Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 48

“ The Duke ”

By the middle of September there was assembled a large party at Matching Priory, a country mansion belonging to Mr Plantagenet Palliser. The men had certainly been chosen in reference to their political feelings and position — for there was not a guest in the house who had voted for Mr Turnbull’s clause, or the wife or daughter, or sister of anyone who had so voted. Indeed, in these days politics ran so high that among politicians all social gatherings were brought together with some reference to the state of parties. Phineas was invited, and when he arrived at Matching he found that half the Cabinet was there. Mr Kennedy was not there, nor was Lady Laura. Mr Monk was there, and the Duke — with the Duchess, and Mr Gresham, and Lord Thrift; Mrs Max Goesler was there also, and Mrs Bonteen — Mr Bonteen being detained somewhere out of the way; and Violet Effingham was expected in two days, and Lord Chiltern at the end of the week. Lady Glencora took an opportunity of imparting this latter information to Phineas very soon after his arrival; and Phineas, as he watched her eye and her mouth while she spoke, was quite sure that Lady Glencora knew the story of the duel. “I shall be delighted to see him again,” said Phineas. “That is all right,” said Lady Glencora. There were also there Mr and Mrs Grey, who were great friends of the Pallisers — and on the very day on which Phineas reached Matching, at half an hour before the time for dressing, the Duke of Omnium arrived. Now, Mr Palliser was the Duke’s nephew and heir — and the Duke of Omnium was a very great person indeed. I hardly know why it should have been so, but the Duke of Omnium was certainly a greater man in public estimation than the other duke then present — the Duke of St Bungay. The Duke of St Bungay was a useful man, and had been so all his life, sitting in Cabinets and serving his country, constant as any peer in the House of Lords, always ready to take on his own shoulders any troublesome work required of him, than whom Mr Mildmay, and Mr Mildmay’s predecessor at the head of the liberal party, had had no more devoted adherent. But the Duke of Omnium had never yet done a day’s work on behalf of his country. They both wore the Garter, the Duke of St Bungay having earned it by service, the Duke of Omnium having been decorated with the blue ribbon — because he was Duke of Omnium. The one was a moral, good man, a good husband, a good father, and a good friend. The other — did not bear quite so high a reputation. But men and women thought but little of the Duke of St Bungay, while the other duke was regarded with an almost reverential awe. I think the secret lay in the simple fact that the Duke of Omnium had not been common in the eyes of the people. He had contrived to envelope himself in something of the ancient mystery of wealth and rank. Within three minutes of the Duke’s arrival Mrs Bonteen, with an air of great importance, whispered a word to Phineas. “He has come. He arrived exactly at seven!”

“Who has come?” Phineas asked.

“The Duke of Omnium!” she said, almost reprimanding him by her tone of voice for his indifference. “There has been a great doubt whether or no he would show himself at last. Lady Glencora told me that he never will pledge himself. I am so glad he has come.”

“I don’t think I ever saw him,” said Phineas.

“Oh, I have seen him — a magnificent-looking man! I think it is so very nice of Lady Glencora getting him to meet us. It is very rarely that he will join in a great party, but they say Lady Glencora can do anything with him since the heir was born. I suppose you have heard all about that.”

“No,” said Phineas; I have heard nothing of the heir, but I know that there are three or four babies.”

“There was no heir, you know, for a year and a half, and they were all au désespoir; and the Duke was very nearly quarrelling with his nephew; and Mr Palliser — you know it had very nearly come to a separation.”

“I don’t know anything at all about it,” said Phineas, who was not very fond of the lady who was giving him the information.

“It is so, I can assure you; but since the boy was born Lady Glencora can do anything with the Duke. She made him go to Ascot last spring, and he presented her with the favourite for one of the races on the very morning the horse ran. They say he gave three thousand pounds for him.”

“And did Lady Glencora win?”

“No — the horse lost; and Mr Palliser has never known what to do with him since. But it was very pretty of the Duke — was it not?”

Phineas, though he had intended to show to Mrs Bonteen how little he thought about the Duke of Omnium — how small was his respect for a great peer who took no part in politics — could not protect himself from a certain feeling of anxiety as to the aspect and gait and words of the man of whom people thought so much, of whom he had heard so often, and of whom he had seen so little. He told himself that the Duke of Omnium should be no more to him than any other man, but yet the Duke of Omnium was more to him than other men. When he came down into the drawing-room he was angry with himself, and stood apart — and was then angry with himself again because he stood apart. Why should he make a difference in his own bearing because there was such a man in the company? And yet he could not avoid it. When he entered the room the Duke was standing in a large bow-window, and two or three ladies and two or three men were standing round him. Phineas would not go near the group, telling himself that he would not approach a man so grand as was the Duke of Omnium. He saw Madame Max Goesler among the party, and after a while he saw her retreat. As she retreated, Phineas knew that some words from Madame Max Goesler had not been received with the graciousness which she had expected. There was the prettiest smile in the world on the lady’s face, and she took a corner on a sofa with an air of perfect satisfaction. But yet Phineas knew that she had received a wound.

