The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 9

‘In Media Res’

Perhaps the method of rushing at once ‘in media res’ is, of all the ways of beginning a story, or a separate branch of a story, the least objectionable. The reader is made to think that the gold lies so near the surface that he will be required to take very little trouble in digging for it. And the writer is enabled — at any rate for a time, and till his neck has become, as it were, warm to the collar — to throw off from him the difficulties and dangers, the tedium and prolixity, of description. This rushing ‘in media res’ has doubtless the charm of ease. ‘Certainly when I threw her from the garret window to the stony pavement below, I did not anticipate that she would fall so far without injury to life or limb.’ When a story has been begun after this fashion, without any prelude, without description of the garret or of the pavement, or of the lady thrown, or of the speaker, a great amount of trouble seems to have been saved. The mind of the reader fills up the blanks — if erroneously, still satisfactorily. He knows, at least, that the heroine has encountered a terrible danger, and has escaped from it with almost incredible good fortune, that the demon of the piece is a bold demon, not ashamed to speak of his own iniquity, and that the heroine and the demon are so far united that they have been in a garret together. But there is the drawback on the system — that it is almost impossible to avoid the necessity of doing, sooner or later, that which would naturally be done at first. It answers, perhaps, for a half-a-dozen chapters; — and to carry the reader pleasantly for half-a-dozen chapters is a great matter!-but after that a certain nebulous darkness gradually seems to envelope the characters and the incidents. ‘Is all this going on in the country, or is it in town — or perhaps in the Colonies? How old was she? Was she tall? Is she fair? Is she heroine-like in her form and gait? And, after all, how high was the garret window? I have always found that the details would insist on being told at last, and that by rushing ‘in media res’ I was simply presenting the cart before the horse. But as readers like the cart the best, I will do it once again — trying it only for a branch of my story — and will endeavour to let as little as possible of the horse be seen afterwards.

‘And so poor Frank has been turned out of heaven?’ said Lady Mabel Grex to young Lord Silverbridge.

‘Who told you that? I have said nothing to anybody.’

‘Of course he told me himself,’ said the young beauty. I am aware that, in the word beauty, and perhaps, also, the word young, a little bit of the horse appearing; and I am already sure that I shall have to show his head and neck, even if not his very tail. ‘Poor Frank! Did you hear it all?’

‘I heard nothing, Lady Mab, and know nothing.’

‘You know that your awful governor won’t let him stay any longer in Carlton Terrace?’

‘Yes, I know that.’

‘And why not?’

‘Would Lord Grex allow Percival to have his friends living here?’ Lord Grex was Lady Mabel’s father, Lord Percival was the Earl’s son; — and the Earl lived in Belgrave Square. All these little bits of the horse.

‘Certainly not. In the first place, I am here.’

‘That makes a difference, certainly.’

‘Of course it makes a difference. They would be wanting to make love to me.’

‘No doubt. I should, I know.’

‘And therefore it wouldn’t do for you to live here, and then papa is living here himself. And then the permission never has been given. I suppose Frank did not go there without the Duke knowing it.’

‘I daresay that I mentioned it.’

‘You might as well tell me about it. We are cousins, you know.’ Frank Tregear, through his mother’s family, was second cousin to Lady Mabel; as was also Lord Silverbridge, one of the Grexes having, at some remote period, married a Palliser. This is another bit of the horse.

‘The governor merely seemed to think that he would like to have his own house to himself — like other people. What an ass Tregear was to say anything to you about it.’

‘I don’t think he was an ass at all. Of course he had to tell us that he was changing his residence. He says that he is going to take a back bedroom somewhere near the Seven Dials.’

‘He has got very nice rooms in Duke Street.’

‘Have you seen him, then?’

‘Of course I have.’

‘Poor fellow! I wish he had a little money; he is so nice. And now, Lord Silverbridge, do you mean to say that there is something in the wind about Lady Mary?’

‘If there were I should not talk about it,’ said Lord Silverbridge.

‘You are a very innocent young gentleman.’

‘And you are a very interesting young lady.’

‘You ought to think me so, for I interest myself very much about you. Was the Duke very angry about your not standing for the county?’

‘He was vexed.’

‘I do think it is so odd that a man should be expected to be this or that in politics because his father happened to be so before him! I don’t understand how he should expect that you should remain with a party so utterly snobbish and down in the world as the Radicals. Everybody that is worth anything is leaving them.’

‘He has not left them.’

‘No, I don’t suppose he could; but you have.’

‘I never belonged to them, Lady Mab.’

‘And never will, I hope. I always told papa that you would certainly be one of us.’ All this took place in the drawing-room of Lord Grex’s house. There was no Lady Grex alive, but there lived with the Earl, a certain elderly lady, reported in some distant way a cousin of the family, named Miss Cassewary, who in the matter of looking after Lady Mab, did what was supposed to be absolutely necessary. She now entered the room with her bonnet on, having just returned from church. ‘What was the text?’ asked Lady Mab at once.

