Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 65

The Cabinet Minister at Killaloe

Phineas did not throw himself into the river from the Duke’s garden; and was ready, in spite of Violet Effingham, to start for Ireland with Mr Monk at the end of the first week in August. The close of that season in London certainly was not a happy period of his life. Violet had spoken to him after such a fashion that he could not bring himself not to believe her. She had given him no hint whether it was likely or unlikely that she and Lord Chiltern would be reconciled; but she had convinced him that he could not be allowed to take Lord Chiltern’s place. “A woman cannot transfer her heart,” she had said. Phineas was well aware that many women do transfer their hearts; but he had gone to this woman too soon after the wrench which her love had received; he had been too sudden with his proposal for a transfer; and the punishment for such ill judgment must be that success would now be impossible to him. And yet how could he have waited, feeling that Miss Effingham, if she were at all like other girls whom he had known, might have promised herself to some other lover before she would return within his reach in the succeeding spring? But she was not like some other girls. Ah — he knew that now, and repented him of his haste.

But he was ready for Mr Monk on the 7th of August, and they started together. Something less than twenty hours took them from London to Killaloe, and during four or five of those twenty hours Mr Monk was unfitted for any conversation by the uncomfortable feelings incidental to the passage from Holyhead to Kingstown. Nevertheless, there was a great deal of conversation between them during the journey. Mr Monk had almost made up his mind to leave the Cabinet. “It is sad to me to have to confess it,” he said, “but the truth is that my old rival, Turnbull, is right. A man who begins his political life as I began mine, is not the man of whom a Minister should be formed. I am inclined to think that Ministers of Government require almost as much education in their trade as shoemakers or tallow-chandlers. I doubt whether you can make a good public servant of a man simply because he has got the ear of the House of Commons.”

“Then you mean to say,” said Phineas, that we are altogether wrong from beginning to end, in our way of arranging these things?”

“I do not say that at all. Look at the men who have been leading statesmen since our present mode of government was formed — from the days in which it was forming itself, say from Walpole down, and you will find that all who have been of real use had early training as public servants.”

“Are we never to get out of the old groove?”

“Not if the groove is good,” said Mr Monk. Those who have been efficient as ministers sucked in their efficacy with their mother’s milk. Lord Brock did so, and Lord de Terrier, and Mr Mildmay. They seated themselves in office chairs the moment they left college. Mr Gresham was in office before he was eight-and-twenty. The Duke of St Bungay was at work as a Private Secretary when he was three-and-twenty. You, luckily for yourself, have done the same.”

“And regret it every hour of my life.”

“You have no cause for regret, but it is not so with me. If there be any man unfitted by his previous career for office, it is he who has become, or who has endeavoured to become, a popular politician — an exponent, if I may say so, of public opinion. As far as I can see, office is offered to such men with one view only — that of clipping their wings.”

“And of obtaining their help.”

“It is the same thing. Help from Turnbull would mean the withdrawal of all power of opposition from him. He could not give other help for any long term, as the very fact of his accepting power and patronage would take from him his popular leadership. The masses outside require to have their minister as the Queen has hers; but the same man cannot be minister to both. If the people’s minister chooses to change his master, and to take the Queen’s shilling, something of temporary relief may be gained by government in the fact that the other place will for a time be vacant. But there are candidates enough for such places, and the vacancy is not a vacancy long. Of course the Crown has this pull, that it pays wages, and the people do not.”

“I do not think that that influenced you,” said Phineas.

“It did not influence me. To you I will make bold to state so much positively, though it would be foolish, perhaps, to do so to others. I did not go for the shilling, though I am so poor a man that the shilling is more to me than it would be to almost any man in the House. I took the shilling, much doubting, but guided in part by this, that I was ashamed of being afraid to take it. They told me — Mr Mildmay and the Duke — that I could earn it to the benefit of the country. I have not earned it, and the country has not been benefited — unless it be for the good of the country that my voice in the House should be silenced. If I believe that, I ought to hold my tongue without taking a salary for holding it. I have made a mistake, my friend. Such mistakes made at my time of life cannot be wholly rectified; but, being convinced of my error, I must do the best in my power to put myself right again.”

There was a bitterness in all this to Phineas himself of which he could not but make plaint to his companion. “The truth is,” he said, “that a man in office must be a slave, and that slavery is distasteful.”

“There I think you are wrong. If you mean that you cannot do joint work with other men altogether after your own fashion the same may be said of all work. If you had stuck to the Bar you must have pleaded your causes in conformity with instructions from the attorneys.”

“I should have been guided by my own lights in advising those attorneys.”

“I cannot see that you suffer anything that ought to go against the grain with you. You are beginning young, and it is your first adopted career. With me it is otherwise. If by my telling you this I shall have led you astray, I shall regret my openness with you. Could I begin again, I would willingly begin as you began.”

