The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 8

He is a Gentleman

The Duke returned to Matching an almost broken-hearted man. He had intended to go down into Barsetshire, in reference to the coming elections; — not with the view of interfering in any unlordly, or rather, unpeerlike fashion, but thinking that if his eldest son were to stand for the county in a proper constitutional spirit, as the eldest son of so great a county magnate ought to do, his presence at Gatherum Castle, among his own people, might properly be serviceable, and would certainly be gracious. There would be no question of entertainment. His bereavement would make that impossible. But there would come from his presence a certain savour of proprietorship, and a sense of power, which would be beneficial to his son, and would not, as the Duke thought, be contrary to the spirit of the constitution. But all this was now at an end. He told himself that he did not care how the elections might go; — that he did not care much how anything might go. Silverbridge might stand for Silverbridge if he so pleased. He would give neither assistance nor obstruction, either in the county or in the borough. He wrote to this effect to his agent, Mr Morton; — but at the same time desired that gentleman to pay Lord Silverbridge’s electioneering expenses, feeling it to be his duty as a father to do so much for his son.

But though he endeavoured to engage his thoughts in these parliamentary matters, though he tried to make himself believe that this political apostasy was the trouble which vexed him, in truth that other misery was so crushing, as to make the affairs of his son insignificant. How should he express himself to her? That was the thought present to his mind as he went down to Matching. Should he content himself with simply telling her that such a wish on her part was disgraceful, and that it could never be fulfilled; or should he argue the matter with her, endeavouring as he did so to persuade her gently that she was wrong to place her affections so low, and so to obtain from her an assurance that the idea should be abandoned?

The latter course would be infinitely the better — if only he could accomplish it. But he was conscious of his own hardness of manner, and was aware that he had never succeeded in establishing confidence between himself and his daughter. It was a thing for which he had longed — as a plain girl might long to possess the charms of an acknowledged beauty; — as a poor little fellow, five feet in height, might long to a cubit added to his stature.

Though he was angry with her, how willingly would he take her into his arms and assure her of his forgiveness! How anxious he would be to make her understand that nothing should be spared by him to add beauty and grace to her life! Only, as a matter of course, Mr Tregear must be abandoned. But he knew of himself that he would not know how to begin to be tender and forgiving. He knew that he would not know not to be stern and hard.

But he must find out the history of it all. No doubt the man had been his son’s friend, and had joined the party in Italy at his son’s instance. But yet he had come to entertain the idea that Mrs Finn had been the great promoter of this sin, and he thought that Tregear had told him that that lady had been concerned with the matter from the beginning. In all this there was a craving in his heart to lessen the amount of culpable responsibility which might seem to attach itself to the wife he had lost.

He reached Matching about eight, and ordered his dinner to be brought to him in his own study. When Lady Mary came to welcome him, he kissed her forehead, and bade her to come to him after his dinner. ‘Shall I not sit with you, papa, whilst you are eating it?’ she asked; but he merely told her that he would not trouble her to do that. Even in saying this, he was so unusually tender to her that she assured herself that her lover had not as yet told his tale.

The Duke’s meals were generally not feasts for a Lucullus. No man living, perhaps, cared less what he ate, or knew less what he drank. In such matters he took what was provided for him, making his dinner off the first bit of meat that was brought, and simply ignoring anything offered to him afterwards. And he would drink what wine the servant gave him, mixing it, whatever it might be, with seltzer water. He had never been given much the pleasures of the table; but this habit of simplicity had grown on him of late, till the Duchess used to tell him that his wants were so few that it was a pity he was not a hermit, vowed to poverty.

Very shortly a message was brought to Lady Mary, saying that her father wished to see her. She went at once, and found him seated on a sofa, which stood close along the bookshelves on one side of the room. The table had already been cleared, and he was alone. He not only was alone, but had not even a pamphlet or newspaper in his hand.

Then she knew that Tregear must have told the story. As this occurred to her, her legs almost gave way under her. ‘Come and sit down, Mary,’ he said, pointing to the seat on the sofa beside himself.

