Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 76

Conclusion

We are told that it is a bitter moment with the Lord Mayor when he leaves the Mansion House and becomes once more Alderman Jones, of No. 75, Bucklersbury. Lord Chancellors going out of office have a great fall though they take pensions with them for their consolation. And the President of the United States when he leaves the glory of the White House and once more becomes a simple citizen must feel the change severely. But our hero, Phineas Finn, as he turned his back upon the scene of his many successes, and prepared himself for permanent residence in his own country, was, I think, in a worse plight than any of the reduced divinities to whom I have alluded. They at any rate had known that their fall would come. He, like Icarus, had flown up towards the sun, hoping that his wings of wax would bear him steadily aloft among the gods. Seeing that his wings were wings of wax, we must acknowledge that they were very good. But the celestial lights had been too strong for them, and now, having lived for five years with lords and countesses, with Ministers and orators, with beautiful women and men of fashion, he must start again in a little lodging in Dublin, and hope that the attorneys of that litigious city might be good to him. On his journey home he made but one resolution. He would make the change, or attempt to make it, with manly strength. During his last month in London he had allowed himself to be sad, depressed, and melancholy. There should be an end of all that now. Nobody at home should see that he was depressed. And Mary, his own Mary, should at any rate have no cause to think that her love and his own engagement had ever been the cause to him of depression. Did he not value her love more than anything in the world? A thousand times he told himself that he did.

She was there in the old house at Killaloe to greet him. Her engagement was an affair known to all the county, and she had no idea that it would become her to be coy in her love. She was in his arms before he had spoken to his father and mother, and had made her little speech to him — very inaudibly indeed — while he was covering her sweet face with kisses. “Oh, Phineas, I am so proud of you; and I think you are so right, and I am so glad you have done it.” Again he covered her face with kisses. Could he ever have had such satisfaction as this had he allowed Madame Goesler’s hand to remain in his?

On the first night of his arrival he sat for an hour downstairs with his father talking over his plans. He felt — he could not but feel — that he was not the hero now that he had been when he was last at Killaloe — when he had come thither with a Cabinet Minister under his wing. And yet his father did his best to prevent the growth of any such feeling. The old doctor was not quite as well off as he had been when Phineas first started with his high hopes for London. Since that day he had abandoned his profession and was now living on the fruits of his life’s labour. For the last two years he had been absolved from the necessity of providing an income for his son, and had probably allowed himself to feel that no such demand upon him would again be made. Now, however, it was necessary that he should do so. Could his son manage to live on two hundred a year? There would then be four hundred a year left for the wants of the family at home. Phineas swore that he could fight his battle on a hundred and fifty, and they ended the argument by splitting the difference. He had been paying exactly the same sum of money for the rooms he had just left in London; but then, while he held those rooms, his income had been two thousand a year. Tenant-right was a very fine thing, but could it be worth such a fall as this?

“And about dear Mary?” said the father.

“I hope it may not be very long,” said Phineas.

“I have not spoken to her about it, but your mother says that Mrs Flood Jones is very averse to a long engagement.”

“What can I do? She would not wish me to marry her daughter with no other income than an allowance made by you.”

“Your mother says that she has some idea that you and she might live together — that if they let Floodborough you might take a small house in Dublin. Remember, Phineas, I am not proposing it myself.”

Then Phineas bethought himself that he was not even yet so low in the world that he need submit himself to terms dictated to him by Mrs Flood Jones. “I am glad that you do not propose it, sir.”

“Why so, Phineas?”

“Because I should have been obliged to oppose the plan even if it had come from you. Mothers-in-law are never a comfort in a house.”

“I never tried it myself,” said the doctor.

“And I never will try it. I am quite sure that Mary does not expect any such thing, and that she is willing to wait. If I can shorten the term of waiting by hard work, I will do so.” The decision to which Phineas had come on this matter was probably made known to Mrs Flood Jones after some mild fashion by old Mrs Finn. Nothing more was said to Phineas about a joint household; but he was quite able to perceive from the manner of the lady towards him that his proposed mother-in-law wished him to understand that he was treating her daughter very badly. What did it signify? None of them knew the story of Madame Goesler, and of course none of them would know it. None of them would ever hear how well he had behaved to his little Mary.

But Mary did know it all before he left her to go up to Dublin. The two lovers allowed themselves — or were allowed by their elders, one week of exquisite bliss together; and during this week, Phineas told her, I think, everything. He told her everything as far as he could do so without seeming to boast of his own successes. How is a man not to tell such tales when he has on his arm, close to him, a girl who tells him her little everything of life, and only asks for his confidence in return? And then his secrets are so precious to her and so sacred, that he feels as sure of her fidelity as though she were a very goddess of faith and trust. And the temptation to tell is so great. For all that he has to tell she loves him the better and still the better. A man desires to win a virgin heart, and is happy to know — or at least to believe — that he has won it. With a woman every former rival is an added victim to the wheels of the triumphant chariot in which she is sitting. “All these has he known and loved, culling sweets from each of them. But now he has come to me, and I am the sweetest of them all.” And so Mary was taught to believe of Laura and of Violet and of Madame Goesler — that though they had had charms to please, her lover had never been so charmed as he was now while she was hanging to his breast. And I think that she was right in her belief. During those lovely summer evening walks along the shores of Lough Derg, Phineas was as happy as he had ever been at any moment of his life.

