The debate began, and if the leisure afforded by a long and tedious speech could have served him, he might have had leisure enough. He tried at first to follow all that this advocate for the ballot might say, hoping thence to acquire the impetus of strong interest; but he soon wearied of the work, and began to long that the speech might be ended, although the period of his own martyrdom would thereby be brought nearer to him. At half-past seven so many members had deserted their seats, that Phineas began to think that he might be saved all further pains by a "count out." He reckoned the members present and found that they were below the mystic forty,—first by two, then by four, by five, by seven, and at one time by eleven. It was not for him to ask the Speaker to count the House, but he wondered that no one else should do so. And yet, as the idea of this termination to the night's work came upon him, and as he thought of his lost labour, he almost took courage again,—almost dreaded rather than wished for the interference of some malicious member. But there was no malicious member then present, or else it was known that Lords of the Treasury and Lords of the Admiralty would flock in during the Speaker's ponderous counting,—and thus the slow length of the ballot-lover's verbosity was permitted to evolve itself without interruption. At eight o'clock he had completed his catalogue of illustrations, and immediately Mr. Monk rose from the Treasury bench to explain the grounds on which the Government must decline to support the motion before the House.
Phineas was aware that Mr. Monk intended to speak, and was aware also that his speech would be very short. "My idea is," he had said to Phineas, "that every man possessed of the franchise should dare to have and to express a political opinion of his own; that otherwise the franchise is not worth having; and that men will learn that when all so dare, no evil can come from such daring. As the ballot would make any courage of that kind unnecessary, I dislike the ballot. I shall confine myself to that, and leave the illustration to younger debaters." Phineas also had been informed that Mr. Turnbull would reply to Mr. Monk, with the purpose of crushing Mr. Monk into dust, and Phineas had prepared his speech with something of an intention of subsequently crushing Mr. Turnbull. He knew, however, that he could not command his opportunity. There was the chapter of accidents to which he must accommodate himself; but such had been his programme for the evening.
Mr. Monk made his speech,—and though he was short, he was very fiery and energetic. Quick as lightning words of wrath and scorn flew from him, in which he painted the cowardice, the meanness, the falsehood of the ballot. "The ballot-box," he said, "was the grave of all true political opinion." Though he spoke hardly for ten minutes, he seemed to say more than enough, ten times enough, to slaughter the argument of the former speaker. At every hot word as it fell Phineas was driven to regret that a paragraph of his own was taken away from him, and that his choicest morsels of standing ground were being cut from under his feet. When Mr. Monk sat down, Phineas felt that Mr. Monk had said all that he, Phineas Finn, had intended to say.
Then Mr. Turnbull rose slowly from the bench below the gangway. With a speaker so frequent and so famous as Mr. Turnbull no hurry is necessary. He is sure to have his opportunity. The Speaker's eye is ever travelling to the accustomed spots. Mr. Turnbull rose slowly and began his oration very mildly. "There was nothing," he said, "that he admired so much as the poetic imagery and the high-flown sentiment of his right honourable friend the member for West Bromwich,"—Mr. Monk sat for West Bromwich,—"unless it were the stubborn facts and unanswered arguments of his honourable friend who had brought forward this motion." Then Mr. Turnbull proceeded after his fashion to crush Mr. Monk. He was very prosaic, very clear both in voice and language, very harsh, and very unscrupulous. He and Mr. Monk had been joined together in politics for over twenty years;—but one would have thought, from Mr. Turnbull's words, that they had been the bitterest of enemies. Mr. Monk was taunted with his office, taunted with his desertion of the liberal party, taunted with his ambition,—and taunted with his lack of ambition. "I once thought," said Mr. Turnbull,—"nay, not long ago I thought, that he and I would have fought this battle for the people, shoulder to shoulder, and knee to knee;—but he has preferred that the knee next to his own shall wear a garter, and that the shoulder which supports him shall be decked with a blue ribbon,—as shoulders, I presume, are decked in those closet conferences which are called Cabinets."
Just after this, while Mr. Turnbull was still going on with a variety of illustrations drawn from the United States, Barrington Erle stepped across the benches up to the place where Phineas was sitting, and whispered a few words into his ear. "Bonteen is prepared to answer Turnbull, and wishes to do it. I told him that I thought you should have the opportunity, if you wish it." Phineas was not ready with a reply to Erle at the spur of the moment. "Somebody told me," continued Erle, "that you had said that you would like to speak to-night."
"So I did," said Phineas.
"Shall I tell Bonteen that you will do it?"
The chamber seemed to swim round before our hero's eyes. Mr. Turnbull was still going on with his clear, loud, unpleasant voice, but there was no knowing how long he might go on. Upon Phineas, if he should now consent, might devolve the duty, within ten minutes, within three minutes, of rising there before a full House to defend his great friend, Mr. Monk, from a gross personal attack. Was it fit that such a novice as he should undertake such a work as that? Were he to do so, all that speech which he had prepared, with its various self-floating parts, must go for nothing. The task was exactly that which, of all tasks, he would best like to have accomplished, and to have accomplished well. But if he should fail! And he felt that he would fail. For such work a man should have all his senses about him,—his full courage, perfect confidence, something almost approaching to contempt for listening opponents, and nothing of fear in regard to listening friends. He should be as a cock in his own farmyard, master of all the circumstances around him. But Phineas Finn had not even as yet heard the sound of his own voice in that room. At this moment, so confused was he, that he did not know where sat Mr. Mildmay, and where Mr. Daubeny. All was confused, and there arose as it were a sound of waters in his ears, and a feeling as of a great hell around him. "I had rather wait," he said at last. "Bonteen had better reply." Barrington Erle looked into his face, and then stepping back across the benches, told Mr. Bonteen that the opportunity was his.
Mr. Turnbull continued speaking quite long enough to give poor Phineas time for repentance; but repentance was of no use. He had decided against himself, and his decision could not be reversed. He would have left the House, only it seemed to him that had he done so every one would look at him. He drew his hat down over his eyes, and remained in his place, hating Mr. Bonteen, hating Barrington Erle, hating Mr. Turnbull,—but hating no one so much as he hated himself. He had disgraced himself for ever and could never recover the occasion which he had lost.
Mr. Bonteen's speech was in no way remarkable. Mr. Monk, he said, had done the State good service by adding his wisdom and patriotism to the Cabinet. The sort of argument which Mr. Bonteen used to prove that a man who has gained credit as a legislator should in process of time become a member of the executive, is trite and common, and was not used by Mr. Bonteen with any special force. Mr. Bonteen was glib of tongue and possessed that familiarity with the place which poor Phineas had lacked so sorely. There was one moment, however, which was terrible to Phineas. As soon as Mr. Bonteen had shown the purpose for which he was on his legs, Mr. Monk looked round at Phineas, as though in reproach. He had expected that this work should fall into the hands of one who would perform it with more warmth of heart than could be expected from Mr. Bonteen. When Mr. Bonteen ceased, two or three other short speeches were made and members fired off their little guns. Phineas having lost so great an opportunity, would not now consent to accept one that should be comparatively valueless. Then there came a division. The motion was lost by a large majority,—by any number you might choose to name, as Phineas had said to Lord Brentford; but in that there was no triumph to the poor wretch who had failed through fear, and who was now a coward in his own esteem.
He left the House alone, carefully avoiding all speech with any one. As he came out he had seen Laurence Fitzgibbon in the lobby, but he had gone on without pausing a moment, so that he might avoid his friend. And when he was out in Palace Yard, where was he to go next? He looked at his watch, and found that it was just ten. He did not dare to go to his club, and it was impossible for him to go home and to bed. He was very miserable, and nothing would comfort him but sympathy. Was there any one who would listen to his abuse of himself, and would then answer him with kindly apologies for his own weakness? Mrs. Bunce would do it if she knew how, but sympathy from Mrs. Bunce would hardly avail. There was but one person in the world to whom he could tell his own humiliation with any hope of comfort, and that person was Lady Laura Kennedy. Sympathy from any man would have been distasteful to him. He had thought for a moment of flinging himself at Mr. Monk's feet and telling all his weakness;—but he could not have endured pity even from Mr. Monk. It was not to be endured from any man.
He thought that Lady Laura Kennedy would be at home, and probably alone. He knew, at any rate, that he might be allowed to knock at her door, even at that hour. He had left Mr. Kennedy in the House, and there he would probably remain for the next hour. There was no man more constant than Mr. Kennedy in seeing the work of the day,—or of the night,—to its end. So Phineas walked up Victoria Street, and from thence into Grosvenor Place, and knocked at Lady Laura's door. "Yes; Lady Laura was at home; and alone." He was shown up into the drawing-room, and there he found Lady Laura waiting for her husband.
"So the great debate is over," she said, with as much of irony as she knew how to throw into the epithet.
"Yes; it is over."
"And what have they done,—those leviathans of the people?"
Then Phineas told her what was the majority.
"Is there anything the matter with you, Mr. Finn?" she said, looking at him suddenly. "Are you not well?"
"Yes; I am very well."
"Will you not sit down? There is something wrong, I know. What is it?"
"I have simply been the greatest idiot, the greatest coward, the most awkward ass that ever lived!"
"What do you mean?"
"I do not know why I should come to tell you of it at this hour at night, but I have come that I might tell you. Probably because there is no one else in the whole world who would not laugh at me."
