The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 5

It is Impossible

Down at Matching Lady Mary’s life was very dull after Mrs Finn had left her. She had a horse to ride, but had no one to ride with her; she had a carriage in which to be driven, but no one to be driven with her, and no special places whither to go. Her father would walk daily for two hours, and she would accompany him when he encouraged her to do so; but she had an idea that he preferred taking his walks alone, and when they were together there was no feeling of confidence between them. There could be none on her part, as she knew that she was keeping back information which he was entitled to possess. On this matter she received two letters from Mrs Finn, in the first of which she was told that Mr Tregear intended to present himself at Matching within a few days, and was advised in the same letter not to endeavour to see her lover on that occasion; and then, in the second she was informed that this interview with her father was to be sought not at Matching but in London. From this letter there was of course some disappointment, though some feeling of relief. Had he come there she might possibly have seen him after the interview. But she would have been subjected to the immediate sternness of her father’s anger. That she would now escape. She would not be called on to meet him just when the first blow had fallen upon him. She was quite sure that he would disapprove of the thing. She was quite sure that he would be very angry. She knew that he was a peculiarly just man, and yet she thought that in this he would be unjust. Had she been called upon to sing the praises of her father she would have insisted above all things on the absolute integrity of his mind, and yet, knowing as she did that he would be opposed to her marriage with Mr Tregear, she assured herself every day and every hour that he had no right to make any such objection. The man she loved was a gentleman, and an honest man, by no means a fool, and subject to no vices. Her father had no right to demand that she should give her heart to a rich man, or to one of high rank. Rank! As for rank, she told herself that she had the most supreme contempt for it. She thought that she had seen it near enough already to be sure that it ought to have no special allurements. What was it doing for her? Simply restraining her choice among comparatively a few who seemed to her by no means best endowed of God’s creatures.

Of one thing she was very sure, that under no pressure whatsoever would she abandon her engagement to Mr Tregear. That to her had become a bond almost as holy as matrimony itself could be. She had told the man that she loved him, and after that there could be no retreat. He had kissed her, and she had returned his caress. He had told her that she was his, as his arm was round her; and she had acknowledged that it was so, that she belonged to him, and could not be taken away from him. All this was to her a compact so sacred that nothing could break it but a desire on his part to have it annulled. No other man had an idea entered into her mind that it could be pleasant to join her lot in life with his. With her it had been all new and all sacred. Love with her had that religion which nothing but freshness can give it. That freshness, that bloom, may last through a long life. But every change impairs it, and after many changes it has perished forever. There was no question with her but that she must bear her father’s anger, should he be angry; put up with his continued opposition, should he resolutely oppose her; bear all that the countesses of the world might say to her; — for it was thus that she thought of Lady Cantrip now. And retrogression was beyond her power.

She was walking with her father when she first heard of the intended trip to London. At that time she had received Mrs Finn’s first letter, but not the second. ‘I suppose you will see Silverbridge,’ she said. She knew that Frank Tregear was living with her brother.

‘I am going up on purpose to see him. He is causing me much annoyance.’

‘Is he extravagant?’

‘It is not that — at present.’ He winced even as he said this, for he had in truth suffered somewhat from demands made upon him for money; which had hurt him not so much by their amount as by their nature. Lord Silverbridge had taken upon himself to ‘own a horse or two’, very much to his father’s chagrin, and was at that moment part proprietor of an animal supposed to stand well for the Derby. The fact was not announced in the papers with his lordship’s name, but his father was aware of it, and did not like it the better because his son held the horse in partnership with a certain Major Tifto, who was well known in the sporting world.

‘What is it, papa?’

‘Of course he ought to go into Parliament.’

‘I think he wishes it himself.’

‘Yes, but how? By a piece of extreme good fortune. West Barsetshire is open to him. The two seats are vacant together. There is hardly another agricultural county in England that will return a Liberal, and I fear I am not asserting too much in saying that no other Liberal could carry the seat but one of our family.’

‘You used to sit for Silverbridge, papa.’

‘Yes, I did. In those days the county returned four Conservatives. I cannot explain it all to you, but it is his duty to contest the county on the Liberal side.’

‘But if he is a Conservative himself, papa?’ asked Lady Mary, who had some political ideas suggested to her own mind by her lover.

