Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 53

Showing how Phineas bore the blow

When Phineas received Lady Laura Kennedy’s letter, he was sitting in his gorgeous apartment in the Colonial Office. It was gorgeous in comparison with the very dingy room at Mr Low’s to which he had been accustomed in his early days — and somewhat gorgeous also as compared with the lodgings he had so long inhabited in Mr Bunce’s house. The room was large and square, and looked out from three windows on to St James’s Park. There were in it two very comfortable armchairs and a comfortable sofa. And the office table at which he sat was of old mahogany, shining brightly, and seemed to be fitted up with every possible appliance for official comfort. This stood near one of the windows, so that he could sit and look down upon the park. And there was a large round table covered with books and newspapers. And the walls of the room were bright with maps of all the colonies. And there was one very interesting map — but not very bright — showing the American colonies, as they used to be. And there was a little inner closet in which he could brush his hair and wash his hands; and in the room adjoining there sat — or ought to have sat, for he was often absent, vexing the mind of Phineas — the Earl’s nephew, his private secretary. And it was all very gorgeous. Often as he looked round upon it, thinking of his old bedroom at Killaloe, of his little garrets at Trinity, of the dingy chambers in Lincoln’s Inn, he would tell himself that it was very gorgeous. He would wonder that anything so grand had fallen to his lot.

The letter from Scotland was brought to him in the afternoon, having reached London by some day-mail from Glasgow, He was sitting at his desk with a heap of papers before him referring to a contemplated railway from Halifax, in Nova Scotia, to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. It had become his business to get up the subject, and then discuss with his principal, Lord Cantrip, the expediency of advising the Government to lend a company five million of money, in order that this railway might be made. It was a big subject, and the contemplation of it gratified him. It required that he should look forward to great events, and exercise the wisdom of a statesman. What was the chance of these colonies being swallowed up by those other regions — once colonies — of which the map that hung in the corner told so eloquent a tale? And if so, would the five million ever be repaid? And if not swallowed up, were the colonies worth so great an adventure of national money? Could they repay it? Would they do so? Should they be made to do so? Mr Low, who was now a Q.C. and in Parliament, would not have greater subjects than this before him, even if he should come to be Solicitor General. Lord Cantrip had specially asked him to get up this matter — and he was getting it up sedulously. Once in nine years the harbour of Halifax was blocked up by ice. He had just jotted down the fact, which was material, when Lady Laura’s letter was brought to him. He read it, and putting it down by his side very gently, went back to his maps as though the thing would not so trouble his mind as to disturb his work. He absolutely wrote, automatically, certain words of a note about the harbour, after he had received the information. A horse will gallop for some scores of yards, after his back has been broken, before he knows of his great ruin — and so it was with Phineas Finn. His back was broken, but, nevertheless, he galloped, for a yard or two. “Closed in 1860 — 61 for thirteen days.” Then he began to be aware that his back was broken, and that the writing of any more notes about the ice in Halifax harbour was for the present out of the question. “I think it best to let you know immediately that she has accepted him.” These were the words which he read the oftenest. Then it was all over! The game was played out, and all his victories were as nothing to him. He sat for an hour in his gorgeous room thinking of it, and various were the answers which he gave during the time to various messages — but he would see nobody. As for the colonies, he did not care if they revolted tomorrow. He would have parted with every colony belonging to Great Britain to have gotten the hand of Violet Effingham for himself, Now — now at this moment, he told himself with oaths that he had never loved anyone but Violet Effingham.

