Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 55

Lord Chiltern at Saulsby

Lord Chiltern did exactly as he said he would do. He wrote to his father as he passed through Carlisle, and at once went on to his hunting at Willingford. But his letter was very stiff and ungainly, and it may be doubted whether Miss Effingham was not wrong in refusing the offer which he had made to her as to the dictation of it. He began his letter, “My Lord,” and did not much improve the style as he went on with it. The reader may as well see the whole letter —

“ Railway Hotel, Carlisle, December 27, 186 —

“ MY LORD,

“I am now on my way from Loughlinter to London, and write this letter to you in compliance with a promise made by me to my sister and to Miss Effingham. I have asked Violet to be my wife, and she has accepted me, and they think that you will be pleased to hear that this has been done. I shall be, of course, obliged, if you will instruct Mr Edwards to let me know what you would propose to do in regard to settlements. Laura thinks that you will wish to see both Violet and myself at Saulsby. For myself, I can only say that, should you desire me to come, I will do so on receiving your assurance that I shall be treated neither with fatted calves nor with reproaches. I am not aware that I have deserved either.

“I am, my lord, yours affect.,

“ CHILTERN

“P.S. — My address will be “The Bull, Willingford.””

That last word, in which he half-declared himself to be joined in affectionate relations to his father, caused him a world of trouble. But he could find no term for expressing, without a circumlocution which was disagreeable to him, exactly that position of feeling towards his father which really belonged to him. He would have written “yours with affection,” or yours with deadly enmity, or “yours with respect,” or yours with most profound indifference,” exactly in accordance with the state of his father’s mind, if he had only known what was that state. He was afraid of going beyond his father in any offer of reconciliation, and was firmly fixed in his resolution that he would never be either repentant or submissive in regard to the past. If his father had wishes for the future, he would comply with them if he could do so without unreasonable inconvenience, but he would not give way a single point as to things done and gone. If his father should choose to make any reference to them, his father must prepare for battle.

The Earl was of course disgusted by the pertinacious obstinacy of his son’s letter, and for an hour or two swore to himself that he would not answer it. But it is natural that the father should yearn for the son, while the son’s feeling for the father is of a very much weaker nature. Here, at any rate, was that engagement made which he had ever desired. And his son had made a step, though it was so very unsatisfactory a step, towards reconciliation. When the old man read the letter a second time, he skipped that reference to fatted calves which had been so peculiarly distasteful to him, and before the evening had passed he had answered his son as follows:

“ Saulsby, December 29, 186 —

“ MY DEAR CHILTERN,

“I have received your letter, and am truly delighted to hear that dear Violet has accepted you as her husband. Her fortune will be very material to you, but she herself is better than any fortune. You have long known my opinion of her. I shall be proud to welcome her as a daughter to my house.

“I shall of course write to her immediately, and will endeavour to settle some early day for her coming here. When I have done so, I will write to you again, and can only say that I will endeavour to make Saulsby comfortable to you.

“Your affectionate father,

“ BRENTFORD

“Richards, the groom, is still here. You had perhaps better write to him direct about your horses.”

By the middle of February arrangements had all been made, and Violet met her lover at his father’s house. She in the meantime had been with her aunt, and had undergone a good deal of mild unceasing persecution. “My dear Violet,” said her aunt to her on her arrival at Baddingham, speaking with a solemnity that ought to have been terrible to the young lady, “I do not know what to say to you.”

“Say “how d’you do?” aunt,” said Violet.

“I mean about this engagement,” said Lady Baldock, with an increase of awe-inspiring severity in her voice.

“Say nothing about it at all, if you don’t like it,” said Violet.

“How can I say nothing about it? How can I be silent? Or how am I to congratulate you?”

“The least said, perhaps, the soonest mended,” and Violet smiled as she spoke.

“That is very well, and if I had no duty to perform, I would be silent. But, Violet, you have been left in my charge. If I see you shipwrecked in life, I shall ever tell myself that the fault has been partly mine.”

“Nay, aunt, that will be quite unnecessary. I will always admit that you did everything in your power to — to — to — make me run straight, as the sporting men say.”

“Sporting men! Oh, Violet.”

“And you know, aunt, I still hope that I shall be found to have kept on the right side of the posts. You will find that poor Lord Chiltern is not so black as he is painted.”

“But why take anybody that is black at all?”

“I like a little shade in the picture, aunt.”

“Look at Lord Fawn.”

“I have looked at him.”

“A young nobleman beginning a career of useful official life, that will end in — there is no knowing what it may end in.”

“I daresay not — but it never could have begun or ended in my being Lady Fawn.”

“And Mr Appledom!”

“Poor Mr Appledom. I do like Mr Appledom. But, you see, aunt, I like Lord Chiltern so much better. A young woman will go by her feelings.”

