Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 13

‘I have got the Seat’

When Phineas returned to London, the autumn Session, though it has been carried on so near to Christmas as to make many members very unhappy, had already been over for a fortnight. Mr Daubeny had played his game with consummate skill to the last. He had brought in no bill, but had stated his intention of doing so early in the following Session. He had, he said, of course been aware from the first that it would have been quite impossible to carry such a measure as that proposed during the few weeks in which it had been possible for them to sit between the convening of Parliament and the Christmas holidays; but he thought that it was expedient that the proposition should be named to the House and ventilated as it had been, so that members on both sides might be induced to give their most studious attention to the subject before a measure, which must be so momentous, should be proposed to them. As had happened, the unforeseen division to which the House had been pressed on the Address had proved that the majority of the House was in favour of the great reform, which it was the object of his ambition to complete. They were aware that they had been assembled at a somewhat unusual and inconvenient period of the year, because the service of the country had demanded that certain money bills should be passed. He, however, rejoiced greatly that this earliest opportunity had been afforded to him of explaining the intentions of the Government with which he had the honour of being connected. In answer to this there arose a perfect torrent of almost vituperative antagonism from the opposite side of the House. Did the Right Honourable gentleman dare to say that the question had been ventilated in the country, when it had never been broached by him or any of his followers till after the general election had been completed? Was it not notorious to the country that the first hint of it had been given when the Right Honourable gentleman was elected for East Barsetshire, and was it not equally notorious that that election had been so arranged that the marvellous proposition of the Right Honourable gentleman should not be known even to his own party till there remained no possibility of the expression of any condemnation from the hustings?. It might be that the Right Honourable could so rule his own followers in that House as to carry them with him even in a matter so absolutely opposite to their own most cherished convictions. It certainly seemed that he had succeeded in doing so for the present. But would anyone believe that he would have carried the country, had he dared to face the country with such a measure in his hands? Ventilation, indeed! He had not dared to ventilate his proposition. He had used this short Session in order that he might keep his clutch fastened on power, and in doing so was indifferent alike to the Constitution, to his party, and to the country. Harder words had never been spoken in the House than were uttered on this occasion. But the Minister was successful. He had been supported on the Address; and he went home to East Barsetshire at Christmas, perhaps with some little fear of the parsons around him; but with a full conviction that he would at least carry the second reading of his bill.

London was more than usually full and busy this year immediately after Christmas. It seemed as though it were admitted by all the Liberal party generally that the sadness of the occasion ought to rob the season of its usual festivities. Who could eat mince pies or think of Twelfth Night while so terribly wicked a scheme was in progress for keeping the real majority out in the cold? It was the injustice of the thing that rankled so deeply — that, and a sense of inferiority to the cleverness displayed by Mr Daubeny! It was as when a player is checkmated by some audacious combination of two pawns and a knight, such being all the remaining forces of the victorious adversary, when the beaten man has two castles and a queen upon the board. It was, indeed, worse than this — for the adversary had appropriated to his own use the castles and the queen of the unhappy vanquished one. This Church Reform was the legitimate property of the Liberals, and had not been as yet used by then? only because they had felt it right to keep in the background for some future great occasion so great and so valuable a piece of ordnance. It was theirs so safely that they could afford to bide their time. And then — so they all said, and so some of them believed — the country was not ready for so great a measure. It must come; but there must be tenderness in the mode of producing it. The parsons must be respected, and the great Church-of-England feeling of the people must be considered with affectionate regard. Even the most rabid Dissenter would hardly wish to see a structure so nearly divine attacked and destroyed by rude hands. With grave and slow and sober earnestness, with loving touches and soft caressing manipulation let the beautiful old Church be laid to its rest, as something too exquisite, too lovely, too refined for the present rough manners of the world! Such were the ideas as to Church Reform of the leading Liberals of the day; and now this man, without even a majority to back him, this audacious Cagliostro among statesmen, this destructive leader of all declared Conservatives, had come forward without a moment’s warning, and pretended that he would do the thing out of hand! Men knew that it had to be done. The country had begun to perceive that the old Establishment must fall; and, knowing this, would not the Liberal backbone of Great Britain perceive the enormity of this Cagliostro’s wickedness — and rise against him and bury him beneath its scorn as, it ought to do? This was the feeling that made a real Christmas impossible to Messrs Ratler and Bonteen.

