Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 36

Phineas Finn makes progress

February was far advanced and the new Reform Bill had already been brought forward, before Lady Laura Kennedy came up to town. Phineas had of course seen Mr Kennedy and had heard from him tidings of his wife. She was at Saulsby with Lady Baldock and Miss Boreham and Violet Effingham, but was to be in London soon. Mr Kennedy, as it appeared, did not quite know when he was to expect his wife; and Phineas thought that he could perceive from the tone of the husband’s voice that something was amiss. He could not however ask any questions excepting such as referred to the expected arrival. Was Miss Effingham to come to London with Lady Laura? Mr Kennedy believed that Miss Effingham would be up before Easter, but he did not know whether she would come with his wife. “Women”, he said, are so fond of mystery that one can never quite know what they intend to do.” He corrected himself at once however, perceiving that he had seemed to say something against his wife, and explained that his general accusation against the sex was not intended to apply to Lady Laura. This, however, he did so awkwardly as to strengthen the feeling with Phineas that something assuredly was wrong. “Miss Effingham”, said Mr Kennedy, “never seems to know her own mind.” “I suppose she is like other beautiful girls who are petted on all sides,” said Phineas. “As for her beauty, I don’t think much of it,” said Mr Kennedy; “and as for petting, I do not understand it in reference to grown persons. Children may be petted, and dogs — though that too is bad; but what you call petting for grown persons is I think frivolous and almost indecent.” Phineas could not help thinking of Lord Chiltern’s opinion that it would have been wise to have left Mr Kennedy in the hands of the garrotters.

The debate on the second reading of the bill was to be commenced on the 1st of March, and two days before that Lady Laura arrived in Grosvenor Place. Phineas got a note from her in three words to say that she was at home and would see him if he called on Sunday afternoon. The Sunday to which she alluded was the last day of February. Phineas was now more certain than ever that something was wrong. Had there been nothing wrong between Lady Laura and her husband, she would not have rebelled against him by asking visitors to the house on a Sunday. He had nothing to do with that, however, and of course he did as he was desired. He called on the Sunday, and found Mrs Bonteen sitting with Lady Laura. “I am just in time for the debate,” said Lady Laura, when the first greeting was over.

“You don’t mean to say that you intend to sit it out,” said Mrs Bonteen.

“Every word of it — unless I lose my seat. What else is there to be done at present?”

“But the place they give us is so unpleasant,“said Mrs Bonteen.

“There are worse places even than the Ladies’ Gallery,” said Lady Laura. “And perhaps it is as well to make oneself used to inconveniences of all kinds. You will speak, Mr Finn?”

“I intend to do so.”

“Of course you will. The great speeches will be Mr Gresham’s, Mr Daubeny’s, and Mr Monk’s.”

“Mr Palliser intends to be very strong,” said Mrs Bonteen.

“A man cannot be strong or not as he likes it,” said Lady Laura. “Mr Palliser I believe to be a most useful man, but he never can become an orator. He is of the same class as Mr Kennedy — only of course higher in the class.”

“We all look for a great speech from Mr Kennedy,” said Mrs Bonteen.

“I have not the slightest idea whether he will open his lips,” said Lady Laura. Immediately after that Mrs Bonteen took her leave. “I hate that woman like poison,” continued Lady Laura. “She is always playing a game, and it is such a small game that she plays! And she contributes so little to society. She is not witty nor well-informed — not even sufficiently ignorant or ridiculous to be a laughing-stock. One gets nothing from her, and yet she has made her footing good in the world.”

“I thought she was a friend of yours.”

“You did not think so! You could not have thought so! How can you bring such an accusation against me, knowing me as you do? But never mind Mrs Bonteen now. On what day shall you speak?”

“On Tuesday if I can.”

“I suppose you can arrange it?”

“I shall endeavour to do so, as far as any arrangement can go.”

“We shall carry the second reading,” said Lady Laura.

“Yes,” said Phineas; I think we shall; but by the votes of men who are determined so to pull the bill to pieces in committee, that its own parents will not know it. I doubt whether Mr Mildmay will have the temper to stand it.”

“They tell me that Mr Mildmay will abandon the custody of the bill to Mr Gresham after his first speech.”

“I don’t know that Mr Gresham’s temper is more enduring than Mr Mildmay’s,” said Phineas.

“Well — we shall see. My own impression is that nothing would save the country so effectually at the present moment as the removal of Mr Turnbull to a higher and a better sphere.”

“Let us say the House of Lords,” said Phineas.

“God forbid!” said Lady Laura.

Phineas sat there for half an hour and then got up to go, having spoken no word on any other subject than that of politics. He longed to ask after Violet. He longed to make some inquiry respecting Lord Chiltern. And, to tell the truth, he felt painfully curious to hear Lady Laura say something about her own self. He could not but remember what had been said between them up over the waterfall, and how he had been warned not to return to Loughlinter. And then again, did Lady Laura know anything of what had passed between him and Violet? “Where is your brother?” he said, as he rose from his chair.

“Oswald is in London. He was here not an hour before you came in.”

