Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 30

Mr Kennedy”s luck

After the holding of that Cabinet Council of which the author has dared to attempt a slight sketch in the last chapter, there were various visits made to the Queen, first by Mr Mildmay, and then by Lord de Terrier, afterwards by Mr Mildmay and the Duke together, and then again by Lord de Terrier; and there were various explanations made to Parliament in each House, and rivals were very courteous to each other, promising assistance — and at the end of it the old men held their seats. The only change made was effected by the retirement of Sir Marmaduke Morecombe, who was raised to the peerage, and by the selection of — Mr Kennedy to fill his place in the Cabinet. Mr Kennedy during the late debate had made one of those speeches, few and far between, by which he had created for himself a Parliamentary reputation; but, nevertheless, all men expressed their great surprise, and no one could quite understand why Mr Kennedy had been made a Cabinet Minister.

“It is impossible to say whether he is pleased or not,” said Lady Laura, speaking of him to Phineas. “I am pleased, of course.”

“His ambition must be gratified,” said Phineas.

“It would be, if he had any,” said Lady Laura.

“I do not believe in a man lacking ambition.”

“It is hard to say. There are men who by no means wear their hearts upon their sleeves, and my husband is one of them. He told me that it would be unbecoming in him to refuse, and that was all he said to me about it.”

The old men held their seats, but they did so as it were only upon further trial. Mr Mildmay took the course which he had indicated to his colleagues at the Cabinet meeting. Before all the explanations and journeyings were completed, April was over, and the much-needed Whitsuntide holidays were coming on. But little of the routine work of the session had been done; and, as Mr Mildmay told the House more than once, the country would suffer were the Queen to dissolve Parliament at this period of the year. The old Ministers would go on with the business of the country, Lord de Terrier with his followers having declined to take affairs into their hands; and at the close of the session, which should be made as short as possible, writs should be issued for new elections. This was Mr Mildmay’s programme, and it was one of which no one dared to complain very loudly.

Mr Turnbull, indeed, did speak a word of caution. He told Mr Mildmay that he had lost his bill, good in other respects, because he had refused to introduce the ballot into his measure. Let him promise to be wiser for the future, and to obey the manifested wishes of the country, and then all would be well with him. In answer to this, Mr Mildmay declared that to the best of his power of reading the country, his countrymen had manifested no such wish; and that if they did so, if by the fresh election it should be shown that the ballot was in truth desired, he would at once leave the execution of their wishes to abler and younger hands. Mr Turnbull expressed himself perfectly satisfied with the Minister’s answers, and said that the coming election would show whether he or Mr Mildmay were right.

Many men, and among them some of his colleagues, thought that Mr Mildmay had been imprudent. “No man ought ever to pledge himself to anything,” said Sir Harry Coldfoot to the Duke — “that is, to anything unnecessary.” The Duke, who was very true to Mr Mildmay, made no reply to this, but even he thought that his old friend had been betrayed into a promise too rapidly. But the pledge was given, and some people already began to make much of it. There appeared leader after leader in the People’s Banner urging the constituencies to take advantage of the Prime Minister’s words, and to show clearly at the hustings that they desired the ballot. “You had better come over to us, Mr Finn; you had indeed,” said Mr Slide. “Now’s the time to do it, and show yourself a people’s friend. You’ll have to do it sooner or later — whether or no. Come to us and we’ll be your horgan.”

But in those days Phineas was something less in love with Mr Quintus Slide than he had been at the time of the great debate, for he was becoming more and more closely connected with people who in their ways of living and modes of expression were very unlike Mr Slide. This advice was given to him about the end of May, and at that time Lord Chiltern was living with him in the lodgings in Great Marlborough Street. Miss Pouncefoot had temporarily vacated her rooms on the first floor, and the Lord with the broken bones had condescended to occupy them. “I don’t know that I like having a Lord,” Bunce had said to his wife. “It’ll soon come to you not liking anybody decent anywhere,” Mrs Bunce had replied; “but I shan’t ask any questions about it. When you’re wasting so much time and money at your dirty law proceedings, it’s well that somebody should earn something at home.”

There had been many discussions about the bringing of Lord Chiltern up to London, in all of which Phineas had been concerned. Lord Brentford had thought that his son had better remain down at the Willingford Bull; and although he said that the rooms were at his son’s disposal should Lord Chiltern choose to come to London, still he said it in such a way that Phineas, who went down to Willingford, could not tell his friend that he would be made welcome in Portman Square. “I think I shall leave those diggings altogether,” Lord Chiltern said to him. “My father annoys me by everything he says and does, and I annoy him by saying and doing nothing.” Then there came an invitation to him from Lady Laura and Mr Kennedy. Would he come to Grosvenor Place? Lady Laura pressed this very much, though in truth Mr Kennedy had hardly done more than give a cold assent. But Lord Chiltern would not hear of it. “There is some reason for my going to my father’s house,” said he, “though he and I are not the best friends in the world; but there can be no reason for my going to the house of a man I dislike so much as I do Robert Kennedy.” The matter was settled in the manner told above. Miss Pouncefoot’s rooms were prepared for him at Mr Bunce’s house, and Phineas Finn went down to Willingford and brought him up. “I’ve sold Bonebreaker”, he said, “to a young fellow whose neck will certainly be the sacrifice if he attempts to ride him. I’d have given him to you, Phineas, only you wouldn’t have known what to do with him.”

