It was thus that he argued with himself; but yet he knew,—knew as well as the reader will know,—that he was going to do that which he had no right to do. It might be very well for him to wait,—presuming him to be successful in his love,—for the opening of that oyster with his political sword, that oyster on which he proposed that they should both live; but such waiting could not well be to the taste of Lady Laura Standish. It could hardly be pleasant to her to look forward to his being made a junior lord or an assistant secretary before she could establish herself in her home. So he told himself. And yet he told himself at the same time that it was incumbent on him to persevere.
"I did not expect you in the least," said Lady Laura.
"And yet I spoke very positively."
"But there are things as to which a man may be very positive, and yet may be allowed to fail. In the first place, how on earth did you get home?"
"Mr. Kennedy got me a pony,—Donald Bean's pony."
"You told him, then?"
"Yes; I told him why I was coming, and that I must be here. Then he took the trouble to come all the way off the mountain to persuade Donald to lend me his pony. I must acknowledge that Mr. Kennedy has conquered me at last."
"I am so glad of that," said Lady Laura. "I knew he would,—unless it were your own fault."
They went up the path by the brook, from bridge to bridge, till they found themselves out upon the open mountain at the top. Phineas had resolved that he would not speak out his mind till he found himself on that spot; that then he would ask her to sit down, and that while she was so seated he would tell her everything. At the present moment he had on his head a Scotch cap with a grouse's feather in it, and he was dressed in a velvet shooting-jacket and dark knickerbockers; and was certainly, in this costume, as handsome a man as any woman would wish to see. And there was, too, a look of breeding about him which had come to him, no doubt, from the royal Finns of old, which ever served him in great stead. He was, indeed, only Phineas Finn, and was known by the world to be no more; but he looked as though he might have been anybody,—a royal Finn himself. And then he had that special grace of appearing to be altogether unconscious of his own personal advantages. And I think that in truth he was barely conscious of them; that he depended on them very little, if at all; that there was nothing of personal vanity in his composition. He had never indulged in any hope that Lady Laura would accept him because he was a handsome man.
"After all that climbing," he said, "will you not sit down for a moment?" As he spoke to her she looked at him and told herself that he was as handsome as a god. "Do sit down for one moment," he said. "I have something that I desire to say to you, and to say it here."
"I will," she said; "but I also have something to tell you, and will say it while I am yet standing. Yesterday I accepted an offer of marriage from Mr. Kennedy."
"Then I am too late," said Phineas, and putting his hands into the pockets of his coat, he turned his back upon her, and walked away across the mountain.
What a fool he had been to let her know his secret when her knowledge of it could be of no service to him,—when her knowledge of it could only make him appear foolish in her eyes! But for his life he could not have kept his secret to himself. Nor now could he bring himself to utter a word of even decent civility. But he went on walking as though he could thus leave her there, and never see her again. What an ass he had been in supposing that she cared for him! What a fool to imagine that his poverty could stand a chance against the wealth of Loughlinter! But why had she lured him on? How he wished that he were now grinding, hard at work in Mr. Low's chambers, or sitting at home at Killaloe with the hand of that pretty little Irish girl within his own!
Presently he heard a voice behind him,—calling him gently. Then he turned and found that she was very near him. He himself had then been standing still for some moments, and she had followed him. "Mr. Finn," she said.
"Well;—yes: what is it?" And turning round he made an attempt to smile.
"Will you not wish me joy, or say a word of congratulation? Had I not thought much of your friendship, I should not have been so quick to tell you of my destiny. No one else has been told, except papa."
"Of course I hope you will be happy. Of course I do. No wonder he lent me the pony!"
"You must forget all that."
"Well,—nothing. You need forget nothing," said Lady Laura, "for nothing has been said that need be regretted. Only wish me joy, and all will be pleasant."
"Lady Laura, I do wish you joy, with all my heart,—but that will not make all things pleasant. I came up here to ask you to be my wife."
"No;—no, no; do not say it."
"But I have said it, and will say it again. I, poor, penniless, plain simple fool that I am, have been ass enough to love you, Lady Laura Standish; and I brought you up here to-day to ask you to share with me—my nothingness. And this I have done on soil that is to be all your own. Tell me that you regard me as a conceited fool,—as a bewildered idiot."
"I wish to regard you as a dear friend,—both of my own and of my husband," said she, offering him her hand.
"Should I have had a chance, I wonder, if I had spoken a week since?"
"How can I answer such a question, Mr. Finn? Or, rather, I will, answer it fully. It is not a week since we told each other, you to me and I to you, that we were both poor,—both without other means than those which come to us from our fathers. You will make your way;—will make it surely; but how at present could you marry any woman unless she had money of her own? For me,—like so many other girls, it was necessary that I should stay at home or marry some one rich enough to dispense with fortune in a wife. The man whom in all the world I think the best has asked me to share everything with him;—and I have thought it wise to accept his offer."
"And I was fool enough to think that you loved me," said Phineas. To this she made no immediate answer. "Yes, I was. I feel that I owe it you to tell you what a fool I have been. I did. I thought you loved me. At least I thought that perhaps you loved me. It was like a child wanting the moon;—was it not?"
"And why should I not have loved you?" she said slowly, laying her hand gently upon his arm.
"Why not? Because Loughlinter—"
"Stop, Mr. Finn; stop. Do not say to me any unkind word that I have not deserved, and that would make a breach between us. I have accepted the owner of Loughlinter as my husband, because I verily believe that I shall thus do my duty in that sphere of life to which it has pleased God to call me. I have always liked him, and I will love him. For you,—may I trust myself to speak openly to you?"
"You may trust me as against all others, except us two ourselves."
"For you, then, I will say also that I have always liked you since I knew you; that I have loved you as a friend;—and could have loved you otherwise had not circumstances showed me so plainly that it would be unwise."
"Oh, Lady Laura!"
"Listen a moment. And pray remember that what I say to you now must never be repeated to any ears. No one knows it but my father, my brother, and Mr. Kennedy. Early in the spring I paid my brother's debts. His affection to me is more than a return for what I have done for him. But when I did this,—when I made up my mind to do it, I made up my mind also that I could not allow myself the same freedom of choice which would otherwise have belonged to me. Will that be sufficient, Mr. Finn?"
"How can I answer you, Lady Laura? Sufficient! And you are not angry with me for what I have said?"
"No, I am not angry. But it is understood, of course, that nothing of this shall ever be repeated,—even among ourselves. Is that a bargain?"
"Oh, yes. I shall never speak of it again."
"And now you will wish me joy?"
"I have wished you joy, Lady Laura. And I will do so again. May you have every blessing which the world can give you. You cannot expect me to be very jovial for awhile myself; but there will be nobody to see my melancholy moods. I shall be hiding myself away in Ireland. When is the marriage to be?"
"Nothing has been said of that. I shall be guided by him,—but there must, of course, be delay. There will be settlements and I know not what. It may probably be in the spring,—or perhaps the summer. I shall do just what my betters tell me to do."
Phineas had now seated himself on the exact stone on which he had wished her to sit when he proposed to tell his own story, and was looking forth upon the lake. It seemed to him that everything had been changed for him while he had been up there upon the mountain, and that the change had been marvellous in its nature. When he had been coming up, there had been apparently two alternatives before him: the glory of successful love,—which, indeed, had seemed to him to be a most improbable result of the coming interview,—and the despair and utter banishment attendant on disdainful rejection. But his position was far removed from either of these alternatives. She had almost told him that she would have loved him had she not been poor,—that she was beginning to love him and had quenched her love, because it had become impossible to her to marry a poor man. In such circumstances he could not be angry with her,—he could not quarrel with her; he could not do other than swear to himself that he would be her friend. And yet he loved her better than ever;—and she was the promised wife of his rival! Why had not Donald Bean's pony broken his neck?
"Shall we go down now?" she said.
"You will not go on by the lake?"
"What is the use? It is all the same now. You will want to be back to receive him in from shooting."
"Not that, I think. He is above those little cares. But it will be as well we should go the nearest way, as we have spent so much of our time here. I shall tell Mr. Kennedy that I have told you,—if you do not mind."
"Tell him what you please," said Phineas.
"But I won't have it taken in that way, Mr. Finn. Your brusque want of courtesy to me I have forgiven, but I shall expect you to make up for it by the alacrity of your congratulations to him. I will not have you uncourteous to Mr. Kennedy."
"If I have been uncourteous I beg your pardon."
"You need not do that. We are old friends, and may take the liberty of speaking plainly to each other;—but you will owe it to Mr. Kennedy to be gracious. Think of the pony."
They walked back to the house together, and as they went down the path very little was said. Just as they were about to come out upon the open lawn, while they were still under cover of the rocks and shrubs, Phineas stopped his companion by standing before her, and then he made his farewell speech to her.
"I must say good-bye to you. I shall be away early in the morning."
"Good-bye, and God bless you," said Lady Laura.
"Give me your hand," said he. And she gave him her hand. "I don't suppose you know what it is to love dearly."
"I hope I do."
