"You yourself hope to go into Parliament and join a ministry some day," said Phineas.
Mr. Low was not quick to answer, but he did answer at last. "That is true, though I have never told you so. Indeed, it is hardly true to say that I hope it. I have my dreams, and sometimes dare to tell myself that they may possibly become waking facts. But if ever I sit on a Treasury bench I shall sit there by special invitation, having been summoned to take a high place because of my professional success. It is but a dream after all, and I would not have you repeat what I have said to any one. I had no intention to talk about myself."
"I am sure that you will succeed," said Phineas.
"Yes;—I shall succeed. I am succeeding. I live upon what I earn, like a gentleman, and can already afford to be indifferent to work that I dislike. After all, the other part of it,—that of which I dream,—is but an unnecessary adjunct; the gilding on the gingerbread. I am inclined to think that the cake is more wholesome without it."
Phineas did not go up-stairs into Mrs. Low's drawing-room on that evening, nor did he stay very late with Mr. Low. He had heard enough of counsel to make him very unhappy,—to shake from him much of the audacity which he had acquired for himself during his morning's walk,—and to make him almost doubt whether, after all, the Chiltern Hundreds would not be for him the safest escape from his difficulties. But in that case he must never venture to see Lady Laura Standish again.
Lord Brentford's Dinner
No;—in such case as that,—should he resolve upon taking the advice of his old friend Mr. Low, Phineas Finn must make up his mind never to see Lady Laura Standish again! And he was in love with Lady Laura Standish;—and, for aught he knew, Lady Laura Standish might be in love with him. As he walked home from Mr. Low's house in Bedford Square, he was by no means a triumphant man. There had been much more said between him and Mr. Low than could be laid before the reader in the last chapter. Mr. Low had urged him again and again, and had prevailed so far that Phineas, before he left the house, had promised to consider that suicidal expedient of the Chiltern Hundreds. What a by-word he would become if he were to give up Parliament, having sat there for about a week! But such immediate giving up was one of the necessities of Mr. Low's programme. According to Mr. Low's teaching, a single year passed amidst the miasma of the House of Commons would be altogether fatal to any chance of professional success. And Mr. Low had at any rate succeeded in making Phineas believe that he was right in this lesson. There was his profession, as to which Mr. Low assured him that success was within his reach; and there was Parliament on the other side, as to which he knew that the chances were all against him, in spite of his advantage of a seat. That he could not combine the two, beginning with Parliament, he did believe. Which should it be? That was the question which he tried to decide as he walked home from Bedford Square to Great Marlborough Street. He could not answer the question satisfactorily, and went to bed an unhappy man.
He must at any rate go to Lord Brentford's dinner on Wednesday, and, to enable him to join in the conversation there, must attend the debates on Monday and Tuesday. The reader may perhaps be best made to understand how terrible was our hero's state of doubt by being told that for awhile he thought of absenting himself from these debates, as being likely to weaken his purpose of withdrawing altogether from the House. It is not very often that so strong a fury rages between party and party at the commencement of the session that a division is taken upon the Address. It is customary for the leader of the opposition on such occasions to express his opinion in the most courteous language, that his right honourable friend, sitting opposite to him on the Treasury bench, has been, is, and will be wrong in everything that he thinks, says, or does in public life; but that, as anything like factious opposition is never adopted on that side of the House, the Address to the Queen, in answer to that most fatuous speech which has been put into her Majesty's gracious mouth, shall be allowed to pass unquestioned. Then the leader of the House thanks his adversary for his consideration, explains to all men how happy the country ought to be that the Government has not fallen into the disgracefully incapable hands of his right honourable friend opposite; and after that the Address is carried amidst universal serenity. But such was not the order of the day on the present occasion. Mr. Mildmay, the veteran leader of the liberal side of the House, had moved an amendment to the Address, and had urged upon the House, in very strong language, the expediency of showing, at the very commencement of the session, that the country had returned to Parliament a strong majority determined not to put up with Conservative inactivity. "I conceive it to be my duty," Mr. Mildmay had said, "at once to assume that the country is unwilling that the right honourable gentlemen opposite should keep their seats on the bench upon which they sit, and in the performance of that duty I am called upon to divide the House upon the Address to her Majesty." And if Mr. Mildmay used strong language, the reader may be sure that Mr. Mildmay's followers used language much stronger. And Mr. Daubeny, who was the present leader of the House, and representative there of the Ministry,—Lord de Terrier, the Premier, sitting in the House of Lords,—was not the man to allow these amenities to pass by without adequate replies. He and his friends were very strong in sarcasm, if they failed in argument, and lacked nothing for words, though it might perhaps be proved that they were short in numbers. It was considered that the speech in which Mr. Daubeny reviewed the long political life of Mr. Mildmay, and showed that Mr. Mildmay had been at one time a bugbear, and then a nightmare, and latterly simply a fungus, was one of the severest attacks, if not the most severe, that had been heard in that House since the Reform Bill. Mr. Mildmay, the while, was sitting with his hat low down over his eyes, and many men said that he did not like it. But this speech was not made till after that dinner at Lord Brentford's, of which a short account must be given.
Had it not been for the overwhelming interest of the doings in Parliament at the commencement of the session, Phineas might have perhaps abstained from attending, in spite of the charm of novelty. For, in truth, Mr. Low's words had moved him much. But if it was to be his fate to be a member of Parliament only for ten days, surely it would be well that he should take advantage of the time to hear such a debate as this. It would be a thing to talk of to his children in twenty years' time, or to his grandchildren in fifty;—and it would be essentially necessary that he should be able to talk of it to Lady Laura Standish. He did, therefore, sit in the House till one on the Monday night, and till two on the Tuesday night, and heard the debate adjourned till the Thursday. On the Thursday Mr. Daubeny was to make his great speech, and then the division would come.
When Phineas entered Lady Laura's drawing-room on the Wednesday before dinner, he found the other guests all assembled. Why men should have been earlier in keeping their dinner engagements on that day than on any other he did not understand; but it was the fact, probably, that the great anxiety of the time made those who were at all concerned in the matter very keen to hear and to be heard. During these days everybody was in a hurry,—everybody was eager; and there was a common feeling that not a minute was to be lost. There were three ladies in the room,—Lady Laura, Miss Fitzgibbon, and Mrs. Bonteen. The latter was the wife of a gentleman who had been a junior Lord of the Admiralty in the late Government, and who lived in the expectation of filling, perhaps, some higher office in the Government which, as he hoped, was soon to be called into existence. There were five gentlemen besides Phineas Finn himself,—Mr. Bonteen, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Fitzgibbon, Barrington Erle, who had been caught in spite of all that Lady Laura had said as to the difficulty of such an operation, and Lord Brentford. Phineas was quick to observe that every male guest was in Parliament, and to tell himself that he would not have been there unless he also had had a seat.
"We are all here now," said the Earl, ringing the bell.
"I hope I've not kept you waiting," said Phineas.
"Not at all," said Lady Laura. "I do not know why we are in such a hurry. And how many do you say it will be, Mr. Finn?"
"Seventeen, I suppose," said Phineas.
"More likely twenty-two," said Mr. Bonteen. "There is Colcleugh so ill they can't possibly bring him up, and young Rochester is at Vienna, and Gunning is sulking about something, and Moody has lost his eldest son. By George! they pressed him to come up, although Frank Moody won't be buried till Friday."
"I don't believe it," said Lord Brentford.
"You ask some of the Carlton fellows, and they'll own it."
"If I'd lost every relation I had in the world," said Fitzgibbon, "I'd vote on such a question as this. Staying away won't bring poor Frank Moody back to life."
"But there's a decency in these matters, is there not, Mr. Fitzgibbon?" said Lady Laura.
"I thought they had thrown all that kind of thing overboard long ago," said Miss Fitzgibbon. "It would be better that they should have no veil, than squabble about the thickness of it."
Then dinner was announced. The Earl walked off with Miss Fitzgibbon, Barrington Erle took Mrs. Bonteen, and Mr. Fitzgibbon took Lady Laura.
"I'll bet four pounds to two it's over nineteen," said Mr. Bonteen, as he passed through the drawing-room door. The remark seemed to have been addressed to Mr. Kennedy, and Phineas therefore made no reply.
"I daresay it will," said Kennedy, "but I never bet."
"But you vote—sometimes, I hope," said Bonteen.
"Sometimes," said Mr. Kennedy.
"I think he is the most odious man that ever I set my eyes on," said Phineas to himself as he followed Mr. Kennedy into the dining-room. He had observed that Mr. Kennedy had been standing very near to Lady Laura in the drawing-room, and that Lady Laura had said a few words to him. He was more determined than ever that he would hate Mr. Kennedy, and would probably have been moody and unhappy throughout the whole dinner had not Lady Laura called him to a chair at her left hand. It was very generous of her; and the more so, as Mr. Kennedy had, in a half-hesitating manner, prepared to seat himself in that very place. As it was, Phineas and Mr. Kennedy were neighbours, but Phineas had the place of honour.
"I suppose you will not speak during the debate?" said Lady Laura.
