Gerald told his story, standing bolt upright, and looking his father full in the face as he told it. ‘You lost three thousand four hundred pounds at one sitting to Lord Percival — at cards!’
‘In Lord Nidderdale’s house.’
‘Yes, sir. Nidderdale wasn’t playing. It wasn’t his fault.’
‘Who were playing?’
‘Percival, and Dolly Longstaff, and Jack Hinde — and I. Popplecourt was playing at first.’
‘Yes, sir. But he went away when he began to lose.’
‘Three thousand four hundred pounds! How old are you?’
‘I am just twenty-one.’
‘You are beginning the world well, Gerald! What is the engagement which Silverbridge has made with Lord Percival?’
‘To pay him the money at the end of next month.’
‘What had Silverbridge to do with it?’
‘Nothing, sir. I wrote to Silverbridge because I didn’t know what to do. I knew he would stand me.’
‘Who is to stand either of you if you go on thus I do not know.’ To this Gerald of course made no reply, but an idea came across his mind that he knew who would stand both himself and his brother. ‘How did Silverbridge mean to get the money?’
‘He said he would ask you. But I thought that I ought to tell you.’
‘Is that all?’
‘All what, sir?’
‘Are there other debts?’ To this Gerald made no reply. ‘Other gambling debts?’
‘No, sir; — not a shilling of that kind. I have never played before.’
‘Does it ever occur to you that going on at that rate you may very soon lose all the fortune that will ever come to you? You were not yet of age and you lost three thousand four hundred pounds at cards to a man whom you probably knew to be a professed gambler!’ Then the Duke seemed to wait for a reply, but poor Gerald had not a word to say. ‘Can you explain to me what benefit you proposed to yourself when you played for such stakes as that?’
‘I hoped to win back what I had lost.’
‘Facilis descensus Averni!’ said the Duke, shaking his head. ‘Noctes atque dies patet atri jauna Ditis.’ No doubt, he thought, that as his son was at Oxford, admonitions in Latin would serve him better than in his native tongue. But Gerald, when he heard the grand hexameter rolled out in his father’s grandest tone, entertained a comfortable feeling that the worst of the interview was over. ‘Win back what you had lost! Do you think that that is the common fortune of young gamblers when they fall among those who are more experienced than themselves?’
‘One goes on, sir, without reflecting.’
‘Go on without reflecting! Yes, and where to? where to? Oh, Gerald, where to? Whither will such progress without reflection take you?’ ‘He means — to the devil,’ said the lad inwardly to himself, without moving his lips. ‘There is but one goal for such going on as that. I can pay three thousand four hundred pounds to you certainly. I think it hard that I should have to do so; but I can do it — and I will do it.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ murmured Gerald.
‘But how can I wash your young mind clean from the foul stain which has already defiled it? Why did you sit down to play? Was it to win the money which these men had in their pockets?’
‘It cannot be that a rational being should consent to risk the money he has himself — to risk even the money which he has not himself — without a desire to win that which as yet belongs to his opponents. You desired to win.’
‘I suppose I did hope to win.’
‘And why? Why did you want to extract their property from their pockets, and to put it into your own? That the footpad on the road should have such desire when, with his pistol, he stops the traveller on his journey we all understand. And we know what to think of the footpad — and what we must do to him. He is a poor creature, who from his youth upwards has had no good thing done for him, uneducated, an outcast, whom we should pity more than we despise him. We take him as a pest which we cannot endure, and lock him up where he can harm us no more. On my word, Gerald, I think that the so-called gentleman who sits down with the deliberate intention of extracting money from the pockets of his antagonists, who lays out for himself that way of repairing the shortcomings of fortune, who looks to that resource as an aid to his means — -is worse, much worse, than the public robber! He is meaner, more cowardly, and has I think in his bosom less of the feeling of an honest man. And he probably has been educated — as you have been. He calls himself a gentleman. He should know black from white. It is considered terrible to cheat at cards.’
‘There was nothing of that, sir.’
‘The man who plays and cheats has fallen low indeed.
‘I understand that, sir.’
‘He who plays that he may make an income, but does not cheat, has fallen nearly as low. Do you ever think what money is?’
The Duke paused so long, collecting his own thoughts and thinking of his own words, that Gerald found himself obliged to answer. ‘Cheques, and sovereigns, and bank-notes,’ he replied with much hesitation.
‘Money is the reward of labour,’ said the Duke, ‘or rather, in the shape it reaches you, it is your representation of that reward. You may earn it yourself, or, as is, I am afraid, more likely to be the case with you, you may possess it honestly as prepared for you by the labour of others who have stored it up for you. But it is a commodity of which you are bound to see that the source is not only clean but noble. You would not let Lord Percival give you money.’
‘He wouldn’t do that, sir, I am sure.’
‘Nor would you take it. There is nothing so comfortable as money — but nothing so defiling if it be come by unworthily; nothing so comfortable, but nothing so noxious if the mind be allowed to dwell upon it constantly. If a man have enough, let him spend it freely. If he wants it, let him earn it honestly. Let him do something for it, so that the man who pays it to him may get its value. But to think that it may be got by gambling, to hope to live after that fashion, to sit down with your fingers almost in your neighbours’ pockets, with your eye on his purse, trusting that you may know better than he some studied calculations as to the pips concealed in your hands, praying to the only god you worship that some special card may be vouchsafed to you — that I say is to have left far, far behind you, all nobility, all gentleness, all manhood! Write me down Lord Percival’s address and I will send him the money.
