Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 32

Lady Laura Kennedy”s headache

Phineas went down to Loughlinter early in July, taking Loughton in his way. He stayed there one night at the inn, and was introduced to sundry influential inhabitants of the borough by Mr Grating, the ironmonger, who was known by those who knew Loughton to be a very strong supporter of the Earl’s interest. Mr Grating and about half a dozen others of the tradesmen of the town came to the inn, and met Phineas in the parlour. He told them he was a good sound Liberal and a supporter of Mr Mildmay’s Government, of which their neighbour the Earl was so conspicuous an ornament. This was almost all that was said about the Earl out loud; but each individual man of Loughton then present took an opportunity during the meeting of whispering into Mr Finn’s ear a word or two to show that he also was admitted to the secret councils of the borough — that he too could see the inside of the arrangement. “Of course we must support the Earl,” one said. “Never mind what you hear about a Tory candidate, Mr Finn,” whispered a second; “the Earl can do what he pleases here.” And it seemed to Phineas that it was thought by them all to be rather a fine thing to be thus held in the hand by an English nobleman. Phineas could not but reflect much upon this as he lay in his bed at the Loughton inn. The great political question on which the political world was engrossed up in London was the enfranchisement of Englishmen — of Englishmen down to the rank of artisans and labourers — and yet when he found himself in contact with individual Englishmen, with men even very much above the artisan and the labourer, he found that they rather liked being bound hand and foot, and being kept as tools in the political pocket of a rich man. Every one of those Loughton tradesmen was proud of his own personal subjection to the Earl!

From Loughton he went to Loughlinter, having promised to be back in the borough for the election. Mr Grating would propose him, and he was to be seconded by Mr Shortribs, the butcher and grazier. Mention had been made of a Conservative candidate, and Mr Shortribs had seemed to think that a good stand-up fight upon English principles, with a clear understanding, of course, that victory should prevail on the liberal side, would be a good thing for the borough. But the Earl’s man of business saw Phineas on the morning of his departure, and told him not to regard Mr Shortribs. “They’d all like it,” said the man of business; “and I daresay they’ll have enough of it when this Reform Bill is passed; but at present no one will be fool enough to come and spend his money here. We have them all in hand too well for that, Mr Finn!”

He found the great house at Loughlinter nearly empty, Mr Kennedy’s mother was there, and Lord Brentford was there, and Lord Brentford’s private secretary, and Mr Kennedy’s private secretary. At present that was the entire party. Lady Baldock was expected there, with her daughter and Violet Effingham; but, as well as Phineas could learn, they would not be at Loughlinter until after he had left it. There had come up lately a rumour that there would be an autumn session — that the Houses would sit through October and a part of November, in order that Mr Mildmay might try the feeling of the new Parliament. If this were to be so, Phineas had resolved that, in the event of his election at Loughton, he would not return to Ireland till after this autumn session should be over. He gave an account to the Earl, in the presence of the Earl’s son-in-law, of what had taken place at Loughton, and the Earl expressed himself as satisfied. It was manifestly a great satisfaction to Lord Brentford that he should still have a borough in his pocket, and the more so because there were so very few noblemen left who had such property belonging to them. He was very careful in his speech, never saying in so many words that the privilege of returning a member was his own; but his meaning was not the less clear.

