Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 10

The deserted Husband

Phineas Finn had been in the gallery of the House throughout the debate, and was greatly grieved at Mr Daubeny’s success, though he himself had so strongly advocated the disestablishment of the Church in canvassing the electors of Tankerville. No doubt he had advocated the cause — but he had done so as an advanced member of the Liberal party, and he regarded the proposition when coming from Mr Daubeny as a horrible and abnormal birth. He, however, was only a looker-on — could be no more than a looker-on for the existing short session. It had already been decided that the judge who was to try the case at Tankerville should visit that town early in January; and should it be decided on a scrutiny that the seat belonged to our hero, then he would enter upon his privilege in the following Session without any further trouble to himself at Tankerville. Should this not be the case — then the abyss of absolute vacuity would be open before him. He would have to make some disposition of himself, but he would be absolutely without an idea as to the how or where. He was in possession of funds to support himself for a year or two; but after that, and even during that time, all would be dark. If he should get his seat, then again the power of making an effort would at last be within his hands.

He had made up his mind to spend the Christmas with Lord Brentford and Lady Laura Kennedy at Dresden, and had already fixed the day of his arrival there. But this had been postponed by another invitation which had surprised him much, but which it had been impossible for him not to accept. It had come as follows:

“29th November, Loughlinter “ DEAR SIR,

“I am informed by letter from Dresden that you are in London on your way to that city with the view of spending some days with the Earl of Brentford. You will, of course, be once more thrown into the society of my wife, Lady Laura Kennedy.

“I have never understood, and certainly have never sanctioned, that breach of my wife’s marriage vow which has led to her withdrawal from my roof. I never bade her go, and I have bidden her return. Whatever may be her feelings, or mine, her duty demands her presence here, and my duty calls upon me to receive her. This I am and always have been ready to do. Were the laws of Europe sufficiently explicit and intelligible I should force her to return to my house — because she sins while she remains away, and I should sin were I to omit to use any means which the law might place in my hands for the due control of my own wife. I am very explicit to you although we have of late been strangers, because in former days you were closely acquainted with the condition of my family affairs.

“Since my wife left me I have had no means of communicating with her by the assistance of any common friend. Having heard that you are about to visit her at Dresden I feel a great desire to see you that I may be enabled to send by you a personal message. My health, which is now feeble, and the altered habits of my life render it almost impossible that I should proceed to London with this object, and I therefore ask it of your Christian charity that you should visit me here at Loughlinter. You, as a Roman Catholic, cannot but hold the bond of matrimony to be irrefragable. You cannot, at least, think that it should be set aside at the caprice of an excitable woman who is not able and never has been able to assign any reason for leaving the protection of her husband.

“I shall have much to say to you, and I trust you will come. I will not ask you to prolong your visit, as I have nothing to offer you in the way of amusement. My mother is with me; but otherwise I am alone. Since my wife left me I have not thought it even decent to entertain guests or to enjoy society. I have lived a widowed life. I cannot even offer you shooting, as I have no keepers on the mountains. There are fish in the river doubtless, for the gifts of God are given let men be ever so unworthy; but this, I believe, is not the month for fishermen. I ask you to come to me, not as a pleasure, but as a Christian duty.

“Yours truly ROBERT KENNEDY “ “Phineas Finn, Esq.”

As soon as he had read the letter Phineas felt that he had no alternative but to go. The visit would be very disagreeable, but it must be made. So he sent a line to Robert Kennedy naming a day; and wrote another to Lady Laura postponing his time at Dresden by a week, and explaining the cause of its postponement. As soon as the debate on the Address was over he started for Loughlinter.

A thousand memories crowded on his brain as he made the journey. Various circumstances had in his early life — in that period of his life which had lately seemed to be cut off from the remainder of his days by so clear a line — thrown him into close connection with this man, and with the man’s wife. He had first gone to Loughlinter, not as Lady Laura’s guest — for Lady Laura had not then been married, or even engaged to be married — but on her persuasion rather than on that of Mr Kennedy. When there he had asked Lady Laura to be his own wife, and she had then told him that she was to become the wife of the owner of that domain. He remembered the blow as though it had been struck but yesterday, and yet the pain of the blow had not been long enduring. But though then rejected he had always been the chosen friend of the woman — a friend chosen after an especial fashion. When he had loved another woman this friend had resented his defection with all a woman’s jealousy. He had saved the husband’s life, and had then become also the husband’s friend, after that cold fashion which an obligation will create. Then the husband had been jealous, and dissension had come, and the ill-matched pair had been divided, with absolute ruin to both of them, as far as the material comforts and well-being of life were concerned. Then he, too, had been ejected, as it were, out of the world, and it had seemed to him as though Laura Standish and Robert Kennedy had been the inhabitants of another hemisphere. Now he was about to see them both again, both separately; and to become the medium of some communication between them. He knew, or thought that he knew, that no communication could avail anything.

