Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 54

Consolation

On the day following Madame Goesler’s dinner-party, Phineas, though he was early at his office, was not able to do much work, still feeling that as regarded the realities of the world, his back was broken. He might no doubt go on learning, and, after a time, might be able to exert himself in a perhaps useful, but altogether uninteresting kind of way, doing his work simply because it was there to be done — as the carter or the tailor does his — and from the same cause, knowing that a man must have bread to live. But as for ambition, and the idea of doing good, and the love of work for work’s sake — as for the elastic springs of delicious and beneficent labour — all that was over for him. He would have worked from day till night, and from night till day, and from month till month throughout the year to have secured for Violet Effingham the assurance that her husband’s position was worthy of her own. But now he had no motive for such work as this. As long as he took the public pay, he would earn it; and that was all.

On the next day things were a little better with him. He received a note in the morning from Lord Cantrip saying that they two were to see the Prime Minister that evening, in order that the whole question of the railway to the Rocky Mountains might be understood, and Phineas was driven to his work. Before the time of the meeting came he had once more lost his own identity in great ideas of colonial welfare, and had planned and peopled a mighty region on the Red River, which should have no sympathy with American democracy. When he waited upon Mr Gresham in the afternoon he said nothing about the mighty region; indeed, he left it to Lord Cantrip to explain most of the proposed arrangements — speaking only a word or two here and there as occasion required. But he was aware that he had so far recovered as to be able to save himself from losing ground during the interview.

“He’s about the first Irishman we’ve had that has been worth his salt,” said Mr Gresham to his colleague afterwards.

“That other Irishman was a terrible fellow,” said Lord Cantrip, shaking his head.

On the fourth day after his sorrow had befallen him, Phineas went again to the cottage in Park Lane. And in order that he might not be balked in his search for sympathy he wrote a line to Madame Goesler to ask if she would be at home. “I will be at home from five to six — and alone — M. M. G.” That was the answer from Marie Max Goesler, and Phineas was of course at the cottage a few minutes after five. It is not, I think, surprising that a man when he wants sympathy in such a calamity as that which had now befallen Phineas Finn, should seek it from a woman. Women sympathise most effectually with men, as men do with women. But it is, perhaps, a little odd that a man when he wants consolation because his heart has been broken, always likes to receive it from a pretty woman. One would be disposed to think that at such a moment he would be profoundly indifferent to such a matter, that no delight could come to him from female beauty, and that all he would want would be the softness of a simply sympathetic soul. But he generally wants a soft hand as well, and an eye that can be bright behind the mutual tear, and lips that shall be young and fresh as they express their concern for his sorrow. All these things were added to Phineas when he went to Madame Goesler in his grief.

“I am so glad to see you,” said Madame Max.

“You are very good-natured to let me come.”

“No — but it is so good of you to trust me. But I was sure you would come after what took place the other night. I saw that you were pained, and I was so sorry for it.”

“I made such a fool of myself.”

“Not at all. And I thought that you were right to tell them when the question had been asked. If the thing was not to be kept a secret, it was better to speak it out. You will get over it quicker in that way than in any other. I have never seen the young lord, myself.”

“Oh, there is nothing amiss about him. As to what Lord Fawn said, the half of it is simply exaggeration, and the other half is misunderstood.”

“In this country it is so much to be a lord,” said Madame Goesler.

Phineas thought a moment of that matter before he replied. All the Standish family had been very good to him, and Violet Effingham had been very good. It was not the fault of any of them that he was now wretched and back-broken. He had meditated much on this, and had resolved that he would not even think evil of them. “I do not in my heart believe that that has had anything to do with it,” he said.

“But it has, my friend — always. I do not know your Violet Effingham.”

“She is not mine.”

“Well — I do not know this Violet that is not yours. I have met her, and did not specially admire her. But then the tastes of men and women about beauty are never the same. But I know she is one that always lives with lords and countesses. A girl who always lived with countesses feels it to be hard to settle down as a plain Mistress.”

“She has had plenty of choice among all sorts of men. It was not the title. She would not have accepted Chiltern unless she had — . But what is the use of talking of it?”

“They had known each other long?”

“Oh, yes — as children. And the Earl desired it of all things.”

“Ah — then he arranged it.”

“Not exactly. Nobody could arrange anything for Chiltern — nor, as far as that goes, for Miss Effingham. They arranged it themselves, I fancy.”

“You had asked her?”