“Where is he staying?”

“At Moroni’s. He goes down on Tuesday, I think. He is to see his father tomorrow morning.”

“By agreement?”

“Yes — by agreement. There is a new trouble — about money that they think to be due to me. But I cannot tell you all now. There have been some words between Mr Kennedy and papa. But I won’t talk about it. You would find Oswald at Moroni’s at any hour before eleven tomorrow.”

“Did he say anything about me?” asked Phineas.

“We mentioned your name certainly.”

“I do not ask from vanity, but I want to know whether he is angry with me.”

“Angry with you! Not in the least. I’ll tell you just what he said. He said he should not wish to live even with you, but that he would sooner try it with you than with any man he ever knew.”

“He had got a letter from me?”

“He did not say so — but he did not say he had not.”

“I will see him tomorrow if I can.” And then Phineas prepared to go.

“One word, Mr Finn,” said Lady Laura, hardly looking him in the face and yet making an effort to do so. “I wish you to forget what I said to you at Loughlinter.”

“It shall be as though it were forgotten,” said Phineas.

“Let it be absolutely forgotten. In such a case a man is bound to do all that a woman asks him, and no man has a truer spirit of chivalry than yourself. That is all. Look in when you can. I will not ask you to dine here as yet, because we are so frightfully dull. Do your best on Tuesday, and then let us see you on Wednesday. Goodbye.”

Phineas as he walked across the park towards his club made up his mind that he would forget the scene by the waterfall. He had never quite known what it had meant, and he would wipe it away from his mind altogether. He acknowledged to himself that chivalry did demand of him that he should never allow himself to think of Lady Laura’s rash words to him. That she was not happy with her husband was very clear to him — but that was altogether another affair. She might be unhappy with her husband without indulging any guilty love. He had never thought it possible that she could be happy living with such a husband as Mr Kennedy. All that, however, was now past remedy, and she must simply endure the mode of life which she had prepared for herself. There were other men and women in London tied together for better and worse, in reference to whose union their friends knew that there would be no better — that it must be all worse. Lady Laura must bear it, as it was borne by many another married woman.

On the Monday morning Phineas called at Moroni’s Hotel at ten o’clock, but in spite of Lady Laura’s assurance to the contrary, he found that Lord Chiltern was out. He had felt some palpitation at the heart as he made his inquiry, knowing well the fiery nature of the man he expected to see. It might be that there would be some actual personal conflict between him and this half-mad lord before he got back again into the street. What Lady Laura had said about her brother did not in the estimation of Phineas make this at all the less probable. The half-mad lord was so singular in his ways that it might well be that he should speak handsomely of a rival behind his back and yet take him by the throat as soon as they were together, face to face. And yet, as Phineas thought, it was necessary that he should see the half-mad lord. He had written a letter to which he had received no reply, and he considered it to be incumbent on him to ask whether it had been received and whether any answer to it was intended to be given. He went therefore to Lord Chiltern at once — as I have said, with some feeling at his heart that there might be violence, at any rate of words, before he should find himself again in the street. But Lord Chiltern was not there. All that the porter knew was that Lord Chiltern intended to leave the house on the following morning. Then Phineas wrote a note and left it with the porter.

“ DEAR CHILTERN,

“I particularly want to see you with reference to a letter I wrote to you last summer. I must be in the House today from four till the debate is over. I will be at the Reform Club from two till half past three, and will come if you will send for me, or I will meet you anywhere at any hour tomorrow morning.

“Yours, always,

P.F.”

No message came to him at the Reform Club, and he was in his seat in the House by four o’clock. During the debate a note was brought to him, which ran as follows:

“I have got your letter this moment. Of course we must meet. I hunt on Tuesday, and go down by the early train; but I will come to town on Wednesday. We shall require to be private, and I will therefore be at your rooms at one o’clock on that day. — C.”

Phineas at once perceived that the note was a hostile note, written in an angry spirit — written to one whom the writer did not at the moment acknowledge to be his friend. This was certainly the case, whatever Lord Chiltern may have said to his sister as to his friendship for Phineas. Phineas crushed the note into his pocket, and of course determined that he would be in his rooms at the hour named.

The debate was opened by a speech from Mr Mildmay, in which that gentleman at great length and with much perspicuity explained his notion of that measure of Parliamentary Reform which he thought to be necessary. He was listened to with the greatest attention to the close — and perhaps, at the end of his speech, with more attention than usual, as there had gone abroad a rumour that the Prime Minister intended to declare that this would be the last effort of his life in that course. But, if he ever intended to utter such a pledge, his heart misgave him when the time came for uttering it. He merely said that as the management of the bill in committee would be an affair of much labour, and probably spread over many nights, he would be assisted in his work by his colleagues, and especially by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. It was then understood that Mr Gresham would take the lead should the bill go into committee — but it was understood also that no resignation of leadership had been made by Mr Mildmay.

