Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 23

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 today.” 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?

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