It was dark night when he was driven up to the door of Loughlinter House in a fly from the town of Callender. When he first made the journey, now some six or seven years since, he had done so with Mr Ratler, and he remembered well that circumstance. He remembered also that on his arrival Lady Laura had scolded him for having travelled in such company. She had desired him to seek other friends — friends higher in general estimation, and nobler in purpose. He had done so, Partly at her instance, and with success. But Mr Ratler was now somebody in the world, and he was nobody. And he remembered also how on that occasion he had been troubled in his mind in regard to a servant, not as yet knowing whether the usages of the world did or did not require that he should go so accompanied. He had taken the man, and had been thoroughly ashamed of himself for doing so. He had no servant now, no grandly developed luggage, no gun, no elaborate dress for the mountains. On that former occasion his heart had been very full when he reached Loughlinter, and his heart was full now. Then he had resolved to say a few words to Lady Laura, and he had hardly known how best to say them. Now he would be called upon to say a few to Lady Laura’s husband, and the task would be almost as difficult.

The door was opened for him by an old servant in black, who proposed at once to show him to his room. He looked round the vast hall, which, when he had before known it, was ever filled with signs of life, and felt at once that it was empty and deserted. It struck him as intolerably cold, and he saw that the huge fireplace was without a spark of fire. Dinner, the servant said, was prepared for half-past seven. Would Mr Finn wish to dress? Of course he wished to dress. And as it was already past seven he hurried up stairs to his room. Here again everything was cold and wretched. There was no fire, and the man had left him with a single candle. There were candlesticks on the dressing-table, but they were empty. The man had suggested hot water, but the hot water did not come. In his poorest days he had never known discomfort such as this, and yet Mr Kennedy was one of the richest commoners of Great Britain.

But he dressed, and made his way downstairs, not knowing where he should find his host or his host’s mother. He recognised the different doors and knew the rooms within them, but they seemed inhospitably closed against him, and he went and stood in the cold hall. But the man was watching for him, and led him into a small parlour. Then it was explained to him that Mr Kennedy’s state of health did not admit of late dinners. He was to dine alone, and Mr Kennedy would receive him after dinner. In a moment his cheeks became red, and a flash of wrath crossed his heart. Was he to be treated in this way by a man on whose behalf — with no thought of his own comfort or pleasure — he had made this long and abominable journey? Might it not be well for him to leave the house without seeing Mr Kennedy at all? Then he remembered that he had heard it whispered that the man had become bewildered in his mind. He relented, therefore, and condescended to eat his dinner.

A very poor dinner it was. There was a morsel of flabby white fish, as to the nature of which Phineas was altogether in doubt, a beef steak as to the nature of which he was not at all in doubt, and a little crumpled-up tart which he thought the driver of the fly must have brought with him from the pastry-cook’s at Callender. There was some very hot sherry, but not much of it. And there was a bottle of claret, as to which Phineas, who was not usually particular in the matter of wine, persisted in declining to have anything to do with it after the first attempt. The gloomy old servant, who stuck to him during the repast, persisted in offering it, as though the credit of the hospitality of Loughlinter depended on it. There are so many men by whom the tenuis ratio saporum has not been achieved, that the Caleb Balderstones of those houses in which plenty does not flow are almost justified in hoping that goblets of Gladstone may pass current. Phineas Finn was not a martyr to eating or drinking. He played with his fish without thinking much about it. He worked manfully at the steak. He gave another crumple to the tart, and left it without a pang. But when the old man urged him, for the third time, to take that pernicious draught with his cheese, he angrily demanded a glass of beer. The old man toddled out of the room, and on his return he proffered to him a diminutive glass of white spirit, which he called usquebaugh. Phineas, happy to get a little whisky, said nothing more about the beer, and so the dinner was over.

He rose so suddenly from his chair that the man did not dare to ask him whether he would not sit over his wine. A suggestion that way was indeed made, would he “visit the laird out o’ hand, or would he bide awee?” Phineas decided on visiting the laird out of hand, and was at once led across the hall, down a back passage which he had never before traversed, and introduced to the chamber which had ever been known as the “laird’s ain room”. Here Robert Kennedy rose to receive him.