“And yet you refused him a dozen times.”

“I never counted the times, aunt; but not quite so many as that.”

The same thing was repeated over and over again during the month that Miss Effingham remained at Baddingham, but Lady Baldock had no power of interfering, and Violet bore her persecution bravely. Her future husband was generally spoken of as “that violent young man,” and hints were thrown out as to the personal injuries to which his wife might be possibly subjected. But the threatened bride only laughed, and spoke of these coming dangers as part of the general lot of married women. “I daresay, if the truth were known, my uncle Baldock did not always keep his temper,” she once said. Now, the truth was, as Violet well knew, that “my uncle Baldock” had been dumb as a sheep before the shearers in the hands of his wife, and had never been known to do anything improper by those who had been most intimate with him even in his earlier days. “Your uncle Baldock, miss,” said the outraged aunt, “was a nobleman as different in his manner of life from Lord Chiltern as chalk from cheese.” “But then comes the question, which is the cheese?” said Violet. Lady Baldock would not argue the question any further, but stalked out of the room.

Lady Laura Kennedy met them at Saulsby, having had something of a battle with her husband before she left her home to do so. When she told him of her desire to assist at this reconciliation between her father and brother, he replied by pointing out that her first duty was at Loughlinter, and before the interview was ended had come to express an opinion that that duty was very much neglected. She in the meantime had declared that she would go to Saulsby, or that she would explain to her father that she was forbidden by her husband to do so. “And I also forbid any such communication,” said Mr Kennedy. In answer to which, Lady Laura told him that there were some marital commands which she should not consider it to be her duty to obey. When matters had come to this pass, it may be conceived that both Mr Kennedy and his wife were very unhappy. She had almost resolved that she would take steps to enable her to live apart from her husband; and he had begun to consider what course he would pursue if such steps were taken. The wife was subject to her husband by the laws both of God and man; and Mr Kennedy was one who thought much of such laws. In the meantime, Lady Laura carried her point and went to Saulsby, leaving her husband to go up to London and begin the session by himself.

Lady Laura and Violet were both at Saulsby before Lord Chiltern arrived, and many were the consultations which were held between them as to the best mode in which things might be arranged. Violet was of opinion that there had better be no arrangement, that Lord Chiltern should be allowed to come in and take his father’s hand, and sit down to dinner — and that so things should fall into their places. Lady Laura was rather in favour of some scene. But the interview had taken place before either of them were able to say a word. Lord Chiltern, on his arrival, had gone immediately to his father, taking the Earl very much by surprise, and had come off best in the encounter.

“My lord,” said he, walking up to his father with his hand out, “I am very glad to come back to Saulsby.” He had written to his sister to say that he would be at Saulsby on that day, but had named no hour. He now appeared between ten and eleven in the morning, and his father had as yet made no preparation for him — had arranged no appropriate words. He had walked in at the front door, and had asked for the Earl. The Earl was in his own morning-room — a gloomy room, full of dark books and darker furniture, and thither Lord Chiltern had at once gone. The two women still were sitting together over the fire in the breakfast-room, and knew nothing of his arrival.

“Oswald!” said his father, I hardly expected you so early.”

“I have come early. I came across country, and slept at Birmingham. I suppose Violet is here.”

“Yes, she is here — and Laura. They will be very glad to see you. So am I.” And the father took the son’s hand for the second time.

“Thank you, sir,” said Lord Chiltern, looking his father full in the face.

“I have been very much pleased by this engagement,” continued the Earl.

“What do you think I must be, then?” said the son, laughing. “I have been at it, you know, off and on, ever so many years; and have sometimes thought I was quite a fool not to get it out of my head. But I couldn’t get it out of my head. And now she talks as though it were she who had been in love with me all the time!”

“Perhaps she was,” said the father.

“I don’t believe it in the least. She may be a little so now.”

“I hope you mean that she always shall be so.”

“I shan’t be the worst husband in the world, I hope; and I am quite sure I shan’t be the best. I will go and see her now. I suppose I shall find her somewhere in the house. I thought it best to see you first.”

“Stop half a moment, Oswald,” said the Earl. And then Lord Brentford did make something of a shambling speech, in which he expressed a hope that they two might for the future live together on friendly terms, forgetting the past. He ought to have been prepared for the occasion, and the speech was poor and shambling. But I think that it was more useful than it might have been, had it been uttered roundly and with that paternal and almost majestic effect which he would have achieved had he been thoroughly prepared. But the roundness and the majesty would have gone against the grain with his son, and there would have been a danger of some outbreak. As it was, Lord Chiltern smiled, and muttered some word about things being “all right,” and then made his way out of the room. “That’s a great deal better than I had hoped,” he said to himself; “and it has all come from my going in without being announced.” But there was still a fear upon him that his father even yet might prepare a speech, and speak it, to the great peril of their mutual comfort.