The measure now proposed to the House was very much the same as that which had been brought forward in the last session. The existing theory of British representation was not to be changed, but the actual practice was to be brought nearer to the ideal theory. The ideas of manhood suffrage, and of electoral districts, were to be as far as ever removed from the bulwarks of the British Constitution. There were to be counties with agricultural constituencies, purposely arranged to be purely agricultural, whenever the nature of the counties would admit of its being so. No artificer at Reform, let him be Conservative or Liberal, can make Middlesex or Lancashire agricultural; but Wiltshire and Suffolk were to be preserved inviolable to the plough — and the apples of Devonshire were still to have their sway. Every town in the three kingdoms with a certain population was to have two members. But here there was much room for cavil — as all men knew would be the case. Who shall say what is a town, or where shall be its limits? Bits of counties might be borrowed, so as to lessen the Conservatism of the county without endangering the Liberalism of the borough. And then there were the boroughs with one member — and then the groups of little boroughs. In the discussion of any such arrangement how easy is the picking of holes; how impossible the fabrication of a garment that shall be impervious to such picking! Then again there was that great question of the ballot. On that there was to be no mistake. Mr Mildmay again pledged himself to disappear from the Treasury bench should any motion, clause, or resolution be carried by that House in favour of the ballot. He spoke for three hours, and then left the carcass of his bill to be fought for by the opposing armies.

No reader of these pages will desire that the speeches in the debate should be even indicated. It soon became known that the Conservatives would not divide the House against the second reading of the bill. They declared, however, very plainly their intention of so altering the clauses of the bill in committee — or at least of attempting so to do — as to make the bill their bill, rather than the bill of their opponents. To this Mr Palliser replied that as long as nothing vital was touched, the Government would only be too happy to oblige their friends opposite. If anything vital were touched, the Government could only fall back upon their friends on that side. And in this way men were very civil to each other. But Mr Turnbull, who opened the debate on the Tuesday, thundered out an assurance to gods and men that he would divide the House on the second reading of the bill itself. He did not doubt but that there were many good men and true to go with him into the lobby, but into the lobby he would go if he had no more than a single friend to support him. And he warned the Sovereign, and he warned the House, and he warned the people of England, that the measure of Reform now proposed by a so-called liberal Minister was a measure prepared in concert with the ancient enemies of the people. He was very loud, very angry, and quite successful in hallooing down sundry attempts which were made to interrupt him. “I find”, he said, that there are many members here who do not know me yet — young members, probably, who are green from the waste lands and roadsides of private life. They will know me soon, and then, may be, there will be less of this foolish noise, less of this elongation of unnecessary necks. Our Rome must be aroused to a sense of its danger by other voices than these.” He was called to order, but it was ruled that he had not been out of order — and he was very triumphant. Mr Monk answered him, and it was declared afterwards that Mr Monk’s speech was one of the finest pieces of oratory that had ever been uttered in that House. He made one remark personal to Mr Turnbull. “I quite agreed with the right honourable gentleman in the chair,” he said, “when he declared that the honourable member was not out of order just now. We all of us agree with him always on such points. The rules of our House have been laid down with the utmost latitude, so that the course of our debates may not be frivolously or too easily interrupted. But a member may be so in order as to incur the displeasure of the House, and to merit the reproaches of his countrymen.” This little duel gave great life to the debate; but it was said that those two great Reformers, Mr Turnbull and Mr Monk, could never again meet as friends.

In the course of the debate on Tuesday, Phineas got upon his legs. The reader, I trust, will remember that hitherto he had failed altogether as a speaker. On one occasion he had lacked even the spirit to use and deliver an oration which he had prepared. On a second occasion he had broken down — woefully, and past all redemption, as said those who were not his friends — unfortunately, but not past redemption, as said those who were his true friends. After that once again he had arisen and said a few words which had called for no remark, and had been spoken as though he were in the habit of addressing the House daily. It may be doubted whether there were half a dozen men now present who recognised the fact that this man, who was so well known to so many of them, was now about to make another attempt at a first speech. Phineas himself diligently attempted to forget that such was the case. He had prepared for himself a few headings of what he intended to say, and on one or two points had arranged his words. His hope was that even though he should forget the words, he might still be able to cling to the thread of his discourse. When he found himself again upon his legs amidst those crowded seats, for a few moments there came upon him that old sensation of awe. Again things grew dim before his eyes, and again he hardly knew at which end of that long chamber the Speaker was sitting. But there arose within him a sudden courage, as soon as the sound of his own voice in that room had made itself intimate to his ear; and after the first few sentences, all fear, all awe, was gone from him. When he read his speech in the report afterwards, he found that he had strayed very wide of his intended course, but he had strayed without tumbling into ditches, or falling into sunken pits. He had spoken much from Mr Monk’s letter, but had had the grace to acknowledge whence had come his inspiration. He hardly knew, however, whether he had failed again or not, till Barrington Erle came up to him as they were leaving the House, with his old easy pressing manner. “So you have got into form at last,” he said. “I always thought that it would come. I never for a moment believed but that it would come sooner or later.” Phineas Finn answered not a word; but he went home and lay awake all night triumphant. The verdict of Barrington Erle sufficed to assure him that he had succeeded.

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