Tancred/Chapter XI

Tancred  (1847)  by Benjamin Disraeli
Chapter XI. Advice from a Man of the World


Advice from a Man of the World

WHEN the duchess found that the interview with the bishop had been fruitless of the anticipated results, she was staggered, disheartened; but she was a woman of too high a spirit to succumb under a first defeat. She was of opinion that his lordship had misunderstood the case, or had mismanaged it; her confidence in him, too, was not so illimitable since he had permitted the Puseyites to have candles on their altars, although he had forbidden their being lighted, as when he had declared, twenty years before, that the finger of God was about to protestantise Ireland. His lordship had said and had done many things since that time which had occasioned the duchess many misgivings, although she had chosen that they should not occur to her recollection until he failed in convincing her son that religious truth was to be found in the parish of St. James, and political justice in the happy haunts of Montacute Forest.

The Bishop had voted for the Church Temporalities' Bill in 1833, which at one swoop had suppressed ten Irish episcopates. This was a queer suffrage for the apostle of the second Reformation. True it is that Whiggism was then in the ascendant, and two years afterwards, when Whiggism had received a heavy blow and great discouragement; when we had been blessed in the interval with a decided though feeble Conservative administration, and were blessed at the moment with a strong though undecided Conservative opposition; his lordship, with characteristic activity, had galloped across country into the right line again, denounced the Appropriation Clause in a spirit worthy of his earlier days, and, quite forgetting the ten Irish bishoprics, that only four-and-twenty months before he had doomed to destruction, was all for proselytising Ireland again by the efficacious means of Irish Protestant bishops.

'The bishop says that Tancred is a visionary,' said the duchess to her husband, with an air of great displeasure. 'Why, it is because he is a visionary that we sent him to the bishop. I want to have his false imaginings removed by one who has the competent powers of learning and argument, and the authority of a high and holy office. A visionary, indeed! Why, so are the Puseyites; they are visionaries, and his lordship has been obliged to deal with them; though, to be sure, if he spoke to Tancred in a similar fashion, I am not surprised that my son has returned unchanged! This is the most vexatious business that ever occurred to us. Something must be done; but what to fix on? What do you think, George? Since speaking to the bishop, of which you so much approved, has failed, what do you recommend?'

While the duchess was speaking, she was seated in her boudoir, looking into the Green Park; the duke's horses were in the courtyard, and he was about to ride down to the House of Lords; he had just looked in, as was his custom, to say farewell till they met again.

'I am sorry that the interview with the bishop has failed,' said the duke, in a hesitating tone, and playing with his riding-stick; and then walking up to the window and looking into the Park, he said, apparently after reflection, 'I always think the best person to deal with a visionary is a man of the world.'

'But what can men of the world know of such questions?' said the duchess, mournfully.

'Very little,' said her husband, 'and therefore they are never betrayed into arguments, which I fancy always make people more obstinate, even if they are confuted. Men of the world have a knack of settling everything without discussion; they do it by tact. It is astonishing how many difficulties I have seen removed—by Eskdale, for example—which it seemed that no power on earth could change, and about which we had been arguing for months. There was the Cheadle churches case, for example; it broke up some of the oldest friendships in the county; even Hungerford and Ilderton did not speak. I never had a more anxious time of it; and, as far as I was personally concerned, I would have made any sacrifice to keep a good understanding in the county. At last I got the business referred to Eskdale, and the affair was ultimately arranged to everybody's satisfaction. I don't know how he managed: it was quite impossible that he could have offered any new arguments, but he did it by tact. Tact does not remove difficulties, but difficulties melt away under tact.'

'Heigho!' sighed the duchess. 'I cannot understand how tact can tell us what is religious truth, or prevent my son from going to the Holy Sepulchre.'

'Try,' said the duke.

'Shall you see our cousin to-day, George?'

'He is sure to be at the House,' replied the duke, eagerly. 'I tell you what I propose, Kate: Tancred is gone to the House of Commons to hear the debate on Maynooth; I will try and get our cousin to come home and dine with us, and then we can talk over the whole affair at once. What say you?'

'Very well.'

'We have failed with a bishop; we will now try a man of the world; and if we are to have a man of the world, we had better have a firstrate one, and everybody agrees that our cousin——'

'Yes, yes, George,' said the duchess, 'ask him to come; tell him it is very urgent, that we must consult him immediately; and then, if he be engaged, I dare say he will manage to come all the same.'

Accordingly, about half-past eight o'clock, the two peers arrived at Bellamont House together. They were unexpectedly late; they had been detained at the House. The duke was excited; even Lord Esk-dale looked as if something had happened. Something had happened; there had been a division in the House of Lords. Rare and startling event! It seemed as if the peers were about to resume their functions. Divisions in the House of Lords are now-a-days so thinly scattered, that, when one occurs, the peers cackle as if they had laid an egg. They are quite proud of the proof of their still procreative powers. The division to-night had not been on a subject of any public interest or importance; but still it was a division, and, what was more, the Government had been left in a minority. True, the catastrophe was occasioned by a mistake. The dictator had been asleep during the debate, woke suddenly from a dyspeptic dream, would make a speech, and spoke on the wrong side. A lively colleague, not yet sufficiently broken in to the frigid discipline of the High Court of Registry, had pulled the great man once by his coat-tails, a House of Commons practice, permitted to the Cabinet when their chief is blundering, very necessary sometimes for a lively leader, but of which Sir Robert highly disapproves, as the arrangement of his coat-tails, next to beating the red box, forms the most important part of his rhetorical accessories. The dictator, when he at length comprehended that he had made a mistake, persisted in adhering to it; the division was called, some of the officials escaped, the rest were obliged to vote with their ruthless master; but his other friends, glad of an opportunity of asserting their independence and administering to the dictator a slight check in a quiet inoffensive way, put him in a minority; and the Duke of Bellamont and Lord Eskdale had contributed to this catastrophe.

