Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 69

The Temptress

Mr Monk’s bill was read the first time before Easter, and Phineas Finn still held his office. He had spoken to the Prime Minister once on the subject, and had been surprised at that gentleman’s courtesy — for Mr Gresham had the reputation of being unconciliatory in his manners, and very prone to resent anything like desertion from that allegiance which was due to himself as the leader of his party. “You had better stay where you are and take no step that may be irretrievable, till you have quite made up your mind,” said Mr Gresham.

“I fear I have made up my mind,” said Phineas.

“Nothing can be done till after Easter”, replied the great man, “and there is no knowing how things may go then. I strongly recommend you to stay with us. If you can do this it will be only necessary that you shall put your resignation in Lord Cantrip’s hands before you speak or vote against us. See Monk and talk it over with him.” Mr Gresham possibly imagined that Mr Monk might be moved to abandon his bill, when he saw what injury he was about to do.

At this time Phineas received the following letter from his darling Mary:

“ Floodborough, Thursday

“ DEAREST PHINEAS

“We have just got home from Killaloe, and mean to remain here all through the summer. After leaving your sisters this house seems so desolate; but I shall have the more time to think of you. I have been reading Tennyson, as you told me, and I fancy that I could in truth be a Mariana here, if it were not that I am so quite certain that you will come — and that makes all the difference in the world in a moated grange. Last night I sat at the window and tried to realise what I should feel if you were to tell me that you did not want me; and I got myself into such an ecstatic state of mock melancholy that I cried for half an hour. But when one has such a real living joy at the back of one’s romantic melancholy, tears are very pleasant — they water and do not burn.

“I must tell you about them all at Killaloe. They certainly are very unhappy at the idea of your resigning. Your father says very little, but I made him own that to act as you are acting for the sake of principle is very grand. I would not leave him till he had said so, and he did say it. Dear Mrs Finn does not understand it as well, but she will do so. She complains mostly for my sake, and when I tell her that I will wait twenty years if it is necessary, she tells me I do not know what waiting means. But I will — and will be happy, and will never really think myself a Mariana. Dear, dear, dear Phineas, indeed I won’t. The girls are half sad and half proud, But I am wholly proud, and know that you are doing just what you ought to do. I shall think more of you as a man who might have been a Prime Minister than if you were really sitting in the Cabinet like Lord Cantrip. As for mamma, I cannot make her quite understand it. She merely says that no young man who is going to be married ought to resign anything. Dear mamma — sometimes she does say such odd things.

“You told me to tell you everything, and so I have. I talk to some of the people here, and tell them what they might do if they had tenant-right. One old fellow, Mike Dufferty — I don’t know whether you remember him — asked if he would have to pay the rent all the same. When I said certainly he would, then he shook his head. But as you said once, when we want to do good to people one has no right to expect that they should understand it. It is like baptising little infants.

“I got both your notes — seven words in one, Mr Under-Secretary, and nine in the other! But the one little word at the end was worth a whole sheet full of common words. How nice it is to write letters without paying postage, and to send them about the world with a grand name in the corner. When Barney brings me one he always looks as if he didn’t know whether it was a love letter or an order to go to Botany Bay. If he saw the inside of them, how short they are, I don’t think he’d think much of you as a lover nor yet as an Under-Secretary.

“But I think ever so much of you as both — I do, indeed; and I am not scolding you a bit. As long as I can have two or three dear, sweet, loving words, I shall be as happy as a queen. Ah, if you knew it all! But you never can know it all. A man has so many other things to learn that he cannot understand it.

“Goodbye, dear, dear, dearest man. Whatever you do I shall be quite sure you have done the best.

“Ever your own, with all the love of her heart,

“ MARY F. JONES

This was very nice. Such a man as was Phineas Finn always takes a delight which he cannot express even to himself in the receipt of such a letter as this. There is nothing so flattering as the warm expression of the confidence of a woman’s love, and Phineas thought that no woman ever expressed this more completely than did his Mary. Dear, dearest Mary. As for giving her up, as for treachery to one so trusting, so sweet, so well beloved, that was out of the question. But nevertheless the truth came home to him more clearly day by day, that he of all men was the last who ought to have given himself up to such a passion. For her sake he ought to have abstained. So he told himself now. For her sake he ought to have kept aloof from her — and for his own sake he ought to have kept aloof from Mr Monk. That very day, with Mary’s letter in his pocket, he went to the livery stables and explained that he would not keep his horse any longer. There was no difficulty about the horse. Mr Howard Macleod of the Treasury would take him from that very hour. Phineas, as he walked away, uttered a curse upon Mr Howard Macleod. Mr Howard Macleod was just beginning the glory of his life in London, and he, Phineas Finn, was bringing his to an end.

