"Seen him? yes; I see him daily. But we hardly do more than speak,"
"Why not?" Phineas stood for a moment in silence, hesitating. "Why is it that he and you do not speak?"
"How can I answer that question, Lady Laura?"
"Do you know any reason? Sit down, or, if you please, I will get up and walk with you. He tells me that you have chosen to quarrel with him, and that I have made you do so. He says that you have confessed to him that I have asked you to quarrel with him."
"He can hardly have said that."
"But he has said it,—in so many words. Do you think that I would tell you such a story falsely?"
"Is he here now?"
"No;—he is not here. He would not come. I came alone."
"Is not Miss Effingham with you?"
"No;—she is to come with my father later. She is here no doubt, now. But answer my question, Mr. Finn;—unless you find that you cannot answer it. What was it that you did say to my husband?"
"Nothing to justify what he has told you."
"Do you mean to say that he has spoken falsely?"
"I mean to use no harsh word,—but I think that Mr. Kennedy when troubled in his spirit looks at things gloomily, and puts meaning upon words which they should not bear."
"And what has troubled his spirit?"
"You must know that better than I can do, Lady Laura. I will tell you all that I can tell you. He invited me to his house and I would not go, because you had forbidden me. Then he asked me some questions about you. Did I refuse because of you,—or of anything that you had said? If I remember right, I told him that I did fancy that you would not be glad to see me,—and that therefore I would rather stay away. What was I to say?"
"You should have said nothing."
"Nothing with him would have been worse than what I did say. Remember that he asked me the question point-blank, and that no reply would have been equal to an affirmation. I should have confessed that his suggestion was true."
"He could not then have twitted me with your words."
"If I have erred, Lady Laura, and brought any sorrow on you, I am indeed grieved."
"It is all sorrow. There is nothing but sorrow. I have made up my mind to leave him."
"Oh, Lady Laura!"
"It is very bad,—but not so bad, I think, as the life I am now leading. He has accused me—, of what do you think? He says that you are my lover!"
"He did not say that,—in those words?"
"He said it in words which made me feel that I must part from him."
"And how did you answer him?"
"I would not answer him at all. If he had come to me like a man,—not accusing me, but asking me,—I would have told him everything. And what was there to tell? I should have broken my faith to you, in speaking of that scene at Loughlinter, but women always tell such stories to their husbands when their husbands are good to them, and true, and just. And it is well that they should be told. But to Mr. Kennedy I can tell nothing. He does not believe my word."
"Not believe you, Lady Laura?"
"No! Because I did not blurt out to him all that story about your foolish duel,—because I thought it best to keep my brother's secret, as long as there was a secret to be kept, he told me that I had,—lied to him!"
"What!—with that word?"
"Yes,—with that very word. He is not particular about his words, when he thinks it necessary to express himself strongly. And he has told me since that because of that he could never believe me again. How is it possible that a woman should live with such a man?" But why did she come to him with this story,—to him whom she had been accused of entertaining as a lover;—to him who of all her friends was the last whom she should have chosen as the recipient for such a tale? Phineas as he thought how he might best answer her, with what words he might try to comfort her, could not but ask himself this question. "The moment that the word was out of his mouth," she went on to say, "I resolved that I would tell you. The accusation is against you as it is against me, and is equally false to both. I have written to him, and there is my letter."
"But you will see him again?"
"No;—I will go to my father's house. I have already arranged it. Mr. Kennedy has my letter by this time, and I go from hence home with my father."
"Do you wish that I should read the letter?"
"Yes,—certainly. I wish that you should read it. Should I ever meet him again, I shall tell him that you saw it."
They were now standing close upon the river's bank, at a corner of the grounds, and, though the voices of people sounded near to them, they were alone. Phineas had no alternative but to read the letter, which was as follows:—
After what you have said to me it is impossible that I should return to your house. I shall meet my father at the Duke of Omnium's, and have already asked him to give me an asylum. It is my wish to remain wherever he may be, either in town or in the country. Should I change my purpose in this, and change my residence, I will not fail to let you know where I go and what I propose to do. You I think must have forgotten that I was your wife; but I will never forget it.
You have accused me of having a lover. You cannot have expected that I should continue to live with you after such an accusation. For myself I cannot understand how any man can have brought himself to bring such a charge against his wife. Even had it been true the accusation should not have been made by your mouth to my ears.
That it is untrue I believe you must be as well aware as I am myself. How intimate I was with. Mr. Finn, and what were the limits of my intimacy with him you knew before I married you. After our marriage I encouraged his friendship till I found that there was something in it that displeased you,—and, after learning that, I discouraged it. You have said that he is my lover, but you have probably not defined for yourself that word very clearly. You have felt yourself slighted because his name has been mentioned with praise;—and your jealousy has been wounded because you have thought that I have regarded him as in some way superior to yourself. You have never really thought that he was my lover,—that he spoke words to me which others might not hear, that he claimed from me aught that a wife may not give, that he received aught which a friend should not receive. The accusation has been a coward's accusation.
I shall be at my father's to-night, and to-morrow I will get you to let my servant bring to me such things as are my own,—my clothes, namely, and desk, and a few books. She will know what I want. I trust you may be happier without a wife, than ever you have been with me. I have felt almost daily since we were married that you were a man who would have been happier without a wife than with one.
"It is at any rate true," she said, when Phineas had read the letter.
"True! Doubtless it is true," said Phineas, "except that I do not suppose he was ever really angry with me, or jealous, or anything of the sort,—because I got on well. It seems absurd even to think it."
"There is nothing too absurd for some men. I remember your telling me that he was weak, and poor, and unworthy. I remember your saying so when I first thought that he might become my husband. I wish I had believed you when you told me so. I should not have made such a shipwreck of myself as I have done. That is all I had to say to you. After what has passed between us I did not choose that you should hear how I was separated from my husband from any lips but my own. I will go now and find papa. Do not come with me. I prefer being alone." Then he was left standing by himself, looking down upon the river as it glided by. How would it have been with both of them if Lady Laura had accepted him three years ago, when she consented to join her lot with that of Mr. Kennedy, and had rejected him? As he stood he heard the sound of music from the house, and remembered that he had come there with the one sole object of seeing Violet Effingham. He had known that he would meet Lady Laura, and it had been in his mind to break through that law of silence which she had imposed upon him, and once more to ask her to assist him,—to implore her for the sake of their old friendship to tell him whether there might yet be for him any chance of success. But in the interview which had just taken place it had been impossible for him to speak a word of himself or of Violet. To her, in her great desolation, he could address himself on no other subject than that of her own misery. But not the less when she was talking to him of her own sorrow, of her regret that she had not listened to him when in years past he had spoken slightingly of Mr. Kennedy, was he thinking of Violet Effingham. Mr. Kennedy had certainly mistaken the signs of things when he had accused his wife by saying that Phineas was her lover. Phineas had soon got over that early feeling; and as far as he himself was concerned had never regretted Lady Laura's marriage.
He remained down by the water for a few minutes, giving Lady Laura time to escape, and then he wandered across the grounds towards the house. It was now about nine o'clock, and though there were still many walking about the grounds, the crowd of people were in the rooms. The musicians were ranged out on a verandah, so that their music might have been available for dancing within or without; but the dancers had found the boards pleasanter than the lawn, and the Duke's garden party was becoming a mere ball, with privilege for the dancers to stroll about the lawn between the dances. And in this respect the fun was better than at a ball,—that let the engagements made for partners be what they might, they could always be broken with ease. No lady felt herself bound to dance with a cavalier who was displeasing to her; and some gentlemen were left sadly in the lurch. Phineas felt himself to be very much in the lurch, even after he had discovered Violet Effingham standing up to dance with Lord Fawn.
He bided his time patiently, and at last he found his opportunity. "Would she dance with him?" She declared that she intended to dance no more, and that she had promised to be ready to return home with Lord Brentford before ten o'clock. "I have pledged myself not to be after ten," she said, laughing. Then she put her hand upon his arm, and they stepped out upon the terrace together. "Have you heard anything?" she asked him, almost in a whisper.
"Yes," he said. "I have heard what you mean. I have heard it all."
"Is it not dreadful?"
"I fear it is the best thing she can do. She has never been happy with him."
"But to be accused after that fashion,—by her husband!" said Violet. "One can hardly believe it in these days. And of all women she is the last to deserve such accusation."
"The very last," said Phineas, feeling that the subject was one upon which it was not easy for him to speak.
"I cannot conceive to whom he can have alluded," said Violet. Then Phineas began to understand that Violet had not heard the whole story; but the difficulty of speaking was still very great.
"It has been the result of ungovernable temper," he said.
"But a man does not usually strive to dishonour himself because he is in a rage. And this man is incapable of rage. He must be cursed with one of those dark gloomy minds in which love always leads to jealousy. She will never return to him."
"One cannot say. In many respects it would be better that she should," said Phineas.
"She will never return to him," repeated Violet,—"never. Would you advise her to do so?"
"How can I say? If one were called upon for advice, one would think so much before one spoke."
"I would not,—not for a minute. What! to be accused of that! How are a man and woman to live together after there have been such words between them? Poor Laura! What a terrible end to all her high hopes! Do you not grieve for her?"