"At any rate, I shall not laugh at you," said Lady Laura.
"But you will despise me."
"That I am sure I shall not do."
"You cannot help it. I despise myself. For years I have placed before myself the ambition of speaking in the House of Commons;—for years I have been thinking whether there would ever come to me an opportunity of making myself heard in that assembly, which I consider to be the first in the world. To-day the opportunity has been offered to me,—and, though the motion was nothing, the opportunity was great. The subject was one on which I was thoroughly prepared. The manner in which I was summoned was most flattering to me. I was especially called on to perform a task which was most congenial to my feelings;—and I declined because I was afraid."
"You had thought too much about it, my friend," said Lady Laura.
"Too much or too little, what does it matter?" replied Phineas, in despair. "There is the fact. I could not do it. Do you remember the story of Conachar in the 'Fair Maid of Perth;'—how his heart refused to give him blood enough to fight? He had been suckled with the milk of a timid creature, and, though he could die, there was none of the strength of manhood in him. It is about the same thing with me, I take it."
"I do not think you are at all like Conachar," said Lady Laura.
"I am equally disgraced, and I must perish after the same fashion. I shall apply for the Chiltern Hundreds in a day or two."
"You will do nothing of the kind," said Lady Laura, getting up from her chair and coming towards him. "You shall not leave this room till you have promised me that you will do nothing of the kind. I do not know as yet what has occurred to-night; but I do know that that modesty which has kept you silent is more often a grace than a disgrace."
This was the kind of sympathy which he wanted, She drew her chair nearer to him, and then he explained to her as accurately as he could what had taken place in the House on this evening,—how he had prepared his speech, how he had felt that his preparation was vain, how he perceived from the course of the debate that if he spoke at all his speech must be very different from what he had first intended; how he had declined to take upon himself a task which seemed to require so close a knowledge of the ways of the House and of the temper of the men, as the defence of such a man as Mr. Monk. In accusing himself he, unconsciously, excused himself, and his excuse, in Lady Laura's ears, was more valid than his accusation.
"And you would give it all up for that?" she said.
"Yes; I think I ought."
"I have very little doubt but that you were right in allowing Mr. Bonteen to undertake such a task. I should simply explain to Mr. Monk that you felt too keen an interest in his welfare to stand up as an untried member in his defence. It is not, I think, the work for a man who is not at home in the House. I am sure Mr. Monk will feel this, and I am quite certain that Mr. Kennedy will think that you have been right."
"I do not care what Mr. Kennedy may think."
"Why do you say that, Mr. Finn? That is not courteous."
"Simply because I care so much what Mr. Kennedy's wife may think. Your opinion is all in all to me,—only that I know you are too kind to me."
"He would not be too kind to you. He is never too kind to any one. He is justice itself."
Phineas, as he heard the tones of her voice, could not but feel that there was in Lady Laura's words something of an accusation against her husband.
"I hate justice," said Phineas. "I know that justice would condemn me. But love and friendship know nothing of justice. The value of love is that it overlooks faults, and forgives even crimes."
"I, at any rate," said Lady Laura, "will forgive the crime of your silence in the House. My strong belief in your success will not be in the least affected by what you tell me of your failure to-night. You must await another opportunity; and, if possible, you should be less anxious as to your own performance. There is Violet." As Lady Laura spoke the last words, there was a sound of a carriage stopping in the street, and the front door was immediately opened. "She is staying here, but has been dining with her uncle, Admiral Effingham." Then Violet Effingham entered the room, rolled up in pretty white furs, and silk cloaks, and lace shawls. "Here is Mr. Finn, come to tell us of the debate about the ballot."
"I don't care twopence about the ballot," said Violet, as she put out her hand to Phineas. "Are we going to have a new iron fleet built? That's the question."
"Sir Simeon has come out strong to-night," said Lady Laura.
"There is no political question of any importance except the question of the iron fleet," said Violet. "I am quite sure of that, and so, if Mr. Finn can tell me nothing about the iron fleet, I'll go to bed."
"Mr. Kennedy will tell you everything when he comes home," said Phineas.
"Oh, Mr. Kennedy! Mr. Kennedy never tells one anything. I doubt whether Mr. Kennedy thinks that any woman knows the meaning of the British Constitution."
"Do you know what it means, Violet?" asked Lady Laura.
"To be sure I do. It is liberty to growl about the iron fleet, or the ballot, or the taxes, or the peers, or the bishops,—or anything else, except the House of Commons. That's the British Constitution. Good-night, Mr. Finn."
"What a beautiful creature she is!" said Phineas.
"Yes, indeed," said Lady Laura.
"And full of wit and grace and pleasantness. I do not wonder at your brother's choice."
It will be remembered that this was said on the day before Lord Chiltern had made his offer for the third time.
"Poor Oswald! he does not know as yet that she is in town."
After that Phineas went, not wishing to await the return of Mr. Kennedy. He had felt that Violet Effingham had come into the room just in time to remedy a great difficulty. He did not wish to speak of his love to a married woman,—to the wife of the man who called him friend,—to a woman who he felt sure would have rebuked him. But he could hardly have restrained himself had not Miss Effingham been there.
But as he went home he thought more of Miss Effingham than he did of Lady Laura; and I think that the voice of Miss Effingham had done almost as much towards comforting him as had the kindness of the other.
At any rate, he had been comforted.
"Do be punctual"
On the very morning after his failure in the House of Commons, when Phineas was reading in the Telegraph,—he took the Telegraph not from choice but for economy,—the words of that debate which he had heard and in which he should have taken a part, a most unwelcome visit was paid to him. It was near eleven, and the breakfast things were still on the table. He was at this time on a Committee of the House with reference to the use of potted peas in the army and navy, at which he had sat once,—at a preliminary meeting,—and in reference to which he had already resolved that as he had failed so frightfully in debate, he would certainly do his duty to the utmost in the more easy but infinitely more tedious work of the Committee Room. The Committee met at twelve, and he intended to walk down to the Reform Club, and then to the House. He had just completed his reading of the debate and of the leaders in the Telegraph on the subject. He had told himself how little the writer of the article knew about Mr. Turnbull, how little about Mr. Monk, and how little about the people,—such being his own ideas as to the qualifications of the writer of that leading article,—and was about to start. But Mrs. Bunce arrested him by telling him that there was a man below who wanted to see him.
"What sort of a man, Mrs. Bunce?"
"He ain't a gentleman, sir."
"Did he give his name?"
"He did not, sir; but I know it's about money. I know the ways of them so well. I've seen this one's face before somewhere."
"You had better show him up," said Phineas. He knew well the business on which the man was come. The man wanted money for that bill which Laurence Fitzgibbon had sent afloat, and which Phineas had endorsed. Phineas had never as yet fallen so deeply into troubles of money as to make it necessary that he need refuse himself to any callers on that score, and he did not choose to do so now. Nevertheless he most heartily wished that he had left his lodgings for the club before the man had come. This was not the first he had heard of the bill being overdue and unpaid. The bill had been brought to him noted a month since, and then he had simply told the youth who brought it that he would see Mr. Fitzgibbon and have the matter settled. He had spoken to his friend Laurence, and Laurence had simply assured him that all should be made right in two days,—or, at furthest, by the end of a week. Since that time he had observed that his friend had been somewhat shy of speaking to him when no others were with them. Phineas would not have alluded to the bill had he and Laurence been alone together; but he had been quick enough to guess from his friend's manner that the matter was not settled. Now, no doubt, serious trouble was about to commence.
The visitor was a little man with grey hair and a white cravat, some sixty years of age, dressed in black, with a very decent hat,—which, on entering the room, he at once put down on the nearest chair,—with reference to whom, any judge on the subject would have concurred at first sight in the decision pronounced by Mrs. Bunce, though none but a judge very well used to sift the causes of his own conclusions could have given the reasons for that early decision. "He ain't a gentleman," Mrs. Bunce had said. And the man certainly was not a gentleman. The old man in the white cravat was very neatly dressed, and carried himself without any of that humility which betrays one class of uncertified aspirants to gentility, or of that assumed arrogance which is at once fatal to another class. But, nevertheless, Mrs. Bunce had seen at a glance that he was not a gentleman,—had seen, moreover, that such a man could have come only upon one mission. She was right there too. This visitor had come about money.
"About this bill, Mr. Finn," said the visitor, proceeding to take out of his breast coat-pocket a rather large leathern case, as he advanced up towards the fire. "My name is Clarkson, Mr. Finn. If I may venture so far, I'll take a chair."
"Certainly, Mr. Clarkson," said Phineas, getting up and pointing to a seat.
"Thankye, Mr. Finn, thankye. We shall be more comfortable doing business sitting, shan't we?" Whereupon the horrid little man drew himself close in to the fire, and spreading out his leathern case upon his knees, began to turn over one suspicious bit of paper after another, as though he were uncertain in what part of his portfolio lay this identical bit which he was seeking. He seemed to be quite at home, and to feel that there was no ground whatever for hurry in such comfortable quarters. Phineas hated him at once,—with a hatred altogether unconnected with the difficulty which his friend Fitzgibbon had brought upon him.
