Lord Silverbridge remained in the Brake country till a few days before the meeting of Parliament, and had he been left to himself he would have had another week in the country and might probably have overstayed the opening day; but he had not been left to himself. In the last week in January an important despatch reached his hands, from no less important person than Sir Timothy Beeswax, suggesting to him that he should undertake the duty of seconding the address in the House of Commons. When the proposition first reached him it made his hair stand on end. He had never yet risen to his feet in the House. He had spoken at those election meetings in Cornwall, and had found it easy enough. After the first or second time he had thought it good fun. But he knew that standing up in the House of Commons would be different from that. Then there would be the dress! ‘I should so hate to fig myself out and look like a guy,’ he said to Tregear, to whom of course he confided the offer that was made to him. Tregear was very anxious that he should accept it. ‘A man should never refuse anything of that kind which comes his way,’ Tregear said.
‘It is only because I am the governor’s son,’ Silverbridge pleaded.
‘Partly so perhaps. But if it be altogether so, what of that? Take the goods the gods provide you. Of course all these things which our ambition covets are easier to Duke’s sons than to others. But not on that account should a Duke’s son refuse them. A man when he sees a rung vacant on the ladder should always put his foot there.’
‘I’ll tell you what,’ said Silverbridge. ‘If I thought this was all fair sailing I’d do it. I should feel certain that I should come a cropper, but still I’d try it. As you say, a fellow should try. But it’s all meant as a blow at the governor. Old Beeswax thinks that if he can get me up to swear that he and his crew are real first-chop hands, that will hit the governor hard. It’s as much as saying to the governor — “This chap belongs to me, not to you.” That’s a thing I won’t go in for.’ Then Tregear counselled him to write to his father for advice, and at the same time ask Sir Timothy to allow him a day or two for consideration. This counsel he took. His letter reached his father two days before he left Matching. In answer to it there came first a telegram begging Silverbridge to be in London on the Monday, and then a letter, in which the Duke expressed himself as being anxious to see his son before giving a final answer to the question. Thus it was that Silverbridge had been taken away from his hunting.
Isabel Boncassen, however, was now in London, and from her it was possible that he might find consolation. He had written to her soon after reaching Harrington, telling her that he had had it all out with the governor. ‘There is a good deal that I can only tell you when I see you,’ he said. Then he assured her with many lover’s protestations that he was and always would be till death altogether her own most loving S. To this he had received an answer by return of post. She would be delighted to see him up in town — as would her father and mother. They had now got a comfortable house in Brook Street. And then she signed herself his sincere friend, Isabel. Silverbridge thought that it was cold, and remembered certain scraps of another feminine handwriting in which more passion was expressed. Perhaps this was the way with American young ladies when they were in love.
‘Yes,’ said the Duke, ‘I am glad that you have come up at once, as Sir Timothy should have his answer without further delay.’
‘But what shall I say?’
The Duke, though he had already considered the matter very seriously, nevertheless took a few minutes to consider it again. ‘The offer,’ said he, ‘must be acknowledged as very flattering.’
‘But the circumstances are not usual.’
‘It cannot often be the case that a minister should ask the son of his keenest political opponent to render him such a service. But, however, we will put that aside.’
‘Not quite, sir.’
‘For the present we will put that on one side. Not looking at the party which you may be called upon to support, having for the moment no regard to this or that line in politics, there is no opening to the real duties of parliamentary life which I would sooner see accorded to you than this.’
‘But if I were to break down?’ Talking to his father he could not quite venture to ask what might happen if he were to ‘come a cropper’.
‘None but the brave deserve the fair,’ said the Duke slapping his hands upon the table. ‘Why, if “We fail, we fail! But screw your courage to the sticking place, And we’ll not fail.” What high point would ever be reached if caution such as that were allowed to prevail? What young men have done before cannot you do? I have no doubt of your capacity. None.’
‘Haven’t you, sir,’ said Silverbridge, considerably gratified — and also surprised.
‘None in the least. But, perhaps, some of your diligence.’
‘I could learn it by heart, sir — if you mean that.’
‘But I don’t mean that; or rather I mean much more than that. You have first to realise in your mind the thing to be said, and then the words in which you should say it, before you come to learning by heart.’
‘Some of them I suppose would tell me what to say.’
‘No doubt with your inexperience it would be unfit that you should be left entirely to yourself. But I would wish you to know — perhaps I should say to feel, that the sentiments expressed by you were just.’
