The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 71

‘What am I to Say, Sir?’

When Silverbridge left Mr Boncassen’s house he was resolved to go to his father without an hour’s delay, and represent to the Duke exactly how the case stood. He would be urgent, piteous, submissive, and eloquent. In any other matter he would promise to make whatever arrangements his father might desire. He would make his father understand that all his happiness depended on this marriage. When once married he would settle down, even at Gatherum Castle if the Duke should wish it. He would not think of racehorses, he would desert the Beargarden, he would learn blue-books by heart, and only do as much shooting and hunting as would become a young nobleman in his position. All this he would say as eagerly and as pleasantly as it might be said. But he would add to all this an assurance of his unchangeable intention. It was his purpose to marry Isabel Boncassen. If he could do this with his father’s good will — so best. But at any rate he would marry her!

The world at this time was altogether busy with political rumours; and it was supposed that Sir Timothy Beeswax would do something very clever. It was supposed also that he would sever himself from some of his present companions. On that point everybody was agreed — and on that point only everybody was right. Lord Drummond, who was the titular Prime Minister, and Sir Timothy, had, during a considerable part of the last session, and through the whole vacation, so belarded each other with praise in their public expressions that it was quite manifest that they had quarrelled. When any body of statesmen make public asseverations by one or various voices, that there is no discord among them, not a dissentient voice on any subject, people are apt to suppose that they cannot hang together much longer. It is the man who has not peace at home declares abroad that his wife is an angel. He who lives on comfortable terms with the partner of his troubles can afford to acknowledge the ordinary rubs of life. Old Mr Mildmay, who was Prime Minister for so many years, and whom his party worshipped, used to say that he had never found a gentleman who had quite agreed with him all round; but Sir Timothy has always been in exact accord with all his colleagues — till he has left them, or they him. Never had there been such concord as of late — and men, clubs, and newspapers now protested that as a natural consequence there would soon be a break-up.

But not on that account would it perhaps be necessary that Sir Timothy should resign — or not necessary that his resignation should be permanent. The Conservative majority had dwindled — but still there was a majority. It certainly was the case that Lord Drummond could not get on without Sir Timothy. But might it not be possible that Sir Timothy should get on without Lord Drummond? If so he must begin his action in that direction by resigning. He would have to place his resignation, no doubt with infinite regret, in the hands of Lord Drummond. But if such a step were to be taken now, just as Parliament was about to assemble, what would become of the Queen’s speech, of the address, and of the noble peers and noble and other commoners who were to propose and second it in the two Houses of Parliament? There were those who said that such a trick played at the last moment would be very shabby. But then again there were those who foresaw that the shabbiness would be made to rest anywhere than on the shoulders of Sir Timothy. If it should turn out that he had striven manfully to make things run smoothly — that the Premier’s incompetence, or the Chancellor’s obstinacy, or this or that Secretary’s peculiarity of temper had done it all; — might not Sir Timothy then be able to emerge from the confused flood, and swim along pleasantly with his head higher than ever above the waters?

In these great matters parliamentary management goes for so much! If a man be really clever and handy at his trade, if he can work hard and knows what he is about, if he can give and take and be not thin-skinned or sore-boned, if he can ask pardon for a peccadillo and seem to be sorry with a good grace, if above all things he be able to surround himself with the prestige of success, then so much will be forgiven him! Great gifts of eloquence are hardly wanted, or a deep-seated patriotism which is capable of strong indignation. A party has to be managed, and he who can manage it best, will probably be its best leader. The subordinate task of legislation and of executive government may well fall into the inferior hands of less astute practitioners. It was admitted on both sides that there was no man like Sir Timothy for managing the House or coercing a party, and there was therefore a general feeling that it would be a pity that Sir Timothy should be squeezed out. He knew all the little secrets of the business; — could arrange let the cause be what it might, to get a full House for himself and his friends, and empty benches for his opponents — could foresee a thousand little things to which even a Walpole would have been blind, which a Pitt would not have condescended to regard, but with which his familiarity made him a very comfortable leader of the House of Commons. There were various ideas prevalent as to the politics of the coming session; but the prevailing idea was in favour of Sir Timothy.

The Duke was at Longroyston, the seat of his old political ally the Duke of St Bungay, and had been absent from Sunday the sixth till the morning of Friday the eleventh, on which day Parliament was to meet. On that morning at about noon a letter came to the son saying that his father had returned and would be glad to see him. Silverbridge was going to the House on that day and was not without his own political anxieties. If Lord Drummond remained in, he thought that he must for the present stand by the party which he had adopted. If, however, Sir Timothy should become Prime Minister there would be a loophole for escape. There were some three or four besides himself who detested Sir Timothy, and in such case he might perhaps have company in his desertions. All this was on his mind; but through all this he was aware that there was a matter of much deeper moment which required his energies. When his father’s message was brought to him he told himself at once that now was the time for eloquence.