"Who? I? Certainly not. In the first place, I could not get a hearing, and, in the next place, I should not think of commencing on such an occasion. I do not know that I shall ever speak at all."
"Indeed you will. You are just the sort of man who will succeed with the House. What I doubt is, whether you will do as well in office."
"I wish I might have the chance."
"Of course you can have the chance if you try for it. Beginning so early, and being on the right side,—and, if you will allow me to say so, among the right set,—there can be no doubt that you may take office if you will. But I am not sure that you will be tractable. You cannot begin, you know, by being Prime Minister."
"I have seen enough to realise that already," said Phineas.
"If you will only keep that little fact steadily before your eyes, there is nothing you may not reach in official life. But Pitt was Prime Minister at four-and-twenty, and that precedent has ruined half our young politicians."
"It has not affected me, Lady Laura."
"As far as I can see, there is no great difficulty in government. A man must learn to have words at command when he is on his legs in the House of Commons, in the same way as he would if he were talking to his own servants. He must keep his temper; and he must be very patient. As far as I have seen Cabinet Ministers, they are not more clever than other people."
"I think there are generally one or two men of ability in the Cabinet."
"Yes, of fair ability. Mr. Mildmay is a good specimen. There is not, and never was, anything brilliant in him. He is not eloquent, nor, as far as I am aware, did he ever create anything. But he has always been a steady, honest, persevering man, and circumstances have made politics come easy to him."
"Think of the momentous questions which he has been called upon to decide," said Phineas.
"Every question so handled by him has been decided rightly according to his own party, and wrongly according to the party opposite. A political leader is so sure of support and so sure of attack, that it is hardly necessary for him to be even anxious to be right. For the country's sake, he should have officials under him who know the routine of business."
"You think very badly then of politics as a profession."
"No; I think of them very highly. It must be better to deal with the repeal of laws than the defending of criminals. But all this is papa's wisdom, not mine. Papa has never been in the Cabinet yet, and therefore of course he is a little caustic."
"I think he was quite right," said Barrington Erle stoutly. He spoke so stoutly that everybody at the table listened to him.
"I don't exactly see the necessity for such internecine war just at present," said Lord Brentford.
"I must say I do," said the other. "Lord de Terrier took office knowing that he was in a minority. We had a fair majority of nearly thirty when he came in."
"Then how very soft you must have been to go out," said Miss Fitzgibbon.
"Not in the least soft," continued Barrington Erle. "We could not command our men, and were bound to go out. For aught we knew, some score of them might have chosen to support Lord de Terrier, and then we should have owned ourselves beaten for the time."
"You were beaten,—hollow," said Miss Fitzgibbon.
"Then why did Lord de Terrier dissolve?"
"A Prime Minister is quite right to dissolve in such a position," said Lord Brentford. "He must do so for the Queen's sake. It is his only chance."
"Just so. It is, as you say, his only chance, and it is his right. His very possession of power will give him near a score of votes, and if he thinks that he has a chance, let him try it. We maintain that he had no chance, and that he must have known that he had none;—that if he could not get on with the late House, he certainly could not get on with a new House. We let him have his own way as far as we could in February. We had failed last summer, and if he could get along he was welcome. But he could not get along."
"I must say I think he was right to dissolve," said Lady Laura.
"And we are right to force the consequences upon him as quickly as we can. He practically lost nine seats by his dissolution. Look at Loughshane."
"Yes; look at Loughshane," said Miss Fitzgibbon. "The country at any rate has gained something there."
"It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, Mr. Finn," said the Earl.
"What on earth is to become of poor George?" said Mr. Fitzgibbon. "I wonder whether any one knows where he is. George wasn't a bad sort of fellow."
"Roby used to think that he was a very bad fellow," said Mr. Bonteen. "Roby used to swear that it was hopeless trying to catch him." It may be as well to explain that Mr. Roby was a Conservative gentleman of great fame who had for years acted as Whip under Mr. Daubeny, and who now filled the high office of Patronage Secretary to the Treasury. "I believe in my heart," continued Mr. Bonteen, "that Roby is rejoiced that poor George Morris should be out in the cold."
"If seats were halveable, he should share mine, for the sake of auld lang syne," said Laurence Fitzgibbon.
"But not to-morrow night," said Barrington Erle; "the division to-morrow will be a thing not to be joked with. Upon my word I think they're right about old Moody. All private considerations should give way. And as for Gunning, I'd have him up or I'd know the reason why."
"And shall we have no defaulters, Barrington?" asked Lady Laura.
"I'm not going to boast, but I don't know of one for whom we need blush. Sir Everard Powell is so bad with gout that he can't even bear any one to look at him, but Ratler says that he'll bring him up." Mr. Ratler was in those days the Whip on the liberal side of the House.
"Unfortunate wretch!" said Miss Fitzgibbon.
"The worst of it is that he screams in his paroxysms," said Mr. Bonteen.
"And you mean to say that you'll take him into the lobby," said Lady Laura.
"Undoubtedly," said Barrington Erle. "Why not? He has no business with a seat if he can't vote. But Sir Everard is a good man, and he'll be there if laudanum and bath-chair make it possible."
The same kind of conversation went on during the whole of dinner, and became, if anything, more animated when the three ladies had left the room. Mr. Kennedy made but one remark, and then he observed that as far as he could see a majority of nineteen would be as serviceable as a majority of twenty. This he said in a very mild voice, and in a tone that was intended to be expressive of doubt; but in spite of his humility Barrington Erle flew at him almost savagely,—as though a liberal member of the House of Commons was disgraced by so mean a spirit; and Phineas found himself despising the man for his want of zeal.
"If we are to beat them, let us beat them well," said Phineas.
"Let there be no doubt about it," said Barrington Erle.
"I should like to see every man with a seat polled," said Bonteen.
"Poor Sir Everard!" said Lord Brentford. "It will kill him, no doubt, but I suppose the seat is safe."
"Oh, yes; Llanwrwsth is quite safe," said Barrington, in his eagerness omitting to catch Lord Brentford's grim joke.
Phineas went up into the drawing-room for a few minutes after dinner, and was eagerly desirous of saying a few more words,—he knew not what words,—to Lady Laura. Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Bonteen had left the dining-room first, and Phineas again found Mr. Kennedy standing close to Lady Laura's shoulder. Could it be possible that there was anything in it? Mr. Kennedy was an unmarried man, with an immense fortune, a magnificent place, a seat in Parliament, and was not perhaps above forty years of age. There could be no reason why he should not ask Lady Laura to be his wife,—except, indeed, that he did not seem to have sufficient words at command to ask anybody for anything. But could it be that such a woman as Lady Laura could accept such a man as Mr. Kennedy because of his wealth, and because of his fine place,—a man who had not a word to throw to a dog, who did not seem to be possessed of an idea, who hardly looked like a gentleman;—so Phineas told himself. But in truth Mr. Kennedy, though he was a plain, unattractive man, with nothing in his personal appearance to call for remark, was not unlike a gentleman in his usual demeanour. Phineas himself, it may be here said, was six feet high, and very handsome, with bright blue eyes, and brown wavy hair, and light silken beard. Mrs. Low had told her husband more than once that he was much too handsome to do any good. Mr. Low, however, had replied that young Finn had never shown himself to be conscious of his own personal advantages. "He'll learn it soon enough," said Mrs. Low. "Some woman will tell him, and then he'll be spoilt." I do not think that Phineas depended much as yet on his own good looks, but he felt that Mr. Kennedy ought to be despised by such a one as Lady Laura Standish, because his looks were not good. And she must despise him! It could not be that a woman so full of life should be willing to put up with a man who absolutely seemed to have no life within him. And yet why was he there, and why was he allowed to hang about just over her shoulders? Phineas Finn began to feel himself to be an injured man.
But Lady Laura had the power of dispelling instantly this sense of injury. She had done it effectually in the dining-room by calling him to the seat by her side, to the express exclusion of the millionaire, and she did it again now by walking away from Mr. Kennedy to the spot on which Phineas had placed himself somewhat sulkily.
"Of course you'll be at the club on Friday morning after the division," she said.
"When you leave it, come and tell me what are your impressions, and what you think of Mr. Daubeny's speech. There'll be nothing done in the House before four, and you'll be able to run up to me."
"Certainly I will."
"I have asked Mr. Kennedy to come, and Mr. Fitzgibbon. I am so anxious about it, that I want to hear what different people say. You know, perhaps, that papa is to be in the Cabinet if there's a change."
"Is he indeed?"
"Oh yes;—and you'll come up?"
"Of course I will. Do you expect to hear much of an opinion from Mr. Kennedy?"
"Yes, I do. You don't quite know Mr. Kennedy yet. And you must remember that he will say more to me than he will to you. He's not quick, you know, as you are, and he has no enthusiasm on any subject;—but he has opinions, and sound opinions too." Phineas felt that Lady Laura was in a slight degree scolding him for the disrespectful manner in which he had spoken of Mr. Kennedy; and he felt also that he had committed himself,—that he had shown himself to be sore, and that she had seen and understood his soreness.
"The truth is I do not know him," said he, trying to correct his blunder.
