Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 50

Again successful

Phineas also said a word of farewell to Violet before he left Matching, but there was nothing peculiar in her little speech to him, or in his to her. “Of course we shall see each other in London. Don’t talk of not being in the House. Of course you will be in the House.” Then Phineas had shaken his head and smiled. Where was he to find a requisite number of householders prepared to return him? But as he went up to London he told himself that the air of the House of Commons was now the very breath of his nostrils. Life to him without it would be no life. To have come within the reach of the good things of political life, to have made his mark so as to have almost ensured future success, to have been the petted young official aspirant of the day — and then to sink down into the miserable platitudes of private life, to undergo daily attendance in law-courts without a brief, to listen to men who had come to be much below him in estimation and social intercourse, to sit in a wretched chamber up three pairs of stairs at Lincoln’s Inn, whereas he was now at this moment provided with a gorgeous apartment looking out into the Park from the Colonial Office in Downing Street, to be attended by a mongrel between a clerk and an errand boy at 17s. 6d. a week instead of by a private secretary who was the son of an earl’s sister, and was petted by countesses’ daughters innumerable — all this would surely break his heart. He could have done it, so he told himself, and could have taken glory in doing it, had not these other things come in his way. But the other things had come. He had run the risk, and had thrown the dice. And how when the game was so nearly won, must it be that everything should be lost at last?

He knew that nothing was to be gained by melancholy looks at his club, or by show of wretchedness at his office. London was very empty; but the approaching elections still kept some there who otherwise would have been looking after the first flush of pheasants. Barrington Erle was there, and was not long in asking Phineas what were his views.

“Ah — that is so hard to say. Ratler told me that he would be looking about.”

“Ratler is very well in the House,” said Barrington, “but he is of no use for anything beyond it. I suppose you were not brought up at the London University?”

“Oh no,” said Phineas, remembering the glories of Trinity.

“Because there would have been an opening. What do you say to Stratford — the new Essex borough?”

“Broadbury the brewer is there already!”

“Yes — and ready to spend any money you like to name. Let me see. Loughton is grouped with Smotherem, and Walker is a deal too strong at Smotherem to hear of any other claim. I don’t think we could dare to propose it. There are the Chelsea hamlets, but it will take a wack of money.”

“I have not got a wack of money,” said Phineas, laughing.

“That’s the devil of it. I think, if I were you, I should hark back upon some place in Ireland. Couldn’t you get Laurence to give you up his seat?”

“What! Fitzgibbon?”

“Yes. He has not a ghost of a chance of getting into office again. Nothing on earth would induce him to look at a paper during all those weeks he was at the Colonial Office; and when Cantrip spoke to him, all he said was, “Ah, bother!” Cantrip did not like it, I can tell you.”

“But that wouldn’t make him give up his seat.”

“Of course you’d have to arrange it.” By which Phineas understood Barrington Erle to mean that he, Phineas, was in some way to give to Laurence Fitzgibbon some adequate compensation for the surrender of his position as a county member.

“I’m afraid that’s out of the question,” said Phineas. “If he were to go, I should not get it.”

“Would you have a chance at Loughshane?”

“I was thinking of trying it,” said Phineas.

“Of course you know that Morris is very ill.” This Mr Morris was the brother of Lord Tulla, and was the sitting member of Loughshane. “Upon my word I think I should try that. I don’t see where we’re to put our hands on a seat in England. I don’t indeed.” Phineas, as he listened to this, could not help thinking that Barrington Erle, though he had certainly expressed a great deal of solicitude, was not as true a friend as he used to be. Perhaps he, Phineas, had risen too fast, and Barrington Erle was beginning to think that he might as well be out of the way.

He wrote to his father, asking after the borough, and asking after the health of Mr Morris. And in his letter he told his own story very plainly — almost pathetically. He perhaps had been wrong to make the attempt which he had made. He began to believe that he had been wrong. But at any rate he had made it so far successfully, and failure now would be doubly bitter. He thought that the party to which he belonged must now remain in office. It would hardly be possible that a new election would produce a House of Commons favourable to a conservative ministry. And with a liberal ministry he, Phineas, would be sure of his place, and sure of an official income — if only he could find a seat. It was all very true, and was almost pathetic. The old doctor, who was inclined to be proud of his son, was not unwilling to make a sacrifice. Mrs Finn declared before her daughters that if there was a seat in all Ireland, Phineas ought to have it. And Mary Flood Jones stood by listening, and wondering what Phineas would do if he lost his seat. Would he come back and live in County Clare, and be like any other girl’s lover? Poor Mary had come to lose her ambition, and to think that girls whose lovers stayed at home were the happiest. Nevertheless, she would have walked all the way to Lord Tulla’s house and back again, might that have availed to get the seat for Phineas. Then there came an express over from Castlemorris. The doctor was wanted at once to see Mr Morris. Mr Morris was very bad with gout in his stomach. According to the messenger it was supposed that Mr Morris was dying. Before Dr Finn had had an opportunity of answering his son’s letter, Mr Morris, the late member for Loughshane, had been gathered to his fathers.