“I called twice on you in London,” said Phineas, coming up close to her, “but was not fortunate enough to find you!”

“Yes — but you came so late in the season as to make it impossible that there should be any arrangements for our meeting. What can any woman do when a gentleman calls on her in August?”

“I came in July.”

“Yes, you did; on the 31st. I keep the most accurate record of all such things, Mr Finn. But let us hope that we may have better luck next year. In the meantime, we can only enjoy the good things that are going.”

“Socially, or politically, Madame Goesler?”

“Oh, socially. How can I mean anything else when the Duke of Omnium is here? I feel so much taller at being in the same house with him. Do not you? But you are a spoilt child of fortune, and perhaps you have met him before.”

“I think I once saw the back of a hat in the park, and somebody told me that the Duke’s head was inside it.”

“And you have never seen him but that once?”

“Never but that once — till now.”

“And do not you feel elated?”

“Of course I do. For what do you take me, Madame Goesler?”

“I do — immensely. I believe him to be a fool, and I never heard of his doing a kind act to anybody in my life.”

“Not when he gave the racehorse to Lady Glencora?”

“I wonder whether that was true. Did you ever hear of such an absurdity? As I was saying, I don’t think he ever did anything for anybody — but then, you know, to be Duke of Omnium! It isn’t necessary — is it — that a Duke of Omnium should do anything except be Duke of Omnium?”

At this moment Lady Glencora came up to Phineas, and took him across to the Duke. The Duke had expressed a desire to be introduced to him. Phineas, half-pleased and half-disgusted, had no alternative, and followed Lady Glencora. The Duke shook hands with him, and made a little bow, and said something about the garrotters, which Phineas, in his confusion, did not quite understand. He tried to reply as he would have replied to anybody else, but the weight of the Duke’s majesty was too much for him, and he bungled. The Duke made another little bow, and in a moment was speaking a word of condescension to some other favoured individual. Phineas retreated altogether disgusted — hating the Duke, but hating himself worse; but he would not retreat in the direction of Madame Max Goesler. It might suit that lady to take an instant little revenge for her discomfiture, but it did not suit him to do so. The question with him would be, whether in some future part of his career it might not be his duty to assist in putting down Dukes of Omnium.

At dinner Phineas sat between Mrs Bonteen and the Duchess of St Bungay, and did not find himself very happy. At the other end of the table the Duke — the great Duke, was seated at Lady Glencora’s right hand, and on his other side Fortune had placed Madame Max Goesler. The greatest interest which Phineas had during the dinner was in watching the operations — the triumphantly successful operations of that lady. Before dinner she had been wounded by the Duke. The Duke had not condescended to accord the honour of his little bow of graciousness to some little flattering morsel of wit which the lady had uttered on his behoof. She had said a sharp word or two in her momentary anger to Phineas; but when Fortune was so good to her in that matter of her place at dinner, she was not fool enough to throw away her chance. Throughout the soup and fish she was very quiet. She said a word or two after her first glass of champagne. The Duke refused two dishes, one after another, and then she glided into conversation. By the time that he had his roast mutton before him she was in full play, and as she eat her peach, the Duke was bending over her with his most gracious smile.

“Didn’t you think the session was very long, Mr Finn?” said the Duchess to Phineas.

“Very long indeed, Duchess,” said Phineas, with his attention still fixed on Madame Max Goesler.

“The Duke found it very troublesome.”

“I daresay he did,” said Phineas. That duke and that duchess were no more than any other man and any other man’s wife. The session had not been longer to the Duke of St Bungay than to all the public servants. Phineas had the greatest possible respect for the Duke of St Bungay, but he could not take much interest in the wailings of the Duchess on her husband’s behalf.

“And things do seem to be so very uncomfortable now,” said the Duchess — thinking partly of the resignation of Mr Mildmay, and partly of the fact that her own old peculiar maid who had lived with her for thirty years had retired into private life.

“Not so very bad, Duchess, I hope,” said Phineas, observing that at this moment Madame Max Goesler’s eyes were brilliant with triumph. Then there came upon him a sudden ambition — that he would like to “cut out” the Duke of Omnium in the estimation of Madame Max Goesler. The brightness of Madame Max Goesler’s eyes had not been thrown away upon our hero.

Violet Effingham came at the appointed time, and, to the surprise of Phineas, was brought to Matching by Lord Brentford. Phineas at first thought that it was intended that the Earl and his son should meet and make up their quarrel at Mr Palliser’s house. But Lord Brentford stayed only one night, and Phineas on the next morning heard the whole history of his coming and going from Violet. “I have almost been on my knees to him to stay,” she said. “Indeed, I did go on my knees — actually on my knees.”

“And what did he say?”

