Violet Effingham was now sitting in conference with her friend Lady Laura, and they were discussing matters of high import,—of very high import, indeed,—to the interests of both of them. "I do not ask you to accept him," said Lady Laura.
"That is lucky," said the other, "as he has never asked me."
"He has done much the same. You know that he loves you."
"I know,—or fancy that I know,—that so many men love me! But, after all, what sort of love is it? It is just as when you and I, when we see something nice in a shop, call it a dear duck of a thing, and tell somebody to go and buy it, let the price be ever so extravagant. I know my own position, Laura. I'm a dear duck of a thing."
"You are a very dear thing to Oswald."
"But you, Laura, will some day inspire a grand passion,—or I daresay have already, for you are a great deal too close to tell;—and then there will be cutting of throats, and a mighty hubbub, and a real tragedy. I shall never go beyond genteel comedy,—unless I run away with somebody beneath me, or do something awfully improper."
"Don't do that, dear."
"I should like to, because of my aunt. I should indeed. If it were possible, without compromising myself, I should like her to be told some morning that I had gone off with the curate."
"How can you be so wicked, Violet!"
"It would serve her right, and her countenance would be so awfully comic. Mind, if it is ever to come off, I must be there to see it. I know what she would say as well as possible. She would turn to poor Gussy. 'Augusta,' she would say, 'I always expected it. I always did.' Then I should come out and curtsey to her, and say so prettily, 'Dear aunt, it was only our little joke.' That's my line. But for you,—you, if you planned it, would go off to-morrow with Lucifer himself if you liked him."
"But failing Lucifer, I shall probably be very humdrum."
"You don't mean that there is anything settled, Laura?"
"There is nothing settled,—or any beginning of anything that ever can be settled, But I am not talking about myself. He has told me that if you will accept him, he will do anything that you and I may ask him."
"Yes;—he will promise."
"Did you ever know him to break his word?"
"I know nothing about him, my dear. How should I?"
"Do not pretend to be ignorant and meek, Violet. You do know him,—much better than most girls know the men they marry. You have known him, more or less intimately, all your life."
"But am I bound to marry him because of that accident?"
"No; you are not bound to marry him,—unless you love him."
"I do not love him," said Violet, with slow, emphatic words, and a little forward motion of her face, as though she were specially eager to convince her friend that she was quite in earnest in what she said.
"I fancy, Violet, that you are nearer to loving him than any other man."
"I am not at all near to loving any man. I doubt whether I ever shall be. It does not seem to me to be possible to myself to be what girls call in love. I can like a man. I do like, perhaps, half a dozen. I like them so much that if I go to a house or to a party it is quite a matter of importance to me whether this man or that will or will not be there. And then I suppose I flirt with them. At least Augusta tells me that my aunt says that I do. But as for caring about any one of them in the way of loving him,—wanting to marry him, and have him all to myself, and that sort of thing,—I don't know what it means."
"But you intend to be married some day," said Lady Laura.
"Certainly I do. And I don't intend to wait very much longer. I am heartily tired of Lady Baldock, and though I can generally escape among my friends, that is not sufficient. I am beginning to think that it would be pleasant to have a house of my own. A girl becomes such a Bohemian when she is always going about, and doesn't quite know where any of her things are."
Then there was a silence between them for a few minutes. Violet Effingham was doubled up in a corner of a sofa, with her feet tucked under her, and her face reclining upon one of her shoulders. And as she talked she was playing with a little toy which was constructed to take various shapes as it was flung this way or that. A bystander looking at her would have thought that the toy was much more to her than the conversation. Lady Laura was sitting upright, in a common chair, at a table not far from her companion, and was manifestly devoting herself altogether to the subject that was being discussed between them. She had taken no lounging, easy attitude, she had found no employment for her fingers, and she looked steadily at Violet as she talked,—whereas Violet was looking only at the little manikin which she tossed. And now Laura got up and came to the sofa, and sat close to her friend. Violet, though she somewhat moved one foot, so as to seem to make room for the other, still went on with her play.
"If you do marry, Violet, you must choose some one man out of the lot."
"That's quite true, my dear, I certainly can't marry them all."
"And how do you mean to make the choice?"
"I don't know. I suppose I shall toss up."
"I wish you would be in earnest with me."
"Well;—I will be in earnest. I shall take the first that comes after I have quite made up my mind. You'll think it very horrible, but that is really what I shall do. After all, a husband is very much like a house or a horse. You don't take your house because it's the best house in the world, but because just then you want a house. You go and see a house, and if it's very nasty you don't take it. But if you think it will suit pretty well, and if you are tired of looking about for houses, you do take it. That's the way one buys one's horses,—and one's husbands."
"And you have not made up your mind yet?"
"Not quite. Lady Baldock was a little more decent than usual just before I left Baddingham. When I told her that I meant to have a pair of ponies, she merely threw up her hands and grunted. She didn't gnash her teeth, and curse and swear, and declare to me that I was a child of perdition."
"What do you mean by cursing and swearing?"
"She told me once that if I bought a certain little dog, it would lead to my being everlastingly—you know what. She isn't so squeamish as I am, and said it out."
"What did you do?"
"I bought the little dog, and it bit my aunt's heel. I was very sorry then, and gave the creature to Mary Rivers. He was such a beauty! I hope the perdition has gone with him, for I don't like Mary Rivers at all. I had to give the poor beasty to somebody, and Mary Rivers happened to be there. I told her that Puck was connected with Apollyon, but she didn't mind that. Puck was worth twenty guineas, and I daresay she has sold him."
"Oswald may have an equal chance then among the other favourites?" said Lady Laura, after another pause.
"There are no favourites, and I will not say that any man may have a chance. Why do you press me about your brother in this way?"
"Because I am so anxious. Because it would save him. Because you are the only woman for whom he has ever cared, and because he loves you with all his heart; and because his father would be reconciled to him to-morrow if he heard that you and he were engaged."
"Laura, my dear—"
"You won't be angry if I speak out?"
"Certainly not. After what I have said, you have a right to speak out."
"It seems to me that all your reasons are reasons why he should marry me;—not reasons why I should marry him."
"Is not his love for you a reason?"
"No," said Violet, pausing,—and speaking the word in the lowest possible whisper. "If he did not love me, that, if known to me, should be a reason why I should not marry him. Ten men may love me,—I don't say that any man does—"
"But I can't marry all the ten. And as for that business of saving him—"
"You know what I mean!"
"I don't know that I have any special mission for saving young men. I sometimes think that I shall have quite enough to do to save myself. It is strange what a propensity I feel for the wrong side of the post."
"I feel the strongest assurance that you will always keep on the right side."
"Thank you, my dear. I mean to try, but I'm quite sure that the jockey who takes me in hand ought to be very steady himself. Now, Lord Chiltern—"
"Well,—out with it. What have you to say?"
"He does not bear the best reputation in this world as a steady man. Is he altogether the sort of man that mammas of the best kind are seeking for their daughters? I like a roue myself;—and a prig who sits all night in the House, and talks about nothing but church-rates and suffrage, is to me intolerable. I prefer men who are improper, and all that sort of thing. If I were a man myself I should go in for everything I ought to leave alone. I know I should. But you see,—I'm not a man, and I must take care of myself. The wrong side of a post for a woman is so very much the wrong side. I like a fast man, but I know that I must not dare to marry the sort of man that I like."
"To be one of us, then,—the very first among us;—would that be the wrong side?"
"You mean that to be Lady Chiltern in the present tense, and Lady Brentford in the future, would be promotion for Violet Effingham in the past?"
"How hard you are, Violet!"
"Fancy,—that it should come to this,—that you should call me hard, Laura. I should like to be your sister. I should like well enough to be your father's daughter. I should like well enough to be Chiltern's friend. I am his friend. Nothing that any one has ever said of him has estranged me from him. I have fought for him till I have been black in the face. Yes, I have,—with my aunt. But I am afraid to be his wife. The risk would be so great. Suppose that I did not save him, but that he brought me to shipwreck instead?"
"That could not be!"
"Could it not? I think it might be so very well. When I was a child they used to be always telling me to mind myself. It seems to me that a child and a man need not mind themselves. Let them do what they may, they can be set right again. Let them fall as they will, you can put them on their feet. But a woman has to mind herself;—and very hard work it is when she has a dragon of her own driving her ever the wrong way."
"I want to take you from the dragon."
"Yes;—and to hand me over to a griffin."
"The truth is, Violet, that you do not know Oswald. He is not a griffin."
"I did not mean to be uncomplimentary. Take any of the dangerous wild beasts you please. I merely intend to point out that he is a dangerous wild beast. I daresay he is noble-minded, and I will call him a lion if you like it better. But even with a lion there is risk."
"Of course there will be risk. There is risk with every man,—unless you will be contented with the prig you described. Of course there would be risk with my brother. He has been a gambler."