They were now at some distance from the house, and Phineas could not but feel that chance had been very good to him in giving him his opportunity. She was leaning on his arm, and they were alone, and she was speaking to him with all the familiarity of old friendship. "I wonder whether I may change the subject," said he, "and ask you a word about yourself?"
"What word?" she said sharply.
"I have heard—"
"What have you heard?"
"Simply this,—that you are not now as you were six months ago. Your marriage was then fixed for June."
"It has been unfixed since then," she said.
"Yes;—it has been unfixed. I know it. Miss Effingham, you will not be angry with me if I say that when I heard it was so, something of a hope,—no, I must not call it a hope,—something that longed to form itself into hope returned to my breast, and from that hour to this has been the only subject on which I have cared to think."
"Lord Chiltern is your friend, Mr. Finn?"
"He is so, and I do not think that I have ever been untrue to my friendship for him."
"He says that no man has ever had a truer friend. He will swear to that in all companies. And I, when it was allowed to me to swear with him, swore it too. As his friend, let me tell you one thing,—one thing which I would never tell to any other man,—one thing which I know I may tell you in confidence. You are a gentleman, and will not break my confidence?"
"I think I will not."
"I know you will not, because you are a gentleman. I told Lord Chiltern in the autumn of last year that I loved him. And I did love him. I shall never have the same confession to make to another man. That he and I are not now,—on those loving terms,—which once existed, can make no difference in that. A woman cannot transfer her heart. There have been things which have made me feel,—that I was perhaps mistaken,—in saying that I would be,—his wife. But I said so, and cannot now give myself to another. Here is Lord Brentford, and we will join him." There was Lord Brentford with Lady Laura on his arm, very gloomy,—resolving on what way he might be avenged on the man who had insulted his daughter. He took but little notice of Phineas as he resumed his charge of Miss Effingham; but the two ladies wished him good night.
"Good night, Lady Laura," said Phineas, standing with his hat in his hand,—"good night, Miss Effingham." Then he was alone,—quite alone. Would it not be well for him to go down to the bottom of the garden, and fling himself into the quiet river, so that there might be an end of him? Or would it not be better still that he should create for himself some quiet river of life, away from London, away from politics, away from lords, and titled ladies, and fashionable squares, and the parties given by dukes, and the disappointments incident to a small man in attempting to make for himself a career among big men? There had frequently been in the mind of this young man an idea that there was something almost false in his own position,—that his life was a pretence, and that he would ultimately be subject to that ruin which always comes, sooner or later, on things which are false; and now as he wandered alone about Lady Glencora's gardens, this feeling was very strong within his bosom, and robbed him altogether of the honour and glory of having been one of the Duke of Omnium's guests.
The Cabinet Minister at Killaloe
Phineas did not throw himself into the river from the Duke's garden; and was ready, in spite of Violet Effingham, to start for Ireland with Mr. Monk at the end of the first week in August. The close of that season in London certainly was not a happy period of his life. Violet had spoken to him after such a fashion that he could not bring himself not to believe her. She had given him no hint whether it was likely or unlikely that she and Lord Chiltern would be reconciled; but she had convinced him that he could not be allowed to take Lord Chiltern's place. "A woman cannot transfer her heart," she had said. Phineas was well aware that many women do transfer their hearts; but he had gone to this woman too soon after the wrench which her love had received; he had been too sudden with his proposal for a transfer; and the punishment for such ill judgment must be that success would now be impossible to him. And yet how could he have waited, feeling that Miss Effingham, if she were at all like other girls whom he had known, might have promised herself to some other lover before she would return within his reach in the succeeding spring? But she was not like some other girls. Ah;—he knew that now, and repented him of his haste.
But he was ready for Mr. Monk on the 7th of August, and they started together. Something less than twenty hours took them from London to Killaloe, and during four or five of those twenty hours Mr. Monk was unfitted for any conversation by the uncomfortable feelings incidental to the passage from Holyhead to Kingstown. Nevertheless, there was a great deal of conversation between them during the journey. Mr. Monk had almost made up his mind to leave the Cabinet. "It is sad to me to have to confess it," he said, "but the truth is that my old rival, Turnbull, is right. A man who begins his political life as I began mine, is not the man of whom a Minister should be formed. I am inclined to think that Ministers of Government require almost as much education in their trade as shoemakers or tallow-chandlers. I doubt whether you can make a good public servant of a man simply because he has got the ear of the House of Commons."
"Then you mean to say," said Phineas, "that we are altogether wrong from beginning to end, in our way of arranging these things?"
"I do not say that at all. Look at the men who have been leading statesmen since our present mode of government was formed,—from the days in which it was forming itself, say from Walpole down, and you will find that all who have been of real use had early training as public servants."
"Are we never to get out of the old groove?"
"Not if the groove is good," said Mr. Monk, "Those who have been efficient as ministers sucked in their efficacy with their mother's milk. Lord Brock did so, and Lord de Terrier, and Mr. Mildmay. They seated themselves in office chairs the moment they left college. Mr. Gresham was in office before he was eight-and-twenty. The Duke of St. Bungay was at work as a Private Secretary when he was three-and-twenty. You, luckily for yourself, have done the same."
"And regret it every hour of my life."
"You have no cause for regret, but it is not so with me. If there be any man unfitted by his previous career for office, it is he who has become, or who has endeavoured to become, a popular politician,—an exponent, if I may say so, of public opinion. As far as I can see, office is offered to such men with one view only,—that of clipping their wings."
"And of obtaining their help."
"It is the same thing. Help from Turnbull would mean the withdrawal of all power of opposition from him. He could not give other help for any long term, as the very fact of his accepting power and patronage would take from him his popular leadership. The masses outside require to have their minister as the Queen has hers; but the same man cannot be minister to both. If the people's minister chooses to change his master, and to take the Queen's shilling, something of temporary relief may be gained by government in the fact that the other place will for a time be vacant. But there are candidates enough for such places, and the vacancy is not a vacancy long. Of course the Crown has this pull, that it pays wages, and the people do not."
"I do not think that that influenced you," said Phineas.
"It did not influence me. To you I will make bold to state so much positively, though it would be foolish, perhaps, to do so to others. I did not go for the shilling, though I am so poor a man that the shilling is more to me than it would be to almost any man in the House. I took the shilling, much doubting, but guided in part by this, that I was ashamed of being afraid to take it. They told me,—Mr. Mildmay and the Duke,—that I could earn it to the benefit of the country. I have not earned it, and the country has not been benefited,—unless it be for the good of the country that my voice in the House should be silenced. If I believe that, I ought to hold my tongue without taking a salary for holding it. I have made a mistake, my friend. Such mistakes made at my time of life cannot be wholly rectified; but, being convinced of my error, I must do the best in my power to put myself right again."
There was a bitterness in all this to Phineas himself of which he could not but make plaint to his companion. "The truth is," he said, "that a man in office must be a slave, and that slavery is distasteful."
"There I think you are wrong. If you mean that you cannot do joint work with other men altogether after your own fashion the same may be said of all work. If you had stuck to the Bar you must have pleaded your causes in conformity with instructions from the attorneys."
"I should have been guided by my own lights in advising those attorneys."
"I cannot see that you suffer anything that ought to go against the grain with you. You are beginning young, and it is your first adopted career. With me it is otherwise. If by my telling you this I shall have led you astray, I shall regret my openness with you. Could I begin again, I would willingly begin as you began."
It was a great day in Killaloe, that on which Mr. Monk arrived with Phineas at the doctor's house. In London, perhaps, a bishop inspires more awe than a Cabinet Minister. In Killaloe, where a bishop might be seen walking about every day, the mitred dignitary of the Church, though much loved, was thought of, I fear, but lightly; whereas a Cabinet Minister coming to stay in the house of a townsman was a thing to be wondered at, to be talked about, to be afraid of, to be a fruitful source of conversation for a year to come. There were many in Killaloe, especially among the elder ladies, who had shaken their heads and expressed the saddest doubts when young Phineas Finn had first become a Parliament man. And though by degrees they had been half brought round, having been driven to acknowledge that he had been wonderfully successful as a Parliament man, still they had continued to shake their heads among themselves, and to fear something in the future,—until he appeared at his old home leading a Cabinet Minister by the hand. There was such assurance in this that even old Mrs. Callaghan, at the brewery, gave way, and began to say all manner of good things, and to praise the doctor's luck in that he had a son gifted with parts so excellent. There was a great desire to see the Cabinet Minister in the flesh, to be with him when he ate and drank, to watch the gait and countenance of the man, and to drink water from this fountain of state lore which had been so wonderfully brought among them by their young townsman. Mrs. Finn was aware that it behoved her to be chary of her invitations, but the lady from the brewery had said such good things of Mrs. Finn's black swan, that she carried her point, and was invited to meet the Cabinet Minister at dinner on the day after his arrival.
Mrs. Flood Jones and her daughter were invited also to be of the party. When Phineas had been last at Killaloe, Mrs. Flood Jones, as the reader may remember, had remained with her daughter at Floodborough,—feeling it to be her duty to keep her daughter away from the danger of an unrequited attachment. But it seemed that her purpose was changed now, or that she no longer feared the danger,—for both Mary and her mother were now again living in Killaloe, and Mary was at the doctor's house as much as ever.
