Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 28

The second reading is carried

The debate on the bill was prolonged during the whole of that week. Lord Brentford, who loved his seat in the Cabinet and the glory of being a Minister, better even than he loved his borough, had taken a gloomy estimate when he spoke of twenty-seven defaulters, and of the bill as certainly lost. Men who were better able than he to make estimates — the Bonteens and Fitzgibbons on each side of the House, and above all, the Ratlers and Robys, produced lists from day to day which varied now by three names in one direction, then by two in another, and which fluctuated at last by units only. They all concurred in declaring that it would be a very near division. A great effort was made to close the debate on the Friday, but it failed, and the full tide of speech was carried on till the following Monday. On that morning Phineas heard Mr Ratler declare at the club that, as far as his judgment went, the division at that moment was a fair subject for a bet. “There are two men doubtful in the House,” said Ratler, “and if one votes on one side and one on the other, or if neither votes at all, it will be a tie.” Mr Roby, however, the whip on the other side, was quite sure that one at least of these gentlemen would go into his lobby, and that the other would not go into Mr Ratler’s lobby. I am inclined to think that the town was generally inclined to put more confidence in the accuracy of Mr Roby than in that of Mr Ratler; and among betting men there certainly was a point given by those who backed the Conservatives. The odds, however, were lost, for on the division the numbers in the two lobbies were equal, and the Speaker gave his casting vote in favour of the Government. The bill was read a second time, and was lost, as a matter of course, in reference to any subsequent action. Mr Roby declared that even Mr Mildmay could not go on with nothing but the Speaker’s vote to support him. Mr Mildmay had no doubt felt that he could not go on with his bill from the moment in which Mr Turnbull had declared his opposition; but he could not with propriety withdraw it in deference to Mr Turnbull’s opinion.

During the week Phineas had had his hands sufficiently full. Twice he had gone to the potted peas inquiry; but he had been at the office of the People’s Banner more often than that. Bunce had been very resolute in his determination to bring an action against the police for false imprisonment, even though he spent every shilling of his savings in doing so. And when his wife, in the presence of Phineas, begged that bygones might be bygones, reminding him that spilt milk could not be recovered, he called her a mean-spirited woman. Then Mrs Bunce wept a flood of tears, and told her favourite lodger that for her all comfort in this world was over. “Drat the reformers, I say. And I wish there was no Parliament; so I do. What’s the use of all the voting, when it means nothing but dry bread and cross words?” Phineas by no means encouraged his landlord in his litigious spirit, advising him rather to keep his money in his pocket, and leave the fighting of the battle to the columns of the Banner — which would fight it, at any rate, with economy. But Bunce, though he delighted in the Banner, and showed an unfortunate readiness to sit at the feet of Mr Quintus Slide, would have his action at law — in which resolution Mr Slide did, I fear, encourage him behind the back of his better friend, Phineas Finn.

Phineas went with Bunce to Mr Low’s chambers — for Mr Low had in some way become acquainted with the law-stationer’s journeyman — and there some very good advice was given. “Have you asked yourself what is your object, Mr Bunce?” said Mr Low. Mr Bunce declared he had asked himself that question, and had answered it. His object was redress. “In the shape of compensation to yourself,” suggested Mr Low. No; Mr Bunce would not admit that he personally required any compensation. The redress wanted was punishment to the man. “Is it for vengeance?” asked Mr Low. No; it was not for vengeance, Mr Bunce declared. “It ought not to be,” continued Mr Low; “because, though you think that the man exceeded in his duty, you must feel that he was doing so through no personal ill-will to yourself.”

“What I want is, to have the fellows kept in their proper places,” said Mr Bunce.

“Exactly — and therefore these things, when they occur, are mentioned in the press and in Parliament — and the attention of a Secretary of State is called to them. Thank God, we don’t have very much of that kind of thing in England.”

“Maybe we shall have more if we don’t look to it,” said Bunce stoutly.

“We always are looking to it,” said Mr Low — “looking to it very carefully. But I don’t think anything is to be done in that way by indictment against a single man, whose conduct has been already approved by the magistrates. If you want notoriety, Mr Bunce, and don’t mind what you pay for it; or have got anybody else to pay for it; then indeed — ”

“There ain’t nobody to pay for it,” said Bunce, waxing angry.

“Then I certainly should not pay for it myself if I were you,” said Mr Low.