"They say he is one still."
"He has given it up in part, and would entirely at your instance."
"And they say other things of him, Laura."
"It is true. He has had paroxysms of evil life which have well-nigh ruined him."
"And these paroxysms are so dangerous! Is he not in debt?"
"He is,—but not deeply. Every shilling that he owes would be paid;—every shilling. Mind, I know all his circumstances, and I give you my word that every shilling should be paid. He has never lied,—and he has told me everything. His father could not leave an acre away from him if he would, and would not if he could."
"I did not ask as fearing that. I spoke only of a dangerous habit. A paroxysm of spending money is apt to make one so uncomfortable. And then—"
"I don't know why I should make a catalogue of your brother's weaknesses."
"You mean to say that he drinks too much?"
"I do not say so. People say so. The dragon says so. And as I always find her sayings to be untrue, I suppose this is like the rest of them."
"It is untrue if it be said of him as a habit."
"It is another paroxysm,—just now and then."
"Do not laugh at me, Violet, when I am taking his part, or I shall be offended."
"But you see, if I am to be his wife, it is—rather important."
"Still you need not ridicule me."
"Dear Laura, you know I do not ridicule you. You know I love you for what you are doing. Would not I do the same, and fight for him down to my nails if I had a brother?"
"And therefore I want you to be Oswald's wife;—because I know that you would fight for him. It is not true that he is a—drunkard. Look at his hand, which is as steady as yours. Look at his eye. Is there a sign of it? He has been drunk, once or twice, perhaps,—and has done fearful things."
"It might be that he would do fearful things to me."
"You never knew a man with a softer heart or with a finer spirit. I believe as I sit here that if he were married to-morrow, his vices would fall from him like old clothes."
"You will admit, Laura, that there will be some risk for the wife."
"Of course there will be a risk. Is there not always a risk?"
"The men in the city would call this double-dangerous, I think," said Violet. Then the door was opened, and the man of whom they were speaking entered the room.
The reader has been told that Lord Chiltern was a red man, and that peculiarity of his personal appearance was certainly the first to strike a stranger. It imparted a certain look of ferocity to him, which was apt to make men afraid of him at first sight. Women are not actuated in the same way, and are accustomed to look deeper into men at the first sight than other men will trouble themselves to do. His beard was red, and was clipped, so as to have none of the softness of waving hair. The hair on his head also was kept short, and was very red,—and the colour of his face was red. Nevertheless he was a handsome man, with well-cut features, not tall, but very strongly built, and with a certain curl in the corner of his eyelids which gave to him a look of resolution,—which perhaps he did not possess. He was known to be a clever man, and when very young had had the reputation of being a scholar. When he was three-and-twenty grey-haired votaries of the turf declared that he would make his fortune on the race-course,—so clear-headed was he as to odds, so excellent a judge of a horse's performances, and so gifted with a memory of events. When he was five-and-twenty he had lost every shilling of a fortune of his own, had squeezed from his father more than his father ever chose to name in speaking of his affairs to any one, and was known to be in debt. But he had sacrificed himself on one or two memorable occasions in conformity with turf laws of honour, and men said of him, either that he was very honest or very chivalric,—in accordance with the special views on the subject of the man who was speaking. It was reported now that he no longer owned horses on the turf;—but this was doubted by some who could name the animals which they said that he owned, and which he ran in the name of Mr. Macnab,—said some; of Mr. Pardoe,—said others; of Mr. Chickerwick,—said a third set of informants. The fact was that Lord Chiltern at this moment had no interest of his own in any horse upon the turf.
But all the world knew that he drank. He had taken by the throat a proctor's bull-dog when he had been drunk at Oxford, had nearly strangled the man, and had been expelled. He had fallen through his violence into some terrible misfortune at Paris, had been brought before a public judge, and his name and his infamy had been made notorious in every newspaper in the two capitals. After that he had fought a ruffian at Newmarket, and had really killed him with his fists. In reference to this latter affray it had been proved that the attack had been made on him, that he had not been to blame, and that he had not been drunk. After a prolonged investigation he had come forth from that affair without disgrace. He would have done so, at least, if he had not been heretofore disgraced. But we all know how the man well spoken of may steal a horse, while he who is of evil repute may not look over a hedge. It was asserted widely by many who were supposed to know all about everything that Lord Chiltern was in a fit of delirium tremens when he killed the ruffian at Newmarket. The worst of that latter affair was that it produced the total estrangement which now existed between Lord Brentford and his son. Lord Brentford would not believe that his son was in that matter more sinned against than sinning. "Such things do not happen to other men's sons," he said, when Lady Laura pleaded for her brother. Lady Laura could not induce her father to see his son, but so far prevailed that no sentence of banishment was pronounced against Lord Chiltern. There was nothing to prevent the son sitting at his father's table if he so pleased. He never did so please,—but nevertheless he continued to live in the house in Portman Square; and when he met the Earl, in the hall, perhaps, or on the staircase, would simply bow to him. Then the Earl would bow again, and shuffle on,—and look very wretched, as no doubt he was. A grown-up son must be the greatest comfort a man can have,—if he be his father's best friend; but otherwise he can hardly be a comfort. As it was in this house, the son was a constant thorn in his father's side.
"What does he do when we leave London?" Lord Brentford once said to his daughter.
"He stays here, papa."
"But he hunts still?"
"Yes, he hunts,—and he has a room somewhere at an inn,—down in Northamptonshire. But he is mostly in London. They have trains on purpose."
"What a life for my son!" said the Earl. "What a life! Of course no decent person will let him into his house." Lady Laura did not know what to say to this, for in truth Lord Chiltern was not fond of staying at the houses of persons whom the Earl would have called decent.
General Effingham, the father of Violet, and Lord Brentford had been the closest and dearest of friends. They had been young men in the same regiment, and through life each had confided in the other. When the General's only son, then a youth of seventeen, was killed in one of our grand New Zealand wars, the bereaved father and the Earl had been together for a month in their sorrow. At that time Lord Chiltern's career had still been open to hope,—and the one man had contrasted his lot with the other. General Effingham lived long enough to hear the Earl declare that his lot was the happier of the two. Now the General was dead, and Violet, the daughter of a second wife, was all that was left of the Effinghams. This second wife had been a Miss Plummer, a lady from the city with much money, whose sister had married Lord Baldock. Violet in this way had fallen to the care of the Baldock people, and not into the hands of her father's friends. But, as the reader will have surmised, she had ideas of her own of emancipating herself from Baldock thraldom.
Twice before that last terrible affair at Newmarket, before the quarrel between the father and the son had been complete, Lord Brentford had said a word to his daughter,—merely a word,—of his son in connection with Miss Effingham.
"If he thinks of it I shall be glad to see him on the subject. You may tell him so." That had been the first word. He had just then resolved that the affair in Paris should be regarded as condoned,—as among the things to be forgotten. "She is too good for him; but if he asks her let him tell her everything." That had been the second word, and had been spoken immediately subsequent to a payment of twelve thousand pounds made by the Earl towards the settlement of certain Doncaster accounts. Lady Laura in negotiating for the money had been very eloquent in describing some honest,—or shall we say chivalric,—sacrifice which had brought her brother into this special difficulty. Since that the Earl had declined to interest himself in his son's matrimonial affairs; and when Lady Laura had once again mentioned the matter, declaring her belief that it would be the means of saving her brother Oswald, the Earl had desired her to be silent. "Would you wish to destroy the poor child?" he had said. Nevertheless Lady Laura felt sure that if she were to go to her father with a positive statement that Oswald and Violet were engaged, he would relent and would accept Violet as his daughter. As for the payment of Lord Chiltern's present debts;—she had a little scheme of her own about that.
Miss Effingham, who had been already two days in Portman Square, had not as yet seen Lord Chiltern. She knew that he lived in the house, that is, that he slept there, and probably eat his breakfast in some apartment of his own;—but she knew also that the habits of the house would not by any means make it necessary that they should meet. Laura and her brother probably saw each other daily,—but they never went into society together, and did not know the same sets of people. When she had announced to Lady Baldock her intention of spending the first fortnight of her London season with her friend Lady Laura, Lady Baldock had as a matter of course—"jumped upon her," as Miss Effingham would herself call it.
"You are going to the house of the worst reprobate in all England," said Lady Baldock.
"What;—dear old Lord Brentford, whom papa loved so well!"
"I mean Lord Chiltern, who, only last year,—murdered a man!"
"That is not true, aunt."
"There is worse than that,—much worse. He is always—tipsy, and always gambling, and always— But it is quite unfit that I should speak a word more to you about such a man as Lord Chiltern. His name ought never to be mentioned."
"Then why did you mention it, aunt?"
Lady Baldock's process of jumping upon her niece,—in which I think the aunt had generally the worst of the exercise,—went on for some time, but Violet of course carried her point.