‘I should have to praise Sir Timothy.’
‘Not that necessarily. But you would have to advocate that course in Parliament which Sir Timothy and his friends have taken and propose to take.’
‘But I hate him like poison.’
‘There need be no personal feeling in the matter. I remember that when I moved the address in your house Mr Mildmay was Prime Minister — a man for whom my regard and esteem was unbounded — who had been in political matters the preceptor of my youth, whom as a patriotic statesman I almost worshipped, whom I now remember as a man whose departure from the arena of politics left the country very destitute. No one has sprung up since like him — or hardly second to him. But in speaking on so large a subject as the policy of a party, I thought it beneath me to eulogise a man. The same policy reversed may keep you silent respecting Sir Timothy.’
‘I needn’t of course say what I think about him.’
‘I suppose you do agree with Sir Timothy as to his general policy? On no other condition can you undertake such a duty.’
‘Of course I have voted with him.’
‘So I have observed — not so regularly perhaps as Mr Roby would have desired.’ Mr Roby was the Conservative whip.
‘And I suppose the people at Silverbridge expect me to support him.’
‘I hardly know how that may be. They used to be contented with more poor services. No doubt they feel they have changed for the better.’
‘You shouldn’t say that, sir.’
‘I am bound to suppose that they think so, because when the matter was left in their own hands they at once elected a Conservative. You need not fear that you will offend them by seconding the address. They will probably feel proud to see their young member brought forward on such an occasion; as I shall be proud to see my son.’
‘You would if it were on the other side, sir.’
‘Yes, Silverbridge, yes; I should be very proud if it were on the other side. But there is a useful old adage which bids us not cry for spilt milk. You have a right to your opinions, though perhaps I may think that in adopting what I must call new opinions you were a little precipitate. We cannot act together in politics. But not on the less on that account do I wish to see you take an active and useful part on that side to which you have attached yourself.’ As he said this he rose from his seat and spoke with emphasis, as though he were addressing some imaginary Speaker or a house of legislators around. ‘I shall be proud to hear you second the address. If you do it as gracefully and fitly as I am sure you may if you will give yourself the trouble, I shall hear you do it with infinite satisfaction, even though I shall feel at the same time anxious to answer all your arguments and to disprove your assertions. I should be listening no doubt to my opponent; — but I should be proud to feel that I was listening to my son. My advice to you is to do as Sir Timothy has asked you.’
‘He is such a beast, sir,’ said Silverbridge.
‘Pray do not speak in that way on matters so serious.’
‘I do not think you understand it, sir.’
‘Perhaps not. Can you enlighten me?’
‘I believe he has done this only to annoy you.’ The Duke, who had again seated himself, and was leaning back in his chair, raised himself up, placed his hands on the table before him, and looked his son hard in the face. The idea which Silverbridge had just expressed had certainly occurred to himself. He remembered well all the circumstances of the time when he and Sir Timothy Beeswax had been members of the same government — and he remembered how animosities had grown, and how treacherous he had thought the man. From the moment in which he had read the minister’s letter to the young member, he had felt that the offer had too probably come from a desire to make the political separation between himself and his son complete. But he had thought that in counselling his son he was bound to ignore such a feeling; and it certainly had not occurred to him that Silverbridge would have been astute enough to perceive the same thing.
‘What makes you fancy that?’ said the Duke, striving to conceal by his manner, but not altogether successful in concealing, the gratification he certainly felt.
‘Well, sir, I am not sure that I can explain it. Of course it is putting you in a different boat from me.’
‘You have already chosen your boat.’
‘Perhaps he thinks I may get out again. I dislike the skipper so much, that I am not sure that I shall not.’
‘Oh, Silverbridge — that is such a fault! So much is included in that which is unstatesmanlike, unpatriotic, almost dishonest! Do you mean to say that you would be this or that in politics according to your personal liking for an individual?’
‘When you don’t trust the leader, you can’t believe very firmly in the followers,’ said Silverbridge doggedly. ‘I won’t say, sir, what I may do. Though I daresay that what I think is not of much account, I do think a good deal about it.’
‘I am glad of that.’
‘And as I think it not at all improbable that I may go back again, if you don’t mind it, I will refuse.’ Of course after that the Duke had no further arguments to use in favour of Sir Timothy’s proposition.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14