A day or two before the coming of the god and the demigod to the little town, Barbara Finn and her friend had thus come to understand each other as they walked along the Shannon side. "I am sure, my dear, that he is engaged to nobody," said Barbara Finn.
"And I am sure, my dear," said Mary, "that I do not care whether he is or is not."
"What do you mean, Mary?"
"I mean what I say. Why should I care? Five years ago I had a foolish dream, and now I am awake again. Think how old I have got to be!"
"Yes;—you are twenty-three. What has that to do with it?"
"It has this to do with it;—that I am old enough to know better. Mamma and I quite understand each other. She used to be angry with him, but she has got over all that foolishness now. It always made me so vexed;—the idea of being angry with a man because,—because—! You know one can't talk about it, it is so foolish. But that is all over now."
"Do you mean to say you don't care for him, Mary? Do you remember what you used to swear to me less than two years ago?"
"I remember it all very well, and I remember what a goose I was. As for caring for him, of course I do,—because he is your brother, and because I have known him all my life. But if he were going to be married to-morrow, you would see that it would make no difference to me."
Barbara Finn walked on for a couple of minutes in silence before she replied. "Mary," she said at last, "I don't believe a word of it."
"Very well;—then all that I shall ask of you is, that we may not talk about him any more. Mamma believes it, and that is enough for me." Nevertheless, they did talk about Phineas during the whole of that day, and very often talked about him afterwards, as long as Mary remained at Killaloe.
There was a large dinner party at the doctor's on the day after Mr. Monk's arrival. The bishop was not there, though he was on terms sufficiently friendly with the doctor's family to have been invited on so grand an occasion; but he was not there, because Mrs. Finn was determined that she would be taken out to dinner by a Cabinet Minister in the face of all her friends. She was aware that had the bishop been there, she must have taken the bishop's arm. And though there would have been glory in that, the other glory was more to her taste. It was the first time in her life that she had ever seen a Cabinet Minister, and I think that she was a little disappointed at finding him so like other middle-aged gentlemen. She had hoped that Mr. Monk would have assumed something of the dignity of his position; but he assumed nothing. Now the bishop, though he was a very mild man, did assume something by the very facts of his apron and knee-breeches.
"I am sure, sir, it is very good of you to come and put up with our humble way of living," said Mrs. Finn to her guest, as they sat down at table. And yet she had resolved that she would not make any speech of the kind,—that she would condescend to no apology,—that she would bear herself as though a Cabinet Minister dined with her at least once a year. But when the moment came, she broke down, and made this apology with almost abject meekness, and then hated herself because she had done so.
"My dear madam," said Mr. Monk, "I live myself so much like a hermit that your house is a palace of luxury to me." Then he felt that he had made a foolish speech, and he also hated himself. He found it very difficult to talk to his hostess upon any subject, until by chance he mentioned his young friend Phineas. Then her tongue was unloosed. "Your son, madam," he said, "is going with me to Limerick and back to Dublin. It is a shame, I know, taking him so soon away from home, but I should not know how to get on without him."
"Oh, Mr. Monk, it is such a blessing for him, and such an honour for us, that you should be so good to him." Then the mother spoke out all her past fears and all her present hopes, and acknowledged the great glory which it was to her to have a son sitting in Parliament, holding an office with a stately name and a great salary, and blessed with the friendship of such a man as Mr. Monk. After that Mr. Monk got on better with her.
"I don't know any young man," said he, "in whose career I have taken so strong an interest."
"He was always good," said Mrs. Finn, with a tear forcing itself into the corner of each eye. "I am his mother, and of course I ought not to say so,—not in this way; but it is true, Mr. Monk." And then the poor lady was obliged to raise her handkerchief and wipe away the drops.
Phineas on this occasion had taken out to dinner the mother of his devoted Mary, Mrs. Flood Jones. "What a pleasure it must be to the doctor and Mrs. Finn to see you come back in this way," said Mrs. Flood Jones.
"With all my bones unbroken?" said he, laughing.
"Yes; with all your bones unbroken. You know, Phineas, when we first heard that you were to sit in Parliament, we were afraid that you might break a rib or two,—since you choose to talk about the breaking of bones."
"Yes, I know. Everybody thought I should come to grief; but nobody felt so sure of it as I did myself."
"But you have not come to grief."
"I am not out of the wood yet, you know, Mrs. Flood Jones. There is plenty of possibility for grief in my way still."
"As far as I can understand it, you are out of the wood. All that your friends here want to see now is, that you should marry some nice English girl, with a little money, if possible. Rumours have reached us, you know."
"Rumours always lie," said Phineas.
"Sometimes they do, of course; and I am not going to ask any indiscreet questions. But that is what we all hope. Mary was saying, only the other day, that if you were once married, we should all feel quite safe about you. And you know we all take the most lively interest in your welfare. It is not every day that a man from County Clare gets on as you have done, and therefore we are bound to think of you." Thus Mrs. Flood Jones signified to Phineas Finn that she had forgiven him the thoughtlessness of his early youth,—even though there had been something of treachery in that thoughtlessness to her own daughter; and showed him, also, that whatever Mary's feelings might have been once, they were not now of a nature to trouble her. "Of course you will marry?" said Mrs. Flood Jones.
"I should think very likely not," said Phineas, who perhaps looked farther into the mind of the lady than the lady intended.
"Oh, do," said the lady. "Every man should marry as soon as he can, and especially a man in your position."
When the ladies met together in the drawing-room after dinner, it was impossible but that they should discuss Mr. Monk. There was Mrs. Callaghan from the brewery there, and old Lady Blood, of Bloodstone,—who on ordinary occasions would hardly admit that she was on dining-out terms with any one in Killaloe except the bishop, but who had found it impossible to decline to meet a Cabinet Minister,—and there was Mrs. Stackpoole from Sixmiletown, a far-away cousin of the Finns, who hated Lady Blood with a true provincial hatred.
"I don't see anything particularly uncommon in him, after all," said Lady Blood.
"I think he is very nice indeed," said Mrs. Flood Jones.
"So very quiet, my dear, and just like other people," said Mrs. Callaghan, meaning to pronounce a strong eulogium on the Cabinet Minister.
"Very like other people indeed," said Lady Blood.
"And what would you expect, Lady Blood?" said Mrs. Stackpoole. "Men and women in London walk upon two legs, just as they do in Ennis." Now Lady Blood herself had been born and bred in Ennis, whereas Mrs. Stackpoole had come from Limerick, which is a much more considerable town, and therefore there was a satire in this allusion to the habits of the men of Ennis which Lady Blood understood thoroughly.
"My dear Mrs. Stackpoole, I know how the people walk in London quite as well as you do." Lady Blood had once passed three months in London while Sir Patrick had been alive, whereas Mrs. Stackpoole had never done more than visit the metropolis for a day or two.
"Oh, no doubt," said Mrs. Stackpoole; "but I never can understand what it is that people expect. I suppose Mr. Monk ought to have come with his stars on the breast of his coat, to have pleased Lady Blood."
"My dear Mrs. Stackpoole, Cabinet Ministers don't have stars," said Lady Blood.
"I never said they did," said Mrs. Stackpoole.
"He is so nice and gentle to talk to," said Mrs. Finn. "You may say what you will, but men who are high up do very often give themselves airs. Now I must say that this friend of my son's does not do anything of that kind."
"Not the least," said Mrs. Callaghan.
"Quite the contrary," said Mrs. Stackpoole.
"I dare say he is a wonderful man," said Lady Blood. "All I say is, that I didn't hear anything wonderful come out of his mouth; and as for people in Ennis walking on two legs, I have seen donkeys in Limerick doing just the same thing." Now it was well known that Mrs. Stackpoole had two sons living in Limerick, as to neither of whom was it expected that he would set the Shannon on fire. After this little speech there was no further mention of Mr. Monk, as it became necessary that all the good-nature of Mrs. Finn and all the tact of Mrs. Flood Jones and all the energy of Mrs. Callaghan should be used, to prevent the raging of an internecine battle between Mrs. Stackpoole and Lady Blood.
Mr. Monk's holiday programme allowed him a week at Killaloe, and from thence he was to go to Limerick, and from Limerick to Dublin, in order that, at both places, he might be entertained at a public dinner and make a speech about tenant-right. Foreseeing that Phineas might commit himself if he attended these meetings, Mr. Monk had counselled him to remain at Killaloe. But Phineas had refused to subject himself to such cautious abstinence. Mr. Monk had come to Ireland as his friend, and he would see him through his travels. "I shall not, probably, be asked to speak," said Phineas, "and if I am asked, I need not say more than a few words. And what if I did speak out?"
"You might find it disadvantageous to you in London."
"I must take my chance of that. I am not going to tie myself down for ever and ever for the sake of being Under-Secretary to the Colonies." Mr. Monk said very much to him on the subject,—was constantly saying very much to him about it; but in spite of all that Mr. Monk said, Phineas did make the journey to Limerick and Dublin.
