Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 7

Mr and Mrs Bunce

It was three o’clock on the Thursday night before Mr Daubeny’s speech was finished. I do not think that there was any truth in the allegation made at the time, that he continued on his legs an hour longer than the necessities of his speech required, in order that five or six very ancient Whigs might be wearied out and shrink to their beds. Let a Whig have been ever so ancient and ever so weary, he would not have been allowed to depart from Westminster Hall that night. Sir Everard Powell was there in his bath-chair at twelve, with a doctor on one side of him and a friend on the other, in some purlieu of the House, and did his duty like a fine old Briton as he was. That speech of Mr Daubeny’s will never be forgotten by anyone who heard it. Its studied bitterness had perhaps never been equalled, and yet not a word was uttered for the saying of which he could be accused of going beyond the limits of parliamentary antagonism. It is true that personalities could not have been closer, that accusations of political dishonesty and of almost worse than political cowardice and falsehood could not have been clearer, that no words in the language could have attributed meaner motives or more unscrupulous conduct. But, nevertheless, Mr Daubeny in all that he said was parliamentary, and showed himself to be a gladiator thoroughly well trained for the arena in which he had descended to the combat. His arrows were poisoned, and his lance was barbed, and his shot was heated red — because such things are allowed. He did not poison his enemies’ wells or use Greek fire, because those things are not allowed. He knew exactly the rules of the combat. Mr Mildmay sat and heard him without once raising his hat from his brow, or speaking a word to his neighbour. Men on both sides of the House said that Mr Mildmay suffered terribly; but as Mr Mildmay uttered no word of complaint to anyone, and was quite ready to take Mr Daubeny by the hand the next time they met in company, I do not know that anyone was able to form a true idea of Mr Mildmay’s feelings. Mr Mildmay was an impassive man who rarely spoke of his own feelings, and no doubt sat with his hat low down over his eyes in order that no man might judge of them on that occasion by the impression on his features. “If he could have left off half an hour earlier it would have been perfect as an attack,” said Barrington Erle in criticising Mr Daubeny’s speech, “but he allowed himself to sink into comparative weakness, and the glory of it was over before the end.” — Then came the division. The Liberals had 333 votes to 314 for the Conservatives, and therefore counted a majority of 19. It was said that so large a number of members had never before voted at any division.

“I own I’m disappointed,” said Barrington Erle to Mr Ratler.

“I thought there would be twenty,” said Mr Ratler. I never went beyond that. I knew they would have old Moody up, but I thought Gunning would have been too hard for them.”

“They say they’ve promised them both peerages.”

“Yes — if they remain in. But they know they’re going out.”

“They must go, with such a majority against them,” said Barrington Erle.

“Of course they must,” said Mr Ratler. Lord de Terrier wants nothing better, but it is rather hard upon poor Daubeny. I never saw such an unfortunate old Tantalus.”

“He gets a good drop of real water now and again, and I don’t pity him in the least. He’s clever of course, and has made his own way, but I’ve always a feeling that he has no business where he is. I suppose we shall know all about it at Brooks’s by one o’clock tomorrow.”

Phineas, though it had been past five before he went to bed — for there had been much triumphant talking to be done among liberal members after the division — was up at his breakfast at Mrs Bunce’s lodgings by nine. There was a matter which he was called upon to settle immediately in which Mrs Bunce herself was much interested, and respecting which he had promised to give an answer on this very morning. A set of very dingy chambers up two pairs of stairs at No. 9, Old Square, Lincoln’s Inn, to which Mr Low had recommended him to transfer himself and all his belongings, were waiting his occupation, should he resolve upon occupying them. If he intended to commence operations as a barrister, it would be necessary that he should have chambers and a clerk; and before he had left Mr Low’s house on Sunday evening he had almost given that gentleman authority to secure for him these rooms at No. 9. “Whether you remain in Parliament or no, you must make a beginning,” Mr Low had said; “and how are you even to pretend to begin if you don’t have chambers?” Mr Low hoped that he might be able to wean Phineas away from his Parliament bauble — that he might induce the young barrister to give up his madness, if not this session or the next, at any rate before a third year had commenced. Mr Low was a persistent man, liking very much when he did like, and loving very strongly when he did love. He would have many a tug for Phineas Finn before he would allow that false Westminster Satan to carry off the prey as altogether his own. If he could only get Phineas into the dingy chambers he might do much!

