Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 49

The Duellists meet

Lord Chiltern arrived, and Phineas was a little nervous as to their meeting. He came back from shooting on the day in question, and was told by the servant that Lord Chiltern was in the house. Phineas went into the billiard-room in his knickerbockers, thinking probably that he might be there, and then into the drawing-room, and at last into the library — but Lord Chiltern was not to be found. At last he came across Violet.

“Have you seen him?” he asked.

“Yes — he was with me half an hour since, walking round the gardens.”

“And how is he? Come — tell me something about him.”

“I never knew him to be more pleasant. He would give no promise about Saulsby, but he did not say that he would not go.”

“Does he know that I am here?”

“Yes — I told him so. I told him how much pleasure I should have in seeing you two together — as friends.”

“And what did he say?”

“He laughed, and said you were the best fellow in the world. You see I am obliged to be explicit.”

“But why did he laugh?” Phineas asked.

“He did not tell me, but I suppose it was because he was thinking of a little trip he once took to Belgium, and he perceived that I knew all about it.”

“I wonder who told you. But never mind. I do not mean to ask any questions. As I do not like that our first meeting should be before all the people in the drawing-room, I will go to him in his own room.”

“Do, do — that will be so nice of you.”

Phineas sent his card up by a servant, and in a few minutes was standing with his hand on the lock of Lord Chiltern’s door. The last time he had seen this man, they had met with pistols in their hands to shoot at each other, and Lord Chiltern had in truth done his very best to shoot his opponent. The cause of quarrel was the same between them as ever. Phineas had not given up Violet, and had no intention of giving her up. And he had received no intimation whatever from his rival that there was to be a truce between them. Phineas had indeed written in friendship to Lord Chiltern, but he had received no answer — and nothing of certainty was to be gathered from the report which Violet had just made. It might well be that Lord Chiltern would turn upon him now in his wrath, and that there would be some scene which in a strange house would be obviously objectionable. Nevertheless he had resolved that even that would be better than a chance encounter among strangers in a drawing-room. So the door was opened and the two men met.

“Well, old fellow,” said Lord Chiltern, laughing. Then all doubt was over, and in a moment Phineas was shaking his former — and present friend, warmly by the hand. “So we’ve come to be an Under-Secretary have we? — and all that kind of thing.”

“I had to get into harness — when the harness offered itself,” said Phineas.

“I suppose so. It’s a deuce of a bore, isn’t it?”

“I always liked work, you know.”

“I thought you liked hunting better. You used to ride as if you did. There’s Bonebreaker back again in the stable for you. That poor fool who bought him could do nothing with him, and I let him have his money back.”

“I don’t see why you should have done that.”

“Because I was the biggest fool of the two. Do you remember when that brute got me down under the bank in the river? That was about the nearest touch I ever had. Lord bless me — how he did squeeze me! So here you are — staying with the Pallisers — one of a Government party I suppose. But what are you going to do for a seat, my friend?”

“Don’t talk about that yet, Chiltern.”

“A sore subject — isn’t it? I think they have been quite right, you know, to put Loughton into the melting-pot — though I’m sorry enough for your sake.”

“Quite right,” said Phineas.

“And yet you voted against it, old chap? But, come; I’m not going to be down upon you. So my father has been here?”

“Yes — he was here for a day or two.”

“Violet has just been telling me. You and he are as good friends as ever?”

“I trust we are.”

“He never heard of that little affair?” And Lord Chiltern nodded his head, intending to indicate the direction of Blankenberg.

“I do not think he has yet.”

“So Violet tells me. Of course you know that she has heard all about it.”

“I have reason to suppose as much.”

“And so does Laura.”

“I told her myself,” said Phineas.

“The deuce you did! But I daresay it was for the best. It’s a pity you had not proclaimed it at Charing Cross, and then nobody would have believed a word about it. Of course my father will hear it some day.”

“You are going to Saulsby, I hope, Chiltern?”

“That question is easier asked than answered. It is quite true that the great difficulty has been got over. Laura has had her money. And if my father will only acknowledge that he has wronged me throughout, from beginning to end, I will go to Saulsby tomorrow — and would cut you out at Loughton the next day, only that Loughton is not Loughton any longer.”

“You cannot expect your father to do that.”

“No — and therefore there is a difficulty. So you’ve had that awfully ponderous Duke here. How did you get on with him?”

“Admirably. He condescended to do something which he called shaking hands with me.”

“He is the greatest old dust out,” said Lord Chiltern, disrespectfully. “Did he take any notice of Violet?”

“Not that I observed.”

“He ought not to be allowed into the same room with her.” After that there was a short pause, and Phineas felt some hesitation in speaking of Miss Effingham to Lord Chiltern. “And how do you get on with her?” asked Lord Chiltern. Here was a question for a man to answer. The question was so hard to be answered, that Phineas did not at first make any attempt to answer it. “You know exactly the ground that I stand on,” continued Lord Chiltern. “She has refused me three times. Have you been more fortunate?”

