Early in October the Duke was at Matching with his daughter, and Phineas Finn and his wife were both with them. On the day after they parted at Ischl the first news respecting Prime Minister had reached him — namely, that his son’s horse had lost the race. This would not have annoyed him at all, but that the papers which he read contained some vague charge of swindling against somebody, and hinted that Lord Silverbridge had been a victim. Even this would not have troubled him — might in some sort have comforted him — were it made evident to him that his son had been closely associated with swindlers in these transactions. If it were a mere question of money, that might be settled without difficulty. Even though the sum lost might have grown out of what he might have expected into some few thousands, still he would bear it without a word, if only he could separate his boy from bad companions. Then came Mr Moreton’s letter telling him the whole.
At the meeting which took place between Silverbridge and his father’s agent at Carlton Terrace it was settled that Mr Moreton should write the letter. Silverbridge tried and found that he could not do it. He did not know how to humiliate himself sufficiently, and yet could not keep himself from making attempts to prove that according to all recognised chances his bets had been good bets.
Mr Moreton was better able to accomplish the task. He knew the Duke’s mind. A very large discretion had been left in Mr Moreton’s hands in regard to moneys which might be needed on behalf of that dangerous heir!-so large that he had been able to tell Lord Silverbridge that if the money was in truth lost according to Jockey Club rules, it should be all forthcoming on the settling-day — certainly without assistance from Messrs Comfort and Criball. The Duke had been nervously afraid of such men of business as Comfort and Criball, and from the earliest days of his son’s semi-manhood had been on his guard against them. Let any sacrifice be made so that his son might be kept clear from Comforts and Criballs. To Mr Moreton he had been very explicit. His own pecuniary resources were so great that they could bear some ravaging without serious detriment. It was for his son’s character and standing in the world, for his future respectability and dignity that his fears were so keen, and not for his own money. By one so excitable, so fond of pleasure as Lord Silverbridge, some ravaging would probably be made. Let it be met by ready money. Such had been the Duke’s instructions to his own trusted man of business, and, acting on these instructions, Mr Moreton was able to tell the heir that the money should be forthcoming.
Mr Moreton, after detailing the extent and nature of the loss, and the steps which he had decided upon taking, went on to explain the circumstances as best he could. He had made some inquiry, and felt no doubt that a gigantic swindle had been perpetrated by Major Tifto and others. The swindle had been successful. Mr Moreton had consulted certain gentlemen of high character versed in the affairs of the turf. He mentioned Mr Lupton among others — and had been assured that though the swindle was undoubted, the money had better be paid. It was thought to be impossible to connect the men who had made the bets with the perpetrators of the fraud; — and if Lord Silverbridge were to abstain from paying his bets because his own partner had ruined the animal which belonged to them jointly, the feeling would be against him rather than in his favour. In fact the Jockey Club could not sustain him in such refusal. Therefore the money would be paid. Mr Moreton, with some expression of doubt, trusted that he might be thought to have exercised a wise discretion. Then he went on to express his own opinion in regard to the lasting effect which the matter would have upon the young man. ‘I think,’ said he, ‘that his Lordship is heartily sickened of racing, and that he will never return to it.’
The Duke of course was very wretched when these tidings first reached him. Though he was a rich man, and of all men the least careful of his riches, still he felt that seventy thousand pounds was a large sum of money to throw away amongst a nest of swindlers. And then it was excessively grievous to him that his son should have been mixed up with such men. Wishing to screen his son, even from his own anger, he was careful to remember the promise made that Tifto should be dismissed, was not to take effect till after this race had been run. There had been no deceit in that. But then Silverbridge had promised that he would not ‘plunge’. There are, however, promises which from their very nature may be broken without falsehood. Plunging is a doubtful word, and the path down to it, like all doubtful paths — is slippery and easy! If that assurance with which Mr Moreton ended his letter could only be made true, he could bring himself to forgive even this offence. The boy must be made to settle himself in life. The Duke resolved that his only revenge should be to press on that marriage with Mabel Grex.
At Coblenz, on their way home, the Duke and his daughter were caught up by Mr and Mrs Finn, and the matter of the young man’s losses was discussed. Phineas had heard all about it, and was loud in denunciations against Tifto, Captain Green, Gilbert Villiers, and others whose names had reached him. The money he thought should never have been paid. The Duke however declared that the money would not cause a moment’s regret, if only the whole thing could be got rid of at that cost. It had reached Finn’s ears that Tifto was already at loggerheads with his associates. There was some hope that the whole thing might be brought to light by this means. For all that the Duke cared nothing. If only Silverbridge and Tifto could for the future be kept apart, as far as he and his were concerned, good would have been done rather than harm. While they were in this way away together on the Rhine it was decided that very soon after their return to England Phineas and Mrs Finn should go down to Matching.