Dr Finn understood enough of elections for Parliament, and of the nature of boroughs, to be aware that a candidate’s chance of success is very much improved by being early in the field; and he was aware, also, that the death of Mr Morris would probably create various aspirants for the honour of representing Loughshane. But he could hardly address the Earl on the subject while the dead body of the late member was lying in the house at Castlemorris. The bill which had passed in the late session for reforming the constitution of the House of Commons had not touched Ireland, a future measure having been promised to the Irish for their comfort; and Loughshane therefore was, as to Lord Tulla’s influence, the same as it had ever been. He had not there the plenary power which the other lord had held in his hands in regard to Loughton — but still the Castlemorris interest would go a long way. It might be possible to stand against it, but it would be much more desirable that the candidate should have it at his back. Dr Finn was fully alive to this as he sat opposite to the old lord, saying now a word about the old lord’s gout in his legs and arms, and then about the gout in the stomach, which had carried away to another world the lamented late member for the borough.

“Poor Jack!” said Lord Tulla, piteously. If I’d known it, I needn’t have paid over two thousand pounds for him last year — need I, doctor?”

“No, indeed,” said Dr Finn, feeling that his patient might perhaps approach the subject of the borough himself.

“He never would live by any rule, you know,” said the desolate brother.

“Very hard to guide — was he not, my lord?”

“The very devil. Now, you see, I do do what I’m told pretty well — don’t I, doctor?”

“Sometimes.”

“By George, I do nearly always. I don’t know what you mean by sometimes. I’ve been drinking brandy and water till I’m sick of it, to oblige you, and you tell me about — sometimes. You doctors expect a man to be a slave. Haven’t I kept it out of my stomach?”

“Thank God, yes.”

“It’s all very well thanking God, but I should have gone as poor Jack has gone, if I hadn’t been the most careful man in the world. He was drinking champagne ten days ago — would do it, you know.” Lord Tulla could talk about himself and his own ailments by the hour together, and Dr Finn, who had thought that his noble patient was approaching the subject of the borough, was beginning again to feel that the double interest of the gout that was present, and the gout that had passed away, would be too absorbing. He, however, could say but little to direct the conversation.

“Mr Morris, you see, lived more in London than you do, and was subject to temptation.”

“I don’t know what you call temptation. Haven’t I the temptation of a bottle of wine under my nose every day of my life?”

“No doubt you have.”

“And I don’t drink it. I hardly ever take above a glass or two of brown sherry. By George! when I think of it, I wonder at my own courage. I do, indeed.”

“But a man in London, my lord — ”

“Why the deuce would he go to London? By the bye, what am I to do about the borough now?”

“Let my son stand for it, if you will, my lord.”

“They’ve clean swept away Brentford’s seat at Loughton, haven’t they? Ha, ha, ha! What a nice game for him — to have been forced to help to do it himself! There’s nobody on earth I pity so much as a radical peer who is obliged to work like a nigger with a spade to shovel away the ground from under his own feet. As for me, I don’t care who sits for Loughshane. I did care for poor Jack while he was alive. I don’t think I shall interfere any longer. I am glad it lasted Jack’s time.” Lord Tulla had probably already forgotten that he himself had thrown Jack over for the last session but one.

“Phineas, my lord,” began the father, is now Under-Secretary of State.”

“Oh, I’ve no doubt he’s a very fine fellow — but you see, he’s an out-and-out Radical.”

“No, my lord.”

“Then how can he serve with such men as Mr Gresham and Mr Monk? They’ve turned out poor old Mildmay among them, because he’s not fast enough for them. Don’t tell me.”

“My anxiety, of course, is for my boy’s prospects. He seems to have done so well in Parliament.”

“Why don’t he stand for Marylebone or Finsbury?”

“The money, you know, my lord!”

“I shan’t interfere here, doctor. If he comes, and the people then choose to return him, I shall say nothing. They may do just as they please. They tell me Lambert St George, of Mockrath, is going to stand. If he does, it’s the d — piece of impudence I ever heard of. He’s a tenant of my own, though he has a lease for ever; and his father never owned an acre of land in the county till his uncle died.” Then the doctor knew that, with a little management, the lord’s interest might be secured for his son.