With Mary’s letter in his pocket he went up to Portman Square. He had again got into the habit of seeing Lady Laura frequently, and was often with her brother, who now again lived at his father’s house. A letter had reached Lord Brentford, through his lawyer, in which a demand was made by Mr Kennedy for the return of his wife. She was quite determined that she would never go back to him; and there had come to her a doubt whether it would not be expedient that she should live abroad so as to be out of the way of persecution from her husband. Lord Brentford was in great wrath, and Lord Chiltern had once or twice hinted that perhaps he had better “see” Mr Kennedy. The amenities of such an interview, as this would be, had up to the present day been postponed; and, in a certain way, Phineas had been used as a messenger between Mr Kennedy and his wife’s family.

“I think it will end”, she said, in my going to Dresden, and settling myself there. Papa will come to me when Parliament is not sitting.”

“It will be very dull.”

“Dull! What does dullness amount to when one has come to such a pass as this? When one is in the ruck of fortune, to be dull is very bad; but when misfortune comes, simple dullness is nothing. It sounds almost like relief.”

“It is so hard that you should be driven away.” She did not answer him for a while, and he was beginning to think of his own case also. Was it not hard that he too should be driven away? “It is odd enough that we should both be going at the same time.”

“But you will not go?”

“I think I shall. I have resolved upon this — that if I give up my place, I will give up my seat too. I went into Parliament with the hope of office, and how can I remain there when I shall have gained it and then have lost it?”

“But you will stay in London, Mr Finn?”

“I think not. After all that has come and gone I should not be happy here, and I should make my way easier and on cheaper terms in Dublin. My present idea is that I shall endeavour to make a practice over in my own country. It will be hard work beginning at the bottom — will it not?”

“And so unnecessary.”

“Ah, Lady Laura — if it only could be avoided! But it is of no use going through all that again.”

“How much we would both of us avoid if we could only have another chance!” said Lady Laura. “If I could only be as I was before I persuaded myself to marry a man whom I never loved, what a paradise the earth would be to me! With me all regrets are too late.”

“And with me as much so.”

“No, Mr Finn. Even should you resign your office, there is no reason why you should give up your seat.”

“Simply that I have no income to maintain me in London.”

She was silent for a few moments, during which she changed her seat so as to come nearer to him, placing herself on a corner of a sofa close to the chair on which he was seated. “I wonder whether I may speak to you plainly,” she said.

“Indeed you may.”

“On any subject?”

“Yes — on any subject.”

“I trust you have been able to rid your bosom of all remembrances of Violet Effingham.”

“Certainly not of all remembrances, Lady Laura.”

“Of all hope, then?”

“I have no such hope.”

“And of all lingering desires?”

“Well, yes — and of all lingering desires. I know now that it cannot be. Your brother is welcome to her.”

“Ah — of that I know nothing. He, with his perversity, has estranged her. But I am sure of this — that if she do not marry him, she will marry no one. But it is not on account of him that I speak. He must fight his own battles now.”

“I shall not interfere with him, Lady Laura.”

“Then why should you not establish yourself by a marriage that will make place a matter of indifference to you? I know that it is within your power to do so.” Phineas put his hand up to his breast coat pocket, and felt that Mary’s letter — her precious letter — was there safe. It certainly was not in his power to do this thing which Lady Laura recommended to him, but he hardly thought that the present was a moment suitable for explaining to her the nature of the impediment which stood in the way of such an arrangement. He had so lately spoken to Lady Laura with an assurance of undying constancy of his love for Miss Effingham, that he could not as yet acknowledge the force of another passion. He shook his head by way of reply. “I tell you that it is so,” she said with energy.

“I am afraid not.”

“Go to Madame Goesler, and ask her. Hear what she will say.

“Madame Goesler would laugh at me, no doubt.”

“Psha! You do not think so. You know that she would not laugh. And are you the man to be afraid of a woman’s laughter? I think not.”

Again he did not answer her at once, and when he did speak the tone of his voice was altered. “What was it you said of yourself, just now?”

“What did I say of myself?”

“You regretted that you had consented to marry a man — whom you did not love.”

“Why should you not love her? And it is so different with a man! A woman is wretched if she does not love her husband, but I fancy that a man gets on very well without any such feeling. She cannot domineer over you. She cannot expect you to pluck yourself out of your own soil, and begin a new growth together in accordance with the laws of her own. It was that which Mr Kennedy did.”

“I do not for a moment think that she would take me, if I were to offer myself.”

“Try her,” said Lady Laura energetically. Such trials cost you but little — we both of us know that!” Still he said nothing of the letter in his pocket. “It is everything that you should go on now that you have once begun. I do not believe in you working at the Bar. You cannot do it. A man who has commenced life as you have done with the excitement of politics, who has known what it is to take a prominent part in the control of public affairs, cannot give it up and be happy at other work. Make her your wife, and you may resign or remain in office just as you choose. Office will be much easier to you than it is now, because it will not be a necessity. Let me at any rate have the pleasure of thinking that one of us can remain here — that we need not both fall together.”

