Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 33

Mr Slide”s grievance

Our hero was elected member for Loughton without any trouble to him or, as far as he could see, to anyone else. He made one speech from a small raised booth that was called a platform, and that was all that he was called upon to do. Mr Grating made a speech in proposing him, and Mr Shortribs another in seconding him; and these were all the speeches that were required. The thing seemed to be so very easy that he was afterwards almost offended when he was told that the bill for so insignificant a piece of work came to £247 13s. 9d. He had seen no occasion for spending even the odd forty-seven pounds. But then he was member for Loughton; and as he passed the evening alone at the inn, having dined in company with Messrs. Grating, Shortribs, and sundry other influential electors, he began to reflect that, after all, it was not so very great a thing to be a member of Parliament. It almost seemed that that which had come to him so easily could not be of much value.

On the following day he went to the castle, and was there when the Earl arrived. They two were alone together, and the Earl was very kind to him. “So you had no opponent after all,” said the great man of Loughton, with a slight smile.

“Not the ghost of another candidate.”

“I did not think there would be. They have tried it once or twice and have always failed. There are only one or two in the place who like to go one way just because their neighbours go the other. But, in truth, there is no conservative feeling in the place!”

Phineas, although he was at the present moment the member for Loughton himself, could not but enjoy the joke of this. Could there be any liberal feeling in such a place, or, indeed, any political feeling whatsoever? Would not Messrs. Grating and Shortribs have done just the same had it happened that Lord Brentford had been a Tory peer? “They all seemed to be very obliging,” said Phineas, in answer to the Earl.

“Yes, they are, There isn’t a house in the town, you know, let for longer than seven years, and most of them merely from year to year. And, do you know, I haven’t a farmer on the property with a lease — not one; and they don’t want leases. They know they’re safe. But I do like the people round me to be of the same way of thinking as myself about politics.”

On the second day after dinner — the last evening of Finn’s visit to Saulsby — the Earl fell suddenly into a confidential conversation about his daughter and his son, and about Violet Effingham. So sudden, indeed, and so confidential was the conversation, that Phineas was almost silenced for a while. A word or two had been said about Loughlinter, of the beauty of the place and of the vastness of the property. “I am almost afraid,” said Lord Brentford, “that Laura is not happy there.”

“I hope she is,” said Phineas.

“He is so hard and dry, and what I call exacting. That is just the word for it. Now Laura has never been used to that. With me she always had her own way in everything, and I always found her fit to have it. I do not understand why her husband should treat her differently.”

“Perhaps it is the temper of the man.”

“Temper, yes; but what a bad prospect is that for her! And she, too, has a temper, and so he will find if he tries her too far. I cannot stand Loughlinter. I told Laura so fairly. It is one of those houses in which a man cannot call his hours his own. I told Laura that I could not undertake to remain there for above a day or two.”

“It is very sad,” said Phineas.

“Yes, indeed; it is sad for her, poor girl; and very sad for me too. I have no one else but Laura — literally no one; and now I am divided from her! It seems that she has been taken as much away from me as though her husband lived in China. I have lost them both now!”

“I hope not, my lord.”

“I say I have. As to Chiltern, I can perceive that he becomes more and more indifferent to me every day. He thinks of me only as a man in his way who must die some day and may die soon.”

“You wrong him, Lord Brentford.”

“I do not wrong him at all. Why has he answered every offer I have made him with so much insolence as to make it impossible for me to put myself into further communion with him?”

“He thinks that you have wronged him.”

“Yes — because I have been unable to shut my eyes to his mode of living. I was to go on paying his debts, and taking no other notice whatsoever of his conduct!”

“I do not think he is in debt now.”

“Because his sister the other day spent every shilling of her fortune in paying them. She gave him £4,000! Do you think she would have married Kennedy but for that? I don’t. I could not prevent her. I had said that I would not cripple my remaining years of life by raising the money, and I could not go back from my word.”

“You and Chiltern might raise the money between you.”

“It would do no good now. She has married Mr Kennedy, and the money is nothing to her or to him. Chiltern might have put things right by marrying Miss Effingham if he pleased.”

“I think he did his best there.”

“No — he did his worst. He asked her to be his wife as a man asks for a railway ticket or a pair of gloves, which he buys with a price; and because she would not jump into his mouth he gave it up. I don’t believe he even really wanted to marry her. I suppose he has some disreputable connection to prevent it.”

“Nothing of the kind. He would marry her tomorrow if he could. My belief is that Miss Effingham is sincere in refusing him.”

“I don’t doubt her sincerity.”

“And that she will never change.”

“Ah, well; I don’t agree with you, and I daresay I know them both better than you do. But everything goes against me. I had set my heart upon it, and therefore of course I shall be disappointed. What is he going to do this autumn?”

“He is yachting now.”

“And who are with him?”

“I think the boat belongs to Captain Colepepper.”