He had not, since his arrival at Killaloe, been a moment alone with Mary Flood Jones till the evening before he started with Mr. Monk. She had kept out of his way successfully, though she had constantly been with him in company, and was beginning to plume herself on the strength and valour of her conduct. But her self-praise had in it nothing of joy, and her glory was very sad. Of course she would care for him no more,—more especially as it was so very evident that he cared not at all for her. But the very fact of her keeping out of his way, made her acknowledge to herself that her position was very miserable. She had declared to her mother that she might certainly go to Killaloe with safety,—that it would be better for her to put herself in the way of meeting him as an old friend,—that the idea of the necessity of shutting herself up because of his approach, was the one thing that gave her real pain. Therefore her mother had brought her to Killaloe and she had met him; but her fancied security had deserted her, and she found herself to be miserable, hoping for something she did not know what, still dreaming of possibilities, feeling during every moment of his presence with her that some special conduct was necessary on her part. She could not make further confession to her mother and ask to be carried back to Floodborough; but she knew that she was very wretched at Killaloe.
As for Phineas, he had felt that his old friend was very cold to him. He was in that humour with reference to Violet Effingham which seemed especially to require consolation. He knew now that all hope was over there. Violet Effingham could never be his wife. Even were she not to marry Lord Chiltern for the next five years, she would not, during those five years, marry any other man. Such was our hero's conviction; and, suffering under this conviction, he was in want of the comfort of feminine sympathy. Had Mary known all this, and had it suited her to play such a part, I think she might have had Phineas at her feet before he had been a week at home. But she had kept aloof from him and had heard nothing of his sorrows. As a natural consequence of this, Phineas was more in love with her than ever.
On the evening before he started with Mr. Monk for Limerick, he managed to be alone with her for a few minutes. Barbara may probably have assisted in bringing about this arrangement, and had, perhaps, been guilty of some treachery,—sisters in such circumstances will sometimes be very treacherous to their friends. I feel sure, however, that Mary herself was quite innocent of any guile in the matter. "Mary," Phineas said to her suddenly, "it seems to me that you have avoided me purposely ever since I have been at home." She smiled and blushed, and stammered and said nothing. "Has there been any reason for it, Mary?"
"No reason at all that I know of," she said.
"We used to be such great friends."
"That was before you were a great man, Phineas. It must necessarily be different now. You know so many people now, and people of such a different sort, that of course I fall a little into the background."
"When you talk in that way, Mary, I know that you are laughing at me."
"Indeed, indeed I am not."
"I believe there is no one in the whole world," he said, after a pause, "whose friendship is more to me than yours is. I think of it so often, Mary. Say that when we come back it shall be between us as it used to be." Then he put out his hand for hers, and she could not help giving it to him. "Of course there will be people," he said, "who talk nonsense, and one cannot help it; but I will not put up with it from you."
"I did not mean to talk nonsense, Phineas!" Then there came some one across them, and the conversation was ended; but the sound of his voice remained on her ears, and she could not help but remember that he had declared that her friendship was dearer to him than the friendship of any one else.
Phineas went with Mr. Monk first to Limerick and then to Dublin, and found himself at both places to be regarded as a hero only second to the great hero. At both places the one subject of debate was tenant-right;—could anything be done to make it profitable for men with capital to put their capital into Irish land? The fertility of the soil was questioned by no one,—nor the sufficiency of external circumstances, such as railroads and the like;—nor the abundance of labour;—nor even security for the wealth to be produced. The only difficulty was in this, that the men who were to produce the wealth had no guarantee that it would be theirs when it was created. In England and elsewhere such guarantees were in existence. Might it not be possible to introduce them into Ireland? That was the question which Mr. Monk had in hand; and in various speeches which he made both before and after the dinners given to him, he pledged himself to keep it well in hand when Parliament should meet. Of course Phineas spoke also. It was impossible that he should be silent when his friend and leader was pouring out his eloquence. Of course he spoke, and of course he pledged himself. Something like the old pleasures of the debating society returned to him, as standing upon a platform before a listening multitude, he gave full vent to his words. In the House of Commons, of late he had been so cabined, cribbed, and confined by office as to have enjoyed nothing of this. Indeed, from the commencement of his career, he had fallen so thoroughly into the decorum of Government ways, as to have missed altogether the delights of that wild irresponsible oratory of which Mr. Monk had spoken to him so often. He had envied men below the gangway, who, though supporting the Government on main questions, could get up on their legs whenever the House was full enough to make it worth their while, and say almost whatever they pleased. There was that Mr. Robson, who literally did say just what came uppermost; and the thing that came uppermost was often ill-natured, often unbecoming the gravity of the House, was always startling; but men listened to him and liked him to speak. But Mr. Robson had—married a woman with money. Oh, why,—why, had not Violet Effingham been kinder to him? He might even yet, perhaps, marry a woman with money. But he could not bring himself to do so unless he loved her.
The upshot of the Dublin meeting was that he also positively pledged himself to support during the next session of Parliament a bill advocating tenant-right. "I am sorry you went so far as that," Mr. Monk said to him almost as soon as the meeting was over. They were standing on the pier at Kingstown, and Mr. Monk was preparing to return to England.
"And why not I as far as you?"
"Because I had thought about it, and I do not think that you have. I am prepared to resign my office to-morrow; and directly that I can see Mr. Gresham and explain to him what I have done, I shall offer to do so."
"He won't accept your resignation."
"He must accept it, unless he is prepared to instruct the Irish Secretary to bring in such a bill as I can support."
"I shall be exactly in the same boat."
"But you ought not to be in the same boat;—nor need you. My advice to you is to say nothing about it till you get back to London, and then speak to Lord Cantrip. Tell him that you will not say anything on the subject in the House, but that in the event of there being a division you hope to be allowed to vote as on an open question. It may be that I shall get Gresham's assent, and if so we shall be all right. If I do not, and if they choose to make it a point with you, you must resign also."
"Of course I shall," said Phineas.
"But I do not think they will. You have been too useful, and they will wish to avoid the weakness which comes to a ministry from changing its team. Good-bye, my dear fellow; and remember this,—my last word of advice to you is to stick by the ship. I am quite sure it is a career which will suit you. I did not begin it soon enough."
Phineas was rather melancholy as he returned alone to Killaloe. It was all very well to bid him stick to the ship, and he knew as well as any one could tell him how material the ship was to him; but there are circumstances in which a man cannot stick to his ship,—cannot stick, at least, to this special Government ship. He knew that whither Mr. Monk went, in this session, he must follow. He had considerable hope that when Mr. Monk explained his purpose to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister would feel himself obliged to give way. In that case Phineas would not only be able to keep his office, but would have such an opportunity of making a speech in Parliament as circumstances had never yet given to him. When he was again at home he said nothing to his father or to the Killaloeians as to the danger of his position. Of what use would it be to make his mother and sisters miserable, or to incur the useless counsels of the doctor? They seemed to think his speech at Dublin very fine, and were never tired of talking of what Mr. Monk and Phineas were going to do; but the idea had not come home to them that if Mr. Monk or Phineas chose to do anything on their own account, they must give up the places which they held under the Crown.
It was September when Phineas found himself back at Killaloe, and he was due to be at his office in London in November. The excitement of Mr. Monk's company was now over, and he had nothing to do but to receive pouches full of official papers from the Colonial Office, and study all the statistics which came within his reach in reference to the proposed new law for tenant-right. In the meantime Mary was still living with her mother at Killaloe, and still kept herself somewhat aloof from the man she loved. How could it be possible for him not to give way in such circumstances as those?
One day he found himself talking to her about himself, and speaking to her of his own position with more frankness than he ever used with his own family. He had begun by reminding her of that conversation which they had had before he went away with Mr. Monk, and by reminding her also that she had promised to return to her old friendly ways with him.
"Nay, Phineas; there was no promise," she said.
"And are we not to be friends?"
"I only say that I made no particular promise. Of course we are friends. We have always been friends."
"What would you say if you heard that I had resigned my office and given up my seat?" he asked. Of course she expressed her surprise, almost her horror, at such an idea, and then he told her everything. It took long in the telling, because it was necessary that he should explain to her the working of the system which made it impossible for him, as a member of the Government, to entertain an opinion of his own.
"And do you mean that you would lose your salary?" she asked.
"Certainly I should."
"Would not that be very dreadful?"
He laughed as he acknowledged that it would be dreadful. "It is very dreadful, Mary, to have nothing to eat and drink. But what is a man to do? Would you recommend me to say that black is white?"
"I am sure you will never do that."
"You see, Mary, it is very nice to be called by a big name and to have a salary, and it is very comfortable to be envied by one's friends and enemies;—but there are drawbacks. There is this especial drawback." Then he paused for a moment before he went on.
"What especial drawback, Phineas?"
"A man cannot do what he pleases with himself. How can a man marry, so circumstanced as I am?"
She hesitated for a moment, and then she answered him,—"A man may be very happy without marrying, I suppose."
He also paused for many moments before he spoke again, and she then made a faint attempt to escape from him. But before she succeeded he had asked her a question which arrested her. "I wonder whether you would listen to me if I were to tell you a history?" Of course she listened, and the history he told her was the tale of his love for Violet Effingham.
"And she has money of her own?" Mary asked.
"Yes;—she is rich. She has a large fortune."
"Then, Mr. Finn, you must seek some one else who is equally blessed."
"Mary, that is untrue,—that is ill-natured. You do not mean that. Say that you do not mean it. You have not believed that I loved Miss Effingham because she was rich."
"But you have told me that you could love no one who is not rich."