“He put his arm round me and kissed me, and — and — I cannot tell you all that he said. But it ended in this — that if Chiltern can be made to go to Saulsby, fatted calves without stint will be killed. I shall do all I can to make him go; and so must you, Mr Finn. Of course that silly affair in foreign parts is not to make any difference between you two.”

Phineas smiled, and said he would do his best, and looked up into her face, and was just able to talk to her as though things were going comfortably with him. But his heart was very cold. As Violet had spoken to him about Lord Chiltern there had come upon him, for the first time — for the first time since he had known that Lord Chiltern had been refused — an idea, a doubt, whether even yet Violet might not become Lord Chiltern’s wife. His heart was very sad, but he struggled on — declaring that it was incumbent on them both to bring together the father and son.

“I am so glad to hear you say so, Mr Finn,” said Violet. “I really do believe that you can do more towards it than anyone else. Lord Chiltern would think nothing of my advice — would hardly speak to me on such a subject. But he respects you as well as likes you, and not the less because of what has occurred.”

How was it that Violet should know aught of the respect or liking felt by this rejected suitor for that other suitor — who had also been rejected? And how was it that she was thus able to talk of one of them to the other, as though neither of them had ever come forward with such a suit? Phineas felt his position to be so strange as to be almost burdensome. He had told Violet, when she had refused him, very plainly, that he should come again to her, and ask once more for the great gift which he coveted. But he could not ask again now. In the first place, there was that in her manner which made him sure that were he to do so, he would ask in vain; and then he felt that she was placing a special confidence in him, against which he would commit a sin were he to use her present intimacy with him for the purposes of making love. They two were to put their shoulders together to help Lord Chiltern, and while doing so he could not continue a suit which would be felt by both of them to be hostile to Lord Chiltern. There might be opportunity for a chance word, and if so the chance word should be spoken; but he could not make a deliberate attack, such as he had made in Portman Square. Violet also probably understood that she had not now been caught in a mousetrap.

The Duke was to spend four days at Matching, and on the third day — the day before Lord Chiltern was expected — he was to be seen riding with Madame Max Goesler by his side. Madame Max Goesler was known as a perfect horsewoman — one indeed who was rather fond of going a little fast on horseback, and who rode well to hounds. But the Duke seldom moved out of a walk, and on this occasion Madame Max was as steady in her seat and almost as slow as the mounted ghost in Don Juan. But it was said by some there, especially by Mrs Bonteen, that the conversation between them was not slow. And on the next morning the Duke and Madame Max Goesler were together again before luncheon, standing on a terrace at the back of the house, looking down on a party who were playing croquet on the lawn.

“Do you never play?” said the Duke.

“Oh yes — one does everything a little.”

“I am sure you would play well. Why do you not play now?”

“No — I shall not play now.”

“I should like to see you with your mallet.”

“I am sorry Your Grace cannot be gratified. I have played croquet till I am tired of it, and have come to think it is only fit for boys and girls. The great thing is to give them opportunities for flirting, and it does that.”

“And do you never flirt, Madame Goesler?”

“Never at croquet, Duke.”

“And what with you is the choicest time?”

“That depends on so many things — and so much on the chosen person. What do you recommend?”

“Ah — I am so ignorant. I can recommend nothing.”

“What do you say to a mountain-top at dawn on a summer day?” asked Madame Max Goesler.

“You make me shiver,” said the Duke.

“Or a boat on a lake on a summer evening, or a good lead after hounds with nobody else within three fields, or the bottom of a salt-mine, or the deck of an ocean steamer, or a military hospital in time of war, or a railway journey from Paris to Marseilles?”

“Madame Max Goesler, you have the most uncomfortable ideas.”

“I have no doubt your Grace has tried each of them — successfully. But perhaps, after all, a comfortable chair over a good fire, in a pretty room, beats everything.”

“I think it does — certainly,” said the Duke. Then he whispered something at which Madame Max Goesler blushed and smiled, and immediately after that she followed those who had already gone in to lunch.

Mrs Bonteen had been hovering round the spot on the terrace on which the Duke and Madame Max Goesler had been standing, looking on with envious eyes, meditating some attack, some interruption, some excuse for an interpolation, but her courage had failed her and she had not dared to approach. The Duke had known nothing of the hovering propinquity of Mrs Bonteen, but Madame Goesler had seen and had understood it all.

“Dear Mrs Bonteen,” she said afterwards, why did you not come and join us? The Duke was so pleasant.”

“Two is company, and three is none,” said Mrs Bonteen, who in her anger was hardly able to choose her words quite as well as she might have done had she been more cool.

“Our friend Madame Max has made quite a new conquest,” said Mrs Bonteen to Lady Glencora.

“I am so pleased,” said Lady Glencora, with apparently unaffected delight. “It is such a great thing to get anybody to amuse my uncle. You see everybody cannot talk to him, and he will not talk to everybody.”

“He talked enough to her in all conscience,” said Mrs Bonteen, who was now more angry than ever.

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