“I shall never be impatient — never,” she said to him on the last evening. “All I want is that you should write to me.”

“I shall want more than that, Mary.”

“Then you must come down and see me. When you do come they will be happy, happy days for me. But of course we cannot be married for the next twenty years.”

“Say forty, Mary.”

“I will say anything that you like — you will know what I mean just as well. And, Phineas, I must tell you one thing — though it makes me sad to think of it, and will make me sad to speak of it.”

“I will not have you sad on our last night, Mary.”

“I must say it. I am beginning to understand how much you have given up for me.”

“I have given up nothing for you.”

“If I had not been at Killaloe when Mr Monk was here, and if we had not — had not — oh dear, if I had not loved you so very much, you might have remained in London, and that lady would have been your wife.”

“Never!” said Phineas stoutly.

“Would she not? She must not be your wife now, Phineas. I am not going to pretend that I will give you up.”

“That is unkind, Mary.”

“Oh, well; you may say what you please. If that is unkind, I am unkind. It would kill me to lose you.”

Had he done right? How could there be a doubt about it? How could there be a question about it? Which of them had loved him, or was capable of loving him as Mary loved him? What girl was ever so sweet, so gracious, so angelic, as his own Mary? He swore to her that he was prouder of winning her than of anything he had ever done in all his life, and that of all the treasures that had ever come in his way she was the most precious. She went to bed that night the happiest girl in all Connaught, although when she parted from him she understood that she was not to see him again till Christmas Eve.

But she did see him again before the summer was over, and the manner of their meeting was in this wise. Immediately after the passing of that scrambled Irish Reform Bill, Parliament, as the reader knows, was dissolved. This was in the early days of June, and before the end of July the new members were again assembled at Westminster. This session, late in summer, was very terrible; but it was not very long, and then it was essentially necessary. There was something of the year’s business which must yet be done, and the country would require to know who were to be the Ministers of the Government. It is not needed that the reader should be troubled any further with the strategy of one political leader or of another, or that more should be said of Mr Monk and his tenant-right. The House of Commons had offended Mr Gresham by voting in a majority against him, and Mr Gresham had punished the House of Commons by subjecting it to the expense and nuisance of a new election. All this is constitutional, and rational enough to Englishmen, though it may be unintelligible to strangers. The upshot on the present occasion was that the Ministers remained in their places and that Mr Monk’s bill, though it had received the substantial honour of a second reading, passed away for the present into the limbo of abortive legislation.

All this would not concern us at all, nor our poor hero much, were it not that the great men with whom he had been for two years so pleasant a colleague, remembered him with something of affectionate regret. Whether it began with Mr Gresham or with Lord Cantrip, I will not say — or whether Mr Monk, though now a political enemy, may have said a word that brought about the good deed. Be that as it may, just before the summer session was brought to a close Phineas received the following letter from Lord Cantrip:

“ Downing Street, August 4, 186 —

MY DEAR MR FINN,

“Mr Gresham has been talking to me, and we both think that possibly a permanent Government appointment may be acceptable to you. We have no doubt, that should this be the case, your services would be very valuable to the country. There is a vacancy for a poor-law inspector at present in Ireland, whose residence I believe should be in Cork. The salary is a thousand a-year. Should the appointment suit you, Mr Gresham will be most happy to nominate you to the office. Let me have a line at your early convenience.

“Believe me,

“Most sincerely yours,

CANTRIP ”

He received the letter one morning in Dublin, and within three hours he was on his route to Killaloe. Of course he would accept the appointment, but he would not even do that without telling Mary of his new prospect. Of course he would accept the appointment. Though he had been as yet barely two months in Dublin, though he had hardly been long enough settled to his work to have hoped to be able to see in which way there might be a vista open leading to success, still he had fancied that he had seen that success was impossible. He did not know how to begin — and men were afraid of him, thinking that he was unsteady, arrogant, and prone to failure. He had not seen his way to the possibility of a guinea.

“A thousand a year!” said Mary Flood Jones, opening her eyes wide with wonder at the golden future before them.

“It is nothing very great for a perpetuity,” said Phineas.

“Oh, Phineas; surely a thousand a year will be very nice.”

“It will be certain,” said Phineas, and then we can be married tomorrow.”

“But I have been making up my mind to wait ever so long,” said Mary.

“Then your mind must be unmade,” said Phineas.

What was the nature of the reply to Lord Cantrip the reader may imagine, and thus we will leave our hero an Inspector of Poor Houses in the County of Cork.

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