‘If you had gone to church, as you ought to have done, my dear, you would have heard it.’

‘But as I didn’t?’

‘I don’t think the text alone will do you any good.’

‘And probably you forget it.’

‘No, I don’t, my dear. How do you do, Lord Silverbridge?’

‘He is a Conservative, Miss Cass.’

‘Of course he is. I am quite sure that a young nobleman of so much taste and intellect would take the better side.’

‘You forget that all you are saying is against my father and my family, Miss Cassewary.’

‘I dare say it was different when your father was a young man. And your father, too, was not very long since, at the head of a government which contained many Conservatives. I don’t look upon your father as a Radical, though perhaps I should not be justified in calling him a Conservative.’

‘Well; certainly not, I think.’

‘But now it is necessary that all noblemen in England should rally to the defence of their order.’ Miss Cassewary was a great politician, and was one of those who are always foreseeing the ruin of their country. ‘My dear, I will go up and take my bonnet off. Perhaps you will have tea when I come down.’

‘Don’t you go,’ said Lady Mabel, when Silverbridge got up to take his departure.

‘I always do when tea comes.’

‘But you are going to dine here?’

‘Not that I know of. In the first place, nobody has asked me. In the second place, I am engaged. Thirdly, I don’t care about having to talk politics to Miss Cass; and fourthly, I hate family dinners on Sunday.’

‘In the first place, I ask you. Secondly, I know you are going to dine with Frank Tregear, at the club. Thirdly, I want you to talk to me, and not to Miss Cass. And, fourthly, you are an uncivil young — young — young — I should say cub, if I dared, to tell me that you don’t like dining with me any day of the week.’

‘Of course you know what I mean is, that I don’t like troubling your father.’

‘Leave that to me. I shall tell him you are coming, and Frank too. Of course you can bring him. Then he can talk to me when papa goes down to his club, and you can arrange your politics with Miss Cass.’ So it was settled, and at eight o’clock Lord Silverbridge reappeared in Belgrave Square with Frank Tregear.

Earl Grex was a nobleman of a very ancient family, the Grexes having held the parish of Grex, in Yorkshire, from some time long prior to the Conquest. In saying all this, I am, I know, allowing the horse to appear wholesale; — but I find that he cannot be kept out. I may as well go on to say that the present Earl was better known at Newmarket and the Beaufort — where he spent a large part of his life in playing whist — than in the House of Lords. He was a grey-haired, handsome, worn-out old man, who through a long life of pleasure had greatly impaired a fortune, which, for an earl, had never been magnificent, and who now strove hard, but not always successfully, to remedy that evil by gambling. As he could no longer eat and drink as he used to do, and as he cared no longer for the light that lies in a lady’s eye, there was not much left to him but cards and racing. Nevertheless he was a handsome old man, of polished manners, when he chose to use them; a staunch Conservative and much regarded by his party, for whom in his early life he had done some work in the House of Commons.

‘Silverbridge is all very well,’ he had said; ‘but I don’t see why that young Tregear is to dine here every night of his life.’

‘This is the second time since he has been up in town. Papa.’

‘He was here last week, I know.’

‘Silverbridge wouldn’t come without him.’

‘That’s d-d nonsense,’ said the Earl. Miss Cassewary gave a start — not, we may presume, because she was shocked, for she could not be much shocked, having heard the same word from the same lips very often; but she thought it right always to enter a protest. Then the two young men were announced.

Frank Tregear, having been known by the family as a boy, was Frank to all of them — as was Lady Mabel, Mabel to him, somewhat to the disgust of the father and not altogether with the approbation of Miss Cass. But Lady Mabel had declared that she would not be guilty of the folly of changing old habits. Silverbridge, being Silverbridge to all his own people, hardly seemed to have a Christian name; — his godfathers and godmothers had indeed called him Plantagenet; — but having only become acquainted with the family since his Oxford days he was Lord Silverbridge to Lady Mabel. Lady Mabel had not as yet become Mabel to him, but, as by her very intimate friends she was called Mab, had allowed herself to be addressed by him as Lady Mab. There was thus between them all considerable intimacy.

‘I’m deuced glad to hear it,’ said the Earl when dinner was announced. For although he could not eat much, Lord Grex was always impatient when the time of eating was at hand. Then he walked down alone. Lord Silverbridge followed with his daughter, and Frank Tregear gave his arm to Miss Cassewary. ‘If that woman can’t clear her soup better than that, she might as well go to the d-,’ said the Earl; — upon which remark no one in the company made any observation. As there were two men-servants in the room when it was made the cook probably had the advantage of it. It may be almost unnecessary to add that though the Earl had polished manners for certain occasions he would sometimes throw them off in the bosom of his own family.

‘My Lord,’ said Miss Cassewary — she always called him ‘My Lord’— ‘Lord Silverbridge is going to stand for the Duke’s borough in the conservative interest.’

‘I didn’t know the Duke had a borough.’

‘He had one till he thought it proper to give it up,’ said the son, taking his father’s part.