"No;—not as yet. But I hope that you may some day, as he is one of those men who are both useful and estimable."
"I do not know that I can use him," said Phineas; "but if you wish it, I will endeavour to esteem him."
"I wish you to do both;—but that will all come in due time. I think it probable that in the early autumn there will be a great gathering of the real Whig Liberals at Loughlinter;—of those, I mean, who have their heart in it, and are at the same time gentlemen. If it is so, I should be sorry that you should not be there. You need not mention it, but Mr. Kennedy has just said a word about it to papa, and a word from him always means so much! Well;—good-night; and mind you come up on Friday. You are going to the club, now, of course. I envy you men your clubs more than I do the House;—though I feel that a woman's life is only half a life, as she cannot have a seat in Parliament."
Then Phineas went away, and walked down to Pall Mall with Laurence Fitzgibbon. He would have preferred to take his walk alone, but he could not get rid of his affectionate countryman. He wanted to think over what had taken place during the evening; and, indeed, he did so in spite of his friend's conversation. Lady Laura, when she first saw him after his return to London, had told him how anxious her father was to congratulate him on his seat, but the Earl had not spoken a word to him on the subject. The Earl had been courteous, as hosts customarily are, but had been in no way specially kind to him. And then Mr. Kennedy! As to going to Loughlinter, he would not do such a thing,—not though the success of the liberal party were to depend on it. He declared to himself that there were some things which a man could not do. But although he was not altogether satisfied with what had occurred in Portman Square, he felt as he walked down arm-in-arm with Fitzgibbon that Mr. Low and Mr. Low's counsels must be scattered to the winds. He had thrown the die in consenting to stand for Loughshane, and must stand the hazard of the cast.
"Bedad, Phin, my boy, I don't think you're listening to me at all," said Laurence Fitzgibbon.
"I'm listening to every word you say," said Phineas.
"And if I have to go down to the ould country again this session, you'll go with me?"
"If I can I will."
"That's my boy! And it's I that hope you'll have the chance. What's the good of turning these fellows out if one isn't to get something for one's trouble?"
Mr. and Mrs. Bunce
It was three o'clock on the Thursday night before Mr. Daubeny's speech was finished. I do not think that there was any truth in the allegation made at the time, that he continued on his legs an hour longer than the necessities of his speech required, in order that five or six very ancient Whigs might be wearied out and shrink to their beds. Let a Whig have been ever so ancient and ever so weary, he would not have been allowed to depart from Westminster Hall that night. Sir Everard Powell was there in his bath-chair at twelve, with a doctor on one side of him and a friend on the other, in some purlieu of the House, and did his duty like a fine old Briton as he was. That speech of Mr. Daubeny's will never be forgotten by any one who heard it. Its studied bitterness had perhaps never been equalled, and yet not a word was uttered for the saying of which he could be accused of going beyond the limits of parliamentary antagonism. It is true that personalities could not have been closer, that accusations of political dishonesty and of almost worse than political cowardice and falsehood could not have been clearer, that no words in the language could have attributed meaner motives or more unscrupulous conduct. But, nevertheless, Mr. Daubeny in all that he said was parliamentary, and showed himself to be a gladiator thoroughly well trained for the arena in which he had descended to the combat. His arrows were poisoned, and his lance was barbed, and his shot was heated red,—because such things are allowed. He did not poison his enemies' wells or use Greek fire, because those things are not allowed. He knew exactly the rules of the combat. Mr. Mildmay sat and heard him without once raising his hat from his brow, or speaking a word to his neighbour. Men on both sides of the House said that Mr. Mildmay suffered terribly; but as Mr. Mildmay uttered no word of complaint to any one, and was quite ready to take Mr. Daubeny by the hand the next time they met in company, I do not know that any one was able to form a true idea of Mr. Mildmay's feelings. Mr. Mildmay was an impassive man who rarely spoke of his own feelings, and no doubt sat with his hat low down over his eyes in order that no man might judge of them on that occasion by the impression on his features. "If he could have left off half an hour earlier it would have been perfect as an attack," said Barrington Erle in criticising Mr. Daubeny's speech, "but he allowed himself to sink into comparative weakness, and the glory of it was over before the end."—Then came the division. The Liberals had 333 votes to 314 for the Conservatives, and therefore counted a majority of 19. It was said that so large a number of members had never before voted at any division.
"I own I'm disappointed," said Barrington Erle to Mr. Ratler.
"I thought there would be twenty," said Mr. Ratler. "I never went beyond that. I knew they would have old Moody up, but I thought Gunning would have been too hard for them."
"They say they've promised them both peerages."
"Yes;—if they remain in. But they know they're going out."
"They must go, with such a majority against them," said Barrington Erle.
"Of course they must," said Mr. Ratler. "Lord de Terrier wants nothing better, but it is rather hard upon poor Daubeny. I never saw such an unfortunate old Tantalus."
"He gets a good drop of real water now and again, and I don't pity him in the least. He's clever of course, and has made his own way, but I've always a feeling that he has no business where he is. I suppose we shall know all about it at Brooks's by one o'clock to-morrow."
Phineas, though it had been past five before he went to bed,—for there had been much triumphant talking to be done among liberal members after the division,—was up at his breakfast at Mrs. Bunce's lodgings by nine. There was a matter which he was called upon to settle immediately in which Mrs. Bunce herself was much interested, and respecting which he had promised to give an answer on this very morning. A set of very dingy chambers up two pairs of stairs at No. 9, Old Square, Lincoln's Inn, to which Mr. Low had recommended him to transfer himself and all his belongings, were waiting his occupation, should he resolve upon occupying them. If he intended to commence operations as a barrister, it would be necessary that he should have chambers and a clerk; and before he had left Mr. Low's house on Sunday evening he had almost given that gentleman authority to secure for him these rooms at No. 9. "Whether you remain in Parliament or no, you must make a beginning," Mr. Low had said; "and how are you even to pretend to begin if you don't have chambers?" Mr. Low hoped that he might be able to wean Phineas away from his Parliament bauble;—that he might induce the young barrister to give up his madness, if not this session or the next, at any rate before a third year had commenced. Mr. Low was a persistent man, liking very much when he did like, and loving very strongly when he did love. He would have many a tug for Phineas Finn before he would allow that false Westminster Satan to carry off the prey as altogether his own. If he could only get Phineas into the dingy chambers he might do much!
But Phineas had now become so imbued with the atmosphere of politics, had been so breathed upon by Lady Laura and Barrington Erle, that he could no longer endure the thought of any other life than that of a life spent among the lobbies. A desire to help to beat the Conservatives had fastened on his very soul, and almost made Mr. Low odious in his eyes. He was afraid of Mr. Low, and for the nonce would not go to him any more;—but he must see the porter at Lincoln's Inn, he must write a line to Mr. Low, and he must tell Mrs. Bunce that for the present he would still keep on her rooms. His letter to Mr. Low was as follows:—
Great Marlborough Street, May, 186—.
MY DEAR LOW,
I have made up my mind against taking the chambers, and am now off to the Inn to say that I shall not want them. Of course, I know what you will think of me, and it is very grievous to me to have to bear the hard judgment of a man whose opinion I value so highly; but, in the teeth of your terribly strong arguments, I think that there is something to be said on my side of the question. This seat in Parliament has come in my way by chance, and I think it would be pusillanimous in me to reject it, feeling, as I do, that a seat in Parliament confers very great honour. I am, too, very fond of politics, and regard legislation as the finest profession going. Had I any one dependent on me, I probably might not be justified in following the bent of my inclination. But I am all alone in the world, and therefore have a right to make the attempt. If, after a trial of one or two sessions, I should fail in that which I am attempting, it will not even then be too late to go back to the better way. I can assure you that at any rate it is not my intention to be idle.
I know very well how you will fret and fume over what I say, and how utterly I shall fail in bringing you round to my way of thinking; but as I must write to tell you of my decision, I cannot refrain from defending myself to the best of my ability.
Yours always faithfully,
Mr. Low received this letter at his chambers, and when he had read it, he simply pressed his lips closely together, placed the sheet of paper back in its envelope, and put it into a drawer at his left hand. Having done this, he went on with what work he had before him, as though his friend's decision were a matter of no consequence to him. As far as he was concerned the thing was done, and there should be an end of it. So he told himself; but nevertheless his mind was full of it all day; and, though he wrote not a word of answer to Phineas, he made a reply within his own mind to every one of the arguments used in the letter. "Great honour! How can there be honour in what comes, as he says, by chance? He hasn't sense enough to understand that the honour comes from the mode of winning it, and from the mode of wearing it; and that the very fact of his being member for Loughshane at this instant simply proves that Loughshane should have had no privilege to return a member! No one dependent on him! Are not his father and his mother and his sisters dependent on him as long as he must eat their bread till he can earn bread of his own? He will never earn bread of his own. He will always be eating bread that others have earned." In this way, before the day was over, Mr. Low became very angry, and swore to himself that he would have nothing more to say to Phineas Finn. But yet he found himself creating plans for encountering and conquering the parliamentary fiend who was at present so cruelly potent with his pupil. It was not till the third evening that he told his wife that Finn had made up his mind not to take chambers. "Then I would have nothing more to say to him," said Mrs. Low, savagely. "For the present I can have nothing more to say to him." "But neither now nor ever," said Mrs. Low, with great emphasis; "he has been false to you." "No," said Mr. Low, who was a man thoroughly and thoughtfully just at all points; "he has not been false to me. He has always meant what he has said, when he was saying it. But he is weak and blind, and flies like a moth to the candle; one pities the poor moth, and would save him a stump of his wing if it be possible."