‘Well, Silverbridge,’ said the Duke, ‘how are matters going on with you?’ There seemed to be something in his father’s manner more than ordinarily jocund and good-humoured.

‘With me, sir?’

‘I don’t mean to ask any party secrets. If you and Sir Timothy understand each other, of course you will be discreet.’

‘I can’t be discreet, sir, because I don’t know anything about him.’

‘When I heard,’ said the Duke smiling, ‘of your being in close conference with Sir Timothy —’

‘I, sir?’

‘Yes, you. Mr Boncassen told me that you and he were so deeply taken up with each other at his house that nobody could get a word with either of you.’

‘Have you seen Mr Boncassen?’ asked the son, whose attention was immediately diverted from his father’s political badinage.

‘Yes; — I have seen him. I happened to meet him where I was dining last Sunday, and he walked home with me. He was so intent upon what he was saying that I fear he allowed me to take him out of his way.’

‘What was he talking about,’ said Silverbridge. All his preparations, all his eloquence, all his method, now seemed to have departed from him.

‘He was talking about you,’ said the Duke.

‘He had told me that he wanted to see you. What did he say, sir?’

‘I suppose you can guess what he said. He wished to know what I thought of the offer you have made to his daughter.’ The great subject had come up so easily, so readily, that he was almost aghast when he found himself in the middle of it. And yet he must speak of the matter, and that at once.

‘I hope you raised no objection, sir,’ he said.

‘The objection came mainly from him; and I am bound to say that every word that fell from him was spoken with wisdom.’

‘But still he asked you to consent.’

‘By no means. He told me his opinion — and then he asked me a question.’

‘I am sure he did not say that we ought not to be married.’

‘He did say that he thought you ought not to be married if —’

‘If what, sir?’

‘If there were probability that his daughter would not be well received as your wife. Then he asked me what would be my reception of her.’ Silverbridge looked up into his father’s face with beseeching imploring eyes as though everything now depended on the few next words that he might utter. ‘I shall think it an unwise marriage,’ said the Duke. Silverbridge when he heard this at once knew that he had gained his cause. His father had spoken of the marriage as a thing that was to happen. A joyous light dawned in his eyes, and the look of pain went from his brow, all which the Duke was not slow to perceive. ‘I shall think it an unwise marriage,’ he continued, repeating his words; ‘but I was bound to tell him that were Miss Boncassen to become your wife she would also become my daughter.’

‘Oh sir.’

‘I told him why the marriage would be distasteful to me. Whether I may be wrong or right I think it to be for the good of our country, for the good of our order, for the good of our individual families, that we should support each other by marriage. It is not as though we were a narrow class, already too closely bound together by family alliances. The room for choice might be wide enough for you without going across the Atlantic to look for her who is to be the mother of your children. To this Mr Boncassen replied that he was to look solely to his daughter’s happiness. He meant me to understand that he cared nothing for my feelings. Why should he? That which to me is deep wisdom is to him an empty prejudice. He asked me then how others would receive her.’

‘I am sure everybody would like her,’ said Silverbridge.

‘I like her. I like her very much.’

‘I am so glad.’

‘But still all this is a sorrow to me. When however he put that question to me about the world around her — as to those among whom her lot would be cast, I could not say I thought she would be rejected.’

‘Oh no!’ The idea of rejecting Isabel.

‘She has a brightness and a grace all her own,’ continued the Duke, ‘which will ensure her acceptance in all societies.’

‘Yes, yes; — it is just that, sir.’

‘You will be a nine days’ wonder — the foolish thing young nobleman who chose to marry an American.’

‘I think it will be just other way up, sir — among the men.’

‘But her place will I think be secure to her. That is what I told Mr Boncassen.’

‘It is all right with him, then — now?’

‘If you call it all right. You will understand of course that you are acting in opposition to my advice — and my wishes.’

‘What am I to say, sir?’ exclaimed Silverbridge, almost in despair. ‘When I love the girl better than my life, and when you tell me that she can be mine if I choose to take her; when I have asked her to be my wife, and have got her to say that she likes me, when her father has given way, and all the rest of it, would it be possible that I should say now that I will give her up?’