"Here it is," said Mr. Clarkson at last. "Oh, dear me, dear me! the third of November, and here we are in March! I didn't think it was so bad as this;—I didn't indeed. This is very bad,—very bad! And for Parliament gents, too, who should be more punctual than anybody, because of the privilege. Shouldn't they now, Mr. Finn?"
"All men should be punctual, I suppose," said Phineas.
"Of course they should; of course they should. I always say to my gents, 'Be punctual, and I'll do anything for you.' But, perhaps, Mr. Finn, you can hand me a cheque for this amount, and then you and I will begin square."
"Indeed I cannot, Mr. Clarkson."
"Not hand me a cheque for it!"
"Upon my word, no."
"That's very bad;—very bad indeed. Then I suppose I must take the half, and renew for the remainder, though I don't like it;—I don't indeed."
"I can pay no part of that bill, Mr. Clarkson."
"Pay no part of it!" and Mr. Clarkson, in order that he might the better express his surprise, arrested his hand in the very act of poking his host's fire.
"If you'll allow me, I'll manage the fire," said Phineas, putting out his hand for the poker.
But Mr. Clarkson was fond of poking fires, and would not surrender the poker. "Pay no part of it!" he said again, holding the poker away from Phineas in his left hand. "Don't say that, Mr. Finn. Pray don't say that. Don't drive me to be severe. I don't like to be severe with my gents. I'll do anything, Mr. Finn, if you'll only be punctual."
"The fact is, Mr. Clarkson, I have never had one penny of consideration for that bill, and—"
"Oh, Mr. Finn! oh, Mr. Finn!" and then Mr. Clarkson had his will of the fire.
"I never had one penny of consideration for that bill," continued Phineas. "Of course, I don't deny my responsibility."
"No, Mr. Finn; you can't deny that. Here it is;—Phineas Finn;—and everybody knows you, because you're a Parliament gent."
"I don't deny it. But I had no reason to suppose that I should be called upon for the money when I accommodated my friend, Mr. Fitzgibbon, and I have not got it. That is the long and the short of it. I must see him and take care that arrangements are made."
"Yes, arrangements for settling the bill."
"He hasn't got the money, Mr. Finn. You know that as well as I do."
"I know nothing about it, Mr. Clarkson."
"Oh yes, Mr. Finn; you know; you know."
"I tell you I know nothing about it," said Phineas, waxing angry.
"As to Mr. Fitzgibbon, he's the pleasantest gent that ever lived. Isn't he now? I've know'd him these ten years. I don't suppose that for ten years I've been without his name in my pocket. But, bless you, Mr. Finn, there's an end to everything. I shouldn't have looked at this bit of paper if it hadn't been for your signature. Of course not. You're just beginning, and it's natural you should want a little help. You'll find me always ready, if you'll only be punctual."
"I tell you again, sir, that I never had a shilling out of that for myself, and do not want any such help." Here Mr. Clarkson smiled sweetly. "I gave my name to my friend simply to oblige him."
"I like you Irish gents because you do hang together so close," said Mr. Clarkson.
"Simply to oblige him," continued Phineas. "As I said before, I know that I am responsible; but, as I said before also, I have not the means of taking up that bill. I will see Mr. Fitzgibbon, and let you know what we propose to do." Then Phineas got up from his seat and took his hat. It was full time that he should go down to his Committee. But Mr. Clarkson did not get up from his seat. "I'm afraid I must ask you to leave me now, Mr. Clarkson, as I have business down at the House."
"Business at the House never presses, Mr. Finn," said Mr. Clarkson. "That's the best of Parliament. I've known Parliament gents this thirty years and more. Would you believe it—I've had a Prime Minister's name in that portfolio; that I have; and a Lord Chancellor's; that I have;—and an Archbishop's too. I know what Parliament is, Mr. Finn. Come, come; don't put me off with Parliament."
There he sat before the fire with his pouch open before him, and Phineas had no power of moving him. Could Phineas have paid him the money which was manifestly due to him on the bill, the man would of course have gone; but failing in that, Phineas could not turn him out. There was a black cloud on the young member's brow, and great anger at his heart,—against Fitzgibbon rather than against the man who was sitting there before him. "Sir," he said, "it is really imperative that I should go. I am pledged to an appointment at the House at twelve, and it wants now only a quarter. I regret that your interview with me should be so unsatisfactory, but I can only promise you that I will see Mr. Fitzgibbon."
"And when shall I call again, Mr. Finn?"
"Perhaps I had better write to you," said Phineas.
"Oh dear, no," said Mr. Clarkson. "I should much prefer to look in. Looking in is always best. We can get to understand one another in that way. Let me see. I daresay you're not particular. Suppose I say Sunday morning."
"Really, I could not see you on Sunday morning, Mr. Clarkson."
"Parliament gents ain't generally particular,—'speciaily not among the Catholics," pleaded Mr. Clarkson.
"I am always engaged on Sundays," said Phineas.
"Suppose we say Monday,—or Tuesday. Tuesday morning at eleven. And do be punctual, Mr. Finn. At Tuesday morning I'll come, and then no doubt I shall find you ready." Whereupon Mr. Clarkson slowly put up his bills within his portfolio, and then, before Phineas knew where he was, had warmly shaken that poor dismayed member of Parliament by the hand. "Only do be punctual, Mr. Finn," he said, as he made his way down the stairs.
It was now twelve, and Phineas rushed off to a cab. He was in such a fervour of rage and misery that he could hardly think of his position, or what he had better do, till he got into the Committee Room; and when there he could think of nothing else. He intended to go deeply into the question of potted peas, holding an equal balance between the assailed Government offices on the one hand, and the advocates of the potted peas on the other. The potters of the peas, who wanted to sell their article to the Crown, declared that an extensive,—perhaps we may say, an unlimited,—use of the article would save the whole army and navy from the scourges of scurvy, dyspepsia, and rheumatism, would be the best safeguard against typhus and other fevers, and would be an invaluable aid in all other maladies to which soldiers and sailors are peculiarly subject. The peas in question were grown on a large scale in Holstein, and their growth had been fostered with the special object of doing good to the British army and navy. The peas were so cheap that there would be a great saving in money,—and it really had seemed to many that the officials of the Horse Guards and the Admiralty had been actuated by some fiendish desire to deprive their men of salutary fresh vegetables, simply because they were of foreign growth. But the officials of the War Office and the Admiralty declared that the potted peas in question were hardly fit for swine. The motion for the Committee had been made by a gentleman of the opposition, and Phineas had been put upon it as an independent member. He had resolved to give it all his mind, and, as far as he was concerned, to reach a just decision, in which there should be no favour shown to the Government side. New brooms are proverbial for thorough work, and in this Committee work Phineas was as yet a new broom. But, unfortunately, on this day his mind was so harassed that he could hardly understand what was going on. It did not, perhaps, much signify, as the witnesses examined were altogether agricultural. They only proved the production of peas in Holstein,—a fact as to which Phineas had no doubt. The proof was naturally slow, as the evidence was given in German, and had to be translated into English. And the work of the day was much impeded by a certain member who unfortunately spoke German, who seemed to be fond of speaking German before his brethren of the Committee, and who was curious as to agriculture in Holstein generally. The chairman did not understand German, and there was a difficulty in checking this gentleman, and in making him understand that his questions were not relevant to the issue.
Phineas could not keep his mind during the whole afternoon from the subject of his misfortune. What should he do if this horrid man came to him once or twice a week? He certainly did owe the man the money. He must admit that to himself. The man no doubt was a dishonest knave who had discounted the bill probably at fifty per cent; but, nevertheless, Phineas had made himself legally responsible for the amount. The privilege of the House prohibited him from arrest. He thought of that very often, but the thought only made him the more unhappy. Would it not be said, and might it not be said truly, that he had incurred this responsibility,—a responsibility which he was altogether unequal to answer,—because he was so protected? He did feel that a certain consciousness of his privilege had been present to him when he had put his name across the paper, and there had been dishonesty in that very consciousness. And of what service would his privilege be to him, if this man could harass every hour of his life? The man was to be with him again in a day or two, and when the appointment had been proposed, he, Phineas, had not dared to negative it. And how was he to escape? As for paying the bill, that with him was altogether impossible. The man had told him,—and he had believed the man,—that payment by Fitzgibbon was out of the question. And yet Fitzgibbon was the son of a peer, whereas he was only the son of a country doctor! Of course Fitzgibbon must make some effort,—some great effort,—and have the thing settled. Alas, alas! He knew enough of the world already to feel that the hope was vain.
He went down from the Committee Room into the House, and he dined at the House, and remained there until eight or nine at night; but Fitzgibbon did not come. He then went to the Reform Club, but he was not there. Both at the club and in the House many men spoke to him about the debate of the previous night, expressing surprise that he had not spoken,—making him more and more wretched. He saw Mr. Monk, but Mr. Monk was walking arm in arm with his colleague, Mr. Palliser, and Phineas could do no more than just speak to them. He thought that Mr. Monk's nod of recognition was very cold. That might be fancy, but it certainly was a fact that Mr. Monk only nodded to him. He would tell Mr. Monk the truth, and then, if Mr. Monk chose to quarrel with him, he at any rate would take no step to renew their friendship.