Still he did not tell her of the letter in his pocket. He felt that she moved him — that she made him acknowledge to himself how great would be the pity of such a failure as would be his. He was quite as much alive as she could be to the fact that work at the Bar, either in London or in Dublin, would have no charms for him now. The prospect of such a life was very dreary to him. Even with the comfort of Mary’s love such a life would be very dreary to him. And then he knew — he thought that he knew — that were he to offer himself to Madame Goesler he would not in truth be rejected. She had told him that if poverty was a trouble to him he need be no longer poor. Of course he had understood this. Her money was at his service if he should choose to stoop and pick it up. And it was not only money that such a marriage would give him. He had acknowledged to himself more than once that Madame Goesler was very lovely, that she was clever, attractive in every way, and as far as he could see, blessed with a sweet temper. She had a position, too, in the world that would help him rather than mar him. What might he not do with an independent seat in the House of Commons, and as joint owner of the little house in Park Lane? Of all careers which the world could offer to a man the pleasantest would then be within his reach. “You appear to me as a tempter,” he said at last to Lady Laura.

“It is unkind of you to say that, and ungrateful. I would do anything on earth in my power to help you.”

“Nevertheless you are a tempter.”

“I know how it ought to have been,” she said, in a low voice. “I know very well how it ought to have been. I should have kept myself free till that time when we met on the braes of Loughlinter, and then all would have been well with us.”

“I do not know how that might have been,” said Phineas, hoarsely.

“You do not know! But I know. Of course you have stabbed me with a thousand daggers when you have told me from time to time of your love for Violet. You have been very cruel — needlessly cruel. Men are so cruel! But for all that I have known that I could have kept you — had it not been too late when you spoke to me. Will you not own as much as that?”

“Of course you would have been everything to me. I should never have thought of Violet then.”

“That is the only kind word you have said to me from that day to this. I try to comfort myself in thinking that it would have been so. But all that is past and gone, and done. I have had my romance and you have had yours. As you are a man, it is natural that you should have been disturbed by a double image — it is not so with me.”

“And yet you can advise me to offer marriage to a woman — a woman whom I am to seek merely because she is rich?”

“Yes — I do so advise you. You have had your romance and must now put up with reality. Why should I so advise you but for the interest that I have in you? Your prosperity will do me no good. I shall not even be here to see it. I shall hear of it only as so many a woman banished out of England hears a distant misunderstood report of what is going on in the country she has left. But I still have regard enough — I will be bold, and, knowing that you will not take it amiss, will say love enough for you — to feel a desire that you should not be shipwrecked. Since we first took you in hand between us, Barrington and I, I have never swerved in my anxiety on your behalf. When I resolved that it would be better for us both that we should be only friends, I did not swerve. When you would talk to me so cruelly of your love for Violet, I did not swerve. When I warned you from Loughlinter because I thought there was danger, I did not swerve. When I bade you not to come to me in London because of my husband, I did not swerve. When my father was hard upon you, I did not swerve then. I would not leave him till he was softened. When you tried to rob Oswald of his love, and I thought you would succeed — for I did think so — I did not swerve. I have ever been true to you. And now that I must hide myself and go away, and be seen no more, I am true still.”

“Laura — dearest Laura!” he exclaimed.

“Ah, no!” she said, speaking with no touch of anger, but all in sorrow — “it must not be like that. There is no room for that. Nor do you mean it. I do not think so ill of you. But there may not be even words of affection between us — only such as I may speak to make you know that I am your friend.”

“You are my friend,” he said, stretching out his hand to her as he turned away his face. “You are my friend, indeed.”

“Then do as I would have you do.”

He put his hand into his pocket, and had the letter between his fingers with the purport of showing it to her. But at the moment the thought occurred to him that were he to do so, then, indeed, he would be bound for ever. He knew that he was bound for ever — bound for ever to his own Mary; but he desired to have the privilege of thinking over such bondage once more before he proclaimed it even to his dearest friend. He had told her that she tempted him, and she stood before him now as a temptress. But lest it might be possible that she should not tempt in vain — that letter in his pocket must never be shown to her. In that case Lady Laura must never hear from his lips the name of Mary Flood Jones.

He left her without any assured purpose — without, that is, the assurance to her of any fixed purpose. There yet wanted a week to the day on which Mr Monk’s bill was to be read — or not to be read — the second time; and he had still that interval before he need decide. He went to his club, and before he dined he strove to write a line to Mary — but when he had the paper before him he found that it was impossible to do so. Though he did not even suspect himself of an intention to be false, the idea that was in his mind made the effort too much for him. He put the paper away from him and went down and eat his dinner.

