The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 7

Conservative Convictions

Lord Silverbridge had engaged himself to be with his father the next morning at half-past nine, and he entered the breakfast-room a very few minutes after that hour. He had made up his mind as to what he would say to his father. He meant to call himself a Conservative, and to go into the House of Commons under that denomination. All the men among whom he lived were Conservatives. It was a matter on which, as he thought, his father could have no right to command him. Down in Barsetshire, as well as up in London, there was some little difference of opinion in this matter. The people of Silverbridge declared that they would prefer to have a conservative member, as indeed they had had one for the last session. They had loyally returned the Duke himself while he was a commoner, but they had returned him as being part and parcel of the Omnium appendages. That was all over now. As a constituency they were not endowed with advanced views, and thought that a Conservative would suit them best. That being so, and as they had been told that the Duke’s son was a Conservative, they fancied that by electing him they would be pleasing everybody. But, in truth, by so doing they would by no means please the Duke. He had told them on previous occasions that they might elect whom they pleased, and felt no anger because they had elected a Conservative. They might send up to Parliament the most antediluvian old Tory they could find in England if they wished, on not his son, not a Palliser as a Tory or Conservative. And then, though the little town had gone back in the ways of the world, the county, or the Duke’s division of the county, had made so much progress, that a Liberal candidate recommended by him would almost certainly be returned. It was just the occasion on which a Palliser should show himself ready to serve his country. There would be an expense, but he would think nothing of expense in such a matter. Ten thousand pounds spent on such an object would not vex him. The very contest would have given him new life. All this Lord Silverbridge understood, but had said to himself and to all his friends that it was a matter in which he did not intend to be controlled.

The Duke had passed a very unhappy night. He had told himself that any such marriage as that spoken of was out of the question. He believed that the matter might be so represented to his girl as to make her feel that it was out of the question. He hardly doubted but that he could stamp it out. Though he should have to take her away to some further corner of the world, he would stamp it out. But she, when this foolish passion of hers should have been thus stamped out, could never be the pure, the bright, the unsullied, unsoiled thing, of the possession of which he had thought so much. He had never spoken of his hopes about her even to his wife, but in the silence of his very silent life he had thought much of the day when he would give her to some noble youth — noble with all the gifts of nobility, including rank and wealth — who might be fit to receive her. Now, even though no one else should know it — and all would know it — she would be the girl who had condescended to love young Tregear.

His own Duchess, she whose loss to him now was as though he had lost half of his limbs — had not she in the same way loved a Tregear, or worse than a Tregear, in her early days? Ah, yes! And though his Cora had been so much to him, had he not often felt, had he not been feeling all his days, that Fate had robbed him of the sweetest joy that is given to man, in that she had not come to him loving him with her early spring of love, as she had loved that poor ne’er-do-well? How infinite had been his regrets. How often had he told himself that, with all that Fortune had given him, still Fortune had been unjust to him because he had been robbed of that. Not to save his life could he have whispered a word of this to anyone, but he had felt it. He had felt it for years. Dear as she had been, she had not been quite what she should have been but for that. And now this girl of his, who was so much dearer to him than anything else left to him, was doing exactly as her mother had done. The young man might be stamped out. He might be made to vanish as that other young man had vanished. But the fact that he had been there, cherished in the girl’s heart — that could not be stamped out.

He struggled gallantly to acquit the memory of his wife. He could best do that by leaning with the full weight of his mind on the presumed iniquity of Mrs Finn. Had he not known from the first that the woman was an adventuress? And had he not declared to himself over and over again that between such a one and himself there should be no intercourse, no common feeling? He had allowed himself to be talked into an intimacy, to be talked into an affection. And this was the result!

