The Duke was in the gallery of the House of Commons which is devoted to the use of peers, and Silverbridge having heard that his father was there, had come up to him. It was then about half-past five, and the House had settled down to business. Prayers had been read, petitions had been presented, and Ministers had gone through their course of baiting with that equanimity and air of superiority which always belongs to a well-trained occupant of the Treasury bench.
The Duke was very anxious that his son should attend to his parliamentary duties, but he was too proud a man and too generous to come to the House as a spy. It was his present habit always to be in his own place when the Lords were sitting, and to remain there while the Lords sat. it was not, for many reasons, an altogether satisfactory occupation, but it was the best which his life afforded him. He would never, however, come across into the other House, without letting his son know of his coming, and Lord Silverbridge had on this occasion been on the look out, and had come up to his father at once. ‘Don’t let me take you away,’ said the Duke, ‘if you are particularly interested in your Chief’s defence,’ for Sir Timothy Beeswax was defending some measure of legal reform in which he was said to have fallen into trouble.
‘I can hear it up here you know, sir.’
‘Hardly if you are talking to me.’
‘To tell the truth it’s a matter I don’t much care about. They’ve got into some mess as to the number of Judges and what they ought to do. Finn was saying that they had so arranged that there was one Judge who never could possibly do anything.’
‘If Mr Finn said so it would probably be so, with some allowance for Irish exaggeration. He is a clever man, with less of his country’s hyperbole than others; — but still not without his share.’
‘You know him well, I suppose.’
‘Yes; — as one man does know another in the political world.’
‘But he is a friend of yours? I don’t mean an “honourable friend”, which is great bosh; but you know him at home.’
‘Oh yes; — certainly. He has been staying with me at Matching. In public life such intimacies come from politics.’
‘You don’t care much about him then.’
The Duke paused a moment before he answered. ‘Yes I do; — and in what I said just now perhaps I wronged him. I have been under obligations to Mr Finn — in a matter as to which he behaved very well. I have found him to be a gentleman. If you come across him in the House I would wish you to be courteous to him. I have not seen him since we came from abroad. I have been able to see nobody. But if ever again I should entertain my friends at my table, Mr Finn would be one who would always be welcome there.’ This he said with a sadly serious air as though wishing that his words should be noted. At the present moment he was remembering that he owed recompense to Mrs Finn, and was making an effort to pay the debt. ‘But your leader is striking out into unwonted eloquence. Surely we ought to listen to him.’
Sir Timothy was a fluent speaker, and when there was nothing to be said was possessed of a great plenty of words. And he was gifted with that peculiar power which enables a man to have the last word in every encounter — a power which we are apt to call repartee, with is in truth the readiness which come from continual practice. You shall meet two men of whom you shall know the one to be endowed with the brilliancy of true genius, and the other to be possessed of but moderate parts, and shall find the former never able to hold his awn against the latter. In a debate, the man of moderate parts will seem to be greater than the man of genius. But this skill of tongue, this glibness of speech is hardly an affair of intellect at all. It is — as is style to the writer — not the wares which he has to take to market, but the vehicle in which they may be carried. Of what avail to you is it to have filled granaries with corn if you cannot get your corn to the consumer? Now Sir Timothy was a great vehicle, but he had not in truth much corn to send. He could turn a laugh against an adversary; — no man better. He could seize, at the moment, every advantage which the opportunity might give him. The Treasury Bench on which he sat and the big box on the table before him were to him fortifications of which he knew how to use every stone. The cheers and jeers of the House had been so measured by him that he knew the value and force of every sound. Politics had never been to him a study; but to parliamentary strategy he had devoted all his faculties. No one knew so well as Sir Timothy how to make arrangements for business, so that every detail should be troublesome to his opponents. He could foresee a month beforehand that on a certain day a Royal concert would make the House empty, and would generously give that day to a less observant adversary. He knew how to blind the eyes of members to the truth. Those on the opposite side of the House would find themselves checkmated by his astuteness — when with all their pieces on the board, there should be none which they could move. And this to him was Government! It was to these purposes that he conceived that a great Statesman should devote himself! Parliamentary management! That in his mind, was under the Constitution of ours the one act essential for Government.
