The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 34

Lord Popplecourt

When the reader was told that Lord Popplecourt had found Lady Cantrip very agreeable it is to be hoped that the reader was disgusted. Lord Popplecourt would certainly not have given a second thought to Lady Cantrip unless he had been specifically flattered. And why should such a man have been flattered by a woman who was in all respects his superior? The reader will understand. It had been settled by the wisdom of the elders that it would be a good thing that Lord Popplecourt should marry Lady Mary Palliser.

The mutual assent which leads to marriage should no doubt be spontaneous. Who does not feel that? Young love should speak from its first doubtful unconscious spark — a spark which any breath of air may quench or cherish — till it becomes a flame which nothing can satisfy but the union of two lovers. No one should be told to love, or bidden to marry this man or that woman. The theory of this is plain to us all, and till we have sons or daughters whom we feel imperatively obliged to control, the theory is unassailable. But the duty is so imperative! The Duke taught himself to believe that as his wife would have been thrown away on the world had she been allowed to marry Burgo Fitzgerald, so would his daughter be thrown away were she allowed to marry Mr Tregear. Therefore the theory of spontaneous love must in this case be set aside. Therefore the spark — would that it had been no more — must be quenched. Therefore there could be no union of two lovers; — but simply a prudent and perhaps a splendid marriage.

Lord Popplecourt was a man in possession of a large estate which was unencumbered. His rank in the peerage was not high, but his barony was of an old date — and, if things went well with him, something higher in rank might be open to him. He had good looks of that sort which recommend themselves to pastors and masters, to elders and betters. He had regular features. He looked as though he were steady. He was not impatient or rollicking. Silverbridge was also good-looking; — but his good looks were such as would give a pang to the hearts of anxious mothers of daughters. Tregear was the handsomest man of the three; — but then he looked as though he had not betters and did not care for his elders. Lord Popplecourt, though a very young man, had once stammered through half-a-dozen words in the House of Lords, and had been known to dine with the ‘Benevolent Funds’. Lord Silverbridge had declared him to be a fool. No one thought him to be bright. But in the eyes of the Duke — and of Lady Cantrip — he had his good qualities.

But the work was very disagreeable. It was the more hard upon Lady Cantrip because she did not believe in it. If it could be done, it would be expedient. But she felt very strongly that it could not be done. No doubt that Lady Glencora had been turned from her evil destiny; but Lady Glencora had been younger than her daughter was now, and possessed of less character. Nor was Lady Cantrip blind to the difference between a poor man with bad character, such as that Burgo had been, and a poor man with good character, such as was Tregear. Nevertheless she undertook to aid the work, and condescended to pretend to be so interested in the portrait of some common ancestor as to persuade the young man to have it photographed, in order that the bringing down of the photograph might lead to something.

He took the photograph, and Lady Cantrip said very much to him about his grandmother, who was the old lady in question. She could, she said, just remember the features of the dear old woman. She was not habitually a hypocrite, and she hated herself for what she was doing, and yet her object was simply good — to bring together two young people who might advantageously marry each other. The mere talking about the old woman would be of no service. She longed to bring out the offer plainly, and say, ‘There is Lady Mary Palliser. Don’t you think she’d make a good wife for you?’ But she could not, as yet, bring herself to be so indelicately plain. ‘You haven’t seen the Duke since?’ she asked.

‘He spoke to me only yesterday in the House. I like the Duke.’

‘If I may be allowed to say so, it would be to your advantage that he should like you; — that is, if you mean to take a part in politics.’

‘I suppose I shall,’ said Popplecourt. ‘There isn’t much else to do.’

‘You don’t go to races.’ He shook his head. ‘I am glad of that,’ said Lady Cantrip. ‘Nothing so bad as the turf. I fear Lord Silverbridge is devoting himself to the turf.’

‘I don’t think it can be good for any man to have much to do with Major Tifto. I suppose Silverbridge knows what he is about.’

Here was an opportunity which might have been used. It would have been so easy for her to glide from the imperfections of the brother to the perfections of the sister. But she could not bring herself to do it quite at once. She approached the matter however as nearly as she could without making her grand proposition. She shook her head sadly in reference to Silverbridge, and then spoke of the Duke. ‘His father is so anxious about him.’

‘I dare say.’

‘I don’t know any man who is more painfully anxious about his children. He feels the responsibility so much since his wife’s death. There is Lady Mary.’

‘She’s all right, I should say.’

‘All right! Oh yes. But when a girl is possessed of so many things — rank, beauty, intelligence, large fortune — ’

‘Will Lady Mary have much?’

‘A large portion of her mother’s money, I should say. When all these things are joined together, a father of course feels most anxious as to their disposal.’

‘I suppose she is clever.’

‘Very clever,’ said Lady Cantrip.

‘I think a girl may be too clever, you know,’ said Lord Popplecourt.

‘Perhaps she may. But I know more who are too foolish. I am so much obliged to you for the photograph.’

‘Don’t mention it.’

‘I really did mean that you should send a man down.’