But Phineas had now become so imbued with the atmosphere of politics, had been so breathed upon by Lady Laura and Barrington Erle, that he could no longer endure the thought of any other life than that of a life spent among the lobbies. A desire to help to beat the Conservatives had fastened on his very soul, and almost made Mr Low odious in his eyes. He was afraid of Mr Low, and for the nonce would not go to him any more — but he must see the porter at Lincoln’s Inn, he must write a line to Mr Low, and he must tell Mrs Bunce that for the present he would still keep on her rooms. His letter to Mr Low was as follows:

“ Great Marlborough Street, May, 186 —

“ MY DEAR LOW,

“I have made up my mind against taking the chambers, and am now off to the Inn to say that I shall not want them. Of course, I know what you will think of me, and it is very grievous to me to have to bear the hard judgment of a man whose opinion I value so highly; but, in the teeth of your terribly strong arguments, I think that there is something to be said on my side of the question. This seat in Parliament has come in my way by chance, and I think it would be pusillanimous in me to reject it, feeling, as I do, that a seat in Parliament confers very great honour. I am, too, very fond of politics, and regard legislation as the finest profession going. Had I any one dependent on me, I probably might not be justified in following the bent of my inclination. But I am all alone in the world, and therefore have a right to make the attempt. If, after a trial of one or two sessions, I should fail in that which I am attempting, it will not even then be too late to go back to the better way. I can assure you that at any rate it is not my intention to be idle.

“I know very well how you will fret and fume over what I say, and how utterly I shall fail in bringing you round to my way of thinking; but as I must write to tell you of my decision, I cannot refrain from defending myself to the best of my ability.

“Yours always faithfully,

“ PHINEAS FINN ”

Mr Low received this letter at his chambers, and when he had read it, he simply pressed his lips closely together, placed the sheet of paper back in its envelope, and put it into a drawer at his left hand. Having done this, he went on with what work he had before him, as though his friend’s decision were a matter of no consequence to him. As far as he was concerned the thing was done, and there should be an end of it. So he told himself; but nevertheless his mind was full of it all day; and, though he wrote not a word of answer to Phineas, he made a reply within his own mind to every one of the arguments used in the letter. “Great honour! How can there be honour in what comes, as he says, by chance? He hasn’t sense enough to understand that the honour comes from the mode of winning it, and from the mode of wearing it; and that the very fact of his being member for Loughshane at this instant simply proves that Loughshane should have had no privilege to return a member! No one dependent on him! Are not his father and his mother and his sisters dependent on him as long as he must eat their bread till he can earn bread of his own? He will never earn bread of his own. He will always be eating bread that others have earned.” In this way, before the day was over, Mr Low became very angry, and swore to himself that he would have nothing more to say to Phineas Finn. But yet he found himself creating plans for encountering and conquering the parliamentary fiend who was at present so cruelly potent with his pupil. It was not till the third evening that he told his wife that Finn had made up his mind not to take chambers. “Then I would have nothing more to say to him,” said Mrs Low, savagely. “For the present I can have nothing more to say to him.” “But neither now nor ever, said Mrs Low, with great asis; “he has been false to you.” No, said Mr Low, who was a man thoroughly and thoughtfully just at all points; “he has not been false to me. He has always meant what he has said, when he was saying it. But he is weak and blind, and flies like a moth to the candle; one pities the poor moth, and would save him a stump of his wing if it be possible.”

Phineas, when he had written his letter to Mr Low, started off for Lincoln’s Inn, making his way through the well-known dreary streets of Soho, and through St Giles’s, to Long Acre. He knew every corner well, for he had walked the same road almost daily for the last three years. He had conceived a liking for the route, which he might easily have changed without much addition to the distance, by passing through Oxford Street and Holborn; but there was an air of business on which he prided himself in going by the most direct passage, and he declared to himself very often that things dreary and dingy to the eye might be good in themselves. Lincoln’s Inn itself is dingy, and the Law Courts therein are perhaps the meanest in which Equity ever disclosed herself. Mr Low’s three rooms in the Old Square, each of them brown with the binding of law books and with the dust collected on law papers, and with furniture that had been brown always, and had become browner with years, were perhaps as unattractive to the eye of a young pupil as any rooms which were ever entered. And the study of the Chancery law itself is not an alluring pursuit till the mind has come to have some insight into the beauty of its ultimate object. Phineas, during his three years’ course of reasoning on these things, had taught himself to believe that things ugly on the outside might be very beautiful within; and had therefore come to prefer crossing Poland Street and Soho Square, and so continuing his travels by the Seven Dials and Long Acre. His morning walk was of a piece with his morning studies, and he took pleasure in the gloom of both. But now the taste of his palate had been already changed by the glare of the lamps in and about palatial Westminster, and he found that St Giles’s was disagreeable. The ways about Pall Mall and across the Park to Parliament Street, or to the Treasury, were much pleasanter, and the new offices in Downing Street; already half built, absorbed all that interest which he had hitherto been able to take in the suggested but uncommenced erection of new Law Courts in the neighbourhood of Lincoln’s Inn. As he made his way to the porter’s lodge under the great gateway of Lincoln’s Inn, he told himself that he was glad that he had escaped, at any rate for a while, from a life so dull and dreary. If he could only sit in chambers at the Treasury instead of chambers in that old court, how much pleasanter it would be! After all, as regarded that question of income, it might well be that the Treasury chambers should be the more remunerative, and the more quickly remunerative, of the two. And, as he thought, Lady Laura might be compatible with the Treasury chambers and Parliament, but could not possibly be made compatible with Old Square, Lincoln’s Inn.