Those were dreary days at Loughlinter. There was fishing — if Phineas chose to fish; and he was told that he could shoot a deer if he was minded to go out alone. But it seemed as though it were the intention of the host that his guests should spend their time profitably. Mr Kennedy himself was shut up with books and papers all the morning, and always took up a book after dinner. The Earl also would read a little — and then would sleep a good deal. Old Mrs Kennedy slept also, and Lady Laura looked as though she would like to sleep if it were not that her husband’s eye was upon her. As it was, she administered tea, Mr Kennedy not liking the practice of having it handed round by a servant when none were there but members of the family circle, and she read novels. Phineas got hold of a stiff bit of reading for himself, and tried to utilise his time. He took Alison in hand, and worked his way gallantly through a couple of volumes. But even he, more than once or twice, found himself on the very verge of slumber. Then he would wake up and try to think about things. Why was he, Phineas Finn, an Irishman from Killaloe, living in that great house of Loughlinter as though he were one of the family, striving to kill the hours, and feeling that he was in some way subject to the dominion of his host? Would it not be better for him to get up and go away? In his heart of hearts he did not like Mr Kennedy, though he believed him to be a good man. And of what service to him was it to like Lady Laura, now that Lady Laura was a possession in the hands of Mr Kennedy? Then he would tell himself that he owed his position in the world entirely to Lady Laura, and that he was ungrateful to feel himself ever dull in her society. And, moreover, there was something to be done in the world beyond making love and being merry. Mr Kennedy could occupy himself with a blue book for hours together without wincing. So Phineas went to work again with his Alison, and read away till he nodded.

In those days he often wandered up and down the Linter and across the moor to the Linn, and so down to the lake. He would take a book with him, and would seat himself down on spots which he loved, and would pretend to read — but I do not think that he got much advantage from his book. He was thinking of his life, and trying to calculate whether the wonderful success which he had achieved would ever be of permanent value to him. Would he be nearer to earning his bread when he should be member for Loughton than he had been when he was member for Loughshane? Or was there before him any slightest probability that he would ever earn his bread? And then he thought of Violet Effingham, and was angry with himself for remembering at that moment that Violet Effingham was the mistress of a large fortune.

Once before when he was sitting beside the Linter he had made up his mind to declare his passion to Lady Laura — and he had done so on the very spot. Now, within a twelvemonth of that time, he made up his mind on the same spot to declare his passion to Miss Effingham, and he thought his best mode of carrying his suit would be to secure the assistance of Lady Laura. Lady Laura, no doubt, had been very anxious that her brother should marry Violet; but Lord Chiltern, as Phineas knew, had asked for Violet’s hand twice in vain; and, moreover, Chiltern himself had declared to Phineas that he would never ask for it again. Lady Laura, who was always reasonable, would surely perceive that there was no hope of success for her brother. That Chiltern would quarrel with him — would quarrel with him to the knife — he did not doubt; but he felt that no fear of such a quarrel as that should deter him. He loved Violet Effingham, and he must indeed be pusillanimous if, loving her as he did, he was deterred from expressing his love from any fear of a suitor whom she did not favour. He would not willingly be untrue to his friendship for Lady Laura’s brother. Had there been a chance for Lord Chiltern he would have abstained from putting himself forward. But what was the use of his abstaining, when by doing so he could in no wise benefit his friend — when the result of his doing so would be that some interloper would come in and carry off the prize? He would explain all this to Lady Laura, and, if the prize would be kind to him, he would disregard the anger of Lord Chiltern, even though it might be anger to the knife.

As he was thinking of all this Lady Laura stood before him where he was sitting at the top of the falls. At this moment he remembered well all the circumstances of the scene when he had been there with her at his last visit to Loughlinter. How things had changed since then! Then he had loved Lady Laura with all his heart, and he had now already brought himself to regard her as a discreet matron whom to love would be almost as unreasonable as though he were to entertain a passion for the Lord Chancellor. The reader will understand how thorough had been the cure effected by Lady Laura’s marriage and the interval of a few months, when the swain was already prepared to make this lady the depositary of his confidence in another matter of love. “You are often here, I suppose?” said Lady Laura, looking down upon him as he sat upon the rock.

“Well — yes; not very often; I come here sometimes because the view down upon the lake is so fine.”

“It is the prettiest spot about the place. I hardly ever get here now. Indeed this is only the second time that I have been up since we have been at home, and then I came to bring papa here.” There was a little wooden seat near to the rock upon which Phineas had been lying, and upon this Lady Laura sat down. Phineas, with his eyes turned upon the lake, was considering how he might introduce the subject of his love for Violet Effingham; but he did not find the matter very easy. He had just resolved to begin by saying that Violet would certainly never accept Lord Chiltern, when Lady Laura spoke a word or two which stopped him altogether. “How well I remember,” she said, “the day when you and I were here last autumn!”