"But to be in love! I believe you do not. And to miss your love! I think,—I am bound to think that you have never been so tormented. It is very sore;—but I will do my best, like a man, to get over it."
"Do, my friend, do. So small a trouble will never weigh heavily on shoulders such as yours."
"It will weigh very heavily, but I will struggle hard that it may not crush me. I have loved you so dearly! As we are parting give me one kiss, that I may think of it and treasure it in my memory!" What murmuring words she spoke to express her refusal of such a request, I will not quote; but the kiss had been taken before the denial was completed, and then they walked on in silence together,—and in peace, towards the house.
On the next morning six or seven men were going away, and there was an early breakfast. There were none of the ladies there, but Mr. Kennedy, the host, was among his friends. A large drag with four horses was there to take the travellers and their luggage to the station, and there was naturally a good deal of noise at the front door as the preparations for the departure were made. In the middle of them Mr. Kennedy took our hero aside. "Laura has told me," said Mr. Kennedy, "that she has acquainted you with my good fortune."
"And I congratulate you most heartily," said Phineas, grasping the other's hand. "You are indeed a lucky fellow."
"I feel myself to be so," said Mr. Kennedy. "Such a wife was all that was wanting to me, and such a wife is very hard to find. Will you remember, Finn, that Loughlinter will never be so full but what there will be a room for you, or so empty but what you will be made welcome? I say this on Lady Laura's part and on my own."
Phineas, as he was being carried away to the railway station, could not keep himself from speculating as to how much Kennedy knew of what had taken place during the walk up the Linter. Of one small circumstance that had occurred, he felt quite sure that Mr. Kennedy knew nothing.
Phineas Finn Returns to Killaloe
Phineas Finn's first session of Parliament was over,—his first session with all its adventures. When he got back to Mrs. Bunce's house,—for Mrs. Bunce received him for a night in spite of her husband's advice to the contrary,—I am afraid he almost felt that Mrs. Bunce and her rooms were beneath him. Of course he was very unhappy,—as wretched as a man can be; there were moments in which he thought that it would hardly become him to live unless he could do something to prevent the marriage of Lady Laura and Mr. Kennedy. But, nevertheless, he had his consolations. These were reflections which had in them much of melancholy satisfaction. He had not been despised by the woman to whom he had told his love. She had not shown him that she thought him to be unworthy of her. She had not regarded his love as an offence. Indeed, she had almost told him that prudence alone had forbidden her to return his passion. And he had kissed her, and had afterwards parted from her as a dear friend. I do not know why there should have been a flavour of exquisite joy in the midst of his agony as he thought of this;—but it was so. He would never kiss her again. All future delights of that kind would belong to Mr. Kennedy, and he had no real idea of interfering with that gentleman in the fruition of his privileges. But still there was the kiss,—an eternal fact. And then, in all respects except that of his love, his visit to Loughlinter had been pre-eminently successful. Mr. Monk had become his friend, and had encouraged him to speak during the next session,—setting before him various models, and prescribing for him a course of reading. Lord Brentford had become intimate with him. He was on pleasant terms with Mr. Palliser and Mr. Gresham. And as for Mr. Kennedy,—he and Mr. Kennedy were almost bosom friends. It seemed to him that he had quite surpassed the Ratlers, Fitzgibbons, and Bonteens in that politico-social success which goes so far towards downright political success, and which in itself is so pleasant. He had surpassed these men in spite of their offices and their acquired positions, and could not but think that even Mr. Low, if he knew it all, would confess that he had been right.
As to his bosom friendship with Mr. Kennedy, that of course troubled him. Ought he not to be driving a poniard into Mr. Kennedy's heart? The conventions of life forbade that; and therefore the bosom friendship was to be excused. If not an enemy to the death, then there could be no reason why he should not be a bosom friend.
He went over to Ireland, staying but one night with Mrs. Bunce, and came down upon them at Killaloe like a god out of the heavens. Even his father was well-nigh overwhelmed by admiration, and his mother and sisters thought themselves only fit to minister to his pleasures. He had learned, if he had learned nothing else, to look as though he were master of the circumstances around him, and was entirely free from internal embarrassment. When his father spoke to him about his legal studies, he did not exactly laugh at his father's ignorance, but he recapitulated to his father so much of Mr. Monk's wisdom at second hand,—showing plainly that it was his business to study the arts of speech and the technicalities of the House, and not to study law,—that his father had nothing further to say. He had become a man of such dimensions that an ordinary father could hardly dare to inquire into his proceedings; and as for an ordinary mother,—such as Mrs. Finn certainly was,—she could do no more than look after her son's linen with awe.
Mary Flood Jones,—the reader I hope will not quite have forgotten Mary Flood Jones,—was in a great tremor when first she met the hero of Loughshane after returning from the honours of his first session. She had been somewhat disappointed because the newspapers had not been full of the speeches he had made in Parliament. And indeed the ladies of the Finn household had all been ill at ease on this head. They could not imagine why Phineas had restrained himself with so much philosophy. But Miss Flood Jones in discussing the matter with the Miss Finns had never expressed the slightest doubt of his capacity or his judgment. And when tidings came,—the tidings came in a letter from Phineas to his father,—that he did not intend to speak that session, because speeches from a young member on his first session were thought to be inexpedient, Miss Flood Jones and the Miss Finns were quite willing to accept the wisdom of this decision, much as they might regret the effect of it. Mary, when she met her hero, hardly dared to look him in the face, but she remembered accurately all the circumstances of her last interview with him. Could it be that he wore that ringlet near his heart? Mary had received from Barbara Finn certain hairs supposed to have come from the head of Phineas, and these she always wore near her own. And moreover, since she had seen Phineas she had refused an offer of marriage from Mr. Elias Bodkin,—had refused it almost ignominiously,—and when doing so had told herself that she would never be false to Phineas Finn.
"We think it so good of you to come to see us again," she said.
"Good to come home to my own people?"
"Of course you might be staying with plenty of grandees if you liked it."
"No, indeed, Mary. It did happen by accident that I had to go to the house of a man whom perhaps you would call a grandee, and to meet grandees there. But it was only for a few days, and I am very glad to be taken in again here, I can assure you."
"You know how very glad we all are to have you."
"Are you glad to see me, Mary?"
"Very glad. Why should I not be glad, and Barbara the dearest friend I have in the world? Of course she talks about you,—and that makes me think of you."
"If you knew, Mary, how often I think about you." Then Mary, who was very happy at hearing such words, and who was walking in to dinner with him at the moment, could not refrain herself from pressing his arm with her little fingers. She knew that Phineas in his position could not marry at once; but she would wait for him,—oh, for ever, if he would only ask her. He of course was a wicked traitor to tell her that he was wont to think of her. But Jove smiles at lovers' perjuries;—and it is well that he should do so, as such perjuries can hardly be avoided altogether in the difficult circumstances of a successful gentleman's life. Phineas was a traitor, of course, but he was almost forced to be a traitor, by the simple fact that Lady Laura Standish was in London, and Mary Flood Jones in Killaloe.
He remained for nearly five months at Killaloe, and I doubt whether his time was altogether well spent. Some of the books recommended to him by Mr. Monk he probably did read, and was often to be found encompassed by blue books. I fear that there was a grain of pretence about his blue books and parliamentary papers, and that in these days he was, in a gentle way, something of an impostor. "You must not be angry with me for not going to you," he said once to Mary's mother when he had declined an invitation to drink tea; "but the fact is that my time is not my own." "Pray don't make any apologies. We are quite aware that we have very little to offer," said Mrs. Flood Jones, who was not altogether happy about Mary, and who perhaps knew more about members of Parliament and blue books than Phineas Finn had supposed. "Mary, you are a fool to think of that man," the mother said to her daughter the next morning. "I don't think of him, mamma; not particularly." "He is no better than anybody else that I can see, and he is beginning to give himself airs," said Mrs. Flood Jones. Mary made no answer; but she went up into her room and swore before a figure of the Virgin that she would be true to Phineas for ever and ever, in spite of her mother, in spite of all the world,—in spite, should it be necessary, even of himself.
About Christmas time there came a discussion between Phineas and his father about money. "I hope you find you get on pretty well," said the doctor, who thought that he had been liberal.
"It's a tight fit," said Phineas,—who was less afraid of his father than he had been when he last discussed these things.
"I had hoped it would have been ample," said the doctor.
"Don't think for a moment, sir, that I am complaining," said Phineas. "I know it is much more than I have a right to expect."
The doctor began to make an inquiry within his own breast as to whether his son had a right to expect anything;—whether the time had not come in which his son should be earning his own bread. "I suppose," he said, after a pause, "there is no chance of your doing anything at the bar now?"
"Not immediately. It is almost impossible to combine the two studies together." Mr. Low himself was aware of that. "But you are not to suppose that I have given the profession up."
"I hope not,—after all the money it has cost us."
"By no means, sir. And all that I am doing now will, I trust, be of assistance to me when I shall come back to work at the law. Of course it is on the cards that I may go into office,—and if so, public business will become my profession."