From the Reform Club he went to the Shakspeare, a smaller club to which Fitzgibbon belonged,—and of which Phineas much wished to become a member,—and to which he knew that his friend resorted when he wished to enjoy himself thoroughly, and to be at ease in his inn. Men at the Shakspeare could do as they pleased. There were no politics there, no fashion, no stiffness, and no rules,—so men said; but that was hardly true. Everybody called everybody by his Christian name, and members smoked all over the house. They who did not belong to the Shakspeare thought it an Elysium upon earth; and they who did, believed it to be among Pandemoniums the most pleasant. Phineas called at the Shakspeare, and was told by the porter that Mr. Fitzgibbon was up-stairs. He was shown into the strangers room, and in five minutes his friend came down to him.
"I want you to come down to the Reform with me," said Phineas.
"By jingo, my dear fellow, I'm in the middle of a rubber of whist."
"There has been a man with me about that bill."
"Yes, Clarkson," said Phineas.
"Don't mind him," said Fitzgibbon.
"That's nonsense. How am I to help minding him? I must mind him. He is coming to me again on Tuesday morning."
"Don't see him."
"How can I help seeing him?"
"Make them say you're not at home."
"He has made an appointment. He has told me that he'll never leave me alone. He'll be the death of me if this is not settled."
"It shall be settled, my dear fellow. I'll see about it. I'll see about it and write you a line. You must excuse me now, because those fellows are waiting. I'll have it all arranged."
Again as Phineas went home he thoroughly wished that he had not seceded from Mr. Low.
Lady Baldock at Home
About the middle of March Lady Baldock came up from Baddingham to London, coerced into doing so, as Violet Effingham declared, in thorough opposition to all her own tastes, by the known wishes of her friends and relatives. Her friends and relatives, so Miss Effingham insinuated, were unanimous in wishing that Lady Baldock should remain at Baddingham Park, and therefore,—that wish having been indiscreetly expressed,—she had put herself to great inconvenience, and had come to London in March. "Gustavus will go mad," said Violet to Lady Laura. The Gustavus in question was the Lord Baldock of the present generation, Miss Effingham's Lady Baldock being the peer's mother. "Why does not Lord Baldock take a house himself?" asked Lady Laura. "Don't you know, my dear," Violet answered, "how much we Baddingham people think of money? We don't like being vexed and driven mad, but even that is better than keeping up two households." As regarded Violet, the injury arising from Lady Baldock's early migration was very great, for she was thus compelled to move from Grosvenor Place to Lady Baldock's house in Berkeley Square. "As you are so fond of being in London, Augusta and I have made up our minds to come up before Easter," Lady Baldock had written to her.
"I shall go to her now," Violet had said to her friend, "because I have not quite made up my mind as to what I will do for the future."
"Marry Oswald, and be your own mistress."
"I mean to be my own mistress without marrying Oswald, though I don't see my way quite clearly as yet. I think I shall set up a little house of my own, and let the world say what it pleases. I suppose they couldn't make me out to be a lunatic."
"I shouldn't wonder if they were to try," said Lady Laura.
"They could not prevent me in any other way. But I am in the dark as yet, and so I shall be obedient and go to my aunt."
Miss Effingham went to Berkeley Square, and Phineas Finn was introduced to Lady Baldock. He had been often in Grosvenor Place, and had seen Violet frequently. Mr. Kennedy gave periodical dinners,—once a week,—to which everybody went who could get an invitation; and Phineas had been a guest more than once. Indeed, in spite of his miseries he had taken to dining out a good deal, and was popular as an eater of dinners. He could talk when wanted, and did not talk too much, was pleasant in manners and appearance, and had already achieved a certain recognised position in London life. Of those who knew him intimately, not one in twenty were aware from whence he came, what was his parentage, or what his means of living. He was a member of Parliament, a friend of Mr. Kennedy's, was intimate with Mr. Monk, though an Irishman did not as a rule herd with other Irishmen, and was the right sort of person to have at your house. Some people said he was a cousin of Lord Brentford's, and others declared that he was Lord Chiltern's earliest friend. There he was, however, with a position gained, and even Lady Baldock asked him to her house.
Lady Baldock had evenings. People went to her house, and stood about the room and on the stairs, talked to each other for half an hour, and went away. In these March days there was no crowding, but still there were always enough of people there to show that Lady Baldock was successful. Why people should have gone to Lady Baldock's I cannot explain;—but there are houses to which people go without any reason. Phineas received a little card asking him to go, and he always went.
"I think you like my friend, Mr. Finn," Lady Laura said to Miss Effingham, after the first of these evenings.
"Yes, I do. I like him decidedly."
"So do I. I should hardly have thought that you would have taken a fancy to him."
"I hardly know what you call taking a fancy," said Violet. "I am not quite sure I like to be told that I have taken a fancy for a young man."
"I mean no offence, my dear."
"Of course you don't But, to speak truth, I think I have rather taken a fancy to him. There is just enough of him, but not too much. I don't mean materially,—in regard to his inches; but as to his mental belongings. I hate a stupid man who can't talk to me, and I hate a clever man who talks me down. I don't like a man who is too lazy to make any effort to shine; but I particularly dislike the man who is always striving for effect. I abominate a humble man, but yet I love to perceive that a man acknowledges the superiority of my sex, and youth, and all that kind of thing."
"You want to be flattered without plain flattery."
"Of course I do. A man who would tell me that I am pretty, unless he is over seventy, ought to be kicked out of the room. But a man who can't show me that he thinks me so without saying a word about it, is a lout. Now in all those matters, your friend, Mr. Finn, seems to know what he is about. In other words, he makes himself pleasant, and, therefore, one is glad to see him."
"I suppose you do not mean to fall in love with him?"
"Not that I know of, my dear. But when I do, I'll be sure to give you notice."
I fear that there was more of earnestness in Lady Laura's last question than Miss Effingham had supposed. She had declared to herself over and over again that she had never been in love with Phineas Finn. She had acknowledged to herself, before Mr. Kennedy had asked her hand in marriage, that there had been danger,—that she could have learned to love the man if such love would not have been ruinous to her,—that the romance of such a passion would have been pleasant to her. She had gone farther than this, and had said to herself that she would have given way to that romance, and would have been ready to accept such love if offered to her, had she not put it out of her own power to marry a poor man by her generosity to her brother. Then she had thrust the thing aside, and had clearly understood,—she thought that she had clearly understood,—that life for her must be a matter of business. Was it not the case with nine out of every ten among mankind, with nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand, that life must be a matter of business and not of romance? Of course she could not marry Mr. Finn, knowing, as she did, that neither of them had a shilling. Of all men in the world she esteemed Mr. Kennedy the most, and when these thoughts were passing through her mind, she was well aware that he would ask her to be his wife. Had she not resolved that she would accept the offer, she would not have gone to Loughlinter. Having put aside all romance as unfitted to her life, she could, she thought, do her duty as Mr. Kennedy's wife. She would teach herself to love him. Nay,—she had taught herself to love him. She was at any rate so sure of her own heart that she would never give her husband cause to rue the confidence he placed in her. And yet there was something sore within her when she thought that Phineas Finn was fond of Violet Effingham.
It was Lady Baldock's second evening, and Phineas came to the house at about eleven o'clock. At this time he had encountered a second and a third interview with Mr. Clarkson, and had already failed in obtaining any word of comfort from Laurence Fitzgibbon about the bill. It was clear enough now that Laurence felt that they were both made safe by their privilege, and that Mr. Clarkson should be treated as you treat the organ-grinders. They are a nuisance and must be endured. But the nuisance is not so great but what you can live in comfort,—if only you are not too sore as to the annoyance. "My dear fellow," Laurence had said to him, "I have had Clarkson almost living in my rooms. He used to drink nearly a pint of sherry a day for me. All I looked to was that I didn't live there at the same time. If you wish it, I'll send in the sherry." This was very bad, and Phineas tried to quarrel with his friend; but he found that it was difficult to quarrel with Laurence Fitzgibbon.
But though on this side Phineas was very miserable, on another side he had obtained great comfort. Mr. Monk and he were better friends than ever. "As to what Turnbull says about me in the House," Mr. Monk had said, laughing; "he and I understand each other perfectly. I should like to see you on your legs, but it is just as well, perhaps, that you have deferred it. We shall have the real question on immediately after Easter, and then you'll have plenty of opportunities." Phineas had explained how he had attempted, how he had failed, and how he had suffered;—and Mr. Monk had been generous in his sympathy. "I know all about it," said he, "and have gone through it all myself. The more respect you feel for the House, the more satisfaction you will have in addressing it when you have mastered this difficulty."
The first person who spoke to Phineas at Lady Baldock's was Miss Fitzgibbon, Laurence's sister. Aspasia Fitzgibbon was a warm woman as regarded money, and as she was moreover a most discreet spinster, she was made welcome by Lady Baldock, in spite of the well-known iniquities of her male relatives. "Mr. Finn," said she, "how d'ye do? I want to say a word to ye. Just come here into the corner." Phineas, not knowing how to escape, did retreat into the corner with Miss Fitzgibbon. "Tell me now, Mr. Finn;—have ye been lending money to Laurence?"
"No; I have lent him no money," said Phineas, much astonished by the question.
"Don't. That's my advice to ye. Don't. On any other matter Laurence is the best creature in the world,—but he's bad to lend money to. You ain't in any hobble with him, then?"
"Well;—nothing to speak of. What makes you ask?"
