Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 34

Was he honest?

On the 10th of August, Phineas Finn did return to Loughton. He went down by the mail train on the night of the 10th, having telegraphed to the inn for a bed, and was up eating his breakfast in that hospitable house at nine o’clock. The landlord and landlady with all their staff were at a loss to imagine what had brought down their member again so quickly to his borough; but the reader, who will remember that Lady Baldock with her daughter and Violet Effingham were to pass the 11th of the month at Saulsby, may perhaps be able to make a guess on the subject.

Phineas had been thinking of making this sudden visit to Loughton ever since he had been up in town, but he could suggest to himself no reason to be given to Lord Brentford for his sudden reappearance. The Earl had been very kind to him, but he had said nothing which could justify his young friend in running in and out of Saulsby Castle at pleasure, without invitation and without notice. Phineas was so well aware of this himself that often as he had half resolved during the last ten days to return to Saulsby, so often had he determined that he could not do so. He could think of no excuse. Then the heavens favoured him, and he received a letter from Lord Chiltern, in which there was a message for Lord Brentford. “If you see my father, tell him that I am ready at any moment to do what is necessary for raising the money for Laura.” Taking this as his excuse he returned to Loughton.

As chance arranged it, he met the Earl standing on the great steps before his own castle doors. “What, Finn; is this you? I thought you were in Ireland.”

“Not yet, my lord, as you see.” Then he opened his budget at once, and blushed at his own hypocrisy as he went on with his story. He had, he said, felt the message from Chiltern to be so all-important that he could not bring himself to go over to Ireland without delivering it. He urged upon the Earl that he might learn from this how anxious Lord Chiltern was to effect a reconciliation. When it occurred to him, he said, that there might be a hope of doing anything towards such an object, he could not go to Ireland leaving the good work behind him. In love and war all things are fair. So he declared to himself; but as he did so he felt that his story was so weak that it would hardly gain for him an admittance into the Castle. In this he was completely wrong. The Earl, swallowing the bait, put his arm through that of the intruder, and, walking with him through the paths of the shrubbery, at length confessed that he would be glad to be reconciled to his son if it were possible. “Let him come here, and she shall be here also,” said the Earl, speaking of Violet. To this Phineas could say nothing out loud, but he told himself that all should be fair between them. He would take no dishonest advantage of Lord Chiltern. He would give Lord Chiltern the whole message as it was given to him by Lord Brentford. But should it so turn out that he himself got an opportunity of saying to Violet all that he had come to say, and should it also turn out — an event which he acknowledged to himself to be most unlikely — that Violet did not reject him, then how could he write his letter to Lord Chiltern? So he resolved that the letter should be written before he saw Violet. But how could he write such a letter and instantly afterwards do that which would be false to the spirit of a letter so written? Could he bid Lord Chiltern come home to woo Violet Effingham, and instantly go forth to woo her for himself? He found that he could not do so — unless he told the whole truth to Lord Chiltern. In no other way could he carry out his project and satisfy his own idea of what was honest.

The Earl bade him send to the hotel for his things. “The Baldock people are all here, you know, but they go very early tomorrow.” Then Phineas declared that he also must return to London very early on the morrow — but in the meantime he would go to the inn and fetch his things. The Earl thanked him again and again for his generous kindness; and Phineas, blushing as he received the thanks, went back and wrote his letter to Lord Chiltern. It was an elaborate letter, written, as regards the first and larger portion of it, with words intended to bring the prodigal son back to the father’s home. And everything was said about Miss Effingham that could or should have been said. Then, on the last page, he told his own story. “Now,” he said, I must speak of myself:— and he went on to explain to his friend, in the plainest language that he could use, his own position. “I have loved her,” he said, “for six months, and I am here with the express intention of asking her to take me. The chances are ten to one that she refuses me. I do not deprecate your anger — if you choose to be angry. But I am endeavouring to treat you well, and I ask you to do the same by me. I must convey to you your father’s message, and after doing so I cannot address myself to Miss Effingham without telling you. I should feel myself to be false were I to do so. In the event — the probable, nay, almost certain event of my being refused — I shall trust you to keep my secret. Do not quarrel with me if you can help it — but if you must I will be ready.” Then he posted the letter and went up to the Castle.

He had only the one day for his action, and he knew that Violet was watched by Lady Baldock as by a dragon. He was told that the Earl was out with the young ladies, and was shown to his room. On going to the drawing-room he found Lady Baldock, with whom he had been, to a certain degree, a favourite, and was soon deeply engaged in a conversation as to the practicability of shutting up all the breweries and distilleries by Act of Parliament. But lunch relieved him, and brought the young ladies in at two. Miss Effingham seemed to be really glad to see him, and even Miss Boreham, Lady Baldock’s daughter, was very gracious to him. For the Earl had been speaking well of his young member, and Phineas had in a way grown into the good graces of sober and discreet people. After lunch they were to ride — the Earl, that is, and Violet. Lady Baldock and her daughter were to have the carriage. “I can mount you, Finn, if you would like it,” said the Earl. “Of course he’ll like it,” said Violet; do you suppose Mr Finn will object to ride with me in Saulsby Woods? It won’t be the first time, will it?” “Violet, said Lady Baldock, “you have the most singular way of talking.” I suppose I have,” said Violet; “but I don’t think I can change it now. Mr Finn knows me too well to mind it much.”