It was a great day in Killaloe, that on which Mr Monk arrived with Phineas at the doctor’s house. In London, perhaps, a bishop inspires more awe than a Cabinet Minister. In Killaloe, where a bishop might be seen walking about every day, the mitred dignitary of the Church, though much loved, was thought of, I fear, but lightly; whereas a Cabinet Minister coming to stay in the house of a townsman was a thing to be wondered at, to be talked about, to be afraid of, to be a fruitful source of conversation for a year to come. There were many in Killaloe, especially among the elder ladies, who had shaken their heads and expressed the saddest doubts when young Phineas Finn had first become a Parliament man. And though by degrees they had been half brought round, having been driven to acknowledge that he had been wonderfully successful as a Parliament man, still they had continued to shake their heads among themselves, and to fear something in the future — until he appeared at his old home leading a Cabinet Minister by the hand. There was such assurance in this that even old Mrs Callaghan, at the brewery, gave way, and began to say all manner of good things, and to praise the doctor’s luck in that he had a son gifted with parts so excellent. There was a great desire to see the Cabinet Minister in the flesh, to be with him when he ate and drank, to watch the gait and countenance of the man, and to drink water from this fountain of state lore which had been so wonderfully brought among them by their young townsman. Mrs Finn was aware that it behoved her to be chary of her invitations, but the lady from the brewery had said such good things of Mrs Finn’s black swan, that she carried her point, and was invited to meet the Cabinet Minister at dinner on the day after his arrival.

Mrs Flood Jones and her daughter were invited also to be of the party. When Phineas had been last at Killaloe, Mrs Flood Jones, as the reader may remember, had remained with her daughter at Floodborough — feeling it to be her duty to keep her daughter away from the danger of an unrequited attachment. But it seemed that her purpose was changed now, or that she no longer feared the danger — for both Mary and her mother were now again living in Killaloe, and Mary was at the doctor’s house as much as ever.

A day or two before the coming of the god and the demigod to the little town, Barbara Finn and her friend had thus come to understand each other as they walked along the Shannon side. “I am sure, my dear, that he is engaged to nobody,” said Barbara Finn.

“And I am sure, my dear,” said Mary, that I do not care whether he is or is not.”

“What do you mean, Mary?”

“I mean what I say. Why should I care? Five years ago I had a foolish dream, and now I am awake again. Think how old I have got to be!”

“Yes — you are twenty-three. What has that to do with it?”

“It has this to do with it — that I am old enough to know better. Mamma and I quite understand each other. She used to be angry with him, but she has got over all that foolishness now. It always made me so vexed — the idea of being angry with a man because — because —! You know one can’t talk about it, it is so foolish. But that is all over now.”

“Do you mean to say you don’t care for him, Mary? Do you remember what you used to swear to me less than two years ago?”

“I remember it all very well, and I remember what a goose I was. As for caring for him, of course I do — because he is your brother, and because I have known him all my life. But if he were going to be married tomorrow, you would see that it would make no difference to me.”

Barbara Finn walked on for a couple of minutes in silence before she replied, “Mary,” she said at last, I don’t believe a word of it.”

“Very well — then all that I shall ask of you is, that we may not talk about him any more. Mamma believes it, and that is enough for me.” Nevertheless, they did talk about Phineas during the whole of that day, and very often talked about him afterwards, as long as Mary remained at Killaloe.

There was a large dinner party at the doctor’s on the day after Mr Monk’s arrival. The bishop was not there, though he was on terms sufficiently friendly with the doctor’s family to have been invited on so grand an occasion; but he was not there, because Mrs Finn was determined that she would be taken out to dinner by a Cabinet Minister in the face of all her friends. She was aware that had the bishop been there, she must have taken the bishop’s arm. And though there would have been glory in that, the other glory was more to her taste. It was the first time in her life that she had ever seen a Cabinet Minister, and I think that she was a little disappointed at finding him so like other middle-aged gentlemen. She had hoped that Mr Monk would have assumed something of the dignity of his position; but he assumed nothing. Now the bishop, though he was a very mild man, did assume something by the very facts of his apron and knee-breeches.

“I am sure, sir, it is very good of you to come and put up with our humble way of living,” said Mrs Finn to her guest, as they sat down at table. And yet she had resolved that she would not make any speech of the kind — that she would condescend to no apology — that she would bear herself as though a Cabinet Minister dined with her at least once a year. But when the moment came, she broke down, and made this apology with almost abject meekness, and then hated herself because she had done so.

“My dear madam,” said Mr Monk, I live myself so much like a hermit that your house is a palace of luxury to me.” Then he felt that he had made a foolish speech, and he also hated himself. He found it very difficult to talk to his hostess upon any subject, until by chance he mentioned his young friend Phineas. Then her tongue was unloosed. “Your son, madam,” he said, is going with me to Limerick and back to Dublin. It is a shame, I know, taking him so soon away from home, but I should not know how to get on without him.”