In all this he was very great; but when it might fall to his duty either to suggest or defend any real piece of proposed legislation he was less happy. On this occasion he had been driven to take the matter in hand because he had previously been concerned in it as a lawyer. He had allowed himself to wax angry as he endeavoured to answer certain personal criticisms. Now Sir Timothy was never stronger then when he simulated anger. His mock indignation was perhaps his most powerful weapon. But real anger is a passion which few men can use with judgement. And now Sir Timothy was really angry, and condescended to speak of our old friend Phineas who had made the onslaught as a bellicose Irishman. There was an over-true story as to our friend having once been seduced into fighting a duel, and those who wished to decry him sometimes alluded to the adventure. Sir Timothy had been called to order, but the Speaker had ruled ‘bellicose Irishman’ was not beyond the latitude of parliamentary animadversion. Then Sir Timothy had repeated the phrase with emphasis, and the Duke hearing it in the gallery had made his remark as to the unwonted eloquence of his son’s parliamentary chief.
‘Surely we ought to listen to him,’ said the Duke. And for a short time they did listen. ‘Sir Timothy is not a man I like, you know,’ said the son, feeling himself obliged to apologise for his subjection to such a chief.
‘I never particularly loved him myself.’
‘They say he is a sort of necessity.’
‘A Conservative Fate,’ said the Duke.
‘Well, yes; he is so — so awfully clever! We all feel that we could not get on without him. When you were in, he was one of your party.’
‘Oh yes; — he was one of us. I have no right to complain of you for using him. But when you say you could not get on without him, does it not occur to you that should he — let us say be taken to heaven — you would have to get on without him.’
‘Then he would be — out of the way, sir.’
‘What you mean perhaps is that you do not know how to get rid of him.’
‘Of course I don’t pretend to know much about it; but they all think that he does know how to keep the party together. I don’t think we are proud of him.’
‘He is awfully useful. A man has to look out so sharp to be always ready for those other fellows! I beg your pardon, sir, but I mean your side.’
‘I understand who the other fellows are.’
‘And it isn’t everybody who will go through such a grind. A man to do it must be always ready. He has so many little things to think of. As far as I can see we all feel that we could not get along very well without him.’ Upon the whole the Duke was pleased with what he heard from his son. The young man’s ideas about politics were boyish, but they were the ideas of a clear-headed boy. Silverbridge had picked up some of the ways of the place, though he had not yet formed any sound political opinions.
Then Sir Timothy finished a long speech with a flowery peroration, in which he declared that if Parliament were desirous of keeping the realms of Her Majesty free from the invasions of foreigners it must be done by maintaining the dignity of the Judicial bench. There were some clamours at this, and although it was now dinner-time Phineas Finn, who had been called a bellicose Irishman, was able to say a word or two. ‘The Right Honourable gentleman no doubt means,’ said Phineas, ‘that we must carry ourselves with some increased external dignity. The world is bewigging itself, and we must buy a bigger wig than any we have got, in order to confront the world with proper self-respect. Turveydrop and deportment will suffice for us against odds.’
About half-past seven the House became very empty. ‘Where are going to dine, sir?’ asked Silverbridge. The Duke, with something like a sigh, said he supposed he should dine at home.
‘You never were at the Beargarden; — were you, sir?’ asked Silverbridge suddenly.
‘Never,’ said the Duke.
‘Come and dine with me.’
‘I am not a member of the club.’
‘We don’t care at all about that. Anybody can take anybody.’
‘Does not that make it promiscuous?’
‘Well; — no; I don’t know that it does. It seems to go on very well. I daresay there are some cads there sometimes. But I don’t know where one doesn’t meet cads. There are plenty in the House of Commons.’
‘There is something in that, Silverbridge, which makes me think that you have not realised the difference between private and public life. In the former you choose your own associates and are responsible for your choice. In the latter you are concerned with others for the good of the State; and though even for the State’s sake, you would not willingly be closely allied with those whom you think dishonest, the outward manners and fashions of life need create no barriers. I should not turn up my nose at the House of Commons because some constituency might send them an illiterate shoemaker; but I might probably find the illiterate shoemaker an unprofitable companion for my private hours.’
‘I don’t think there will be any shoemakers at the Beargarden.’
‘Even if there were I would go and dine with you. I shall be glad to see the place where you, I suppose, pass many hours.’
‘I find it a very good shop to dine at. The place at the House is so stuffy and nasty. Besides, one likes to get away for a time.’
‘Certainly. I never was an advocate for living in the House. One should always change the atmosphere.’ Then they got into a cab and went to the club. Silverbridge was a little afraid of what he was doing. The invitation had come from him on the spur of the moment, and he hardly ventured to think that his father would accept it. And now he did not quite know how the Duke would go through the ceremony. ‘The other fellows’ would come and stare at a man whom they had all been taught to regard as the most unBeargardenish of men. But he was especially anxious to make things pleasant for his father.