"If she marries him there will be an end of everything," said Lady Baldock to her daughter Augusta.
"She has more sense than that, mamma," said Augusta.
"I don't think she has any sense at all," said Lady Baldock;—"not in the least. I do wish my poor sister had lived;—I do indeed."
Lord Chiltern was now in the room with Violet,—immediately upon that conversation between Violet and his sister as to the expediency of Violet becoming his wife. Indeed his entrance had interrupted the conversation before it was over. "I am so glad to see you, Miss Effingham," he said. "I came in thinking that I might find you."
"Here I am, as large as life," she said, getting up from her corner on the sofa and giving him her hand. "Laura and I have been discussing the affairs of the nation for the last two days, and have nearly brought our discussion to an end." She could not help looking, first at his eye and then at his hand, not as wanting evidence to the truth of the statement which his sister had made, but because the idea of a drunkard's eye and a drunkard's hand had been brought before her mind. Lord Chiltern's hand was like the hand of any other man, but there was something in his eye that almost frightened her. It looked as though he would not hesitate to wring his wife's neck round, if ever he should be brought to threaten to do so. And then his eye, like the rest of him, was red. No;—she did not think that she could ever bring herself to marry him. Why take a venture that was double-dangerous, when there were so many ventures open to her, apparently with very little of danger attached to them? "If it should ever be said that I loved him, I would do it all the same," she said to herself.
"If I did not come and see you here, I suppose that I should never see you," said he, seating himself. "I do not often go to parties, and when I do you are not likely to be there."
"We might make our little arrangements for meeting," said she, laughing. "My aunt, Lady Baldock, is going to have an evening next week."
"The servants would be ordered to put me out of the house."
"Oh no. You can tell her that I invited you."
"I don't think that Oswald and Lady Baldock are great friends," said Lady Laura.
"Or he might come and take you and me to the Zoo on Sunday. That's the proper sort of thing for a brother and a friend to do."
"I hate that place in the Regent's Park," said Lord Chiltern.
"When were you there last?" demanded Miss Effingham.
"When I came home once from Eton. But I won't go again till I can come home from Eton again." Then he altered his tone as he continued to speak. "People would look at me as if I were the wildest beast in the whole collection."
"Then," said Violet, "if you won't go to Lady Baldock's or to the Zoo, we must confine ourselves to Laura's drawing-room;—unless, indeed, you like to take me to the top of the Monument."
"I'll take you to the top of the Monument with pleasure."
"What do you say, Laura?"
"I say that you are a foolish girl," said Lady Laura, "and that I will have nothing to do with such a scheme."
"Then there is nothing for it but that you should come here; and as you live in the house, and as I am sure to be here every morning, and as you have no possible occupation for your time, and as we have nothing particular to do with ours,—I daresay I shan't see you again before I go to my aunt's in Berkeley Square."
"Very likely not," he said.
"And why not, Oswald?" asked his sister.
He passed his hand over his face before he answered her. "Because she and I run in different grooves now, and are not such meet playfellows as we used to be once. Do you remember my taking you away right through Saulsby Wood once on the old pony, and not bringing you back till tea-time, and Miss Blink going and telling my father?"
"Do I remember it? I think it was the happiest day in my life. His pockets were crammed full of gingerbread and Everton toffy, and we had three bottles of lemonade slung on to the pony's saddlebows. I thought it was a pity that we should ever come back."
"It was a pity," said Lord Chiltern.
"But, nevertheless, substantially necessary," said Lady Laura.
"Failing our power of reproducing the toffy, I suppose it was," said Violet.
"You were not Miss Effingham then," said Lord Chiltern.
"No,—not as yet. These disagreeable realities of life grow upon one; do they not? You took off my shoes and dried them for me at a woodman's cottage. I am obliged to put up with my maid's doing those things now. And Miss Blink the mild is changed for Lady Baldock the martinet. And if I rode about with you in a wood all day I should be sent to Coventry instead of to bed. And so you see everything is changed as well as my name."
"Everything is not changed," said Lord Chiltern, getting up from his seat. "I am not changed,—at least not in this, that as I loved you better than any being in the world,—better even than Laura there,—so do I love you now infinitely the best of all. Do not look so surprised at me. You knew it before as well as you do now;—and Laura knows it. There is no secret to be kept in the matter among us three."
"But, Lord Chiltern,—" said Miss Effingham, rising also to her feet, and then pausing, not knowing how to answer him. There had been a suddenness in his mode of addressing her which had, so to say, almost taken away her breath; and then to be told by a man of his love before his sister was in itself, to her, a matter so surprising, that none of those words came at her command which will come, as though by instinct, to young ladies on such occasions.
"You have known it always," said he, as though he were angry with her.
"Lord Chiltern," she replied, "you must excuse me if I say that you are, at the least, very abrupt. I did not think when I was going back so joyfully to our childish days that you would turn the tables on me in this way."
"He has said nothing that ought to make you angry," said Lady Laura.
"Only because he has driven me to say that which will make me appear to be uncivil to himself. Lord Chiltern, I do not love you with that love of which you are speaking now. As an old friend I have always regarded you, and I hope that I may always do so." Then she got up and left the room.
"Why were you so sudden with her,—so abrupt,—so loud?" said his sister, coming up to him and taking him by the arm almost in anger.
"It would make no difference," said he. "She does not care for me."
"It makes all the difference in the world," said Lady Laura. "Such a woman as Violet cannot be had after that fashion. You must begin again."
"I have begun and ended," he said.
"That is nonsense. Of course you will persist. It was madness to speak in that way to-day. You may be sure of this, however, that there is no one she likes better than you. You must remember that you have done much to make any girl afraid of you."
"I do remember it."
"Do something now to make her fear you no longer. Speak to her softly. Tell her of the sort of life which you would live with her. Tell her that all is changed. As she comes to love you, she will believe you when she would believe no one else on that matter."
"Am I to tell her a lie?" said Lord Chiltern, looking his sister full in the face. Then he turned upon his heel and left her.
The session went on very calmly after the opening battle which ousted Lord de Terrier and sent Mr. Mildmay back to the Treasury,—so calmly that Phineas Finn was unconsciously disappointed, as lacking that excitement of contest to which he had been introduced in the first days of his parliamentary career. From time to time certain waspish attacks were made by Mr. Daubeny, now on this Secretary of State and now on that; but they were felt by both parties to mean nothing; and as no great measure was brought forward, nothing which would serve by the magnitude of its interests to divide the liberal side of the House into fractions, Mr. Mildmay's Cabinet was allowed to hold its own in comparative peace and quiet. It was now July,—the middle of July,—and the member for Loughshane had not yet addressed the House. How often had he meditated doing so; how he had composed his speeches walking round the Park on his way down to the House; how he got his subjects up,—only to find on hearing them discussed that he really knew little or nothing about them; how he had his arguments and almost his very words taken out of his mouth by some other member; and lastly, how he had actually been deterred from getting upon his legs by a certain tremor of blood round his heart when the moment for rising had come,—of all this he never said a word to any man. Since that last journey to county Mayo, Laurence Fitzgibbon had been his most intimate friend, but he said nothing of all this even to Laurence Fitzgibbon. To his other friend, Lady Laura Standish, he did explain something of his feelings, not absolutely describing to her the extent of hindrance to which his modesty had subjected him, but letting her know that he had his qualms as well as his aspirations. But as Lady Laura always recommended patience, and more than once expressed her opinion that a young member would be better to sit in silence at least for one session, he was not driven to the mortification of feeling that he was incurring her contempt by his bashfulness. As regarded the men among whom he lived, I think he was almost annoyed at finding that no one seemed to expect that he should speak. Barrington Erle, when he had first talked of sending Phineas down to Loughshane, had predicted for him all manner of parliamentary successes, and had expressed the warmest admiration of the manner in which Phineas had discussed this or that subject at the Union. "We have not above one or two men in the House who can do that kind of thing," Barrington Erle had once said. But now no allusions whatever were made to his powers of speech, and Phineas in his modest moments began to be more amazed than ever that he should find himself seated in that chamber.
To the forms and technicalities of parliamentary business he did give close attention, and was unremitting in his attendance. On one or two occasions he ventured to ask a question of the Speaker, and as the words of experience fell into his ears, he would tell himself that he was going through his education,—that he was learning to be a working member, and perhaps to be a statesman. But his regrets with reference to Mr. Low and the dingy chambers in Old Square were very frequent; and had it been possible for him to undo all that he had done, he would often have abandoned to some one else the honour of representing the electors of Loughshane.
But he was supported in all his difficulties by the kindness of his friend, Lady Laura Standish. He was often in the house in Portman Square, and was always received with cordiality, and, as he thought, almost with affection. She would sit and talk to him, sometimes saying a word about her brother and sometimes about her father, as though there were more between them than the casual intimacy of London acquaintance. And in Portman Square he had been introduced to Miss Effingham, and had found Miss Effingham to be—very nice. Miss Effingham had quite taken to him, and he had danced with her at two or three parties, talking always, as he did so, about Lady Laura Standish.