Phineas, when he had written his letter to Mr. Low, started off for Lincoln's Inn, making his way through the well-known dreary streets of Soho, and through St. Giles's, to Long Acre. He knew every corner well, for he had walked the same road almost daily for the last three years. He had conceived a liking for the route, which he might easily have changed without much addition to the distance, by passing through Oxford Street and Holborn; but there was an air of business on which he prided himself in going by the most direct passage, and he declared to himself very often that things dreary and dingy to the eye might be good in themselves. Lincoln's Inn itself is dingy, and the Law Courts therein are perhaps the meanest in which Equity ever disclosed herself. Mr. Low's three rooms in the Old Square, each of them brown with the binding of law books and with the dust collected on law papers, and with furniture that had been brown always, and had become browner with years, were perhaps as unattractive to the eye of a young pupil as any rooms which were ever entered. And the study of the Chancery law itself is not an alluring pursuit till the mind has come to have some insight into the beauty of its ultimate object. Phineas, during his three years' course of reasoning on these things, had taught himself to believe that things ugly on the outside might be very beautiful within; and had therefore come to prefer crossing Poland Street and Soho Square, and so continuing his travels by the Seven Dials and Long Acre. His morning walk was of a piece with his morning studies, and he took pleasure in the gloom of both. But now the taste of his palate had been already changed by the glare of the lamps in and about palatial Westminster, and he found that St. Giles's was disagreeable. The ways about Pall Mall and across the Park to Parliament Street, or to the Treasury, were much pleasanter, and the new offices in Downing Street, already half built, absorbed all that interest which he had hitherto been able to take in the suggested but uncommenced erection of new Law Courts in the neighbourhood of Lincoln's Inn. As he made his way to the porter's lodge under the great gateway of Lincoln's Inn, he told himself that he was glad that he had escaped, at any rate for a while, from a life so dull and dreary. If he could only sit in chambers at the Treasury instead of chambers in that old court, how much pleasanter it would be! After all, as regarded that question of income, it might well be that the Treasury chambers should be the more remunerative, and the more quickly remunerative, of the two. And, as he thought, Lady Laura might be compatible with the Treasury chambers and Parliament, but could not possibly be made compatible with Old Square, Lincoln's Inn.
But nevertheless there came upon him a feeling of sorrow when the old man at the lodge seemed to be rather glad than otherwise that he did not want the chambers. "Then Mr. Green can have them," said the porter; "that'll be good news for Mr. Green. I don't know what the gen'lemen 'll do for chambers if things goes on as they're going." Mr. Green was welcome to the chambers as far as Phineas was concerned; but Phineas felt nevertheless a certain amount of regret that he should have been compelled to abandon a thing which was regarded both by the porter and by Mr. Green as being so desirable. He had however written his letter to Mr. Low, and made his promise to Barrington Erle, and was bound to Lady Laura Standish; and he walked out through the old gateway into Chancery Lane, resolving that he would not even visit Lincoln's Inn again for a year. There were certain books,—law books,—which he would read at such intervals of leisure as politics might give him; but within the precincts of the Inns of Court he would not again put his foot for twelve months, let learned pundits of the law,—such for instance as Mr. and Mrs. Low,—say what they might.
He had told Mrs. Bunce, before he left his home after breakfast, that he should for the present remain under her roof. She had been much gratified, not simply because lodgings in Great Marlborough Street are less readily let than chambers in Lincoln's Inn, but also because it was a great honour to her to have a member of Parliament in her house. Members of Parliament are not so common about Oxford Street as they are in the neighbourhood of Pall Mall and St. James's Square. But Mr. Bunce, when he came home to his dinner, did not join as heartily as he should have done in his wife's rejoicing. Mr. Bunce was in the employment of certain copying law-stationers in Carey Street, and had a strong belief in the law as a profession;—but he had none whatever in the House of Commons. "And he's given up going into chambers?" said Mr. Bunce to his wife.
"Given it up altogether for the present," said Mrs. Bunce.
"And he don't mean to have no clerk?" said Mr. Bunce.
"Not unless it is for his Parliament work."
"There ain't no clerks wanted for that, and what's worse, there ain't no fees to pay 'em. I'll tell you what it is, Jane;—if you don't look sharp there won't be nothing to pay you before long."
"And he in Parliament, Jacob!"
"There ain't no salary for being in Parliament. There are scores of them Parliament gents ain't got so much as'll pay their dinners for 'em. And then if anybody does trust 'em, there's no getting at 'em to make 'em pay as there is at other folk."
"I don't know that our Mr. Phineas will ever be like that, Jacob."
"That's gammon, Jane. That's the way as women gets themselves took in always. Our Mr. Phineas! Why should our Mr. Phineas be better than anybody else?"
"He's always acted handsome, Jacob."
"There was one time he could not pay his lodgings for wellnigh nine months, till his governor come down with the money. I don't know whether that was handsome. It knocked me about terrible, I know."
"He always meant honest, Jacob."
"I don't know that I care much for a man's meaning when he runs short of money. How is he going to see his way, with his seat in Parliament, and this giving up of his profession? He owes us near a quarter now."
"He paid me two months this morning, Jacob; so he don't owe a farthing."
"Very well;—so much the better for us. I shall just have a few words with Mr. Low, and see what he says to it. For myself I don't think half so much of Parliament folk as some do. They're for promising everything before they's elected; but not one in twenty of 'em is as good as his word when he gets there."
Mr. Bunce was a copying journeyman, who spent ten hours a day in Carey Street with a pen between his fingers; and after that he would often spend two or three hours of the night with a pen between his fingers in Marlborough Street. He was a thoroughly hard-working man, doing pretty well in the world, for he had a good house over his head, and always could find raiment and bread for his wife and eight children; but, nevertheless, he was an unhappy man because he suffered from political grievances, or, I should more correctly say, that his grievances were semi-political and semi-social. He had no vote, not being himself the tenant of the house in Great Marlborough Street. The tenant was a tailor who occupied the shop, whereas Bunce occupied the whole of the remainder of the premises. He was a lodger, and lodgers were not as yet trusted with the franchise. And he had ideas, which he himself admitted to be very raw, as to the injustice of the manner in which he was paid for his work. So much a folio, without reference to the way in which his work was done, without regard to the success of his work, with no questions asked of himself, was, as he thought, no proper way of remunerating a man for his labours. He had long since joined a Trade Union, and for two years past had paid a subscription of a shilling a week towards its funds. He longed to be doing some battle against his superiors, and to be putting himself in opposition to his employers;—not that he objected personally to Messrs. Foolscap, Margin, and Vellum, who always made much of him as a useful man;—but because some such antagonism would be manly, and the fighting of some battle would be the right thing to do. "If Labour don't mean to go to the wall himself," Bunce would say to his wife, "Labour must look alive, and put somebody else there."
Mrs. Bunce was a comfortable motherly woman, who loved her husband but hated politics. As he had an aversion to his superiors in the world because they were superiors, so had she a liking for them for the same reason. She despised people poorer than herself, and thought it a fair subject for boasting that her children always had meat for dinner. If it was ever so small a morsel, she took care that they had it, in order that the boast might be maintained. The world had once or twice been almost too much for her,—when, for instance, her husband had been ill; and again, to tell the truth, for the last three months of that long period in which Phineas had omitted to pay his bills; but she had kept a fine brave heart during those troubles, and could honestly swear that the children always had a bit of meat, though she herself had been occasionally without it for days together. At such times she would be more than ordinarily meek to Mr. Margin, and especially courteous to the old lady who lodged in her first-floor drawing-room,—for Phineas lived up two pairs of stairs,—and she would excuse such servility by declaring that there was no knowing how soon she might want assistance. But her husband, in such emergencies, would become furious and quarrelsome, and would declare that Labour was going to the wall, and that something very strong must be done at once. That shilling which Bunce paid weekly to the Union she regarded as being absolutely thrown away,—as much so as though he cast it weekly into the Thames. And she had told him so, over and over again, making heart-piercing allusions to the eight children and to the bit of meat. He would always endeavour to explain to her that there was no other way under the sun for keeping Labour from being sent to the wall;—but he would do so hopelessly and altogether ineffectually, and she had come to regard him as a lunatic to the extent of that one weekly shilling.
She had a woman's instinctive partiality for comeliness in a man, and was very fond of Phineas Finn because he was handsome. And now she was very proud of him because he was a member of Parliament. She had heard,—from her husband, who had told her the fact with much disgust,—that the sons of Dukes and Earls go into Parliament, and she liked to think that the fine young man to whom she talked more or less every day should sit with the sons of Dukes and Earls. When Phineas had really brought distress upon her by owing her some thirty or forty pounds, she could never bring herself to be angry with him,—because he was handsome and because he dined out with Lords. And she had triumphed greatly over her husband, who had desired to be severe upon his aristocratic debtor, when the money had all been paid in a lump.