"And be turned out with the Ministry!"
"Yes; that is true, sir. I must run my chance. If the worst comes to the worst, I hope I might be able to secure some permanent place. I should think that I can hardly fail to do so. But I trust I may never be driven to want it. I thought, however, that we had settled all this before." Then Phineas assumed a look of injured innocence, as though his father was driving him too hard.
"And in the mean time your money has been enough?" said the doctor, after a pause.
"I had intended to ask you to advance me a hundred pounds," said Phineas. "There were expenses to which I was driven on first entering Parliament."
"A hundred pounds."
"If it be inconvenient, sir, I can do without it." He had not as yet paid for his gun, or for that velvet coat in which he had been shooting, or, most probably, for the knickerbockers. He knew he wanted the hundred pounds badly; but he felt ashamed of himself in asking for it. If he were once in office,—though the office were but a sorry junior lordship,—he would repay his father instantly.
"You shall have it, of course," said the doctor; "but do not let the necessity for asking for more hundreds come oftener than you can help." Phineas said that he would not, and then there was no further discourse about money. It need hardly be said that he told his father nothing of that bill which he had endorsed for Laurence Fitzgibbon.
At last came the time which called him again to London and the glories of London life,—to lobbies, and the clubs, and the gossip of men in office, and the chance of promotion for himself; to the glare of the gas-lamps, the mock anger of rival debaters, and the prospect of the Speaker's wig. During the idleness of the recess he had resolved at any rate upon this,—that a month of the session should not have passed by before he had been seen upon his legs in the House,—had been seen and heard. And many a time as he had wandered alone, with his gun, across the bogs which lie on the other side of the Shannon from Killaloe, he had practised the sort of address which he would make to the House. He would be short,—always short; and he would eschew all action and gesticulation; Mr. Monk had been very urgent in his instructions to him on that head; but he would be especially careful that no words should escape him which had not in them some purpose. He might be wrong in his purpose, but purpose there should be. He had been twitted more than once at Killaloe with his silence;—for it had been conceived by his fellow-townsmen that he had been sent to Parliament on the special ground of his eloquence. They should twit him no more on his next return. He would speak and would carry the House with him if a human effort might prevail.
So he packed up his things, and started again for London in the beginning of February. "Good-bye, Mary," he said with his sweetest smile. But on this occasion there was no kiss, and no culling of locks. "I know he cannot help it," said Mary to herself. "It is his position. But whether it be for good or evil, I will be true to him."
"I am afraid you are unhappy," Babara Finn said to her on the next morning.
"No; I am not unhappy,—not at all. I have a deal to make me happy and proud. I don't mean to be a bit unhappy." Then she turned away and cried heartily, and Barbara Finn cried with her for company.
Phineas Finn Returns to London
Phineas had received two letters during his recess at Killaloe from two women who admired him much, which, as they were both short, shall be submitted to the reader. The first was as follows:—
Saulsby, October 20, 186—.
MY DEAR MR. FINN,
I write a line to tell you that our marriage is to be hurried on as quickly as possible. Mr. Kennedy does not like to be absent from Parliament; nor will he be content to postpone the ceremony till the session be over. The day fixed is the 3rd of December, and we then go at once to Rome, and intend to be back in London by the opening of Parliament.
Yours most sincerely,
Our London address will be No. 52, Grosvenor Place.
To this he wrote an answer as short, expressing his ardent wishes that those winter hymeneals might produce nothing but happiness, and saying that he would not be in town many days before he knocked at the door of No. 52, Grosvenor Place.
And the second letter was as follows:—
Great Marlborough Street, December, 186—.
DEAR AND HONOURED SIR,
Bunce is getting ever so anxious about the rooms, and says as how he has a young Equity draftsman and wife and baby as would take the whole house, and all because Miss Pouncefoot said a word about her port wine, which any lady of her age might say in her tantrums, and mean nothing after all. Me and Miss Pouncefoot's knowed each other for seven years, and what's a word or two as isn't meant after that? But, honoured sir, it's not about that as I write to trouble you, but to ask if I may say for certain that you'll take the rooms again in February. It's easy to let them for the month after Christmas, because of the pantomimes. Only say at once, because Bunce is nagging me day after day. I don't want nobody's wife and baby to have to do for, and 'd sooner have a Parliament gent like yourself than any one else.
Yours umbly and respectful,
To this he replied that he would certainly come back to the rooms in Great Marlborough Street, should he be lucky enough to find them vacant, and he expressed his willingness to take them on and from the 1st of February. And on the 3rd of February he found himself in the old quarters, Mrs. Bunce having contrived, with much conjugal adroitness, both to keep Miss Pouncefoot and to stave off the Equity draftsman's wife and baby. Bunce, however, received Phineas very coldly, and told his wife the same evening that as far as he could see their lodger would never turn up to be a trump in the matter of the ballot. "If he means well, why did he go and stay with them lords down in Scotland? I knows all about it. I knows a man when I sees him. Mr. Low, who's looking out to be a Tory judge some of these days, is a deal better;—because he knows what he's after."
Immediately on his return to town, Phineas found himself summoned to a political meeting at Mr. Mildmay's house in St. James's Square. "We're going to begin in earnest this time," Barrington Erle said to him at the club.
"I am glad of that," said Phineas.
"I suppose you heard all about it down at Loughlinter?"
Now, in truth, Phineas had heard very little of any settled plan down at Loughlinter. He had played a game of chess with Mr. Gresham, and had shot a stag with Mr. Palliser, and had discussed sheep with Lord Brentford, but had hardly heard a word about politics from any one of those influential gentlemen. From Mr. Monk he had heard much of a coming Reform Bill; but his communications with Mr. Monk had rather been private discussions,—in which he had learned Mr. Monk's own views on certain points,—than revelations on the intention of the party to which Mr. Monk belonged. "I heard of nothing settled," said Phineas; "but I suppose we are to have a Reform Bill."
"That is a matter of course."
"And I suppose we are not to touch the question of ballot."
"That's the difficulty," said Barrington Erle. "But of course we shan't touch it as long as Mr. Mildmay is in the Cabinet. He will never consent to the ballot as First Minister of the Crown."
"Nor would Gresham, or Palliser," said Phineas, who did not choose to bring forward his greatest gun at first.
"I don't know about Gresham. It is impossible to say what Gresham might bring himself to do. Gresham is a man who may go any lengths before he has done. Planty Pall,"—for such was the name by which Mr. Plantagenet Palliser was ordinarily known among his friends,—"would of course go with Mr. Mildmay and the Duke."
"And Monk is opposed to the ballot," said Phineas.
"Ah, that's the question. No doubt he has assented to the proposition of a measure without the ballot; but if there should come a row, and men like Turnbull demand it, and the London mob kick up a shindy, I don't know how far Monk would be steady."
"Whatever he says, he'll stick to."
"He is your leader, then?" asked Barrington.
"I don't know that I have a leader. Mr. Mildmay leads our side; and if anybody leads me, he does. But I have great faith in Mr. Monk."
"There's one who would go for the ballot to-morrow, if it were brought forward stoutly," said Barrington Erle to Mr. Ratler a few minutes afterwards, pointing to Phineas as he spoke.
"I don't think much of that young man," said Ratler.
Mr. Bonteen and Mr. Ratler had put their heads together during that last evening at Loughlinter, and had agreed that they did not think much of Phineas Finn. Why did Mr. Kennedy go down off the mountain to get him a pony? And why did Mr. Gresham play chess with him? Mr. Ratler and Mr. Bonteen may have been right in making up their minds to think but little of Phineas Finn, but Barrington Erle had been quite wrong when he had said that Phineas would "go for the ballot" to-morrow. Phineas had made up his mind very strongly that he would always oppose the ballot. That he would hold the same opinion throughout his life, no one should pretend to say; but in his present mood, and under the tuition which he had received from Mr. Monk, he was prepared to demonstrate, out of the House and in it, that the ballot was, as a political measure, unmanly, ineffective, and enervating. Enervating had been a great word with Mr. Monk, and Phineas had clung to it with admiration.
The meeting took place at Mr. Mildmay's on the third day of the session. Phineas had of course heard of such meetings before, but had never attended one. Indeed, there had been no such gathering when Mr. Mildmay's party came into power early in the last session. Mr. Mildmay and his men had then made their effort in turning out their opponents, and had been well pleased to rest awhile upon their oars. Now, however, they must go again to work, and therefore the liberal party was collected at Mr. Mildmay's house, in order that the liberal party might be told what it was that Mr. Mildmay and his Cabinet intended to do.