"I have said nothing of the kind. Love is involuntary. It does not often run in a yoke with prudence. I have told you my history as far as it is concerned with Violet Effingham. I did love her very dearly."
"Did love her, Mr. Finn?"
"Yes;—did love her. Is there any inconstancy in ceasing to love when one is not loved? Is there inconstancy in changing one's love, and in loving again?"
"I do not know," said Mary, to whom the occasion was becoming so embarrassing that she no longer was able to reply with words that had a meaning in them.
"If there be, dear, I am inconstant." He paused, but of course she had not a syllable to say. "I have changed my love. But I could not speak of a new passion till I had told the story of that which has passed away. You have heard it all now, Mary. Can you try to love me, after that?" It had come at last,—the thing for which she had been ever wishing. It had come in spite of her imprudence, and in spite of her prudence. When she had heard him to the end she was not a whit angry with him,—she was not in the least aggrieved,—because he had been lost to her in his love for this Miss Effingham, while she had been so nearly lost by her love for him. For women such episodes in the lives of their lovers have an excitement which is almost pleasurable, whereas each man is anxious to hear his lady swear that until he appeared upon the scene her heart had been fancy free. Mary, upon the whole, had liked the story,—had thought that it had been finely told, and was well pleased with the final catastrophe. But, nevertheless, she was not prepared with her reply. "Have you no answer to give me, Mary?" he said, looking up into her eyes. I am afraid that he did not doubt what would be her answer,—as it would be good that all lovers should do. "You must vouchsafe me some word, Mary."
When she essayed to speak she found that she was dumb. She could not get her voice to give her the assistance of a single word. She did not cry, but there was a motion as of sobbing in her throat which impeded all utterance. She was as happy as earth,—as heaven could make her; but she did not know how to tell him that she was happy. And yet she longed to tell it, that he might know how thankful she was to him for his goodness. He still sat looking at her, and now by degrees he had got her hand in his. "Mary," he said, "will you be my wife,—my own wife?"
When half an hour had passed, they were still together, and now she had found the use of her tongue. "Do whatever you like best," she said. "I do not care which you do. If you came to me to-morrow and told me you had no income, it would make no difference. Though to love you and to have your love is all the world to me,—though it makes all the difference between misery and happiness,—I would sooner give up that than be a clog on you." Then he took her in his arms and kissed her. "Oh, Phineas!" she said, "I do love you so entirely!"
"My own one!"
"Yes; your own one. But if you had known it always! Never mind. Now you are my own,—are you not?"
"Indeed yes, dearest."
"Oh, what a thing it is to be victorious at last."
"What on earth are you two doing here these two hours together?" said Barbara, bursting into the room.
"What are we doing?" said Phineas.
"Yes;—what are you doing?"
"Nothing in particular," said Mary.
"Nothing at all in particular," said Phineas. "Only this,—that we have engaged ourselves to marry each other. It is quite a trifle,—is it not, Mary?"
"Oh, Barbara!" said the joyful girl, springing forward into her friend's arms; "I do believe I am the happiest creature on the face of this earth!"
Before Phineas had returned to London his engagement with Mary Flood Jones was known to all his family, was known to Mrs. Flood Jones, and was indeed known generally to all Killaloe. That other secret of his, which had reference to the probability of his being obliged to throw up his office, was known only to Mary herself. He thought that he had done all that honour required of him in telling her of his position before he had proposed;—so that she might on that ground refuse him if she were so minded. And yet he had known very well that such prudence on her part was not to be expected. If she loved him, of course she would say so when she was asked. And he had known that she loved him. "There may be delay, Mary," he said to her as he was going; "nay, there must be delay, if I am obliged to resign."
"I do not care a straw for delay if you will be true to me," she said.
"Do you doubt my truth, dearest?"
"Not in the least. I will swear by it as the one thing that is truest in the world."
"You may, dearest. And if this should come to pass I must go to work and put my shoulder to the wheel, and earn an income for you by my old profession before I can make you my wife. With such a motive before me I know that I shall earn an income." And thus they parted. Mary, though of course she would have preferred that her future husband should remain in his high office, that he should be a member of Parliament and an Under-Secretary of State, admitted no doubt into her mind to disturb her happiness; and Phineas, though he had many misgivings as to the prudence of what he had done, was not the less strong in his resolution of constancy and endurance. He would throw up his position, resign his seat, and go to work at the Bar instantly, if he found that his independence as a man required him to do so. And, above all, let come what might, he would be true to Mary Flood Jones.
December was half over before he saw Lord Cantrip. "Yes,—yes;" said Lord Cantrip, when the Under-Secretary began to tell his story; "I saw what you were about. I wish I had been at your elbow."
"If you knew the country as I know it, you would be as eager about it as I am."
"Then I can only say that I am very glad that I do not know the country as you know it. You see, Finn, it's my idea that if a man wants to make himself useful he should stick to some special kind of work. With you it's a thousand pities that you should not do so."
"You think, then, I ought to resign?"
"I don't say anything about that. As you wish it, of course I'll speak to Gresham. Monk, I believe, has resigned already."
"He has written to me, and told me so," said Phineas.
"I always felt afraid of him for your sake, Finn. Mr. Monk is a clever man, and as honest a man as any in the House, but I always thought that he was a dangerous friend for you. However, we will see. I will speak to Gresham after Christmas. There is no hurry about it."
When Parliament met the first great subject of interest was the desertion of Mr. Monk from the Ministry. He at once took his place below the gangway, sitting as it happened exactly in front of Mr. Turnbull, and there he made his explanation. Some one opposite asked a question whether a certain right honourable gentleman had not left the Cabinet. Then Mr. Gresham replied that to his infinite regret his right honourable friend, who lately presided at the Board of Trade, had resigned; and he went on to explain that this resignation had, according to his ideas, been quite unnecessary. His right honourable friend entertained certain ideas about Irish tenant-right, as to which he himself and his right honourable friend the Secretary for Ireland could not exactly pledge themselves to be in unison with him; but he had thought that the motion might have rested at any rate over this session. Then Mr. Monk explained, making his first great speech on Irish tenant-right. He found himself obliged to advocate some immediate measure for giving security to the Irish farmer; and as he could not do so as a member of the Cabinet, he was forced to resign the honour of that position. He said something also as to the great doubt which had ever weighed on his own mind as to the inexpediency of a man at his time of life submitting himself for the first time to the trammels of office. This called up Mr. Turnbull, who took the opportunity of saying that he now agreed cordially with his old friend for the first time since that old friend had listened to the blandishments of the ministerial seducer, and that he welcomed his old friend back to those independent benches with great satisfaction. In this way the debate was very exciting. Nothing was said which made it then necessary for Phineas to get upon his legs or to declare himself; but he perceived that the time would rapidly come in which he must do so. Mr. Gresham, though he strove to speak with gentle words, was evidently very angry with the late President of the Board of Trade; and, moreover, it was quite clear that a bill would be introduced by Mr. Monk himself, which Mr. Gresham was determined to oppose. If all this came to pass and there should be a close division, Phineas felt that his fate would be sealed. When he again spoke to Lord Cantrip on the subject, the Secretary of State shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. "I can only advise you," said Lord Cantrip, "to forget all that took place in Ireland. If you will do so, nobody else will remember it." "As if it were possible to forget such things," he said in the letter which he wrote to Mary that night. "Of course I shall go now. If it were not for your sake, I should not in the least regret it."
He had been with Madame Goesler frequently in the winter, and had discussed with her so often the question of his official position that she had declared that she was coming at last to understand the mysteries of an English Cabinet. "I think you are quite right, my friend," she said,—"quite right. What—you are to be in Parliament and say that this black thing is white, or that this white thing is black, because you like to take your salary! That cannot be honest!" Then, when he came to talk to her of money,—that he must give up Parliament itself, if he gave up his place,—she offered to lend him money. "Why should you not treat me as a friend?" she said. When he pointed out to her that there would never come a time in which he could pay such money back, she stamped her foot and told him that he had better leave her. "You have high principle," she said, "but not principle sufficiently high to understand that this thing could be done between you and me without disgrace to either of us." Then Phineas assured her with tears in his eyes that such an arrangement was impossible without disgrace to him.
But he whispered to this new friend no word of the engagement with his dear Irish Mary. His Irish life, he would tell himself, was a thing quite apart and separate from his life in England. He said not a word about Mary Flood Jones to any of those with whom he lived in London. Why should he, feeling as he did that it would so soon be necessary that he should disappear from among them? About Miss Effingham he had said much to Madame Goesler. She had asked him whether he had abandoned all hope. "That affair, then, is over?" she had said.
"Yes;—it is all over now."
"And she will marry the red-headed, violent lord?"
"Heaven knows. I think she will. But she is exactly the girl to remain unmarried if she takes it into her head that the man she likes is in any way unfitted for her."
"Does she love this lord?"
"Oh yes;—there is no doubt of that." And Phineas, as he made this acknowledgment, seemed to do so without much inward agony of soul. When he had been last in London he could not speak of Violet and Lord Chiltern together without showing that his misery was almost too much for him.
At this time he received some counsel from two friends. One was Laurence Fitzgibbon, and the other was Barrington Erle. Laurence had always been true to him after a fashion, and had never resented his intrusion at the Colonial Office. "Phineas, me boy," he said, "if all this is thrue, you're about up a tree."