‘It is all rubbish. It has come from that young man Tregear, with whom he has been associating.’

‘But, papa,’ said Lady Mary, who felt that even in this matter she was bound to be firm on what was now her side of the question. ‘I suppose it is as — as — as respectable to be a Conservative as a Liberal.’

‘I don’t know that at all,’ said the Duke angrily.

‘I thought that — the two sides were —’

She was going to express an opinion that the two parties might be supposed to stand as equal in the respect of the country, when he interrupted her. ‘The Pallisers have always been Liberal. It will be a blow to me, indeed, if Silverbridge deserts his colours. I know that as yet he himself has had no deep thoughts on the subject, that unfortunately he does not give himself much to thinking, and that in this matter he is being taken over by a young man whose position in life hardly justified the great intimacy which has existed.’

This was very far from being comfortable to her, but of course she said nothing in defence of Tregear’s politics. Nor at present was she disposed to say anything to his position in life, though at some future time she might not be so silent. A few days later they were again walking together, when he spoke to her about himself. ‘I cannot bear that you should be left her alone while I am away,’ he said.

‘You will not be long gone, I suppose?’

‘Only for three of four days now.’

‘I shall not mind, papa.’

‘But very probably I may have to go to Barsetshire. Would you not be happier if you would let me write to Lady Cantrip, and tell her that you will go to her?’

‘No, papa, I think not. There are times when one feels that one ought to be almost alone. Don’t you feel that?’

‘I do not wish you to feel it, nor would you do so long if you had other people round you. With me it is different. I am an old man, and cannot look for new pleasures in society. It has been the fault of my life to be too much alone. I do not want to see my children follow me in that.’

‘It is so very short time as yet,’ said she, thinking of her mother’s death.

‘But I think that you should be with somebody — with some woman who would be kind to you. I like to see you with books, but books alone should not be sufficient at your age.’ How little, she thought, did he know of the state either of her heart or mind! ‘Do you dislike Lady Cantrip?’

‘I do not know her. I can’t say that I dislike a person whom I don’t think I ever spoke to, and never saw above once or twice. But how can I say that I like her?’ She did, however, know that Lady Cantrip was a countess all over, and would be shocked at the idea of a daughter of a Duke of Omnium marrying the younger son of a country squire. Nothing further was then said on the matter, and when the Duke went to town, Lady Mary was left quite alone, with an understanding that if he went into Barsetshire he should come back and take her with him.

He arrived at his own house in Carlton Terrace about five o’clock in the afternoon, and immediately went to his study, intending to dine and spend the evening there alone. His son had already pleaded an engagement for that afternoon, but had consented to devote the following morning to his father’s wishes. Of the other sojourner in his house the Duke had thought nothing; but the other sojourner had thought very much of the Duke. Frank Tregear was fully possessed of that courage which induces a man who knows that he must be thrown over a precipice, to choose the first possible moment for his fall. He had sounded Silverbridge about the change in his politics, and had found his friend quite determined not to go back to the family doctrine. Such being the case, the Duke’s ill-will and hardness and general severity would probably be enhanced by his interview with his son. Tregear, therefore, thinking that nothing could be got by delay, sent his name in to the Duke before he had been an hour in the house, and asked for an interview. The servant brought back word that his Grace was fatigued, but would see Mr Tregear if the matter in question was one of importance. Frank’s heart quailed for a moment, but only for a moment. He took up a pen and wrote a note.

‘MY DEAR DUKE OF OMNIUM, ‘If your Grace can spare a moment, I think you will find that what I have to say will justify the intrusion. ‘Your very faithful servant, F.O.TREGEAR’

Of course the Duke admitted him. There was but one idea on his head as to what was coming. His son had taken this way of making some communication to him respecting his political creed. Some overture or some demand was to be preferred through Tregear. If so, it was proof of a certain anxiety on the matter on his son’s part which was not displeasing to him. But he was not left long in the mistake after Tregear had entered the room. ‘Sir,’ he said, speaking quite at once, as soon as the door was closed behind him, but still speaking very slowly, looking beautiful as Apollo as he stood upright before his wished-for father-in-law —‘Sir, I have come to ask you to give me the hand of your daughter.’ The few words had been all arranged beforehand, and were now spoken without any appearance of fear or shame. No one hearing them would have imagined that an almost penniless young gentleman was asking in marriage the daughter of the richest and greatest nobleman in England.