Phineas Finn was quite in the dark as to what would be the nature of the performance on this occasion, and entertained some idea that every gentleman present would be called upon to express individually his assent or dissent in regard to the measure proposed. He walked to St. James's Square with Laurence Fitzgibbon; but even with Fitzgibbon was ashamed to show his ignorance by asking questions. "After all," said Fitzgibbon, "this kind of thing means nothing. I know as well as possible, and so do you, what Mr. Mildmay will say,—and then Gresham will say a few words; and then Turnbull will make a murmur, and then we shall all assent,—to anything or to nothing;—and then it will be over." Still Phineas did not understand whether the assent required would or would not be an individual personal assent. When the affair was over he found that he was disappointed, and that he might almost as well have stayed away from the meeting,—except that he had attended at Mr. Mildmay's bidding, and had given a silent adhesion to Mr. Mildmay's plan of reform for that session. Laurence Fitzgibbon had been very nearly correct in his description of what would occur. Mr. Mildmay made a long speech. Mr. Turnbull, the great Radical of the day,—the man who was supposed to represent what many called the Manchester school of politics,—asked half a dozen questions. In answer to these Mr. Gresham made a short speech. Then Mr. Mildmay made another speech, and then all was over. The gist of the whole thing was, that there should be a Reform Bill,—very generous in its enlargement of the franchise,—but no ballot. Mr. Turnbull expressed his doubt whether this would be satisfactory to the country; but even Mr. Turnbull was soft in his tone and complaisant in his manner. As there was no reporter present,—that plan of turning private meetings at gentlemen's houses into public assemblies not having been as yet adopted,—there could be no need for energy or violence. They went to Mr. Mildmay's house to hear Mr. Mildmay's plan,—and they heard it.
Two days after this Phineas was to dine with Mr. Monk. Mr. Monk had asked him in the lobby of the House. "I don't give dinner parties," he said, "but I should like you to come and meet Mr. Turnbull." Phineas accepted the invitation as a matter of course. There were many who said that Mr. Turnbull was the greatest man in the nation, and that the nation could be saved only by a direct obedience to Mr. Turnbull's instructions. Others said that Mr. Turnbull was a demagogue and at heart a rebel; that he was un-English, false and very dangerous. Phineas was rather inclined to believe the latter statement; and as danger and dangerous men are always more attractive than safety and safe men, he was glad to have an opportunity of meeting Mr. Turnbull at dinner.
In the meantime he went to call on Lady Laura, whom he had not seen since the last evening which he spent in her company at Loughlinter,—whom, when he was last speaking to her, he had kissed close beneath the falls of the Linter. He found her at home, and with her was her husband. "Here is a Darby and Joan meeting, is it not?" she said, getting up to welcome him. He had seen Mr. Kennedy before, and had been standing close to him during the meeting at Mr. Mildmay's.
"I am very glad to find you both together."
"But Robert is going away this instant," said Lady Laura. "Has he told you of our adventures at Rome?"
"Not a word."
"Then I must tell you;—but not now. The dear old Pope was so civil to us. I came to think it quite a pity that he should be in trouble."
"I must be off," said the husband, getting up. "But I shall meet you at dinner, I believe."
"Do you dine at Mr. Monk's?"
"Yes, and am asked expressly to hear Turnbull make a convert of you. There are only to be us four. Au revoir." Then Mr. Kennedy went, and Phineas found himself alone with Lady Laura. He hardly knew how to address her, and remained silent. He had not prepared himself for the interview as he ought to have done, and felt himself to be awkward. She evidently expected him to speak, and for a few seconds sat waiting for what he might say.
At last she found that it was incumbent on her to begin. "Were you surprised at our suddenness when you got my note?"
"A little. You had spoken of waiting."
"I had never imagined that he would have been impetuous. And he seems to think that even the business of getting himself married would not justify him staying away from Parliament. He is a rigid martinet in all matters of duty."
"I did not wonder that he should be in a hurry, but that you should submit."
"I told you that I should do just what the wise people told me. I asked papa, and he said that it would be better. So the lawyers were driven out of their minds, and the milliners out of their bodies, and the thing was done."
"Who was there at the marriage?"
"Oswald was not there. That I know is what you mean to ask. Papa said that he might come if he pleased. Oswald stipulated that he should be received as a son. Then my father spoke the hardest word that ever fell from his mouth."
"What did he say?"
"I will not repeat it,—not altogether. But he said that Oswald was not entitled to a son's treatment. He was very sore about my money, because Robert was so generous as to his settlement. So the breach between them is as wide as ever."
"And where is Chiltern now?" said Phineas.
"Down in Northamptonshire, staying at some inn from whence he hunts. He tells me that he is quite alone,—that he never dines out, never has any one to dine with him, that he hunts five or six days a week,—and reads at night."
"That is not a bad sort of life."
"Not if the reading is any good. But I cannot bear that he should be so solitary. And if he breaks down in it, then his companions will not be fit for him. Do you ever hunt?"
"Oh yes,—at home in county Clare. All Irishmen hunt."
"I wish you would go down to him and see him. He would be delighted to have you."
Phineas thought over the proposition before he answered it, and then made the reply that he had made once before. "I would do so, Lady Laura,—but that I have no money for hunting in England."
"Alas, alas!" said she, smiling. "How that hits one on every side!"
"I might manage it,—for a couple of days,—in March."
"Do not do what you think you ought not to do," said Lady Laura.
"No; certainly. But I should like it, and if I can I will."
"He could mount you, I have no doubt. He has no other expense now, and keeps a stable full of horses. I think he has seven or eight. And now tell me, Mr. Finn; when are you going to charm the House? Or is it your first intention to strike terror?"
He blushed,—he knew that he blushed as he answered. "Oh, I suppose I shall make some sort of attempt before long. I can't bear the idea of being a bore."
"I think you ought to speak, Mr. Finn."
"I do not know about that, but I certainly mean to try. There will be lots of opportunities about the new Reform Bill. Of course you know that Mr. Mildmay is going to bring it in at once. You hear all that from Mr. Kennedy."
"And papa has told me. I still see papa almost every day. You must call upon him. Mind you do." Phineas said that he certainly would. "Papa is very lonely now, and I sometimes feel that I have been almost cruel in deserting him. And I think that he has a horror of the house,—especially later in the year,—always fancying that he will meet Oswald. I am so unhappy about it all, Mr. Finn."
"Why doesn't your brother marry?" said Phineas, knowing nothing as yet of Lord Chiltern and Violet Effingham. "If he were to marry well, that would bring your father round."
"And why should he not?"
Lady Laura paused before she answered; and then she told the whole story. "He is violently in love, and the girl he loves has refused him twice."
"Is it with Miss Effingham?" asked Phineas, guessing the truth at once, and remembering what Miss Effingham had said to him when riding in the wood.
"Yes;—with Violet Effingham; my father's pet, his favourite, whom he loves next to myself,—almost as well as myself; whom he would really welcome as a daughter. He would gladly make her mistress of his house, and of Saulsby. Everything would then go smoothly."
"But she does not like Lord Chiltern?"
"I believe she loves him in her heart; but she is afraid of him. As she says herself, a girl is bound to be so careful of herself. With all her seeming frolic, Violet Effingham is very wise."
Phineas, though not conscious of anything akin to jealousy, was annoyed at the revelation made to him. Since he had heard that Lord Chiltern was in love with Miss Effingham, he did not like Lord Chiltern quite as well as he had done before. He himself had simply admired Miss Effingham, and had taken pleasure in her society; but, though this had been all, he did not like to hear of another man wanting to marry her, and he was almost angry with Lady Laura for saying that she believed Miss Effingham loved her brother. If Miss Effingham had twice refused Lord Chiltern, that ought to have been sufficient. It was not that Phineas was in love with Miss Effingham himself. As he was still violently in love with Lady Laura, any other love was of course impossible; but, nevertheless, there was something offensive to him in the story as it had been told. "If it be wisdom on her part," said he, answering Lady Laura's last words, "you cannot find fault with her for her decision."
"I find no fault;—but I think my brother would make her happy."
Lady Laura, when she was left alone, at once reverted to the tone in which Phineas Finn had answered her remarks about Miss Effingham. Phineas was very ill able to conceal his thoughts, and wore his heart almost upon his sleeve. "Can it be possible that he cares for her himself?" That was the nature of Lady Laura's first question to herself upon the matter. And in asking herself that question, she thought nothing of the disparity in rank or fortune between Phineas Finn and Violet Effingham. Nor did it occur to her as at all improbable that Violet might accept the love of him who had so lately been her own lover. But the idea grated against her wishes on two sides. She was most anxious that Violet should ultimately become her brother's wife,—and she could not be pleased that Phineas should be able to love any woman.