Dinner was served in the library; the conversation during it was chiefly the event of the morning. The duchess, who, though not a partisan, was something of a politician, thought it was a pity that the dictator had ever stepped out of his military sphere; her husband, who had never before seen a man's coat-tails pulled when he was speaking, dilated much upon the singular circumstance of Lord Spur so disporting himself on the present occasion; while Lord Eskdale, who had sat for a long time in the House of Commons, and who was used to everything, assured his cousin that the custom, though odd, was by no means irregular. 'I remember,' said his lordship, 'seeing Ripon, when he was Robinson, and Huskisson, each pulling one of Canning's coat-tails at the same time.'

Throughout dinner not a word about Tancred. Lord Eskdale neither asked where he was nor how he was. At length, to the great relief of the duchess, dinner was finished; the servants had disappeared. The duke pushed away the table; they drew their chairs round the hearth; Lord Eskdale took half a glass of Madeira, then stretched his legs a little, then rose, stirred the fire, and then, standing with his back to it and his hands in his pockets, said, in a careless tone approaching to a drawl, 'And so, duchess, Tancred wants to go to Jerusalem?'

'George has told you, then, all our troubles?' 'Only that; he left the rest to you, and I came to hear it.'

Whereupon the duchess went off, and spoke for a considerable time with great animation and ability, the duke hanging on every word with vigilant interest, Lord Eskdale never interrupting her for an instant; while she stated the case not only with the impassioned feeling of a devoted mother, but occasionally with all the profundity of a theologian. She did not conceal from him the interview between Tancred and the bishop; it was her last effort, and had failed; and so, 'after all our plans,' she ended, 'as far as I can form an opinion, he is absolutely more resolved than ever to go to Jerusalem.'

'Well,' said his lordship, 'it is at least better than going to the Jews, which most men do at his time of life.'

'I cannot agree even to that,' said the duchess; 'for I would rather that he should be ruined than die.'

'Men do not die as they used,' said his lordship. 'Ask the annuity offices; they have all raised their rates.'

'I know nothing about annuity offices, but I know that almost everybody dies who goes to those countries; look at young Fernborough, he was just Tancred's age; the fevers alone must kill him.'

'He must take some quinine in his dressing-case,' said Lord Eskdale.

'You jest, Henry,' said the duchess, disappointed, 'when I am in despair.'

'No,' said Lord Eskdale, looking up to the ceiling, 'I am thinking how you may prevent Tancred from going to Jerusalem, without, at the same time, opposing his wishes.'

'Ay, ay,' said the duke, 'that is it.' And he looked triumphantly to his wife, as much as to say, 'Now you see what it is to be a man of the world.'

'A man cannot go to Jerusalem as he would to Birmingham, by the next train,' continued his lordship; 'he must get something to take him; and if you make the sacrifice of consenting to his departure, you have a right to stipulate as to the manner in which he should depart. Your son ought to travel with a suite; he ought to make the voyage in his own yacht. Yachts are not to be found like hack cabs, though there are several for sale now; but then they are not of the admeasurement of which you approve for such a voyage and such a sea. People talk very lightly of the Mediterranean, but there are such things as white squalls. Anxious parents, and parents so fond of a son as you are, and a son whose life for so many reasons is so precious, have a right to make it a condition of their consent to his departure, that he should embark in a vessel of considerable tonnage. He will find difficulty in buying one second-hand; if he finds one it will not please him. He will get interested in yacht-building, as he is interested now about Jerusalem: both boyish fancies. He will stay another year in England to build a yacht to take him to the Holy Land; the yacht will be finished this time twelvemonths; and, instead of going to Palestine, he will go to Cowes.'

'That is quite my view of the case,' said the duke.

'It never occurred to me,' said the duchess.

Lord Eskdale resumed his seat, and took another half-glass of Madeira.

'Well, I think it is very satisfactory, Katherine,' said the duke, after a short pause.

'And what do you recommend us to do first?' said the duchess to Lord Eskdale.

'Let Tancred go into society: the best way for him to forget Jerusalem is to let him see London.'

'But how can I manage it?' said the duchess. 'I never go anywhere; nobody knows him, and he does not wish to know anybody.'

'I will manage it, with your permission; 'tis not difficult; a young marquess has only to evince an inclination, and in a week's time he will be everywhere. I will tell Lady St. Julians and the great ladies to send him invitations; they will fall like a snow-storm. All that remains is for you to prevail upon him to accept them.'

'And how shall I contrive it?' said the duchess.

'Easily,' said Lord Eskdale. 'Make his going into society, while his yacht is preparing, one of the conditions of the great sacrifice you are making. He cannot refuse you: 'tis but the first step. A youth feels a little repugnance to launching into the great world: 'tis shyness; but after the plunge, the great difficulty is to restrain rather than to incite. Let him but once enter the world, and be tranquil, he will soon find something to engage him.'

'As long as he does not take to play,' said the duke, 'I do not much care what he does.'

'My dear George!' said the duchess, 'how can you say such things! I was in hopes,' she added, in a mournful tone, 'that we might have settled him, without his entering what you call the world, Henry. Dearest child! I fancy him surrounded by pitfalls.'