“Oh, Mr Monk, it is such a blessing for him, and such an honour for us, that you should be so good to him.” Then the mother spoke out all her past fears and all her present hopes, and acknowledged the great glory which it was to her to have a son sitting in Parliament, holding an office with a stately name and a great salary, and blessed with the friendship of such a man as Mr Monk. After that Mr Monk got on better with her.

“I don’t know any young man,” said he, in whose career I have taken so strong an interest.”

“He was always good,” said Mrs Finn, with a tear forcing itself into the corner of each eye. “I am his mother, and of course I ought not to say so — not in this way; but it is true, Mr Monk.” And then the poor lady was obliged to raise her handkerchief and wipe away the drops.

Phineas on this occasion had taken out to dinner the mother of his devoted Mary, Mrs Flood Jones. “What a pleasure it must be to the doctor and Mrs Finn to see you come back in this way,” said Mrs Flood Jones.

“With all my bones unbroken?” said he, laughing.

“Yes; with all your bones unbroken. You know, Phineas, when we first heard that you were to sit in Parliament, we were afraid that you might break a rib or two — since you choose to talk about the breaking of bones.”

“Yes, I know. Everybody thought I should come to grief; but nobody felt so sure of it as I did myself.”

“But you have not come to grief.”

“I am not out of the wood yet, you know, Mrs Flood Jones. There is plenty of possibility for grief in my way still.”

“As far as I can understand it, you are out of the wood. All that your friends here want to see now is, that you should marry some nice English girl, with a little money, if possible. Rumours have reached us, you know.”

“Rumours always lie,” said Phineas.

“Sometimes they do, of course; and I am not going to ask any indiscreet questions. But that is what we all hope. Mary was saying, only the other day, that if you were once married, we should all feel quite safe about you. And you know we all take the most lively interest in your welfare. It is not every day that a man from County Clare gets on as you have done, and therefore we are bound to think of you.” Thus Mrs Flood Jones signified to Phineas Finn that she had forgiven him the thoughtlessness of his early youth — even though there had been something of treachery in that thoughtlessness to her own daughter; and showed him, also, that whatever Mary’s feelings might have been once, they were not now of a nature to trouble her. “Of course you will marry?” said Mrs Flood Jones.

“I should think very likely not,” said Phineas, who perhaps looked farther into the mind of the lady than the lady intended.

“Oh, do,” said the lady. Every man should marry as soon as he can, and especially a man in your position.”

When the ladies met together in the drawing-room after dinner, it was impossible but that they should discuss Mr Monk. There was Mrs Callaghan from the brewery there, and old Lady Blood, of Bloodstone — who on ordinary occasions would hardly admit that she was on dining-out terms with anyone in Killaloe except the bishop, but who had found it impossible to decline to meet a Cabinet Minister — and there was Mrs Stackpoole from Sixmiletown, a far-away cousin of the Finns, who hated Lady Blood with a true provincial hatred.

“I don’t see anything particularly uncommon in him, after all,” said Lady Blood.

“I think he is very nice indeed,” said Mrs Flood Jones.

“So very quiet, my dear, and just like other people,” said Mrs Callaghan, meaning to pronounce a strong eulogium on the Cabinet Minister.

“Very like other people indeed,” said Lady Blood.

“And what would you expect, Lady Blood?” said Mrs Stackpoole. “Men and women in London walk upon two legs, just as they do in Ennis.” Now Lady Blood herself had been born and bred in Ennis, whereas Mrs Stackpoole had come from Limerick, which is a much more considerable town, and therefore there was a satire in this allusion to the habits of the men of Ennis which Lady Blood understood thoroughly.

“My dear Mrs Stackpoole, I know how the people walk in London quite as well as you do.” Lady Blood had once passed three months in London while Sir Patrick had been alive, whereas Mrs Stackpoole had never done more than visit the metropolis for a day or two.

“Oh, no doubt,” said Mrs Stackpoole; but I never can understand what it is that people expect. I suppose Mr. Monk ought to have come with his stars on the breast of his coat, to have pleased Lady Blood.”

“My dear Mrs Stackpoole, Cabinet Ministers don’t have stars,” said Lady Blood.

“I never said they did,” said Mrs Stackpoole.

“He is so nice and gentle to talk to,” said Mrs Finn. “You may say what you will, but men who are high up do very often give themselves airs. Now I must say that this friend of my son’s does not do anything of that kind.”

“Not the least,” said Mrs Callaghan.

“Quite the contrary,” said Mrs Stackpoole. I dare say he is a wonderful man,” said Lady Blood. “All I say is, that I didn’t hear anything wonderful come out of his mouth; and as for people in Ennis walking on two legs, I have seen donkeys in Limerick doing just the same thing.” Now it was well known that Mrs Stackpoole had two sons living in Limerick, as to neither of whom was it expected that he would set the Shannon on fire. After this little speech there was no further mention of Mr Monk, as it became necessary that all the good nature of Mrs Finn and all the tact of Mrs Flood Jones and all the energy of Mrs Callaghan should be used, to prevent the raging of an internecine battle between Mrs Stackpoole and Lady Blood.

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