"I don't know that he's any great catch," Bunce had said, when the prospect of their lodger's departure had been debated between them.
"Jacob," said his wife, "I don't think you feel it when you've got people respectable about you."
"The only respectable man I know," said Jacob, "is the man as earns his bread; and Mr. Finn, as I take it, is a long way from that yet."
Phineas returned to his lodgings before he went down to his club, and again told Mrs. Bunce that he had altogether made up his mind about the chambers. "If you'll keep me I shall stay here for the first session I daresay."
"Of course we shall be only too proud, Mr. Finn; and though it mayn't perhaps be quite the place for a member of Parliament—"
"But I think it is quite the place."
"It's very good of you to say so, Mr. Finn, and we'll do our very best to make you comfortable. Respectable we are, I may say; and though Bunce is a bit rough sometimes—"
"Never to me, Mrs. Bunce."
"But he is rough,—and silly, too, with his radical nonsense, paying a shilling a week to a nasty Union just for nothing. Still he means well, and there ain't a man who works harder for his wife and children;—that I will say of him. And if he do talk politics—"
"But I like a man to talk politics, Mrs. Bunce."
"For a gentleman in Parliament of course it's proper; but I never could see what good it could do to a law-stationer; and when he talks of Labour going to the wall, I always ask him whether he didn't get his wages regular last Saturday. But, Lord love you, Mr. Finn, when a man as is a journeyman has took up politics and joined a Trade Union, he ain't no better than a milestone for his wife to take and talk to him."
After that Phineas went down to the Reform Club, and made one of those who were buzzing there in little crowds and uttering their prophecies as to future events. Lord de Terrier was to go out. That was certain. Whether Mr. Mildmay was to come in was uncertain. That he would go to Windsor to-morrow morning was not to be doubted; but it was thought very probable that he might plead his age, and decline to undertake the responsibility of forming a Ministry.
"And what then?" said Phineas to his friend Fitzgibbon.
"Why, then there will be a choice out of three. There is the Duke, who is the most incompetent man in England; there is Monk, who is the most unfit; and there is Gresham, who is the most unpopular. I can't conceive it possible to find a worse Prime Minister than either of the three;—but the country affords no other."
"And which would Mildmay name?"
"All of them,—one after the other, so as to make the embarrassment the greater." That was Mr. Fitzgibbon's description of the crisis; but then it was understood that Mr. Fitzgibbon was given to romancing.
The News about Mr. Mildmay and Sir Everard
Fitzgibbon and Phineas started together from Pall Mall for Portman Square,—as both of them had promised to call on Lady Laura,—but Fitzgibbon turned in at Brooks's as they walked up St. James's Square, and Phineas went on by himself in a cab. "You should belong here," said Fitzgibbon as his friend entered the cab, and Phineas immediately began to feel that he would have done nothing till he could get into Brooks's. It might be very well to begin by talking politics at the Reform Club. Such talking had procured for him his seat at Loughshane. But that was done now, and something more than talking was wanted for any further progress. Nothing, as he told himself, of political import was managed at the Reform Club. No influence from thence was ever brought to bear upon the adjustment of places under the Government, or upon the arrangement of cabinets. It might be very well to count votes at the Reform Club; but after the votes had been counted,—had been counted successfully,—Brooks's was the place, as Phineas believed, to learn at the earliest moment what would be the exact result of the success. He must get into Brooks's, if it might be possible for him. Fitzgibbon was not exactly the man to propose him. Perhaps the Earl of Brentford would do it.
Lady Laura was at home, and with her was sitting—Mr. Kennedy. Phineas had intended to be triumphant as he entered Lady Laura's room. He was there with the express purpose of triumphing in the success of their great party, and of singing a pleasant paean in conjunction with Lady Laura. But his trumpet was put out of tune at once when he saw Mr. Kennedy. He said hardly a word as he gave his hand to Lady Laura,—and then afterwards to Mr. Kennedy, who chose to greet him with this show of cordiality.
"I hope you are satisfied, Mr. Finn," said Lady Laura, laughing.
"And is that all? I thought to have found your joy quite irrepressible."
"A bottle of soda-water, though it is a very lively thing when opened, won't maintain its vivacity beyond a certain period, Lady Laura."
"And you have had your gas let off already?"
"Well,—yes; at any rate, the sputtering part of it. Nineteen is very well, but the question is whether we might not have had twenty-one."
"Mr. Kennedy has just been saying that not a single available vote has been missed on our side. He has just come from Brooks's, and that seems to be what they say there."
So Mr. Kennedy also was a member of Brooks's! At the Reform Club there certainly had been an idea that the number might have been swelled to twenty-one; but then, as Phineas began to understand, nothing was correctly known at the Reform Club. For an accurate appreciation of the political balance of the day, you must go to Brooks's.
"Mr. Kennedy must of course be right," said Phineas. "I don't belong to Brooks's myself. But I was only joking, Lady Laura. There is, I suppose, no doubt that Lord de Terrier is out, and that is everything."
"He has probably tendered his resignation," said Mr. Kennedy.
"That is the same thing," said Phineas, roughly.
"Not exactly," said Lady Laura. "Should there be any difficulty about Mr. Mildmay, he might, at the Queen's request, make another attempt."
"With a majority of nineteen against him!" said Phineas. "Surely Mr. Mildmay is not the only man in the country. There is the Duke, and there is Mr. Gresham,—and there is Mr. Monk." Phineas had at his tongue's end all the lesson that he had been able to learn at the Reform Club.
"I should hardly think the Duke would venture," said Mr. Kennedy.
"Nothing venture, nothing have," said Phineas. "It is all very well to say that the Duke is incompetent, but I do not know that anything very wonderful is required in the way of genius. The Duke has held his own in both Houses successfully, and he is both honest and popular. I quite agree that a Prime Minister at the present day should be commonly honest, and more than commonly popular."
"So you are all for the Duke, are you?" said Lady Laura, again smiling as she spoke to him.
"Certainly;—if we are deserted by Mr. Mildmay. Don't you think so?"
"I don't find it quite so easy to make up my mind as you do. I am inclined to think that Mr. Mildmay will form a government; and as long as there is that prospect, I need hardly commit myself to an opinion as to his probable successor." Then the objectionable Mr. Kennedy took his leave, and Phineas was left alone with Lady Laura.
"It is glorious;—is it not?" he began, as soon as he found the field to be open for himself and his own manoeuvring. But he was very young, and had not as yet learned the manner in which he might best advance his cause with such a woman as Lady Laura Standish. He was telling her too clearly that he could have no gratification in talking with her unless he could be allowed to have her all to himself. That might be very well if Lady Laura were in love with him, but would hardly be the way to reduce her to that condition.
"Mr. Finn," said she, smiling as she spoke, "I am sure that you did not mean it, but you were uncourteous to my friend Mr. Kennedy."
"Who? I? Was I? Upon my word, I didn't intend to be uncourteous."
"If I had thought you had intended it, of course I could not tell you of it. And now I take the liberty;—for it is a liberty—"
"Because I feel so anxious that you should do nothing to mar your chances as a rising man."
"You are only too kind to me,—always."
"I know how clever you are, and how excellent are all your instincts; but I see that you are a little impetuous. I wonder whether you will be angry if I take upon myself the task of mentor."
"Nothing you could say would make me angry,—though you might make me very unhappy."
"I will not do that if I can help it. A mentor ought to be very old, you know, and I am infinitely older than you are."
"I should have thought it was the reverse;—indeed, I may say that I know that it is," said Phineas.
"I am not talking of years. Years have very little to do with the comparative ages of men and women. A woman at forty is quite old, whereas a man at forty is young." Phineas, remembering that he had put down Mr. Kennedy's age as forty in his own mind, frowned when he heard this, and walked about the room in displeasure. "And therefore," continued Lady Laura, "I talk to you as though I were a kind of grandmother."
"You shall be my great-grandmother if you will only be kind enough to me to say what you really think."
"You must not then be so impetuous, and you must be a little more careful to be civil to persons to whom you may not take any particular fancy. Now Mr. Kennedy is a man who may be very useful to you."
"I do not want Mr. Kennedy to be of use to me."
"That is what I call being impetuous,—being young,—being a boy. Why should not Mr. Kennedy be of use to you as well as any one else? You do not mean to conquer the world all by yourself."
"No;—but there is something mean to me in the expressed idea that I should make use of any man,—and more especially of a man whom I don't like."
"And why do you not like him, Mr. Finn?"
"Because he is one of my Dr. Fells."
"You don't like him simply because he does not talk much. That may be a good reason why you should not make of him an intimate companion,—because you like talkative people; but it should be no ground for dislike."
Phineas paused for a moment before he answered her, thinking whether or not it would be well to ask her some question which might produce from her a truth which he would not like to hear. Then he did ask it. "And do you like him?" he said.