"Then you are in a hobble? Dear, dear! I never saw such a man as Laurence;—never. Good-bye. I wouldn't do it again, if I were you;—that's all." Then Miss Fitzgibbon came out of the corner and made her way down-stairs.
Phineas immediately afterwards came across Miss Effingham. "I did not know," said she, "that you and the divine Aspasia were such close allies."
"We are the dearest friends in the world, but she has taken my breath away now."
"May a body be told how she has done that?" Violet asked.
"Well, no; I'm afraid not, even though the body be Miss Effingham. It was a profound secret;—really a secret concerning a third person, and she began about it just as though she were speaking about the weather!"
"How charming! I do so like her. You haven't heard, have you, that Mr. Ratler proposed to her the other day?"
"But he did;—at least, so she tells everybody. She said she'd take him if he would promise to get her brother's salary doubled."
"Did she tell you?"
"No; not me. And of course I don't believe a word of it. I suppose Barrington Erle made up the story. Are you going out of town next week, Mr. Finn?" The week next to this was Easter-week. "I heard you were going into Northamptonshire."
"From Lady Laura?"
"Yes;—from Lady Laura."
"I intend to spend three days with Lord Chiltern at Willingford. It is an old promise. I am going to ride his horses,—that is, if I am able to ride them."
"Take care what you are about, Mr. Finn;—they say his horses are so dangerous!"
"I'm rather good at falling, I flatter myself."
"I know that Lord Chiltern rides anything he can sit, so long as it is some animal that nobody else will ride. It was always so with him. He is so odd; is he not?"
Phineas knew, of course, that Lord Chiltern had more than once asked Violet Effingham to be his wife,—and he believed that she, from her intimacy with Lady Laura, must know that he knew it. He had also heard Lady Laura express a very strong wish that, in spite of these refusals, Violet might even yet become her brother's wife. And Phineas also knew that Violet Effingham was becoming, in his own estimation, the most charming woman of his acquaintance. How was he to talk to her about Lord Chiltern?
"He is odd," said Phineas; "but he is an excellent fellow,—whom his father altogether misunderstands."
"Exactly,—just so; I am so glad to hear you say that,—you who have never had the misfortune to have anything to do with a bad set. Why don't you tell Lord Brentford? Lord Brentford would listen to you."
"Yes;—of course he would,—for you are just the link that is wanting. You are Chiltern's intimate friend, and you are also the friend of big-wigs and Cabinet Ministers."
"Lord Brentford would put me down at once if I spoke to him on such a subject."
"I am sure he would not. You are too big to be put down, and no man can really dislike to hear his son well spoken of by those who are well spoken of themselves. Won't you try, Mr. Finn?" Phineas said that he would think of it,—that he would try if any fit opportunity could be found. "Of course you know how intimate I have been with the Standishes," said Violet; "that Laura is to me a sister, and that Oswald used to be almost a brother."
"Why do not you speak to Lord Brentford;—you who are his favourite?"
"There are reasons, Mr. Finn. Besides, how can any girl come forward and say that she knows the disposition of any man? You can live with Lord Chiltern, and see what he is made of, and know his thoughts, and learn what is good in him, and also what is bad. After all, how is any girl really to know anything of a man's life?"
"If I can do anything, Miss Effingham, I will," said Phineas.
"And then we shall all of us be so grateful to you," said Violet, with her sweetest smile.
Phineas, retreating from this conversation, stood for a while alone, thinking of it. Had she spoken thus of Lord Chiltern because she did love him or because she did not? And the sweet commendations which had fallen from her lips upon him,—him, Phineas Finn,—were they compatible with anything like a growing partiality for himself, or were they incompatible with any such feeling? Had he most reason to be comforted or to be discomfited by what had taken place? It seemed hardly possible to his imagination that Violet Effingham should love such a nobody as he. And yet he had had fair evidence that one standing as high in the world as Violet Effingham would fain have loved him could she have followed the dictates of her heart. He had trembled when he had first resolved to declare his passion to Lady Laura,—fearing that she would scorn him as being presumptuous. But there had been no cause for such fear as that. He had declared his love, and she had not thought him to be presumptuous. That now was ages ago,—eight months since; and Lady Laura had become a married woman. Since he had become so warmly alive to the charms of Violet Effingham he had determined, with stern propriety, that a passion for a married woman was disgraceful. Such love was in itself a sin, even though it was accompanied by the severest forbearance and the most rigid propriety of conduct. No;—Lady Laura had done wisely to check the growing feeling of partiality which she had admitted; and now that she was married, he would be as wise as she. It was clear to him that, as regarded his own heart, the way was open to him for a new enterprise. But what if he were to fail again, and be told by Violet, when he declared his love, that she had just engaged herself to Lord Chiltern!
"What were you and Violet talking about so eagerly?" said Lady Laura to him, with a smile that, in its approach to laughter, almost betrayed its mistress.
"We were talking about your brother."
"You are going to him, are you not?"
"Yes; I leave London on Sunday night;—but only for a day or two."
"Has he any chance there, do you think?"
"What, with Miss Effingham?"
"Yes;—with Violet. Sometimes I think she loves him."
"How can I say? In such a matter you can judge better than I can do. One woman with reference to another can draw the line between love and friendship. She certainly likes Chiltern."
"Oh, I believe she loves him. I do indeed. But she fears him. She does not quite understand how much there is of tenderness with that assumed ferocity. And Oswald is so strange, so unwise, so impolitic, that though he loves her better than all the world beside, he will not sacrifice even a turn of a word to win her. When he asks her to marry him, he almost flies at her throat, as an angry debtor who applies for instant payment. Tell him, Mr. Finn, never to give it over;—and teach him that he should be soft with her. Tell him, also, that in her heart she likes him. One woman, as you say, knows another woman; and I am certain he would win her if he would only be gentle with her." Then, again, before they parted, Lady Laura told him that this marriage was the dearest wish of her heart, and that there would be no end to her gratitude if Phineas could do anything to promote it. All which again made our hero unhappy.
Sunday in Grosvenor Place
Mr. Kennedy, though he was a most scrupulously attentive member of Parliament, was a man very punctual to hours and rules in his own house,—and liked that his wife should be as punctual as himself. Lady Laura, who in marrying him had firmly resolved that she would do her duty to him in all ways, even though the ways might sometimes be painful,—and had been perhaps more punctilious in this respect than she might have been had she loved him heartily,—was not perhaps quite so fond of accurate regularity as her husband; and thus, by this time, certain habits of his had become rather bonds than habits to her. He always had prayers at nine, and breakfasted at a quarter past nine, let the hours on the night before have been as late as they might before the time for rest had come. After breakfast he would open his letters in his study, but he liked her to be with him, and desired to discuss with her every application he got from a constituent. He had his private secretary in a room apart, but he thought that everything should be filtered to his private secretary through his wife. He was very anxious that she herself should superintend the accounts of their own private expenditure, and had taken some trouble to teach her an excellent mode of book-keeping. He had recommended to her a certain course of reading,—which was pleasant enough; ladies like to receive such recommendations; but Mr. Kennedy, having drawn out the course, seemed to expect that his wife should read the books he had named, and, worse still, that she should read them in the time he had allocated for the work. This, I think, was tyranny. Then the Sundays became very wearisome to Lady Laura. Going to church twice, she had learnt, would be a part of her duty; and though in her father's household attendance at church had never been very strict, she had made up her mind to this cheerfully. But Mr. Kennedy expected also that he and she should always dine together on Sundays, that there should be no guests, and that there should be no evening company. After all, the demand was not very severe, but yet she found that it operated injuriously upon her comfort. The Sundays were very wearisome to her, and made her feel that her lord and master was—her lord and master. She made an effort or two to escape, but the efforts were all in vain. He never spoke a cross word to her. He never gave a stern command. But yet he had his way. "I won't say that reading a novel on a Sunday is a sin," he said; "but we must at any rate admit that it is a matter on which men disagree, that many of the best of men are against such occupation on Sunday, and that to abstain is to be on the safe side." So the novels were put away, and Sunday afternoon with the long evening became rather a stumbling-block to Lady Laura.
Those two hours, moreover, with her husband in the morning became very wearisome to her. At first she had declared that it would be her greatest ambition to help her husband in his work, and she had read all the letters from the MacNabs and MacFies, asking to be made gaugers and landing-waiters, with an assumed interest. But the work palled upon her very quickly. Her quick intellect discovered soon that there was nothing in it which she really did. It was all form and verbiage, and pretence at business. Her husband went through it all with the utmost patience, reading every word, giving orders as to every detail, and conscientiously doing that which he conceived he had undertaken to do. But Lady Laura wanted to meddle with high politics, to discuss reform bills, to assist in putting up Mr. This and putting down my Lord That. Why should she waste her time in doing that which the lad in the next room, who was called a private secretary, could do as well?
Still she would obey. Let the task be as hard as it might, she would obey. If he counselled her to do this or that, she would follow his counsel,—because she owed him so much. If she had accepted the half of all his wealth without loving him, she owed him the more on that account. But she knew,—she could not but know,—that her intellect was brighter than his; and might it not be possible for her to lead him? Then she made efforts to lead her husband, and found that he was as stiff-necked as an ox. Mr. Kennedy was not, perhaps, a clever man; but he was a man who knew his own way, and who intended to keep it.