Phineas knew the man’s age well. He was still under fifty, but he looked as though he were seventy. He had always been thin, but he was thinner now than ever. He was very grey, and stooped so much, that though he came forward a step or two to greet his guest, it seemed as though he had not taken the trouble to raise himself to his proper height. “You find me a much altered man,” he said. The change had been so great that it was impossible to deny it, and Phineas muttered something of regret that his host’s health should be so bad. “It is trouble of the mind — not of the body, Mr Finn. It is her doing — her doing. Life is not to me a light thing, nor are the obligations of life light. When I married a wife, she became bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. Can I lose my bones and my flesh — knowing that they are not with God but still subject elsewhere to the snares of the devil, and live as though I were a sound man? Had she died I could have borne it. I hope they have made you comfortable, Mr Finn?”

“Oh, yes,” said Phineas.

“Not that Loughlinter can be comfortable now to anyone, How can a man, whose wife has deserted him, entertain his guests? I am ashamed even to look a friend in the face, Mr Finn.” As he said this he stretched forth his open hand as though to hide his countenance, and Phineas hardly knew whether the absurdity of the movement or the tragedy of the feeling struck him the more forcibly. “What did I do that she should leave me? Did I strike her? Was I faithless? Had she not the half of all that was mine? Did I frighten her by hard words, or exact hard tasks? Did I not commune with her, telling her all my most inward purposes? In things of this world, and of that better world that is coming, was she not all in all to me? Did I not make her my very wife? Mr Finn, do you know what made her go away?” He had asked perhaps a dozen questions. As to the eleven which came first it was evident that no answer was required; and they had been put with that pathetic dignity with which it is so easy to invest the interrogatory form of address. But to the last question it was intended that Phineas should give an answer, as Phineas presumed at once; and then it was asked with a wink of the eye, a low eager voice, and a sly twist of the face that were frightfully ludicrous. “I suppose you do know,” said Mr Kennedy, again working his eye, and thrusting his chin forward.

“I imagine that she was not happy.”

“Happy? What right had she to expect to be happy? Are we to believe that we should be happy here? Are we not told that we are to look for happiness there, and to hope for none below?” As he said this he stretched his left hand to the ceiling. “But why shouldn’t she have been happy? What did she want? Did she ever say anything against me, Mr Finn?”

“Nothing but this — that your temper and hers were incompatible.”

“I thought at one time that you advised her to go away?”

“Never!”

“She told you about it?”

“Not, if I remember, till she had made up her mind, and her father had consented to receive her. I had known, of course, that things were unpleasant.”

“How were, they unpleasant? Why were they unpleasant? She wouldn’t let you come and dine with me in London. I never knew why that was. When she did what was wrong, of course I had to tell her. Who else should tell her but her husband? If you had been her husband, and I only an acquaintance, then I might have said what I pleased. They rebel against the yoke because it is a yoke. And yet they accept the yoke, knowing it to be a yoke. It comes of the devil. You think a priest can put everything right.”

“No, I don’t,” said Phineas.

“Nothing can put you right but the fear of God; and when a woman is too proud to ask for that, evils like these are sure to come. She would not go to church on Sunday afternoon, but had meetings of Belial at her father’s house instead.” Phineas well remembered those meetings of Belial, in which he with others had been wont to discuss the political prospects of the day. “When she persisted in breaking the Lord’s commandment, and defiling the Lord’s day, I knew well what would come of it.”

“I am not sure, Mr Kennedy, that a husband is justified in demanding that a wife shall think just as he thinks on matters of religion. If he is particular about it, he should find all that out before.”

“Particular! God’s word is to be obeyed, I suppose?”

“But people doubt about God’s word.”

“Then people will be damned,” said Mr Kennedy, rising from his chair. “And they will be damned.”

“A woman doesn’t like to be told so.”

“I never told her so. I never said anything of the kind. I never spoke a hard word to her in my life. If her head did but ache, I hung over her with the tenderest solicitude. I refused her nothing. When I found that she was impatient I chose the shortest sermon for our Sunday evening’s worship, to the great discomfort of my mother.” Phineas wondered whether this assertion as to the discomfort of old Mrs Kennedy could possibly be true. Could it be that any human being really preferred a long sermon to a short one — except the being who preached it or read it aloud? “There was nothing that I did not do for her. I suppose you really do know why she went away, Mr Finn?”

“I know nothing more than I have said.”

“I did think once that she was — ”

“There was nothing more than I have said,” asserted Phineas sternly, fearing that the poor insane man was about to make some suggestion that would be terribly painful. “She felt that she did not make you happy.”

“I did not want her to make me happy. I do not expect to be made happy. I wanted her to do her duty. You were in love with her once, Mr Finn?”

“Yes, I was. I was in love with Lady Laura Standish.”

“Ah! Yes. There was no harm in that, of course; only when anything of that kind happens, people had better keep out of each other’s way afterwards. Not that I was ever jealous, you know.”

“I should hope not.”