Lord Chiltern, as he asked his question, looked full into Finn’s face in a manner that was irresistible. His look was not one of anger nor even of pride. It was not, indeed, without a strong dash of fun. But such as it was it showed Phineas that Lord Chiltern intended to have an answer. “No,” said he at last, I have not been more fortunate.”

“Perhaps you have changed your mind,” said his host.

“No — I have not changed my mind,” said Phineas, quickly.

“How stands it then? Come — let us be honest to each other. I told you down at Willingford that I would quarrel with any man who attempted to cut me out with Violet Effingham. You made up your mind that you would do so, and therefore I quarrelled with you. But we can’t always be fighting duels.”

“I hope we may not have to fight another.”

“No — it would be absurd,” said Lord Chiltern. I rather think that what we did was absurd. But upon my life I did not see any other way out of it. However, that is over. How is it to be now?”

“What am I to say in answer to that?” asked Phineas.

“Just the truth. You have asked her, I suppose?”

“Yes — I have asked her.”

“And she has refused you?”

“Yes — she has refused me.”

“And you mean to ask her again?”

“I shall — if I ever think that there is a chance. Indeed, Chiltern, I believe I shall whether I think that I have any chance or not.”

“Then we start fairly, Finn. I certainly shall do so. I believe I once told you that I never would — but that was long before I suspected that you would enter for the same plate. What a man says on such a matter when he is down in the mouth goes for nothing. Now we understand each other, and you had better go and dress. The bell rang nearly half an hour ago, and my fellow is hanging about outside the door.”

The interview had in one respect been very pleasant to Phineas, and in another it had been very bitter. It was pleasant to him to know that he and Lord Chiltern were again friends. It was a delight to him to feel that this half-savage but high-spirited young nobleman, who had been so anxious to fight with him and to shoot him, was nevertheless ready to own that he had behaved well. Lord Chiltern had in fact acknowledged that though he had been anxious to blow out our hero’s brains, he was aware all the time that our hero was a good sort of fellow. Phineas understood this, and felt that it was pleasant. But with this understanding, and accompanying this pleasure, there was a conviction in his heart that the distance between Lord Chiltern and Violet would daily grow to be less and still less — and that Lord Chiltern could afford to be generous. If Miss Effingham could teach herself to be fond of Lord Chiltern, what had he, Phineas Finn, to offer in opposition to the claims of such a suitor?

That evening Lord Chiltern took Miss Effingham out to dinner. Phineas told himself that this was of course so arranged by Lady Glencora, with the express view of serving the Saulsby interest. It was almost nothing to him at the moment that Madame Max Goesler was entrusted to him. He had his ambition respecting Madame Max Goesler; but that for the time was in abeyance. He could hardly keep his eyes off Miss Effingham. And yet, as he well knew, his observation of her must be quite useless. He knew beforehand, with absolute accuracy, the manner in which she would treat her lover. She would be kind, genial, friendly, confidential, nay, affectionate; and yet her manner would mean nothing — would give no clue to her future decision either for or against Lord Chiltern. It was, as Phineas thought, a peculiarity with Violet Effingham that she could treat her rejected lovers as dear familiar friends immediately after her rejection of them.

“Mr Finn,” said Madame Max Goesler, your eyes and ears are tell-tales of your passion.”

“I hope not,” said Phineas, as I certainly do not wish that anyone should guess how strong is my regard for you.”

“That is prettily turned — very prettily turned; and shows more readiness of wit than I gave you credit for under your present suffering. But of course we all know where your heart is. Men do not undertake perilous journeys to Belgium for nothing.”

“That unfortunate journey to Belgium! But, dear Madame Max, really nobody knows why I went.”

“You met Lord Chiltern there?”

“Oh yes — I met Lord Chiltern there.”

“And there was a duel?”

“Madame Max — you must not ask me to criminate myself!”

“Of course there was, and of course it was about Miss Effingham, and of course the lady thinks herself bound to refuse both the gentlemen who were so very wicked, and of course — ”

“Well — what follows?”

“Ah! — if you have not wit enough to see, I do not think it can be my duty to tell you. But I wished to caution you as a friend that your eyes and ears should be more under your command.”

“You will go to Saulsby?” Violet said to Lord Chiltern.

“I cannot possibly tell as yet,” said he, frowning.

“Then I can tell you that you ought to go. I do not care a bit for your frowns. What does the fifth commandment say?”

“If you have no better arguments than the commandments, Violet — ”

“There can be none better. Do you mean to say that the commandments are nothing to you?”

“I mean to say that I shan’t go to Saulsby because I am told in the twentieth chapter of Exodus to honour my father and mother — and that I shouldn’t believe anybody who told me that he did anything because of the commandments.”

