Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 8

The news about Mr Mildmay and Sir Everard

Fitzgibbon and Phineas started together from Pall Mall for Portman Square — as both of them had promised to call on Lady Laura — but Fitzgibbon turned in at Brooks’s as they walked up St James’s Square, and Phineas went on by himself in a cab. “You should belong here,” said Fitzgibbon as his friend entered the cab, and Phineas immediately began to feel that he would have done nothing till he could get into Brooks’s. It might be very well to begin by talking Politics at the Reform Club. Such talking had procured for him his seat at Loughshane. But that was done now, and something more than talking was wanted for any further progress. Nothing, as he told himself, of political import was managed at the Reform Club. No influence from thence was ever brought to bear upon the adjustment of places under the Government, or upon the arrangement of cabinets. It might be very well to count votes at the Reform Club; but after the votes had been counted — had been counted successfully — Brooks’s was the place, as Phineas believed, to learn at the earliest moment what would be the exact result of the success. He must get into Brooks’s, if it might be possible for him. Fitzgibbon was not exactly the man to propose him. Perhaps the Earl of Brentford would do it.

Lady Laura was at home, and with her was sitting — Mr Kennedy. Phineas had intended to be triumphant as he entered Lady Laura’s room. He was there with the express purpose of triumphing in the success of their great party, and of singing a pleasant paean in conjunction with Lady Laura. But his trumpet was put out of tune at once when he saw Mr Kennedy. He said hardly a word as he gave his hand to Lady Laura — and then afterwards to Mr Kennedy, who chose to greet him with this show of cordiality.

“I hope you are satisfied, Mr Finn,” said Lady Laura, laughing.

“Oh yes.”

“And is that all? I thought to have found your joy quite irrepressible.”

“A bottle of soda-water, though it is a very lively thing when opened, won’t maintain its vivacity beyond a certain period, Lady Laura.”

“And you have had your gas let off already?”

“Well — yes; at any rate, the sputtering part of it. Nineteen is very well, but the question is whether we might not have had twenty-one.”

“Mr Kennedy has just been saying that not a single available vote has been missed on our side. He has just come from Brooks’s, and that seems to be what they say there.”

So Mr Kennedy also was a member of Brooks’s! At the Reform Club there certainly had been an idea that the number might have been swelled to twenty-one; but then, as Phineas began to understand, nothing was correctly known at the Reform Club. For an accurate appreciation of the Political balance of the day, you must go to Brooks’s.

“Mr Kennedy must of course be right,” said Phineas. I don’t belong to Brooks’s myself. But I was only joking, Lady Laura. There is, I suppose, no doubt that Lord de Terrier is out, and that is everything.”

“He has probably tendered his resignation,” said Mr Kennedy.

“That is the same thing,” said Phineas, roughly.

“Not exactly,” said Lady Laura. Should there be any difficulty about Mr Mildmay, he might, at the Queen’s request, make another attempt.”

“With a majority of nineteen against him!” said Phineas. “Surely Mr Mildmay is not the only man in the country. There is the Duke, and there is Mr Gresham — and there is Mr Monk.” Phineas had at his tongue’s end all the lesson that he had been able to learn at the Reform Club.

“I should hardly think the Duke would venture,” said Mr Kennedy.

“Nothing venture, nothing have,” said Phineas. It is all very well to say that the Duke is incompetent, but I do not know that anything very wonderful is required in the way of genius. The Duke has held his own in both Houses successfully, and he is both honest and popular. I quite agree that a Prime Minister at the present day should be commonly honest, and more than commonly popular.”

“So you are all for the Duke, are you?” said Lady Laura, again smiling as she spoke to him.

“Certainly — if we are deserted by Mr Mildmay. Don’t you think so?”

“I don’t find it quite so easy to make up my mind as you do. I am inclined to think that Mr Mildmay will form a government; and as long as there is that prospect, I need hardly commit myself to an opinion as to his probable successor.” Then the objectionable Mr Kennedy took his leave, and Phineas was left alone with Lady Laura.

“It is glorious — is it not?” he began, as soon as he found the field to be open for himself and his own manoeuvering. But he was very young, and had not as yet learned the manner in which he might best advance his cause with such a woman as Lady Laura Standish. He was telling her too clearly that he could have no gratification in talking with her unless he could be allowed to have her all to himself. That might be very well if Lady Laura were in love with him, but would hardly be the way to reduce her to that condition.