"It is true that I shall support Monk's motion."
"Then, me boy, you're up a tree as far as office goes. A place like that niver suited me, because, you see, that poker of a young lord expected so much of a man; but you don't mind that kind of thing, and I thought you were as snug as snug."
"Troubles will come, you see, Laurence."
"Bedad, yes. It's all throubles, I think, sometimes. But you've a way out of all your throubles."
"Pop the question to Madame Max. The money's all thrue, you know."
"I don't doubt the money in the least," said Phineas.
"And it's my belief she'll take you without a second word. Anyways, thry it, Phinny, my boy. That's my advice." Phineas so far agreed with his friend Laurence that he thought it possible that Madame Goesler might accept him were he to propose marriage to her. He knew, of course, that that mode of escape from his difficulties was out of the question for him, but he could not explain this to Laurence Fitzgibbon.
"I am sorry to hear that you have taken up a bad cause," said Barrington Erle to him.
"It is a pity;—is it not?"
"And the worst of it is that you'll sacrifice yourself and do no good to the cause. I never knew a man break away in this fashion, and not feel afterwards that he had done it all for nothing."
"But what is a man to do, Barrington? He can't smother his convictions."
"Convictions! There is nothing on earth that I'm so much afraid of in a young member of Parliament as convictions. There are ever so many rocks against which men get broken. One man can't keep his temper. Another can't hold his tongue. A third can't say a word unless he has been priming himself half a session. A fourth is always thinking of himself, and wanting more than he can get. A fifth is idle, and won't be there when he's wanted. A sixth is always in the way. A seventh lies so that you never can trust him. I've had to do with them all, but a fellow with convictions is the worst of all."
"I don't see how a fellow is to help himself," said Phineas. "When a fellow begins to meddle with politics they will come."
"Why can't you grow into them gradually as your betters and elders have done before you? It ought to be enough for any man, when he begins, to know that he's a Liberal. He understands which side of the House he's to vote, and who is to lead him. What's the meaning of having a leader to a party, if it's not that? Do you think that you and Mr. Monk can go and make a government between you?"
"Whatever I think, I'm sure he doesn't."
"I'm not so sure of that. But look here, Phineas, I don't care two straws about Monk's going. I always thought that Mildmay and the Duke were wrong when they asked him to join. I knew he'd go over the traces,—unless, indeed, he took his money and did nothing for it, which is the way with some of those Radicals. I look upon him as gone."
"He has gone."
"The devil go along with him, as you say in Ireland. But don't you be such a fool as to ruin yourself for a crotchet of Monk's. It isn't too late yet for you to hold back. To tell you the truth, Gresham has said a word to me about it already. He is most anxious that you should stay, but of course you can't stay and vote against us."
"Of course I cannot."
"I look upon you, you know, as in some sort my own child. I've tried to bring other fellows forward who seemed to have something in them, but I have never succeeded as I have with you. You've hit the thing off, and have got the ball at your foot. Upon my honour, in the whole course of my experience I have never known such good fortune as yours."
"And I shall always remember how it began, Barrington," said Phineas, who was greatly moved by the energy and solicitude of his friend.
"But, for God's sake, don't go and destroy it all by such mad perversity as this. They mean to do something next session. Morrison is going to take it up." Sir Walter Morrison was at this time Secretary for Ireland. "But of course we can't let a fellow like Monk take the matter into his own hands just when he pleases. I call it d——d treachery."
"Monk is no traitor, Barrington."
"Men will have their own opinions about that. It's generally understood that when a man is asked to take a seat in the Cabinet he is expected to conform with his colleagues, unless something very special turns up. But I am speaking of you now, and not of Monk. You are not a man of fortune. You cannot afford to make ducks and drakes. You are excellently placed, and you have plenty of time to hark back, if you'll only listen to reason. All that Irish stump balderdash will never be thrown in your teeth by us, if you will just go on as though it had never been uttered."
Phineas could only thank his friend for his advice, which was at least disinterested, and was good of its kind, and tell him that he would think of it. He did think of it very much. He almost thought that, were it to do again, he would allow Mr. Monk to go upon his tour alone, and keep himself from the utterance of anything that so good a judge as Erle could call stump balderdash. As he sat in his arm-chair in his room at the Colonial Office, with despatch-boxes around him, and official papers spread before him,—feeling himself to be one of those who in truth managed and governed the affairs of this great nation, feeling also that if he relinquished his post now he could never regain it,—he did wish that he had been a little less in love with independence, a little quieter in his boastings that no official considerations should ever silence his tongue. But all this was too late now. He knew that his skin was not thick enough to bear the arrows of those archers who would bend their bows against him if he should now dare to vote against Mr. Monk's motion. His own party might be willing to forgive and forget; but there would be others who would read those reports, and would appear in the House with the odious tell-tale newspapers in their hands.
Then he received a letter from his father. Some good-natured person had enlightened the doctor as to the danger in which his son was placing himself. Dr. Finn, who in his own profession was a very excellent and well-instructed man, had been so ignorant of Parliamentary tactics, as to have been proud at his son's success at the Irish meetings. He had thought that Phineas was carrying on his trade as a public speaker with proper energy and continued success. He had cared nothing himself for tenant-right, and had acknowledged to Mr. Monk that he could not understand in what it was that the farmers were wronged. But he knew that Mr. Monk was a Cabinet Minister, and he thought that Phineas was earning his salary. Then there came some one who undeceived him, and the paternal bosom of the doctor was dismayed. "I don't mean to interfere," he said in his letter, "but I can hardly believe that you really intend to resign your place. Yet I am told that you must do so if you go on with this matter. My dear boy, pray think about it. I cannot imagine you are disposed to lose all that you have won for nothing." Mary also wrote to him. Mrs. Finn had been talking to her, and Mary had taught herself to believe that after the many sweet conversations she had had with a man so high in office as Phineas, she really did understand something about the British Government. Mrs. Finn had interrogated Mary, and Mary had been obliged to own that it was quite possible that Phineas would be called upon to resign.
"But why, my dear? Heaven and earth! Resign two thousand a year!"
"That he may maintain his independence," said Mary proudly.
"Fiddlestick!" said Mrs. Finn. "How is he to maintain you, or himself either, if he goes on in that way? I shouldn't wonder if he didn't get himself all wrong, even now." Then Mrs. Finn began to cry; and Mary could only write to her lover, pointing out to him how very anxious all his friends were that he should do nothing in a hurry. But what if the thing were done already! Phineas in his great discomfort went to seek further counsel from Madame Goesler. Of all his counsellors, Madame Goesler was the only one who applauded him for what he was about to do.
"But, after all, what is it you give up? Mr. Gresham may be out to-morrow, and then where will be your place?"
"There does not seem to be much chance of that at present."
"Who can tell? Of course I do not understand,—but it was only the other day when Mr. Mildmay was there, and only the day before that when Lord de Terrier was there, and again only the day before that when Lord Brock was there." Phineas endeavoured to make her understand that of the four Prime Ministers whom she had named, three were men of the same party as himself, under whom it would have suited him to serve. "I would not serve under any man if I were an English gentleman in Parliament," said Madame Goesler.
"What is a poor fellow to do?" said Phineas, laughing.
"A poor fellow need not be a poor fellow unless he likes," said Madame Goesler. Immediately after this Phineas left her, and as he went along the street he began to question himself whether the prospects of his own darling Mary were at all endangered by his visits to Park Lane; and to reflect what sort of a blackguard he would be,—a blackguard of how deep a dye,—were he to desert Mary and marry Madame Max Goesler. Then he also asked himself as to the nature and quality of his own political honesty if he were to abandon Mary in order that he might maintain his parliamentary independence. After all, if it should ever come to pass that his biography should be written, his biographer would say very much more about the manner in which he kept his seat in Parliament than of the manner in which he kept his engagement with Miss Mary Flood Jones. Half a dozen people who knew him and her might think ill of him for his conduct to Mary, but the world would not condemn him! And when he thundered forth his liberal eloquence from below the gangway as an independent member, having the fortune of his charming wife to back him, giving excellent dinners at the same time in Park Lane, would not the world praise him very loudly?
When he got to his office he found a note from Lord Brentford inviting him to dine in Portman Square.
The Joint Attack
The note from Lord Brentford surprised our hero not a little. He had had no communication with the Earl since the day on which he had been so savagely scolded about the duel, when the Earl had plainly told him that his conduct had been as bad as it could be. Phineas had not on that account become at all ashamed of his conduct in reference to the duel, but he had conceived that any reconciliation between him and the Earl had been out of the question. Now there had come a civilly-worded invitation, asking him to dine with the offended nobleman. The note had been written by Lady Laura, but it had purported to come from Lord Brentford himself. He sent back word to say that he should be happy to have the honour of dining with Lord Brentford.
