Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 44

Phineas and his friends

Our hero’s friends were, I think, almost more elated by our hero’s promotion than was our hero himself. He never told himself that it was a great thing to be a junior lord of the Treasury, though he acknowledged to himself that to have made a successful beginning was a very great thing. But his friends were loud in their congratulations — or condolements as the case might be.

He had his interview with Mr Mildmay, and, after that, one of his first steps was to inform Mrs Bunce that he must change his lodgings. “The truth is, Mrs Bunce, not that I want anything better; but that a better position will be advantageous to me, and that I can afford to pay for it.” Mrs Bunce acknowledged the truth of the argument, with her apron up to her eyes. “I’ve got to be so fond of looking after you, Mr Finn! I have indeed,” said Mrs Bunce. “It is not just what you pays like, because another party will pay as much. But we’ve got so used to you, Mr Finn — haven’t we?” Mrs Bunce was probably not aware herself that the comeliness of her lodger had pleased her feminine eye, and touched her feminine heart, Had anybody said that Mrs Bunce was in love with Phineas, the scandal would have been monstrous. And yet it was so — after a fashion. And Bunce knew it — after his fashion. “Don’t be such an old fool,” he said, “crying after him because he’s six foot high.” “I ain’t crying after him because he’s six foot high,” whined the poor woman — “but one does like old faces better than new, and a gentleman about one’s place is pleasant.” “Gentleman be d — d, said Bunce. But his anger was excited, not by his wife’s love for Phineas, but by the use of an objectionable word.

Bunce himself had been on very friendly terms with Phineas, and they two had had many discussions on matters of politics, Bunce taking up the cudgels always for Mr Turnbull, and generally slipping away gradually into some account of his own martyrdom. For he had been a martyr, having failed in obtaining any redress against the policeman who had imprisoned him so wrongfully. The People’s Banner had fought for him manfully, and therefore there was a little disagreement between him and Phineas on the subject of that great organ of public opinion. And as Mr Bunce thought that his lodger was very wrong to sit for Lord Brentford’s borough, subjects were sometimes touched which were a little galling to Phineas.

Touching this promotion, Bunce had nothing but condolement to offer to the new junior lord. “Oh yes,” said he, in answer to an argument from Phineas, “I suppose there must be lords, as you call ’em; though for the matter of that I can’t see as they is of any mortal use.”

“Wouldn’t you have the Government carried on?”

“Government! Well; I suppose there must be government. But the less of it the better. I’m not against government — nor yet against laws, Mr Finn; though the less of them, too, the better. But what does these lords do in the Government? Lords indeed! I’ll tell you what they do, Mr Finn. They wotes; that’s what they do! They wotes hard; black or white, white or black. Ain’t that true? When you’re a “lord,” will you be able to wote against Mr Mildmay to save your very soul?”

“If it comes to be a question of soul-saving, Mr Bunce, I shan’t save my place at the expense of my conscience.”

“Not if you knows it, you mean. But the worst of it is that a man gets so thick into the mud that he don’t know whether he’s dirty or clean. You’ll have to wote as you’re told, and of course you’ll think it’s right enough. Ain’t you been among Parliament gents long enough to know that that’s the way it goes?”

“You think no honest man can be a member of the Government?”

“I don’t say that, but I think honesty’s a deal easier away from ’em. The fact is, Mr Finn, it’s all wrong with us yet, and will be till we get it nigher to the great American model. If a poor man gets into Parliament — you’ll excuse me, Mr Finn, but I calls you a poor man.”

“Certainly — as a member of Parliament I am a very poor man.”

“Just so — and therefore what do you do? You goes and lays yourself out for government! I’m not saying as how you’re anyways wrong. A man has to live. You has winning ways, and a good physognomy of your own, and are as big as a life-guardsman.” Phineas as he heard this doubtful praise laughed and blushed. “Very well; you makes your way with the big wigs, lords and earls and them like, and you gets returned for a rotten borough — you’ll excuse me, but that’s about it, ain’t it? — and then you goes in for government! A man may have a mission to govern, such as Washington and Cromwell and the like o’ them. But when I hears of Mr Fitzgibbon a-governing, why then I says — d — n it all.”

“There must be good and bad you know.”