“The greatest blackguard in all England! A man who shoots pigeons and rides steeplechases! And the worst of Chiltern is this, that even if he didn’t like the man, and if he were tired of this sort of life, he would go on just the same because he thinks it a fine thing not to give way.” This was so true that Phineas did not dare to contradict the statement, and therefore said nothing. “I had some faint hope,” continued the Earl, “while Laura could always watch him; because, in his way, he was fond of his sister. But that is all over now. She will have enough to do to watch herself!”

Phineas had felt that the Earl had put him down rather sharply when he had said that Violet would never accept Lord Chiltern, and he was therefore not a little surprised when Lord Brentford spoke again of Miss Effingham the following morning, holding in his hand a letter which he had just received from her. “They are to be at Loughlinter on the tenth,” he said, “and she purposes to come here for a couple of nights on her way.”

“Lady Baldock and all?”

“Well, yes; Lady Baldock and all. I am not very fond of Lady Baldock, but I will put up with her for a couple of days for the sake of having Violet. She is more like a child of my own now than anybody else. I shall not see her all the autumn afterwards. I cannot stand Loughlinter.”

“It will be better when the house is full.”

“You will be there, I suppose?”

“Well, no; I think not,” said Phineas.

“You have had enough of it, have you?” Phineas made no reply to this, but smiled slightly. “By Jove, I don’t wonder at it,” said the Earl. Phineas, who would have given all he had in the world to be staying in the same country house with Violet Effingham, could not explain how it had come to pass that he was obliged to absent himself. “I suppose you were asked?” said the Earl.

“Oh, yes, I was asked. Nothing can be kinder than they are.”

“Kennedy told me that you were coming as a matter of course.”

“I explained to him after that,” said Phineas, that I should not return. I shall go over to Ireland. I have a deal of hard reading to do, and I call get through it there without interruption.”

He went up from Saulsby to London on that day, and found himself quite alone in Mrs Bunce’s lodgings. I mean not only that he was alone at his lodgings, but he was alone at his club, and alone in the streets. July was not quite over, and yet all the birds of passage had migrated. Mr Mildmay, by his short session, had half ruined the London tradesmen, and had changed the summer mode of life of all those who account themselves to be anybody. Phineas, as he sat alone in his room, felt himself to be nobody. He had told the Earl that he was going to Ireland, and to Ireland he must go — because he had nothing else to do. He had been asked indeed to join one or two parties in their autumn plans. Mr Monk had wanted him to go to the Pyrenees, and Lord Chiltern had suggested that he should join the yacht — but neither plan suited him. It would have suited him to be it Loughlinter with Violet Effingham, but Loughlinter was a barred house to him. His old friend, Lady Laura, had told him not to come thither, explaining, with sufficient clearness, her reasons for excluding him from the number of her husband’s guests. As he thought of it the past scenes of his life became very marvellous to him. Twelve months since he would have given all the world for a word of love from Lady Laura, and had barely dared to hope that such a word, at some future day, might possibly be spoken. Now such a word had in truth been spoken, and it had come to be simply a trouble to him. She had owned to him — for, in truth, such had been the meaning of her warning to him — that, though she had married another man, she had loved and did love him. But in thinking of this he took no pride in it. It was not till he had thought of it long that he began to ask himself whether he might not be justified in gathering from what happened some hope that Violet also might learn to love him. He had thought so little of himself as to have been afraid at first to press his suit with Lady Laura. Might he not venture to think more of himself, having learned how far he had succeeded?

But how was he to get at Violet Effingham? From the moment at which he had left Saulsby he had been angry with himself for not having asked Lord Brentford to allow him to remain there till after the Baldock party should have gone on to Loughlinter. The Earl, who was very lonely in his house, would have consented at once. Phineas, indeed, was driven to confess to himself that success with Violet would at once have put an end to all his friendship with Lord Brentford — as also to all his friendship with Lord Chiltern. He would, in such case, be bound in honour to vacate his seat and give back Loughton to his offended patron. But he would have given up much more than his seat for Violet Effingham! At present, however, he had no means of getting at her to ask her the question. He could hardly go to Loughlinter in opposition to the wishes of Lady Laura.

A little adventure happened to him in London which somewhat relieved the dullness of the days of the first week in August. He remained in London till the middle of August, half resolving to rush down to Saulsby when Violet Effingham should be there — endeavouring to find some excuse for such a proceeding, but racking his brains in vain — and then there came about his little adventure. The adventure was commenced by the receipt of the following letter:

Banner of the People Office, 3rd August, 186 —

MY DEAR FINN,

I must say I think you have treated me badly, and without that sort of brotherly fairness which we on the public press expect from one another. However, perhaps we can come to an understanding, and if so, things may yet go smoothly. Give me a turn and I am not at all adverse to give you one. Will you come to me here, or shall I call upon you?

Yours always,

Q.S.