His meeting with Violet was of course pleasant enough. Now that she had succumbed, and had told herself and had told him that she loved him, she did not scruple to be as generous as a maiden should be who has acknowledged herself to be conquered, and has rendered herself to the conqueror. She would walk with him and ride with him, and take a lively interest in the performances of all his horses, and listen to hunting stories as long as he chose to tell them. In all this, she was so good and so loving that Lady Laura was more than once tempted to throw in her teeth her old, often-repeated assertions, that she was not prone to be in love — that it was not her nature to feel any ardent affection for a man, and that, therefore, she would probably remain unmarried. “You begrudge me my little bits of pleasure,” Violet said, in answer to one such attack. “No — but it is so odd to see you, of all women, become so lovelorn.” “I am not lovelorn, said Violet, but I like the freedom of telling him everything and of hearing everything from him, and of having him for my own best friend. He might go away for twelve months, and I should not be unhappy, believing, as I do, that he would be true to me.” All of which set Lady Laura thinking whether her friend had not been wiser than she had been. She had never known anything of that sort of friendship with her husband which already seemed to be quite established between these two.

In her misery one day Lady Laura told the whole story of her own unhappiness to her brother, saying nothing of Phineas Finn — thinking nothing of him as she told her story, but speaking more strongly perhaps than she should have done, of the terrible dreariness of her life at Loughlinter, and of her inability to induce her husband to alter it for her sake.

“Do you mean that he — ill-treats you?” said the brother, with a scowl on his face which seemed to indicate that he would like no task better than that of resenting such ill-treatment.

“He does not beat me, if you mean that.”

“Is he cruel to you? Does he use harsh language?”

“He never said a word in his life either to me or, as I believe, to any other human being, that he would think himself bound to regret.”

“What is it then?”

“He simply chooses to have his own way, and his way cannot be my way. He is hard, and dry, and just, and dispassionate, and he wishes me to be the same. That is all.”

“I tell you fairly, Laura, as far as I am concerned, I never could speak to him. He is antipathetic to me. But then I am not his wife.”

“I am — and I suppose I must bear it.”

“Have you spoken to my father?”

“No.”

“Or to Violet?”

“Yes.”

“And what does she say?”

“What can she say? She has nothing to say. Nor have you. Nor, if I am driven to leave him, can I make the world understand why I do so. To be simply miserable, as I am, is nothing to the world.”

“I could never understand why you married him.”

“Do not be cruel to me, Oswald.”

“Cruel! I will stick by you in any way that you wish. If you think well of it, I will go off to Loughlinter tomorrow, and tell him that you will never return to him. And if you are not safe from him here at Saulsby, you shall go abroad with us. I am sure Violet would not object. I will not be cruel to you.”

But in truth neither of Lady Laura’s councillors was able to give her advice that could serve her. She felt that she could not leave her husband without other cause than now existed, although she felt, also, that to go back to him was to go back to utter wretchedness. And when she saw Violet and her brother together there came to her dreams of what might have been her own happiness had she kept herself free from those terrible bonds in which she was now held a prisoner. She could not get out of her heart the remembrance of that young man who would have been her lover, if she would have let him — of whose love for herself she had been aware before she had handed herself over as a bale of goods to her unloved, unloving husband. She had married Mr Kennedy because she was afraid that otherwise she might find herself forced to own that she loved that other man who was then a nobody — almost nobody. It was not Mr Kennedy’s money that had bought her. This woman in regard to money had shown herself to be as generous as the sun. But in marrying Mr Kennedy she had maintained herself in her high position, among the first of her own people — among the first socially and among the first politically. But had she married Phineas — had she become Lady Laura Finn — there would have been a great descent. She could not have entertained the leading men of her party. She would not have been on a level with the wives and daughters of Cabinet Ministers. She might, indeed, have remained unmarried! But she knew that had she done so — had she so resolved — that which she called her fancy would have been too strong for her. She would not have remained unmarried. At that time it was her fate to be either Lady Laura Kennedy or Lady Laura Finn. And she had chosen to be Lady Laura Kennedy. To neither Violet Effingham nor to her brother could she tell one half of the sorrow which afflicted her.

“I shall go back to Loughlinter,” she said to her brother.

“Do not, unless you wish it,” he answered.

“I do not wish it. But I shall do it. Mr Kennedy is in London now, and has been there since Parliament met, but he will be in Scotland again in March, and I will go and meet him there. I told him that I would do so when I left.”

“But you will go up to London?”

“I suppose so. I must do as he tells me, of course. What I mean is, I will try it for another year.”

“If it does not succeed, come to us.”