“We’ve got to change a deal yet, Mr Finn, and we’ll do it. When a young man as has liberal feelings gets into Parliament, he shouldn’t be snapped up and brought into the governing business just because he’s poor and wants a salary. They don’t do it that way in the States; and they won’t do it that way here long. It’s the system as I hates, and not you, Mr Finn. Well, goodbye, sir. I hope you’ll like the governing business, and find it suits your health.”

These condolements from Mr Bunce were not pleasant, but they set him thinking. He felt assured that Bunce and Quintus Slide and Mr Turnbull were wrong. Bunce was ignorant. Quintus Slide was dishonest. Turnbull was greedy of popularity. For himself, he thought that as a young man he was fairly well informed. He knew that he meant to be true in his vocation. And he was quite sure that the object nearest to his heart in politics was not self-aggrandisement, but the welfare of the people in general. And yet he could not but agree with Bunce that there was something wrong. When such men as Laurence Fitzgibbon were called upon to act as governors, was it not to be expected that the ignorant but still intelligent Bunces of the population should — “d — n it all’?

On the evening of that day he went up to Mrs Low’s, very sure that he should receive some encouragement from her and from her husband. She had been angry with him because he had put himself into a position in which money must be spent and none could be made. The Lows, especially Mrs Low, had refused to believe that any success was within his reach. Now that he had succeeded, now that he was in receipt of a salary on which he could live and save money, he would be sure of sympathy from his old friends the Lows!

But Mrs Low was as severe upon him as Mr Bunce had been, and even from Mr Low he could extract no real comfort. “Of course I congratulate you,” said Mr Low coldly.

“And you, Mrs Low?”

“Well, you know, Mr Finn, I think you have begun at the wrong end. I thought so before, and I think so still. I suppose I ought not to say so to a Lord of the Treasury, but if you ask me, what can I do?”

“Speak the truth out, of course.”

“Exactly. That’s what I must do. Well, the truth is, Mr Finn, that I do not think it is a very good opening for a young man to be made what they call a Lord of the Treasury — unless he has got a private fortune, you know, to support that kind of life.”

“You see, Phineas, a ministry is such an uncertain thing,” said Mr Low.

“Of course it’s uncertain — but as I did go into the House, it’s something to have succeeded.”

“If you call that success,” said Mrs Low.

“You did intend to go on with your profession,” said Mr Low. He could not tell them that he had changed his mind, and that he meant to marry Violet Effingham, who would much prefer a parliamentary life for her husband to that of a working barrister. “I suppose that is all given up now,” continued Mr Low.

“Just for the present,” said Phineas.

“Yes — and for ever I fear,” said Mrs Low. You’ll never go back to real work after frittering away your time as a Lord of the Treasury. What sort of work must it be when just anybody can do it that it suits them to lay hold of? But of course a thousand a year is something, though a man may have it for only six months.”

It came out in the course of the evening that Mr Low was going to stand for the borough vacated by Mr Mottram, at which it was considered that the Conservatives might possibly prevail. “You see, after all, Phineas,” said Mr Low, “that I am following your steps.”

“Ah; you are going into the House in the course of your profession.”

“Just so,” said Mrs Low.

“And are taking the first step towards being a Tory Attorney-General.”

“That’s as may be,” said Mr Low. But it’s the kind of thing a man does after twenty years of hard work. For myself, I really don’t care much whether I succeed or fail. I should like to live to be a Vice-Chancellor. I don’t mind saying as much as that to you. But I’m not at all sure that Parliament is the best way to the Equity Bench.”

“But it is a grand thing to get into Parliament when you do it by means of your profession,” said Mrs Low.

Soon after that Phineas took his departure from the house, feeling sore and unhappy. But on the next morning he was received in Grosvenor Place with an amount of triumph which went far to compensate him. Lady Laura had written to him to call there, and on his arrival he found both Violet Effingham and Madame Max Goesler with his friend. When Phineas entered the room his first feeling was one of intense joy at seeing that Violet Effingham was present there. Then there was one of surprise that Madame Max Goesler should make one of the little party. Lady Laura had told him at Mr Palliser’s dinner-party that they, in Portman Square, had not as yet advanced far enough to receive Madame Max Goesler — and yet here was the lady in Mr Kennedy’s drawing-room. Now Phineas would have thought it more likely that he should find her in Portman Square than in Grosvenor Place. The truth was that Madame Goesler had been brought by Miss Effingham — with the consent, indeed, of Lady Laura, but with a consent given with much of hesitation. “What are you afraid of?” Violet had asked. “I am afraid of nothing,” Lady Laura had answered; but one has to choose one’s acquaintance in accordance with rules which one doesn’t lay down very strictly.” “She is a clever woman,” said Violet, “and everybody likes her; but if you think Mr Kennedy would object, of course you are right.” Then Lady Laura had consented, telling herself that it was not necessary that she should ask her husband’s approval as to every new acquaintance she might form. At the same time Violet had been told that Phineas would be there, and so the party had been made up.