She too paused, but only for a second. "Yes,—I think I may say that I do like him."
"No more than that?"
"Certainly no more than that;—but that I think is a great deal."
"I wonder what you would say if any one asked you whether you liked me," said Phineas, looking away from her through the window.
"Just the same;—but without the doubt, if the person who questioned me had any right to ask the question. There are not above one or two who could have such a right."
"And I was wrong, of course, to ask it about Mr. Kennedy," said Phineas, looking out into the Square.
"I did not say so."
"But I see you think it."
"You see nothing of the kind. I was quite willing to be asked the question by you, and quite willing to answer it. Mr. Kennedy is a man of great wealth."
"What can that have to do with it?"
"Wait a moment, you impetuous Irish boy, and hear me out." Phineas liked being called an impetuous Irish boy, and came close to her, sitting where he could look up into her face; and there came a smile upon his own, and he was very handsome. "I say that he is a man of great wealth," continued Lady Laura; "and as wealth gives influence, he is of great use,—politically,—to the party to which he belongs."
"Am I to suppose you care nothing for politics? To such men, to men who think as you think, who are to sit on the same benches with yourself, and go into the same lobby and be seen at the same club, it is your duty to be civil both for your own sake and for that of the cause. It is for the hermits of society to indulge in personal dislikings,—for men who have never been active and never mean to be active. I had been telling Mr. Kennedy how much I thought of you,—as a good Liberal."
"And I came in and spoilt it all."
"Yes, you did. You knocked down my little house, and I must build it all up again."
"Don't trouble yourself, Lady Laura."
"I shall. It will be a great deal of trouble,—a great deal, indeed; but I shall take it. I mean you to be very intimate with Mr. Kennedy, and to shoot his grouse, and to stalk his deer, and to help to keep him in progress as a liberal member of Parliament. I am quite prepared to admit, as a friend, that he would go back without some such help."
"I do not believe that you do understand at all, but I must endeavour to make you do so by degrees. If you are to be my political pupil, you must at any rate be obedient. The next time you meet Mr. Kennedy, ask him his opinion instead of telling him your own. He has been in Parliament twelve years, and he was a good deal older than you when he began." At this moment a side door was opened, and the red-haired, red-bearded man whom Phineas had seen before entered the room. He hesitated a moment, as though he were going to retreat again, and then began to pull about the books and toys which lay on one of the distant tables, as though he were in quest of some article. And he would have retreated had not Lady Laura called to him.
"Oswald," she said, "let me introduce you to Mr. Finn. Mr. Finn, I do not think you have ever met my brother, Lord Chiltern." Then the two young men bowed, and each of them muttered something. "Do not be in a hurry, Oswald. You have nothing special to take you away. Here is Mr. Finn come to tell us who are all the possible new Prime Ministers. He is uncivil enough not to have named papa."
"My father is out of the question," said Lord Chiltern.
"Of course he is," said Lady Laura, "but I may be allowed my little joke."
"I suppose he will at any rate be in the Cabinet," said Phineas.
"I know nothing whatever about politics," said Lord Chiltern.
"I wish you did," said his sister,—"with all my heart."
"I never did,—and I never shall, for all your wishing. It's the meanest trade going I think, and I'm sure it's the most dishonest. They talk of legs on the turf, and of course there are legs; but what are they to the legs in the House? I don't know whether you are in Parliament, Mr. Finn."
"Yes, I am; but do not mind me."
"I beg your pardon. Of course there are honest men there, and no doubt you are one of them."
"He is indifferent honest,—as yet," said Lady Laura.
"I was speaking of men who go into Parliament to look after Government places," said Lord Chiltern.
"That is just what I'm doing," said Phineas. "Why should not a man serve the Crown? He has to work very hard for what he earns."
"I don't believe that the most of them work at all. However, I beg your pardon. I didn't mean you in particular."
"Mr. Finn is such a thorough politician that he will never forgive you," said Lady Laura.
"Yes, I will," said Phineas, "and I'll convert him some day. If he does come into the House, Lady Laura, I suppose he'll come on the right side?"
"I'll never go into the House, as you call it," said Lord Chiltern. "But, I'll tell you what; I shall be very happy if you'll dine with me to-morrow at Moroni's. They give you a capital little dinner at Moroni's, and they've the best Chateau Yquem in London."
"Do," said Lady Laura, in a whisper. "Oblige me."
Phineas was engaged to dine with one of the Vice-Chancellors on the day named. He had never before dined at the house of this great law luminary, whose acquaintance he had made through Mr. Low, and he had thought a great deal of the occasion. Mrs. Freemantle had sent him the invitation nearly a fortnight ago, and he understood there was to be an elaborate dinner party. He did not know it for a fact, but he was in hopes of meeting the expiring Lord Chancellor. He considered it to be his duty never to throw away such a chance. He would in all respects have preferred Mr. Freemantle's dinner in Eaton Place, dull and heavy though it might probably be, to the chance of Lord Chiltern's companions at Moroni's. Whatever might be the faults of our hero, he was not given to what is generally called dissipation by the world at large,—by which the world means self-indulgence. He cared not a brass farthing for Moroni's Chateau Yquem, nor for the wondrously studied repast which he would doubtless find prepared for him at that celebrated establishment in St. James's Street;—not a farthing as compared with the chance of meeting so great a man as Lord Moles. And Lord Chiltern's friends might probably be just the men whom he would not desire to know. But Lady Laura's request overrode everything with him. She had asked him to oblige her, and of course he would do so. Had he been going to dine with the incoming Prime Minister, he would have put off his engagement at her request. He was not quick enough to make an answer without hesitation; but after a moment's pause he said he should be most happy to dine with Lord Chiltern at Moroni's.
"That's right; 7.30 sharp,—only I can tell you you won't meet any other members." Then the servant announced more visitors, and Lord Chiltern escaped out of the room before he was seen by the new comers. These were Mrs. Bonteen and Laurence Fitzgibbon, and then Mr. Bonteen,—and after them Mr. Ratler, the Whip, who was in a violent hurry, and did not stay there a moment, and then Barrington Erle and young Lord James Fitz-Howard, the youngest son of the Duke of St. Bungay. In twenty or thirty minutes there was a gathering of liberal political notabilities in Lady Laura's drawing-room. There were two great pieces of news by which they were all enthralled. Mr. Mildmay would not be Prime Minister, and Sir Everard Powell was—dead. Of course nothing quite positive could be known about Mr. Mildmay. He was to be with the Queen at Windsor on the morrow at eleven o'clock, and it was improbable that he would tell his mind to any one before he told it to her Majesty. But there was no doubt that he had engaged "the Duke,"—so he was called by Lord James,—to go down to Windsor with him, that he might be in readiness if wanted. "I have learned that at home," said Lord James, who had just heard the news from his sister, who had heard it from the Duchess. Lord James was delighted with the importance given to him by his father's coming journey. From this, and from other equally well-known circumstances, it was surmised that Mr. Mildmay would decline the task proposed to him. This, nevertheless, was only a surmise,—whereas the fact with reference to Sir Everard was fully substantiated. The gout had flown to his stomach, and he was dead. "By —— yes; as dead as a herring," said Mr. Ratler, who at that moment, however, was not within hearing of either of the ladies present. And then he rubbed his hands, and looked as though he were delighted. And he was delighted,—not because his old friend Sir Everard was dead, but by the excitement of the tragedy. "Having done so good a deed in his last moments," said Laurence Fitzgibbon, "we may take it for granted that he will go straight to heaven." "I hope there will be no crowner's quest, Ratler," said Mr. Bonteen; "if there is I don't know how you'll get out of it." "I don't see anything in it so horrible," said Mr. Ratler. "If a fellow dies leading his regiment we don't think anything of it. Sir Everard's vote was of more service to his country than anything that a colonel or a captain can do." But nevertheless I think that Mr. Ratler was somewhat in dread of future newspaper paragraphs, should it be found necessary to summon a coroner's inquisition to sit upon poor Sir Everard.
While this was going on Lady Laura took Phineas apart for a moment. "I am so much obliged to you; I am indeed," she said.
"Never mind whether it's nonsense or not;—but I am. I can't explain it all now, but I do so want you to know my brother. You may be of the greatest service to him,—of the very greatest. He is not half so bad as people say he is. In many ways he is very good,—very good. And he is very clever."
"At any rate I will think and believe no ill of him."
"Just so;—do not believe evil of him,—not more evil than you see. I am so anxious,—so very anxious to try to put him on his legs, and I find it so difficult to get any connecting link with him. Papa will not speak with him,—because of money."
"But he is friends with you."
"Yes; I think he loves me. I saw how distasteful it was to you to go to him;—and probably you were engaged?"
"One can always get off those sort of things if there is an object."
"Yes;—just so. And the object was to oblige me;—was it not?"
"Of course it was. But I must go now. We are to hear Daubeny's statement at four, and I would not miss it for worlds."
"I wonder whether you would go abroad with my brother in the autumn? But I have no right to think of such a thing;—have I? At any rate I will not think of it yet. Good-bye,—I shall see you perhaps on Sunday if you are in town."