I must beg my readers not to be carried away by those last words into any erroneous conclusion. They must not suppose that Lady Laura Kennedy, the lately married bride, indulged a guilty passion for the young man who had loved her. Though she had probably thought often of Phineas Finn since her marriage, her thoughts had never been of a nature to disturb her rest. It had never occurred to her even to think that she regarded him with any feeling that was an offence to her husband. She would have hated herself had any such idea presented itself to her mind. She prided herself on being a pure high-principled woman, who had kept so strong a guard upon herself as to be nearly free from the dangers of those rocks upon which other women made shipwreck of their happiness. She took pride in this, and would then blame herself for her own pride. But though she so blamed herself, it never occurred to her to think that to her there might be danger of such shipwreck. She had put away from herself the idea of love when she had first perceived that Phineas had regarded her with more than friendship, and had accepted Mr. Kennedy's offer with an assured conviction that by doing so she was acting best for her own happiness and for that of all those concerned. She had felt the romance of the position to be sweet when Phineas had stood with her at the top of the falls of the Linter, and had told her of the hopes which he had dared to indulge. And when at the bottom of the falls he had presumed to take her in his arms, she had forgiven him without difficulty to herself, telling herself that that would be the alpha and the omega of the romance of her life. She had not felt herself bound to tell Mr. Kennedy of what had occurred,—but she had felt that he could hardly have been angry even had he been told. And she had often thought of her lover since, and of his love,—telling herself that she too had once had a lover, never regarding her husband in that light; but her thoughts had not frightened her as guilty thoughts will do. There had come a romance which had been pleasant, and it was gone. It had been soon banished,—but it had left to her a sweet flavour, of which she loved to taste the sweetness though she knew that it was gone. And the man should be her friend, but especially her husband's friend. It should be her care to see that his life was successful,—and especially her husband's care. It was a great delight to her to know that her husband liked the man. And the man would marry, and the man's wife should be her friend. All this had been very pure and very pleasant. Now an idea had flitted across her brain that the man was in love with some one else,—and she did not like it!
But she did not therefore become afraid of herself, or in the least realise at once the danger of her own position. Her immediate glance at the matter did not go beyond the falseness of men. If it were so, as she suspected,—if Phineas had in truth transferred his affections to Violet Effingham, of how little value was the love of such a man! It did not occur to her at this moment that she also had transferred hers to Robert Kennedy, or that, if not, she had done worse. But she did remember that in the autumn this young Phoebus among men had turned his back upon her out upon the mountain that he might hide from her the agony of his heart when he learned that she was to be the wife of another man; and that now, before the winter was over, he could not hide from her the fact that his heart was elsewhere! And then she speculated, and counted up facts, and satisfied herself that Phineas could not even have seen Violet Effingham since they two had stood together upon the mountain. How false are men!—how false and how weak of heart!
"Chiltern and Violet Effingham!" said Phineas to himself, as he walked away from Grosvenor Place. "Is it fair that she should be sacrificed because she is rich, and because she is so winning and so fascinating that Lord Brentford would receive even his son for the sake of receiving also such a daughter-in-law?" Phineas also liked Lord Chiltern; had seen or fancied that he had seen fine things in him; had looked forward to his regeneration, hoping, perhaps, that he might have some hand in the good work. But he did not recognise the propriety of sacrificing Violet Effingham even for work so good as this. If Miss Effingham had refused Lord Chiltern twice, surely that ought to be sufficient. It did not occur to him that the love of such a girl as Violet would be a great treasure—to himself. As regarded himself, he was still in love,—hopelessly in love, with Lady Laura Kennedy!
It was a Wednesday evening and there was no House;—and at seven o'clock Phineas was at Mr. Monk's hall door. He was the first of the guests, and he found Mr. Monk alone in the dining-room. "I am doing butler," said Mr. Monk, who had a brace of decanters in his hands, which he proceeded to put down in the neighbourhood of the fire. "But I have finished, and now we will go up-stairs to receive the two great men properly."
"I beg your pardon for coming too early," said Finn.
"Not a minute too early. Seven is seven, and it is I who am too late. But, Lord bless you, you don't think I'm ashamed of being found in the act of decanting my own wine! I remember Lord Palmerston saying before some committee about salaries, five or six years ago now, I daresay, that it wouldn't do for an English Minister to have his hall door opened by a maid-servant. Now, I'm an English Minister, and I've got nobody but a maid-servant to open my hall door, and I'm obliged to look after my own wine. I wonder whether it's improper? I shouldn't like to be the means of injuring the British Constitution."
"Perhaps if you resign soon, and if nobody follows your example, grave evil results may be avoided."
"I sincerely hope so, for I do love the British Constitution; and I love also the respect in which members of the English Cabinet are held. Now Turnbull, who will be here in a moment, hates it all; but he is a rich man, and has more powdered footmen hanging about his house than ever Lord Palmerston had himself."
"He is still in business."
"Oh yes;—and makes his thirty thousand a year. Here he is. How are you, Turnbull? We were talking about my maid-servant. I hope she opened the door for you properly."
"Certainly,—as far as I perceived," said Mr. Turnbull, who was better at a speech than a joke. "A very respectable young woman I should say."
"There is not one more so in all London," said Mr. Monk; "but Finn seems to think that I ought to have a man in livery."
"It is a matter of perfect indifference to me," said Mr. Turnbull. "I am one of those who never think of such things."
"Nor I either," said Mr. Monk. Then the laird of Loughlinter was announced, and they all went down to dinner.
Mr. Turnbull was a good-looking robust man about sixty, with long grey hair and a red complexion, with hard eyes, a well-cut nose, and full lips. He was nearly six feet high, stood quite upright, and always wore a black swallow-tail coat, black trousers, and a black silk waistcoat. In the House, at least, he was always so dressed, and at dinner tables. What difference there might be in his costume when at home at Staleybridge few of those who saw him in London had the means of knowing. There was nothing in his face to indicate special talent. No one looking at him would take him to be a fool; but there was none of the fire of genius in his eye, nor was there in the lines of his mouth any of that play of thought or fancy which is generally to be found in the faces of men and women who have made themselves great. Mr. Turnbull had certainly made himself great, and could hardly have done so without force of intellect. He was one of the most popular, if not the most popular politician in the country. Poor men believed in him, thinking that he was their most honest public friend; and men who were not poor believed in his power, thinking that his counsels must surely prevail. He had obtained the ear of the House and the favour of the reporters, and opened his voice at no public dinner, on no public platform, without a conviction that the words spoken by him would be read by thousands. The first necessity for good speaking is a large audience; and of this advantage Mr. Turnbull had made himself sure. And yet it could hardly be said that he was a great orator. He was gifted with a powerful voice, with strong, and I may, perhaps, call them broad convictions, with perfect self-reliance, with almost unlimited powers of endurance, with hot ambition, with no keen scruples, and with a moral skin of great thickness. Nothing said against him pained him, no attacks wounded him, no raillery touched him in the least. There was not a sore spot about him, and probably his first thoughts on waking every morning told him that he, at least, was totus teres atque rotundus. He was, of course, a thorough Radical,—and so was Mr. Monk. But Mr. Monk's first waking thoughts were probably exactly the reverse of those of his friend. Mr. Monk was a much hotter man in debate than Mr. Turnbull;—but Mr. Monk was ever doubting of himself, and never doubted of himself so much as when he had been most violent, and also most effective, in debate. When Mr. Monk jeered at himself for being a Cabinet Minister and keeping no attendant grander than a parlour-maid, there was a substratum of self-doubt under the joke.
Mr. Turnbull was certainly a great Radical, and as such enjoyed a great reputation. I do not think that high office in the State had ever been offered to him; but things had been said which justified him, or seemed to himself to justify him, in declaring that in no possible circumstances would he serve the Crown. "I serve the people," he had said, "and much as I respect the servants of the Crown, I think that my own office is the higher." He had been greatly called to task for this speech; and Mr. Mildmay, the present Premier, had asked him whether he did not recognise the so-called servants of the Crown as the most hard-worked and truest servants of the people. The House and the press had supported Mr. Mildmay, but to all that Mr. Turnbull was quite indifferent; and when an assertion made by him before three or four thousand persons at Manchester, to the effect that he,—he specially,—was the friend and servant of the people, was received with acclamation, he felt quite satisfied that he had gained his point. Progressive reform in the franchise, of which manhood suffrage should be the acknowledged and not far distant end, equal electoral districts, ballot, tenant right for England as well as Ireland, reduction of the standing army till there should be no standing army to reduce, utter disregard of all political movements in Europe, an almost idolatrous admiration for all political movements in America, free trade in everything except malt, and an absolute extinction of a State Church,—these were among the principal articles in Mr. Turnbull's political catalogue. And I think that when once he had learned the art of arranging his words as he stood upon his legs, and had so mastered his voice as to have obtained the ear of the House, the work of his life was not difficult. Having nothing to construct, he could always deal with generalities. Being free from responsibility, he was not called upon either to study details or to master even great facts. It was his business to inveigh against existing evils, and perhaps there is no easier business when once the privilege of an audience has been attained. It was his work to cut down forest-trees, and he had nothing to do with the subsequent cultivation of the land. Mr. Monk had once told Phineas Finn how great were the charms of that inaccuracy which was permitted to the Opposition. Mr. Turnbull no doubt enjoyed these charms to the full, though he would sooner have put a padlock on his mouth for a month than have owned as much. Upon the whole, Mr. Turnbull was no doubt right in resolving that he would not take office, though some reticence on that subject might have been more becoming to him.
The conversation at dinner, though it was altogether on political subjects, had in it nothing of special interest as long as the girl was there to change the plates; but when she was gone, and the door was closed, it gradually opened out, and there came on to be a pleasant sparring match between the two great Radicals,—the Radical who had joined himself to the governing powers, and the Radical who stood aloof. Mr. Kennedy barely said a word now and then, and Phineas was almost as silent as Mr. Kennedy. He had come there to hear some such discussion, and was quite willing to listen while guns of such great calibre were being fired off for his amusement.