““See the conquering hero comes,”” said Violet in her cheeriest voice.

“I am so glad that Mr Finn has been made a lord of something,” said Madame Max Goesler. “I had the pleasure of a long political discussion with him the other night, and I quite approve of him.”

“We are so much gratified, Mr Finn,” said Lady Laura. “Mr. Kennedy says that it is the best appointment they could have made, and papa is quite proud about it.”

“You are Lord Brentford’s member; are you not?” asked Madame Max Goesler. This was a question which Phineas did not quite like, and which he was obliged to excuse by remembering that the questioner had lived so long out of England as to be probably ignorant of the myths, and theories, and system, and working of the British Constitution. Violet Effingham, little as she knew of politics, would never have asked a question so imprudent.

But the question was turned off, and Phineas, with an easy grace, submitted himself to be petted, and congratulated, and purred over, and almost caressed by the three ladies. Their good-natured enthusiasm was at any rate better than the satire of Bunce, or the wisdom of Mrs Low. Lady Laura had no misgivings as to Phineas being fit for governing, and Violet Effingham said nothing as to the short-lived tenure of ministers. Madame Max Goesler, though she had asked an indiscreet question, thoroughly appreciated the advantage of Government pay, and the prestige of Government power. “You are a lord now,” she said, speaking, as was customary with her, with the slightest possible foreign accent, “and you will be a president soon, and then perhaps a secretary. The order of promotion seems odd, but I am told it is very pleasant.”

“It is pleasant to succeed, of course,” said Phineas, “let the success be ever so little.”

“We knew you would succeed,” said Lady Laura. We were quite sure of it. Were we not, Violet?”

“You always said so, my dear. For myself I do not venture to have an opinion on such matters. Will you always have to go to that big building in the corner, Mr Finn, and stay there from ten till four? Won’t that be a bore?”

“We have a half-holiday on Saturday, you know,” said Phineas.

“And do the Lords of the Treasury have to take care of the money?” asked Madame Max Goesler.

“Only their own; and they generally fail in doing that,” said Phineas.

He sat there for a considerable time, wondering whether Mr Kennedy would come in, and wondering also as to what Mr Kennedy would say to Madame Max Goesler when he did come in. He knew that it was useless for him to expect any opportunity, then or there, of being alone for a moment with Violet Effingham. His only chance in that direction would be in some crowded room, at some ball at which he might ask her to dance with him; but it seemed that fate was very unkind to him, and that no such chance came in his way. Mr Kennedy did not appear, and Madame Max Goesler with Violet went away, leaving Phineas still sitting with Lady Laura. Each of them said a kind word to him as they went. “I don’t know whether I may dare to expect that a Lord of the Treasury will come and see me?” said Madame Max Goesler. Then Phineas made a second promise that he would call in Park Lane. Violet blushed as she remembered that she could not ask him to call at Lady Baldock’s. “Goodbye, Mr Finn,” she said, giving him her hand. “I’m so very glad that they have chosen you; and I do hope that, as Madame Max says, they’ll make you a secretary and a president, and everything else very quickly — till it will come to your turn to be making other people.” “He is very nice, said Madame Goesler to Violet as she took her place in the carriage. “He bears being petted and spoilt without being either awkward or conceited.” “On the whole, he is rather nice, said Violet; “only he has not got a shilling in the world, and has to make himself before he will be anybody.” “He must marry money, of course,” said Madame Max Goesler.

“I hope you are contented?” said Lady Laura, rising from her chair and coming opposite to him as soon as they were alone.

“Of course I am contented.”

“I was not — when I first heard of it. Why did they promote that empty-headed countryman of yours to a place for which he was quite unfit? I was not contented. But then I am more ambitious for you than you are for yourself.” He sat without answering her for awhile, and she stood waiting for his reply. “Have you nothing to say to me?” she asked.

“I do not know what to say. When I think of it all, I am lost in amazement. You tell me that you are not contented — that you are ambitious for me. Why is it that you should feel any interest in the matter?”

“Is it not reasonable that we should be interested for our friends?”