"I have got a headache, Robert," she said to him one Sunday after luncheon. "I think I will not go to church this afternoon."
"It is not serious, I hope."
"Oh dear no. Don't you know how one feels sometimes that one has got a head? And when that is the case one's armchair is the best place."
"I am not sure of that," said Mr. Kennedy.
"If I went to church I should not attend," said Lady Laura.
"The fresh air would do you more good than anything else, and we could walk across the park."
"Thank you;—I won't go out again to-day." This she said with something almost of crossness in her manner, and Mr. Kennedy went to the afternoon service by himself.
Lady Laura when she was left alone began to think of her position. She was not more than four or five months married, and she was becoming very tired of her life. Was it not also true that she was becoming tired of her husband? She had twice told Phineas Finn that of all men in the world she esteemed Mr. Kennedy the most. She did not esteem him less now. She knew no point or particle in which he did not do his duty with accuracy. But no person can live happily with another,—not even with a brother or a sister or a friend,—simply upon esteem. All the virtues in the calendar, though they exist on each side, will not make a man and woman happy together, unless there be sympathy. Lady Laura was beginning to find out that there was a lack of sympathy between herself and her husband.
She thought of this till she was tired of thinking of it, and then, wishing to divert her mind, she took up the book that was lying nearest to her hand. It was a volume of a new novel which she had been reading on the previous day, and now, without much thought about it, she went on with her reading. There came to her, no doubt, some dim, half-formed idea that, as she was freed from going to church by the plea of a headache, she was also absolved by the same plea from other Sunday hindrances. A child, when it is ill, has buttered toast and a picture-book instead of bread-and-milk and lessons. In this way, Lady Laura conceived herself to be entitled to her novel.
While she was reading it, there came a knock at the door, and Barrington Erle was shown upstairs. Mr. Kennedy had given no orders against Sunday visitors, but had simply said that Sunday visiting was not to his taste. Barrington, however, was Lady Laura's cousin, and people must be very strict if they can't see their cousins on Sunday. Lady Laura soon lost her headache altogether in the animation of discussing the chances of the new Reform Bill with the Prime Minister's private secretary; and had left her chair, and was standing by the table with the novel in her hand, protesting this and denying that, expressing infinite confidence in Mr. Monk, and violently denouncing Mr. Turnbull, when her husband returned from church and came up into the drawing-room. Lady Laura had forgotten her headache altogether, and had in her composition none of that thoughtfulness of hypocrisy which would have taught her to moderate her political feeling at her husband's return.
"I do declare," she said, "that if Mr. Turnbull opposes the Government measure now, because he can't have his own way in everything, I will never again put my trust in any man who calls himself a popular leader."
"You never should," said Barrington Erle.
"That's all very well for you, Barrington, who are an aristocratic Whig of the old official school, and who call yourself a Liberal simply because Fox was a Liberal a hundred years ago. My heart's in it."
"Heart should never have anything to do with politics; should it?" said Erle, turning round to Mr. Kennedy.
Mr. Kennedy did not wish to discuss the matter on a Sunday, nor yet did he wish to say before Barrington Erle that he thought it wrong to do so. And he was desirous of treating his wife in some way as though she were an invalid,—that she thereby might be, as it were, punished; but he did not wish to do this in such a way that Barrington should be aware of the punishment.
"Laura had better not disturb herself about it now," he said.
"How is a person to help being disturbed?" said Lady Laura, laughing.
"Well, well; we won't mind all that now," said Mr. Kennedy, turning away. Then he took up the novel which Lady Laura had just laid down from her hand, and, having looked at it, carried it aside, and placed it on a book-shelf which was remote from them. Lady Laura watched him as he did this, and the whole course of her husband's thoughts on the subject was open to her at once. She regretted the novel, and she regretted also the political discussion. Soon afterwards Barrington Erle went away, and the husband and wife were alone together.
"I am glad that your head is so much better," said he. He did not intend to be severe, but he spoke with a gravity of manner which almost amounted to severity.
"Yes; it is," she said, "Barrington's coming in cheered me up."
"I am sorry that you should have wanted cheering."
"Don't you know what I mean, Robert?"
"No; I do not think that I do, exactly."
"I suppose your head is stronger. You do not get that feeling of dazed, helpless imbecility of brain, which hardly amounts to headache, but which yet—is almost as bad."
"Imbecility of brain may be worse than headache, but I don't think it can produce it."
"Well, well;—I don't know how to explain it."
"Headache comes, I think, always from the stomach, even when produced by nervous affections. But imbecility of the brain—"
"Oh, Robert, I am so sorry that I used the word."
"I see that it did not prevent your reading," he said, after a pause.
"Not such reading as that. I was up to nothing better."
Then there was another pause.
"I won't deny that it may be a prejudice," he said, "but I confess that the use of novels in my own house on Sundays is a pain to me. My mother's ideas on the subject are very strict, and I cannot think that it is bad for a son to hang on to the teaching of his mother." This he said in the most serious tone which he could command.
"I don't know why I took it up," said Lady Laura. "Simply, I believe, because it was there. I will avoid doing so for the future."
"Do, my dear," said the husband. "I shall be obliged and grateful if you will remember what I have said." Then he left her, and she sat alone, first in the dusk and then in the dark, for two hours, doing nothing. Was this to be the life which she had procured for herself by marrying Mr. Kennedy of Loughlinter? If it was harsh and unendurable in London, what would it be in the country?
The Willingford Bull
Phineas left London by a night mail train on Easter Sunday, and found himself at the Willingford Bull about half an hour after midnight. Lord Chiltern was up and waiting for him, and supper was on the table. The Willingford Bull was an English inn of the old stamp, which had now, in these latter years of railway travelling, ceased to have a road business,—for there were no travellers on the road, and but little posting—but had acquired a new trade as a depot for hunters and hunting men. The landlord let out horses and kept hunting stables, and the house was generally filled from the beginning of November till the middle of April. Then it became a desert in the summer, and no guests were seen there, till the pink coats flocked down again into the shires.
"How many days do you mean to give us?" said Lord Chiltern, as he helped his friend to a devilled leg of turkey.
"I must go back on Wednesday," said Phineas.
"That means Wednesday night. I'll tell you what we'll do. We've the Cottesmore to-morrow. We'll get into Tailby's country on Tuesday, and Fitzwilliam will be only twelve miles off on Wednesday. We shall be rather short of horses."
"Pray don't let me put you out. I can hire something here, I suppose?"
"You won't put me out at all. There'll be three between us each day, and we'll run our luck. The horses have gone on to Empingham for to-morrow. Tailby is rather a way off,—at Somerby; but we'll manage it. If the worst comes to the worst, we can get back to Stamford by rail. On Wednesday we shall have everything very comfortable. They're out beyond Stilton and will draw home our way. I've planned it all out. I've a trap with a fast stepper, and if we start to-morrow at half-past nine, we shall be in plenty of time. You shall ride Meg Merrilies, and if she don't carry you, you may shoot her."
"Is she one of the pulling ones?"
"She is heavy in hand if you are heavy at her, but leave her mouth alone and she'll go like flowing water. You'd better not ride more in a crowd than you can help. Now what'll you drink?"
They sat up half the night smoking and talking, and Phineas learned more about Lord Chiltern then than ever he had learned before. There was brandy and water before them, but neither of them drank. Lord Chiltern, indeed, had a pint of beer by his side from which he sipped occasionally. "I've taken to beer," he said, "as being the best drink going. When a man hunts six days a week he can afford to drink beer. I'm on an allowance,—three pints a day. That's not too much."
"And you drink nothing else?"
"Nothing when I'm alone,—except a little cherry-brandy when I'm out. I never cared for drink;—never in my life. I do like excitement, and have been less careful than I ought to have been as to what it has come from. I could give up drink to-morrow, without a struggle,—if it were worth my while to make up my mind to do it. And it's the same with gambling. I never do gamble now, because I've got no money; but I own I like it better than anything in the world. While you are at it, there is life in it."
"You should take to politics, Chiltern."
"And I would have done so, but my father would not help me. Never mind, we will not talk about him. How does Laura get on with her husband?"
"Very happily, I should say."
"I don't believe it," said Lord Chiltern. "Her temper is too much like mine to allow her to be happy with such a log of wood as Robert Kennedy. It is such men as he who drive me out of the pale of decent life. If that is decency, I'd sooner be indecent. You mark my words. They'll come to grief. She'll never be able to stand it."
"I should think she had her own way in everything," said Phineas.
"No, no. Though he's a prig, he's a man; and she will not find it easy to drive him."
"But she may bend him."
"Not an inch;—that is if I understand his character. I suppose you see a good deal of them?"
"Yes,—pretty well. I'm not there so often as I used to be in the Square."
"You get sick of it, I suppose. I should. Do you see my father often?"
"Only occasionally. He is always very civil when I do see him."
"He is the very pink of civility when he pleases, but the most unjust man I ever met."
"I should not have thought that."
"Yes, he is," said the Earl's son, "and all from lack of judgment to discern the truth. He makes up his mind to a thing on insufficient proof, and then nothing will turn him. He thinks well of you,—would probably believe your word on any indifferent subject without thought of a doubt; but if you were to tell him that I didn't get drunk every night of my life and spend most of my time in thrashing policemen, he would not believe you. He would smile incredulously and make you a little bow. I can see him do it."
