Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 40

Madame Max Goesler

Day after day, and clause after clause, the bill was fought in committee, and few men fought with more constancy on the side of the Ministers than did the member for Loughton. Troubled though he was by his quarrel with Lord Chiltern, by his love for Violet Effingham, by the silence of his friend Lady Laura — for since he had told her of the duel she had become silent to him, never writing to him, and hardly speaking to him when she met him in society — nevertheless Phineas was not so troubled but what he could work at his vocation. Now, when he would find himself upon his legs in the House, he would wonder at the hesitation which had lately troubled him so sorely. He would sit sometimes and speculate upon that dimness of eye, upon that tendency of things to go round, upon that obtrusive palpitation of heart, which had afflicted him so seriously for so long a time. The House now was no more to him than any other chamber, and the members no more than other men. He guarded himself from orations, speaking always very shortly — because he believed that policy and good judgment required that he should be short. But words were very easy to him, and he would feel as though he could talk for ever. And there quickly came to him a reputation for practical usefulness. He was a man with strong opinions, who could yet be submissive. And no man seemed to know how his reputation had come. He had made one good speech after two or three failures. All who knew him, his whole party, had been aware of his failure; and his one good speech had been regarded by many as no very wonderful effort. But he was a man who was pleasant to other men — not combative, not self-asserting beyond the point at which self-assertion ceases to be a necessity of manliness. Nature had been very good to him, making him comely inside and out — and with this comeliness he had crept into popularity.

The secret of the duel was, I think, at this time, known to a great many men and women. So Phineas perceived; but it was not, he thought, known either to Lord Brentford or to Violet Effingham. And in this he was right. No rumour of it had yet reached the ears of either of these persons — and rumour, though she flies so fast and so far, is often slow in reaching those ears which would be most interested in her tidings. Some dim report of the duel reached even Mr Kennedy, and he asked his wife. “Who told you?” said she, sharply.

“Bonteen told me that it was certainly so.”

“Mr Bonteen always knows more than anybody else about everything except his own business.”

“Then it is not true?”

Lady Laura paused — and then she lied. “Of course it is not true. I should be very sorry to ask either of them, but to me it seems to be the most improbable thing in life.” Then Mr Kennedy believed that there had been no duel. In his wife’s word he put absolute faith, and he thought that she would certainly know anything that her brother had done. As he was a man given to but little discourse, he asked no further questions about the duel either in the House or at the Clubs.

At first, Phineas had been greatly dismayed when men had asked him questions tending to elicit from him some explanation of the mystery — but by degrees he became used to it, and as the tidings which had got abroad did not seem to injure him, and as the questionings were not pushed very closely, he became indifferent. There came out another article in the People’s Banner in which Lord C— n and Mr P— s F— n were spoken of as glaring examples of that aristocratic snobility — that was the expressive word coined, evidently with great delight, for the occasion — which the rotten state of London society in high quarters now produced. Here was a young lord, infamously notorious, quarrelling with one of his boon companions, whom he had appointed to a private seat in the House of Commons, fighting duels, breaking the laws, scandalising the public — and all this was done without punishment to the guilty! There were old stories afloat — so said the article — of what in a former century had been done by Lord Mohuns and Mr Bests; but now, in 186 — &c. &c. &c. And so the article went on. Any reader may fill in without difficulty the concluding indignation and virtuous appeal for reform in social morals as well as Parliament. But Phineas had so far progressed that he had almost come to like this kind of thing.

Certainly I think that the duel did him no harm in society. Otherwise he would hardly have been asked to a semi-political dinner at Lady Glencora Palliser’s, even though he might have been invited to make one of the five hundred guests who were crowded into her saloons and staircases after the dinner was over. To have been one of the five hundred was nothing; but to be one of the sixteen was a great deal — was indeed so much that Phineas, not understanding as yet the advantage of his own comeliness, was at a loss to conceive why so pleasant an honour was conferred upon him. There was no man among the eight men at the dinner-party not in Parliament — and the only other except Phineas not attached to the Government was Mr Palliser’s great friend, John Grey, the member for Silverbridge. There were four Cabinet Ministers in the room — the Duke, Lord Cantrip, Mr Gresham, and the owner of the mansion. There was also Barrington Erle and young Lord Fawn, an Under-Secretary of State. But the wit and grace of the ladies present lent more of character to the party than even the position of the men. Lady Glencora Palliser herself was a host. There was no woman then in London better able to talk to a dozen people on a dozen subjects; and then, moreover, she was still in the flush of her beauty and the bloom of her youth. Lady Laura was there — by what means divided from her husband Phineas could not imagine; but Lady Glencora was good at such divisions. Lady Cantrip had been allowed to come with her lord — but, as was well understood, Lord Cantrip was not so manifestly a husband as was Mr Kennedy. There are men who cannot guard themselves from the assertion of marital rights at most inappropriate moments. Now Lord Cantrip lived with his wife most happily; yet you should pass hours with him and her together, and hardly know that they knew each other. One of the Duke’s daughters was there — but not the Duchess, who was known to be heavy — and there was the beauteous Marchioness of Hartletop. Violet Effingham was in the room also — giving Phineas a blow at the heart as he saw her smile. Might it be that he could speak a word to her on this occasion? Mr Grey had also brought his wife — and then there was Madame Max Goesler. Phineas found that it was his fortune to take down to dinner — not Violet Effingham, but Madame Max Goesler. And, when he was placed at dinner, on the other side of him there sat Lady Hartletop, who addressed the few words which she spoke exclusively to Mr Palliser. There had been in former days matters difficult of arrangement between those two; but I think that those old passages had now been forgotten by them both. Phineas was, therefore, driven to depend exclusively on Madame Max Goesler for conversation, and he found that he was not called upon to cast his seed into barren ground.