‘What shall I order?’ said the son as he took the Duke into a dressing-room to wash his hands. The Duke suggested that anything sufficient for his son would certainly be sufficient for him.
Nothing especial occurred during the dinner, which the Duke appeared to enjoy very much. ‘Yes; I think it is a very good soup,’ he said. ‘I don’t think they ever give me any soup at home.’ Then the son expressed his opinion that unless his father looked about rather more sharply, ‘they’ very soon would provide no dinner at all, remarking that experience had taught him that the less people demanded the more they were ‘sat upon’. The Duke did like his dinner — or rather he liked the feeling that he was dining with his son. A report that the Duke of Omnium was with Lord Silverbridge soon went round the room, and they who were justified by some previous acquaintance came up to greet him. To all who did so he was very gracious, and was specially so to Lord Popplecourt, who happened to pass close by the table.
‘I think he is a fool,’ whispered Silverbridge as soon as Popplecourt had passed.
‘What makes you thinks so?’
‘We thought him an ass at Eton.’
‘He has done pretty well however.’
‘Oh yes, in a way.’
‘Somebody has told me that he is careful about his property.’
‘I believe he is all that,’ said Silverbridge.
‘Then I don’t see why you should think him a fool.’
To this Silverbridge made no reply; partly because he had nothing to say — but hindered also by the coming in of Tregear. This was an accident, the possibility of which had not crossed him. Unfortunately too the Duke’s back was turned, so that Tregear, as he walked up the room, could not see who was sitting at his friend’s table. Tregear coming up stood close to the Duke’s elbow before he recognised the man, and spoke some word or two to Silverbridge. ‘How do you do, Mr Tregear,’ said the Duke, turning round.
‘Oh, my Lord. I did not know that it was you.’
‘You hardly would. I am quite a stranger here. Silverbridge and I came up from the House together, and he has been hospitable enough to give me a dinner. I will tell you an odd thing for a London man, Mr Tregear. I have not dined at a London club for fifteen years before this.’
‘I hope you like it, sir,’ said Silverbridge.
‘Very much indeed. Good-evening, Mr Tregear. I suppose you have to go to dinner now.’
Then they went into one of the rooms upstairs to have coffee, the son declining to go into the smoking-room, and assuring his father that he did not in the least care about a cigar after dinner. ‘You would be smothered, sir.’ The Duke did as he was bidden and went upstairs. There was in truth a strong reason for avoiding the publicity of the smoking-room. When bringing his father to the club he had thought nothing about Tregear but he had thought about Tifto. As he entered he had seen Tifto at a table dining alone, and had bobbed his head at him. Then he had taken the Duke to the further end of the room, and had trusted that fear would keep the major in his place. Fear had kept the Major in his place. When the Major learned who the stranger was, he had become silent and reserved. Before the father and son had finished their dinner, Tifto had gone to his cigar; and so the danger was over.
‘By George, there’s Silverbridge has got his governor to dinner,’ said Tifto, standing in the middle of the room, and looking round as though he were announcing some confusion of the heavens and earth.
‘Why shouldn’t Silverbridge have his father to dine with him?’ asked Mr Lupton.
‘I believe I know Silverbridge as well as any man, and by George it is the very last thing of the kind that I should have expected. There have been no end of quarrels.’
‘There has been no quarrel at all,’ said Tregear, who had just then entered the room. ‘Nothing on earth would make Silverbridge quarrel with his father, and I think it would break the Duke’s heart to quarrel with his son.’ Tifto endeavoured to argue the matter out, but Tregear having made the assertion on behalf of his friend would not allow himself to be enticed into further speech. Nevertheless there was a good deal said by others during which the Major drank two glasses of whisky-and-water. In the dining-room he had been struck with awe by the Duke’s presence, and had certainly no idea of presenting himself personally to the great man. But Bacchus lent him aid, and when the discussion was over and the whisky had been swallowed, it occurred to him that he would go upstairs and ask to be introduced.
In the meantime the Duke and his son were seated in close conversation on one of the upstairs sofas. It was a rule at the Beargarden that men might smoke all over the house except in the dining-room; — but there was one small chamber called the library, in which the practice was not often followed. The room was generally deserted, and at this moment the father and son were the only occupants. ‘A club,’ said the Duke, as he sipped his coffee, ‘is a comfortable and economical residence. A man gets what he wants well-served, and gets it cheap. But it has its drawbacks.’
‘You always see the same fellows,’ said Silverbridge.
