The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 69

Pert Poppet

On a Sunday morning — while Lord Silverbridge was alone in a certain apartment in the house at Carlton Terrace which was called his own sitting-room, the name was brought to him of a gentleman who was anxious to see him. He had seen his father and had used all the eloquence of which he was master — but not quite with the effect which he had desired. His father had been very kind to him, but he, too, had been eloquent; — and had, as is often the case with orators, been apparently more moved by his own words than by those of his adversary. If he had not absolutely declared himself as irrevocably hostile to Miss Boncassen he had not said a word that might be supposed to give a token of assent.

Silverbridge, therefore, was moody, contemplative, and desirous of solitude. Nothing that the Duke had said had shaken him. He was still sure of his pearl, and quite determined that he would wear it. Various thoughts were running through his brain. What if he were to abdicate the title and become a republican? He was inclined to think that he could not abdicate, but he was quite sure that no one could prevent him from going to America and calling himself Mr Palliser. That his father would forgive him and accept his daughter-in-law brought to him, were he in the first place to marry without sanction, he felt quite sure. What was there that his father would not forgive? But then Isabel would not assent to this. He was turning all this in his head and ever and anon trying to relieve his mind by ‘Clarissa’, which he was reading in conformity with his father’s advice, when the gentleman’s card was put into his hand. ‘Whatever does he want here?’ he said to himself; and then ordered that the gentleman might be shown up. The gentleman in question was our old friend Dolly Longstaff. Dolly Longstaff and Silverbridge had been intimate as young men are. But they were not friends, nor, as far as Silverbridge knew, had Dolly ever set foot in that house before. ‘Well, Dolly,’ said he, ‘what’s the matter now?’

‘I suppose you are surprised to see me?’

‘I didn’t think that you were ever up so early.’ It was at this time almost noon.

‘Oh, come now, that’s nonsense. I can get up as early as anybody else. I have changed all that for the last four months. I was at breakfast this morning very soon after ten.’

‘What a miracle! Is there anything I can do for you?’

‘Well yes — there is. Of course you are surprised to see me?’

‘You never were here before; and therefore it is odd.’

‘It is odd. I felt that myself. And when I tell you what I have come about you will think it more odd. I know I can trust you with a secret.’

‘That depends, Dolly.’

‘What I mean is, I know you are good-natured. There are ever so many fellows that are one’s most intimate friends that would say anything on earth they could that was ill-natured.’

‘I hope they are not my friends.’

‘Oh yes they are. Think of Glasslough, or Popplecourt, or Hindes! If they knew anything about you that you didn’t want to have known — about a young lady or anything of that kind — don’t you think they’d tell everybody?’

‘A man can’t tell anything he doesn’t know.’

‘That’s true. I had thought of that myself. But then there’s a particular reason for my telling you this. It is about a young lady! You won’t tell; will you?’

‘No, I won’t. But I can’t see why on earth you should come to me. You are ever so many years older than I am.’

‘I had thought of that too. But you are just the person I must tell. I want you to help me.’

These last words were said almost in a whisper, and Dolly as he said them had drawn nearer to his friend. Silverbridge remained in suspense, saying nothing by way of encouragement. Dolly, either in love with his own mystery or doubtful of his own purpose, sat still, looking eagerly at his companion. ‘What the mischief is it?’ asked Silverbridge impatiently.

‘I have quite made up my own mind.’

‘That’s a good thing at any rate.’

‘I am not what you would have called a marrying sort of man.’

‘I should have said — no. But I suppose most men do marry sooner or later.’

‘That’s just what I said to myself. It has to be done, you know. There are three different properties coming to me. At least one has come already.’

‘You’re a lucky fellow.’

‘I’ve made up my mind; and when I say a thing I mean to do it.’

‘But what can I do?’

‘That’s just what I’m coming to. If a man does marry I think he ought to be attached to her.’ To this, a broad proposition, Silverbridge was ready to accede. But, regarding Dolly, a middle-aged sort of fellow, one of those men who marry because it is convenient to have a house kept for them, he simply nodded his head. ‘I am awfully attached to her,’ Dolly went on to say.

‘That’s all right.’

‘Of course there are fellows who marry girls for their money. I’ve known men who had married their grandmothers.’

‘Not really!’

‘That kind of thing. When a woman is old it does not much matter who she is. But my one! She’s not old!’

‘Nor rich?’

‘Well; — I don’t know about that. But I’m not after her money. Pray understand that. It’s because I’m downright fond of her. She’s an American.’

‘A what!’ said Silverbridge, startled.

‘You know her. That’s the reason I’ve come to you. It’s Miss Boncassen.’ A dark frown came across the young man’s face. That all this should be said to him was disgusting. That an owl like that should dare to talk of loving Miss Boncassen was offensive to him.

‘It’s because you know her that I’ve come to you. She thinks that you’re after her.’ Dolly as he said this lifted himself quickly up in his seat, and nodded his head mysteriously as he looked into his companion’s face. It was as much as though he should say, ‘I see you are surprised, but so it is.’ Then he went on. ‘She does, pert poppet!’ This was almost too much for Silverbridge; but still he contained himself. ‘She won’t look at me because she has got it into her head that perhaps some day she may become Duchess of Omnium! That of course is out of the question.’

‘Upon my word all this seems to me to be so very — very — distasteful that I think you had better say nothing more about it.’