"I declare, Laura, I think your friend Mr. Finn is in love with you," said Violet to Lady Laura one night.
"I don't think that. He is fond of me, and so am I of him. He is so honest, and so naive without being awkward! And then he is undoubtedly clever."
"And so uncommonly handsome," said Violet.
"I don't know that that makes much difference," said Lady Laura.
"I think it does if a man looks like a gentleman as well."
"Mr. Finn certainly looks like a gentleman," said Lady Laura.
"And no doubt is one," said Violet. "I wonder whether he has got any money."
"Not a penny, I should say."
"How does such a man manage to live? There are so many men like that, and they are always mysteries to me. I suppose he'll have to marry an heiress."
"Whoever gets him will not have a bad husband," said Lady Laura Standish.
Phineas during the summer had very often met Mr. Kennedy. They sat on the same side of the House, they belonged to the same club, they dined together more than once in Portman Square, and on one occasion Phineas had accepted an invitation to dinner sent to him by Mr. Kennedy himself. "A slower affair I never saw in my life," he said afterwards to Laurence Fitzgibbon. "Though there were two or three men there who talk everywhere else, they could not talk at his table." "He gave you good wine, I should say," said Fitzgibbon, "and let me tell you that that covers a multitude of sins." In spite, however, of all these opportunities for intimacy, now, nearly at the end of the session, Phineas had hardly spoken a dozen words to Mr. Kennedy, and really knew nothing whatsoever of the man, as one friend,—or even as one acquaintance knows another. Lady Laura had desired him to be on good terms with Mr. Kennedy, and for that reason he had dined with him. Nevertheless he disliked Mr. Kennedy, and felt quite sure that Mr. Kennedy disliked him. He was therefore rather surprised when he received the following note:—
Albany, Z 3, July 17, 186—.
MY DEAR MR. FINN,
I shall have some friends at Loughlinter next month, and should be very glad if you will join us. I will name the 16th August. I don't know whether you shoot, but there are grouse and deer.
What was he to do? He had already begun to feel rather uncomfortable at the prospect of being separated from all his new friends as soon as the session should be over. Laurence Fitzgibhon had asked him to make another visit to county Mayo, but that he had declined. Lady Laura had said something to him about going abroad with her brother, and since that there had sprung up a sort of intimacy between him and Lord Chiltern; but nothing had been fixed about this foreign trip, and there were pecuniary objections to it which put it almost out of his power. The Christmas holidays he would of course pass with his family at Killaloe, but he hardly liked the idea of hurrying off to Killaloe immediately the session should be over. Everybody around him seemed to be looking forward to pleasant leisure doings in the country. Men talked about grouse, and of the ladies at the houses to which they were going and of the people whom they were to meet. Lady Laura had said nothing of her own movements for the early autumn, and no invitation had come to him to go to the Earl's country house. He had already felt that every one would depart and that he would be left,—and this had made him uncomfortable. What was he to do with the invitation from Mr. Kennedy? He disliked the man, and had told himself half a dozen times that he despised him. Of course he must refuse it. Even for the sake of the scenery, and the grouse, and the pleasant party, and the feeling that going to Loughlinter in August would be the proper sort of thing to do, he must refuse it! But it occurred to him at last that he would call in Portman Square before he wrote his note.
"Of course you will go," said Lady Laura, in her most decided tone.
"In the first place it is civil in him to ask you, and why should you be uncivil in return?"
"There is nothing uncivil in not accepting a man's invitation," said Phineas.
"We are going," said Lady Laura, "and I can only say that I shall be disappointed if you do not go too. Both Mr. Gresham and Mr. Monk will be there, and I believe they have never stayed together in the same house before. I have no doubt there are a dozen men on your side of the House who would give their eyes to be there. Of course you will go."
Of course he did go. The note accepting Mr. Kennedy's invitation was written at the Reform Club within a quarter of an hour of his leaving Portman Square. He was very careful in writing to be not more familiar or more civil than Mr. Kennedy had been to himself, and then he signed himself "Yours truly, Phineas Finn." But another proposition was made to him, and a most charming proposition, during the few minutes that he remained in Portman Square. "I am so glad," said Lady Laura, "because I can now ask you to run down to us at Saulsby for a couple of days on your way to Loughlinter. Till this was fixed I couldn't ask you to come all the way to Saulsby for two days; and there won't be room for more between our leaving London and starting to Loughlinter." Phineas swore that he would have gone if it had been but for one hour, and if Saulsby had been twice the distance. "Very well; come on the 13th and go on the 15th. You must go on the 15th, unless you choose to stay with the housekeeper. And remember, Mr. Finn, we have got no grouse at Saulsby." Phineas declared that he did not care a straw for grouse.
There was another little occurrence which happened before Phineas left London, and which was not altogether so charming as his prospects at Saulsby and Loughlinter. Early in August, when the session was still incomplete, he dined with Laurence Fitzgibbon at the Reform Club. Laurence had specially invited him to do so, and made very much of him on the occasion. "By George, my dear fellow," Laurence said to him that morning, "nothing has happened to me this session that has given me so much pleasure as your being in the House. Of course there are fellows with whom one is very intimate and of whom one is very fond,—and all that sort of thing. But most of these Englishmen on our side are such cold fellows; or else they are like Ratler and Barrington Erle, thinking of nothing but politics. And then as to our own men, there are so many of them one can hardly trust! That's the truth of it. Your being in the House has been such a comfort to me!" Phineas, who really liked his friend Laurence, expressed himself very warmly in answer to this, and became affectionate, and made sundry protestations of friendship which were perfectly sincere. Their sincerity was tested after dinner, when Fitzgibbon, as they two were seated on a sofa in the corner of the smoking-room, asked Phineas to put his name to the back of a bill for two hundred and fifty pounds at six months' date.
"But, my dear Laurence," said Phineas, "two hundred and fifty pounds is a sum of money utterly beyond my reach."
"Exactly, my dear boy, and that's why I've come to you. D'ye think I'd have asked anybody who by any impossibility might have been made to pay anything for me?"
"But what's the use of it then?"
"All the use in the world. It's for me to judge of the use, you know. Why, d'ye think I'd ask it if it wasn't any use? I'll make it of use, my boy. And take my word, you'll never hear about it again. It's just a forestalling of my salary; that's all. I wouldn't do it till I saw that we were at least safe for six months to come." Then Phineas Finn with many misgivings, with much inward hatred of himself for his own weakness, did put his name on the back of the bill which Laurence Fitzgibbon had prepared for his signature.
"So you won't come to Moydrum again?" said Laurence Fitzgibbon to his friend.
"Not this autumn, Laurence. Your father would think that I want to live there."
"Bedad, it's my father would be glad to see you,—and the oftener the better."
"The fact is, my time is filled up."
"You're not going to be one of the party at Loughlinter?"
"I believe I am. Kennedy asked me, and people seem to think that everybody is to do what he bids them."
"I should think so too. I wish he had asked me. I should have thought it as good as a promise of an under-secretaryship. All the Cabinet are to be there. I don't suppose he ever had an Irishman in his house before. When do you start?"
"Well;—on the 12th or 13th. I believe I shall go to Saulsby on my way."
"The devil you will. Upon my word, Phineas, my boy, you're the luckiest fellow I know. This is your first year, and you're asked to the two most difficult houses in England. You have only to look out for an heiress now. There is little Vi Effingham;—she is sure to be at Saulsby. Good-bye, old fellow. Don't you be in the least unhappy about the bill. I'll see to making that all right."
Phineas was rather unhappy about the bill; but there was so much that was pleasant in his cup at the present moment, that he resolved, as far as possible, to ignore the bitter of that one ingredient. He was a little in the dark as to two or three matters respecting these coming visits. He would have liked to have taken a servant with him; but he had no servant, and felt ashamed to hire one for the occasion. And then he was in trouble about a gun, and the paraphernalia of shooting. He was not a bad shot at snipe in the bogs of county Clare, but he had never even seen a gun used in England. However, he bought himself a gun,—with other paraphernalia, and took a license for himself, and then groaned over the expense to which he found that his journey would subject him. And at last he hired a servant for the occasion. He was intensely ashamed of himself when he had done so, hating himself, and telling himself that he was going to the devil headlong. And why had he done it? Not that Lady Laura would like him the better, or that she would care whether he had a servant or not. She probably would know nothing of his servant. But the people about her would know, and he was foolishly anxious that the people about her should think that he was worthy of her.
Then he called on Mr. Low before he started. "I did not like to leave London without seeing you," he said; "but I know you will have nothing pleasant to say to me."
"I shall say nothing unpleasant certainly. I see your name in the divisions, and I feel a sort of envy myself."