She sat down and took one of his hands within her own. Then, as he did not begin at once, she asked a question. ‘Will Silverbridge stand for the county, papa?’

‘No, my dear.’

‘But for the town.’

‘Yes, my dear.’

‘And he won’t be a Liberal?’

‘I am afraid not. It is a cause of great unhappiness to me; but I do not know that I should be justified in any absolute opposition. A man is entitled to his own opinion, even though he be a very young man.’

‘I am so sorry that it should be so, papa, because it vexes you.’

‘I have many things to vex me; — things to break my heart.’

‘Poor mamma!’ she exclaimed.

‘Yes; that above all others. But life and death are in God’s hands, and even though we may complain we can alter nothing. But whatever our sorrows are, while we are here we must do our duty.’

‘I suppose he may be a good Member of Parliament, though he has turned Conservative.’

‘I am not thinking about your brother. I am thinking about you.’ The poor girl gave a little start on the sofa. ‘Do you know-Mr Tregear?’ he added.

‘Yes, papa; of course I know him. You used to see him in Italy.’

‘I believe I did; I understood that he was there as a friend of Silverbridge.’

‘His most intimate friend, papa.’

‘I dare say. He came to me in London yesterday, and told me —! Oh Mary, can it be true?’

‘Yes, papa,’ she said, covered up to her forehead with blushes, and with her eyes turned down. In the ordinary affairs of life she was a girl of great courage, who was not given to be shaken from her constancy by the pressures of any present difficulty; but now the terror inspired by her father’s voice almost overpowered her.

‘Do you mean to tell me that you have engaged yourself to that young man without my approval?’

‘Of course you were to have been asked, papa.’

‘Is that in accordance with your idea of what should be the conduct of a young lady in your position?’

‘Nobody meant to conceal anything from you, papa.’

‘It has been so far concealed. And yet this young man has the self-confidence to come to me and to demand your hand as though it were a matter of course that I should accede to so trivial a request. It is, as a matter of course, quite impossible. You understand that; do you not?’ When she did not answer him at once, he repeated the question. ‘I ask you whether you do not feel that it is altogether impossible?’

‘No, papa,’ she said, in the lowest possible whisper, but still in such a whisper that he could hear the word, and with so much clearness that he could judge from her face the obstinacy of her mind.

‘Then, Mary, it becomes my duty to tell you that it is quite impossible. I will not have it thought of. There must be an end of it.’

‘Why, papa?’

‘Why! I am astonished that you should ask me why.’

‘I should not have allowed him, papa, to go to you unless I had — unless I had loved him.’

‘Then you must conquer your love. It is disgraceful and must be conquered.’

‘Disgraceful!’

‘Yes. I am sorry to use such word to my own child, but it is so. If you will promise to be guided by me in this matter, if you will undertake not to see him any more, I will — if not forget it — at any rate pardon it, and be silent. I will excuse it because you were young, and were thrown imprudently in his way. There has, I believe, been someone at work in the matter with whom I ought to be more angry than with you. Say that you will obey me, and there is nothing within a father’s power that I will not do for you, to make your life happy.’ It was thus that he strove to be stern. His heart, indeed, was tender enough, but there was nothing tender in the tone of his voice or in the glance of his eye. Though he was very positive in what he said, yet he was shy and shamefaced even with his own daughter. He, too, had blushed when he told her that she must conquer her love.

That she should be told that she had disgraced herself was terrible to her. That her father should speak of her marriage with this man as an event that was impossible made her very unhappy. That he should talk of pardoning her, as for some great fault, was in itself a misery. But she had not on that account the least idea of giving up her lover. Young as she was, she had her own peculiar theory on that matter, her own code of conduct and honour, from which she did not mean to be driven. Of course she had not expected that her father would yield at the first word. He, no doubt, would wish that she should make a more exalted marriage. She had known that she would have to encounter opposition, though she had not expected to be told that she had disgraced herself. As she sat there she resolved that under no pretence would she give up her lover; — but she was so far abashed that she could not find words to express herself. He, too, had been silent for a few moments before he again asked her for her promise.

