Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 63

Showing how the Duke stood his ground

Mr Low the barrister, who had given so many lectures to our friend Phineas Finn, lectures that ought to have been useful, was now himself in the House of Commons, having reached it in the legitimate course of his profession. At a certain point of his career, supposing his career to have been sufficiently prosperous, it becomes natural to a barrister to stand for some constituency, and natural for him also to form his politics at that period of his life with a view to his further advancement, looking, as he does so, carefully at the age and standing of the various candidates for high legal office. When a man has worked as Mr Low had worked, he begins to regard the bench wistfully, and to calculate the profits of a two years’ run in the Attorney-Generalship. It is the way of the profession, and thus a proper and sufficient number of real barristers finds its way into the House. Mr Low had been angry with Phineas because he, being a barrister, had climbed into it after another fashion, having taken up politics, not in the proper way as an assistance to his great profession, but as a profession in itself. Mr Low had been quite sure that his pupil had been wrong in this, and that the error would at last show itself, to his pupil’s cost. And Mrs Low had been more sure than Mr Low, having not unnaturally been jealous that a young whipper-snapper of a pupil — as she had once called Phineas — should become a Parliament man before her husband, who had worked his way up gallantly, in the usual course. She would not give way a jot even now — not even when she heard that Phineas was going to marry this and that heiress. For at this period of his life such rumours were afloat about him, originating probably in his hopes as to Violet Effingham and his intimacy with Madame Goesler. “Oh, heiresses!” said Mrs Low. I don’t believe in heiresses’ money till I see it. Three or four hundred a year is a great fortune for a woman, but it don’t go far in keeping a house in London. And when a woman has got a little money she generally knows how to spend it. He has begun at the wrong end, and they who do that never get themselves right at the last.”

At this time Phineas had become somewhat of a fine gentleman, which made Mrs Low the more angry with him. He showed himself willing enough to go to Mrs Low’s house, but when there he seemed to her to give himself airs. I think that she was unjust to him, and that it was natural that he should not bear himself beneath her remarks exactly as he had done when he was nobody. He had certainly been very successful. He was always listened to in the House, and rarely spoke except on subjects which belonged to him, or had been allotted to him as part of his business. He lived quite at his ease with people of the highest rank — and those of his own mode of life who disliked him did so simply because they regarded with envy his too rapid rise. He rode upon a pretty horse in the park, and was careful in his dress, and had about him an air of comfortable wealth which Mrs Low thought he had not earned. When her husband told her of his sufficient salary, she would shake her head and express her opinion that a good time was coming. By which she perhaps meant to imply a belief that a time was coming in which her husband would have a salary much better than that now enjoyed by Phineas, and much more likely to be permanent. The Radicals were not to have office for ever, and when they were gone, what then? “I don’t suppose he saves a shilling,” said Mrs Low. How can he, keeping a horse in the park, and hunting down in the country, and living with lords? I shouldn’t wonder if he isn’t found to be over head and ears in debt when things come to be looked into.” Mrs Low was fond of an assured prosperity, of money in the funds, and was proud to think that her husband lived in a house of his own. “£19 10s ground-rent to the Portman estate is what we pay, Mr Bunce,” she once said to that gallant Radical, “and that comes of beginning at the right end. Mr. Low had nothing when he began the world, and I had just what made us decent the day we married. But he began at the right end, and let things go as they may he can’t get a fall.” Mr Bunce and Mrs Low, though they differed much in politics, sympathised in reference to Phineas.

“I never believes, ma’am, in nobody doing any good by getting a place,” said Mr Bunce. “Of course I don’t mean judges and them like, which must be. But when a young man has ever so much a year for sitting in a big room down at Whitehall, and reading a newspaper with his feet up on a chair, I don’t think it honest, whether he’s a Parliament man or whether he ain’t.” Whence Mr Bunce had got his notions as to the way in which officials at Whitehall pass their time, I cannot say; but his notions are very common notions. The British world at large is slow to believe that the great British housekeeper keeps no more cats than what kill mice.