Up to that moment he had never heard of Madame Max Goesler. Lady Glencora, in introducing them, had pronounced the lady’s name so clearly that he had caught it with accuracy, but he could not surmise whence she had come, or why she was there. She was a woman probably something over thirty years of age. She had thick black hair, which she wore in curls — unlike anybody else in the world — in curls which hung down low beneath her face, covering, and perhaps intended to cover, a certain thinness in her cheeks which would otherwise have taken something from the charm of her countenance. Her eyes were large, of a dark blue colour, and very bright — and she used them in a manner which is as yet hardly common with Englishwomen. She seemed to intend that you should know that she employed them to conquer you, looking as a knight may have looked in olden days who entered a chamber with his sword drawn from the scabbard and in his hand. Her forehead was broad and somewhat low. Her nose was not classically beautiful, being broader at the nostrils than beauty required, and, moreover, not perfectly straight in its line. Her lips were thin. Her teeth, which she endeavoured to show as little as possible, were perfect in form and colour. They who criticised her severely said, however, that they were too large. Her chin was well formed, and divided by a dimple which gave to her face a softness of grace which would otherwise have been much missed. But perhaps her great beauty was in the brilliant clearness of her dark complexion. You might almost fancy that you could see into it so as to read the different lines beneath the skin. She was somewhat tall, though by no means tall to a fault, and was so thin as to be almost meagre in her proportions. She always wore her dress close up to her neck, and never showed the bareness of her arms. Though she was the only woman so clad now present in the room, this singularity did not specially strike one, because in other respects her apparel was so rich and quaint as to make inattention to it impossible. The observer who did not observe very closely would perceive that Madame Max Goesler’s dress was unlike the dress of other women, but seeing that it was unlike in make, unlike in colour, and unlike in material, the ordinary observer would not see also that it was unlike in form for any other purpose than that of maintaining its general peculiarity of character. In colour she was abundant, and yet the fabric of her garment was always black. My pen may not dare to describe the traceries of yellow and ruby silk which went in and out through the black lace, across her bosom, and round her neck, and over her shoulders, and along her arms, and down to the very ground at her feet, robbing the black stuff of all its sombre solemnity, and producing a brightness in which there was nothing gaudy. She wore no vestige of crinoline, and hardly anything that could be called a train. And the lace sleeves of her dress, with their bright traceries of silk, were fitted close to her arms; and round her neck she wore the smallest possible collar of lace, above which there was a short chain of Roman gold with a ruby pendant. And she had rubies in her ears, and a ruby brooch, and rubies in the bracelets on her arms. Such, as regarded the outward woman, was Madame Max Goesler; and Phineas, as he took his place by her side, thought that fortune for the nonce had done well with him — only that he should have liked it so much better could he have been seated next to Violet Effingham!

I have said that in the matter of conversation his morsel of seed was not thrown into barren ground I do not know that he can truly be said to have produced even a morsel. The subjects were all mooted by the lady, and so great was her fertility in discoursing that all conversational grasses seemed to grow with her spontaneously. “Mr Finn,” she said, “what would I not give to be a member of the British Parliament at such a moment as this!”

“Why at such a moment as this particularly?”

“Because there is something to be done, which, let me tell you, senator though you are, is not always the case with you.”

“My experience is short, but it sometimes seems to me that there is too much to be done.”

“Too much of nothingness, Mr Firm. Is not that the case? But now there is a real fight in the lists. The one great drawback to the life of women is that they cannot act in politics.”

“And which side would you take?”

“What, here in England?” said Madame Max Goesler — from which expression, and from one or two others of a similar nature, Phineas was led into a doubt whether the lady were a countrywoman of his or not. “Indeed, it is hard to say. Politically I should want to out-Turnbull Mr Turnbull, to vote for everything that could be voted for — ballot, manhood suffrage, womanhood suffrage, unlimited right of striking, tenant right, education of everybody, annual parliaments, and the abolition of at least the bench of bishops.”