“But when you and I last parted here in this room you were hardly my friend.”

“Was I not? You wrong me there — very deeply.”

“I told you what was my ambition, and you resented it,” said Phineas.

“I think I said that I could not help you, and I think I said also that I thought you would fail. I do not know that I showed much resentment. You see, I told her that you were here, that she might come and meet you. You know that I wished my brother should succeed. I wished it before I ever knew you. You cannot expect that I should change my wishes.”

“But if he cannot succeed,” pleaded Phineas.

“Who is to say that? Has a woman never been won by devotion and perseverance? Besides, how can I wish to see you go on with a suit which must sever you from my father, and injure your political prospects — perhaps fatally injure them? It seems to me now that my father is almost the only man in London who has not heard of this duel.”

“Of course he will hear of it. I have half made up my mind to tell him myself.”

“Do not do that, Mr Finn. There can be no reason for it. But I did not ask you to come here today to talk to you about Oswald or Violet. I have given you my advice about that, and I can do no more.”

“Lady Laura, I cannot take it. It is out of my power to take it.”

“Very well. The matter shall be what you members of Parliament call an open question between us. When papa asked you to accept this place at the Treasury, did it ever occur to you to refuse it?”

“It did — for half an hour or so.”

“I hoped you would — and yet I knew that I was wrong. I thought that you should count yourself to be worth more than that, and that you should, as it were, assert yourself. But then it is so difficult to draw the line between proper self-assertion and proper self-denial — to know how high to go up the table, and how low to go down. I do not doubt that you have been right — only make them understand that you are not as other junior lords — that you have been willing to be a junior lord, or anything else for a purpose; but that the purpose is something higher than that of fetching and carrying in Parliament for Mr Mildmay and Mr Palliser.”

“I hope in time to get beyond fetching and carrying,” said Phineas.

“Of course you will; and knowing that, I am glad that you are in office. I suppose there will be no difficulty about Loughton.”

Then Phineas laughed. “I hear,” said he, that Mr Quintus Slide, of the People’s Banner, has already gone down to canvass the electors.”

“Mr Quintus Slide! To canvass the electors of Loughton!” and Lady Laura drew herself up and spoke of this unseemly intrusion on her father’s borough, as though the vulgar man who had been named had forced his way into the very drawing-room in Portman Square. At that moment Mr Kennedy came in. “Do you hear what Mr Finn tells me?” she said. “He has heard that Mr Quintus Slide has gone down to Loughton to stand against him.”

“And why not?” said Mr Kennedy.

“My dear!” ejaculated Lady Laura.

“Mr Quintus Slide will no doubt lose his time and his money — but he will gain the prestige of having stood for a borough, which will be something for him on the staff of the People’s Banner,” said Mr Kennedy.

“He will get that horrid man Vellum to propose him,” said Lady Laura.

“Very likely,” said Mr Kennedy. And the less any of us say about it the better. Finn, my dear fellow, I congratulate you heartily. Nothing for a long time has given me greater pleasure than hearing of your appointment. It is equally honourable to yourself and to Mr Mildmay. It is a great step to have gained so early.”

Phineas, as he thanked his friend, could not help asking himself what his friend had done to be made a Cabinet Minister. Little as he, Phineas, himself had done in the House in his two sessions and a half, Mr Kennedy had hardly done more in his fifteen or twenty. But then Mr Kennedy was possessed of almost miraculous wealth, and owned half a county, whereas he, Phineas, owned almost nothing at all. Of course no Prime Minister would offer a junior lordship at the Treasury to a man with £30,000 a year. Soon after this Phineas took his leave. “I think he will do well,” said Mr Kennedy to his wife.

“I am sure he will do well,” replied Lady Laura, almost scornfully.

“He is not quite such a black swan with me as he is with you; but still I think he will succeed, if he takes care of himself. It is astonishing how that absurd story of his duel with Chiltern has got about.”

“It is impossible to prevent people talking,” said Lady Laura.

“I suppose there was some quarrel, though neither of them will tell you. They say it was about Miss Effingham. I should hardly think that Finn could have any hopes in that direction.”

“Why should he not have hopes?”

“Because he has neither position, nor money, nor birth,” said Mr Kennedy.

“He is a gentleman,” said Lady Laura; and I think he has position. I do not see why he should not ask any girl to marry him.”

“There is no understanding you, Laura,” said Mr Kennedy, angrily. “I thought you had quite other hopes about Miss Effingham.”