‘My opinion is to go for nothing — in anything?’ The Duke as he said this knew that he was expressing aloud a feeling which should have been restrained within his own bosom. It was natural that there should have been such plaints. The same suffering must be encountered in regard to Tregear and his daughter. In every way he had been thwarted. In every direction he was driven to yield. And yet now he had to undergo rebuke from his own son, because one of the inward plaints would force itself from his lips! Of course this girl was to be taken among the Pallisers and treated with an idolatrous love — as perfect as though ‘all the blood of all the Howards’ were running in her veins. What further inch of ground was there for a fight? And if the fight were over, why should he rob his boy of one sparkle from the joy of his triumph? Silverbridge was now standing before him abashed by that plaint, inwardly sustained no doubt by the conviction of his great success, but subdued by his father’s wailing. ‘However — perhaps we had better let that pass,’ said the Duke, with a long sigh. Then Silverbridge took his father’s hand, and looked up in his face. ‘I most sincerely hope that she may make you a good and loving wife,’ said the Duke, ‘and that she may do her duty by you in that not easy sphere of life to which she will be called.’

‘I am quite sure she will,’ said Silverbridge, whose ideas as to Isabel’s duties were confined at present to a feeling that she would now have to give him kisses without stint.

‘What I have seen of her personally recommends her to me,’ said the Duke. ‘Some girls are fools —’

‘That’s quite true, sir.’

‘Who think that the world is to be nothing but dancing, and going to parties.’

‘Many have been doing it for many years,’ said Silverbridge, ‘that they can’t understand that there should be an end of it.’

‘A wife ought to feel the great responsibility of her position. I hope she will.’

‘And the sooner she begins the better,’ said Silverbridge stoutly.

‘And now,’ said the Duke, looking at his watch, ‘we might as well have lunch and go down to the House. I will walk with you if you please. It will be about time for each of us.’ Then the son was forced to go down and see a somewhat faded ceremony of seeing Parliament opened by three Lords sitting in commission before the throne. Whereas but for such stress as his father had laid upon him, he would have disregarded his parliamentary duties and have rushed at once up to Brook Street. As it was he was so handed over from one political pundit to another, was so buttonholed by Sir Timothy, so chaffed as to the address by Phineas Finn, and at last so occupied with the whole matter that he was compelled to sit in his place till he had heard Nidderdale make his speech. This the young Scotch Lord did so well, and received so much praise for the doing of it, and looked so well in his uniform, that Silverbridge almost regretted the opportunity that he had lost. At seven the sitting was over, the speeches, though full of interest, having been shorter than usual. They had been full of interest, but nobody understood in the least what was going to happen. ‘I don’t know anything about the Prime Minister,’ said Mr Lupton as he left the House with our hero and another not very staunch supporter of the Government, ‘but I’ll back Sir Timothy to be the Leader of the House on the last day of the session, against all comers. I don’t think it much matters who is Prime Minister nowadays.’

At half-past seven Silverbridge was at the door at Brook Street. Yes; Miss Boncassen was at home. The servant thought that she was upstairs dressing. Then Silverbridge made his way without further invitation into the drawing-room. There he remained alone for ten minutes. At last the door opened, and Mrs Boncassen entered. ‘Dear! Lord Silverbridge, who ever dreamed of seeing you? I thought all you Parliament gentlemen were going through your ceremonies. Isabel had a ticket and went down, and saw your father.’

‘Where is Isabel?’

‘She’s gone.’

‘Gone! Where on earth has she gone to?’ asked Silverbridge, as though fearing lest she had been already carried off to the other side of the Atlantic. Then Mrs Boncassen explained. Within the last three minutes Mrs Montacute Jones had called and carried Isabel off to the play. Mrs Jones was up in town for a week and this had been a very old engagement. ‘I hope you did not want her particularly,’ said Mrs Boncassen.

‘But I did — not particularly,’ said Lord Silverbridge. The door was opened and Mr Boncassen entered the room. ‘I beg your pardon for coming at such a time,’ said the lover, ‘but I did so want to see Isabel.’

‘I rather thinks she wants to see you,’ said the father.

‘I shall go to the theatre after her.’

‘That might be awkward — particularly as I doubt whether anybody knows what theatre they are gone to. Can I receive a message for her, my lord?’ This was certainly not what Lord Silverbridge had intended. ‘You know, perhaps, that I have seen the Duke?’

‘Oh yes; — I have seen him. Everything is settled.’

‘That is the only message she will want to hear when she comes home. She is a happy girl and I am proud to think that I should live to call such a grand young Briton as you my son-in-law.’ Then the American took the young man’s two hands and shook them cordially, while Mrs Boncassen bursting into tears insisted on kissing him.

‘Indeed she is a happy girl,’ said she; ‘but I hope Isabel won’t be carried away too high and mighty.’

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