When the Duke arrived in London his sons were not there. Gerald had gone back to Oxford, and Silverbridge had merely left an address. Then his sister wrote him a very short letter. ‘Papa will be so glad if you will come to Matching. Do come.’ Of course he came, and presented himself some few days after the Duke’s arrival.
But he dreaded this meeting with his father which, however, let it be postponed for ever so long, must come at last. In reference to this he made a great resolution — that he would go instantly as soon as he might be sent for. When the summons came he started; but, though he was by courtesy an Earl, and by fact was not only a man but a Member of Parliament, though he was half engaged to marry one young lady and ought to have been engaged to marry another, though he had come to an age at which Pitt was a great minister and Pope a great poet, still his heart was in his boots, as a schoolboy’s might be, when he was driven up to the house at Matching.
In two minutes before he had washed the dust from his face, and hands, he was with his father. ‘I am glad to see you, Silverbridge’s aid the Duke, putting out his hand.
‘I hope to see you well, sir.’
‘Fairly well. Thank you. Travelling I think agrees with me. I miss, not my comforts, but a certain knowledge of how things are going on, which comes to us I think through our skins when we are at home. A feeling of absence pervades me. Otherwise I like it. And you — what have you been doing?’
‘Shooting a little,’ said Silverbridge, in a mooncalf tone.
‘Shooting a great deal, if what I see in the newspapers be true about Mr Reginald Dobbes and his party. I presume it is a religion to offer up hecatombs to the autumnal gods — who must surely take a keener delight in blood and slaughter than those bloodthirsty gods of old.’
‘You should talk to Gerald about that, sir.’
‘Has Gerald been so great at his sacrifices? How will that suit with Plato? What does Mr Simcox say?’
‘Of course they were all to have a holiday just at that time. But Gerald is reading. I fancy that Gerald is clever.’
‘And he is a great Nimrod?’
‘As to hunting.’
‘Nimrod I fancy got his game in any way that he could compass it. I do not doubt but that he trapped foxes.’
‘With a rifle at deer, say for four hundred yards, I would back Gerald against any man of his age in England or Scotland.’
‘As to backing, Silverbridge, do not you think we had better have done with that?’ This was hardly in a tone of reproach, with something even of banter in it; and as the question was asked the Duke was smiling. But in a moment all that sense of joyousness which the young man had felt in singing his brother’s praises was expelled. His face fell, and he stood before his father almost like a culprit. ‘We might as well have it out about his racing,’ said the Duke. ‘Something has to be said about it. You have lost an enormous sum of money.’ The Duke’s tone in saying this became terribly severe. Such at least was its sound in his son’s ears. He did not mean to be severe.
But when he did speak of that which displeased him his voice naturally assumed that tone of indignation with which in days of yore he had been wont to denounce the public extravagance of his opponents in the House of Commons. The father paused, but the son could not speak at the moment. ‘And worse than that,’ continued the Duke; ‘you have lost it in as bad company as you could have found had you picked all England through.’
‘Mr Lupton, and Sir Henry Playfair, and Lord Stirling were in the room when the bets were made.’
‘Were the gentlemen you name concerned with Major Tifto?’
‘Who can tell with whom he may be in a room? Though rooms of that kind are, I think, best avoided.’ Then the Duke paused again, but Silverbridge was now sobbing so that he could hardly speak. ‘I am sorry that you should be so grieved,’ continued the father, ‘but such delights cannot, I think, lead to much real joy.’
‘It is for you, sir,’ said the son, rubbing his eyes with the hand which supported his head.
‘My grief in the matter might soon be cured.’
‘How shall I cure it? I will do anything to cure it.’
‘Let Major Tifto and the horses go.’
‘They are gone,’ said Silverbridge energetically, jumping from his chair as he spoke. ‘I will never own a horse again, or a part of a horse. I will have nothing more to do with races. You will believe me?’
‘I will believe anything that you tell me.’
‘I won’t say I will not go to another race, because —’
‘No; no. I would not have you hamper yourself. Nor shall you bind yourself by any further promises. You have done with racing.’
‘Indeed, indeed I have, sir.’
Then the father came up to the son and put his arm round the young man’s shoulders and embraced him. ‘Of course it made me unhappy.’
‘I knew it would.’
‘But if you are cured of this evil, the money is nothing. What is all for but for you and your brother and sister? It was a large sum, but that shall not grieve me. The thing itself is so dangerous that if with that much of a loss we can escape, I will think that we have made not a bad market. Who owns the horse now?’
‘The horse shall be sold.’
‘For anything they may fetch so that we may get clear of this dirt. And the Major?’
‘I know nothing of him. I have not seen him since that day.’