“That is a strong programme,” said Phineas.

“It is strong, Mr Finn, but that’s what I should like. I think, however, that I should be tempted to feel a dastard security in the conviction that I might advocate my views without any danger of seeing them carried out. For, to tell you the truth, I don’t at all want to put down ladies and gentlemen.”

“You think that they would go with the bench of bishops?”

“I don’t want anything to go — that is, as far as real life is concerned. There’s that dear good Bishop of Abingdon is the best friend I have in the world — and as for the Bishop of Dorchester, I’d walk from here to there to hear him preach. And I’d sooner hem aprons for them all myself than that they should want those pretty decorations. But then, Mr Finn, there is such a difference between life and theory — is there not?”

“And it is so comfortable to have theories that one is not bound to carry out,” said Phineas.

“Isn’t it? Mr Palliser, do you live up to your political theories?” At this moment Mr Palliser was sitting perfectly silent between Lady Hartletop and the Duke’s daughter, and he gave a little spring in his chair as this sudden address was made to him. “Your House of Commons theories, I mean, Mr Palliser. Mr Finn is saying that it is very well to have far-advanced ideas — it does not matter how far advanced — because one is never called upon to act upon them practically.”

“That is a dangerous doctrine, I think,” said Mr Palliser.

“But pleasant — so at least Mr Finn says.”

“It is at least very common,” said Phineas, not caring to protect himself by a contradiction.

“For myself,” said Mr Palliser gravely, I think I may say that I always am really anxious to carry into practice all those doctrines of policy which I advocate in theory.”

During this conversation Lady Hartletop sat as though no word of it reached her ears. She did not understand Madame Max Goesler, and by no means loved her. Mr Palliser, when he had made his little speech, turned to the Duke’s daughter and asked some question about the conservatories at Longroyston.

“I have called forth a word of wisdom,” said Madame Max Goesler, almost in a whisper.

“Yes,” said Phineas, and taught a Cabinet Minister to believe that I am a most unsound politician. You may have ruined my prospects for life, Madame Max Goesler.”

“Let me hope not. As far as I can understand the way of things in your Government, the aspirants to office succeed chiefly by making themselves uncommonly unpleasant to those who are in power. If a man can hit hard enough he is sure to be taken into the elysium of the Treasury bench — not that he may hit others, but that he may cease to hit those who are there, I don’t think men are chosen because they are useful.”

“You are very severe upon us all.”

“Indeed, as far as I can see, one man is as useful as another. But to put aside joking — they tell me that you are sure to become a minister.”

Phineas felt that he blushed. Could it be that people said of him behind his back that he was a man likely to rise high in political position? “Your informants are very kind,” he replied awkwardly, “but I do not know who they are. I shall never get up in the way you describe — that is, by abusing the men I support.”

After that Madame Max Goesler turned round to Mr Grey, who was sitting on the other side of her, and Phineas was left for a moment in silence. He tried to say a word to Lady Hartletop, but Lady Hartletop only bowed her head gracefully in recognition of the truth of the statement he made. So he applied himself for a while to his dinner.

“What do you think of Miss Effingham?” said Madame Max Goesler, again addressing him suddenly.

“What do I think about her?”

“You know her, I suppose.”

“Oh yes, I know her. She is closely connected with the Kennedys, who are friends of mine.”

“So I have heard. They tell me that scores of men are raving about her. Are you one of them?”

“Oh yes — I don’t mind being one of sundry scores. There is nothing particular in owning to that.”

“But you admire her?”

“Of course I do,” said Phineas.

“Ah, I see you are joking. I do amazingly. They say women never do admire women, but I most sincerely do admire Miss Effingham.”

“Is she a friend of yours?”

“Oh no — I must not dare to say so much as that. I was with her last winter for a week at Matching, and of course I meet her about at people’s houses. She seems to me to be the most independent girl I ever knew in my life. I do believe that nothing would make her marry a man unless she loved him and honoured him, and I think it is so very seldom that you can say that of a girl.”

“I believe so also,” said Phineas. Then he paused a moment before he continued to speak. “I cannot say that I know Miss Effingham very intimately, but from what I have seen of her, I should think it very probable that she may not marry at all.”

“Very probably,” said Madame Max Goesler, who then again turned away to Mr Grey.

Ten minutes after this, when the moment was just at hand in which the ladies were to retreat, Madame Max Goesler again addressed Phineas, looking very full into his face as she did so. “I wonder whether the time will ever come, Mr Finn, in which you will give me an account of that day’s journey to Blankenberg?”

“To Blankenberg!”

“Yes — to Blankenberg. I am not asking for it now. But I shall look for it some day.” Then Lady Glencora rose from her seat, and Madame Max Goesler went out with the others.

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