Phineas came over and stood for the borough against Mr Lambert St George, and the contest was sharp enough. The gentry of the neighbourhood could not understand why such a man as Lord Tulla should admit a liberal candidate to succeed his brother. No one canvassed for the young Under-Secretary with more persistent zeal than did his father, who, when Phineas first spoke of going into Parliament, had produced so many good arguments against that perilous step. Lord Tulla’s agent stood aloof — desolate with grief at the death of the late member. At such a moment of family affliction, Lord Tulla, he declared, could not think of such a matter as the borough. But it was known that Lord Tulla was dreadfully jealous of Mr Lambert St George, whose property in that part of the county was now nearly equal to his own, and who saw much more company at Mockrath than was ever entertained at Castlemorris. A word from Lord Tulla — so said the Conservatives of the county — would have put Mr St George into the seat; but that word was not spoken, and the Conservatives of the neighbourhood swore that Lord Tulla was a renegade. The contest was very sharp, but our hero was returned by a majority of seventeen votes.

Again successful! As he thought of it he remembered stories of great generals who were said to have chained Fortune to the wheels of their chariots, but it seemed to him that the goddess had never served any general with such staunch obedience as she had displayed in his cause. Had not everything gone well with him — so well, as almost to justify him in expecting that even yet Violet Effingham would become his wife? Dear, dearest Violet! If he could only achieve that, no general, who ever led an army across the Alps, would be his equal either in success or in the reward of success. Then he questioned himself as to what he would say to Miss Flood Jones on that very night. He was to meet dear little Mary Flood Jones that evening at a neighbour’s house. His sister Barbara had so told him in a tone of voice which he quite understood to imply a caution. “I shall be so glad to see her,” Phineas had replied.

“If there ever was an angel on earth, it is Mary,” said Barbara Finn.

“I know that she is as good as gold,” said Phineas.

“Gold!” replied Barbara — gold indeed! She is more precious than refined gold. But, Phineas, perhaps you had better not single her out for any special attention. She has thought it wisest to meet you.”

“Of course,” said Phineas. Why not?

“That is all, Phineas. I have nothing more to say. Men of course are different from girls.”

“That’s true, Barbara, at any rate.”

“Don’t laugh at me, Phineas, when I am thinking of nothing but of you and your interests, and when I am making all manner of excuses for you because I know what must be the distractions of the world in which you live.” Barbara made more than one attempt to renew the conversation before the evening came, but Phineas thought that he had had enough of it. He did not like being told that excuses were made for him. After all, what had he done? He had once kissed Mary Flood Jones behind the door.

“I am so glad to see you, Mary,” he said, coming and taking a chair by her side. He had been specially warned not to single Mary out for his attention, and yet there was the chair left vacant as though it were expected that he would fall into it.

“Thank you. We did not happen to meet last year, did we — Mr Finn?”

“Do not call me Mr Finn, Mary.”

“You are such a great man now!”

“Not at all a great man. If you only knew what little men we under-strappers are in London you would hardly speak to me.

“But you are something — of State now — are you not?”

“Well — yes. That’s the name they give me. It simply means that if any member wants to badger someone in the House about the Colonies, I am the man to be badgered. But if there is any credit to be had, I am not the man who is to have it.”

“But it is a great thing to be in Parliament and in the Government too.”

“It is a great thing for me, Mary, to have a salary, though it may only be for a year or two. However, I will not deny that it is pleasant to have been successful.”

“It has been very pleasant to us, Phineas. Mamma has been so much rejoiced.”

“I am so sorry not to see her. She is at Floodborough, I suppose.”

“Oh, yes — she is at home. She does not like coming out at night in winter. I have been staying here you know for two days, but I go home tomorrow.”

“I will ride over and call on your mother.” Then there was a pause in the conversation for a moment. “Does it not seem odd, Mary, that we should see so little of each other?”

“You are so much away, of course.”

“Yes — that is the reason. But still it seems almost unnatural. I often wonder when the time will come that I shall be quietly at home again. I have to be back in my office in London this day week, and yet I have not had a single hour to myself since I have been at Killaloe. But I will certainly ride over and see your mother. You will be at home on Wednesday I suppose.”

“Yes — I shall be at home.”

Upon that he got up and went away, but again in the evening he found himself near her. Perhaps there is no position more perilous to a man’s honesty than that in which Phineas now found himself — that, namely, of knowing himself to be quite loved by a girl whom he almost loves himself. Of course he loved Violet Effingham; and they who talk best of love protest that no man or woman can be in love with two persons at once. Phineas was not in love with Mary Flood Jones; but he would have liked to take her in his arms and kiss her — he would have liked to gratify her by swearing that she was dearer to him than all the world; he would have liked to have an episode — and did, at the moment, think that it might be possible to have one life in London and another life altogether different at Killaloe. “Dear Mary,” he said as he pressed her hand that night, “things will get themselves settled at last, I suppose.” He was behaving very ill to her, but he did not mean to behave ill.

He rode over to Floodborough, and saw Mrs Flood Jones. Mrs Flood Jones, however, received him very coldly; and Mary did not appear. Mary had communicated to her mother her resolutions as to her future life. “The fact is, mamma, I love him. I cannot help it. If he ever chooses to come for me, here I am. If he does not, I will bear it as well as I can. It may be very mean of me, but it’s true.”

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