Then the Duke wrote a cheque for the money claimed and sent it with a note as follows:
‘The Duke of Omnium presents his compliments to Lord Percival. The Duke has been informed by Lord Gerald Palliser that Lord Percival has won at cards from him the sum of three thousand four hundred pounds. The Duke now encloses a cheque for that amount, and requests that the document which Lord Percival holds from Lord Silverbridge as security for that amount, may be returned to Lord Gerald.’
Let the noble gambler have his prey. He was little solicitous about that. If he could only operate on the mind of this son — so operate on the minds of both his sons, as to make them see the foolishness of folly, the ugliness of what is mean, the squalor and dirt of ignoble pursuits, then he could easily pardon past faults. If it were half his wealth what would it signify if he could teach his children to accept those lessons without which no man can live as a gentleman, let his rank be the highest known, let his wealth be as the sands, his fashion unrivalled?
The word or two which his daughter had said to him, declaring that she still took pride in her lover’s love, and then this new misfortune on Gerald’s part, upset him greatly. He almost sickened of politics when he thought of his domestic bereavement and his domestic misfortunes. How completely had he failed to indoctrinate his children with the ideas by which his own mind was fortified and controlled! Nothing was so base to him as a gambler, and they had both commenced their career by gambling. From their young boyhood nothing had seemed so desirable to him as that they should be accustomed by early training to devote themselves to the service of their country. He saw other young noblemen around him who at eighteen were known as debaters at their colleges, or at twenty-five were already deep in politics, social science, and educational projects. What good would all his wealth or all his position do for his children if their minds could rise to nothing beyond the shooting of deer and the hunting of foxes? There was young Lord Buttercup, the son of the Earl of Woolantallow, only a few months older than Silverbridge — who was already a junior lord, and as constant at his office, or during the Session on the Treasury Bench, as though there were not a pack of hounds or a card-table in Great Britain! Lord Buttercup, too, had already written an article in ‘The Fortnightly’ on the subject of Turkish finance. How long would it be before Silverbridge would write an article, or Gerald sign his name in the service of the public?
And then those proposed marriages — as to which he was beginning to know that his children would be too strong for him! Anxious as he was that both his sons should be permeated by liberal politics, studious as he had ever been to teach them that the highest duty of those high in rank was to use their authority to elevate those beneath them, still he was hardly less anxious to make them understand that their second duty required them to maintain their own position. It was by feeling this, second duty — by feeling it and performing it — that they would be enabled to perform the first. And now both Silverbridge and his girl were bent upon marriages by which they would depart out of their own order! Let Silverbridge marry whom he might, he could not be other than the heir to the honours of the family. But by his marriage he might either support or derogate from these honours. And now, having at first made a choice that was good, he had altered his mind from simple freak, captivated by a pair of bright eyes and an arch smile, and without a feeling in regard to his family, was anxious to take to his bosom the granddaughter of an American day-labourer!
And then his girl — of whose beauty he was so proud, from whose manners, and tastes, and modes of life he had expected to reap those good things, in a feminine degree, which his sons as young men seemed so little fitted to give him! By slow degrees he had been brought round to acknowledge that the young man was worthy. Tregear’s conduct had been felt by the Duke to be manly. The letter he had written was a good letter. And then he had won for himself a seat in the House of Commons. When forced to speak of him to his girl he had been driven by justice to call him worthy. But how could he serve to support and strengthen the nobility, the endurance and perpetuation of which should be the peculiar care of every Palliser?
And yet as the Duke walked about his room he felt that his opposition either to the one marriage or to the other was vain. Of course they would marry according to their wills.
That same night Gerald wrote to his brother before he went to bed, as follows:
‘DEAR SILVER — I was awfully obliged to you for sending me the I O U for that brute Percival. He only sneered when he took it, and would have said something disagreeable, but that he saw that I was in earnest. I know he did say something to Nid, only I can’t find out what. Nid is an easy-going fellow, and, as I saw, didn’t want to have a rumpus.
‘But now what do you think I’ve done? Directly I got home I told the governor all about it! As I was in the train I made up my mind that I would. I went slap at it. If there is anything that never does any good, it is craning. I did it all at one rush, just as though I was swallowing a dose of physic. I wish I could tell you all that the governor said, because it was really tip-top. What is a fellow to get by playing high — a fellow like you and me? I didn’t want any of that beast’s money. I don’t suppose he had any. But one’s dander gets up, and one doesn’t like to be done, and so it goes on. I shall cut that kind of thing altogether. You should have heard the governor spouting Latin! And then the way he sat upon Percival, without mentioning the fellow’s name! I do think it mean to set yourself to work to win money at cards — and it is awfully mean to lose more than you have got to pay.
‘Then at the end the governor said he’d send the beast a cheque for the amount. You know his way of finishing up, just like two fellows fighting — when one has awfully punished the other he goes up and shakes hands with him. He did pitch it into me — not abusing me, nor even saying a word about the money, which he at once promised to pay, but laying it on to gambling with a regular cat-o’-ninetails. And then there was an end of it. He just asked the fellow’s address and said that he would send him the money. I will say this; — I don’t think there’s a greater brick than the governor anywhere.
‘I am awfully sorry about Tregear. I can’t make out how it happened. I suppose you were too near him, and Melrose always does rush at his fences. One fellow shouldn’t be too near another fellow — only it so often happens that it can’t be helped. It’s just like anything else, if nothing comes of it then it’s all right. But if anybody comes to grief then he’s got to be pitched into. Do you remember when I nearly cut over old Sir Simon Slowbody? Didn’t I hear about it!
‘I am awfully glad you didn’t smash up Tregear altogether because of Mary. I am quite sure it is no good anybody setting up his back against that. It’s one of the things that have got to be. You always have said that he is a good fellow. If so, what’s the harm? At any rate it has got to be.
‘Your affectionate Brother, GERALD.’
‘I go up in about a week.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01