"Any fool could go into a lobby," said Phineas.
"To tell you the truth, I have been gratified to see that you have had the patience to abstain from speaking till you had looked about you. It was more than I expected from your hot Irish blood. Going to meet Mr. Gresham and Mr. Monk,—are you? Well, I hope you may meet them in the Cabinet some day. Mind you come and see me when Parliament meets in February."
Mrs. Bunce was delighted when she found that Phineas had hired a servant; but Mr. Bunce predicted nothing but evil from so vain an expense. "Don't tell me; where is it to come from? He ain't no richer because he's in Parliament. There ain't no wages. M.P. and M.T.,"—whereby Mr. Bunce, I fear, meant empty,—"are pretty much alike when a man hasn't a fortune at his back." "But he's going to stay with all the lords in the Cabinet," said Mrs. Bunce, to whom Phineas, in his pride, had confided perhaps more than was necessary. "Cabinet, indeed," said Bunce; "if he'd stick to chambers, and let alone cabinets, he'd do a deal better. Given up his rooms, has he,—till February? He don't expect we're going to keep them empty for him!"
Phineas found that the house was full at Saulsby, although the sojourn of the visitors would necessarily be so short. There were three or four there on their way on to Loughlinter, like himself,—Mr. Bonteen and Mr. Ratler, with Mr. Palliser, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his wife,—and there was Violet Effingham, who, however, was not going to Loughlinter. "No, indeed," she said to our hero, who on the first evening had the pleasure of taking her in to dinner, "unfortunately I haven't a seat in Parliament, and therefore I am not asked."
"Lady Laura is going."
"Yes;—but Lady Laura has a Cabinet Minister in her keeping. I've only one comfort;—you'll be awfully dull."
"I daresay it would be very much nicer to stay here," said Phineas.
"If you want to know my real mind," said Violet, "I would give one of my little fingers to go. There will be four Cabinet Ministers in the house, and four un-Cabinet Ministers, and half a dozen other members of Parliament, and there will be Lady Glencora Palliser, who is the best fun in the world; and, in point of fact, it's the thing of the year. But I am not asked. You see I belong to the Baldock faction, and we don't sit on your side of the House. Mr. Kennedy thinks that I should tell secrets."
Why on earth had Mr. Kennedy invited him, Phineas Finn, to meet four Cabinet Ministers and Lady Glencora Palliser? He could only have done so at the instance of Lady Laura Standish. It was delightful for Phineas to think that Lady Laura cared for him so deeply; but it was not equally delightful when he remembered how very close must be the alliance between Mr. Kennedy and Lady Laura, when she was thus powerful with him.
At Saulsby Phineas did not see much of his hostess. When they were making their plans for the one entire day of this visit, she said a soft word of apology to him. "I am so busy with all these people, that I hardly know what I am doing. But we shall be able to find a quiet minute or two at Loughlinter,—unless, indeed, you intend to be on the mountains all day. I suppose you have brought a gun like everybody else?"
"Yes;—I have brought a gun. I do shoot; but I am not an inveterate sportsman."
On that one day there was a great riding party made up, and Phineas found himself mounted, after luncheon, with some dozen other equestrians. Among them were Miss Effingham and Lady Glencora, Mr. Ratler and the Earl of Brentford himself. Lady Glencora, whose husband was, as has been said, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and who was still a young woman, and a very pretty woman, had taken lately very strongly to politics, which she discussed among men and women of both parties with something more than ordinary audacity. "What a nice, happy, lazy time you've had of it since you've been in," said she to the Earl.
"I hope we have been more happy than lazy," said the Earl.
"But you've done nothing. Mr. Palliser has twenty schemes of reform, all mature; but among you you've not let him bring in one of them. The Duke and Mr. Mildmay and you will break his heart among you."
"Poor Mr. Palliser!"
"The truth is, if you don't take care he and Mr. Monk and Mr. Gresham will arise and shake themselves, and turn you all out."
"We must look to ourselves, Lady Glencora."
"Indeed, yes;—or you will be known to all posterity as the faineant government."
"Let me tell you, Lady Glencora, that a faineant government is not the worst government that England can have. It has been the great fault of our politicians that they have all wanted to do something."
"Mr. Mildmay is at any rate innocent of that charge," said Lady Glencora.
They were now riding through a vast wood, and Phineas found himself delightfully established by the side of Violet Effingham. "Mr. Ratler has been explaining to me that he must have nineteen next session. Now, if I were you, Mr. Finn, I would decline to be counted up in that way as one of Mr. Ratler's sheep."
"But what am I to do?"
"Do something on your own hook. You men in Parliament are so much like sheep! If one jumps at a gap, all go after him,—and then you are penned into lobbies, and then you are fed, and then you are fleeced. I wish I were in Parliament. I'd get up in the middle and make such a speech. You all seem to me to be so much afraid of one another that you don't quite dare to speak out. Do you see that cottage there?"
"What a pretty cottage it is!"
"Yes;—is it not? Twelve years ago I took off my shoes and stockings and had them dried in that cottage, and when I got back to the house I was put to bed for having been out all day in the wood."
"Were you wandering about alone?"
"No, I wasn't alone. Oswald Standish was with me. We were children then. Do you know him?"
"Lord Chiltern;—yes, I know him. He and I have been rather friends this year."
"He is very good;—is he not?"
"Good,—in what way?"
"Honest and generous!"
"I know no man whom I believe to be more so."
"And he is clever?" asked Miss Effingham.
"Very clever. That is, he talks very well if you will let him talk after his own fashion. You would always fancy that he was going to eat you;—but that is his way."
"And you like him?"
"I am so glad to hear you say so."
"Is he a favourite of yours, Miss Effingham?"
"Not now,—not particularly. I hardly ever see him. But his sister is the best friend I have, and I used to like him so much when he was a boy! I have not seen that cottage since that day, and I remember it as though it were yesterday. Lord Chiltern is quite changed, is he not?"
"Changed,—in what way?"
"They used to say that he was—unsteady you know."
"I think he is changed. But Chiltern is at heart a Bohemian. It is impossible not to see that at once. He hates the decencies of life."
"I suppose he does," said Violet. "He ought to marry. If he were married, that would all be cured;—don't you think so?"
"I cannot fancy him with a wife," said Phineas, "There is a savagery about him which would make him an uncomfortable companion for a woman."
"But he would love his wife?"
"Yes, as he does his horses. And he would treat her well,—as he does his horses. But he expects every horse he has to do anything that any horse can do; and he would expect the same of his wife."
Phineas had no idea how deep an injury he might be doing his friend by this description, nor did it once occur to him that his companion was thinking of herself as the possible wife of this Red Indian. Miss Effingham rode on in silence for some distance, and then she said but one word more about Lord Chiltern. "He was so good to me in that cottage."
On the following day the party at Saulsby was broken up, and there was a regular pilgrimage towards Loughlinter. Phineas resolved upon sleeping a night at Edinburgh on his way, and he found himself joined in the bands of close companionship with Mr. Ratler for the occasion. The evening was by no means thrown away, for he learned much of his trade from Mr. Ratler. And Mr. Ratler was heard to declare afterwards at Loughlinter that Mr. Finn was a pleasant young man.
It soon came to be admitted by all who knew Phineas Finn that he had a peculiar power of making himself agreeable which no one knew how to analyse or define. "I think it is because he listens so well," said one man. "But the women would not like him for that," said another. "He has studied when to listen and when to talk," said a third. The truth, however, was, that Phineas Finn had made no study in the matter at all. It was simply his nature to be pleasant.
Phineas Finn reached Loughlinter together with Mr. Ratler in a post-chaise from the neighbouring town. Mr. Ratler, who had done this kind of thing very often before, travelled without impediments, but the new servant of our hero's was stuck outside with the driver, and was in the way. "I never bring a man with me," said Mr. Ratler to his young friend. "The servants of the house like it much better, because they get fee'd; you are just as well waited on, and it don't cost half as much." Phineas blushed as he heard all this; but there was the impediment, not to be got rid of for the nonce, and Phineas made the best of his attendant. "It's one of those points," said he, "as to which a man never quite makes up his mind. If you bring a fellow, you wish you hadn't brought him; and if you don't, you wish you had." "I'm a great deal more decided in my ways that that," said Mr. Ratler.
Loughlinter, as they approached it, seemed to Phineas to be a much finer place than Saulsby. And so it was, except that Loughlinter wanted that graceful beauty of age which Saulsby possessed. Loughlinter was all of cut stone, but the stones had been cut only yesterday. It stood on a gentle slope, with a greensward falling from the front entrance down to a mountain lake. And on the other side of the Lough there rose a mighty mountain to the skies, Ben Linter. At the foot of it, and all round to the left, there ran the woods of Linter, stretching for miles through crags and bogs and mountain lands. No better ground for deer than the side of Ben Linter was there in all those highlands. And the Linter, rushing down into the Lough through rocks which, in some places, almost met together above its waters, ran so near to the house that the pleasant noise of its cataracts could be heard from the hall door. Behind the house the expanse of drained park land seemed to be interminable; and then, again, came the mountains. There were Ben Linn and Ben Lody;—and the whole territory belonging to Mr. Kennedy. He was laird of Linn and laird of Linter, as his people used to say. And yet his father had walked into Glasgow as a little boy,—no doubt with the normal half-crown in his breeches pocket.