"I think Mr. Mildmay is making a great step forward," said Mr. Turnbull.
"I think he is," said Mr. Monk.
"I did not believe that he would ever live to go so far. It will hardly suffice even for this year; but still coming from him, it is a great deal. It only shows how far a man may be made to go, if only the proper force be applied. After all, it matters very little who are the Ministers."
"That is what I have always declared," said Mr. Monk.
"Very little indeed. We don't mind whether it be Lord de Terrier, or Mr. Mildmay, or Mr. Gresham, or you yourself, if you choose to get yourself made First Lord of the Treasury."
"I have no such ambition, Turnbull."
"I should have thought you had. If I went in for that kind of thing myself, I should like to go to the top of the ladder. I should feel that if I could do any good at all by becoming a Minister, I could only do it by becoming first Minister."
"You wouldn't doubt your own fitness for such a position?"
"I doubt my fitness for the position of any Minister," said Mr. Turnbull.
"You mean that on other grounds," said Mr. Kennedy.
"I mean it on every ground," said Mr. Turnbull, rising on his legs and standing with his back to the fire. "Of course I am not fit to have diplomatic intercourse with men who would come to me simply with the desire of deceiving me. Of course I am unfit to deal with members of Parliament who would flock around me because they wanted places. Of course I am unfit to answer every man's question so as to give no information to any one."
"Could you not answer them so as to give information?" said Mr. Kennedy.
But Mr. Turnbull was so intent on his speech that it may be doubted whether he heard this interruption. He took no notice of it as he went on. "Of course I am unfit to maintain the proprieties of a seeming confidence between a Crown all-powerless and a people all-powerful. No man recognises his own unfitness for such work more clearly than I do, Mr. Monk. But if I took in hand such work at all, I should like to be the leader, and not the led. Tell us fairly, now, what are your convictions worth in Mr. Mildmay's Cabinet?"
"That is a question which a man may hardly answer himself," said Mr. Monk.
"It is a question which a man should at least answer for himself before he consents to sit there," said Mr. Turnbull, in a tone of voice which was almost angry.
"And what reason have you for supposing that I have omitted that duty?" said Mr. Monk.
"Simply this,—that I cannot reconcile your known opinions with the practices of your colleagues."
"I will not tell you what my convictions may be worth in Mr. Mildmay's Cabinet. I will not take upon myself to say that they are worth the chair on which I sit when I am there. But I will tell you what my aspirations were when I consented to fill that chair, and you shall judge of their worth. I thought that they might possibly leaven the batch of bread which we have to bake,—giving to the whole batch more of the flavour of reform than it would have possessed had I absented myself. I thought that when I was asked to join Mr. Mildmay and Mr. Gresham, the very fact of that request indicated liberal progress, and that if I refused the request I should be declining to assist in good work."
"You could have supported them, if anything were proposed worthy of support," said Mr. Turnbull.
"Yes; but I could not have been so effective in taking care that some measure be proposed worthy of support as I may possibly be now. I thought a good deal about it, and I believe that my decision was right."
"I am sure you were right," said Mr. Kennedy.
"There can be no juster object of ambition than a seat in the Cabinet," said Phineas.
"Sir, I must dispute that," said Mr. Turnbull, turning round upon our hero. "I regard the position of our high Ministers as most respectable."
"Thank you for so much," said Mr. Monk. But the orator went on again, regardless of the interruption:—
"The position of gentlemen in inferior offices,—of gentlemen who attend rather to the nods and winks of their superiors in Downing Street than to the interest of their constituents,—I do not regard as being highly respectable."
"A man cannot begin at the top," said Phineas.
"Our friend Mr. Monk has begun at what you are pleased to call the top," said Mr. Turnbull. "But I will not profess to think that even he has raised himself by going into office. To be an independent representative of a really popular commercial constituency is, in my estimation, the highest object of an Englishman's ambition."
"But why commercial, Mr. Turnbull?" said Mr. Kennedy.
"Because the commercial constituencies really do elect their own members in accordance with their own judgments, whereas the counties and the small towns are coerced either by individuals or by a combination of aristocratic influences."
"And yet," said Mr. Kennedy, "there are not half a dozen Conservatives returned by all the counties in Scotland."
"Scotland is very much to be honoured," said Mr. Turnbull.
Mr. Kennedy was the first to take his departure, and Mr. Turnbull followed him very quickly. Phineas got up to go at the same time, but stayed at his host's request, and sat for awhile smoking a cigar.
"Turnbull is a wonderful man," said Mr. Monk.
"Does he not domineer too much?"
"His fault is not arrogance, so much as ignorance that there is, or should be, a difference between public and private life. In the House of Commons a man in Mr. Turnbull's position must speak with dictatorial assurance. He is always addressing, not the House only, but the country at large, and the country will not believe in him unless he believe in himself. But he forgets that he is not always addressing the country at large. I wonder what sort of a time Mrs. Turnbull and the little Turnbulls have of it?"
Phineas, as he went home, made up his mind that Mrs. Turnbull and the little Turnbulls must probably have a bad time of it.
Lord Chiltern Rides His Horse Bonebreaker
It was known that whatever might be the details of Mr. Mildmay's bill, the ballot would not form a part of it; and as there was a strong party in the House of Commons, and a very numerous party out of it, who were desirous that voting by ballot should be made a part of the electoral law, it was decided that an independent motion should be brought on in anticipation of Mr. Mildmay's bill. The arrangement was probably one of Mr. Mildmay's own making; so that he might be hampered by no opposition on that subject by his own followers if,—as he did not doubt,—the motion should be lost. It was expected that the debate would not last over one night, and Phineas resolved that he would make his maiden speech on this occasion. He had very strong opinions as to the inefficacy of the ballot for any good purposes, and thought that he might be able to strike out from his convictions some sparks of that fire which used to be so plentiful with him at the old debating clubs. But even at breakfast that morning his heart began to beat quickly at the idea of having to stand on his legs before so critical an audience.
He knew that it would be well that he should if possible get the subject off his mind during the day, and therefore went out among the people who certainly would not talk to him about the ballot. He sat for nearly an hour in the morning with Mr. Low, and did not even tell Mr. Low that it was his intention to speak on that day. Then he made one or two other calls, and at about three went up to Portman Square to look for Lord Chiltern. It was now nearly the end of February, and Phineas had often seen Lady Laura. He had not seen her brother, but had learned from his sister that he had been driven up to London by the frost, He was told by the porter at Lord Brentford's that Lord Chiltern was in the house, and as he was passing through the hall he met Lord Brentford himself. He was thus driven to speak, and felt himself called upon to explain why he was there. "I am come to see Lord Chiltern," he said.
"Is Lord Chiltern in the house?" said the Earl, turning to the servant.
"Yes, my lord; his lordship arrived last night."
"You will find him upstairs, I suppose," said the Earl. "For myself I know nothing of him." He spoke in an angry tone, as though he resented the fact that any one should come to his house to call upon his son; and turned his back quickly upon Phineas. But he thought better of it before he reached the front door, and turned again. "By-the-bye," said he, "what majority shall we have to-night, Finn?"
"Pretty nearly as many as you please to name, my lord," said Phineas.
"Well;—yes; I suppose we are tolerably safe. You ought to speak upon it."
"Perhaps I may," said Phineas, feeling that he blushed as he spoke.
"Do," said the Earl. "Do. If you see Lord Chiltern will you tell him from me that I should be glad to see him before he leaves London. I shall be at home till noon to-morrow." Phineas, much astonished at the commission given to him, of course said that he would do as he was desired, and then passed on to Lord Chiltern's apartments.
He found his friend standing in the middle of the room, without coat and waistcoat, with a pair of dumb-bells in his hands. "When there's no hunting I'm driven to this kind of thing," said Lord Chiltern.
"I suppose it's good exercise," said Phineas.
"And it gives me something to do. When I'm in London I feel like a gipsy in church, till the time comes for prowling out at night. I've no occupation for my days whatever, and no place to which I can take myself. I can't stand in a club window as some men do, and I should disgrace any decent club if I did stand there. I belong to the Travellers, but I doubt whether the porter would let me go in."
"I think you pique yourself on being more of an outer Bohemian than you are," said Phineas.
"I pique myself on this, that whether Bohemian or not, I will go nowhere that I am not wanted. Though,—for the matter of that, I suppose I'm not wanted here." Then Phineas gave him the message from his father. "He wishes to see me to-morrow morning?" continued Lord Chiltern. "Let him send me word what it is he has to say to me. I do not choose to be insulted by him, though he is my father."
"I would certainly go, if I were you."
"I doubt it very much, if all the circumstances were the same. Let him tell me what he wants."
"Of course I cannot ask him, Chiltern."
"I know what he wants very well. Laura has been interfering and doing no good. You know Violet Effingham?"