Mr Low, who was now frequently in the habit of seeing Phineas at the House, had somewhat changed his opinions, and was not so eager in condemning Phineas as was his wife. He had begun to think that perhaps Phineas had shown some knowledge of his own aptitudes in the career which he had sought, and was aware, at any rate, that his late pupil was somebody in the House of Commons. A man will almost always respect him whom those around him respect, and will generally look up to one who is evidently above himself in his own daily avocation. Now Phineas was certainly above Mr Low in parliamentary reputation. He sat on a front bench. He knew the leaders of parties. He was at home amidst the forms of the House. He enjoyed something of the prestige of Government power. And he walked about familiarly with the sons of dukes and the brothers of earls in a manner which had its effect even on Mr Low. Seeing these things Mr Low could not maintain his old opinion as stoutly as did his wife. It was almost a privilege to Mr Low to be intimate with Phineas Finn. How then could he look down upon him?

He was surprised, therefore, one day when Phineas discussed the matter with him fully. Phineas had asked him what would be his chance of success if even now he were to give up politics and take to the Bar as the means of earning his livelihood, “You would have uphill work at first, as a matter of course,” said Mr Low.

“But it might be done, I suppose. To have been in office would not be fatal to me?”

“No, not fatal. Nothing of the kind need be fatal. Men have succeeded, and have sat on the bench afterwards, who did not begin till they were past forty. You would have to live down a prejudice created against yourself; that is all. The attorneys do not like barristers who are anything else but barristers.”

“The attorneys are very arbitrary, I know,” said Phineas.

“Yes — and there would be this against you — that it is so difficult for a man to go back to the verdure and malleability of pupildom, who has once escaped from the necessary humility of its conditions. You will find it difficult to sit and wait for business in a Vice-Chancellor’s Court, after having had Vice-Chancellors, or men as big as Vice-Chancellors, to wait upon you.”

“I do not think much of that.”

“But others would think of it, and you would find that there were difficulties. But you are not thinking of it in earnest?”

“Yes, in earnest.”

“Why so? I should have thought that every day had removed you further and further from any such idea.”

“The ground I’m on at present is so slippery.”

“Well, yes. I can understand that. But yet it is less slippery than it used to be.”

“Ah — you do not exactly see. What if I were to lose my seat?”

“You are safe at least for the next four years, I should say.”

“Ah — no one can tell. And suppose I took it into my head to differ from the Government?”

“You must not do that. You have put yourself into a boat with these men, and you must remain in the boat. I should have thought all that was easy to you.”

“It is not so easy as it seems. The very necessity of sitting still in the boat is in itself irksome — very irksome. And then there comes some crisis in which a man cannot sit still.”

“Is there any such crisis at hand now?”

“I cannot say that — but I am beginning to find that sitting still is very disagreeable to me. When I hear those fellows below having their own way, and saying just what they like, it makes me furious. There is Robson. He tried office for a couple of years, and has broken away; and now, by George, there is no man they think so much of as they do of Robson. He is twice the man he was when he sat on the Treasury Bench.”

“He is a man of fortune — is he not?”

“I suppose so. Of course he is, because he lives. He never earns anything. His wife had money.”

“My dear Finn, that makes all the difference. When a man has means of his own he can please himself. Do you marry a wife with money, and then you may kick up your heels, and do as you like about the Colonial Office. When a man hasn’t money, of course he must fit himself to the circumstances of a profession.”

“Though his profession may require him to be dishonest.”

“I did not say that.”

“But I say it, my dear Low. A man who is ready to vote black white because somebody tells him, is dishonest. Never mind, old fellow. I shall pull through, I daresay. Don’t go and tell your wife all this, or she’ll be harder upon me than ever when she sees me.” After that Mr Low began to think that his wife’s judgment in this matter had been better than his own.