“I cannot say what I will do. I would die if I knew how. Never be a tyrant, Oswald; or at any rate, not a cold tyrant. And remember this, there is no tyranny to a woman like telling her of her duty. Talk of beating a woman! Beating might often be a mercy.”

Lord Chiltern remained ten days at Saulsby, and at last did not get away without a few unpleasant words with his father — or without a few words that were almost unpleasant with his mistress. On his first arrival he had told his sister that he should go on a certain day, and some intimation to this effect had probably been conveyed to the Earl. But when his son told him one evening that the post-chaise had been ordered for seven o’clock the next morning, he felt that his son was ungracious and abrupt. There were many things still to be said, and indeed there had been no speech of any account made at all as yet.

“That is very sudden,” said the Earl.

“I thought Laura had told you.”

“She has not told me a word lately. She may have said something before you came here. What is there to hurry you?”

“I thought ten days would be as long as you would care to have me here, and as I said that I would be back by the first, I would rather not change my plans.”

“You are going to hunt?”

“Yes — I shall hunt till the end of March.”

“You might have hunted here, Oswald.” But the son made no sign of changing his plans; and the father, seeing that he would not change them, became solemn and severe. There were a few words which he must say to his son — something of a speech that he must make — so he led the way into the room with the dark books and the dark furniture, and pointed to a great deep armchair for his son’s accommodation. But as he did not sit down himself, neither did Lord Chiltern. Lord Chiltern understood very well how great is the advantage of a standing orator over a sitting recipient of his oratory, and that advantage he would not give to his father. “I had hoped to have an opportunity of saying a few words to you about the future,” said the Earl.

“I think we shall be married in July,” said Lord Chiltern.

“So I have heard — but after that. Now I do not want to interfere, Oswald, and of course the less so, because Violet’s money will to a great degree restore the inroads which have been made upon the property.”

“It will more than restore them altogether.”

“Not if her estate be settled on a second son, Oswald, and I hear from Lady Baldock that that is the wish of her relations.”

“She shall have her own way — as she ought. What that way is I do not know. I have not even asked about it. She asked me, and I told her to speak to you.”

“Of course I should wish it to go with the family property. Of course that would be best.”

“She shall have her own way — as far as I am concerned.”

“But it is not about that, Oswald, that I would speak. What are your plans of life when you are married?”

“Plans of life?”

“Yes — plans of life. I suppose you have some plans. I suppose you mean to apply yourself to some useful occupation?”

“I don’t know really, sir, that I am of much use for any purpose.” Lord Chiltern laughed as he said this, but did not laugh pleasantly.

“You would not be a drone in the hive always?”

“As far as I can see, sir, we who call ourselves lords generally are drones.”

“I deny it,” said the Earl, becoming quite energetic as he defended his order. “I deny it utterly. I know no class of men who do work more useful or more honest. Am I a drone? Have I been so from my youth upwards? I have always worked, either in the one House or in the other, and those of my fellows with whom I have been most intimate have worked also. The same career is open to you.”

“You mean politics?”

“Of course I mean politics.”

“I don’t care for politics. I see no difference in parties.”

“But you should care for politics, and you should see a difference in parties. It is your duty to do so. My wish is that you should go into Parliament.”

“I can’t do that, sir.”

“And why not?”

“In the first place, sir, you have not got a seat to offer me. You have managed matters among you in such a way that poor little Loughton has been swallowed up. If I were to canvass the electors of Smotherem, I don’t think that many would look very sweet on me.”

“There is the county, Oswald.”

“And whom am I to turn out? I should spend four or five thousand pounds, and have nothing but vexation in return for it. I had rather not begin that game, and indeed I am too old for Parliament. I did not take it up early enough to believe in it.”

All this made the Earl very angry, and from these things they went on to worse things. When questioned again as to the future, Lord Chiltern scowled, and at last declared that it was his idea to live abroad in the summer for his wife’s recreation, and somewhere down in the shires during the winter for his own. He would admit of no purpose higher than recreation, and when his father again talked to him of a nobleman’s duty, he said that he knew of no other special duty than that of not exceeding his income. Then his father made a longer speech than before, and at the end of it Lord Chiltern simply wished him goodnight. “It’s getting late, and I’ve promised to see Violet before I go to bed. Goodbye.” Then he was off, and Lord Brentford was left there, standing with his back to the fire.

After that Lord Chiltern had a discussion with Violet, which lasted nearly half the night; and during the discussion she told him more than once that he was wrong. “Such as I am you must take me, or leave me,” he said, in anger. “Nay; there is no choice now,” she answered. “I have taken you, and I will stick by you — whether you are right or wrong. But when I think you wrong, I shall say so.” He swore to her as he pressed her to his heart that she was the finest, grandest, sweetest woman that ever the world had produced. But still there was present on his palate, when he left her, the bitter taste of her reprimand.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/finn/chapter55.html

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