“So do I. You told me then that you were going to marry Mr Kennedy. How much has happened since then!”

“Much indeed! Enough for a whole lifetime. And yet how slow the time has gone!”

“I do not think it has been slow with me,” said Phineas.

“No; You have been active. You have had your hands full of work. I am beginning to think that it is a great curse to have been born a woman.”

“And yet I have heard you say that a woman may do as much as a man.”

“That was before I had learned my lesson properly. I know better than that now. Oh dear! I have no doubt it is all for the best as it is, but I have a kind of wish that I might be allowed to go out and milk the cows.”

“And may you not milk the cows if you wish it, Lady Laura?”

“By no means — not only not milk them, but hardly look at them. At any rate, I must not talk about them.” Phineas of course understood that she was complaining of her husband, and hardly knew how to reply to her. He had been sharp enough to perceive already that Mr Kennedy was an autocrat in his own house, and he knew Lady Laura well enough to be sure that such masterdom would be very irksome to her. But he had not imagined that she would complain to him. “It was so different at Saulsby,” Lady Laura continued. “Everything there seemed to be my own.”

“And everything here is your own.”

“Yes — according to the prayer book. And everything in truth is my own — as all the dainties at the banquet belonged to Sancho the Governor.”

“You mean,” said he — and then he hesitated; you mean that Mr Kennedy stands over you, guarding you for your own welfare, as the doctor stood over Sancho and guarded him?”

There was a pause before she answered — a long pause, during which he was looking away over the lake, and thinking how he might introduce the subject of his love. But long as was the pause, he had not begun when Lady Laura was again speaking. “The truth is, my friend,” she said, “that I have made a mistake.

“A mistake?”

“Yes, Phineas, a mistake. I have blundered as fools blunder, thinking that I was clever enough to pick my footsteps aright without asking counsel from any one. I have blundered and stumbled and fallen, and now I am so bruised that I am not able to stand upon my feet.” The word that struck him most in all this was his own Christian name. She had never called him Phineas before. He was aware that the circle of his acquaintance had fallen into a way of miscalling him by his Christian name, as one observes to be done now and again in reference to some special young man. Most of the men whom he called his friends called him Phineas. Even the Earl had done so more than once on occasions in which the greatness of his position had dropped for a moment out of his mind. Mrs Low had called him Phineas when she regarded him as her husband’s most cherished pupil; and Mrs Bunce had called him Mr Phineas. He had always been Phineas to everybody at Killaloe. But still he was quite sure that Lady Laura had never so called him before. Nor would she have done so now in her husband’s presence. He was sure of that also.

“You mean that you are unhappy?” he said, still looking away from her towards the lake.

“Yes, I do mean that. Though I do not know why I should come and tell you so — except that I am still blundering and stumbling, and have fallen into a way of hurting myself at every step.”

“You can tell no one who is more anxious for your happiness,” said Phineas.

“That is a very pretty speech, but what would you do for my happiness? Indeed, what is it possible that you should do? I mean it as no rebuke when I say that my happiness or unhappiness is a matter as to which you will soon become perfectly indifferent.”

“Why should you say so, Lady Laura?”

“Because it is natural that it should be so. You and Mr Kennedy might have been friends. Not that you will be, because you are unlike each other in all your ways. But it might have been so.”

“And are not you and I to be friends?” he asked.

“No. In a very few months you will not think of telling me what are your desires or what your sorrows — and as for me, it will be out of the question that I should tell mine to you. How can you be my friend?”

“If you were not quite sure of my friendship, Lady Laura, you would not speak to me as you are speaking now.” Still he did not look at her, but lay with his face supported on his hands, and his eyes turned away upon the lake. But she, where she was sitting, could see him, and was aided by her sight in making comparisons in her mind between the two men who had been her lovers — between him whom she had taken and him whom she had left. There was something in the hard, dry, unsympathising, unchanging virtues of her husband which almost revolted her. He had not a fault, but she had tried him at every point and had been able to strike no spark of fire from him. Even by disobeying she could produce no heat — only an access of firmness. How would it have been with her had she thrown all ideas of fortune to the winds, and linked her lot to that of the young Phoebus who was lying at her feet? If she had ever loved any one she had loved him. And she had not thrown away her love for money. So she swore to herself over and over again, trying to console herself in her cold unhappiness. She had married a rich man in order that she might be able to do something in the world — and now that she was this rich man’s wife she found that she could do nothing. The rich man thought it to be quite enough for her to sit at home and look after his welfare. In the meantime young Phoebus — her Phoebus as he had been once — was thinking altogether of someone else.