Robson could do as he liked because he had married a woman with money. Phineas told himself that that game was also open to him. He, too, might marry money. Violet Effingham had money — quite enough to make him independent were he married to her. And Madame Goesler had money — plenty of money. And an idea had begun to creep upon him that Madame Goesler would take him were he to offer himself. But he would sooner go back to the Bar as the lowest pupil, sooner clean boots for barristers — so he told himself — than marry a woman simply because she had money, than marry any other woman as long as there was a chance that Violet might be won. But it was very desirable that he should know whether Violet might be won or not. It was now July, and everybody would be gone in another month. Before August would be over he was to start for Ireland with Mr Monk, and he knew that words would be spoken in Ireland which might make it indispensable for him to be, at any rate, able to throw up his office. In these days he became more anxious than he used to be about Miss Effingham’s fortune.

He had never spoken as yet to Lord Brentford since the day on which the Earl had quarrelled with him, nor had he ever been at the house in Portman Square. Lady Laura he met occasionally, and had always spoken to her. She was gracious to him, but there had been no renewal of their intimacy. Rumours had reached him that things were going badly with her and her husband; but when men repeated such rumours in his presence, he said little or nothing on the subject. It was not for him, at any rate, to speak of Lady Laura’s unhappiness. Lord Chiltern he had seen once or twice during the last month, and they had met cordially as friends. Of course he could ask no question from Lord Chiltern as to Violet; but he did learn that his friend had again patched up some reconciliation with his father. “He has quarrelled with me, you know,” said Phineas.

“I am very sorry, but what could I do? As things went, I was obliged to tell him.”

“Do not suppose for a moment that I am blaming you. It is, no doubt, much better that he should know it all.”

“And it cannot make much difference to you, I should say.”

“One doesn’t like to quarrel with those who have been kind to one,” said Phineas.

“But it isn’t your doing. He’ll come right again after a time. When I can get my own affairs settled, you may be sure I’ll do my best to bring him round. But what’s the reason you never see Laura now?”

“What’s the reason that everything goes awry?” said Phineas, bitterly.

“When I mentioned your name to Kennedy the other day, he looked as black as thunder. But it is not odd that anyone should quarrel with him. I can’t stand him. Do you know, I sometimes think that Laura will have to give it up. Then there will be another mess in the family!”

This was all very well as coming from Lord Chiltern; but there was no word about Violet, and Phineas did not know how to get a word from anyone. Lady Laura could have told him everything, but he could not go to Lady Laura. He did go to Lady Baldock’s house as often as he thought he could with propriety, and occasionally he saw Violet. But he could do no more than see her, and the days and weeks were passing by, and the time was coming in which he would have to go away, and be with her no more. The end of the season, which was always to other men — to other working men such as our hero — a period of pleasurable anticipation, to him was a time of sadness, in which he felt that he was not exactly like to, or even equal to, the men with whom he lived in London. In the old days, in which he was allowed to go to Loughlinter or to Saulsby, when all men and women were going to their Loughlinters and their Saulsbys, it was very well with him; but there was something melancholy to him in his yearly journey to Ireland. He loved his father and mother and sisters as well as do other men; but there was a falling off in the manner of his life which made him feel that he had been in some sort out of his own element in London. He would have liked to have shot grouse at Loughlinter, or pheasants at Saulsby, or to have hunted down at Willingford — or better still, to have made love to Violet Effingham wherever Violet Effingham might have placed herself. But all this was closed to him now; and there would be nothing for him but to remain at Killaloe, or to return to his work in Downing Street, from August to February. Mr Monk, indeed, was going with him for a few weeks; but even this association did not make up for that sort of society which he would have preferred.