Phineas was not only surprised, but disgusted also, at the receipt of this letter. He could not imagine what was the deed by which he had offended Mr Slide. He thought over all the circumstances of his short connection with the People’s Banner, but could remember nothing which might have created offence. But his disgust was greater than his surprise. He thought that he had done nothing and said nothing to justify Quintus Slide in calling him “dear Finn.” He, who had Lady Laura’s secret in his keeping; he who hoped to be the possessor of Violet Effingham’s affections — he to be called “dear Finn” by such a one as Quintus Slide! He soon made up his mind that he would not answer the note, but would go at once to the People’s Banner office at the hour at which Quintus Slide was always there. He certainly would not write to “dear Slide;” and, until he had heard something more of this cause of offence, he would not make an enemy for ever by calling the man “dear Sir.” He went to the office of the People’s Banner, and found Mr Slide ensconced in a little glass cupboard, writing an article for the next day’s copy.

“I suppose you’re very busy,” said Phineas, inserting himself with some difficulty on to a little stool in the corner of the cupboard.

“Not so particular but what I’m glad to see you. You shoot, don’t you?”

“Shoot!” said Phineas. It could not be possible that Mr Slide was intending, after this abrupt fashion, to propose a duel with pistols.

“Grouse and pheasants, and them sort of things?” asked Mr Slide.

“Oh, ah; I understand. Yes, I shoot sometimes.”

“Is it the 12th or 20th for grouse in Scotland?”

“The 12th,” said Phineas. What makes you ask that just now?”

“I’m doing a letter about it — advising men not to shoot too many of the young birds, and showing that they’ll have none next year if they do. I had a fellow here just now who knew all about it, and he put down a lot; but I forgot to make him tell me the day of beginning. What’s a good place to date from?”

Phineas suggested Callender or Stirling.

“Stirling’s too much of a town, isn’t it? Callender sounds better for game, I think.”

So the letter which was to save the young grouse was dated from Callender; and Mr Quintus Slide having written the word, threw down his pen, came off his stool, and rushed at once at his subject.

“Well, now, Finn,” he said, don’t you know that you’ve treated me badly about Loughton?”

“Treated you badly about Loughton!” Phineas, as he repeated the words, was quite in the dark as to Mr Slide’s meaning. Did Mr Slide intend to convey a reproach because Phineas had not personally sent some tidings of the election to the People’s Banner?

“Very badly,” said Mr Slide, with his arms akimbo — “very badly indeed! Men on the press together do expect that they’re to be stuck by, and not thrown over. Damn it, I say; what’s the good of a brotherhood if it ain’t to be brotherhood?”

“Upon my word, I don’t know what you mean,” said Phineas.

“Didn’t I tell you that I had Loughton in my heye?” said Quintus.

“Oh — h!”

“It’s very well to say ho, and look guilty, but didn’t I tell you?”

“I never heard such nonsense in my life.”

“Nonsense?”

“How on earth could you have stood for Loughton? What interest would you have there? You could not even have found an elector to propose you.”

“Now, I’ll tell you what I’ll do, Finn. I think you have thrown me over most shabby, but I won’t stand about that. You shall have Loughton this session if you’ll promise to make way for me after the next election. If you’ll agree to that, we’ll have a special leader to say how well Lord What’s-his-name has done with the borough; and we’ll be your horgan through the whole session.”

“I never heard such nonsense in my life. In the first place, Loughton is safe to be in the schedule of reduced boroughs. It will be thrown into the county, or joined with a group.”

“I’ll stand the chance of that. Will you agree?”

“Agree! No! It’s the most absurd proposal that was ever made. You might as well ask me whether I would agree that you should go to heaven. Go to heaven if you can, I should say. I have not the slightest objection. But it’s nothing to me.”

“Very well,” said Quintus Slide. Very well! Now we understand each other, and that’s all that I desire. I think that I can show you what it is to come among gentlemen of the press, and then to throw them over. Good morning.”

Phineas, quite satisfied at the result of the interview as regarded himself, and by no means sorry that there should have arisen a cause of separation between Mr Quintus Slide and his “dear Finn,” shook off a little dust from his foot as he left the office of the People’s Banner. and resolved that in future he would attempt to make no connection in that direction. As he returned home he told himself that a member of Parliament should be altogether independent of the press. On the second morning after his meeting with his late friend, he saw the result of his independence. There was a startling article, a tremendous article, showing the pressing necessity of immediate reform, and proving the necessity by an illustration of the borough-mongering rottenness of the present system. When such a patron as Lord Brentford — himself a Cabinet Minister with a sinecure — could by his mere word put into the House such a stick as Phineas Finn — a man who had struggled to stand on his legs before the Speaker, but had wanted both the courage and the capacity, nothing further could surely be wanted to prove that the Reform Bill of 1832 required to be supplemented by some more energetic measure.

Phineas laughed as he read the article, and declared to himself that the joke was a good joke. But, nevertheless, he suffered. Mr Quintus Slide, when he was really anxious to use his thong earnestly, could generally raise a wale.

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