And how should he treat this matter in his coming interview with his son — or should he make allusion to it? At first it seemed as though it would be impossible for him to give his mind to that other subject. How could he enforce the merits of political liberalism, and the duty of adhering to the old family party, while his mind was entirely preoccupied with his daughter? It had suddenly become almost indifferent to him whether Silverbridge should be a Conservative or a Liberal. But as he dressed he told himself, that, as a man, he ought to be able to do a plain duty, marked out for him as this had been by his own judgement, without regard to personal suffering. The hedger and ditcher must make his hedge clean and clean his ditch even though he be tormented by rheumatism. His duty by his son he must do, even though his heart were torn to pieces.

During breakfast he tried to be gracious, and condescended to ask a question about Prime Minister. Racing was an amusement to which English noblemen had been addicted for many ages, and had been held to be serviceable rather than disgraceful, if conducted in a noble fashion. He did not credit Tifto with much nobility. He knew but little about the Major. He would much have preferred that his son should have owned a horse alone, if he must have anything to do with ownership. ‘Would it not be better to buy the other share?’ asked the Duke.

‘It would take a deal of money, sir. The Major would ask a couple of thousand, I should think.’

‘That is a great deal.’

‘And then the Major is a very useful man. He thoroughly understands the turf.’

‘I hope he doesn’t live by it?’

‘Oh no, he doesn’t live by it. That is, he has a great many irons in the fire.’

‘I do not mind a young man owning a horse, if he can afford the expense — as you perhaps can do; but I hope you don’t bet.’

‘Nothing to speak of.’

‘Nothing to speak of is so apt to grow into that which has to be spoken of.’ So much that father said at breakfast, hardly giving his mind to the matter discussed — his mind being on other things. But when their breakfast was eaten, then it was necessary that he should begin. ‘Silverbridge,’ he said, ‘I hope you have thought better of what we were talking about as to these coming elections.’

‘Well, sir — of course I have thought about it.’

‘And can you do as I would have you?’

‘You see, sir, a man’s political opinion is a kind of thing he can’t get rid of.’

‘You can hardly as yet have any confirmed political opinion. You are still young, and I do not suppose that you have thought much about politics.’

‘Well, sir; I think I have. I’ve got my own ideas. We’ve got to protect our position as well as we can against the Radicals and Communists.’

‘I cannot admit that at all, Silverbridge. There is no great political party in this county anxious either for communism or for revolution. But, putting all that aside for the present, do you think that a man’s political opinions should be held in regard to his own individual interests, or to the much wider interests of others, whom we call the public?’

‘To his own interest,’ said the young man with decision.

‘It is simply self-protection then?’

‘His own and his class. The people will look after themselves, and we must look after ourselves. We are so few and they are so many, that we shall have quite enough to do.’

Then the Duke gave his son a somewhat lengthy political lecture, which was intended to teach him that the greatest benefit of the greatest number was the object to which all political studies should tend. The son listened with attention, and when it was over, expressed his opinion that there was a great deal in what his father had said. ‘I trust, if you will consider it,’ said the Duke, ‘that you will not find yourself obliged to desert the school of politics in which your father has not been an inactive supporter, and to which your family has belonged for many years.’

‘I could not call myself a Liberal,’ said the young politician.

‘Why not?’

‘Because I am a Conservative.’

‘And you won’t stand for the county on the Liberal interest?’

‘I should be obliged to tell them that I should always give a Conservative vote.’

‘Then you refuse to do as I ask?’

‘I do not know how I can help refusing it. If you wanted me to grow a couple of inches taller, I couldn’t do it, even though I should be ever so anxious to oblige you.’

‘But a very young man, as you are, may have so much deference for his elders as to be induced to believe that he has been in error.’

‘Oh yes; of course.’

‘You cannot but be aware that the political condition of the country is the one subject to which I have devoted the labour of my life.’

‘I know that very well; and of course, I know how much they all think of you.’

‘Then my opinion might go for something with you?’

‘So it does, sir; I shouldn’t have doubted at all only for that. Still, you see, as the thing is — how am I to help myself?’

‘You believe that you must be right — you who have never given an hour’s study to the subject.’