‘The hand of my daughter!’ said the Duke, rising from his chair.

‘I know how very great is the prize,’ said Frank, ‘and how unworthy I am of it. But — as she thinks me worthy —’

‘She! What she?’

‘Lady Mary.’

‘She think you worthy!’

‘Yes, your Grace.’

‘I do not believe it.’ On hearing this, Frank simply bowed his head. ‘I beg your pardon, Mr Tregear. I do not mean to say that I do not believe you. I never gave the lie to any gentleman, and I hope I never may be driven to do so. But there must be some mistake in this.’

‘I am complying with Lady Mary’s wishes in asking your permission to enter your house as a suitor.’ The Duke stood for a moment biting his lips in silence. ‘I cannot believe it,’ he said at last. ‘I cannot bring myself to believe it. There must be some mistake. My daughter! Lady Mary Palliser!’ Again the young man bowed his head. ‘What are your pretensions?’

‘Simply her regard.’

‘Of course it is impossible. You are not so ignorant but that you must have known as much when you came to me.’

There was so much scorn in his words, and in the tone in which they were uttered, that Tregear in his turn was becoming angry. He had prepared himself to bow humbly before the great man, before the Duke, before the Croesus, before the late Prime Minister, before the man who was to be regarded as certainly the most exalted of the earth; but he had not prepared himself to be looked at as the Duke looked at him. ‘The truth, my Lord Duke, is this,’ he said, ‘that your daughter loves me, and that we are engaged to each other — as far as that engagement can be made without your sanction as her father.’

‘It cannot have been made at all,’ said the Duke.

‘I can only hope — we can both of us only hope that a little time may soften-’

‘It is out of the question. There must be an end of this altogether. You must neither see her, nor hear from her, no in any way communicate with her. It is altogether impossible. I believe, sir, that you have no means?’

‘Very little at present, Duke.’

‘How did you think you were to live? But it is altogether unnecessary to speak of such a matter as that. There are so many reasons to make this impossible, that it would be useless to discuss one as being more important than the others. Has any other one of my family known of this?’ This he added, wishing to ascertain whether Lord Silverbridge had disgraced himself by lending his hand to such a disposition of his sister.

‘Oh, yes,’ said Tregear.

‘Who has known it?’

‘The Duchess, sir. We had all her sympathy and approval.’

‘I do not believe a word of it,’ said the Duke, becoming extremely red in the face. He was forced to do now that which he had just declared that he had never done in his life — driven by the desire of his heart to acquit the wife he had lost of the terrible imprudence, worse than imprudence, of which she was now accused.

‘That is the second time, my Lord, that you have found it necessary to tell me that you have not believed direct assertions which I made to you. But, luckily for me, the two assertions are capable of the earliest and most direct proof. You will believe Lady Mary, and she will confirm me in the one and the other.’

The Duke was almost beside himself with emotion and grief. He did know — though now at this moment he was most loath to own to himself that it was so — that his dear wife had been the most imprudent of women. And he recognized in her encouragement of this most pernicious courtship — -if she had encouraged it — -a repetition of that romantic folly by which she had so nearly brought herself to shipwreck her own early life. If it had been so — -even whether it had been so or not — he had been wrong to tell the man that he did not believe him. And the man had rebuked him with dignity. ‘At any rate it is impossible,’ he repeated.

‘I cannot allow that it is impossible.’

‘That is for me to judge, sir.’

‘I trust that you will excuse me when I say that I also must hold myself to be in some degree a judge in the matter. If you were in my place, you would feel —’

‘I could not possibly be in your place.’

‘If your Grace were in my place you would feel that as long as you were assured by the young lady that your affection was valued by her you would not be deterred by the opposition of her father. That you should yield to me, of course, I do not expect; that Lady Mary should be persistent in her present feelings when she knows your mind, perhaps I have no right to hope. But should she be so persistent as to make you feel that her happiness depends, as mine does, on our marriage, then I shall believe that you will yield at last.’