"Magnificent;—is it not?" said Phineas to the Treasury Secretary, as they were being driven up to the door.
"Very grand;—but the young trees show the new man. A new man may buy a forest; but he can't get park trees."
Phineas, at the moment, was thinking how far all these things which he saw, the mountains stretching everywhere around him, the castle, the lake, the river, the wealth of it all, and, more than the wealth, the nobility of the beauty, might act as temptations to Lady Laura Standish. If a woman were asked to have the half of all this, would it be possible that she should prefer to take the half of his nothing? He thought it might be possible for a girl who would confess, or seem to confess, that love should be everything. But it could hardly be possible for a woman who looked at the world almost as a man looked at it,—as an oyster to be opened with such weapon as she could find ready to her hand. Lady Laura professed to have a care for all the affairs of the world. She loved politics, and could talk of social science, and had broad ideas about religion, and was devoted to certain educational views. Such a woman would feel that wealth was necessary to her, and would be willing, for the sake of wealth, to put up with a husband without romance. Nay; might it not be that she would prefer a husband without romance? Thus Phineas was arguing to himself as he was driven up to the door of Loughlinter Castle, while Mr. Ratler was eloquent on the beauty of old park trees. "After all, a Scotch forest is a very scrubby sort of thing," said Mr. Ratler.
There was nobody in the house,—at least, they found nobody; and within half an hour Phineas was walking about the grounds by himself. Mr. Ratler had declared himself to be delighted at having an opportunity of writing letters,—and no doubt was writing them by the dozen, all dated from Loughlinter, and all detailing the facts that Mr. Gresham, and Mr. Monk, and Plantagenet Palliser, and Lord Brentford were in the same house with him. Phineas had no letters to write, and therefore rushed down across the broad lawn to the river, of which he heard the noisy tumbling waters. There was something in the air which immediately filled him with high spirits; and, in his desire to investigate the glories of the place, he forgot that he was going to dine with four Cabinet Ministers in a row. He soon reached the stream, and began to make his way up it through the ravine. There was waterfall over waterfall, and there were little bridges here and there which looked to be half natural and half artificial, and a path which required that you should climb, but which was yet a path, and all was so arranged that not a pleasant splashing rush of the waters was lost to the visitor. He went on and on, up the stream, till there was a sharp turn in the ravine, and then, looking upwards, he saw above his head a man and a woman standing together on one of the little half-made wooden bridges. His eyes were sharp, and he saw at a glance that the woman was Lady Laura Standish. He had not recognised the man, but he had very little doubt that it was Mr. Kennedy. Of course it was Mr. Kennedy, because he would prefer that it should be any other man under the sun. He would have turned back at once if he had thought that he could have done so without being observed; but he felt sure that, standing as they were, they must have observed him. He did not like to join them. He would not intrude himself. So he remained still, and began to throw stones into the river. But he had not thrown above a stone or two when he was called from above. He looked up, and then he perceived that the man who called him was his host. Of course it was Mr. Kennedy. Thereupon he ceased to throw stones, and went up the path, and joined them upon the bridge. Mr. Kennedy stepped forward, and bade him welcome to Loughlinter. His manner was less cold, and he seemed to have more words at command than was usual with him. "You have not been long," he said, "in finding out the most beautiful spot about the place."
"Is it not lovely?" said Laura. "We have not been here an hour yet, and Mr. Kennedy insisted on bringing me here."
"It is wonderfully beautiful," said Phineas.
"It is this very spot where we now stand that made me build the house where it is," said Mr. Kennedy, "and I was only eighteen when I stood here and made up my mind. That is just twenty-five years ago." "So he is forty-three," said Phineas to himself, thinking how glorious it was to be only twenty-five. "And within twelve months," continued Mr. Kennedy, "the foundations were being dug and the stone-cutters were at work."
"What a good-natured man your father must have been," said Lady Laura.
"He had nothing else to do with his money but to pour it over my head, as it were. I don't think he had any other enjoyment of it himself. Will you go a little higher, Lady Laura? We shall get a fine view over to Ben Linn just now." Lady Laura declared that she would go as much higher as he chose to take her, and Phineas was rather in doubt as to what it would become him to do. He would stay where he was, or go down, or make himself to vanish after any most acceptable fashion; but if he were to do so abruptly it would seem as though he were attributing something special to the companionship of the other two. Mr. Kennedy saw his doubt, and asked him to join them. "You may as well come on, Mr. Finn. We don't dine till eight, and it is not much past six yet. The men of business are all writing letters, and the ladies who have been travelling are in bed, I believe."
"Not all of them, Mr. Kennedy," said Lady Laura. Then they went on with their walk very pleasantly, and the lord of all that they surveyed took them from one point of vantage to another, till they both swore that of all spots upon the earth Loughlinter was surely the most lovely. "I do delight in it, I own," said the lord. "When I come up here alone, and feel that in the midst of this little bit of a crowded island I have all this to myself,—all this with which no other man's wealth can interfere,—I grow proud of my own, till I become thoroughly ashamed of myself. After all, I believe it is better to dwell in cities than in the country,—better, at any rate, for a rich man." Mr. Kennedy had now spoken more words than Phineas had heard to fall from his lips during the whole time that they had been acquainted with each other.
"I believe so too," said Laura, "if one were obliged to choose between the two. For myself, I think that a little of both is good for man and woman."
"There is no doubt about that," said Phineas.
"No doubt as far as enjoyment goes," said Mr. Kennedy.
He took them up out of the ravine on to the side of the mountain, and then down by another path through the woods to the back of the house. As they went he relapsed into his usual silence, and the conversation was kept up between the other two. At a point not very far from the castle,—just so far that one could see by the break of the ground where the castle stood, Kennedy left them. "Mr. Finn will take you back in safety, I am sure," said he, "and, as I am here, I'll go up to the farm for a moment. If I don't show myself now and again when I am here, they think I'm indifferent about the 'bestials'."
"Now, Mr. Kennedy," said Lady Laura, "you are going to pretend to understand all about sheep and oxen." Mr. Kennedy, owning that it was so, went away to his farm, and Phineas with Lady Laura returned towards the house. "I think, upon the whole," said Lady Laura, "that that is as good a man as I know."
"I should think he is an idle one," said Phineas.
"I doubt that. He is, perhaps, neither zealous nor active. But he is thoughtful and high-principled, and has a method and a purpose in the use which he makes of his money. And you see that he has poetry in his nature too, if you get him upon the right string. How fond he is of the scenery of this place!"
"Any man would be fond of that. I'm ashamed to say that it almost makes me envy him. I certainly never have wished to be Mr. Robert Kennedy in London, but I should like to be the Laird of Loughlinter."
"'Laird of Linn and Laird of Linter,—Here in summer, gone in winter.' There is some ballad about the old lairds; but that belongs to a time when Mr. Kennedy had not been heard of, when some branch of the Mackenzies lived down at that wretched old tower which you see as you first come upon the lake. When old Mr. Kennedy bought it there were hardly a hundred acres on the property under cultivation."
"And it belonged to the Mackenzies."
"Yes;—to the Mackenzie of Linn, as he was called. It was Mr. Kennedy, the old man, who was first called Loughlinter. That is Linn Castle, and they lived there for hundreds of years. But these Highlanders, with all that is said of their family pride, have forgotten the Mackenzies already, and are quite proud of their rich landlord."
"That is unpoetical," said Phineas.
"Yes;—but then poetry is so usually false. I doubt whether Scotland would not have been as prosaic a country as any under the sun but for Walter Scott;—and I have no doubt that Henry V owes the romance of his character altogether to Shakspeare."
"I sometimes think you despise poetry," said Phineas.
"When it is false I do. The difficulty is to know when it is false and when it is true. Tom Moore was always false."
"Not so false as Byron," said Phineas with energy.
"Much more so, my friend. But we will not discuss that now. Have you seen Mr. Monk since you have been here?"
"I have seen no one. I came with Mr. Ratler."
"Why with Mr. Ratler? You cannot find Mr. Ratler a companion much to your taste."
"Chance brought us together. But Mr. Ratler is a man of sense, Lady Laura, and is not to be despised."
"It always seems to me," said Lady Laura, "that nothing is to be gained in politics by sitting at the feet of the little Gamaliels."
"But the great Gamaliels will not have a novice on their footstools."