‘And you are going to pay him off for what he has done by standing against him. It’s just the sort of thing a son to do in these days. If I had a borough Percival would go down and make radical speeches there.’

‘There isn’t a better Conservative in England than Percival,’ said Lady Mabel, bridling up.

‘Nor a worse son,’ said the father. ‘I believe he would do anything he could lay his hand on to oppose me.’ During the past week there had been some little difference of opinion between the father and the son as to the signing of a deed.

‘My father does not take it in bad part at all,’ said Silverbridge.

‘Perhaps he is ratting himself,’ said the Earl. ‘When a man lends himself to a coalition he is as good as half gone.’

‘I do not think that in all England there is so thorough a Liberal as my father,’ said Lord Silverbridge. ‘And when I say that he doesn’t take this badly, I don’t mean that it doesn’t vex him. I know it vexes him. But he doesn’t quarrel with me, he even wrote to Barsetshire to say that all my expenses at Silverbridge were to be paid.’

‘I call that bad politics,’ said the Earl.

‘It seems to me to be very grand,’ said Frank.

‘Perhaps, sir, you don’t know what is good or what is bad in politics,’ said the Earl, trying to snub his guest.

But it was difficult to snub Frank. ‘I know a gentleman when I see him, I think,’ he said. ‘Of course Silverbridge is right to be a Conservative. Nobody has a stronger opinion about that than I have. But the Duke is behaving so well that if I were he I should almost regret it.’

‘And so I do,’ said Silverbridge.

When the ladies were gone the old Earl turned himself round the fire, having filled his glass and pushed the bottles away from him, as though he meant to leave the two young men to themselves. He sat leaning with his head on his hand, looking the picture of woe. It was now only nine o’clock, and there would be no more whist at the Beaufort till eleven. There was still more than a hour to be endured before the brougham would come to fetch him. ‘I suppose we shall have a majority,’ said Frank, trying to rouse him.

‘Who does “We” mean?’ asked the Earl.

‘The Conservatives, of whom I take the liberty to call myself one.’

‘It sounded as though you were a very influential member of the party.’

‘I consider myself to be one of the party, and so I say “We”.’

Upstairs in the drawing-room Miss Cassewary did her duty loyally. It was quite right that young ladies and young gentlemen should be allowed to talk together, and very right indeed that such a young gentleman as Lord Silverbridge should be allowed to talk so such a young lady as Lady Mabel. What could be so nice as a marriage between the heir of the house of Omnium and Lady Mabel Grex? Lady Mabel looked indeed to be the elder — but they were in truth the same age. All the world acknowledged that Lady Mabel was very clever and very beautiful and fit to be a Duchess. Even the Earl, when Miss Cassewary hinted at the matter to him, grunted an assent. Lady Mabel had already refused one or two not ineligible offers, and it was necessary that something should be done. There had been at one time a fear in Miss Cassewary’s bosom lest her charge should fall too deeply in love with Frank Tregear — but Miss Cassewary knew that whatever danger there might have been in that respect had passed away. Frank was willing to talk to her, while Mabel and Lord Silverbridge were in a corner together.

‘I shall be on tenterhooks now till I know how it is to be at Silverbridge,’ said the young lady.

‘It is very good of you to feel so much interest.’

‘Of course I feel an interest. Are you not one of us? When is to be?’

‘They say that the elections will be over before the Derby.’

‘And which do you care for the most?’

‘I should like to pull off the Derby, I own.’

‘From what papa says, I should think the other event is more probable.’

‘Doesn’t the Earl stand to win on Prime Minister?’

‘I never know anything about his betting. But — you know his way — he said you were going to drop a lot of money like a-I can’t quite tell you what he likened you to.’

‘The Earl may be mistaken.’

‘You are not betting much, I hope.’

‘Not plunging. But I have a little money on.’

‘Don’t get into the way of betting.’

‘Why:— what difference does it make — to you?’

‘Is that kind, Lord Silverbridge?’

‘I meant to say that if I did make a mess of it you wouldn’t care about it.’

‘Yes, I should. I should care very much. I dare say you could lose a great deal of money and care nothing about it.’

‘Indeed I could not.’

‘What would be a great deal of money to me. But you would want to get it back again. And in that way you would be regularly on the turf.’

‘And why not?’

‘I want to see better things from you.’

‘You ought not to preach against the turf, Lady Mab.’

‘Because of papa? But I am not preaching against the turf. If I were such as you are I would have a horse or two myself. A man in your position should do a little of everything. You should hunt and have a yacht, and stalk deer and keep your own trainer at Newmarket.’

‘I wish you would say all that to my father.’

‘Of course I mean if you can afford it. I like a man to like pleasure. But I despise a man who makes a business of his pleasures. When I hear that this man is the best whist-player in London, and that man the best billiard-player, I always know that they can do nothing else, and then I despise them.’

‘You needn’t despise me, because I do nothing well,’ said he, as he got up to take his leave.

‘I do so hope you’ll get the seat — and win the Derby.’

These were her last words to him as she wished him good-night.

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