But nevertheless there came upon him a feeling of sorrow when the old man at the lodge seemed to be rather glad than otherwise that he did not want the chambers. “Then Mr Green can have them,” said the porter; “that’ll be good news for Mr Green. I don’t know what the gen’lemen ‘ll do for chambers if things goes on as they’re going.” Mr Green was welcome to the chambers as far as Phineas was concerned; but Phineas felt nevertheless a certain amount of regret that he should have been compelled to abandon a thing which was regarded both by the porter and by Mr Green as being so desirable. He had however written his letter to Mr Low, and made his promise to Barrington Erle, and was bound to Lady Laura Standish; and he walked out through the old gateway into Chancery Lane, resolving that he would not even visit Lincoln’s Inn again for a year. There were certain books — law books — which he would read at such intervals of leisure as politics might give him; but within the precincts of the Inns of Court he would not again put his foot for twelve months, let learned pundits of the law — such for instance as Mr and Mrs Low — say what they might.

He had told Mrs Bunce, before he left his home after breakfast, that he should for the present remain under her roof. She had been much gratified, not simply because lodgings in Great Marlborough Street are less readily let than chambers in Lincoln’s Inn, but also because it was a great honour to her to have a member of Parliament in her house. Members of Parliament are not so common about Oxford Street as they are in the neighbourhood of Pall Mall and St James’s Square. But Mr Bunce, when he came home to his dinner, did not join as heartily as he should have done in his wife’s rejoicing. Mr Bunce was in the employment of certain copying law-stationers in Carey Street, and had a strong belief in the law as a profession — but he had none whatever in the House of Commons. “And he’s given up going into chambers?” said Mr Bunce to his wife.

“Given it up altogether for the present,” said Mrs Bunce.

“And he don’t mean to have no clerk?” said Mr Bunce.

“Not unless it is for his Parliament work.”

“There ain’t no clerks wanted for that, and what’s worse, there ain’t no fees to pay ’em. I’ll tell you what it is, Jane — if you don’t look sharp there won’t be nothing to pay you before long.”

“And he in Parliament, Jacob!”

“There ain’t no salary for being in Parliament. There are scores of them Parliament gents ain’t got so much as’ll pay their dinners for ’em. And then if anybody does trust ’em, there’s no getting at ’em to make ’em pay as there is at other folk.”

“I don’t know that our Mr Phineas will ever be like that, Jacob.”

“That’s gammon, Jane. That’s the way as women gets themselves took in always. Our Mr Phineas! Why should our Mr Phineas be better than anybody else?”

“He’s always acted handsome, Jacob.”

“There was one time he could not pay his lodgings for wellnigh nine months, till his governor come down with the money. I don’t know whether that was handsome. It knocked me about terrible, I know.”

“He always meant honest, Jacob.”

“I don’t know that I care much for a man’s meaning when he runs short of money. How is he going to see his way, with his seat in Parliament, and this giving up of his profession? He owes us near a quarter now.”

“He paid me two months this morning, Jacob; so he don’t owe a farthing.”

“Very well — so much the better for us. I shall just have a few words with Mr Low, and see what he says to it. For myself I don’t think half so much of Parliament folk as some do. They’re for promising everything before they’s elected; but not one in twenty of ’em is as good as his word when he gets there.”

Mr Bunce was a copying journeyman, who spent ten hours a day in Carey Street with a pen between his fingers; and after that he would often spend two or three hours of the night with a pen between his fingers in Marlborough Street. He was a thoroughly hard-working man, doing pretty well in the world, for he had a good house over his head, and always could find raiment and bread for his wife and eight children; but, nevertheless, he was an unhappy man because he suffered from political grievances, or, I should more correctly say, that his grievances were semi-political and semi-social. He had no vote, not being himself the tenant of the house in Great Marlborough Street. The tenant was a tailor who occupied the shop, whereas Bunce occupied the whole of the remainder of the premises. He was a lodger, and lodgers were not as yet trusted with the franchise. And he had ideas, which he himself admitted to be very raw, as to the injustice of the manner in which he was paid for his work. So much a folio, without reference to the way in which his work was done, without regard to the success of his work, with no questions asked of himself, was, as he thought, no proper way of remunerating a man for his labours. He had long since joined a Trade Union, and for two years past had paid a subscription of a shilling a week towards its funds. He longed to be doing some battle against his superiors, and to be putting himself in opposition to his employers — not that he objected personally to Messrs Foolscap, Margin, and Vellum, who always made much of him as a useful man — but because some such antagonism would be manly, and the fighting of some battle would be the right thing to do. “If Labour don’t mean to go to the wall himself,” Bunce would say to his wife, “Labour must look alive, and put somebody else there.”