“Yes — twice. And she had refused him more than twice. I have nothing for which to blame her; but yet I had thought — I had thought — ”

“She is a jilt then?”

“No — I will not let you say that of her. She is no jilt. But I think she has been strangely ignorant of her own mind. What is the use of talking of it, Madame Goesler?”

“None — only sometimes it is better to speak a word, than to keep one’s sorrow to oneself.”

“So it is — and there is not one in the world to whom I can speak such a word, except yourself. Is not that odd? I have sisters, but they have never heard of Miss Effingham, and would be quite indifferent.”

“Perhaps they have some other favourites.”

“Ah — well. That does not matter. And my best friend here in London is Lord Chiltern’s own sister.”

“She knew of your attachment?”

“Oh, yes.”

“And she told you of Miss Effingham’s engagement. Was she glad of it?”

“She has always desired the marriage. And yet I think she would have been satisfied had it been otherwise. But of course her heart must be with her brother. I need not have troubled myself to go to Blankenberg after all.”

“It was for the best, perhaps. Everybody says you behaved so well.”

“I could not but go, as things were then.”

“What if you had — shot him?”

“There would have been an end of everything. She would never have seen me after that. Indeed I should have shot myself next, feeling that there was nothing else left for me to do.”

“Ah — you English are so peculiar. But I suppose it is best not to shoot a man. And, Mr Finn, there are other ladies in the world prettier than Miss Violet Effingham. No — of course you will not admit that now. Just at this moment, and for a month or two, she is peerless, and you will feel yourself to be of all men the most unfortunate. But you have the ball at your feet. I know no one so young who has got the ball at his feet so well. I call it nothing to have the ball at your feet if you are born with it there. It is so easy to be a lord if your father is one before you — and so easy to marry a pretty girl if you can make her a countess. But to make yourself a lord, or to be as good as a lord, when nothing has been born to you — that I call very much. And there are women, and pretty women too, Mr Finn, who have spirit enough to understand this, and to think that the man, after all, is more important than the lord.” Then she sang the old well-worn verse of the Scotch song with wonderful spirit, and with a clearness of voice and knowledge of music for which he had hitherto never given her credit.

A prince can mak’ a belted knight, A marquis, duke, and a’ that; But an honest man’s aboon his might, Guid faith he mauna fa’ that.”

“I did not know that you sang, Madame Goesler.”

“Only now and then when something specially requires it. And I am very fond of Scotch songs. I will sing to you now if you like it.” Then she sang the whole song — “A man’s a man for a’ that,” she said as she finished. “Even though he cannot get the special bit of painted Eve’s flesh for which his heart has had a craving.” Then she sang again:

“There are maidens in Scotland more lovely by far, Who would gladly be bride to the young Lochinvar.”

“But young Lochinvar got his bride,” said Phineas.

“Take the spirit of the lines, Mr Finn, which is true; and not the tale as it is told, which is probably false. I often think that Jock of Hazledean, and young Lochinvar too, probably lived to repent their bargains. We will hope that Lord Chiltern may not do so.”

“I am sure he never will.”

“That is all right. And as for you, do you for a while think of your politics, and your speeches, and your colonies, rather than of your love. You are at home there, and no Lord Chiltern can rob you of your success. And if you are down in the mouth, come to me, and I will sing you a Scotch song. And, look you, the next time I ask you to dinner I will promise you that Mrs Bonteen shall not be here. Goodbye.” She gave him her hand, which was very soft, and left it for a moment in his, and he was consoled.

Madame Goesler, when she was alone, threw herself on to her chair and began to think of things. In these days she would often ask herself what in truth was the object of her ambition, and the aim of her life. Now at this moment she had in her hand a note from the Duke of Omnium. The Duke had allowed himself to say something about a photograph, which had justified her in writing to him — or which she had taken for such justification. And the Duke had replied. “He would not,” he said, lose the opportunity of waiting upon her in person which the presentation of the little gift might afford him.” It would be a great success to have the Duke of Omnium at her house — but to what would the success reach? What was her definite object — or had she any? In what way could she make herself happy? She could not say that she was happy yet. The hours with her were too long and the days too many.

The Duke of Omnium should come — if he would. And she was quite resolved as to this — that if the Duke did come she would not be afraid of him. Heavens and earth! What would be the feelings of such a woman as her, were the world to greet her some fine morning as Duchess of Omnium! Then she made up her mind very resolutely on one subject. Should the Duke give her any opportunity she would take a very short time in letting him know what was the extent of her ambition.

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