“The one thing incredible to me,” said Mr Ratler, “is that Englishmen should be so mean.” He was alluding to the Conservatives who had shown their intention of supporting Mr Daubeny, and whom he accused of doing so, simply with a view to power and patronage, without any regard to their own consistency or to the welfare of the country. Mr Ratler probably did not correctly read the minds of the men whom he was accusing, and did not perceive, as he should have done with his experience, how little there was among them of concerted action. To defend the Church was a duty to each of them; but then, so also was it a duty to support his party. And each one could see his way to the one duty, whereas the other was vague, and too probably ultimately impossible. If it were proper to throw off the incubus of this conjuror’s authority, surely some wise, and great, and bold man would get up and so declare. Some junto of wise men of the party would settle that he should be deposed. But where were they to look for the wise and bold men? where even for the junto? Of whom did the party consist? — Of honest, chivalrous, and enthusiastic men, but mainly of men who were idle, and unable to take upon their own shoulders the responsibility of real work. Their leaders had been selected from the outside — clever, eager, pushing men, but of late had been hardly selected from among themselves. As used to be the case with Italian Powers, they entrusted their cause to mercenary foreign generals, soldiers of fortune, who carried their good swords whither they were wanted; and, as of old, the leaders were ever ready to fight, but would themselves declare what should be and what should not be the casus belli. There was not so much meanness as Mr Ratler supposed in the Conservative ranks, but very much more unhappiness. Would it not be better to go home and live at the family park all the year round, and hunt, and attend Quarter Sessions, and be able to declare morning and evening with a clear conscience that the country was going to the dogs? Such was the mental working of many a Conservative who supported Mr Daubeny on this occasion.

At the instance of Lady Laura, Phineas called upon the Duke of St Bungay soon after his return, and was very kindly received by His Grace. In former days, when there were Whigs instead of Liberals, it was almost a rule of political life that all leading Whigs should be uncles, brothers-in-law, or cousins to each other. This was pleasant and gave great consistency to the party; but the system has now gone out of vogue. There remain of it, however, some traces, so that among the nobler born Liberals of the day there is still a good deal of agreeable family connection. In this way the St Bungay FitzHowards were related to the Mildmays and Standishes, and such a man as Barrington Erle was sure to be cousin to all of them. Lady Laura had thus only sent her friend to a relation of her own, and as the Duke and Phineas had been in the same Government, His Grace was glad enough to receive the returning aspirant. Of course there was something said at first as to the life of the Earl at Dresden. The Duke recollected the occasion of such banishment, and shook his head; and attempted to look unhappy when the wretched condition of Mr Kennedy was reported to him. But he was essentially a happy man, and shook off the gloom at once when Phineas spoke of politics. “So you are coming back to us, Mr Finn?”

“They tell me I may perhaps get the seat.”

“I am heartily glad, for you were very useful. I remember how Cantrip almost cried when he told me you were going to leave him. He had been rather put upon, I fancy, before.”

“There was perhaps something in that, Your Grace.”

“There will be nothing to return to now beyond barren honours.”

“Not for a while.”

“Not for a long while,” said the Duke — “for a long while, that is, as candidates for office regard time. Mr Daubeny will be safe for this Session at least. I doubt whether he will really attempt to carry his measure this year. He will bring it forward, and after the late division he must get his second reading. He will then break down gracefully in Committee, and declare that the importance of the interests concerned demands further inquiry. It wasn’t a thing to be done in one year.”

“Why should he do it at all?” asked Phineas.

“That’s what everybody asks, but the answer seems to be so plain! Because he can do it, and we can’t. He will get from our side much support, and we should get none from his.”

“There is something to me sickening in their dishonesty,” said Phineas energetically.

“The country has the advantage; and I don’t know that they are dishonest. Ought we to come to a deadlock in legislation in order that parties might fight out their battle till one had killed the other?”

“I don’t think a man should support a measure which he believes to be destructive.”