There had been so much to make such a marriage desirable! I should wrong my hero deeply were I to say that the weight of his sorrow was occasioned by the fact that he had lost an heiress. He would never have thought of looking for Violet Effingham had he not first learned to love her. But as the idea opened itself out to him, everything had seemed to be so suitable. Had Miss Effingham become his wife, the mouths of the Lows and of the Bunces would have been stopped altogether. Mr Monk would have come to his house as his familiar guest, and he would have been connected with half a score of peers. A seat in Parliament would be simply his proper place, and even Under-Secretaryships of State might soon come to be below him. He was playing a great game, but hitherto he had played it with so much success — with such wonderful luck! that it had seemed to him that all things were within his reach. Nothing more had been wanting to him than Violet’s hand for his own comfort, and Violet’s fortune to support his position; and these, too, had almost seemed to be within his grasp. His goddess had indeed refused him — but not with disdain. Even Lady Laura had talked of his marriage as not improbable. All the world, almost, had heard of the duel; and all the world had smiled, and seemed to think that in the real fight Phineas Finn would be the victor — that the lucky pistol was in his hands. It had never occurred to anyone to suppose — as far as he could see — that he was presuming at all, or pushing himself out of his own sphere, in asking Violet Effingham to be his wife. No — he would trust his luck, would persevere, and would succeed. Such had been his resolution on that very morning — and now there had come this letter to dash him to the ground.

There were moments in which he declared to himself that he would not believe the letter — not that there was any moment in which there was in his mind the slightest spark of real hope. But he would tell himself that he would still persevere. Violet might have been driven to accept that violent man by violent influence — or it might be that she had not in truth accepted him, that Chiltern had simply so asserted. Or, even if it were so, did women never change their minds? The manly thing would be to persevere to the end. Had he not before been successful, when success seemed to be as far from him? But he could buoy himself up with no real hope. Even when these ideas were present to his mind, he knew — he knew well — at those very moments, that his back was broken.

Someone had come in and lighted the candles and drawn down the blinds while he was sitting there, and now, as he looked at his watch, he found that it was past five o’clock. He was engaged to dine with Madame Max Goesler at eight, and in his agony he half-resolved that he would send an excuse. Madame Max would be full of wrath, as she was very particular about her little dinner-parties — but, what did he care now about the wrath of Madame Max Goesler? And yet only this morning he had been congratulating himself, among his other successes, upon her favour, and had laughed inwardly at his own falseness — his falseness to Violet Effingham — as he did so. He had said something to himself jocosely about lovers’ perjuries, the remembrance of which was now very bitter to him. He took up a sheet of notepaper and scrawled an excuse to Madame Goesler. News from the country, he said, made it impossible that he should go out tonight. But he did not send the note. At about half past five he opened the door of his private secretary’s room and found the young man fast asleep, with a cigar in his mouth. “Halloa, Charles,” he said.

“All right!” Charles Standish was a first cousin of Lady Laura’s, and, having been in the office before Phineas had joined it, and being a great favourite with his cousin, had of course become the Under-Secretary’s private secretary. “I’m all here,” said Charles Standish, getting up and shaking himself.

“I am going. Just tie up those papers — exactly as they are. I shall be here early tomorrow, but I shan’t want you before twelve. Good night, Charles.”

“Ta, ta,” said his private secretary, who was very fond of his master, but not very respectful — unless upon express occasions.

Then Phineas went out and walked across the park; but as he went he became quite aware that his back was broken. It was not the less broken because he sang to himself little songs to prove to himself that it was whole and sound. It was broken, and it seemed to him now that he never could become an Atlas again, to bear the weight of the world upon his shoulders. What did anything signify? All that he had done had been part of a game which he had been playing throughout, and now he had been beaten in his game. He absolutely ignored his old passion for Lady Laura as though it had never been, and regarded himself as a model of constancy — as a man who had loved, not wisely perhaps, but much too well — and who must now therefore suffer a living death. He hated Parliament. He hated the Colonial Office. He hated his friend Mr Monk; and he especially hated Madame Max Goesler. As to Lord Chiltern — he believed that Lord Chiltern had obtained his object by violence. He would see to that! Yes — let the consequences be what they might, he would see to that!

He went up by the Duke of York’s column, and as he passed the Athenaeum he saw his chief, Lord Cantrip, standing under the portico talking to a bishop. He would have gone on unnoticed, had it been possible; but Lord Cantrip came down to him at once. “I have put your name down here,” said his lordship.

“What’s the use?” said Phineas, who was profoundly indifferent at this moment to all the clubs in London.

“It can’t do any harm, you know. You’ll come up in time. And if you should get into the ministry, they’ll let you in at once.”