“Phineas,” she said, slowly, I have in you such perfect confidence that I will tell you the truth — as one man may tell it to another. I wish you would go from here.”

“What, at once?”

“Not today, or tomorrow. Stay here now till the election; but do not return. He will ask you to come, and press you hard, and will be hurt — for, strange to say, with all his coldness, he really likes you. He has a pleasure in seeing you here. But he must not have that pleasure at the expense of trouble to me.”

“And why is it a trouble to you?” he asked. Men are such fools — so awkward, so unready, with their wits ever behind the occasion by a dozen seconds or so! As soon as the words were uttered, he knew that they should not have been spoken.

“Because I am a fool,” she said. Why else? Is not that enough for you?”

“Laura — “ he said.

“No — no; I will have none of that. I am a fool, but not such a fool as to suppose that any cure is to be found there.”

“Only say what I can do for you, though it be with my entire life, and I will do it.”

“You can do nothing — except to keep away from me.”

“Are you earnest in telling me that?” Now at last he had turned himself round and was looking at her, and as he looked he saw the hat of a man appearing up the path, and immediately afterwards the face. It was the hat and face of the laird of Loughlinter. “Here is Mr Kennedy,” said Phineas, in a tone of voice not devoid of dismay and trouble.

“So I perceive,” said Lady Laura. But there was no dismay or trouble in the tone of her voice.

In the countenance of Mr Kennedy, as he approached closer, there was not much to be read — only, perhaps, some slight addition of gloom, or rather, perhaps, of that frigid propriety of moral demeanour for which he had always been conspicuous, which had grown upon him at his marriage, and which had been greatly increased by the double action of being made a Cabinet Minister and being garrotted. “I am glad that your headache is better,” he said to his wife, who had risen from her seat to meet him. Phineas also had risen, and was now looking somewhat sheepish where he stood.

“I came out because it was worse,” she said. It irritated me so that I could not stand the house any longer.”

“I will send to Callender for Dr Macnuthrie.”

“Pray do nothing of the kind, Robert. I do not want Dr Macnuthrie at all.”

“Where there is illness, medical advice is always expedient.”

“I am not ill. A headache is not illness.”

“I had thought it was,” said Mr Kennedy, very drily.

“At any rate, I would rather not have Dr Macnuthrie.”

“I am sure it cannot do you any good to climb up here in the heat of the sun. Had you been here long, Finn?”

“All the morning — here, or hereabouts. I clambered up from the lake and had a book in my pocket.”

“And you happened to come across him by accident?” Mr Kennedy asked. There was something so simple in the question that its very simplicity proved that there was no suspicion.

“Yes — by chance,” said Lady Laura. But every one at Loughlinter always comes up here. If any one ever were missing whom I wanted to find, this is where I should look.”

“I am going on towards Linter forest to meet Blane,” said Mr Kennedy. Blane was the gamekeeper. “If you don’t mind the trouble, Finn, I wish you’d take Lady Laura down to the house. Do not let her stay out in the heat. I will take care that somebody goes over to Callender for Dr Macnuthrie.” Then Mr Kennedy went on, and Phineas was left with the charge of taking Lady Laura back to the house. When Mr Kennedy’s hat had first appeared coming up the walk, Phineas had been ready to proclaim himself prepared for any devotion in the service of Lady Laura. Indeed, he had begun to reply with criminal tenderness to the indiscreet avowal which Lady Laura had made to him. But he felt now, after what had just occurred in the husband”s presence, that any show of tenderness — of criminal tenderness — was impossible. The absence of all suspicion on the part of Mr Kennedy had made Phineas feel that he was bound by all social laws to refrain from such tenderness. Lady Laura began to descend the path before him without a word — and went on, and on, as though she would have reached the house without speaking, had he not addressed her. “Does your head still pain you?” he asked.