Phineas walked down to Westminster with his mind very full of Lady Laura and Lord Chiltern. What did she mean by her affectionate manner to himself, and what did she mean by the continual praises which she lavished upon Mr. Kennedy? Of whom was she thinking most, of Mr. Kennedy, or of him? She had called herself his mentor. Was the description of her feelings towards himself, as conveyed in that name, of a kind to be gratifying to him? No;—he thought not. But then might it not be within his power to change the nature of those feelings? She was not in love with him at present. He could not make any boast to himself on that head. But it might be within his power to compel her to love him. The female mentor might be softened. That she could not love Mr. Kennedy, he thought that he was quite sure. There was nothing like love in her manner to Mr. Kennedy. As to Lord Chiltern, Phineas would do whatever might be in his power. All that he really knew of Lord Chiltern was that he had gambled and that he had drunk.
The New Government
In the House of Lords that night, and in the House of Commons, the outgoing Ministers made their explanations. As our business at the present moment is with the Commons, we will confine ourselves to their chamber, and will do so the more willingly because the upshot of what was said in the two places was the same. The outgoing ministers were very grave, very self-laudatory, and very courteous. In regard to courtesy it may be declared that no stranger to the ways of the place could have understood how such soft words could be spoken by Mr. Daubeny, beaten, so quickly after the very sharp words which he had uttered when he only expected to be beaten. He announced to his fellow-commoners that his right honourable friend and colleague Lord de Terrier had thought it right to retire from the Treasury. Lord de Terrier, in constitutional obedience to the vote of the Lower House, had resigned, and the Queen had been graciously pleased to accept Lord de Terrier's resignation. Mr. Daubeny could only inform the House that her Majesty had signified her pleasure that Mr. Mildmay should wait upon her to-morrow at eleven o'clock. Mr. Mildmay,—so Mr. Daubeny understood,—would be with her Majesty to-morrow at that hour. Lord de Terrier had found it to be his duty to recommend her Majesty to send for Mr. Mildmay. Such was the real import of Mr. Daubeny's speech. That further portion of it in which he explained with blandest, most beneficent, honey-flowing words that his party would have done everything that the country could require of any party, had the House allowed it to remain on the Treasury benches for a month or two,—and explained also that his party would never recriminate, would never return evil for evil, would in no wise copy the factious opposition of their adversaries; that his party would now, as it ever had done, carry itself with the meekness of the dove, and the wisdom of the serpent,—all this, I say, was so generally felt by gentlemen on both sides of the House to be "leather and prunella" that very little attention was paid to it. The great point was that Lord de Terrier had resigned, and that Mr. Mildmay had been summoned to Windsor.
The Queen had sent for Mr. Mildmay in compliance with advice given to her by Lord de Terrier. And yet Lord de Terrier and his first lieutenant had used all the most practised efforts of their eloquence for the last three days in endeavouring to make their countrymen believe that no more unfitting Minister than Mr. Mildmay ever attempted to hold the reins of office! Nothing had been too bad for them to say of Mr. Mildmay,—and yet, in the very first moment in which they found themselves unable to carry on the Government themselves, they advised the Queen to send for that most incompetent and baneful statesman! We who are conversant with our own methods of politics, see nothing odd in this, because we are used to it; but surely in the eyes of strangers our practice must be very singular. There is nothing like it in any other country,—nothing as yet. Nowhere else is there the same good-humoured, affectionate, prize-fighting ferocity in politics. The leaders of our two great parties are to each other exactly as are the two champions of the ring who knock each other about for the belt and for five hundred pounds a side once in every two years. How they fly at each other, striking as though each blow should carry death if it were but possible! And yet there is no one whom the Birmingham Bantam respects so highly as he does Bill Burns the Brighton Bully, or with whom he has so much delight in discussing the merits of a pot of half-and-half. And so it was with Mr. Daubeny and Mr. Mildmay. In private life Mr. Daubeny almost adulated his elder rival,—and Mr. Mildmay never omitted an opportunity of taking Mr. Daubeny warmly by the hand. It is not so in the United States. There the same political enmity exists, but the political enmity produces private hatred. The leaders of parties there really mean what they say when they abuse each other, and are in earnest when they talk as though they were about to tear each other limb from limb. I doubt whether Mr. Daubeny would have injured a hair of Mr. Mildmay's venerable head, even for an assurance of six continued months in office.
When Mr. Daubeny had completed his statement, Mr. Mildmay simply told the House that he had received and would obey her Majesty's commands. The House would of course understand that he by no means meant to aver that the Queen would even commission him to form a Ministry. But if he took no such command from her Majesty it would become his duty to recommend her Majesty to impose the task upon some other person. Then everything was said that had to be said, and members returned to their clubs. A certain damp was thrown over the joy of some excitable Liberals by tidings which reached the House during Mr. Daubeny's speech. Sir Everard Powell was no more dead than was Mr. Daubeny himself. Now it is very unpleasant to find that your news is untrue, when you have been at great pains to disseminate it. "Oh, but he is dead," said Mr. Ratler. "Lady Powell assured me half an hour ago," said Mr. Ratler's opponent, "that he was at that moment a great deal better than he had been for the last three months. The journey down to the House did him a world of good." "Then we'll have him down for every division," said Mr. Ratler.
The political portion of London was in a ferment for the next five days. On the Sunday morning it was known that Mr. Mildmay had declined to put himself at the head of a liberal Government. He and the Duke of St. Bungay, and Mr. Plantagenet Palliser, had been in conference so often, and so long, that it may almost be said they lived together in conference. Then Mr. Gresham had been with Mr. Mildmay,—and Mr. Monk also. At the clubs it was said by many that Mr. Monk had been with Mr. Mildmay; but it was also said very vehemently by others that no such interview had taken place. Mr. Monk was a Radical, much admired by the people, sitting in Parliament for that most Radical of all constituencies, the Pottery Hamlets, who had never as yet been in power. It was the great question of the day whether Mr. Mildmay would or would not ask Mr. Monk to join him; and it was said by those who habitually think at every period of change that the time has now come in which the difficulties to forming a government will at last be found to be insuperable, that Mr. Mildmay could not succeed either with Mr. Monk or without him. There were at the present moment two sections of these gentlemen,—the section which declared that Mr. Mildmay had sent for Mr. Monk, and the section which declared that he had not. But there were others, who perhaps knew better what they were saying, by whom it was asserted that the whole difficulty lay with Mr. Gresham. Mr. Gresham was willing to serve with Mr. Mildmay,—with certain stipulations as to the special seat in the Cabinet which he himself was to occupy, and as to the introduction of certain friends of his own; but,—so said these gentlemen who were supposed really to understand the matter,—Mr. Gresham was not willing to serve with the Duke and with Mr. Palliser. Now, everybody who knew anything knew that the Duke and Mr. Palliser were indispensable to Mr. Mildmay. And a liberal Government, with Mr. Gresham in the opposition, could not live half through a session! All Sunday and Monday these things were discussed; and on the Monday Lord de Terrier absolutely stated to the Upper House that he had received her Majesty's commands to form another government. Mr. Daubeny, in half a dozen most modest words,—in words hardly audible, and most unlike himself,—made his statement in the Lower House to the same effect. Then Mr. Ratler, and Mr. Bonteen, and Mr. Barrington Erle, and Mr. Laurence Fitzgibbon aroused themselves and swore that such things could not be. Should the prey which they had won for themselves, the spoil of their bows and arrows, be snatched from out of their very mouths by treachery? Lord de Terrier and Mr. Daubeny could not venture even to make another attempt unless they did so in combination with Mr. Gresham. Such a combination, said Mr. Barrington Erle, would be disgraceful to both parties, but would prove Mr. Gresham to be as false as Satan himself. Early on the Tuesday morning, when it was known that Mr. Gresham had been at Lord de Terrier's house, Barrington Erle was free to confess that he had always been afraid of Mr. Gresham. "I have felt for years," said he, "that if anybody could break up the party it would be Mr. Gresham."
On that Tuesday morning Mr. Gresham certainly was with Lord de Terrier, but nothing came of it. Mr. Gresham was either not enough like Satan for the occasion, or else he was too closely like him. Lord de Terrier did not bid high enough, or else Mr. Gresham did not like biddings from that quarter. Nothing then came from this attempt, and on the Tuesday afternoon the Queen again sent for Mr. Mildmay. On the Wednesday morning the gentlemen who thought that the insuperable difficulties had at length arrived, began to wear their longest faces, and to be triumphant with melancholy forebodings. Now at last there was a dead lock. Nobody could form a government. It was asserted that Mr. Mildmay had fallen at her Majesty's feet dissolved in tears, and had implored to be relieved from further responsibility. It was well known to many at the clubs that the Queen had on that morning telegraphed to Germany for advice. There were men so gloomy as to declare that the Queen must throw herself into the arms of Mr. Monk, unless Mr. Mildmay would consent to rise from his knees and once more buckle on his ancient armour. "Even that would be better than Gresham," said Barrington Erle, in his anger. "I'll tell you what it is," said Ratler, "we shall have Gresham and Monk together, and you and I shall have to do their biddings." Mr. Barrington Erle's reply to that suggestion I may not dare to insert in these pages.