Parliament at this time had been sitting nearly a month, and it was already March. Phineas had heard nothing of Lady Laura, and did not even know that she was in London till he saw her handwriting. He did not know that she had not gone back to her husband, and that she had remained with her father all the winter at Saulsby. He had also heard that Lord Chiltern had been at Saulsby. All the world had been talking of the separation of Mr. Kennedy from his wife, one half of the world declaring that his wife, if not absolutely false to him, had neglected all her duties; and the other half asserting that Mr. Kennedy's treatment of his wife had been so bad that no woman could possibly have lived with him. There had even been a rumour that Lady Laura had gone off with a lover from the Duke of Omnium's garden party, and some indiscreet tongue had hinted that a certain unmarried Under-Secretary of State was missing at the same time. But Lord Chiltern upon this had shown his teeth with so strong a propensity to do some real biting, that no one had ventured to repeat that rumour. Its untruth was soon established by the fact that Lady Laura Kennedy was living with her father at Saulsby. Of Mr. Kennedy, Phineas had as yet seen nothing since he had been up in town. That gentleman, though a member of the Cabinet, had not been in London at the opening of the session, nor had he attended the Cabinet meetings during the recess. It had been stated in the newspapers that he was ill, and stated in private that he could not bear to show himself since his wife had left him. At last, however, he came to London, and Phineas saw him in the House. Then, when the first meeting of the Cabinet was summoned after his return, it became known that he also had resigned his office. There was nothing said about his resignation in the House. He had resigned on the score of ill-health, and that very worthy peer, Lord Mount Thistle, formerly Sir Marmaduke Morecombe, came back to the Duchy of Lancaster in his place. A Prime Minister sometimes finds great relief in the possession of a serviceable stick who can be made to go in and out as occasion may require; only it generally happens that the stick will expect some reward when he is made to go out. Lord Mount Thistle immediately saw his way to a viscount's coronet, when he was once more summoned to the august councils of the Ministers.
A few days after this had been arranged, in the interval between Lord Brentford's invitation and Lord Brentford's dinner, Phineas encountered Mr. Kennedy so closely in one of the passages of the House that it was impossible that they should not speak to each other, unless they were to avoid each other as people do who have palpably quarrelled. Phineas saw that Mr. Kennedy was hesitating, and therefore took the bull by the horns. He greeted his former friend in a friendly fashion, shaking him by the hand, and then prepared to pass on. But Mr. Kennedy, though he had hesitated at first, now detained his brother member. "Finn," he said, "if you are not engaged I should like to speak to you for a moment." Phineas was not engaged, and allowed himself to be led out arm-in-arm by the late Chancellor of the Duchy into Westminster Hall. "Of course you know what a terrible thing has happened to me," said Mr. Kennedy.
"Yes;—I have heard of it," said Phineas.
"Everybody has heard of it. That is one of the terrible cruelties of such a blow."
"All those things are very bad of course. I was very much grieved,—because you have both been intimate friends of mine."
"Yes,—yes; we were. Do you ever see her now?"
"Not since last July,—at the Duke's party, you know."
"Ah, yes; the morning of that day was the last on which I spoke to her. It was then she left me."
"I am going to dine with Lord Brentford to-morrow, and I dare say she will be there."
"Yes;—she is in town. I saw her yesterday in her father's carriage. I think that she had no cause to leave me."
"Of course I cannot say anything about that."
"I think she had no cause to leave me." Phineas as he heard this could not but remember all that Lady Laura had told himself, and thought that no woman had ever had a better reason for leaving her husband. "There were things I did not like, and I said so."
"I suppose that is generally the way," replied Phineas.
"But surely a wife should listen to a word of caution from her husband."
"I fancy they never like it," said Phineas.
"But are we all of us to have all that we like? I have not found it so. Or would it be good for us if we had?" Then he paused; but as Phineas had no further remark to make, he continued speaking after they had walked about a third of the length of the hall. "It is not of my own comfort I am thinking now so much as of her name and her future conduct. Of course it will in every sense be best for her that she should come back to her husband's roof."
"Well; yes;—perhaps it would," said Phineas.
"Has she not accepted that lot for better or for worse?" said Mr. Kennedy, solemnly.
"But incompatibility of temper, you know, is always,—always supposed—. You understand me?"
"It is my intention that she should come back to me. I do not wish to make any legal demand;—at any rate, not as yet. Will you consent to be the bearer of a message from me both to herself and to the Earl?"
Now it seemed to Phineas that of all the messengers whom Mr. Kennedy could have chosen he was the most unsuited to be a Mercury in this cause,—not perceiving that he had been so selected with some craft, in order that Lady Laura might understand that the accusation against her was, at any rate, withdrawn, which had named Phineas as her lover. He paused again before he answered. "Of course," he said, "I should be most willing to be of service, if it were possible. But I do not see how I can speak to the Earl about it. Though I am going to dine with him I don't know why he has asked me;—for he and I are on very bad terms. He heard that stupid story about the duel, and has not spoken to me since."
"I heard that, too," said Mr. Kennedy, frowning blackly as he remembered his wife's duplicity.
"Everybody heard of it. But it has made such a difference between him and me, that I don't think I can meddle. Send for Lord Chiltern, and speak to him."
"Speak to Chiltern! Never! He would probably strike me on the head with his club."
"Call on the Earl yourself."
"I did, and he would not see me."
"Write to him."
"I did, and he sent back my letter unopened."
"Write to her."
"I did;—and she answered me, saying only thus; 'Indeed, indeed, it cannot be so.' But it must be so. The laws of God require it, and the laws of man permit it. I want some one to point out that to them more softly than I could do if I were simply to write to that effect. To the Earl, of course, I cannot write again." The conference ended by a promise from Phineas that he would, if possible, say a word to Lady Laura.
When he was shown into Lord Brentford's drawing-room he found not only Lady Laura there, but her brother. Lord Brentford was not in the room. Barrington Erle was there, and so also were Lord and Lady Cantrip.
"Is not your father going to be here?" he said to Lady Laura, after their first greeting.
"We live in that hope," said she, "and do not at all know why he should be late. What has become of him, Oswald?"
"He came in with me half an hour ago, and I suppose he does not dress as quickly as I do," said Lord Chiltern; upon which Phineas immediately understood that the father and the son were reconciled, and he rushed to the conclusion that Violet and her lover would also soon be reconciled, if such were not already the case. He felt some remnant of a soreness that it should be so, as a man feels where his headache has been when the real ache itself has left him. Then the host came in and made his apologies. "Chiltern kept me standing about," he said, "till the east wind had chilled me through and through. The only charm I recognise in youth is that it is impervious to the east wind." Phineas felt quite sure now that Violet and her lover were reconciled, and he had a distinct feeling of the place where the ache had been. Dear Violet! But, after all, Violet lacked that sweet, clinging, feminine softness which made Mary Flood Jones so pre-eminently the most charming of her sex. The Earl, when he had repeated his general apology, especially to Lady Cantrip, who was the only lady present except his daughter, came up to our hero and shook him kindly by the hand. He took him up to one of the windows and then addressed him in a voice of mock solemnity.
"Stick to the colonies, young man," he said, "and never meddle with foreign affairs;—especially not at Blankenberg."
"Never again, my Lord;—never again."
"And leave all questions of fire-arms to be arranged between the Horse Guards and the War Office. I have heard a good deal about it since I saw you, and I retract a part of what I said. But a duel is a foolish thing,—a very foolish thing. Come;—here is dinner." And the Earl walked off with Lady Cantrip, and Lord Cantrip walked off with Lady Laura. Barrington Erle followed, and Phineas had an opportunity of saying a word to his friend, Lord Chiltern, as they went down together.
"It's all right between you and your father?"
"Yes;—after a fashion. There is no knowing how long it will last. He wants me to do three things, and I won't do any one of them."
"What are the three?"
"To go into Parliament, to be an owner of sheep and oxen, and to hunt in his own county. I should never attend the first, I should ruin myself with the second, and I should never get a run in the third." But there was not a word said about his marriage.
There were only seven who sat down to dinner, and the six were all people with whom Phineas was or had been on most intimate terms. Lord Cantrip was his official chief, and, since that connection had existed between them, Lady Cantrip had been very gracious to him. She quite understood the comfort which it was to her husband to have under him, as his representative in the House of Commons, a man whom he could thoroughly trust and like, and therefore she had used her woman's arts to bind Phineas to her lord in more than mere official bondage. She had tried her skill also upon Laurence Fitzgibbon,—but altogether in vain. He had eaten her dinners and accepted her courtesies, and had given for them no return whatever. But Phineas had possessed a more grateful mind, and had done all that had been required of him;—had done all that had been required of him till there had come that terrible absurdity in Ireland. "I knew very well what sort of things would happen when they brought such a man as Mr. Monk into the Cabinet," Lady Cantrip had said to her husband.
But though the party was very small, and though the guests were all his intimate friends, Phineas suspected nothing special till an attack was made upon him as soon as the servants had left the room. This was done in the presence of the two ladies, and, no doubt, had been preconcerted. There was Lord Cantrip there, who had already said much to him, and Barrington Erle who had said more even than Lord Cantrip. Lord Brentford, himself a member of the Cabinet, opened the attack by asking whether it was actually true that Mr. Monk meant to go on with his motion. Barrington Erle asserted that Mr. Monk positively would do so. "And Gresham will oppose it?" asked the Earl. "Of course he will," said Barrington. "Of course he will," said Lord Cantrip. "I know what I should think of him if he did not," said Lady Cantrip. "He is the last man in the world to be forced into a thing," said Lady Laura. Then Phineas knew pretty well what was coming on him.