“Oh, Lord Chiltern!”

“Peopled are so prejudiced and so used to humbug that for the most part they do not in the least know their own motives for what they do. I will go to Saulsby tomorrow — for a reward.”

“For what reward?” said Violet, blushing.

“For the only one in the world that could tempt me to do anything.”

“You should go for the sake of duty. I should not even care to see you go, much as I long for it, if that feeling did not take you there.”

It was arranged that Phineas and Lord Chiltern were to leave Matching together. Phineas was to remain at his office all October, and in November the general election was to take place. What he had hitherto heard about a future seat was most vague, but he was to meet Ratler and Barrington Erle in London, and it had been understood that Barrington Erle, who was now at Saulsby, was to make some inquiry as to that group of boroughs of which Loughton at this moment formed one. But as Loughton was the smallest of four boroughs, and as one of the four had for many years had a representative of its own, Phineas feared that no success would be found there. In his present agony he began to think that there might be a strong plea made for a few private seats in the House of Commons, and that the propriety of throwing Loughton into the melting-pot was, after all, open to question. He and Lord Chiltern were to return to London together, and Lord Chiltern, according to his present scheme, was to proceed at once to Willingford to look after the cub-hunting. Nothing that either Violet or Phineas could say to him would induce him to promise to go to Saulsby. When Phineas pressed it, he was told by Lord Chiltern that he was a fool for his pains — by which Phineas understood perfectly well that when Lord Chiltern did go to Saulsby, he, Phineas, was to take that as strong evidence that everything was over for him as regarded Violet Effingham. When Violet expressed her eagerness that the visit should be made, she was stopped with an assurance that she could have it done at once if she pleased. Let him only be enabled to carry with him the tidings of his betrothal, and he would start for his father’s house without an hour’s delay. But this authority Violet would not give him. When he answered her after this fashion she could only tell him that he was ungenerous. “At any rate I am not false,” he replied on one occasion. “What I say is the truth.”

There was a very tender parting between Phineas and Madame Max Goesler. She had learned from him pretty nearly all his history, and certainly knew more of the reality of his affairs than any of those in London who had been his most staunch friends. “Of course you’ll get a seat,” she said as he took his leave of her. “If I understand it at all, they never throw over an ally so useful as you are.”

“But the intention is that in this matter nobody shall any longer have the power of throwing over, or of not throwing over, anybody.”

“That is all very well, my friend; but cakes will still be hot in the mouth, even though Mr Daubeny turn purist, with Mr Turnbull to help him. If you want any assistance in finding a seat you will not go to the People’s Banner — even yet.”

“Certainly not to the People’s Banner.”

“I don’t quite understand what the franchise is,” continued Madame Max Goesler.

“Household in boroughs,” said Phineas with some energy.

“Very well — household in boroughs. I daresay that is very fine and very liberal, though I don’t comprehend it in the least. And you want a borough. Very well. You won’t go to the households. I don’t think you will — not at first, that is.”

“Where shall I go then?”

“Oh — to some great patron of a borough — or to a club — or perhaps to some great firm. The households will know nothing about it till they are told. Is not that it?”

“The truth is, Madame Max, I do not know where I shall go. I am like a child lost in a wood. And you may understand this — if you do not see me in Park Lane before the end of January, I shall have perished in the wood.”

“Then I will come and find you — with a troop of householders: You will come. You will be there. I do not believe in death coming without signs. You are full of life.” As she spoke, she had hold of his hand, and there was nobody near them. They were in a little book-room inside the library at Matching, and the door, though not latched, was nearly closed. Phineas had flattered himself that Madame Goesler had retreated there in order that this farewell might be spoken without interruption. “And, Mr Finn — I wonder whether I may say one thing,” she continued.

“You may say anything to me,” he replied.

“No — not in this country, in this England. There are things one may not say here — that are tabooed by a sort of consent — and that without any reason.” She paused again, and Phineas was at a loss to think what was the subject on which she was about to speak. Could she mean —? No; she could not mean to give him any outward plain-spoken sign that she was attached to him. It was the peculiar merit of this man that he was not vain, though much was done to him to fill him with vanity; and as the idea crossed his brain, he hated himself because it had been there.

“To me you may say anything, Madame Goesler,” he said — “here in England, as plainly as though we were in Vienna.”

“But I cannot say it in English,” she said. Then in French, blushing and laughing as she spoke — almost stammering in spite of her usual self-confidence — she told him that accident had made her rich, full of money. Money was a drug with her. Money she knew was wanted, even for householders. Would he not understand her, and come to her, and learn from her how faithful a woman could be?

He still was holding her by the hand, and he now raised it to his lips and kissed it. “The offer from you,” he said, is as high-minded, as generous, and as honourable as its acceptance by me would be mean-spirited, vile, and ignoble. But whether I fail or whether I succeed, you shall see me before the winter is over.”

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