"You are too hard on him, Chiltern."
"He has been too hard on me, I know. Is Violet Effingham still in Grosvenor Place?"
"No; she's with Lady Baldock."
"That old grandmother of evil has come to town,—has she? Poor Violet! When we were young together we used to have such fun about that old woman."
"The old woman is an ally of mine now," said Phineas.
"You make allies everywhere. You know Violet Effingham of course?"
"Oh yes. I know her."
"Don't you think her very charming?" said Lord Chiltern.
"I have asked that girl to marry me three times, and I shall never ask her again. There is a point beyond which a man shouldn't go. There are many reasons why it would be a good marriage. In the first place, her money would be serviceable. Then it would heal matters in our family, for my father is as prejudiced in her favour as he is against me. And I love her dearly. I've loved her all my life,—since I used to buy cakes for her. But I shall never ask her again."
"I would if I were you," said Phineas,—hardly knowing what it might be best for him to say.
"No; I never will. But I'll tell you what. I shall get into some desperate scrape about her. Of course she'll marry, and that soon. Then I shall make a fool of myself. When I hear that she is engaged I shall go and quarrel with the man, and kick him,—or get kicked. All the world will turn against me, and I shall be called a wild beast."
"A dog in the manger is what you should be called."
"Exactly;—but how is a man to help it? If you loved a girl, could you see another man take her?" Phineas remembered of course that he had lately come through this ordeal. "It is as though he were to come and put his hand upon me, and wanted my own heart out of me. Though I have no property in her at all, no right to her,—though she never gave me a word of encouragement, it is as though she were the most private thing in the world to me. I should be half mad, and in my madness I could not master the idea that I was being robbed. I should resent it as a personal interference."
"I suppose it will come to that if you give her up yourself," said Phineas.
"It is no question of giving up. Of course I cannot make her marry me. Light another cigar, old fellow."
Phineas, as he lit the other cigar, remembered that he owed a certain duty in this matter to Lady Laura. She had commissioned him to persuade her brother that his suit with Violet Effingham would not be hopeless, if he could only restrain himself in his mode of conducting it. Phineas was disposed to do his duty, although he felt it to be very hard that he should be called upon to be eloquent against his own interest. He had been thinking for the last quarter of an hour how he must bear himself if it might turn out that he should be the man whom Lord Chiltern was resolved to kick. He looked at his friend and host, and became aware that a kicking-match with such a one would not be pleasant pastime. Nevertheless, he would be happy enough to be subject to Lord Chiltern's wrath for such a reason. He would do his duty by Lord Chiltern; and then, when that had been adequately done, he would, if occasion served, fight a battle for himself.
"You are too sudden with her, Chiltern," he said, after a pause.
"What do you mean by too sudden?" said Lord Chiltern, almost angrily.
"You frighten her by being so impetuous. You rush at her as though you wanted to conquer her by a single blow."
"So I do."
"You should be more gentle with her. You should give her time to find out whether she likes you or not."
"She has known me all her life, and has found that out long ago. Not but what you are right. I know you are right. If I were you, and had your skill in pleasing, I should drop soft words into her ear till I had caught her. But I have no gifts in that way. I am as awkward as a pig at what is called flirting. And I have an accursed pride which stands in my own light. If she were in this house this moment, and if I knew she were to be had for asking, I don't think I could bring myself to ask again. But we'll go to bed. It's half-past two, and we must be off at half-past nine, if we're to be at Exton Park gates at eleven."
Phineas, as he went up-stairs, assured himself that he had done his duty. If there ever should come to be anything between him and Violet Effingham, Lord Chiltern might quarrel with him,—might probably attempt that kicking encounter to which allusion had been made,—but nobody could justly say that he had not behaved honourably to his friend.
On the next morning there was a bustle and a scurry, as there always is on such occasions, and the two men got off about ten minutes after time. But Lord Chiltern drove hard, and they reached the meet before the master had moved off. They had a fair day's sport with the Cottesmore; and Phineas, though he found that Meg Merrilies did require a good deal of riding, went through his day's work with credit. He had been riding since he was a child, as is the custom with all boys in Munster, and had an Irishman's natural aptitude for jumping. When they got back to the Willingford Bull he felt pleased with the day and rather proud of himself. "It wasn't fast, you know," said Chiltern, "and I don't call that a stiff country. Besides, Meg is very handy when you've got her out of the crowd. You shall ride Bonebreaker to-morrow at Somerby, and you'll find that better fun."
"Bonebreaker? Haven't I heard you say he rushes like mischief?"
"Well, he does rush. But, by George! you want a horse to rush in that country. When you have to go right through four or five feet of stiff green wood, like a bullet through a target, you want a little force, or you're apt to be left up a tree."
"And what do you ride?"
"A brute I never put my leg on yet. He was sent down to Wilcox here, out of Lincolnshire, because they couldn't get anybody to ride him there. They say he goes with his head up in the air, and won't look at a fence that isn't as high as his breast. But I think he'll do here. I never saw a better made beast, or one with more power. Do you look at his shoulders. He's to be had for seventy pounds, and these are the sort of horses I like to buy."
Again they dined alone, and Lord Chiltern explained to Phineas that he rarely associated with the men of either of the hunts in which he rode. "There is a set of fellows down here who are poison to me, and there is another set, and I am poison to them. Everybody is very civil, as you see, but I have no associates. And gradually I am getting to have a reputation as though I were the devil himself. I think I shall come out next year dressed entirely in black."
"Are you not wrong to give way to that kind of thing?"
"What the deuce am I to do? I can't make civil little speeches. When once a man gets a reputation as an ogre, it is the most difficult thing in the world to drop it. I could have a score of men here every day if I liked it,—my title would do that for me;—but they would be men I should loathe, and I should be sure to tell them so, even though I did not mean it. Bonebreaker, and the new horse, and another, went on at twelve to-day. You must expect hard work to-morrow, as I daresay we shan't be home before eight."
The next day's meet was in Leicestershire, not far from Melton, and they started early. Phineas, to tell the truth of him, was rather afraid of Bonebreaker, and looked forward to the probability of an accident. He had neither wife nor child, and nobody had a better right to risk his neck. "We'll put a gag on 'im," said the groom, "and you'll ride 'im in a ring,—so that you may well-nigh break his jaw; but he is a rum un, sir." "I'll do my best," said Phineas. "He'll take all that," said the groom. "Just let him have his own way at everything," said Lord Chiltern, as they moved away from the meet to Pickwell Gorse; "and if you'll only sit on his back, he'll carry you through as safe as a church." Phineas could not help thinking that the counsels of the master and of the groom were very different. "My idea is," continued Lord Chiltern, "that in hunting you should always avoid a crowd. I don't think a horse is worth riding that will go in a crowd. It's just like yachting,—you should have plenty of sea-room. If you're to pull your horse up at every fence till somebody else is over, I think you'd better come out on a donkey." And so they went away to Pickwell Gorse.
There were over two hundred men out, and Phineas began to think that it might not be so easy to get out of the crowd. A crowd in a fast run no doubt quickly becomes small by degrees and beautifully less; but it is very difficult, especially for a stranger, to free himself from the rush at the first start. Lord Chiltern's horse plunged about so violently, as they stood on a little hill-side looking down upon the cover, that he was obliged to take him to a distance, and Phineas followed him. "If he breaks down wind," said Lord Chiltern, "we can't be better than we are here. If he goes up wind, he must turn before long, and we shall be all right." As he spoke an old hound opened true and sharp,—an old hound whom all the pack believed,—and in a moment there was no doubt that the fox had been found. "There are not above eight or nine acres in it," said Lord Chiltern, "and he can't hang long. Did you ever see such an uneasy brute as this in your life? But I feel certain he'll go well when he gets away."
Phineas was too much occupied with his own horse to think much of that on which Lord Chiltern was mounted. Bonebreaker, the very moment that he heard the old hound's note, stretched out his head, and put his mouth upon the bit, and began to tremble in every muscle. "He's a great deal more anxious for it than you and I are," said Lord Chiltern. "I see they've given you that gag. But don't you ride him on it till he wants it. Give him lots of room, and he'll go in the snaffle." All which caution made Phineas think that any insurance office would charge very dear on his life at the present moment.
The fox took two rings of the gorse, and then he went,—up wind. "It's not a vixen, I'll swear," said Lord Chiltern. "A vixen in cub never went away like that yet. Now then, Finn, my boy, keep to the right." And Lord Chiltern, with the horse out of Lincolnshire, went away across the brow of the hill, leaving the hounds to the left, and selected, as his point of exit into the next field, a stiff rail, which, had there been an accident, must have put a very wide margin of ground between the rider and his horse. "Go hard at your fences, and then you'll fall clear," he had said to Phineas. I don't think, however, that he would have ridden at the rail as he did, but that there was no help for him. "The brute began in his own way, and carried on after in the same fashion all through," he said afterwards. Phineas took the fence a little lower down, and what it was at which he rode he never knew. Bonebreaker sailed over it, whatever it was, and he soon found himself by his friend's side.