‘Never!’ said the Duke. ‘Never! I shall never believe that my daughter’s happiness can be assured by a step which I should regard as disgraceful to her.’

‘Disgraceful is a violent word, my Lord.’

‘It is the only word that will express my meaning.’

‘And one which I must be bold enough to say you are not justified in using. Should she become my wife tomorrow, no one in England would think that she had disgraced herself. The Queen would receive her on her marriage. All your friends would hold their hands out to us — presuming that we had your good-will.’

‘But you would not have it.’

‘Her disgrace would not depend upon that, my Lord. Should your daughter so dispose herself, as to disgrace herself — which I think to be impossible — your countenance could not set her right. Nor can the withdrawal of your countenance condemn her before the world if she does that with herself which any other lady might do and remain a lady.’

The Duke, when he heard this, even in the midst of his wrath, which was very violent, and the in the midst of his anger, which was very acute, felt that he had to deal with a man — with one whom he could not put off from him into the gutter, and there leave as buried in the mud. And there came, too, a feeling upon him, which he had no time to analyse, but of which he was part aware, that this terrible indiscretion on the part of his daughter and of his late wife was less wonderful than it had at first appeared to be. But not on that account was he the less determined to make the young man feel that his parental opposition would be invincible. ‘It is quite impossible, sir. I do not think that I need say anything more.’ Then, while Tregear was meditating whether to make any reply; the Duke asked a question which had better have been left unasked. The asking of it diminished somewhat from that ducal, grand-ducal, quasi-archducal, almost Godlike superiority which he had assumed, and showed the curiosity of a mere man. ‘Has anybody else been aware of this?’ he said, still wishing to know whether he had cause for anger against Silverbridge in the matter.

‘Mrs Finn is aware of it,’ said Tregear.

‘Mrs Finn!’ exclaimed the Duke, as though he had been stung by an adder. This was the woman whom he had prayed to remain awhile with his daughter after his wife had been laid in her grave, in order that there might be someone near whom he could trust! And this very woman whom he had so trusted — whom, in his early associations with her, he had disliked and distrusted, but had taught himself both to like and to trust because his wife had loved her — this woman was the she-Pandarus who had managed matters between Tregear and his daughter! His wife had been too much subject to her influence. That he had always known. And now, in this last act of her life, she had allowed herself to be persuaded to give up her daughter by the baneful wiles of this most pernicious woman. Such were the workings of the Duke’s mind when the young man told him that Mrs Finn was acquainted with the whole affair. As the reader is aware, nothing could have been more unjust.

‘I mentioned her name,’ said Tregear, ‘because I thought she had been a friend of the family.’

‘That will do, sir. I have been greatly pained as well as surprised by what I have heard. Of the real state of the case I can form no opinion till I see my daughter. You, of course, will hold no further intercourse with her.’ He paused as though for a promise, but Tregear did not feel himself called upon to say a word in one direction or the other. ‘It will be my care that you shall not do so. Good-morning, sir.’

Tregear, who during the interview had been standing, then bowed, turned upon his heel and left the room.

The Duke seated himself, and, crossing his arms upon his chest, sat for an hour looking up at the ceiling. Why was it that, for him, such a world of misery had been prepared? What wrong had he done, of what imprudence had been guilty, that, at every turn of life, something should occur so grievous as to make him think of himself the most wretched of men? No man had ever loved his wife more dearly than he had done; and yet now, in that very excess of tenderness which her death had occasioned, he was driven to accuse her of a great sin against himself, in that she had kept from him her knowledge of this affair; — for, when he came to turn the matter over in his mind, he did believe Tregear’s statement as to her encouragement. Then, too, he had been proud of his daughter. He was a man so reticent and undemonstrative in his manner that he had never known how to make confidential friends of his children. In his sons hitherto he had not taken pride. They were gallant, well-grown, handsome boys with a certain dash of cleverness — more like their mother than their father; but they had not as yet done anything as he would have made them do it. But the girl, in the perfection of her beauty, in the quiescence of her manner, in the nature of her studies, and in the general dignity of her bearing, had seemed to be all that he had desired. And now she had engaged herself, behind his back, to the younger son of a county squire!

But his anger against Mrs Finn was hotter than the anger against anyone in his own family.

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