"Yes; I know her," said Phineas, much surprised.
"They want her to marry me."
"And you do not wish to marry her?"
"I did not say that. But do you think that such a girl as Miss Effingham would marry such a man as I am? She would be much more likely to take you. By George, she would! Do you know that she has three thousand a year of her own?"
"I know that she has money."
"That's about the tune of it. I would take her without a shilling to-morrow, if she would have me,—because I like her. She is the only girl I ever did like. But what is the use of my liking her? They have painted me so black among them, especially my father, that no decent girl would think of marrying me."
"Your father can't be angry with you if you do your best to comply with his wishes."
"I don't care a straw whether he be angry or not. He allows me eight hundred a year, and he knows that if he stopped it I should go to the Jews the next day. I could not help myself. He can't leave an acre away from me, and yet he won't join me in raising money for the sake of paying Laura her fortune."
"Lady Laura can hardly want money now."
"That detestable prig whom she has chosen to marry, and whom I hate with all my heart, is richer than ever Croesus was; but nevertheless Laura ought to have her own money. She shall have it some day."
"I would see Lord Brentford, if I were you."
"I will think about it. Now tell me about coming down to Willingford. Laura says you will come some day in March. I can mount you for a couple of days and should be delighted to have you. My horses all pull like the mischief, and rush like devils, and want a deal of riding; but an Irishman likes that."
"I do not dislike it particularly."
"I like it. I prefer to have something to do on horseback. When a man tells me that a horse is an armchair, I always tell him to put the brute into his bedroom. Mind you come. The house I stay at is called the Willingford Bull, and it's just four miles from Peterborough." Phineas swore that he would go down and ride the pulling horses, and then took his leave, earnestly advising Lord Chiltern, as he went, to keep the appointment proposed by his father.
When the morning came, at half-past eleven, the son, who had been standing for half an hour with his back to the fire in the large gloomy dining-room, suddenly rang the bell. "Tell the Earl," he said to the servant, "that I am here and will go to him if he wishes it." The servant came back, and said that the Earl was waiting. Then Lord Chiltern strode after the man into his father's room.
"Oswald," said the father, "I have sent for you because I think it may be as well to speak to you on some business. Will you sit down?" Lord Chiltern sat down, but did not answer a word. "I feel very unhappy about your sister's fortune," said the Earl.
"So do I,—very unhappy. We can raise the money between us, and pay her to-morrow, if you please it."
"It was in opposition to my advice that she paid your debts."
"And in opposition to mine too."
"I told her that I would not pay them, and were I to give her back to-morrow, as you say, the money that she has so used, I should be stultifying myself. But I will do so on one condition. I will join with you in raising the money for your sister, on one condition."
"What is that?"
"Laura tells me,—indeed she has told me often,—that you are attached to Violet Effingham."
"But Violet Effingham, my lord, is unhappily not attached to me."
"I do not know how that may be. Of course I cannot say. I have never taken the liberty of interrogating her upon the subject."
"Even you, my lord, could hardly have done that."
"What do you mean by that? I say that I never have," said the Earl, angrily.
"I simply mean that even you could hardly have asked Miss Effingham such a question. I have asked her, and she has refused me."
"But girls often do that, and yet accept afterwards the men whom they have refused. Laura tells me that she believes that Violet would consent if you pressed your suit."
"Laura knows nothing about it, my lord."
"There you are probably wrong. Laura and Violet are very close friends, and have no doubt discussed this matter between them. At any rate, it may be as well that you should hear what I have to say. Of course I shall not interfere myself. There is no ground on which I can do so with propriety."
"None whatever," said Lord Chiltern.
The Earl became very angry, and nearly broke down in his anger. He paused for a moment, feeling disposed to tell his son to go and never to see him again. But he gulped down his wrath, and went on with his speech. "My meaning, sir, is this;—that I have so great faith in Violet Effingham, that I would receive her acceptance of your hand as the only proof which would be convincing to me of amendment in your mode of life. If she were to do so, I would join with you in raising money to pay your sister, would make some further sacrifice with reference to an income for you and your wife, and—would make you both welcome to Saulsby,—if you chose to come." The Earl's voice hesitated much and became almost tremulous as he made the last proposition. And his eyes had fallen away from his son's gaze, and he had bent a little over the table, and was moved. But he recovered himself at once, and added, with all proper dignity, "If you have anything to say I shall be glad to hear it."
"All your offers would be nothing, my lord, if I did not like the girl."
"I should not ask you to marry a girl if you did not like her, as you call it."
"But as to Miss Effingham, it happens that our wishes jump together. I have asked her, and she has refused me. I don't even know where to find her to ask her again. If I went to Lady Baldock's house the servants would not let me in."
"And whose fault is that?"
"Yours partly, my lord. You have told everybody that I am the devil, and now all the old women believe it."
"I never told anybody so."
"I'll tell you what I'll do. I will go down to Lady Baldock's to-day. I suppose she is at Baddingham. And if I can get speech of Miss Effingham—"
"Miss Effingham is not at Baddingham. Miss Effingham is staying with your sister in Grosvenor Place. I saw her yesterday."
"She is in London?"
"I tell you that I saw her yesterday."
"Very well, my lord. Then I will do the best I can. Laura will tell you of the result."
The father would have given the son some advice as to the mode in which he should put forward his claim upon Violet's hand, but the son would not wait to hear it. Choosing to presume that the conference was over, he went back to the room in which he had kept his dumb-bells, and for a minute or two went to work at his favourite exercise. But he soon put the dumb-bells down, and began to prepare himself for his work. If this thing was to be done, it might as well be done at once. He looked out of his window, and saw that the streets were in a mess of slush. White snow was becoming black mud, as it will do in London; and the violence of frost was giving way to the horrors of thaw. All would be soft and comparatively pleasant in Northamptonshire on the following morning, and if everything went right he would breakfast at the Willingford Bull. He would go down by the hunting train, and be at the inn by ten. The meet was only six miles distant, and all would be pleasant. He would do this whatever might be the result of his work to-day;—but in the meantime he would go and do his work. He had a cab called, and within half an hour of the time at which he had left his father, he was at the door of his sister's house in Grosvenor Place. The servants told him that the ladies were at lunch. "I can't eat lunch," he said. "Tell them that I am in the drawing-room."
"He has come to see you," said Lady Laura, as soon as the servant had left the room.
"I hope not," said Violet.
"Do not say that."
"But I do say it. I hope he has not come to see me;—that is, not to see me specially. Of course I cannot pretend not to know what you mean."
"He may think it civil to call if he has heard that you are in town," said Lady Laura, after a pause.
"If it be only that, I will be civil in return;—as sweet as May to him. If it be really only that, and if I were sure of it, I should be really glad to see him." Then they finished their lunch, and Lady Laura got up and led the way to the drawing-room.
"I hope you remember," said she, gravely, "that you might be a saviour to him."
"I do not believe in girls being saviours to men. It is the man who should be the saviour to the girl. If I marry at all, I have the right to expect that protection shall be given to me,—not that I shall have to give it."
"Violet, you are determined to misrepresent what I mean."
Lord Chiltern was walking about the room, and did not sit down when they entered. The ordinary greetings took place, and Miss Effingham made some remark about the frost. "But it seems to be going," she said, "and I suppose that you will soon be at work again?"
"Yes;—I shall hunt to-morrow," said Lord Chiltern.
"And the next day, and the next, and the next," said Violet, "till about the middle of April;—and then your period of misery will begin!"
"Exactly," said Lord Chiltern. "I have nothing but hunting that I can call an occupation."
"Why don't you make one?" said his sister.
"I mean to do so, if it be possible. Laura, would you mind leaving me and Miss Effingham alone for a few minutes?"
Lady Laura got up, and so also did Miss Effingham. "For what purpose?" said the latter. "It cannot be for any good purpose."
"At any rate I wish it, and I will not harm you." Lady Laura was now going, but paused before she reached the door. "Laura, will you do as I ask you?" said the brother. Then Lady Laura went.
"It was not that I feared you would harm me, Lord Chiltern," said Violet.
"No;—I know it was not. But what I say is always said awkwardly. An hour ago I did not know that you were in town, but when I was told the news I came at once. My father told me."
"I am so glad that you see your father."
"I have not spoken to him for months before, and probably may not speak to him for months again. But there is one point, Violet, on which he and I agree."
"I hope there will soon be many."
"It is possible,—but I fear not probable. Look here, Violet,"—and he looked at her with all his eyes, till it seemed to her that he was all eyes, so great was the intensity of his gaze;—"I should scorn myself were I to permit myself to come before you with a plea for your favour founded on my father's whims. My father is unreasonable, and has been very unjust to me. He has ever believed evil of me, and has believed it often when all the world knew that he was wrong. I care little for being reconciled to a father who has been so cruel to me."
"He loves me dearly, and is my friend. I would rather that you should not speak against him to me."
"You will understand, at least, that I am asking nothing from you because he wishes it. Laura probably has told you that you may make things straight by becoming my wife."