“Ministry!” ejaculated Phineas. But Lord Cantrip took the tone of voice as simply suggestive of humility, and suspected nothing of that profound indifference to all ministers and ministerial honours which Phineas had intended to express. “By the bye,” said Lord Cantrip, putting his arm through that of the Under-Secretary, “I wanted to speak to you about the guarantees. We shall be in the devil’s own mess, you know — “And so the Secretary of State went on about the Rocky Mountain Railroad, and Phineas strove hard to bear his burden with his broken back. He was obliged to say something about the guarantees, and the railway, and the frozen harbour — and something especially about the difficulties which would be found, not in the measures themselves, but in the natural pugnacity of the Opposition. In the fabrication of garments for the national wear, the great thing is to produce garments that shall, as far as possible, defy hole-picking. It may be, and sometimes is, the case, that garments so fabricated will be good also for wear. Lord Cantrip, at the present moment, was very anxious and very ingenious in the stopping of holes; and he thought that perhaps his Under-Secretary was too much prone to the indulgence of large philanthropical views without sufficient thought of the hole-pickers. But on this occasion, by the time that he reached Brooks’s, he had been enabled to convince his Under-Secretary, and though he had always thought well of his Under-Secretary, he thought better of him now than ever he had done. Phineas during the whole time had been meditating what he could do to Lord Chiltern when they two should meet. Could he take him by the throat and smite him? “I happen to know that Broderick is working as hard at the matter as we are,” said Lord Cantrip, stopping opposite to the club. “He moved for papers, you know, at the end of last session.” Now Mr Broderick was a gentleman in the House looking for promotion in a Conservative Government, and of course would oppose any measure that could be brought forward by the Cantrip-Finn Colonial Administration. Then Lord Cantrip slipped into the club, and Phineas went on alone.

A spark of his old ambition with reference to Brooks’s was the first thing to make him forget his misery for a moment. He had asked Lord Brentford to put his name down, and was not sure whether it had been done. The threat of Mr Broderick’s opposition had been of no use towards the strengthening of his broken back, but the sight of Lord Cantrip hurrying in at the coveted door did do something. “A man can’t cut his throat or blow his brains out,” he said to himself; “after all, he must go on and do his work. For hearts will break, yet brokenly live on.” Thereupon he went home, and after sitting for an hour over his own fire, and looking wistfully at a little treasure which he had — a treasure obtained by some slight fraud at Saulsby, and which he now chucked into the fire, and then instantly again pulled out of it, soiled but unscorched — he dressed himself for dinner, and went out to Madame Max Goesler’s. Upon the whole, he was glad that he had not sent the note of excuse. A man must live, even though his heart be broken, and living he must dine.

Madame Max Goesler was fond of giving little dinners at this period of the year, before London was crowded, and when her guests might probably not be called away by subsequent social arrangements. Her number seldom exceeded six or eight, and she always spoke of these entertainments as being of the humblest kind. She sent out no big cards. She preferred to catch her people as though by chance, when that was possible. “Dear Mr Jones. Mr Smith is coming to tell me about some sherry on Tuesday. Will you come and tell me too? I daresay you know as much about it.” And then there was a studious absence of parade. The dishes were not very numerous. The bill of fare was simply written out once, for the mistress, and so circulated round the table. Not a word about the things to be eaten or the things to be drunk was ever spoken at the table — or at least no such word was ever spoken by Madame Goesler. But, nevertheless, they who knew anything about dinners were aware that Madame Goesler gave very good dinners indeed, Phineas Finn was beginning to flatter himself that he knew something about dinners, and had been heard to assert that the soups at the cottage in Park Lane were not to be beaten in London. But he cared for no soup today, as he slowly made his way up Madame Goesler’s staircase.