“So I have; but that has nothing to do with it. You spoke of Mr Finn as though he would be guilty of some crime were he to ask Violet Effingham to be his wife. In that I disagree with you. Mr Finn is — ”

“You will make me sick of the name of Mr Finn.”

“I am sorry that I offend you by my gratitude to a man who saved your life.” Mr Kennedy shook his head. He knew that the argument used against him was false, but he did not know how to show that he knew that it was false. “Perhaps I had better not mention his name any more,” continued Lady Laura.

“Nonsense!”

“I quite agree with you that it is nonsense, Robert.”

“All I mean to say is, that if you go on as you do, you will turn his head and spoil him. Do you think I do not know what is going on among you?”

“And what is going on among us — as you call it?”

“You are taking this young man up and putting him on a pedestal and worshipping him, just because he is well-looking, and rather clever and decently behaved. It’s always the way with women who have nothing to do, and who cannot be made to understand that they should have duties. They cannot live without some kind of idolatry.”

“Have I neglected my duty to you, Robert?”

“Yes — you know you have — in going to those receptions at your father’s house on Sundays.”

“What has that to do with Mr Finn?”

“Psha!”

“I begin to think I had better tell Mr Finn not to come here any more, since his presence is disagreeable to you. All the world knows how great is the service he did you, and it will seem to be very ridiculous. People will say all manner of things; but anything will be better than that you should go on as you have done — accusing your wife of idolatry towards — a young man, because — he is — well-looking.”

“I never said anything of the kind.”

“You did, Robert.”

“I did not. I did not speak more of you than of a lot of others.”

“You accused me personally, saying that because of my idolatry I had neglected my duty; but really you made such a jumble of it all, with papa’s visitors, and Sunday afternoons, that I cannot follow what was in your mind.”

Then Mr Kennedy stood for awhile, collecting his thoughts, so that he might unravel the jumble, if that were possible to him; but finding that it was not possible, he left the room, and closed the door behind him.

Then Lady Laura was left alone to consider the nature of the accusation which her husband had brought against her; or the nature rather of the accusation which she had chosen to assert that her husband had implied. For in her heart she knew that he had made no such accusation, and had intended to make none such. The idolatry of which he had spoken was the idolatry which a woman might show to her cat, her dog, her picture, her china, her furniture, her carriage and horses, or her pet maidservant. Such was the idolatry of which Mr Kennedy had spoken — but was there no other worship in her heart, worse, more pernicious than that, in reference to this young man?

She had schooled herself about him very severely, and had come to various resolutions. She had found out and confessed to herself that she did not, and could not, love her husband. She had found out and confessed to herself that she did love, and could not help loving, Phineas Finn. Then she had resolved to banish him from her presence, and had gone the length of telling him so. After that she had perceived that she had been wrong, and had determined to meet him as she met other men — and to conquer her love. Then, when this could not be done, when something almost like idolatry grew upon her, she determined that it should be the idolatry of friendship, that she would not sin even in thought, that there should be nothing in her heart of which she need be ashamed — but that the one great object and purport of her life should be the promotion of this friend’s welfare. She had just begun to love after this fashion, had taught herself to believe that she might combine something of the pleasure of idolatry towards her friend with a full complement of duty towards her husband, when Phineas came to her with his tale of love for Violet Effingham. The lesson which she got then was a very rough one — so hard that at first she could not bear it. Her anger at his love for her brother’s wished-for bride was lost in her dismay that Phineas should love anyone after having once loved her. But by sheer force of mind she had conquered that dismay, that feeling of desolation at her heart, and had almost taught herself to hope that Phineas might succeed with Violet. He wished it — and why should he not have what he wished — he, whom she so fondly idolised? It was not his fault that he and she were not man and wife. She had chosen to arrange it otherwise, and was she not bound to assist him now in the present object of his reasonable wishes? She had got over in her heart that difficulty about her brother, but she could not quite conquer the other difficulty. She could not bring herself to plead his cause with Violet. She had not brought herself as yet to do it.

And now she was accused of idolatry for Phineas by her husband — she with “a lot of others,” in which lot Violet was of course included. Would it not be better that they two should be brought together? Would not her friend’s husband still be her friend? Would she not then forget to love him? Would she not then be safer than she was now?

As she sat alone struggling with her difficulties, she had not as yet forgotten to love him — nor was she as yet safe.

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