It was past five before they were on horseback, and up to that time Phineas had not found himself alone with Violet Effingham for a moment. They had sat together after lunch in the dining-room for nearly an hour, and had sauntered into the hall and knocked about the billiard balls, and then stood together at the open doors of a conservatory. But Lady Baldock or Miss Boreham had always been there. Nothing could be more pleasant than Miss Effingham’s words, or more familiar than her manner to Phineas. She had expressed strong delight at his success in getting a seat in Parliament, and had talked to him about the Kennedys as though they had created some special bond of union between her and Phineas which ought to make them intimate. But, for all that, she could not be got to separate herself from Lady Baldock — and when she was told that if she meant to ride she must go and dress herself, she went at once.

But he thought that he might have a chance on horseback; and after they had been out about half an hour, chance did favour him. For awhile he rode behind with the carriage, calculating that by his so doing the Earl would be put off his guard, and would be disposed after awhile to change places with him. And so it fell out. At a certain fall of ground in the park, where the road turned round and crossed a bridge over the little river, the carriage came up with the first two horses, and Lady Baldock spoke a word to the Earl. Then Violet pulled up, allowing the vehicle to pass the bridge first, and in this way she and Phineas were brought together — and in this way they rode on. But he was aware that he must greatly increase the distance between them and the others of their party before he could dare to plead his suit, and even were that done he felt that he would not know how to plead it on horseback.

They had gone on some half mile in this way when they reached a spot on which a green ride led away from the main road through the trees to the left. “You remember this place, do you not?” said Violet. Phineas declared that he remembered it well. “I must go round by the woodman’s cottage. You won’t mind coming?” Phineas said that he would not mind, and trotted on to tell them in the carriage.

“Where is she going?” asked Lady Baldock; and then, when Phineas explained, she begged the Earl to go back to Violet. The Earl, feeling the absurdity of this, declared that Violet knew her way very well herself, and thus Phineas got his opportunity.

They rode on almost without speaking for nearly a mile, cantering through the trees, and then they took another turn to the right, and came upon the cottage. They rode to the door, and spoke a word or two to the woman there, and then passed on. “I always come here when I am at Saulsby,” said Violet, “that I may teach myself to think kindly of Lord Chiltern,”

“I understand it all,” said Phineas.

“He used to be so nice — and is so still, I believe, only that he has taught himself to be so rough. Will he ever change, do you think?”

Phineas knew that in this emergency it was his especial duty to be honest. “I think he would be changed altogether if we could bring him here — so that he should live among his friends.”

“Do you think he would? We must put our heads together, and do it. Don’t you think that it is to be done?”

Phineas replied that he thought it was to be done. “I’ll tell you the truth at once, Miss Effingham,” he said. “You can do it by a single word.”

“Yes — yes;” she said; but I do not mean that — without that. It is absurd, you know, that a father should make such a condition as that.” Phineas said that he thought it was absurd; and then they rode on again, cantering through the wood. He had been bold to speak to her about Lord Chiltern as he had done, and she had answered just as he would have wished to be answered. But how could he press his suit for himself while she was cantering by his side?

Presently they came to rough ground over which they were forced to walk, and he was close by her side. “Mr Finn,” she said, “I wonder whether I may ask a question?”

“Any question,” he replied.

“Is there any quarrel between you and Lady Laura?”

“None.”

“Or between you and him?”

“No — none. We are greater allies than ever.”

“Then why are you not going to be at Loughlinter? She has written to me expressly saying you would not be there.”

He paused a moment before he replied. “It did not suit,” he said at last.

“It is a secret then?”

“Yes — it is a secret. You are not angry with me?”

“Angry; no.”

“It is not a secret of my own, or I should not keep it from you.”

“Perhaps I can guess it,” she said. But I will not try. I will not even think of it.”

“The cause, whatever it be, has been full of sorrow to me. I would have given my left hand to have been at Loughlinter this autumn.”

“Are you so fond of it?”

“I should have been staying there with you,” he said. He paused, and for a moment there was no word spoken by either of them; but he could perceive that the hand in which she held her whip was playing with her horse’s mane with a nervous movement. “When I found how it must be, and that I must miss you, I rushed down here that I might see you for a moment. And now I am here I do not dare to speak to you of myself.” They were now beyond the rocks, and Violet, without speaking a word, again put her horse into a trot. He was by her side in a moment, but he could not see her face. “Have you not a word to say to me?” he asked.

“No — no — no;” she replied, not a word when you speak to me like that. There is the carriage. Come — we will join them.” Then she cantered on, and he followed her till they reached the Earl and Lady Baldock and Miss Boreham. “I have done my devotions now,” said Miss Effingham, “and am ready to return to ordinary life.”

Phineas could not find another moment in which to speak to her. Though he spent the evening with her, and stood over her as she sang at the Earl’s request, and pressed her hand as she went to bed, and was up to see her start in the morning, he could not draw from her either a word or a look.

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