There had been one difficulty in the way of Madame Goesler’s dinner-parties which had required some patience and great ingenuity in its management. She must either have ladies, or she must not have them. There was a great allurement in the latter alternative; but she knew well that if she gave way to it, all prospect of general society would for her be closed — and for ever. This had been in the early days of her widowhood in Park Lane. She cared but little for women’s society; but she knew well that the society of gentlemen without women would not be that which she desired. She knew also that she might as effectually crush herself and all her aspirations by bringing to her house indifferent women — women lacking something either in character, or in position, or in talent — as by having none it all. Thus there had been a great difficulty, and sometimes she had thought that the thing could not be done at all. “These English are so stiff, so hard, so heavy!” And yet she would not have cared to succeed elsewhere than among the English. By degrees, however, the thing was done. Her prudence equalled her wit, and even suspicious people had come to acknowledge that they could not put their fingers on anything wrong. When Lady Glencora Palliser had once dined at the cottage in Park Lane, Madame Max Goesler had told herself that henceforth she did not care what the suspicious people said. Since that the Duke of Omnium had almost promised that he would come. If she could only entertain the Duke of Omnium she would have done everything.

But there was no Duke of Omnium there tonight. At this time the Duke of Omnium was, of course, not in London. But Lord Fawn was there; and our old friend Laurence Fitzgibbon, who had — resigned his place at the Colonial Office; and there were Mr and Mrs Bonteen. They, with our hero, made up the party. No one doubted for a moment to what source Mr Bonteen owed his dinner. Mrs Bonteen was good-looking, could talk, was sufficiently proper, and all that kind of thing — and did as well as any other woman at this time of year to keep Madame Max Goesler in countenance. There was never any sitting after dinner at the cottage; or, I should rather say, there was never any sitting after Madame Goesler went; so that the two ladies could not weary each other by being alone together. Mrs Bonteen understood quite well that she was not required there to talk to her hostess, and was as willing as any woman to make herself agreeable to the gentlemen she might meet at Madame Goesler’s table. And thus Mr and Mrs Bonteen not unfrequently dined in Park Lane.

“Now we have only to wait for that horrible man, Mr Fitzgibbon,” said Madame Max Goesler, as she welcomed Phineas. “He is always late.”

“What a blow for me!” said Phineas.

“No — you are always in good time. But there is a limit beyond which good time ends, and being shamefully late at once begins. But here he is.” And then, as Laurence Fitzgibbon entered the room, Madame Goesler rang the bell for dinner.

Phineas found himself placed between his hostess and Mr Bonteen, and Lord Fawn was on the other side of Madame Goesler. They were hardly seated at the table before some one stated it as a fact that Lord Brentford and his son were reconciled. Now Phineas knew, or thought that he knew, that this could not as yet be the case; and indeed such was not the case, though the father had already received the son’s letter. But Phineas did not choose to say anything at present about Lord Chiltern.

“How odd it is,” said Madame Goesler; how often you English fathers quarrel with your sons!”

“How often we English sons quarrel with our fathers rather,” said Lord Fawn, who was known for the respect he had always paid to the fifth commandment.

“It all comes from entail and primogeniture, and old-fashioned English prejudices of that kind,” said Madame Goesler. “Lord Chiltern is a friend of yours, Mr Finn, I think.”

“They are both friends of mine,” said Phineas.

“Ah, yes; but you — you — you and Lord Chiltern once did something odd together. There was a little mystery, was there not?”

“It is very little of a mystery now,” said Fitzgibbon.

“It was about a lady — was it not?” said Mrs Bonteen, affecting to whisper to her neighbour.

“I am not at liberty to say anything on the subject,” said Fitzgibbon; “but I have no doubt Phineas will tell you.”

“I don’t believe this about Lord Brentford,” said Mr Bonteen. “I happen to know that Chiltern was down at Loughlinter three days ago, and that he passed through London yesterday on his way to the place where he hunts. The Earl is at Saulsby, He would have gone to Saulsby if it were true.”

“It all depends upon whether Miss Effingham will accept him,” said Mrs Bonteen, looking over at Phineas as she spoke.