‘No, sir. In comparison with a great many men, I know that I am a fool. Perhaps it is because I know that, that I am a Conservative. The Radicals are always saying that a Conservative must be a fool. Then a fool ought to be a Conservative.’

Hereupon the father got up from his chair and turned round, facing the fire, with his back to his son. He was becoming very angry, but endeavoured to restrain his anger. The matter in dispute between them was of so great importance, that he could hardly be justified in abandoning it in consequence of arguments so trifling in themselves as these which his son adduced. As he stood there for some minutes thinking of it all, he was tempted again and again to burst out in wrath and threaten the lad — to threaten him as to money, as to his amusements, as to the general tenure of his life. The pity was so great that the lad should be so stubborn and so foolish! He would never ask his son to be a slave to the Liberal party, as he had been. But that a Palliser should not be a Liberal — and his son, as the first recreant Palliser — was wormwood to him! As he stood there he more than once clenched his fist in eager desire to turn upon the young man; but he restrained himself, telling himself that in justice he should not be angry for such offence as this. To become a Conservative, when the path to liberalism was so fairly open, might be the part of a fool, but could not fairly be imputed as a crime. To endeavour to be just was the study of his life, and in no condition of life can justice be more imperatively due than from a father to his son.

‘You mean to stand for Silverbridge?’ he said at last.

‘Not if you object, sir.’

This made it worse. It became now still more difficult for him to scold the young man. ‘You are aware that I should not meddle in any way.’

‘That is what I supposed. They will return a Conservative at any rate.’

‘It is not that I care about,’ said the Duke sadly.

‘Upon my word, sir, I am very sorry to vex you; but what would you have me do? I will give up Parliament altogether, if you say that you wish it.’

‘No; I do not wish that.’

‘You wouldn’t have me tell a lie?’

‘No.’

‘What can I do then?’

‘Learn what there is to learn from some master fit to teach you.’

‘There are so many masters.’

‘I believe it to be that most arrogant ill-behaved young man who was with me yesterday who has done this evil.’

‘You mean Frank Tregear?’

‘I do mean Mr Tregear.’

‘He’s a Conservative, of course; and of course he and I have been much together. Was he with you yesterday, sir?’

‘Yes, he was.’

‘What was that about?’ asked Lord Silverbridge, in a voice that almost betrayed fear, for he knew very well what cause had produced the interview.

‘He has been speaking to me-’ When the Duke had got so far as this he paused, finding himself hardly able to declare the disgrace which had fallen upon himself and his family. As he did tell the story, both his face and his voice was altered, so that the son, in truth, was scared. ‘He has been speaking to me about your sister. Did you know of this?’

‘I knew there was something between them.’

‘And you encouraged it?’

‘No, sir; just the contrary. I have told him that I was quite sure it would never do.’

‘And why did you not tell me?’

‘Well, sir; it was hardly my business, was it?’

‘Not to guard the honour of your sister?’

‘You see, sir; so many things have happened all at once.’

‘What things?’

‘My dear mother, sir, thought well of him.’ The Duke uttered a deep sigh, and turned round to the fire. ‘I always told him you would never consent.’

‘I should think not.’

‘It has come so suddenly. I should have spoken to you about it as soon as — as soon-’ He had meant to say as soon as the husband’s grief for the loss of his wife had been in some degree appeased, but could not speak the words. The Duke, however, perfectly understood him. ‘In the meantime, they were not seeing each other.’

‘Nor writing?’

‘I think not.’

‘Mrs Finn has known it all.’

‘Mrs Finn!’

‘Certainly. She has known all through.’

‘I do not see how it can have been so.’

‘He told me so himself,’ said the Duke, unwittingly putting words into Tregear’s mouth which Tregear had never uttered. ‘There must be an end of this. I will speak to your sister. In the meantime, the less, I think, you see of Mr Tregear the better. Of course it is out of the question he should be allowed to remain in this house. You will make him understand that at once, if you please.’

‘Oh, certainly,’ said Silverbridge.

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