“Mr Finn,” said she, smiling as she spoke, I am sure that you did not mean it, but you were uncourteous to my friend Mr Kennedy.”

“Who? I? Was I? Upon my word, I didn’t intend to be uncourteous.”

“If I had thought you had intended it, of course I could not tell you of it. And now I take the liberty — for it is a liberty — ”

“Oh no.”

“Because I feel so anxious that you should do nothing to mar your chances as a rising man.”

“You are only too kind to me — always.”

“I know how clever you are, and how excellent are all your instincts; but I see that you are a little impetuous. I wonder whether you will be angry if I take upon myself the task of mentor.”

“Nothing you could say would make me angry — though you might make me very unhappy.”

“I will not do that if I can help it. A mentor ought to be very old, you know, and I am infinitely older than you are.”

“I should have thought it was the reverse — indeed, I may say that I know that it is,” said Phineas.

“I am not talking of years. Years have very little to do with the comparative ages of men and women. A woman at forty is quite old, whereas a man at forty is young.” Phineas, remembering that he had put down Mr Kennedy’s age as forty in his own mind, frowned when he heard this, and walked about the room in displeasure. “And therefore,” continued Lady Laura, “I talk to you as though I were a kind of grandmother.”

“You shall be my great-grandmother if you will only be kind enough to me to say what you really think.”

“You must not then be so impetuous, and you must be a little more careful to be civil to persons to whom you may not take any particular fancy. Now Mr Kennedy is a man who may be very useful to you.”

“I do not want Mr Kennedy to be of use to me.”

“That is what I call being impetuous — being young — being a boy. Why should not Mr Kennedy be of use to you as well as any one else? You do not mean to conquer the world all by yourself.”

“No — but there is something mean to me in the expressed idea that I should make use of any man — and more especially of a man whom I don’t like.”

“And why do you not like him, Mr Finn?”

“Because he is one of my Dr Fells.”

“You don’t like him simply because he does not talk much. That may be a good reason why you should not make of him an intimate companion — because you like talkative people; but it should be no ground for dislike.”

Phineas paused for a moment before he answered her, thinking whether or not it would be well to ask her some question which might produce from her a truth which he would not like to hear. Then he did ask it. “And do you like him?” he said.

She too paused, but only for a second. “Yes — I think I may say that I do like him.”

“No more than that?”

“Certainly no more than that — but that I think is a great deal.”

“I wonder what you would say if any one asked you whether you liked me,” said Phineas, looking away from her through the window.

“Just the same — but without the doubt, if the person who questioned me had any right to ask the question. There are not above one or two who could have such a right.”

“And I was wrong, of course, to ask it about Mr Kennedy,” said Phineas, looking out into the Square.

“I did not say so.”

“But I see you think it.”

“You see nothing of the kind. I was quite willing to be asked the question by you, and quite willing to answer it. Mr Kennedy is a man of great wealth.”

“What can that have to do with it?”

“Wait a moment, you impetuous Irish boy, and hear me out.” Phineas liked being called an impetuous Irish boy, and came close to her, sitting where he could look up into her face; and there came a smile upon his own, and he was very handsome. “I say that he is a man of great wealth,” continued Lady Laura; “and as wealth gives influence, he is of great use — politically — to the party to which he belongs.”

“Oh, politically!”

“Am I to suppose you care nothing for politics? To such men, to men who think as you think, who are to sit on the same benches with yourself, and go into the same lobby, and be seen at the same club, it is your duty to be civil both for your own sake and for that of the cause. It is for the hermits of society to indulge in personal dislikings — for men who have never been active and never mean to be active. I had been telling Mr Kennedy how much I thought of you — as a good Liberal.”

“And I came in and spoilt it all.”

“Yes, you did. You knocked down my little house, and I must build it all up again.”

“Don’t trouble yourself, Lady Laura.”

“I shall. It will be a great deal of trouble — a great deal, indeed; but I shall take it. I mean you to be very intimate with Mr Kennedy, and to shoot his grouse, and to stalk his deer, and to help to keep him in progress as a liberal member of Parliament. I am quite prepared to admit, as a friend, that he would go back without some such help.”