As there were two of Violet Effingham’s suitors at table, the subject was becoming disagreeably personal; and the more so, as every one of the party knew or surmised something of the facts of the case. The cause of the duel at Blankenberg had become almost as public as the duel, and Lord Fawn’s courtship had not been altogether hidden from the public eye. He on the present occasion might probably be able to carry himself better than Phineas, even presuming him to be equally eager in his love — for he knew nothing of the fatal truth. But he was unable to hear Mrs Bonteen’s statement with indifference, and showed his concern in the matter by his reply. “Any lady will be much to be pitied,” he said, “who does that. Chiltern is the last man in the world to whom I would wish to trust the happiness of a woman for whom I cared.”

“Chiltern is a very good fellow,” said Laurence Fitzgibbon.

“Just a little wild,” said Mrs Bonteen.

“And never had a shilling in his pocket in his life,” said her husband.

“I regard him as simply a madman,” said Lord Fawn.

“I do so wish I knew him,” said Madame Max Goesler. I am fond of madmen, and men who haven’t shillings, and who are a little wild. Could you not bring him here, Mr Finn?”

Phineas did not know what to say, or how to open his mouth without showing his deep concern. “I shall be happy to ask him if you wish it,” he replied, as though the question had been put to him in earnest; “but I do not see so much of Lord Chiltern as I used to do.”

“You do not believe that Violet Effingham will accept him?” asked Mrs Bonteen.

He paused a moment before he spoke, and then made his answer in a deep solemn voice — with a seriousness which he was unable to repress. “She has accepted him,” he said.

“Do you mean that you know it?” said Madame Goesler.

“Yes — I mean that I know it.”

Had anybody told him beforehand that he would openly make this declaration at Madame Goesler’s table, he would have said that of all things it was the most impossible. He would have declared that nothing would have induced him to speak of Violet Effingham in his existing frame of mind, and that he would have had his tongue cut out before he spoke of her as the promised bride of his rival. And now he had declared the whole truth of his own wretchedness and discomfiture. He was well aware that all of them there knew why he had fought the duel at Blankenberg — all, that is, except perhaps Lord Fawn. And he felt as he made the statement as to Lord Chiltern that he blushed up to his forehead, and that his voice was strange, and that he was telling the tale of his own disgrace. But when the direct question had been asked him he had been unable to refrain from answering it directly. He had thought of turning it off with some jest or affectation of drollery, but had failed. At the moment he had been unable not to speak the truth.

“I don’t believe a word of it,” said Lord Fawn — who also forgot himself.

“I do believe it, if Mr Finn says so,” said Mrs Bonteen, who rather liked the confusion she had caused.

“But who could have told you, Finn?” asked Mr Bonteen.

“His sister, Lady Laura, told me so,” said Phineas.

“Then it must be true,” said Madame Goesler.

“It is quite impossible,” said Lord Fawn. I think I may say that I know that it is impossible. If it were so, it would be a most shameful arrangement. Every shilling she has in the world would be swallowed up.” Now, Lord Fawn in making his proposals had been magnanimous in his offers as to settlements and pecuniary provisions generally.

For some minutes after that Phineas did not speak another word, and the conversation generally was not so brisk and bright as it was expected to be at Madame Goesler’s. Madame Max Goesler herself thoroughly understood our hero’s position, and felt for him. She would have encouraged no questionings about Violet Effingham had she thought that they would have led to such a result, and now she exerted herself to turn the minds of her guests to other subjects. At last she succeeded; and after a while, too, Phineas himself was able to talk. He drank two or three glasses of wine, and dashed away into politics, taking the earliest opportunity in his power of contradicting Lord Fawn very plainly on one or two matters. Laurence Fitzgibbon was of course of opinion that the ministry could not stay in long. Since he had left the Government the ministers had made wonderful mistakes, and he spoke of them quite as an enemy might speak, “And yet, Fitz,” said Mr Bonteen, “you used to be so staunch a supporter.”

“I have seen the error of my way, I can assure you,” said Laurence.