It was a Saturday, and there was no House in the evening. He had remained in Portman Square with Lady Laura till near seven o’clock, and was engaged to go out in the evening to a gathering at Mrs Gresham’s house. Everybody in London would be there, and Phineas was resolved that as long as he remained in London he would be seen at places where everybody was seen. He would certainly be at Mrs Gresham’s gathering; but there was an hour or two before he need go home to dress, and as he had nothing to do, he went down to the smoking-room of his club. The seats were crowded, but there was one vacant; and before he had looked about him to scrutinise his neighbourhood, he found that he had placed himself with Bonteen on his right hand and Ratler on his left. There were no two men in all London whom he more thoroughly disliked; but it was too late for him to avoid them now.

They instantly attacked him, first on one side and then on the other. “So I am told you are going to leave us,” said Bonteen.

“Who can have been ill-natured enough to whisper such a thing?” replied Phineas.

“The whispers are very loud, I can tell you,” said Ratler. “I think I know already pretty nearly how every man in the House will vote, and I have not got your name down on the right side.”

“Change it for heaven’s sake,” said Phineas.

“I will, if you’ll tell me seriously that I may,” said Ratler.

“My opinion is,” said Bonteen, that a man should be known either as a friend or foe. I respect a declared foe.”

“Know me as a declared foe then,” said Phineas, and respect me.”

“That’s all very well,” said Ratler, but it means nothing. I’ve always had a sort of fear about you, Finn, that you would go over the traces some day. Of course it’s a very grand thing to be independent.”

“The finest thing in the world,” said Bonteen; only so d — d useless.”

“But a man shouldn’t be independent and stick to the ship at the same time. You forget the trouble you cause, and how you upset all calculations.”

“I hadn’t thought of the calculations,” said Phineas.

“The fact is, Finn,” said Bonteen, you are made of clay too fine for office. I’ve always found it has been so with men from your country. You are the grandest horses in the world to look at out on a prairie, but you don’t like the slavery of harness.”

“And the sound of a whip over our shoulders sets us kicking — does it not, Ratler?”

“I shall show the list to Gresham tomorrow,” said Ratler, “and of course he can do as he pleases; but I don’t understand this kind of thing.”

“Don’t you be in a hurry,” said Bonteen. I’ll bet you a sovereign Finn votes with us yet. There’s nothing like being a little coy to set off a girl’s charms. I’ll bet you a sovereign, Ratler, that Finn goes out into the lobby with you and me against Monk’s bill.”

Phineas, not being able to stand any more of this most unpleasant raillery, got up and went away. The club was distasteful to him, and he walked off and sauntered for a while about the park. He went down by the Duke of York’s column as though he were going to his office, which of course was closed at this hour, but turned round when he got beyond the new public buildings — buildings which he was never destined to use in their completed state — and entered the gates of the enclosure, and wandered on over the bridge across the water. As he went his mind was full of thought. Could it be good for him to give up everything for a fair face? He swore to himself that of all women whom he had ever seen Mary was the sweetest and the dearest and the best. If it could be well to lose the world for a woman, it would be well to lose it for her. Violet, with all her skill, and all her strength, and all her grace, could never have written such a letter as that which he still held in his pocket. The best charm of a woman is that she should be soft, and trusting, and generous; and who ever had been more soft, more trusting, and more generous than his Mary? Of course he would be true to her, though he did lose the world.

But to yield such a triumph to the Ratlers and Bonteens whom he left behind him — to let them have their will over him — to know that they would rejoice scurrilously behind his back over his downfall! The feeling was terrible to him. The last words which Bonteen had spoken made it impossible to him now not to support his old friend Mr Monk. It was not only what Bonteen had said, but that the words of Mr Bonteen so plainly indicated what would be the words of all the other Bonteens. He knew that he was weak in this. He knew that had he been strong, he would have allowed himself to be guided — if not by the firm decision of his own spirit — by the counsels of such men as Mr Gresham and Lord Cantrip, and not by the sarcasms of the Bonteens and Ratlers of official life. But men who sojourn amidst savagery fear the mosquito more than they do the lion. He could not bear to think that he should yield his blood to such a one as Bonteen.

And he must yield his blood, unless he could vote for Mr Monk’s motion, and hold his ground afterwards among them all in the House of Commons. He would at any rate see the session out, and try a fall with Mr Bonteen when they should be sitting on different benches — if ever fortune should give him an opportunity. And in the meantime, what should he do about Madame Goesler? What a fate was his to have the handsomest woman in London with thousands and thousands a year at his disposal! For — so he now swore to himself — Madame Goesler was the handsomest woman in London, as Mary Flood Jones was the sweetest girl in the world.

He had not arrived at any decision so fixed as to make him comfortable when he went home and dressed for Mrs Gresham’s party. And yet he knew — he thought that he knew that he would be true to Mary Flood Jones.

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