‘A man who lives much at a club is apt to fall into a selfish mode of life. He is taught to think that his own comfort should always be the first object. A man can never be happy unless his first objects are outside himself. Personal self-indulgence begets a sense of meanness which sticks to a man even when he has got beyond all hope of rescue. It is for that reason; — among others — that marriage is so desirable.’
‘A man should marry, I suppose.’
‘Unless a man has on his shoulders the burden of a wife and children he should, I think, feel that he has shirked out of school. He is not doing his share of the work of the Commonwealth.’
‘Pitt was not married, sir.’
‘No; — and a great many other good men have remained unmarried. Do you mean to be another Pitt?’
‘I don’t intend to be Prime Minister.’
‘I would not recommend you to entertain that ambition. Pitt perhaps hardly had time for marriage. You may be more lucky.’
‘I suppose I shall marry some day.’
‘I should be glad to see you marry early,’ said the Duke, speaking in a low voice, almost solemnly, but in his quietest, sweetest ton of voice. ‘You are peculiarly situated. Though as yet you are only the heir to the property and honours of our family, still, were you married, almost everything would be at your disposal. There is so much I should only be ready to give up to you!’
‘I can’t bear to hear you talking of giving up anything,’ said Silverbridge energetically.
Then the father looked round the room furtively, and seeing that the door was shut, and that they were assuredly alone, he put out his hand and gently stroked the young man’s hair. It was almost a caress — as though he would have said to himself, ‘Were he my daughter, I would kiss him.’ ‘There is much I would fain give up,’ he said. ‘If you were a married man the house in Carlton Terrace would be fitter for you than for me. I have disqualified myself for taking that part in society which should be filled by the head of our family. You who have inherited so much from your mother would, if you married pleasantly, do all that right well.’ He paused for a moment and then asked a straightforward question, very quickly —‘You have never thought of anyone yet, I suppose?’
Silverbridge had thought very much of somebody. He was quite aware that he had almost made an offer to Lady Mabel. She certainly had not given him any encouragement; but the very fact that she had not done so allured him all the more. He did believe that he was thoroughly in love with Lady Mabel. She had told him that he was too young — but he was older than Lady Mab herself by a week. She was beautiful; — that was certain. It was acknowledged by all that she was clever. As for blood, of which he believed his father thought much, there was perhaps none better in England. He had heard it said of her — as he now well remembered, in his father’s presence — that she had behaved remarkably well in trying circumstances. She had no fortune; — everybody knew that; but then he did not want fortune. Would not this be a good opportunity for breaking the matter to his father? ‘You have never thought of any one?’ asked the Duke — again very sweetly, very softly.
‘But I have!’ Lord Silverbridge as he made the announcement blushed up to the eyes.
Then there came over the father something almost of fear. If he was to be told, how would it be if he could not approve? ‘Yes I have,’ said Silverbridge, recovering himself. ‘If you wish it, I will tell you who it is.’
‘Nay, my boy; — as to that consult your own feelings. Are you sure of yourself?’
‘Have you spoken to her?’
‘Well; — yes in part. She has not accepted me, if you mean that. Rather the contrary.’
Now the Duke would have been very unwilling to say that his son would certainly be accepted by any girl in England to whom he might choose to offer his hand. But when the idea of a doubt was suggested to him, it did seem odd that his son should ask in vain. What other young man was there who could offer so much, and who was at the same time so likely to be loved for his own sake? He smiled however and was silent. ‘I suppose I may as well out with it,’ said Silverbridge. ‘You know Lady Mabel Grex?’
‘Lady Mabel Grex. Yes — I know her.’
‘Is there any objection?’
‘Is she not your senior?’
‘No, sir; she is younger than I am.’
‘Her father is not a man I esteem.’
‘But she has always been so good!’ Then the Duke was again silent. ‘Have you not heard that, sir?’
‘I think I have.’
‘Is not that a great deal?’
‘A very great deal. To be good must of all qualities be the best. She is very beautiful.’
‘I think so, sir. Of course she has no money.’
‘It is not needed. It is not needed. I have no objection to make. If you are sure of your own mind —’
‘I am quite sure of that, sir.’
‘Then I will raise no objection. Lady Mabel Grex! Her father, I fear, is not a worthy man. I hear that he is a gambler.’
‘He is so poor!’
‘That makes it worse, Silverbridge. A man who gambles because he has money that he can afford to lose is, to my thinking, a fool. But he who gambles because he has none, is — well, let us hope the best of him. You may give her my love.’
‘She has not accepted me.’
‘But should she do so, you may.’
‘She almost rejected me. But I am not sure that she was in earnest, and I mean to try again.’ Just at that moment the door was opened and Major Tifto walked into the room.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14