“Oh — I understand.”

“I do not believe that you do understand at all, but I must endeavour to make you do so by degrees. If you are to be my political pupil, you must at any rate be obedient. The next time you meet Mr Kennedy, ask him his opinion instead of telling him your own. He has been in Parliament twelve years, and he was a good deal older than you when he began.” At this moment a side door was opened, and the red-haired, red-bearded man whom Phineas had seen before entered the room. He hesitated a moment, as though he were going to retreat again, and then began to pull about the books and toys which lay on one of the distant tables, as though he were in quest of some article. And he would have retreated had not Lady Laura called to him.

“Oswald,” she said, let me introduce you to Mr Finn. Mr Finn, I do not think you have ever met my brother, Lord Chiltern.” Then the two young men bowed, and each of them muttered something. “Do not be in a hurry, Oswald. You have nothing special to take you away. Here is Mr Finn come to tell us who are all the possible new Prime Ministers. He is uncivil enough not to have named papa.”

“My father is out of the question,” said Lord Chiltern.

“Of course he is,” said Lady Laura, but I may be allowed my little joke.”

“I suppose he will at any rate be in the Cabinet,” said Phineas.

“I know nothing whatever about politics,” said Lord Chiltern.

“I wish you did,” said his sister — with all my heart.”

“I never did — and I never shall, for all your wishing. It’s the meanest trade going I think, and I’m sure it’s the most dishonest. They talk of legs on the turf, and of course there are legs; but what are they to the legs in the House? I don’t know whether you are in Parliament, Mr Finn.”

“Yes, I am; but do not mind me.”

“I beg your pardon. Of course there are honest men there, and no doubt you are one of them.”

“He is indifferent honest — as yet,” said Lady Laura.

“I was speaking of men who go into Parliament to look after Government places,” said Lord Chiltern.

“That is just what I’m doing,” said Phineas. Why should not a man serve the Crown? He has to work very hard for what he earns.”

“I don’t believe that the most of them work at all. However, I beg your pardon. I didn’t mean you in particular.”

“Mr Finn is such a thorough politician that he will never forgive you,” said Lady Laura.

“Yes, I will,” said Phineas, and I’ll convert him some day. If he does come into the House, Lady Laura, I suppose he’ll come on the right side?”

“I’ll never go into the House, as you call it,” said Lord Chiltern. “But, I’ll tell you what; I shall be very happy if you’ll dine with me tomorrow at Moroni’s. They give you a capital little dinner at Moroni’s, and they’ve the best Chateau Yquem in London.”

“Do,” said Lady Laura, in a whisper. Oblige me.

Phineas was engaged to dine with one of the Vice-Chancellors on the day named. He had never before dined at the house of this great law luminary, whose acquaintance he had made through Mr Low, and he had thought a great deal of the occasion. Mrs Freemantle had sent him the invitation nearly a fortnight ago, and he understood there was to be an elaborate dinner party. He did not know it for a fact, but he was in hopes of meeting the expiring Lord Chancellor. He considered it to be his duty never to throw away such a chance. He would in all respects have preferred Mr Freemantle’s dinner in Eaton Place, dull and heavy though it might probably be, to the chance of Lord Chiltern’s companions at Moroni’s. Whatever might be the faults of our hero, he was not given to what is generally called dissipation by the world at large — by which the world means self-indulgence. He cared not a brass farthing for Moroni’s Chateau Yquem, nor for the wondrously studied repast which he would doubtless find prepared for him at that celebrated establishment in St James’s Street — not a farthing as compared with the chance of meeting so great a man as Lord Moles. And Lord Chiltern’s friends might probably be just the men whom he would not desire to know. But Lady Laura’s request overrode everything with him. She had asked him to oblige her, and of course he would do so. Had he been going to dine with the incoming Prime Minister, he would have put off his engagement at her request. He was not quick enough to make an answer without hesitation; but after a moment’s pause he said he should be most happy to dine with Lord Chiltern at Moroni’s.