On that occasion the two young people did not see each other. Lady Mary did not come down, and Lady Cantrip lacked the courage to send for her. As it was, might it not be possible that the young man should be induced to make himself agreeable to the young lady without any further explanation? But love-making between young people cannot well take place unless they be brought together. There was a difficulty in bringing them together at Richmond. The Duke had indeed spoken of meeting Lord Popplecourt at dinner there; — but this was to have followed the proposition which Lady Cantrip should make to him. She could not yet make the proposition, and therefore she hardly knew how to arrange the dinner. She was obliged at last to let the wished-for lover go away without arranging anything. When the Duke should have settled his autumn plans, then an attempt must be made to induce Lord Popplecourt to travel in the same direction.

That evening Lady Cantrip said a few words to Mary respecting the proposed suitor. ‘There is nothing I have such a horror of as gambling.’

‘It is dreadful.’

‘I am very glad to think that Nidderdale does not do anything of that sort.’ It was perhaps on the cards that Nidderdale should do things of which she knew nothing. ‘I hope Silverbridge does not bet.’

‘I don’t think he does.’

‘There’s Lord Popplecout — quite a young man — with everything at his own disposal, and a very large estate. Think of the evil he might do if he given that way.’

‘Does he gamble?’

‘Not at all. It must be such a comfort to his mother.’

‘He looks to me as though he never would do anything,’ said Lady Mary. Then the subject was dropped.

It was a week after this, towards the end of July, that the Duke wrote a line to Lady Cantrip, apologising for what he had done, but explaining that he had asked Lord Popplecourt to dine at The Horns on a certain Sunday. He had, he said, been assured by Lord Cantrip that such an arrangement would be quite convenient. It was clear from his letter that he was much in earnest. Of course there was no reason why the dinner should not be eaten. Only the specialty of the invitation to Lord Popplecourt must not be so glaring that he himself should be struck by the strangeness of it. There must be a little party made up. Lord Nidderdale and his wife were therefore bidden to come down, and Silverbridge, who at first consented rather unwillingly — and Lady Mabel Grex, as to whom the Duke had made a special request that she might be asked. This last invitation was sent express from Lady Mary, and included Miss Cass. So the party was made up. The careful reader will perceive that there were to be ten of them.

‘Isn’t it odd papa wanting to have Lady Mabel,’ Mary said to Lady Cantrip.

‘Does he not know her, my dear?’

‘He hardly ever spoke to her. I’ll tell you what; I expect Silverbridge is going to marry her.’

‘Why shouldn’t he?’

‘I don’t know why he shouldn’t. She is very beautiful, and very clever. But if so, papa must know all about it. It does seem odd that papa of all people should turn match-maker, or even that he should think of it.’

‘So much is thrown upon him now,’ said Lady Cantrip.

Lady Mabel was surprised by the invitation, but she was not slow to accept it. ‘Papa will be here and will be so glad to meet you.’ Lady Mary had said. Why should the Duke of Omnium wish to meet her? ‘Silverbridge will be there too.’ Mary had gone on to say. ‘It is just a family party. Papa, you know, is not going anywhere; nor am I.’ By all this Lady Mabel’s thoughts were much stirred, and her bosom somewhat moved. And Silverbridge was also moved by it. Of course he could not but remember that he had pledged himself to his father to ask Lady Mabel to be his wife. He had faltered since. She had been, he thought, unkind to him, or at any rate indifferent. He had surely said enough to her to make her know what he meant; and yet she had taken no trouble to meet him half way. And then Isabel Boncassen had intervened. Now he was asked to dinner in a most unusual manner!

Of all the guests invited Lord Popplecourt was perhaps the least disturbed. He was quite alive to the honour of being noticed by the Duke of Omnium, and alive also to the flattering courtesy shown to him by Lady Cantrip. But justice would not be done him unless it were acknowledged that he had as yet flattered himself with no hopes in regard to Lady Mary Palliser. He, when he prepared himself for his journey down to Richmond, thought much more of the Duke than of the Duke’s daughter.

‘Oh yes, I can drive you down if you like that kind of thing,’ Silverbridge said to him on the Saturday evening.

‘And bring me back?’

‘If you will come when I am coming. I hate waiting for a fellow.’

‘Suppose we leave at half-past ten.’

‘I won’t fix any time; but if we can’t make it suit there’ll be the governor’s carriage.’

‘Will the Duke go down in his own carriage?’

‘I suppose so. it’s quicker and less trouble than the railway.’ Then Lord Popplecourt reflected that he would certainly come back with the Duke if he could so manage it, and there floated before his eyes visions of under-secretaryships, all which might own their origin to this proposed drive from Richmond.

At six o’clock on the Sunday evening Silverbridge called for Lord Popplecourt. ‘Upon my word,’ said he, ‘I didn’t ever expect to see you in my cab.’

‘Why not me especially?’

‘Because you’re not one of our lot.’

‘You’d sooner have Tifto.’

‘No, I wouldn’t. Tifto is not all a pleasant companion, though he understands horses. You’re going in for heavy politics, I suppose.’

‘Not particularly heavy.’

‘If not, why on earth does the governor take you up? You won’t mind my smoking I dare say.’ After this there was no conversation between them.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01