“But I don’t see why you should go all the way to Dresden to pay her a visit. What good can that do? I think you had much better stay where you are, Mr Finn; I do indeed. It isn’t a decent thing for a young unmarried man to go half across Europe to see a lady who is separated from her husband, and who was once in love with him — I mean he was once in love with her. It’s a very wicked thing, Mr Finn, and I have to beg that you will not do it.”

Phineas felt that he had been grossly taken in. He had been asked to come to Loughlinter in order that he might take a message from the husband to the wife, and now the husband made use of his compliance to forbid the visit on some grotesque score of jealousy. He knew that the man was mad, and that therefore he ought not to be angry; but the man was not too mad to require a rational answer, and had some method in his madness. “Lady Laura Kennedy is living with her father,” said Phineas.

“Pshaw — dotard!”

“Lady Laura Kennedy is living with her father,” repeated Phineas; “and I am going to the house of the Earl of Brentford.”

“Who was it wrote and asked you?”

“The letter was from Lady Laura.”

“Yes — from my wife. What right had my wife to write to you when she will not even answer my appeals? She is my wife — my wife! In the presence of God she and I have been made one, and even man’s ordinances have not dared to separate us. Mr Finn, as the husband of Lady Laura Kennedy, I desire that you abstain from seeking her presence.” As he said this he rose from his chair, and took the poker in his hand. The chair in which he was sitting was placed upon the rug, and it might be that the fire required his attention. As he stood bending down, with the poker in his right hand, with his eye still fixed on his guest’s face, his purpose was doubtful. The motion might be a threat, or simply have a useful domestic tendency. But Phineas, believing that the man was mad, rose from his seat and stood upon his guard. The point of the poker had undoubtedly been raised; but as Phineas stretched himself to his height, it fell gradually towards the fire, and at last was buried very gently among the coals. But he was never convinced that Mr Kennedy had carried out the purpose with which he rose from his chair. “After what has passed, you will no doubt abandon your purpose,” said Mr Kennedy.

“I shall certainly go to Dresden,” said Phineas. “If you have a message to send, I will take it.”

“Then you will be accursed among adulterers,” said the laird of Loughlinter. “By such a one I will send no message. From the first moment that I saw you I knew you for a child of Apollyon. But the sin was my own. Why did I ask to my house an idolater, one who pretends to believe that a crumb of bread is my God, a Papist, untrue alike to his country and to his Saviour? When she desired it of me I knew that I was wrong to yield. Yes — it is you who have done it all, you, you, you — and if she be a castaway, the weight of her soul will be doubly heavy on your own.”

To get out of the room, and then at the earliest possible hour of the morning out of the house, were now the objects to be attained. That his presence had had a peculiarly evil influence on Mr Kennedy, Phineas could not doubt; as assuredly the unfortunate man would not have been left with mastery over his own actions had his usual condition been such as that which he now displayed. He had been told that “poor Kennedy” was mad — as we are often told of the madness of our friends when they cease for awhile to run in the common grooves of life. But the madman had now gone a long way out of the grooves — so far, that he seemed to Phineas to be decidedly dangerous. “I think I had better wish you good night,” he said.

“Look here, Mr Finn.”

“Well?”

“I hope you won’t go and make more mischief.”

“I shall not do that, certainly.”

“You won’t tell her what I have said?”

“I shall tell her nothing to make her think that your opinion of her is less high than it ought to be.”

“Good night.”

“Good night,” said Phineas again; and then he left the room. It was as yet but nine o’clock, and he had no alternative but to go to bed. He found his way back into the hall, and from thence up to his own chamber. But there was no fire there, and the night was cold. He went to the window, and raised it for a moment, that he might hear the well-remembered sound of the Fall of Linter. Though the night was dark and wintry, a dismal damp November night, he would have crept out of the house and made his way up to the top of the brae, for the sake of auld lang syne, had he not feared that the inhospitable mansion would be permanently closed against him on his return. He rang the bell once or twice, and after a while the old serving man came to him. Could he have a cup of tea? The man shook his head, and feared that no boiling water could be procured at that late hour of the night. Could he have his breakfast the next morning at seven, and a conveyance to Callender at half-past seven? When the old man again shook his head, seeming to be dazed at the enormity of the demand, Phineas insisted that his request should be conveyed to the master of the house. As to the breakfast, he said he did not care about it, but the conveyance he must have. He did, in fact, obtain both, and left the house early on the following morning without again seeing Mr Kennedy, and without having spoken a single word to Mr Kennedy’s mother. And so great was his hurry to get away from the place which had been so disagreeable to him, and which he thought might possibly become more so, that he did not even run across the sward that divided the gravel sweep from the foot of the waterfall.

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