull himself together’ as he would have said himself, and to live in accordance with certain rules. He could make the rules easily enough, but he had never yet succeeded in keeping any one of them. He had determined to sever himself from Tifto, and, in doing that, had intended to sever himself from the affairs of the turf generally. This resolution was not yet a week old. It was on that evening that he had resolved that Tifto should no longer be his companion; and now he had to confess to himself that because he had drunk three or four glasses of champagne he had been induced by Tifto to make those wretched bets.

And he had told his father that he intended to ask Mabel Grex to be his wife. He had so committed himself that the offer must now be made. He did not specially regret that, though he wished that he had been more reticent. ‘What a fool a man is to blurt out everything!’ he said to himself. A wife would be a good thing for him; and where could he possibly find a better wife than Mabel Grex? In beauty she was no doubt inferior to Miss Boncassen. There was something about Miss Boncassen which made it impossible to forget her. But Miss Boncassen was an American, and on many accounts out of the question. It did not occur to him that he would fall in love with Miss Boncassen for a few weeks. No doubt there were objections to marriage. It clipped a fellow’s wings. But then, if he were married, he might be sure that Tifto would be laid aside. It was a great thing to have got his father’s assured consent to a marriage. It meant complete independence in money matters.

Then his mind ran away to a review of his father’s affairs. It was a genuine trouble to him that his father should be so unhappy. Of all the griefs which weighed upon the Duke’s mind, that in reference to his sister was the heaviest. The money which Gerald owed at Cambridge would be nothing if that sorrow could be conquered. Nor had Tifto and his own extravagances caused the Duke any incurable wounds. If Tregear could be got out of the way his father, he thought, might be reconciled to other things. He felt very tender-hearted about his father; but he had no remorse in regard to his sister as he made up his mind that he would speak very seriously to Tregear.

He had wandered into St James’s Park, and had lighted by this time half-a-dozen cigarettes one after another, as he sat on one of the benches. He was a handsome youth, all but six feet high, with light hair, with round blue eyes, and with all that aristocratic look, which had belonged so peculiarly to the late Duke but which was less conspicuous in the present head of the family. He was a young man whom you would hardly pass in a crowd without observing — but of whom you would say, after due observation, that he had not as yet put off all his childish ways. He now sat with his legs stretched out, with his cane in his hands, looking down upon the water. He was trying to think. He worked hard at thinking. But the bench was hard, and, upon the whole, he was not satisfied with his position. He had just made up his mind that he would look up Tregear, when Tregear himself appeared on the path before him.

‘Tregear!’ exclaimed Silverbridge.

‘Silverbridge!’ exclaimed Tregear.

‘What on earth makes you walk about here on a Sunday morning?’

‘What on earth makes you sit there? That I should walk here, which I often do, does not seem to me odd. But that I should find you is marvellous. Do you often come?’

‘Never was here in my life before. I strolled because I had things to think of.’

‘Questions to be asked in Parliament? Notices of motions, Amendments in Committee, and that kind of thing?’

‘Go on, old fellow.’

‘Or perhaps Major Tifto has made important revelations.’

‘D—— Major Tifto.’

‘With all my heart,’ said Tregear.

‘Sit down here,’ said Silverbridge. ‘As it happened, at the moment when you came up I was thinking of you.’

‘That was kind.’

‘And I was determined to go to you. All this about my sister must be given up.’

‘Must be given up!’

‘It can never lead to any good. I meant that there can never be a marriage.’ Then he paused, but Tregear was determined to hear him out. ‘It is making my father so miserable that you would pity him if you could see him.’

‘I dare say I should. When I see people unhappy I always pity them. What I would ask you to think of is this. If I were to commission you to tell your sister that everything between us should be given up, would not she be so unhappy that you would have to pity her?’

‘She would get over it.’

‘And so will your father.’

‘He has a right to have his own opinion on such a matter.’

‘And so have I. And so has she. His rights in the matter are very clear and very potential. I am quite ready to admit that we cannot marry for many years to come, unless he will provide the money. You are quite at liberty to tell him that I say so. I have no right to ask your father for a penny, and I will never do so. The power is all in his hands. As far as I know my own purposes, I shall not make any immediate attempt even to see her. We did meet, as you saw, the other day, by the merest chance. After that, do you think that your sister wishes me to give her up?’

‘As for supposing that girls are to have what they wish, that is nonsense.’

‘For young men I suppose equally so. Life ought to be a life of self-denial no doubt. Perhaps it might be my duty to retire from this affair, if by doing so I should sacrifice only myself. The one person of whom I am bound to think in this matter is the girl I love.’

‘That is just what she says about you.’

‘I hope so.’

‘In that way you support each other. If it were any other man circumstanced just like you are, and any other girl placed like Mary, you would be the first to say that the man was behaving badly. I don’t like to use hard language to you, but in such a case you would be the first to say of another man — that he was looking after the girl’s money.’

Silverbridge as he said this looked forward steadfastly on to the water, regretting much that cause for quarrel should have arisen, but thinking that Tregear would find himself obliged to quarrel. But Tregear, after a few moments’ silence, having thought it out, determined that he would not quarrel. ‘I think I probably might,’ he said laying his hand on Silverbridge’s arm. ‘I think I perhaps might express such an opinion.’

‘Well then!’

‘I have to examine myself, and find whether I am guilty of the meanness which I might perhaps be too ready to impute to another. I have done so, and I am quite sure that I am not drawn to your sister by any desire for her money. I did not seek her because she was a rich man’s daughter, nor — because she is a rich man’s daughter will I give her up. Nothing but a word from her shall induce me to leave her; — but a word from her, if it comes from her own lips — shall do so.’ Then he took his friend’s hand in his, and having grasped it, walked away without saying another word.

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