"Then sit at no man's feet. Is it not astonishing that the price generally put upon any article by the world is that which the owner puts on it?—and that this is specially true of a man's own self? If you herd with Ratler, men will take it for granted that you are a Ratlerite, and no more. If you consort with Greshams and Pallisers, you will equally be supposed to know your own place."
"I never knew a Mentor," said Phineas, "so apt as you are to fill his Telemachus with pride."
"It is because I do not think your fault lies that way. If it did, or if I thought so, my Telemachus, you may be sure that I should resign my position as Mentor. Here are Mr. Kennedy and Lady Glencora and Mrs. Gresham on the steps." Then they went up through the Ionic columns on to the broad stone terrace before the door, and there they found a crowd of men and women. For the legislators and statesmen had written their letters, and the ladies had taken their necessary rest.
Phineas, as he was dressing, considered deeply all that Lady Laura had said to him,—not so much with reference to the advice which she had given him, though that also was of importance, as to the fact that it had been given by her. She had first called herself his Mentor; but he had accepted the name and had addressed her as her Telemachus. And yet he believed himself to be older than she,—if, indeed, there was any difference in their ages. And was it possible that a female Mentor should love her Telemachus,—should love him as Phineas desired to be loved by Lady Laura? He would not say that it was impossible. Perhaps there had been mistakes between them;—a mistake in his manner of addressing her, and another in hers of addressing him. Perhaps the old bachelor of forty-three was not thinking of a wife. Had this old bachelor of forty-three been really in love with Lady Laura, would he have allowed her to walk home alone with Phineas, leaving her with some flimsy pretext of having to look at his sheep? Phineas resolved that he must at any rate play out his game,—whether he were to lose it or to win it; and in playing it he must, if possible, drop something of that Mentor and Telemachus style of conversation. As to the advice given him of herding with Greshams and Pallisers, instead of with Ratlers and Fitzgibbons,—he must use that as circumstances might direct. To him, himself, as he thought of it all, it was sufficiently astonishing that even the Ratlers and Fitzgibbons should admit him among them as one of themselves. "When I think of my father and of the old house at Killaloe, and remember that hitherto I have done nothing myself, I cannot understand how it is that I should be at Loughlinter." There was only one way of understanding it. If Lady Laura really loved him, the riddle might be read.
The rooms at Loughlinter were splendid, much larger and very much more richly furnished than those at Saulsby. But there was a certain stiffness in the movement of things, and perhaps in the manner of some of those present, which was not felt at Saulsby. Phineas at once missed the grace and prettiness and cheery audacity of Violet Effingham, and felt at the same time that Violet Effingham would be out of her element at Loughlinter. At Loughlinter they were met for business. It was at least a semi-political, or perhaps rather a semi-official gathering, and he became aware that he ought not to look simply for amusement. When he entered the drawing-room before dinner, Mr. Monk and Mr. Palliser, and Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Gresham, with sundry others, were standing in a wide group before the fireplace, and among them were Lady Glencora Palliser and Lady Laura and Mrs. Bonteen. As he approached them it seemed as though a sort of opening was made for himself; but he could see, though others did not, that the movement came from Lady Laura.
"I believe, Mr. Monk," said Lady Glencora, "that you and I are the only two in the whole party who really know what we would be at."
"If I must be divided from so many of my friends," said Mr. Monk, "I am happy to go astray in the company of Lady Glencora Palliser."
"And might I ask," said Mr. Gresham, with a peculiar smile for which he was famous, "what it is that you and Mr. Monk are really at?"
"Making men and women all equal," said Lady Glencora. "That I take to be the gist of our political theory."
"Lady Glencora, I must cry off," said Mr. Monk.
"Yes;—no doubt. If I were in the Cabinet myself I should not admit so much. There are reticences,—of course. And there is an official discretion."
"But you don't mean to say, Lady Glencora, that you would really advocate equality?" said Mrs. Bonteen.
"I do mean to say so, Mrs. Bonteen. And I mean to go further, and to tell you that you are no Liberal at heart unless you do so likewise; unless that is the basis of your political aspirations."
"Pray let me speak for myself, Lady Glencora."
"By no means,—not when you are criticising me and my politics. Do you not wish to make the lower orders comfortable?"
"Certainly," said Mrs. Bonteen.
"And educated, and happy and good?"
"To make them as comfortable and as good as yourself?"
"Better if possible."
"And I'm sure you wish to make yourself as good and as comfortable as anybody else,—as those above you, if anybody is above you? You will admit that?"
"Yes;—if I understand you."
"Then you have admitted everything, and are an advocate for general equality,—just as Mr. Monk is, and as I am. There is no getting out of it;—is there, Mr. Kennedy?" Then dinner was announced, and Mr. Kennedy walked off with the French Republican on his arm. As she went, she whispered into Mr. Kennedy's ear, "You will understand me. I am not saying that people are equal; but that the tendency of all law-making and of all governing should be to reduce the inequalities." In answer to which Mr. Kennedy said not a word. Lady Glencora's politics were too fast and furious for his nature.
A week passed by at Loughlinter, at the end of which Phineas found himself on terms of friendly intercourse with all the political magnates assembled in the house, but especially with Mr. Monk. He had determined that he would not follow Lady Laura's advice as to his selection of companions, if in doing so he should be driven even to a seeming of intrusion. He made no attempt to sit at the feet of anybody, and would stand aloof when bigger men than himself were talking, and was content to be less,—as indeed he was less,—than Mr. Bonteen or Mr. Ratler. But at the end of a week he found that, without any effort on his part,—almost in opposition to efforts on his part,—he had fallen into an easy pleasant way with these men which was very delightful to him. He had killed a stag in company with Mr. Palliser, and had stopped beneath a crag to discuss with him a question as to the duty on Irish malt. He had played chess with Mr. Gresham, and had been told that gentleman's opinion on the trial of Mr. Jefferson Davis. Lord Brentford had—at last—called him Finn, and had proved to him that nothing was known in Ireland about sheep. But with Mr. Monk he had had long discussions on abstract questions in politics,—and before the week was over was almost disposed to call himself a disciple, or, at least, a follower of Mr. Monk. Why not of Mr. Monk as well as of any one else? Mr. Monk was in the Cabinet, and of all the members of the Cabinet was the most advanced Liberal. "Lady Glencora was not so far wrong the other night," Mr. Monk said to him. "Equality is an ugly word and shouldn't be used. It misleads, and frightens, and is a bugbear. And she, in using it, had not perhaps a clearly defined meaning for it in her own mind. But the wish of every honest man should be to assist in lifting up those below him, till they be something nearer his own level than he finds them." To this Phineas assented,—and by degrees he found himself assenting to a great many things that Mr. Monk said to him.
Mr. Monk was a thin, tall, gaunt man, who had devoted his whole life to politics, hitherto without any personal reward beyond that which came to him from the reputation of his name, and from the honour of a seat in Parliament. He was one of four or five brothers,—and all besides him were in trade. They had prospered in trade, whereas he had prospered solely in politics; and men said that he was dependent altogether on what his relatives supplied for his support. He had now been in Parliament for more than twenty years, and had been known not only as a Radical but as a Democrat. Ten years since, when he had risen to fame, but not to repute, among the men who then governed England, nobody dreamed that Joshua Monk would ever be a paid servant of the Crown. He had inveighed against one minister after another as though they all deserved impeachment. He had advocated political doctrines which at that time seemed to be altogether at variance with any possibility of governing according to English rules of government. He had been regarded as a pestilent thorn in the sides of all ministers. But now he was a member of the Cabinet, and those whom he had terrified in the old days began to find that he was not so much unlike other men. There are but few horses which you cannot put into harness, and those of the highest spirit will generally do your work the best.
Phineas, who had his eyes about him, thought that he could perceive that Mr. Palliser did not shoot a deer with Mr. Ratler, and that Mr. Gresham played no chess with Mr. Bonteen. Bonteen, indeed, was a noisy pushing man whom nobody seemed to like, and Phineas wondered why he should be at Loughlinter, and why he should be in office. His friend Laurence Fitzgibbon had indeed once endeavoured to explain this. "A man who can vote hard, as I call it; and who will speak a few words now and then as they're wanted, without any ambition that way, may always have his price. And if he has a pretty wife into the bargain, he ought to have a pleasant time of it." Mr. Ratler no doubt was a very useful man, who thoroughly knew his business; but yet, as it seemed to Phineas, no very great distinction was shown to Mr. Ratler at Loughlinter. "If I got as high as that," he said to himself, "I should think myself a miracle of luck. And yet nobody seems to think anything of Ratler. It is all nothing unless one can go to the very top."
