Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 12

Autumnal prospects

The session went on very calmly after the opening battle which ousted Lord de Terrier and sent Mr Mildmay back to the Treasury — so calmly that Phineas Finn was unconsciously disappointed, as lacking that excitement of contest to which he had been introduced in the first days of his parliamentary career. From time to time certain waspish attacks were made by Mr Daubeny, now on this Secretary of State and now on that; but they were felt by both parties to mean nothing; and as no great measure was brought forward, nothing which would serve by the magnitude of its interests to divide the liberal side of the House into fractions, Mr Mildmay’s Cabinet was allowed to hold its own in comparative peace and quiet. It was now July — the middle of July — and the member for Loughshane had not yet addressed the House. How often had he meditated doing so; how he had composed his speeches walking round the Park on his way down to the House; how he got his subjects up — only to find on hearing them discussed that he really knew little or nothing about them; how he had his arguments and almost his very words taken out of his mouth by some other member; and lastly, how he had actually been deterred from getting upon his legs by a certain tremor of blood round his heart when the moment for rising had come — of all this he never said a word to any man. Since that last journey to county Mayo, Laurence Fitzgibbon had been his most intimate friend, but he said nothing of all this even to Laurence Fitzgibbon. To his other friend, Lady Laura Standish, he did explain something of his feelings, not absolutely describing to her the extent of hindrance to which his modesty had subjected him, but letting her know that he had his qualms as well as his aspirations. But as Lady Laura always recommended patience, and more than once expressed her opinion that a young member would be better to sit in silence at least for one session, he was not driven to the mortification of feeling that he was incurring her contempt by his bashfulness. As regarded the men among whom he lived, I think he was almost annoyed at finding that no one seemed to expect that he should speak. Barrington Erle, when he had first talked of sending Phineas down to Loughshane, had predicted for him all manner of parliamentary successes, and had expressed the warmest admiration of the manner in which Phineas had discussed this or that subject at the Union. “We have not above one or two men in the House who can do that kind of thing,” Barrington Erle had once said. But now no allusions whatever were made to his powers of speech, and Phineas in his modest moments began to be more amazed than ever that he should find himself seated in that chamber.

To the forms and technicalities of parliamentary business he did give close attention, and was unremitting in his attendance. On one or two occasions he ventured to ask a question of the Speaker, and as the words of experience fell into his ears, he would tell himself that he was going through his education — that he was learning to be a working member, and perhaps to be a statesman. But his regrets with reference to Mr Low and the dingy chambers in Old Square were very frequent; and had it been possible for him to undo all that he had done, he would often have abandoned to someone else the honour of representing the electors of Loughshane.

But he was supported in all his difficulties by the kindness of his friend, Lady Laura Standish. He was often in the house in Portman Square, and was always received with cordiality, and, as he thought, almost with affection. She would sit and talk to him, sometimes saying a word about her brother and sometimes about her father, as though there were more between them than the casual intimacy of London acquaintance. And in Portman Square he had been introduced to Miss Effingham, and had found Miss Effingham to be — very nice. Miss Effingham had quite taken to him, and he had danced with her at two or three parties, talking always, as he did so, about Lady Laura Standish.

“I declare, Laura, I think your friend Mr Finn is in love with you,” said Violet to Lady Laura one night.

“I don’t think that. He is fond of me, and so am I of him. He is so honest, and so naive without being awkward! And then he is undoubtedly clever.”

“And so uncommonly handsome,” said Violet.

“I don’t know that that makes much difference,” said Lady Laura.

“I think it does if a man looks like a gentleman as well.”

“Mr Finn certainly looks like a gentleman,” said Lady Laura.

“And no doubt is one,” said Violet, I wonder whether he has got any money.”

“Not a penny, I should say.”

“How does such a man manage to live? There are so many men like that, and they are always mysteries to me. I suppose he’ll have to marry an heiress.”

“Whoever gets him will not have a bad husband,” said Lady Laura Standish.

Phineas during the summer had very often met Mr Kennedy. They sat on the same side of the House, they belonged to the same club, they dined together more than once in Portman Square, and on one occasion Phineas had accepted an invitation to dinner sent to him by Mr Kennedy himself. “A slower affair I never saw in my life,” he said afterwards to Laurence Fitzgibbon. “Though there were two or three men there who talk everywhere else, they could not talk at his table.” “He gave you good wine, I should say, said Fitzgibbon, “and let me tell you that that covers a multitude of sins.” In spite, however, of all these opportunities for intimacy, now, nearly at the end of the session, Phineas had hardly spoken a dozen words to Mr Kennedy, and really knew nothing whatsoever of the man, as one friend — or even as one acquaintance knows another. Lady Laura had desired him to be on good terms with Mr Kennedy, and for that reason he had dined with him. Nevertheless he disliked Mr Kennedy, and felt quite sure that Mr Kennedy disliked him. He was therefore rather surprised when he received the following note:

“ Albany, — 3, July 17, 186 —

“ MY DEAR MR FINN,

“I shall have some friends at Loughlinter next month, and should be very glad if you will join us. I will name the 16th August. I don’t know whether you shoot, but there are grouse and deer.