The session went on very quietly. The question of the Irish Reform Bill was postponed till the next year, which was a great thing gained. He carried his bill about the Canada Railway, with sundry other small bills appertaining to it, through the House in a manner which redounded infinitely to his credit. There was just enough of opposition to give a zest to the work, and to make the affair conspicuous among the affairs of the year. As his chief was in the other House, the work fell altogether into his hands, so that he came to be conspicuous among Under-Secretaries. It was only when he said a word to any leaders of his party about other matters — about Irish Tenant Right, for instance, which was beginning to loom very large, that he found himself to be snubbed. But there was no room for action this year in reference to Irish Tenant Right, and therefore any deep consideration of that discomfort might be legitimately postponed. If he did by chance open his mouth on the subject to Mr Monk, even Mr Monk discouraged him.

In the early days of July, when the weather was very hot, and people were beginning to complain of the Thames, and members were becoming thirsty after grouse, and the remaining days of parliamentary work were being counted up, there came to him news — news that was soon known throughout the fashionable world — that the Duke of Omnium was going to give a garden party at a certain villa residence on the banks of the Thames above Richmond. It was to be such a garden party as had never been seen before. And it would be the more remarkable because the Duke had never been known to do such a thing. The villa was called The Horns, and had, indeed, been given by the Duke to Lady Glencora on her marriage; but the party was to be the Duke’s party, and The Horns, with all its gardens, conservatories, lawns, shrubberies, paddocks, boat-houses, and boats, was to be made bright and beautiful for the occasion. Scores of workmen were about the place through the three first weeks of July. The world at large did not at all know why the Duke was doing so unwonted a thing — why he should undertake so new a trouble. But Lady Glencora knew, and Madame Goesler shrewdly guessed, the riddle. When Madame Goesler’s unexpected refusal had reached his Grace, he felt that he must either accept the lady’s refusal, or persevere, After a day’s consideration, he resolved that he would accept it. The top brick of the chimney was very desirable; but perhaps it might be well that he should endeavour to live without it. Then, accepting this refusal, he must either stand his ground and bear the blow — or he must run away to that villa at Como, or elsewhere. The running away seemed to him at first to be the better, or at least the more pleasant, course; but at last he determined that he would stand his ground and bear the blow. Therefore he gave his garden party at The Horns.

Who was to be invited? Before the first week in July was over, many a bosom in London was fluttering with anxiety on that subject. The Duke, in giving his short word of instruction to Lady Glencora, made her understand that he would wish her to be particular in her invitations. Her Royal Highness the Princess and his Royal Highness the Prince had both been so gracious as to say that they would honour his fête. The Duke himself had made out a short list, with not more than a dozen names. Lady Glencora was employed to select the real crowd — the five hundred out of the ten thousand who were to be blessed. On the Duke’s own private list was the name of Madame Goesler. Lady Glencora understood it all. When Madame Goesler got her card, she thought that she understood it too. And she thought also that the Duke was behaving in a gallant way.

There was, no doubt, much difficulty about the invitations, and a considerable amount of ill-will was created. And they who considered themselves entitled to be asked, and were not asked, were full of wrath against their more fortunate friends, instead of being angry with the Duke or with Lady Glencora, who had neglected them. It was soon known that Lady Glencora was the real dispenser of the favours, and I fancy that her ladyship was tired of her task before it was completed. The party was to take place on Wednesday, the 27th of July, and before the day had come, men and women had become so hardy in the combat that personal applications were made with unflinching importunity; and letters were written to Lady Glencora putting forward this claim and that claim with a piteous clamour. “No, that is too bad,” Lady Glencora said to her particular friend, Mrs Grey, when a letter came from Mrs Bonteen, stating all that her husband had ever done towards supporting Mr Palliser in Parliament — and all that he ever would do. “She shan’t have it, even though she could put Plantagenet into a minority tomorrow.”