‘Has he claims on you?’
‘Not a shilling. It is all the other way.’
‘Let it go then. Be quit of him, however it may be. Send a messenger so that he may understand that you have abandoned racing altogether. Mr Moreton might perhaps see him.’
That his father should forgive so readily and yet himself suffer so deeply, affected the son’s feelings so strongly that for a time he could hardly repress his sobs. ‘And now there shall not be a word more said about it,’ said the Duke suddenly.
Silverbridge in his confusion could make no answer.
‘There shall not be another word said about it,’ said the Duke again. ‘And now what do you mean to do with yourself immediately?’
‘I’ll stay here, sir, as long as you do. Finn and Warburton, and I have still a few covers to shoot.’
‘That’s a good reason for staying anywhere.’
‘I meant that I would remain while you remained, sir.’
‘That at any rate is a good reason, as far as I am concerned. But we go to Custins next week.’
‘There’s a deal of shooting to be done at Gatherum,’ said the heir.
‘You speak of it as the business of your life — on which your bread depended.’
‘One can’t expect game to be kept up if nobody goes to shoot it.’
‘Can’t one? I didn’t know. I should have thought that the less was shot the more there would be to shoot; but I am ignorant in such matters.’ Silverbridge then broke forth into a long explanation as to coverts, gamekeepers, poachers, breeding, and the expectations of the neighbourhood at large, in the middle of which he was interrupted by the Duke. ‘I am afraid, my dear boy, that I am too old to learn. But as it is so manifestly a duty, go and perform it like a man. Who will go with you?’
‘I will ask Mr Finn to be one.’
‘He will be very hard on you in the way of politics.’
‘I can answer him better than I can you, sir. Mr Lupton said he would come for a day or two. He’ll stand to me.’
After that his father stopped him as he was about to leave the room. ‘One more word, Silverbridge. Do you remember what you were saying when you walked down to the House with me from your club that night?’ Silverbridge remembered very well what he had said. He had undertaken to ask Mabel Grex to be his wife, and had received his father’s ready approval to the proposition. But at this moment he was unwilling to refer to the matter. ‘I have thought about it very much since that,’ said the Duke. ‘I may say that I have been thinking of it every day. If there were anything to tell me, you would let me know; — would you not?’
‘Then there is nothing to be told? I hope you have not changed your mind.’
Silverbridge paused a moment, trusting that he might be able to escape the making of an answer; — but the Duke evidently intended to have an answer. ‘It appeared to me, sir, that it did not seem to suit her,’ said the hardly-driven young man. He could not now say that Mabel had shown a disposition to reject his offer, because as they had been sitting by the brookside at Killancodlem, even he, with all his self-diffidence, had been forced to see what were her wishes. Her confusion, and too evident despair when she heard of the offer to the American girl, had plainly told her tale. He could not now plead to his father that Mabel Grex would refuse his offer. But his self-defence, when first he found that he had lost himself in love for the American, had been based on that idea. He had done his best to make Mabel understand him. If he had not actually offered to her, he had done the next thing to it. And he had run after her, till he was ashamed of such running. She had given him no encouragement; — and therefore he had been justified. No doubt he must have been mistaken; that he now perceived; but still he felt himself to be justified. It was impossible that he should explain all this to his father. One thing he certainly could not say — just at present. After his folly with regard to those heavy debts he could not at once risk his father’s renewed anger by proposing to him an American daughter-in-law. That must stand over, at any rate till the girl had accepted him positively. ‘I am afraid it won’t come off, sir,’ he said at last.
‘Then I am to presume that you have changed your mind?’
‘I told you when we were speaking that I was not confident.’
‘She has not —’
‘I can’t explain it all, sir — but I fear it won’t come off.’
Then the Duke, who had been sitting, got up from his chair and with his back to the fire made a final little speech. ‘We decided just now, Silverbridge, that nothing more should be said about that unpleasant racing business, and nothing more shall be said by me. But you must not be surprised if I am anxious to see you settled in life. No young man could be more bound by duty to marry early than you are. In the first place you have to repair the injury done by my inaptitude for society. You have explained to me that it is your duty to have the Barsetshire coverts properly shot, and I have acceded to your views. Surely it must be equally your duty to see your Barsetshire neighbours. And you are a young man every feature of whose character would be improved by matrimony. As far as means are concerned you are almost as free to make arrangements as though you were already head of the family.’
‘I could never bring myself to dictate to a son in regard to his choice of a wife. But I will own that when you told me that you had chosen I was much gratified. Try and think again when you are pausing amidst your sacrifices at Gatherum, whether that be possible. If it be not, still I would wish you to bear in mind what is my idea as to your duty.’ Silverbridge said that he would bear this in mind, and then escaped from the room.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14