Lord Chiltern when he came up to London was still in bandages, though, as the surgeon said, his bones seemed to have been made to be broken and set again; and his bandages of course were a sufficient excuse for his visiting the house neither of his father nor his brother-in-law. But Lady Laura went to him frequently, and thus became acquainted with our hero’s home and with Mrs Bunce. And there were messages taken from Violet to the man in bandages, some of which lost nothing in the carrying. Once Lady Laura tried to make Violet think that it would be right, or rather not wrong, that they two should go together to Lord Chiltern’s rooms.

“And would you have me tell my aunt, or would you have me not tell her?” Violet asked.

“I would have you do just as you pleased,” Lady Laura answered.

“So I shall,” Violet replied, but I will do nothing that I should be ashamed to tell any one. Your brother professes to be in love with me.”

“He is in love with you,” said Lady Laura. Even you do not pretend to doubt his faith.”

“Very well. In those circumstances a girl should not go to a man’s rooms unless she means to consider herself as engaged to him, even with his sister — not though he had broken every bone in his skin. I know what I may do, Laura, and I know what I mayn’t; and I won’t be led either by you or by my aunt.”

“May I give him your love?”

“No — because you’ll give it in a wrong spirit. He knows well enough that I wish him well — but you may tell him that from me, if you please. He has from me all those wishes which one friend owes to another.”

But there were other messages sent from Violet through Phineas Finn which she worded with more show of affection — perhaps as much for the discomfort of Phineas as for the consolation of Lord Chiltern. “Tell him to take care of himself,” said Violet, and bid him not to have any more of those wild brutes that are not fit for any Christian to ride. Tell him that I say so. It’s a great thing to be brave; but what’s the use of being foolhardy?”

The session was to be closed at the end of June, to the great dismay of London tradesmen and of young ladies who had not been entirely successful in the early season. But before the old Parliament was closed, and the writs for the new election were despatched, there occurred an incident which was of very much importance to Phineas Finn. Near the end of June, when the remaining days of the session were numbered by three or four, he had been dining at Lord Brentford’s house in Portman Square in company with Mr Kennedy. But Lady Laura had not been there. At this time he saw Lord Brentford not unfrequently, and there was always a word said about Lord Chiltern. The father would ask how the son occupied himself, and Phineas would hope — though hitherto he had hoped in vain — that he would induce the Earl to come and see Lord Chiltern. Lord Brentford could never be brought to that; but it was sufficiently evident that he would have done so, had he not been afraid to descend so far from the altitude of his paternal wrath. On this evening, at about eleven, Mr Kennedy and Phineas left the house together, and walked from the Square through Orchard Street into Oxford Street. Here their ways parted, but Phineas crossed the road with Mr Kennedy, as he was making some reply to a second invitation to Loughlinter. Phineas, considering what had been said before on the subject, thought that the invitation came late, and that it was not warmly worded. He had, therefore, declined it, and was in the act of declining it, when he crossed the road with Mr Kennedy. In walking down Orchard Street from the Square he had seen two men standing in the shadow a few yards up a mews or small alley that was there, but had thought nothing of them. It was just that period of the year when there is hardly any of the darkness of night; but at this moment there were symptoms of coming rain, and heavy drops began to fall; and there were big clouds coming and going before the young moon. Mr Kennedy had said that he would get a cab, but he had seen none as he crossed Oxford Street, and had put up his umbrella as he made his way towards Park Street. Phineas as he left him distinctly perceived the same two figures on the other side of Oxford Street, and then turning into the shadow of a butcher’s porch, he saw them cross the street in the wake of Mr Kennedy. It was now raining in earnest, and the few passengers who were out were scudding away quickly, this way and that.