The ruck of the men were lower down than our two heroes, and there were others far away to the left, and others, again, who had been at the end of the gorse, and were now behind. Our friends were not near the hounds, not within two fields of them, but the hounds were below them, and therefore could be seen. "Don't be in a hurry, and they'll be round upon us," Lord Chiltern said. "How the deuce is one to help being in a hurry?" said Phineas, who was doing his very best to ride Bonebreaker with the snaffle, but had already began to feel that Bonebreaker cared nothing for that weak instrument. "By George, I should like to change with you," said Lord Chiltern. The Lincolnshire horse was going along with his head very low, boring as he galloped, but throwing his neck up at his fences, just when he ought to have kept himself steady. After this, though Phineas kept near Lord Chiltern throughout the run, they were not again near enough to exchange words; and, indeed, they had but little breath for such purpose.
Lord Chiltern rode still a little in advance, and Phineas, knowing his friend's partiality for solitude when taking his fences, kept a little to his left. He began to find that Bonebreaker knew pretty well what he was about. As for not using the gag rein, that was impossible. When a horse puts out what strength he has against a man's arm, a man must put out what strength he has against the horse's mouth. But Bonebreaker was cunning, and had had a gag rein on before. He contracted his lip here, and bent out his jaw there, till he had settled it to his mind, and then went away after his own fashion. He seemed to have a passion for smashing through big, high-grown ox-fences, and by degrees his rider came to feel that if there was nothing worse coming, the fun was not bad.
The fox ran up wind for a couple of miles or so, as Lord Chiltern had prophesied, and then turned,—not to the right, as would best have served him and Phineas, but to the left,—so that they were forced to make their way through the ruck of horses before they could place themselves again. Phineas found himself crossing a road, in and out of it, before he knew where he was, and for a while he lost sight of Lord Chiltern. But in truth he was leading now, whereas Lord Chiltern had led before. The two horses having been together all the morning, and on the previous day, were willing enough to remain in company, if they were allowed to do so. They both crossed the road, not very far from each other, going in and out amidst a crowd of horses, and before long were again placed well, now having the hunt on their right, whereas hitherto it had been on their left. They went over large pasture fields, and Phineas began to think that as long as Bonebreaker would be able to go through the thick grown-up hedges, all would be right. Now and again he came to a cut fence, a fence that had been cut and laid, and these were not so pleasant. Force was not sufficient for them, and they admitted of a mistake. But the horse, though he would rush at them unpleasantly, took them when they came without touching them. It might be all right yet,—unless the beast should tire with him; and then, Phineas thought, a misfortune might probably occur. He remembered, as he flew over one such impediment, that he rode a stone heavier than his friend. At the end of forty-five minutes Bonebreaker also might become aware of the fact.
The hounds were running well in sight to their right, and Phineas began to feel some of that pride which a man indulges when he becomes aware that he has taken his place comfortably, has left the squad behind, and is going well. There were men nearer the hounds than he was, but he was near enough even for ambition. There had already been enough of the run to make him sure that it would be a "good thing", and enough to make him aware also that probably it might be too good. When a run is over, men are very apt to regret the termination, who a minute or two before were anxiously longing that the hounds might pull down their game. To finish well is everything in hunting. To have led for over an hour is nothing, let the pace and country have been what they might, if you fall away during the last half mile. Therefore it is that those behind hope that the fox may make this or that cover, while the forward men long to see him turned over in every field. To ride to hounds is very glorious; but to have ridden to hounds is more glorious still. They had now crossed another road, and a larger one, and had got into a somewhat closer country. The fields were not so big, and the fences were not so high. Phineas got a moment to look about him, and saw Lord Chiltern riding without his cap. He was very red in the face, and his eyes seemed to glare, and he was tugging at his horse with all his might. But the animal seemed still to go with perfect command of strength, and Phineas had too much work on his own hands to think of offering Quixotic assistance to any one else. He saw some one, a farmer, as he thought, speak to Lord Chiltern as they rode close together; but Chiltern only shook his head and pulled at his horse.
There were brooks in those parts. The river Eye forms itself thereabouts, or some of its tributaries do so; and these tributaries, though small as rivers, are considerable to men on one side who are called by the exigencies of the occasion to place themselves quickly on the other. Phineas knew nothing of these brooks; but Bonebreaker had gone gallantly over two, and now that there came a third in the way, it was to be hoped that he might go gallantly over that also. Phineas, at any rate, had no power to decide otherwise. As long as the brute would go straight with him he could sit him; but he had long given up the idea of having a will of his own. Indeed, till he was within twenty yards of the brook, he did not see that it was larger than the others. He looked around, and there was Chiltern close to him, still fighting with his horse;—but the farmer had turned away. He thought that Chiltern nodded to him, as much as to tell him to go on. On he went at any rate. The brook, when he came to it, seemed to be a huge black hole, yawning beneath him. The banks were quite steep, and just where he was to take off there was an ugly stump. It was too late to think of anything. He stuck his knees against his saddle,—and in a moment was on the other side. The brute, who had taken off a yard before the stump, knowing well the danger of striking it with his foot, came down with a grunt, and did, I think, begin to feel the weight of that extra stone. Phineas, as soon as he was safe, looked back, and there was Lord Chiltern's horse in the very act of his spring,—higher up the rivulet, where it was even broader. At that distance Phineas could see that Lord Chiltern was wild with rage against the beast. But whether he wished to take the leap or wished to avoid it, there was no choice left to him. The animal rushed at the brook, and in a moment the horse and horseman were lost to sight. It was well then that that extra stone should tell, as it enabled Phineas to arrest his horse and to come back to his friend.
The Lincolnshire horse had chested the further bank, and of course had fallen back into the stream. When Phineas got down he found that Lord Chiltern was wedged in between the horse and the bank, which was better, at any rate, than being under the horse in the water. "All right, old fellow," he said, with a smile, when he saw Phineas. "You go on; it's too good to lose." But he was very pale, and seemed to be quite helpless where he lay. The horse did not move,—and never did move again. He had smashed his shoulder to pieces against a stump on the bank, and was afterwards shot on that very spot.
When Phineas got down he found that there was but little water where the horse lay. The depth of the stream had been on the side from which they had taken off, and the thick black mud lay within a foot of the surface, close to the bank against which Lord Chiltern was propped. "That's the worst one I ever was on," said Lord Chiltern; "but I think he's gruelled now."
"Are you hurt?"
"Well;—I fancy there is something amiss. I can't move my arms; and I catch my breath. My legs are all right if I could get away from this accursed brute."
"I told you so," said the farmer, coming and looking down upon them from the bank. "I told you so, but you wouldn't be said." Then he too got down, and between them both they extricated Lord Chiltern from his position, and got him on to the bank.
"That un's a dead un," said the farmer, pointing to the horse.
"So much the better," said his lordship. "Give us a drop of sherry, Finn."
He had broken his collar-bone and three of his ribs. They got a farmer's trap from Wissindine and took him into Oakham. When there, he insisted on being taken on through Stamford to the Willingford Bull before he would have his bones set,—picking up, however, a surgeon at Stamford. Phineas remained with him for a couple of days, losing his run with the Fitzwilliams and a day at the potted peas, and became very fond of his patient as he sat by his bedside.
"That was a good run, though, wasn't it?" said Lord Chiltern as Phineas took his leave. "And, by George, Phineas, you rode Bonebreaker so well, that you shall have him as often as you'll come down. I don't know how it is, but you Irish fellows always ride."
Mr. Turnbull's Carriage Stops the Way
When Phineas got back to London, a day after his time, he found that there was already a great political commotion in the metropolis. He had known that on Easter Monday and Tuesday there was to be a gathering of the people in favour of the ballot, and that on Wednesday there was to be a procession with a petition which Mr. Turnbull was to receive from the hands of the people on Primrose Hill. It had been at first intended that Mr. Turnbull should receive the petition at the door of Westminster Hall on the Thursday; but he had been requested by the Home Secretary to put aside this intention, and he had complied with the request made to him. Mr. Mildmay was to move the second reading of his Reform Bill on that day, the preliminary steps having been taken without any special notice; but the bill of course included no clause in favour of the ballot; and this petition was the consequence of that omission. Mr. Turnbull had predicted evil consequences, both in the House and out of it, and was now doing the best in his power to bring about the verification of his own prophecies. Phineas, who reached his lodgings late on the Thursday, found that the town had been in a state of ferment for three days, that on the Wednesday forty or fifty thousand persons had been collected at Primrose Hill, and that the police had been forced to interfere,—and that worse was expected on the Friday. Though Mr. Turnbull had yielded to the Government as to receiving the petition, the crowd was resolved that they would see the petition carried into the House. It was argued that the Government would have done better to have refrained from interfering as to the previously intended arrangement. It would have been easier to deal with a procession than with a mob of men gathered together without any semblance of form. Mr. Mildmay had been asked to postpone the second reading of his bill; but the request had come from his opponents, and he would not yield to it. He said that it would be a bad expedient to close Parliament from fear of the people. Phineas found at the Reform Club on the Thursday evening that members of the House of Commons were requested to enter on the Friday by the door usually used by the peers, and to make their way thence to their own House. He found that his landlord, Mr. Bunce, had been out with the people during the entire three days;—and Mrs. Bunce, with a flood of tears, begged Phineas to interfere as to the Friday. "He's that headstrong that he'll be took if anybody's took; and they say that all Westminster is to be lined with soldiers." Phineas on the Friday morning did have some conversation with his landlord; but his first work on reaching London was to see Lord Chiltern's friends, and tell them of the accident.