“Of course it does.”

“I suppose he is right in saying that you should not be out in the heat.”

“I do not know. It is not worth while to think about that. He sends me in, and so of course I must go. And he tells you to take me, and so of course you must take me.”

“Would you wish that I should let you go alone?”

“Yes, I would. Only he will be sure to find it out; and you must not tell him that you left me at my request.”

“Do you think that I am afraid of him?” said Phineas.

“Yes — I think you are. I know that I am, and that papa is; and that his mother hardly dares to call her soul her own. I do not know why you should escape.”

“Mr Kennedy is nothing to me.”

“He is something to me, and so I suppose I had better go on. And now I shall have that horrid man from the little town pawing me and covering everything with snuff, and bidding me take Scotch physic — which seems to increase in quantity and nastiness as doses in England decrease. And he will stand over me to see that I take it.”

“What — the doctor from Callender?”

“No — but Mr Kennedy will. If he advised me to have a hole in my glove mended, he would ask me before he went to bed whether it was done. He never forgot anything in his life, and was never unmindful of anything. That I think will do, Mr Finn. You have brought me out from the trees, and that may be taken as bringing me home. We shall hardly get scolded if we part here. Remember what I told you up above. And remember also that it is in your power to do nothing else for me. Goodbye.” So he turned away towards the lake, and let Lady Laura go across the wide lawn to the house by herself.

He had failed altogether in his intention of telling his friend of his love for Violet, and had come to perceive that he could not for the present carry out that intention. After what had passed it would be impossible for him to go to Lady Laura with a passionate tale of his longing for Violet Effingham. If he were even to speak to her of love at all, it must be quite of another love than that. But he never would speak to her of love; nor — as he felt quite sure — would she allow him to do so. But what astounded him most as he thought of the interview which had just passed, was the fact that the Lady Laura whom he had known — whom he had thought he had known — should have become so subject to such a man as Mr Kennedy, a man whom he had despised as being weak, irresolute, and without a purpose! For the day or two that he remained at Loughlinter, he watched the family closely, and became aware that Lady Laura had been right when she declared that her father was afraid of Mr Kennedy.

“I shall follow you almost immediately,” said the Earl confidentially to Phineas, when the candidate for the borough took his departure from Loughlinter. “I don’t like to be there just when the election is going on, but I’ll be at Saulsby to receive you the day afterwards.”

Phineas took his leave from Mr Kennedy, with a warm expression of friendship on the part of his host, and from Lady Laura with a mere touch of the hand. He tried to say a word; but she was sullen, or, if not, she put on some mood like to sullenness, and said never a word to him.

On the day after the departure of Phineas Finn for Loughton Lady Laura Kennedy still had a headache. She had complained of a headache ever since she had been at Loughlinter, and Dr Macnuthrie had been over more than once. “I wonder what it is that ails you,” said her husband, standing over her in her own sitting-room upstairs. It was a pretty room, looking away to the mountains, with just a glimpse of the lake to be caught from the window, and it had been prepared for her with all the skill and taste of an accomplished upholsterer. She had selected the room for herself soon after her engagement, and had thanked her future husband with her sweetest smile for giving her the choice. She had thanked him and told him that she always meant to be happy — so happy in that room! He was a man not much given to romance, but he thought of this promise as he stood over her and asked after her health. As far as he could see she had never been even comfortable since she had been at Loughlinter. A shadow of the truth came across his mind. Perhaps his wife was bored. If so, what was to be the future of his life and of hers? He went up to London every year, and to Parliament, as a duty; and then, during some period of the recess, would have his house full of guests — as another duty. But his happiness was to consist in such hours as these which seemed to inflict upon his wife the penalty of a continual headache. A shadow of the truth came upon him. What if his wife did not like living quietly at home as the mistress of her husband’s house? What if a headache was always to be the result of a simple performance of domestic duties?