On the Wednesday night, however, it was known that everything had been arranged, and before the Houses met on the Thursday every place had been bestowed, either in reality or in imagination. The Times, in its second edition on the Thursday, gave a list of the Cabinet, in which four places out of fourteen were rightly filled. On the Friday it named ten places aright, and indicated the law officers, with only one mistake in reference to Ireland; and on the Saturday it gave a list of the Under Secretaries of State, and Secretaries and Vice-Presidents generally, with wonderful correctness as to the individuals, though the offices were a little jumbled. The Government was at last formed in a manner which everybody had seen to be the only possible way in which a government could be formed. Nobody was surprised, and the week's work was regarded as though the regular routine of government making had simply been followed. Mr. Mildmay was Prime Minister; Mr. Gresham was at the Foreign Office; Mr. Monk was at the Board of Trade; the Duke was President of the Council; the Earl of Brentford was Privy Seal; and Mr. Palliser was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Barrington Erle made a step up in the world, and went to the Admiralty as Secretary; Mr. Bonteen was sent again to the Admiralty; and Laurence Fitzgibbon became a junior Lord of the Treasury. Mr. Ratler was, of course, installed as Patronage Secretary to the same Board. Mr. Ratler was perhaps the only man in the party as to whose destination there could not possibly be a doubt. Mr. Ratler had really qualified himself for a position in such a way as to make all men feel that he would, as a matter of course, be called upon to fill it. I do not know whether as much could be said on behalf of any other man in the new Government.
During all this excitement, and through all these movements, Phineas Finn felt himself to be left more and more out in the cold. He had not been such a fool as to suppose that any office would be offered to him. He had never hinted at such a thing to his one dearly intimate friend, Lady Laura. He had not hitherto opened his mouth in Parliament. Indeed, when the new Government was formed he had not been sitting for above a fortnight. Of course nothing could be done for him as yet. But, nevertheless, he felt himself to be out in the cold. The very men who had discussed with him the question of the division,—who had discussed it with him because his vote was then as good as that of any other member,—did not care to talk to him about the distribution of places. He, at any rate, could not be one of them. He, at any rate, could not be a rival. He could neither mar nor assist. He could not be either a successful or a disappointed sympathiser,—because he could not himself be a candidate. The affair which perhaps disgusted him more than anything else was the offer of an office,—not in the Cabinet, indeed, but one supposed to confer high dignity,—to Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy refused the offer, and this somewhat lessened Finn's disgust, but the offer itself made him unhappy.
"I suppose it was made simply because of his money," he said to Fitzgibbon.
"I don't believe that," said Fitzgibbon. "People seem to think that he has got a head on his shoulders, though he has got no tongue in it. I wonder at his refusing it because of the Right Honourable."
"I am so glad that Mr. Kennedy refused," said Lady Laura to him.
"And why? He would have been the Right Hon. Robert Kennedy for ever and ever." Phineas when he said this did not as yet know exactly how it would have come to pass that such honour,—the honour of the enduring prefix to his name,—would have come in the way of Mr. Kennedy had Mr. Kennedy accepted the office in question; but he was very quick to learn all these things, and, in the meantime, he rarely made any mistake about them.
"What would that have been to him,—with his wealth?" said Lady Laura. "He has a position of his own and need not care for such things. There are men who should not attempt what is called independence in Parliament. By doing so they simply decline to make themselves useful. But there are a few whose special walk in life it is to be independent, and, as it were, unmoved by parties."
"Great Akinetoses! You know Orion," said Phineas.
"Mr. Kennedy is not an Akinetos," said Lady Laura.
"He holds a very proud position," said Phineas, ironically.
"A very proud position indeed," said Lady Laura, in sober earnest.
The dinner at Moroni's had been eaten, and Phineas had given an account of the entertainment to Lord Chiltern's sister. There had been only two other guests, and both of them had been men on the turf. "I was the first there," said Phineas, "and he surprised me ever so much by telling me that you had spoken to him of me before."
"Yes; I did so. I wish him to know you. I want him to know some men who think of something besides horses. He is very well educated, you know, and would certainly have taken honours if he had not quarrelled with the people at Christ Church."
"Did he take a degree?"
"No;—they sent him down. It is best always to have the truth among friends. Of course you will hear it some day. They expelled him because he was drunk." Then Lady Laura burst out into tears, and Phineas sat near her, and consoled her, and swore that if in any way he could befriend her brother he would do so.
Mr. Fitzgibbon at this time claimed a promise which he said that Phineas had made to him,—that Phineas would go over with him to Mayo to assist at his re-election. And Phineas did go. The whole affair occupied but a week, and was chiefly memorable as being the means of cementing the friendship which existed between the two Irish members.
"A thousand a year!" said Laurence Fitzgibbon, speaking of the salary of his office. "It isn't much; is it? And every fellow to whom I owe a shilling will be down upon me. If I had studied my own comfort, I should have done the same as Kennedy."
It was now the middle of May, and a month had elapsed since the terrible difficulty about the Queen's Government had been solved. A month had elapsed, and things had shaken themselves into their places with more of ease and apparent fitness than men had given them credit for possessing. Mr. Mildmay, Mr. Gresham, and Mr. Monk were the best friends in the world, swearing by each other in their own house, and supported in the other by as gallant a phalanx of Whig peers as ever were got together to fight against the instincts of their own order in compliance with the instincts of those below them. Lady Laura's father was in the Cabinet, to Lady Laura's infinite delight. It was her ambition to be brought as near to political action as was possible for a woman without surrendering any of the privileges of feminine inaction. That women should even wish to have votes at parliamentary elections was to her abominable, and the cause of the Rights of Women generally was odious to her; but, nevertheless, for herself, she delighted in hoping that she too might be useful,—in thinking that she too was perhaps, in some degree, politically powerful; and she had received considerable increase to such hopes when her father accepted the Privy Seal. The Earl himself was not an ambitious man, and, but for his daughter, would have severed himself altogether from political life before this time. He was an unhappy man;—being an obstinate man, and having in his obstinacy quarrelled with his only son. In his unhappiness he would have kept himself alone, living in the country, brooding over his wretchedness, were it not for his daughter. On her behalf, and in obedience to her requirements, he came yearly up to London, and, perhaps in compliance with her persuasion, had taken some part in the debates of the House of Lords. It is easy for a peer to be a statesman, if the trouble of the life be not too much for him. Lord Brentford was now a statesman, if a seat in the Cabinet be proof of statesmanship.
At this time, in May, there was staying with Lady Laura in Portman Square a very dear friend of hers, by name Violet Effingham. Violet Effingham was an orphan, an heiress, and a beauty; with a terrible aunt, one Lady Baldock, who was supposed to be the dragon who had Violet, as a captive maiden, in charge. But as Miss Effingham was of age, and was mistress of her own fortune, Lady Baldock was, in truth, not omnipotent as a dragon should be. The dragon, at any rate, was not now staying in Portman Square, and the captivity of the maiden was therefore not severe at the present moment. Violet Effingham was very pretty, but could hardly be said to be beautiful. She was small, with light crispy hair, which seemed to be ever on the flutter round her brows, and which yet was never a hair astray. She had sweet, soft grey eyes, which never looked at you long, hardly for a moment,—but which yet, in that half moment, nearly killed you by the power of their sweetness. Her cheek was the softest thing in nature, and the colour of it, when its colour was fixed enough to be told, was a shade of pink so faint and creamy that you would hardly dare to call it by its name. Her mouth was perfect, not small enough to give that expression of silliness which is so common, but almost divine, with the temptation of its full, rich, ruby lips. Her teeth, which she but seldom showed, were very even and very white, and there rested on her chin the dearest dimple that ever acted as a loadstar to mens's eyes. The fault of her face, if it had a fault, was in her nose,—which was a little too sharp, and perhaps too small. A woman who wanted to depreciate Violet Effingham had once called her a pug-nosed puppet; but I, as her chronicler, deny that she was pug-nosed,—and all the world who knew her soon came to understand that she was no puppet. In figure she was small, but not so small as she looked to be. Her feet and hands were delicately fine, and there was a softness about her whole person, an apparent compressibility, which seemed to indicate that she might go into very small compass. Into what compass and how compressed, there were very many men who held very different opinions. Violet Effingham was certainly no puppet. She was great at dancing,—as perhaps might be a puppet,—but she was great also at archery, great at skating,—and great, too, at hunting. With reference to that last accomplishment, she and Lady Baldock had had more than one terrible tussle, not always with advantage to the dragon. "My dear aunt," she had said once during the last winter, "I am going to the meet with George,"—George was her cousin, Lord Baldock, and was the dragon's son,—"and there, let there be an end of it." "And you will promise me that you will not go further," said the dragon. "I will promise nothing to-day to any man or to any woman," said Violet. What was to be said to a young lady who spoke in this way, and who had become of age only a fortnight since? She rode that day the famous run from Bagnall's Gorse to Foulsham Common, and was in at the death.