Mrs Bunce was a comfortable motherly woman, who loved her husband but hated politics. As he had an aversion to his superiors in the world because they were superiors, so had she a liking for them for the same reason. She despised people poorer than herself, and thought it a fair subject for boasting that her children always had meat for dinner. If it was ever so small a morsel, she took care that they had it, in order that the boast might be maintained. The world had once or twice been almost too much for her — when, for instance, her husband had been ill; and again, to tell the truth, for the last three months of that long period in which Phineas had omitted to pay his bills; but she had kept a fine brave heart during those troubles, and could honestly swear that the children always had a bit of meat, though she herself had been occasionally without it for days together. At such times she would be more than ordinarily meek to Mr Margin, and especially courteous to the old lady who lodged in her first-floor drawing-room — for Phineas lived up two pairs of stairs — and she would excuse such servility by declaring that there was no knowing how soon she might want assistance. But her husband, in such emergencies, would become furious and quarrelsome, and would declare that Labour was going to the wall, and that something very strong must be done at once. That shilling which Bunce paid weekly to the Union she regarded as being absolutely thrown away — as much so as though he cast it weekly into the Thames. And she had told him so, over and over again, making heart-piercing allusions to the eight children and to the bit of meat. He would always endeavour to explain to her that there was no other way under the sun for keeping Labour from being sent to the wall — but he would do so hopelessly and altogether ineffectually, and she had come to regard him as a lunatic to the extent of that one weekly shilling.

She had a woman’s instinctive partiality for comeliness in a man, and was very fond of Phineas Finn because he was handsome. And now she was very proud of him because he was a member of Parliament. She had heard — from her husband, who had told her the fact with much disgust — that the sons of Dukes and Earls go into Parliament, and she liked to think that the fine young man to whom she talked more or less every day should sit with the sons of Dukes and Earls. When Phineas had really brought distress upon her by owing her some thirty or forty pounds, she could never bring herself to be angry with him — because he was handsome and because he dined out with Lords. And she had triumphed greatly over her husband, who had desired to be severe upon his aristocratic debtor, when the money had all been paid in a lump.

“I don’t know that he’s any great catch,” Bunce had said, when the prospect of their lodger’s departure had been debated between them.

“Jacob,” said his wife, I don’t think you feel it when you’ve got people respectable about you.”

“The only respectable man I know,” said Jacob, is the man as earns his bread; and Mr Finn, as I take it, is a long way from that yet.”

Phineas returned to his lodgings before he went down to his club, and again told Mrs Bunce that he had altogether made up his mind about the chambers. “If you’ll keep me I shall stay here for the first session I daresay.”

“Of course we shall be only too proud, Mr Finn; and though it mayn’t perhaps be quite the place for a member of Parliament — ”

“But I think it is quite the place.”

“It’s very good of you to say so, Mr Finn, and we’ll do our very best to make you comfortable. Respectable we are, I may say; and though Bunce is a bit rough sometimes — ”

“Never to me, Mrs Bunce.”

“But he is rough — and silly, too, with his radical nonsense, paying a shilling a week to a nasty Union just for nothing. Still he means well, and there ain’t a man who works harder for his wife and children — that I will say of him. And if he do talk politics — ”

“But I like a man to talk politics, Mrs Bunce.”

“For a gentleman in Parliament of course it’s proper; but I never could see what good it could do to a law-stationer; and when he talks of Labour going to the wall, I always ask him whether he didn’t get his wages regular last Saturday. But, Lord love you, Mr Finn, when a man as is a journeyman has took up politics and joined a Trade Union, he ain’t no better than a milestone for his wife to take and talk to him.”

After that Phineas went down to the Reform Club, and made one of those who were buzzing there in little crowds and uttering their prophecies as to future events. Lord de Terrier was to go out. That was certain. Whether Mr Mildmay was to come in was uncertain. That he would go to Windsor tomorrow morning was not to be doubted; but it was thought very probable that he might plead his age, and decline to undertake the responsibility of forming a Ministry.

“And what then?” said Phineas to his friend Fitzgibbon.

“Why, then there will be a choice out of three. There is the Duke, who is the most incompetent man in England; there is Monk, who is the most unfit; and there is Gresham, who is the most unpopular. I can’t conceive it possible to find a worse Prime Minister than either of the three — but the country affords no other.”

“And which would Mildmay name?”

“All of them — one after the other, so as to make the embarrassment the greater.” That was Mr Fitzgibbon’s description of the crisis; but then it was understood that Mr Fitzgibbon was given to romancing.

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