Mrs Bonteen did not get a card; and when she heard that Phineas Finn had received one, her wrath against Phineas was very great. He was “an Irish adventurer,” and she regretted deeply that Mr Bonteen had ever interested himself in bringing such an upstart forward in the world of politics. But as Mr Bonteen never had done anything towards bringing Phineas forward, there was not much cause for regret on this head. Phineas, however, got his card, and, of course, accepted the invitation.

The grounds were opened at four. There was to be an early dinner out in tents at five; and after dinner men and women were to walk about, or dance, or make love — or hay, as suited them. The haycocks, however, were ready prepared, while it was expected that they should bring the love with them. Phineas, knowing that he should meet Violet Effingham, took a great deal with him ready made.

For an hour and a half Lady Glencora kept her position in a saloon through which the guests passed to the grounds, and to every comer she imparted the information that the Duke was on the lawn — to every comer but one. To Madame Goesler she said no such word. “So glad to see you, my dear,” she said, as she pressed her friend’s hand: “if I am not killed by this work, I’ll make you out again by and by.” Then Madame Goesler passed on, and soon found herself amidst a throng of acquaintance. After a few minutes she saw the Duke seated in an armchair, close to the river-bank, and she bravely went up to him, and thanked him for the invitation. “The thanks are due to you for gracing our entertainment,” said the Duke, rising to greet her. There were a dozen people standing round, and so the thing was done without difficulty. At that moment there came a notice that their royal highnesses were on the ground, and the Duke, of course, went off to meet them. There was not a word more spoken between the Duke and Madame Goesler on that afternoon.

Phineas did not come till late — till seven, when the banquet was over, I think he was right in this, as the banqueting in tents loses in comfort almost more than it gains in romance. A small picnic may be very well, and the distance previously travelled may give to a dinner on the ground the seeming excuse of necessity. Frail human nature must be supported — and human nature, having gone so far in pursuit of the beautiful, is entitled to what best support the unaccustomed circumstances will allow. Therefore, out with the cold pies, out with the salads, and the chickens, and the champagne. Since no better may be, let us recruit human nature sitting upon this moss, and forget our discomforts in the glory of the verdure around us. And dear Mary, seeing that the cushion from the waggonet is small, and not wishing to accept the too generous offer that she should take it all for her own use, will admit a contact somewhat closer than the ordinary chairs of a dining-room render necessary. That in its way is very well — but I hold that a banquet on narrow tables in a tent is displeasing.

Phineas strolled into the grounds when the tent was nearly empty, and when Lady Glencora, almost sinking beneath her exertions, was taking rest in an inner room. The Duke at this time was dining with their royal highnesses, and three or four others, specially selected, very comfortably within doors. Out of doors the world had begun to dance — and the world was beginning to say that it would be much nicer to go and dance upon the boards inside as soon as possible. For, though of all parties a garden party is the nicest, everybody is always anxious to get out of the garden as quick as may be. A few ardent lovers of suburban picturesque effect were sitting beneath the haycocks, and four forlorn damsels were vainly endeavouring to excite the sympathy of manly youth by playing croquet in a corner. I am not sure, however, that the lovers beneath the haycocks and the players at croquet were not actors hired by Lady Glencora for the occasion.

Phineas had not been long on the lawn before he saw Lady Laura Kennedy. She was standing with another lady, and Barrington Erle was with them. “So you have been successful?” said Barrington, greeting him.

“Successful in what?”

“In what? In getting a ticket. I have had to promise three tide-waiterships, and to give deep hints about a bishopric expected to be vacant, before I got in. But what matters? Success pays for everything. My only trouble now is how I’m to get back to London.”

Lady Laura shook hands with Phineas, and then as he was passing on, followed him for a step and whispered a word to him. “Mr Finn,” she said, “if you are not going yet, come back to me presently. I have something to say to you. I shall not be far from the river, and shall stay here for about an hour.”

Phineas said that he would, and then went on, not knowing exactly where he was going. He had one desire — to find Violet Effingham, but when he should find her he could not carry her off, and sit with her beneath a haycock.

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