But Bunce was not to be counselled out of his intention. When he was out in the square with Phineas he expressed great anger against Mr Low. “He don’t know what patriotism means,” said the law scrivener. “And then he talks to me about notoriety! It has always been the same way with ’em. If a man shows a spark of public feeling, it’s all ambition. I don’t want no notoriety. I wants to earn my bread peaceable, and to be let alone when I’m about my own business. I pays rates for the police to look after rogues, not to haul folks about and lock ’em up for days and nights, who is doing what they has a legal right to do.” After that, Bunce went to his attorney, to the great detriment of the business at the stationer’s shop, and Phineas visited the office of the People’s Banner. There he wrote a leading article about Bunce’s case, for which he was in due time to be paid a guinea. After all, the People’s Banner might do more for him in this way than ever would be done by Parliament. Mr Slide, however, and another gentleman at the Banner office, much older than Mr Slide, who announced himself as the actual editor, were anxious that Phineas should rid himself of his heterodox political resolutions about the ballot. It was not that they cared much about his own opinions; and when Phineas attempted to argue with the editor on the merits of the ballot, the editor put him down very shortly. “We go in for it, Mr Finn,” he said. If Mr Finn would go in for it too, the editor seemed to think that Mr Finn might make himself very useful at the Banner Office. Phineas stoutly maintained that this was impossible — and was therefore driven to confine his articles in the service of the people to those open subjects on which his opinions agreed with those of the People’s Banner. This was his second article, and the editor seemed to think that, backward as he was about the ballot, he was too useful an aid to be thrown aside. A member of Parliament is not now all that he was once, but still there is a prestige in the letters affixed to his name which makes him loom larger in the eyes of the world than other men. Get into Parliament, if it be but for the borough of Loughshane, and the People’s Banners all round will be glad of your assistance, as will also companies limited and unlimited to a very marvellous extent. Phineas wrote his article and promised to look in again, and so they went on. Mr Quintus Slide continued to assure him that a “horgan” was indispensable to him, and Phineas began to accommodate his ears to the sound which had at first been so disagreeable. He found that his acquaintance, Mr Slide, had ideas of his own as to getting into the ‘Ouse at some future time. “I always look upon the ‘Ouse as my oyster, and ’ere ‘s my sword,” said Mr Slide, brandishing an old quill pen. “And I feel that if once there I could get along. I do indeed. What is it a man wants? It’s only pluck — that he shouldn’t funk because a ‘undred other men are looking at him.” Then Phineas asked him whether he had any idea of a constituency, to which Mr Slide replied that he had no absolutely formed intention. Many boroughs, however, would doubtless be set free from aristocratic influence by the redistribution of seats which must take place, as Mr Slide declared, at any rate in the next session. Then he named the borough of Loughton; and Phineas Finn, thinking of Saulsby, thinking of the Earl, thinking of Lady Laura, and thinking of Violet, walked away disgusted. Would it not be better that the quiet town, clustering close round the walls of Saulsby, should remain as it was, than that it should be polluted by the presence of Mr Quintus Slide?

On the last day of the debate, at a few moments before four o’clock, Phineas encountered another terrible misfortune. He had been at the potted peas since twelve, and had on this occasion targed two or three commissariat officers very tightly with questions respecting cabbages and potatoes, and had asked whether the officers on board a certain ship did not always eat preserved asparagus while the men had not even a bean. I fear that he had been put up to this business by Mr Quintus Slide, and that he made himself nasty. There was, however, so much nastiness of the kind going, that his little effort made no great difference. The conservative members of the Committee, on whose side of the House the inquiry had originated, did not scruple to lay all manner of charges to officers whom, were they themselves in Power, they would be bound to support and would support with all their energies. About a quarter before four the members of the Committee had dismissed their last witness for the day, being desirous of not losing their chance of seats on so important an occasion, and hurried down into the lobby — so that they might enter the House before prayers. Phineas here was buttonholed by Barrington Erle, who said something to him as to the approaching division. They were standing in front of the door of the House, almost in the middle of the lobby, with a crowd of members around them — on a spot which, as frequenters know, is hallowed ground, and must not be trodden by strangers. He was in the act of answering Erle, when he was touched on the arm, and on turning round, saw Mr Clarkson. “About that little bill, Mr Finn,” said the horrible man, turning his chin round over his white cravat. “They always tell me at your lodgings that you ain’t at home.” By this time a policeman was explaining to Mr Clarkson with gentle violence that he must not stand there — that he must go aside into one of the corners. “I know all that,” said Mr Clarkson, retreating. “Of course I do. But what is a man to do when a gent won’t see him at home?” Mr Clarkson stood aside in his corner quietly, giving the policeman no occasion for further action against him; but in retreating he spoke loud, and there was a lull of voices around, and twenty members at least had heard what had been said. Phineas Finn no doubt had his privilege, but Mr Clarkson was determined that the privilege should avail him as little as possible.

It was very hard. The real offender, the Lord of the Treasury, the peer’s son, with a thousand a year paid by the country was not treated with this cruel persecution. Phineas had in truth never taken a farthing from any one but his father; and though doubtless he owed something at this moment, he had no creditor of his own that was even angry with him. As the world goes he was a clear man — but for this debt of his friend Fitzgibbon. He left Barrington Erle in the lobby, and hurried into the House, blushing up to the eyes. He looked for Fitzgibbon in his place, but the Lord of the Treasury was not as yet there. Doubtless he would be there for the division, and Phineas resolved that he would speak a bit of his mind before he let his friend out of his sight.