More than a shadow of truth had come upon Lady Laura herself. The dark cloud created by the entire truth was upon her, making everything black and wretched around her. She had asked herself a question or two, and had discovered that she had no love for her husband, that the kind of life which he intended to exact from her was insupportable to her, and that she had blundered and fallen in her entrance upon life. She perceived that her father had already become weary of Mr Kennedy, and that, lonely and sad as he would be at Saulsby by himself, it was his intention to repudiate the idea of making a home at Loughlinter. Yes — she would be deserted by everyone, except of course by her husband; and then — Then she would throw herself on some early morning into the lake, for life would be insupportable.

“I wonder what it is that ails you,” said Mr Kennedy.

“Nothing serious. One can’t always help having a headache, you know.”

“I don’t think you take enough exercise, Laura. I would propose that you should walk four miles every day after breakfast. I will always be ready to accompany you. I have spoken to Dr Macnuthrie — ”

“I hate Dr Macnuthrie.”

“Why should you hate Dr Macnuthrie, Laura?”

“How can I tell why? I do. That is quite reason enough why you should not send for him to me.”

“You are unreasonable, Laura. One chooses a doctor on account of his reputation in his profession, and that of Dr Macnuthrie stands high.”

“I do not want any doctor.”

“But if you are ill, my dear — ”

“I am not ill.”

“But you said you had a headache. You have said so for the last ten days.”

“Having a headache is not being ill. I only wish you would not talk of it, and then perhaps I should get rid of it.”

“I cannot believe that. Headache in nine cases out of ten comes from the stomach.” Though he said this — saying it because it was the commonplace common-sense sort of thing to say, still at the very moment there was the shadow of the truth before his eyes. What if this headache meant simple dislike to him, and to his modes of life?

“It is nothing of that sort,” said Lady Laura, impatient at having her ailment inquired into with so much accuracy.

“Then what is it? You cannot think that I can be happy to hear you complaining of headache every day — making it an excuse for absolute idleness.”

“What is it that you want me to do?” she said, jumping up from her seat. “Set me a task, and if I don’t go mad over it, I’ll get through it. There are the account books. Give them to me. I don’t suppose I can see the figures, but I’ll try to see them.”

“Laura, this is unkind of you — and ungrateful.”

“Of course — it is everything that is bad. What a pity that you did not find it out last year! Oh dear, oh dear! what am I to do?” Then she threw herself down upon the sofa, and put both her hands up to her temples.

“I will send for Dr Macnuthrie at once,” said Mr Kennedy, walking towards the door very slowly, and speaking is slowly as he walked.

“No — do no such thing,” she said, springing to her feet again and intercepting him before he reached the door. “If he comes I will not see him. I give you my word that I will not speak to him if he comes. You do not understand,” she said; “you do not understand at all.”

“What is it that I ought to understand?” he asked.

“That a woman does not like to be bothered.”

He made no reply at once, but stood there twisting the handle of the door, and collecting his thoughts. “Yes,” said he at last; “I am beginning to find that out — and to find out also what it is that bothers a woman, as you call it. I can see now what it is that makes your head ache. It is not the stomach. You are quite right there. It is the prospect of a quiet decent life, to which would be attached the performance of certain homely duties. Dr Macnuthrie is a learned man, but I doubt whether he can do anything for such a malady.”

“You are quite right, Robert; he can do nothing.”

“It is a malady you must cure for yourself, Laura — and which is to be cured by perseverance. If you can bring yourself to try — ”

“But I cannot bring myself to try at all,” she said.

“Do you mean to tell me, Laura, that you will make no effort to do your duty as my wife?”

“I mean to tell you that I will not try to cure a headache by doing sums. That is all that I mean to say at this moment. If you will leave me for a while, so that I may lie down, perhaps I shall be able to come to dinner.” He still hesitated, standing with the door in his hand. “But if you go on scolding me,” she continued, “what I shall do is to go to bed directly you go away.” He hesitated for a moment longer, and then left the room without another word.

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