Lord Brentford began again by asking how many supporters Mr. Monk would have in the House. "That depends upon the amount of courage which the Conservatives may have," said Barrington Erle. "If they dare to vote for a thoroughly democratic measure, simply for the sake of turning us out, it is quite on the cards that they may succeed." "But of our own people?" asked Lord Cantrip. "You had better inquire that of Phineas Finn," said Barrington. And then the attack was made.
Our hero had a bad half hour of it, though many words were said which must have gratified him much. They all wanted to keep him,—so Lord Cantrip declared, "except one or two whom I could name, and who are particularly anxious to wear his shoes," said Barrington, thinking that certain reminiscences of Phineas with regard to Mr. Bonteen and others might operate as strongly as any other consideration to make him love his place. Lord Brentford declared that he could not understand it,—that he should find himself lost in amazement if such a man as his young friend allowed himself to be led into the outer wilderness by such an ignis-fatuus of light as this. Lord Cantrip laid down the unwritten traditional law of Government officials very plainly. A man in office,—in an office which really imposed upon him as much work as he could possibly do with credit to himself or his cause,—was dispensed from the necessity of a conscience with reference to other matters. It was for Sir Walter Morrison to have a conscience about Irish tenant-right, as no doubt he had,—just as Phineas Finn had a conscience about Canada, and Jamaica, and the Cape. Barrington Erle was very strong about parties in general, and painted the comforts of official position in glowing colours. But I think that the two ladies were more efficacious than even their male relatives in the arguments which they used. "We have been so happy to have you among us," said Lady Cantrip, looking at him with beseeching, almost loving eyes. "Mr. Finn knows," said Lady Laura, "that since he first came into Parliament I have always believed in his success, and I have been very proud to see it." "We shall weep over him, as over a fallen angel, if he leaves us," said Lady Cantrip. "I won't say that I will weep," said Lady Laura, "but I do not know anything of the kind that would so truly make me unhappy."
What was he to say in answer to applications so flattering and so pressing? He would have said nothing, had that been possible, but he felt himself obliged to reply. He replied very weakly,—of course, not justifying himself, but declaring that as he had gone so far he must go further. He must vote for the measure now. Both his chief and Barrington Erle proved, or attempted to prove, that he was wrong in this. Of course he would not speak on the measure, and his vote for his party would probably be allowed to pass without notice. One or two newspapers might perhaps attack him; but what public man cared for such attacks as those? His whole party would hang by him, and in that he would find ample consolation. Phineas could only say that he would think of it;—and this he said in so irresolute a tone of voice that all the men then present believed that he was gained. The two ladies, however, were of a different opinion. "In spite of anything that anybody may say, he will do what he thinks right when the time comes," said Laura to her father afterwards. But then Lady Laura had been in love with him,—was perhaps almost in love with him still. "I'm afraid he is a mule," said Lady Cantrip to her husband. "He's a good mule up a hill with a load on his back," said his lordship. "But with a mule there always comes a time when you can't manage him," said Lady Cantrip. But Lady Cantrip had never been in love with Phineas.
Phineas found a moment, before he left Lord Brentford's house, to say a word to Lady Laura as to the commission that had been given to him. "It can never be," said Lady Laura, shuddering;—"never, never, never!"
"You are not angry with me for speaking?"
"Oh, no—not if he told you."
"He made me promise that I would."
"Tell him it cannot be. Tell him that if he has any instruction to send me as to what he considers to be my duty, I will endeavour to comply, if that duty can be done apart. I will recognize him so far, because of my vow. But not even for the sake of my vow, will I endeavour to live with him. His presence would kill me!"
When Phineas repeated this, or as much of this as he judged to be necessary, to Mr. Kennedy a day or two afterwards, that gentleman replied that in such case he would have no alternative but to seek redress at law. "I have done nothing to my wife," said he, "of which I need be ashamed. It will be sad, no doubt, to have all our affairs bandied about in court, and made the subject of comment in newspapers, but a man must go through that, or worse than that, in the vindication of his rights, and for the performance of his duty to his Maker." That very day Mr. Kennedy went to his lawyer, and desired that steps might be taken for the restitution to him of his conjugal rights.
Mr. Monk's bill was read the first time before Easter, and Phineas Finn still held his office. He had spoken to the Prime Minister once on the subject, and had been surprised at that gentleman's courtesy;—for Mr. Gresham had the reputation of being unconciliatory in his manners, and very prone to resent anything like desertion from that allegiance which was due to himself as the leader of his party. "You had better stay where you are and take no step that may be irretrievable, till you have quite made up your mind," said Mr. Gresham.
"I fear I have made up my mind," said Phineas.
"Nothing can be done till after Easter," replied the great man, "and there is no knowing how things may go then. I strongly recommend you to stay with us. If you can do this it will be only necessary that you shall put your resignation in Lord Cantrip's hands before you speak or vote against us. See Monk and talk it over with him." Mr. Gresham possibly imagined that Mr. Monk might be moved to abandon his bill, when he saw what injury he was about to do.
At this time Phineas received the following letter from his darling Mary:—
We have just got home from Killaloe, and mean to remain here all through the summer. After leaving your sisters this house seems so desolate; but I shall have the more time to think of you. I have been reading Tennyson, as you told me, and I fancy that I could in truth be a Mariana here, if it were not that I am so quite certain that you will come;—and that makes all the difference in the world in a moated grange. Last night I sat at the window and tried to realise what I should feel if you were to tell me that you did not want me; and I got myself into such an ecstatic state of mock melancholy that I cried for half an hour. But when one has such a real living joy at the back of one's romantic melancholy, tears are very pleasant;— they water and do not burn.
I must tell you about them all at Killaloe. They certainly are very unhappy at the idea of your resigning. Your father says very little, but I made him own that to act as you are acting for the sake of principle is very grand. I would not leave him till he had said so, and he did say it. Dear Mrs. Finn does not understand it as well, but she will do so. She complains mostly for my sake, and when I tell her that I will wait twenty years if it is necessary, she tells me I do not know what waiting means. But I will,—and will be happy, and will never really think myself a Mariana. Dear, dear, dear Phineas, indeed I won't. The girls are half sad and half proud. But I am wholly proud, and know that you are doing just what you ought to do. I shall think more of you as a man who might have been a Prime Minister than if you were really sitting in the Cabinet like Lord Cantrip. As for mamma, I cannot make her quite understand it. She merely says that no young man who is going to be married ought to resign anything. Dear mamma;—sometimes she does say such odd things.
You told me to tell you everything, and so I have. I talk to some of the people here, and tell them what they might do if they had tenant-right. One old fellow, Mike Dufferty,—I don't know whether you remember him,—asked if he would have to pay the rent all the same. When I said certainly he would, then he shook his head. But as you said once, when we want to do good to people one has no right to expect that they should understand it. It is like baptizing little infants.
I got both your notes;—seven words in one, Mr. Under-Secretary, and nine in the other! But the one little word at the end was worth a whole sheet full of common words. How nice it is to write letters without paying postage, and to send them about the world with a grand name in the corner. When Barney brings me one he always looks as if he didn't know whether it was a love letter or an order to go to Botany Bay. If he saw the inside of them, how short they are, I don't think he'd think much of you as a lover nor yet as an Under-Secretary.
But I think ever so much of you as both;—I do, indeed; and I am not scolding you a bit. As long as I can have two or three dear, sweet, loving words, I shall be as happy as a queen. Ah, if you knew it all! But you never can know it all. A man has so many other things to learn that he cannot understand it.
Good-bye, dear, dear, dearest man. Whatever you do I shall be quite sure you have done the best.
Ever your own, with all the love of her heart,
MARY F. JONES.
This was very nice. Such a man as was Phineas Finn always takes a delight which he cannot express even to himself in the receipt of such a letter as this. There is nothing so flattering as the warm expression of the confidence of a woman's love, and Phineas thought that no woman ever expressed this more completely than did his Mary. Dear, dearest Mary. As for giving her up, as for treachery to one so trusting, so sweet, so well beloved, that was out of the question. But nevertheless the truth came home to him more clearly day by day, that he of all men was the last who ought to have given himself up to such a passion. For her sake he ought to have abstained. So he told himself now. For her sake he ought to have kept aloof from her;—and for his own sake he ought to have kept aloof from Mr. Monk. That very day, with Mary's letter in his pocket, he went to the livery stables and explained that he would not keep his horse any longer. There was no difficulty about the horse. Mr. Howard Macleod of the Treasury would take him from that very hour. Phineas, as he walked away, uttered a curse upon Mr. Howard Macleod. Mr. Howard Macleod was just beginning the glory of his life in London, and he, Phineas Finn, was bringing his to an end.
With Mary's letter in his pocket he went up to Portman Square. He had again got into the habit of seeing Lady Laura frequently, and was often with her brother, who now again lived at his father's house. A letter had reached Lord Brentford, through his lawyer, in which a demand was made by Mr. Kennedy for the return of his wife. She was quite determined that she would never go back to him; and there had come to her a doubt whether it would not be expedient that she should live abroad so as to be out of the way of persecution from her husband. Lord Brentford was in great wrath, and Lord Chiltern had once or twice hinted that perhaps he had better "see" Mr. Kennedy. The amenities of such an interview, as this would be, had up to the present day been postponed; and, in a certain way, Phineas had been used as a messenger between Mr. Kennedy and his wife's family.