‘It is distasteful,’ said Dolly; ‘but in truth I am so downright — what you may call enamoured —’

‘Don’t talk such stuff as that here,’ said Silverbridge, jumping up. ‘I won’t have it.’

‘But I am. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to get her. Of course it’s a good match for her. I’ve got three separate properties; and when the governor goes off I shall have a clear fifteen thousand a year.’

‘Oh, bother!’

‘Of course that’s nothing to you, but it is a very tidy income for a commoner. And how is she to do better?’

‘I don’t know how she could do much worse,’ said Silverbridge in a transport of rage. Then he pulled his moustache in vexation, angry with himself that he should have allowed himself to say even a word on so preposterous a supposition. Isabel Boncassen and Dolly Longstaff! It was Titania and Bottom over again. It was absolutely necessary that he should get rid of this intruder, and he began to be afraid that he could not do this without using language which would have been uncivil. ‘Upon my word,’ he said, ‘I think you had better not talk about it any more. The young lady is one for whom I have a very great respect.’

‘I mean to marry her,’ said Dolly, thinking to vindicate himself.

‘You might as well think of marrying one of the stars.’

‘One of the stars!’

‘Or a royal princess.’

‘Well! Perhaps that is your opinion, but I can’t say that I agree with you. I don’t see why she shouldn’t take me. I can give her a position which you may call A1 out of the Peerage. I can bring her into society. I can make an English lady of her.’

‘You can’t make anything of her — except to insult her — and me too by talking of her.’

‘I don’t quite understand this,’ said the unfortunate lover getting up from his seat. ‘Very likely she won’t have me. Perhaps she has told you so.’

‘She never mentioned your name to me in her life. I don’t suppose she remembers your existence.’

‘But I say that there can be no insult in such a one as me asking such a one as her to be my wife. To say that she doesn’t remember my existence is absurd.’

‘Why should I be troubled with all this?’

‘Because I think you are making a fool of her, and because I am honest. That’s why,’ said Dolly with much energy. There was something in this which partly reconciled Silverbridge to his despised rival. There was a touch of truth about the man, though he was so utterly mistaken in his ideas. ‘I want you to give over in order that I may try again. I don’t think you ought to keep a girl from her promotion, merely for the fun of a flirtation. Perhaps you’re fond of her; — but you won’t marry her. I am fond of her, and I shall.’

After a minute’s pause, Silverbridge resolved that he would be magnanimous. ‘Miss Boncassen is going to be my wife,’ he said.

‘Your wife!’

‘Yes; — my wife. And now I think you will see that nothing further can be said about this matter.’

‘Duchess of Omnium!’

‘She will be Lady Silverbridge.’

‘Oh; of course she’ll be that first. Then I’ve got nothing further to say. I’m not going to enter myself to run against you. Only I shouldn’t have believed it if anybody else had told me.’

‘Such is my good fortune.’

‘Oh ah — yes; of course. That is one way of looking at it. Well, Silverbridge. I’ll tell you what I shall do; I shall hook it.’

‘No; not you.’

‘Yes, I shall. I daresay you won’t believe me, but I’ve got such a feeling about me here’— as he said this he laid his hand upon his heart — ‘that if I stayed I should go for hard drinking. I shall take the great Asiatic tour. I know a fellow that wants to go, but he hasn’t got any money. I daresay I shall be off before the end of next month. You don’t know any fellow that would buy a half-a-dozen hunters; do you?’ Silverbridge shook his head. ‘Good-bye,’ said Dolly, in a melancholy tone. ‘I am sure I am very much obliged to you for telling me. If I’d known you’d meant it, I shouldn’t have meddled, of course. Duchess of Omnium!’

‘Look here, Dolly, I have told you what I should have not have told anyone, but I wanted to screen the young lady’s name.’

‘It was so kind of you.’

‘Do not repeat it. It is a kind of thing that ladies are particular about. They choose their own time of letting everybody know.’ Then Dolly promised to be as mute as a fish, and took his departure.

Silverbridge had felt, towards the interview, that he had been arrogant to the unfortunate man — particular in saying that the young lady would not remember the existence of such a suitor — and had also recognised a certain honesty in the man’s purpose, which had not been less honest because it was so absurd. Actuated by the consciousness of this, he had swallowed his anger, and had told the whole truth. Nevertheless things had been said which were horrible to him. This buffoon of a man had called his Isabel a-pert poppet! How was he to get over the remembrance of such an offence? And then the wretch had declared that he was — enamoured! There was sacrilege in the term when applied by such a man to Isabel Boncassen. He had thought of days to come, when everything would be settled, when he might sit close to her, and call her pretty names — when he might in sweet familiarity tell that she was a little Yankee and a fierce republican, and ‘chaff’ her about the stars and stripes; and then, as he pictured the scene to himself in his imagination, she would lean upon him and would give him back his chaff, and would call him an aristocrat and would laugh at his titles. As he thought of all this he would be proud with the feeling that such privileges would be his own. And now this wretched man had called her a pert poppet!

There was a sanctity about her — a divinity which made it almost a profanity to have talked about her at all to such a one as Dolly Longstaff. She was his Holy of Holies, at which vulgar eyes should not even be allowed to gaze. It had been a most unfortunate interview. But this was clear, that, as he had announced his engagement to such a one as Dolly Longstaff, the matter now would admit of no delay. He would explain to his father that as tidings of the engagement had got abroad, honour to the young lady would compel him to come forward openly as her suitor at once. If this argument might serve him, then perhaps this intrusion would not have been altogether a misfortune.

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