“That’s right; 7.30 sharp — only I can tell you you won’t meet any other members.” Then the servant announced more visitors, and Lord Chiltern escaped out of the room before he was seen by the new comers. These were Mrs Bonteen and Laurence Fitzgibbon, and then Mr Bonteen — and after them Mr Ratler, the Whip, who was in a violent hurry, and did not stay there a moment, and then Barrington Erle and young Lord James Fitz-Howard, the youngest son of the Duke of St Bungay. In twenty or thirty minutes there was a gathering of liberal political notabilities in Lady Laura’s drawing-room. There were two great pieces of news by which they were all enthralled. Mr Mildmay would not be Prime Minister, and Sir Everard Powell was — dead. Of course nothing quite positive could be known about Mr Mildmay. He was to be with the Queen at Windsor on the morrow at eleven o’clock, and it was improbable that he would tell his mind to any one before he told it to Her Majesty. But there was no doubt that he had engaged “the Duke,” — so he was called by Lord James — to go down to Windsor with him, that he might be in readiness if wanted. “I have learned that at home,” said Lord James, who had just heard the news from his sister, who had heard it from the Duchess. Lord James was delighted with the importance given to him by his father’s coming journey. From this, and from other equally well-known circumstances, it was surmised that Mr Mildmay would decline the task proposed to him. This, nevertheless, was only a surmise — whereas the fact with reference to Sir Everard was fully substantiated. The gout had flown to his stomach, and he was dead. “By — yes; as dead as a herring,” said Mr Ratler, who at that moment, however, was not within hearing of either of the ladies present. And then he rubbed his hands, and looked as though he were delighted. And he was delighted — not because his old friend Sir Everard was dead, but by the excitement of the tragedy. “Having done so good a deed in his last moments,” said Laurence Fitzgibbon, “we may take it for granted that he will go straight to heaven.” “I hope there will be no crowner’s quest, Ratler,” said Mr Bonteen; “if there is I don’t know how you’ll get out of it.” “I don’t see anything in it so horrible, said Mr Ratler. “If a fellow dies leading his regiment we don’t think anything of it. Sir Everard’s vote was of more service to his country than anything that a colonel or a captain can do.” But nevertheless I think that Mr Ratler was somewhat in dread of future newspaper paragraphs, should it be found necessary to summon a coroner’s inquisition to sit upon poor Sir Everard.

While this was going on Lady Laura took Phineas apart for a moment. “I am so much obliged to you; I am indeed,” she said.

“What nonsense!”

“Never mind whether it’s nonsense or not — but I am. I can’t explain it all now, but I do so want you to know my brother. You may be of the greatest service to him — of the very greatest. He is not half so bad as people say he is. In many ways he is very good — very good. And he is very clever.”

“At any rate I will think and believe no ill of him.”

“Just so — do not believe evil of him — not more evil than you see. I am so anxious — so very anxious to try to put him on his legs, and I find it so difficult to get any connecting link with him. Papa will not speak with him — because of money.”

“But he is friends with you.”

“Yes; I think he loves me. I saw how distasteful it was to you to go to him — and probably you were engaged?”

“One can always get off those sort of things if there is an object.”

“Yes — just so. And the object was to oblige me — was it not?”

“Of course it was. But I must go now. We are to hear Daubeny’s statement at four, and I would not miss it for worlds.”

“I wonder whether you would go abroad with my brother in the autumn? But I have no right to think of such a thing — have I? At any rate I will not think of it yet. Goodbye — I shall see you perhaps on Sunday if you are in town.”

Phineas walked down to Westminster with his mind very full of Lady Laura and Lord Chiltern. What did she mean by her affectionate manner to himself, and what did she mean by the continual praises which she lavished upon Mr Kennedy? Of whom was she thinking most, of Mr Kennedy, or of him? She had called herself his mentor. Was the description of her feelings towards himself, as conveyed in that name, of a kind to be gratifying to him? No — he thought not. But then might it not be within his power to change the nature of those feelings? She was not in love with him at present. He could not make any boast to himself on that head. But it might be within his power to compel her to love him. The female mentor might be softened. That she could not love Mr Kennedy, he thought that he was quite sure. There was nothing like love in her manner to Mr Kennedy. As to Lord Chiltern, Phineas would do whatever might be in his power. All that he really knew of Lord Chiltern was that he had gambled and that he had drunk.

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