“I always observe,” said Madame Max Goesler, that when any of you gentlemen resign — which you usually do on some very trivial matter — the resigning gentleman becomes of all foes the bitterest. Somebody goes on very well with his friends, agreeing most cordially about everything, till he finds that his public virtue cannot swallow some little detail, and then he resigns. Or someone, perhaps, on the other side has attacked him, and in the mêlée he is hurt, and so he resigns. But when he has resigned, and made his parting speech full of love and gratitude, I know well after that where to look for the bitterest hostility to his late friends. Yes, I am beginning to understand the way in which politics are done in England.”

All this was rather severe upon Laurence Fitzgibbon; but he was a man of the world, and bore it better than Phineas had borne his defeat.

The dinner, taken altogether, was not a success, and so Madame Goesler understood. Lord Fawn, after he had been contradicted by Phineas, hardly opened his mouth. Phineas himself talked rather too much and rather too loudly; and Mrs Bonteen, who was well enough inclined to flatter Lord Fawn, contradicted him. “I made a mistake,” said Madame Goesler afterwards, “in having four members of Parliament who all of them were or had been in office. I never will have two men in office together again.” This she said to Mrs Bonteen. “My dear Madame Max,” said Mrs Bonteen, “your resolution ought to be that you will never again have two claimants for the same young lady.”

In the drawing-room upstairs Madame Goesler managed to be alone for three minutes with Phineas Finn. “And it is as you say, my friend?” she asked. Her voice was plaintive and soft, and there was a look of real sympathy in her eyes. Phineas almost felt that if they two had been quite alone he could have told her everything, and have wept at her feet.

“Yes,” he said, it is so.

“I never doubted it when you had declared it. May I venture to say that I wish it had been otherwise?”

“It is too late now, Madame Goesler. A man of course is a fool to show that he has any feelings in such a matter. The fact is, I heard it just before I came here, and had made up my mind to send you an excuse. I wish I had now.”

“Do not say that, Mr Finn.”

“I have made such an ass of myself.”

“In my estimation you have done yourself honour. But if I may venture to give you counsel, do not speak of this affair again as though you had been personally concerned in it. In the world nowadays the only thing disgraceful is to admit a failure.”

“And I have failed.”

“But you need not admit it, Mr Finn. I know I ought not to say as much to you.”

“I, rather, am deeply indebted to you. I will go now, Madame Goesler, as I do not wish to leave the house with Lord Fawn.”

“But you will come and see me soon.” Then Phineas promised that he would come soon; and felt as he made the promise that he would have an opportunity of talking over his love with his new friend at any rate without fresh shame as to his failure.

Laurence Fitzgibbon went away with Phineas, and Mr Bonteen, having sent his wife away by herself, walked off towards the clubs with Lord Fawn. He was very anxious to have a few words with Lord Fawn. Lord Fawn had evidently been annoyed by Phineas, and Mr Bonteen did not at all love the young Under-Secretary. “That fellow has become the most consummate puppy I ever met,” said he, as he linked himself on to the lord. “Monk, and one or two others among them, have contrived to spoil him altogether.”

“I don’t believe a word of what he said about Lord Chiltern,” said Lord Fawn.

“About his marriage with Miss Effingham?”

“It would be such an abominable shame to sacrifice the girl,” said Lord Fawn. “Only think of it. Everything is gone. The man is a drunkard, and I don’t believe he is any more reconciled to his father than you are. Lady Laura Kennedy must have had some object in saying so.”

“Perhaps an invention of Finn’s altogether,” said Mr Bonteen. “Those Irish fellows are just the men for that kind of thing.”

“A man, you know, so violent that nobody can hold him,” said Lord Fawn, thinking of Chiltern.

“And so absurdly conceited,” said Mr Bonteen, thinking of Phineas.

“A man who has never done anything, with all his advantages in the world — and never will.”

“He won’t hold his place long,” said Mr Bonteen.

“Whom do you mean?”

“Phineas Finn.”

“Oh, Mr Finn. I was talking of Lord Chiltern. I believe Finn to be a very good sort of a fellow, and he is undoubtedly clever. They say Cantrip likes him amazingly. He’ll do very well. But I don’t believe a word of this about Lord Chiltern.” Then Mr Bonteen felt himself to be snubbed, and soon afterwards left Lord Fawn alone.

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