"She has,—certainly, Lord Chiltern."
"It is an argument that she should never have used. It is an argument to which you should not listen for a moment. Make things straight indeed! Who can tell? There would be very little made straight by such a marriage, if it were not that I loved you. Violet, that is my plea, and my only one. I love you so well that I do believe that if you took me I should return to the old ways, and become as other men are, and be in time as respectable, as stupid,—and perhaps as ill-natured as old Lady Baldock herself."
"My poor aunt!"
"You know she says worse things of me than that. Now, dearest, you have heard all that I have to say to you." As he spoke he came close to her, and put out his hand,—but she did not touch it. "I have no other argument to use,—not a word more to say. As I came here in the cab I was turning it over in my mind that I might find what best I should say. But, after all, there is nothing more to be said than that."
"The words make no difference," she replied.
"Not unless they be so uttered as to force a belief. I do love you. I know no other reason but that why you should be my wife. I have no other excuse to offer for coming to you again. You are the one thing in the world that to me has any charm. Can you be surprised that I should be persistent in asking for it?" He was looking at her still with the same gaze, and there seemed to be a power in his eye from which she could not escape. He was still standing with his right hand out, as though expecting, or at least hoping, that her hand might be put into his.
"How am I to answer you?" she said.
"With your love, if you can give it to me. Do you remember how you swore once that you would love me for ever and always?"
"You should not remind me of that. I was a child then,—a naughty child," she added, smiling; "and was put to bed for what I did on that day."
"Be a child still."
"Ah, if we but could!"
"And have you no other answer to make me?"
"Of course I must answer you. You are entitled to an answer. Lord Chiltern, I am sorry that I cannot give you the love for which you ask."
"Is it myself personally, or what you have heard of me, that is so hateful to you?"
"Nothing is hateful to me. I have never spoken of hate. I shall always feel the strongest regard for my old friend and playfellow. But there are many things which a woman is bound to consider before she allows herself so to love a man that she can consent to become his wife."
"Allow herself! Then it is a matter entirely of calculation."
"I suppose there should be some thought in it, Lord Chiltern."
There was now a pause, and the man's hand was at last allowed to drop, as there came no response to the proffered grasp. He walked once or twice across the room before he spoke again, and then he stopped himself closely opposite to her.
"I shall never try again," he said.
"It will be better so," she replied.
"There is something to me unmanly in a man's persecuting a girl. Just tell Laura, will you, that it is all over; and she may as well tell my father. Good-bye."
She then tendered her hand to him, but he did not take it,—probably did not see it, and at once left the room and the house.
"And yet I believe you love him," Lady Laura said to her friend in her anger, when they discussed the matter immediately on Lord Chiltern's departure.
"You have no right to say that, Laura."
"I have a right to my belief, and I do believe it. I think you love him, and that you lack the courage to risk yourself in trying to save him."
"Is a woman bound to marry a man if she love him?"
"Yes, she is," replied Lady Laura impetuously, without thinking of what she was saying; "that is, if she be convinced that she also is loved."
"Whatever be the man's character;—whatever be the circumstances? Must she do so, whatever friends may say to the contrary? Is there to be no prudence in marriage?"
"There may be a great deal too much prudence," said Lady Laura.
"That is true. There is certainly too much prudence if a woman marries prudently, but without love." Violet intended by this no attack upon her friend,—had not had present in her mind at the moment any idea of Lady Laura's special prudence in marrying Mr. Kennedy; but Lady Laura felt it keenly, and knew at once that an arrow had been shot which had wounded her.
"We shall get nothing," she said, "by descending to personalities with each other."
"I meant none, Laura."
"I suppose it is always hard," said Lady Laura, "for any one person to judge altogether of the mind of another. If I have said anything severe of your refusal of my brother, I retract it. I only wish that it could have been otherwise."
Lord Chiltern, when he left his sister's house, walked through the slush and dirt to a haunt of his in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden, and there he remained through the whole afternoon and evening. A certain Captain Clutterbuck joined him, and dined with him. He told nothing to Captain Clutterbuck of his sorrow, but Captain Clutterbuck could see that he was unhappy.
"Let's have another bottle of 'cham,'" said Captain Clutterbuck, when their dinner was nearly over. "'Cham' is the only thing to screw one up when one is down a peg."
"You can have what you like," said Lord Chiltern; "but I shall have some brandy-and-water."
"The worst of brandy-and-water is, that one gets tired of it before the night is over," said Captain Clutterbuck.
Nevertheless, Lord Chiltern did go down to Peterborough the next day by the hunting train, and rode his horse Bonebreaker so well in that famous run from Sutton springs to Gidding that after the run young Piles,—of the house of Piles, Sarsnet, and Gingham,—offered him three hundred pounds for the animal.
"He isn't worth above fifty," said Lord Chiltern.
"But I'll give you the three hundred," said Piles.
"You couldn't ride him if you'd got him," said Lord Chiltern.
"Oh, couldn't I!" said Piles. But Mr. Piles did not continue the conversation, contenting himself with telling his friend Grogram that that red devil Chiltern was as drunk as a lord.
The Debate on the Ballot
Phineas took his seat in the House with a consciousness of much inward trepidation of heart on that night of the ballot debate. After leaving Lord Chiltern he went down to his club and dined alone. Three or four men came and spoke to him; but he could not talk to them at his ease, nor did he quite know what they were saying to him. He was going to do something which he longed to achieve, but the very idea of which, now that it was so near to him, was a terror to him. To be in the House and not to speak would, to his thinking, be a disgraceful failure. Indeed, he could not continue to keep his seat unless he spoke. He had been put there that he might speak. He would speak. Of course he would speak. Had he not already been conspicuous almost as a boy orator? And yet, at this moment he did not know whether he was eating mutton or beef, or who was standing opposite to him and talking to him, so much was he in dread of the ordeal which he had prepared for himself. As he went down to the House after dinner, he almost made up his mind that it would be a good thing to leave London by one of the night mail trains. He felt himself to be stiff and stilted as he walked, and that his clothes were uneasy to him. When he turned into Westminster Hall he regretted more keenly than ever he had done that he had seceded from the keeping of Mr. Low. He could, he thought, have spoken very well in court, and would there have learned that self-confidence which now failed him so terribly. It was, however, too late to think of that. He could only go in and take his seat.
He went in and took his seat, and the chamber seemed to him to be mysteriously large, as though benches were crowded over benches, and galleries over galleries. He had been long enough in the House to have lost the original awe inspired by the Speaker and the clerks of the House, by the row of Ministers, and by the unequalled importance of the place. On ordinary occasions he could saunter in and out, and whisper at his ease to a neighbour. But on this occasion he went direct to the bench on which he ordinarily sat, and began at once to rehearse to himself his speech. He had in truth been doing this all day, in spite of the effort that he had made to rid himself of all memory of the occasion. He had been collecting the heads of his speech while Mr. Low had been talking to him, and refreshing his quotations in the presence of Lord Chiltern and the dumb-bells. He had taxed his memory and his intellect with various tasks, which, as he feared, would not adjust themselves one with another. He had learned the headings of his speech,—so that one heading might follow the other, and nothing be forgotten. And he had learned verbatim the words which he intended to utter under each heading,—with a hope that if any one compact part should be destroyed or injured in its compactness by treachery of memory, or by the course of the debate, each other compact part might be there in its entirety, ready for use;—or at least so many of the compact parts as treachery of memory and the accidents of the debate might leave to him; so that his speech might be like a vessel, watertight in its various compartments, that would float by the buoyancy of its stern and bow, even though the hold should be waterlogged. But this use of his composed words, even though he should be able to carry it through, would not complete his work;—for it would be his duty to answer in some sort those who had gone before him, and in order to do this he must be able to insert, without any prearrangement of words or ideas, little intercalatory parts between those compact masses of argument with which he had been occupying himself for many laborious hours. As he looked round upon the House and perceived that everything was dim before him, that all his original awe of the House had returned, and with it a present quaking fear that made him feel the pulsations of his own heart, he became painfully aware that the task he had prepared for himself was too great. He should, on this the occasion of his rising to his maiden legs, have either prepared for himself a short general speech, which could indeed have done little for his credit in the House, but which might have served to carry off the novelty of the thing, and have introduced him to the sound of his own voice within those walls,—or he should have trusted to what his wit and spirit would produce for him on the spur of the moment, and not have burdened himself with a huge exercise of memory. During the presentation of a few petitions he tried to repeat to himself the first of his compact parts,—a compact part on which, as it might certainly be brought into use let the debate have gone as it might, he had expended great care. He had flattered himself that there was something of real strength in his words as he repeated them to himself in the comfortable seclusion of his own room, and he had made them so ready to his tongue that he thought it to be impossible that he should forget even an intonation. Now he found that he could not remember the first phrases without unloosing and looking at a small roll of paper which he held furtively in his hand. What was the good of looking at it? He would forget it again in the next moment. He had intended to satisfy the most eager of his friends, and to astound his opponents. As it was, no one would be satisfied,—and none astounded but they who had trusted in him.