There were some great speeches made on that evening. Mr Gresham delivered an oration of which men said that it would be known in England as long as there were any words remaining of English eloquence. In it he taunted Mr Turnbull with being a recreant to the people, of whom he called himself so often the champion. But Mr Turnbull was not in the least moved. Mr Gresham knew well enough that Mr Turnbull was not to be moved by any words — but the words were not the less telling to the House and to the country. Men, who heard it, said that Mr Gresham forgot himself in that speech, forgot his party, forgot his strategy, forgot his long-drawn schemes — even his love of applause, and thought only of his cause. Mr Daubeny replied to him with equal genius, and with equal skill — if not with equal heart. Mr Gresham had asked for the approbation of all present and of all future reformers. Mr Daubeny denied him both — the one because he would not succeed, and the other because he would not have deserved success. Then Mr Mildmay made his reply, getting up at about three o’clock, and uttered a prayer — a futile prayer — that this his last work on behalf of his countrymen might be successful. His bill was read a second time, as I have said before, in obedience to the casting vote of the Speaker — but a majority such as that was tantamount to a defeat.

There was, of course, on that night no declaration as to what ministers would do. Without a meeting of the Cabinet, and without some further consideration, though each might know that the bill would be withdrawn, they could not say in what way they would act. But late as was the hour, there were many words on the subject before members were in their beds. Mr Turnbull and Mr Monk left the House together, and perhaps no two gentlemen in it had in former sessions been more in the habit of walking home arm-in-arm and discussing what each had heard and what each had said in that assembly. Latterly these two men had gone strangely asunder in their paths — very strangely for men who had for years walked so closely together. And this separation had been marked by violent words spoken against each other — by violent words, at least, spoken against him in office by the one who had never contaminated his hands by the Queen’s shilling. And yet, on such an occasion as this, they were able to walk away from the House arm-in-arm, and did not fly at each other’s throat by the way.

“Singular enough, is it not,” said Mr Turnbull, that the thing should have been so close?”

“Very odd,” said Mr Monk; but men have said that it would be so all the week.”

“Gresham was very fine,” said Mr Turnbull.

“Very fine, indeed. I never have heard anything like it before.”

“Daubeny was very powerful too,” said Mr Turnbull.

“Yes — no doubt. The occasion was great, and he answered to the spur. But Gresham’s was the speech of the debate.”

“Well — yes; perhaps it was,” said Mr Turnbull, who was thinking of his own flight the other night, and who among his special friends had been much praised for what he had then done. But of course he made no allusion to his own doings — or to those of Mr Monk. In this way they conversed for some twenty minutes, till they parted; but neither of them interrogated the other as to what either might be called upon to do in consequence of the division which had just been effected. They might still be intimate friends, but the days of confidence between them were passed.

Phineas had seen Laurence Fitzgibbon enter the House — which he did quite late in the night, so as to be in time for the division. No doubt he had dined in the House, and had been all the evening in the library — or in the smoking-room. When Mr Mildmay was on his legs making his reply, Fitzgibbon had sauntered in, not choosing to wait till he might be rung up by the bell at the last moment. Phineas was near him as they passed by the tellers, near him in the lobby, and near him again as they all passed back into the House. But at the last moment he thought that he would miss his prey. In the crowd as they left the House he failed to get his hand upon his friend’s shoulder. But he hurried down the members’ passage, and just at the gate leading out into Westminster Hall he overtook Fitzgibbon walking arm-in-arm with Barrington Erle.

“Laurence,” he said, taking hold of his countryman’s arm with a decided grasp, “I want to speak to you for a moment, if you please.”

“Speak away,” said Laurence. Then Phineas, looking up into his face, knew very well that he had been — what the world calls, dining.

Phineas remembered at the moment that Barrington Erle had been close to him when the odious money-lender had touched his arm and made his inquiry about that “little bill.” He much wished to make Erle understand that the debt was not his own — that he was not in the hands of usurers in reference to his own concerns. But there was a feeling within him that he still — even still — owed something to his friendship to Fitzgibbon. “Just give me your arm, and come on with me for a minute,” said Phineas. “Erle will excuse us.”

“Oh, blazes!” said Laurence, what is it you’re after? I ain’t good at private conferences at three in the morning. We’re all out, and isn’t that enough for ye?”

“I have been dreadfully annoyed tonight,” said Phineas, “and I wished to speak to you about it.”

“Bedad, Finn, my boy, and there are a good many of us are annoyed — eh, Barrington?”

Phineas perceived clearly that though Fitzgibbon had been dining, there was as much of cunning in all this as of wine, and he was determined not to submit to such unlimited ill-usage. “My annoyance comes from your friend, Mr Clarkson, who had the impudence to address me in the lobby of the House.”

“And serve you right, too, Finn, my boy. Why the devil did you sport your oak to him? He has told me all about it, There ain’t such a patient little fellow as Clarkson anywhere, if you’ll only let him have his own way. He’ll look in, as he calls it, three times a week for a whole season, and do nothing further. Of course he don’t like to be looked out.”

“Is that the gentleman with whom the police interfered in the lobby?” Erle inquired.

“A confounded bill discounter to whom our friend here has introduced me — for his own purposes,” said Phineas.

“A very gentleman-like fellow,” said Laurence. “Barrington knows him, I daresay. Look here, Finn, my boy, take my advice. Ask him to breakfast, and let him understand that the house will always be open to him.” After this Laurence Fitzgibbon and Barrington Erle got into a cab together, and were driven away.

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