‘Will you tell me, Mary, that you will not see him again?’

‘I don’t think I can say that, papa.’

‘Why not?’

‘Oh, papa, how can I, when of all people in the world I love him the best.’

It is not without a pang that anyone can be told that she who is of all the dearest has some other one who is to her the dearest. Such pain fathers and mothers have to bear; and though, I think, the arrow is never so blunted but that it leaves something of a wound behind, there is in most cases, if not a perfect salve, still an ample consolation. The mother knows that it is good that her child should love some man better than all the world beside, and that she should be taken away to become a wife and a mother. And the father, when that delight of his eye ceases to assure him that he is her nearest and dearest, though he abandon the treasure of the nearestness and dearestness with a soft melancholy, still knows that it should be. Of course that other ‘him’ is the person she loves the best in the world. Were it not so how evil a thing it would be that she should marry him? Were it not so with reference to some ‘him’, how void would her life be! But now, to the poor Duke the wound had no salve, no consolation. When he was told that this young Tregear was the owner of the girl’s sweet love, was the treasure of her heart, he shrank as though arrows with sharp points were pricking him all over. ‘I will not hear of such love,’ he said.

‘What am I to say, papa?’

‘Say that you will obey me.’

Then she sat silent. ‘Do you not know that he is not fit to be your husband?’

‘No, papa.’

‘Then you cannot have thought much either of your position or of mine.’

‘He is a gentleman, papa.’

‘So is my private secretary. There is not a clerk in one of our public offices who does not consider himself to be a gentleman. The curate of the parish is a gentleman, and the medical man who comes here from Bradstock. The word is too vague to carry with it any meaning that ought to be serviceable to you in thinking of such a matter.’

‘I do not know of any other way of dividing people,’ said she, showing thereby that she had altogether made up her mind as to what ought to be serviceable to her.

‘You are not called upon to divide people. That division requires so much experience that you are bound in this matter to rely upon those to whom your obedience is due. I cannot but think you must have known that you were not entitled to give your love to any man without being assured that the man would be approved of by — by — by me.’ He was going to say ‘your parents’, but was stopped by the remembrance of his wife’s imprudence.

She saw it all, and was too noble to plead her mother’s authority. But she was not too dutiful to cast a reproach upon him, when he was so stern to her. ‘You have been so little with me, papa.’

‘That is true,’ he said, after a pause. ‘That is true. It has been a fault and I will need to mend it. It is a reason for forgiveness, and I will forgive you. But you must tell me that there shall be an end to this.’

‘No, papa.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘That I love Mr Tregear, and as I have told him so, and as I have promised him, I will be true to him. I cannot let there be an end to it.’

‘You do not suppose that you will be allowed to see him again?’

‘I hope so.’

‘Most assuredly not. Do you write to him?’

‘No, papa.’

‘Never?’

‘Never since we have been back in England.’

‘You must promise me that you will not write.’

She paused for a moment before she answered him, and now she was looking him full in the face. ‘I shall not write to him. I do not think I shall write to him; but I will not promise.’

‘Not promise me — your father!’

‘No, papa. It might be that — that I should do it.’

‘You would not wish me so to guard you that you should have no power of sending a letter but by permission?’

‘I should not like that.’

‘But it will have to be so.’

‘If I do write I will tell you.’

‘And show me what you write?’

‘No, papa; not that, but I will tell you what I have written.’

Then it occurred to him that this bargaining was altogether derogatory to his parental authority, and by no means likely to impress upon her mind the conviction that Tregear must be completely banished from her thoughts. He began already to find how difficult it would be for him to have the charge of such a daughter — how impossible that he should conduct such a charge with sufficient firmness, and yet with sufficient tenderness! At present he had done no good. He had only been made more wretched than ever by her obstinacy. Surely he must pass her over to the charge of some lady — but of some lady who would be as determined as he was himself that she should not throw herself away by marrying Mr Tregear. ‘There shall be no writing,’ he said, ‘no visiting, no communication of any kind. As you refuse to obey me now, you had better go to your room.’

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