"I believe I did right to accept office," Mr. Monk said to him one day, as they sat together on a rock close by one of the little bridges over the Linter. "Indeed, unless a man does so when the bonds of the office tendered to him are made compatible with his own views, he declines to proceed on the open path towards the prosecution of those views. A man who is combating one ministry after another, and striving to imbue those ministers with his convictions, can hardly decline to become a minister himself when he finds that those convictions of his own are henceforth,—or at least for some time to come,—to be the ministerial convictions of the day. Do you follow me?"
"Very clearly," said Phineas. "You would have denied your own children had you refused."
"Unless indeed a man were to feel that he was in some way unfitted for office work. I very nearly provided for myself an escape on that plea;—but when I came to sift it, I thought that it would be false. But let me tell you that the delight of political life is altogether in opposition. Why, it is freedom against slavery, fire against clay, movement against stagnation! The very inaccuracy which is permitted to opposition is in itself a charm worth more than all the patronage and all the prestige of ministerial power. You'll try them both, and then say if you do not agree with me. Give me the full swing of the benches below the gangway, where I needed to care for no one, and could always enjoy myself on my legs as long as I felt that I was true to those who sent me there! That is all over now. They have got me into harness, and my shoulders are sore. The oats, however, are of the best, and the hay is unexceptionable."
Donald Bean's Pony
Phineas liked being told that the pleasures of opposition and the pleasures of office were both open to him,—and he liked also to be the chosen receptacle of Mr. Monk's confidence. He had come to understand that he was expected to remain ten days at Loughlinter, and that then there was to be a general movement. Since the first day he had seen but little of Mr. Kennedy, but he had found himself very frequently with Lady Laura. And then had come up the question of his projected trip to Paris with Lord Chiltern. He had received a letter from Lord Chiltern.
Are you going to Paris with me?
There had been not a word beyond this, and before he answered it he made up his mind to tell Lady Laura the truth. He could not go to Paris because he had no money.
"I've just got that from your brother," said he.
"How like Oswald. He writes to me perhaps three times in the year, and his letters are just the same. You will go I hope?"
"I am sorry for that."
"I wonder whether I may tell you the real reason, Lady Laura."
"Nay;—I cannot answer that; but unless it be some political secret between you and Mr. Monk, I should think you might."
"I cannot afford to go to Paris this autumn. It seems to be a shocking admission to make,—though I don't know why it should be."
"Nor I;—but, Mr. Finn, I like you all the better for making it. I am very sorry, for Oswald's sake. It's so hard to find any companion for him whom he would like and whom we,—that is I,—should think altogether—; you know what I mean, Mr. Finn."
"Your wish that I should go with him is a great compliment, and I thoroughly wish that I could do it. As it is, I must go to Killaloe and retrieve my finances. I daresay, Lady Laura, you can hardly conceive how very poor a man I am." There was a melancholy tone about his voice as he said this, which made her think for the moment whether or no he had been right in going into Parliament, and whether she had been right in instigating him to do so. But it was too late to recur to that question now.
"You must climb into office early, and forego those pleasures of opposition which are so dear to Mr. Monk," she said, smiling. "After all, money is an accident which does not count nearly so high as do some other things. You and Mr. Kennedy have the same enjoyment of everything around you here."
"Yes; while it lasts."
"And Lady Glencora and I stand pretty much on the same footing, in spite of all her wealth,—except that she is a married woman. I do not know what she is worth,—something not to be counted; and I am worth,—just what papa chooses to give me. A ten-pound note at the present moment I should look upon as great riches." This was the first time she had ever spoken to him of her own position as regards money; but he had heard, or thought that he had heard, that she had been left a fortune altogether independent of her father.
The last of the ten days had now come, and Phineas was discontented and almost unhappy. The more he saw of Lady Laura the more he feared that it was impossible that she should become his wife. And yet from day to day his intimacy with her became more close. He had never made love to her, nor could he discover that it was possible for him to do so. She seemed to be a woman for whom all the ordinary stages of love-making were quite unsuitable, Of course he could declare his love and ask her to be his wife on any occasion on which he might find himself to be alone with her. And on this morning he had made up his mind that he would do so before the day was over. It might be possible that she would never speak to him again;—that all the pleasures and ambitious hopes to which she had introduced him might be over as soon as that rash word should have been spoken! But, nevertheless, he would speak it.
On this day there was to be a grouse-shooting party, and the shooters were to be out early. It had been talked of for some day or two past, and Phineas knew that he could not escape it. There had been some rivalry between him and Mr. Bonteen, and there was to be a sort of match as to which of the two would kill most birds before lunch. But there had also been some half promise on Lady Laura's part that she would walk with him up the Linter and come down upon the lake, taking an opposite direction from that by which they had returned with Mr. Kennedy.
"But you will be shooting all day," she said, when he proposed it to her as they were starting for the moor. The waggonet that was to take them was at the door, and she was there to see them start. Her father was one of the shooting party, and Mr. Kennedy was another.
"I will undertake to be back in time, if you will not think it too hot. I shall not see you again till we meet in town next year."
"Then I certainly will go with you,—that is to say, if you are here. But you cannot return without the rest of the party, as you are going so far."
"I'll get back somehow," said Phineas, who was resolved that a few miles more or less of mountain should not detain him from the prosecution of a task so vitally important to him. "If we start at five that will be early enough."
"Quite early enough," said Lady Laura.
Phineas went off to the mountains, and shot his grouse, and won his match, and eat his luncheon. Mr. Bonteen, however, was not beaten by much, and was in consequence somewhat ill-humoured.
"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Mr. Bonteen, "I'll back myself for the rest of the day for a ten-pound note."
Now there had been no money staked on the match at all,—but it had been simply a trial of skill, as to which would kill the most birds in a given time. And the proposition for that trial had come from Mr. Bonteen himself. "I should not think of shooting for money," said Phineas.
"And why not? A bet is the only way to decide these things."
"Partly because I'm sure I shouldn't hit a bird," said Phineas, "and partly because I haven't got any money to lose."
"I hate bets," said Mr. Kennedy to him afterwards. "I was annoyed when Bonteen offered the wager. I felt sure, however, you would not accept it."
"I suppose such bets are very common."
"I don't think men ought to propose them unless they are quite sure of their company. Maybe I'm wrong, and I often feel that I am strait-laced about such things. It is so odd to me that men cannot amuse themselves without pitting themselves against each other. When a man tells me that he can shoot better than I, I tell him that my keeper can shoot better than he."
"All the same, it's a good thing to excel," said Phineas.
"I'm not so sure of that," said Mr. Kennedy. "A man who can kill more salmon than anybody else, can rarely do anything else. Are you going on with your match?"
"No; I'm going to make my way to Loughlinter."
"It's over nine miles. You can't walk it."
Phineas looked at his watch, and found that it was now two o'clock. It was a broiling day in August, and the way back to Loughlinter, for six or seven out of the nine miles, would be along a high road. "I must do it all the same," said he, preparing for a start. "I have an engagement with Lady Laura Standish; and as this is the last day that I shall see her, I certainly do not mean to break it."
"An engagement with Lady Laura," said Mr. Kennedy. "Why did you not tell me, that I might have a pony ready? But come along. Donald Bean has a pony. He's not much bigger than a dog, but he'll carry you to Loughlinter."
"I can walk it, Mr. Kennedy."
"Yes; and think of the state in which you'd reach Loughlinter! Come along with me."
"But I can't take you off the mountain," said Phineas.
"Then you must allow me to take you off."
So Mr. Kennedy led the way down to Donald Bean's cottage, and before three o'clock Phineas found himself mounted on a shaggy steed, which, in sober truth, was not much bigger than a large dog. "If Mr. Kennedy is really my rival," said Phineas to himself, as he trotted along, "I almost think that I am doing an unhandsome thing in taking the pony."
At five o'clock he was under the portico before the front door, and there he found Lady Laura waiting for him,—waiting for him, or at least ready for him. She had on her hat and gloves and light shawl, and her parasol was in her hand. He thought that he had never seen her look so young, so pretty, and so fit to receive a lover's vows. But at the same moment it occurred to him that she was Lady Laura Standish, the daughter of an Earl, the descendant of a line of Earls,—and that he was the son of a simple country doctor in Ireland. Was it fitting that he should ask such a woman to be his wife? But then Mr. Kennedy was the son of a man who had walked into Glasgow with half-a-crown in his pocket. Mr. Kennedy's grandfather had been,—Phineas thought that he had heard that Mr. Kennedy's grandfather had been a Scotch drover; whereas his own grandfather had been a little squire near Ennistimon, in county Clare, and his own first cousin once removed still held the paternal acres at Finn Grove. His family was supposed to be descended from kings in that part of Ireland. It certainly did not become him to fear Lady Laura on the score of rank, if it was to be allowed to Mr. Kennedy to proceed without fear on that head. As to wealth, Lady Laura had already told him that her fortune was no greater than his. Her statement to himself on that head made him feel that he should not hesitate on the score of money. They neither had any, and he was willing to work for both. If she feared the risk, let her say so.