“Yours truly,

ROBERT KENNEDY ”

What was he to do? He had already begun to feel rather uncomfortable at the prospect of being separated from all his new friends as soon as the session should be over. Laurence Fitzgibbon had asked him to make another visit to county Mayo, but that he had declined. Lady Laura had said something to him about going abroad with her brother, and since that there had sprung up a sort of intimacy between him and Lord Chiltern; but nothing had been fixed about this foreign trip, and there were pecuniary objections to it which put it almost out of his power. The Christmas holidays he would of course pass with his family at Killaloe, but he hardly liked the idea of hurrying off to Killaloe immediately the session should be over. Everybody around him seemed to be looking forward to pleasant leisure doings in the country. Men talked about grouse, and of the ladies at the houses to which they were going and of the people whom they were to meet. Lady Laura had said nothing of her own movements for the early autumn, and no invitation had come to him to go to the Earl’s country house. He had already felt that everyone would depart and that he would be left — and this had made him uncomfortable. What was he to do with the invitation from Mr Kennedy? He disliked the man, and had told himself half a dozen times that he despised him. Of course he must refuse it. Even for the sake of the scenery, and the grouse, and the pleasant party, and the feeling that going to Loughlinter in August would be the proper sort of thing to do, he must refuse it! But it occurred to him at last that he would call in Portman Square before he wrote his note.

“Of course you will go,” said Lady Laura, in her most decided tone.

“And why?”

“In the first place it is civil in him to ask you, and why should you be uncivil in return?”

“There is nothing uncivil in not accepting a man’s invitation,” said Phineas.

“We are going,” said Lady Laura, and I can only say that I shall be disappointed if you do not go too. Both Mr Gresham and Mr Monk will be there, and I believe they have never stayed together in the same house before. I have no doubt there are a dozen men on your side of the House who would give their eyes to be there. Of course you will go.”

Of course he did go. The note accepting Mr Kennedy’s invitation was written at the Reform Club within a quarter of an hour of his leaving Portman Square. He was very careful in writing to be not more familiar or more civil than Mr Kennedy had been to himself, and then he signed himself “Yours truly, Phineas Finn.” But another proposition was made to him, and a most charming proposition, during the few minutes that he remained in Portman Square. “I am so glad,” said Lady Laura, “because I can now ask you to run down to us at Saulsby for a couple of days on your way to Loughlinter. Till this was fixed I couldn’t ask you to come all the way to Saulsby for two days; and there won’t be room for more between our leaving London and starting to Loughlinter.” Phineas swore that he would have gone if it had been but for one hour, and if Saulsby had been twice the distance. “Very well; come on the 13th and go on the 15th. You must go on the 15th, unless you choose to stay with the housekeeper. And remember, Mr Finn, we have got no grouse at Saulsby.” Phineas declared that he did not care a straw for grouse.

There was another little occurrence which happened before Phineas left London, and which was not altogether so charming as his prospects at Saulsby and Loughlinter. Early in August, when the session was still incomplete, he dined with Laurence Fitzgibbon at the Reform Club. Laurence had specially invited him to do so, and made very much of him on the occasion. “By George, my dear fellow,” Laurence said to him that morning, “nothing has happened to me this session that has given me so much pleasure as your being in the House. Of course there are fellows with whom one is very intimate and of whom one is very fond — and all that sort of thing. But most of these Englishmen on our side are such cold fellows; or else they are like Ratler and Barrington Erle, thinking of nothing but politics. And then as to our own men, there are so many of them one can hardly trust! That’s the truth of it. Your being in the House has been such a comfort to me!” Phineas, who really liked his friend Laurence, expressed himself very warmly in answer to this, and became affectionate, and made sundry protestations of friendship which were perfectly sincere. Their sincerity was tested after dinner, when Fitzgibbon, as they two were seated on a sofa in the corner of the smoking-room, asked Phineas to put his name to the back of a bill for two hundred and fifty pounds at six months’ date.

“But, my dear Laurence,” said Phineas, two hundred and fifty pounds is a sum of money utterly beyond my reach,”

“Exactly, my dear boy, and that’s why I’ve come to you, D’ye think I’d have asked anybody who by any impossibility might have been made to pay anything for me?”

“But what’s the use of it then?”

“All the use in the world. It’s for me to judge of the use, you know. Why, d’ye think I’d ask it if it wasn’t any use? I’ll make it of use, my boy. And take my word, you’ll never hear about it again. It’s just a forestalling of my salary; that’s all. I wouldn’t do it till I saw that we were at least safe for six months to come.” Then Phineas Finn with many misgivings, with much inward hatred of himself for his own weakness, did put his name on the back of the bill which Laurence Fitzgibbon had prepared for his signature.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43