It hardly occurred to Phineas to think that any danger was imminent to Mr Kennedy from the men, but it did occur to him that he might as well take some notice of the matter. Phineas knew that Mr Kennedy would make his way down Park Street, that being his usual route from Portman Square towards his own home, and knew also that he himself could again come across Mr Kennedy’s track by going down North Audley Street to the corner of Grosvenor Square, and thence by Brook Street into Park Street. Without much thought, therefore, he went out of his own course down to the corner of the Square, hurrying his steps till he was running, and then ran along Brook Street, thinking as he went of some special word that he might say to Mr Kennedy as an excuse, should he again come across his late companion. He reached the corner of Park Street before that gentleman could have been there unless he also had run; but just in time to see him as he was coming on — and also to see in the dark glimmering of the slight uncertain moonlight that the two men were behind him. He retreated a step backwards in the corner, resolving that when Mr Kennedy came up, they two would go on together; for now it was clear that Mr Kennedy was followed. But Mr Kennedy did not reach the corner. When he was within two doors of it, one of the men had followed him up quickly, and had thrown something round his throat from behind him. Phineas understood well now that his friend was in the act of being garrotted, and that his instant assistance was needed. He rushed forward, and as the second ruffian had been close upon the footsteps of the first, there was almost instantaneously a concourse of the four men. But there was no fight. The man who had already nearly succeeded in putting Mr Kennedy on to his back, made no attempt to seize his prey when he found that so unwelcome an addition had joined the party, but instantly turned to fly. His companion was turning also, but Phineas was too quick for him, and having seized on to his collar, held to him with all his power. “Dash it all,” said the man, didn’t yer see as how I was a-hurrying up to help the gen’leman myself?” Phineas, however, hadn’t seen this, and held on gallantly, and in a couple of minutes the first ruffian was back again upon the spot in the custody of a policeman. “You’ve done it uncommon neat, sir,” said the policeman, complimenting Phineas upon his performance. “If the gen’leman ain’t none the worst for it, it’ll have been a very pretty evening’s amusement.” Mr Kennedy was now leaning against the railings, and hitherto had been unable to declare whether he was really injured or not, and it was not till a second policeman came up that the hero of the night was at liberty to attend closely to his friend.

Mr Kennedy, when he was able to speak, declared that for a minute or two he had thought that his neck had been broken; and he was not quite convinced till he found himself in his own house, that nothing more serious had really happened to him than certain bruises round his throat. The policeman was for a while anxious that at any rate Phineas should go with him to the police office; but at last consented to take the addresses of the two gentlemen. When he found that Mr Kennedy was a member of Parliament, and that he was designated as Right Honourable, his respect for the garrotter became more great, and he began to feel that the night was indeed a night of great importance. He expressed unbounded admiration at Mr Finn’s success in his own line, and made repeated promises that the men should be forthcoming on the morrow. Could a cab be got? Of course a cab could be got. A cab was got, and within a quarter of an hour of the making of the attack, the two members of Parliament were on their way to Grosvenor Place.

There was hardly a word spoken in the cab, for Mr Kennedy was in pain. When, however, they reached the door in Grosvenor Place, Phineas wanted to go, and leave his friend with the servants, but this the Cabinet Minister would not allow, “Of course you must see my wife,” he said. So they went upstairs into the drawing-room, and then upon the stairs, by the lights of the house, Phineas could perceive that his companion’s face was bruised and black with dirt, and that his cravat was gone.

“I have been garrotted,” said the Cabinet Minister to his wife.

“What?”

“Simply that — or should have been, if he had not been there. How he came there, God only knows.”

The wife’s anxiety, and then her gratitude, need hardly be described — nor the astonishment of the husband, which by no means decreased on reflection, at the opportune re-appearance in the nick of time of the man whom three minutes before the attack he had left in the act of going in the opposite direction.

“I had seen the men, and thought it best to run round by the corner of Grosvenor Square,” said Phineas.

“May God bless you,” said Lady Laura.

“Amen,” said the Cabinet Minister.

“I think he was born to be my friend,” said Lady Laura.

The Cabinet Minister said nothing more that night. He was never given to much talking, and the little accident which had just occurred to him did not tend to make words easy to him. But he pressed our hero’s hand, and Lady Laura said that of course Phineas would come to them on the morrow. Phineas remarked that his first business must be to go to the police office, but he promised that he would come down to Grosvenor Place immediately afterwards. Then Lady Laura also pressed his hand, and looked — she looked, I think, as though she thought that Phineas would only have done right had he repeated the offence which he had committed under the waterfall of Loughlinter.

“Garrotted!” said Lord Chiltern, when Phineas told him the story before they went to bed that night. He had been smoking, sipping brandy and water, and waiting for Finn’s return. “Robert Kennedy garrotted!”

“The fellow was in the act of doing it.”

“And you stopped him?”

“Yes — I got there just in time. Wasn’t it lucky?”

“You ought to be garrotted yourself. I should have lent the man a hand had I been there.”

“How can you say anything so horrible? But you are drinking too much, old fellow, and I shall lock the bottle up.”

“If there were no one in London drank more than I do, the wine merchants would have a bad time of it. And so the new Cabinet Minister has been garrotted in the street. Of course I’m sorry for poor Laura’s sake.”

“Luckily he’s not much the worse for it — only a little bruised.”

“I wonder whether it’s on the cards he should be improved by it — worse, except in the way of being strangled, he could not be. However, as he’s my brother-in-law, I’m obliged to you for rescuing him. Come, I’ll go to bed. I must say, if he was to be garrotted I should like to have been there to see it.” That was the manner in which Lord Chiltern received the tidings of the terrible accident which had occurred to his near relative.

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