“He doesn’t believe it to be destructive. The belief is theoretic — or not even quite that. It is hardly more than romantic. As long as acres are dear, and he can retain those belonging to him, the country gentleman will never really believe his country to be in danger. It is the same with commerce. As long as the Three per Cents do not really mean Four per Cent — I may say as long as they don’t mean Five per Cent — the country will be rich, though everyone should swear that it be ruined.”

“I’m very glad, at the same time, that I don’t call myself a Conservative,” said Phineas.

“That shows how disinterested you are, as you certainly would be in office. Goodbye. Come and see the Duchess when she comes to town. And if you’ve nothing better to do, give us a day or two at Longroyston at Easter.” Now Longroyston was the Duke’s well-known country seat, at which Whig hospitality had been dispensed with a lavish hand for two centuries.

On the 20th January Phineas travelled down to Tankerville again in obedience to a summons served upon him at the instance of the judge who was to try his petition against Browborough. It was the special and somewhat unusual nature of this petition that the complainants not only sought to oust the sitting member, but also to give the seat to the late unsuccessful candidate. There was to be a scrutiny, by which, if it should be successful, so great a number of votes would be deducted from those polled on behalf of the unfortunate Mr Browborough as to leave a majority for his opponent, with the additional disagreeable obligation upon him of paying the cost of the transaction by which he would thus lose his seat. Mr Browborough, no doubt, looked upon the whole thing with the greatest disgust. He thought that a battle when once won should be regarded as over till the occasion should come for another battle. He had spent his money like a gentleman, and hated these mean ways. No one could ever say that he had ever petitioned. That was his way of looking at it. That Shibboleth of his as to the prospects of England and the Church of her people had, no doubt, made the House less agreeable to him during the last Short session than usual; but he had stuck to his party, and voted with Mr Daubeny on the Address — the obligation for such vote having inconveniently pressed itself upon him before the presentation of the petition had been formally completed. He had always stuck to his party. It was the pride of his life that he had been true and consistent. He also was summoned to Tankerville, and he was forced to go, although he knew that the Shibboleth would be thrown in his teeth.

Mr Browborough spent two or three very uncomfortable days at Tankerville, whereas Phineas was triumphant. There were worse things in store for poor Mr Browborough than his repudiated Shibboleth, or even than his lost seat. Mr Ruddles, acting with wondrous energy, succeeded in knocking off the necessary votes, and succeeded also in proving that these votes were void by reason of gross bribery. He astonished Phineas by the cool effrontery with which he took credit to himself for not having purchased votes in the Fallgate on the Liberal side, but Phineas was too wise to remind him that he himself had hinted at one time that it would be well to lay out a little money in that way. No one at the present moment was more clear than was Ruddles as to the necessity of purity at elections. Not a penny had been misspent by the Finnites. A vote or two from their score was knocked off on grounds which did not touch the candidate or his agents. One man had personated a vote, but this appeared to have been done at the instigation of some very cunning Browborough partisan. Another man had been wrongly described. This, however, amounted to nothing. Phineas Finn was seated for the borough, and the judge declared his purpose of recommending the House of Commons to issue a commission with reference to the expediency of instituting a prosecution. Mr Browborough left the town in great disgust, not without various publicly expressed intimations from his opponents that the prosperity of England depended on the Church of her people. Phineas was gloriously entertained by the Liberals of the borough, and then informed that as so much had been done for him it was hoped that he would now open his pockets on behalf of the charities of the town. “Gentlemen,” said Phineas, to one or two of the leading Liberals, “it is as well that you should know at once that I am a very poor man.” The leading Liberals made wry faces, but Phineas was member for the borough.

The moment that the decision was announced, Phineas, shaking off for the time his congratulatory friends, hurried to the post-office and sent his message to Lady Laura Standish at Dresden: “I have got the seat.” He was almost ashamed of himself as the telegraph boy looked up at him when he gave in the words, but this was a task which he could not have entrusted to anyone else. He almost thought that this was in truth the proudest and happiest moment of his life. She would so thoroughly enjoy his triumph, would receive from it such great and unselfish joy, that he almost wished that he could have taken the message himself. Surely had he done so there would have been fit occasion for another embrace.

He was again a member of the British House of Commons — was again in possession of that privilege for which he had never ceased to sigh since the moment in which he lost it. A drunkard or a gambler may be weaned from his ways, but not a politician. To have been in the House and not to be there was, to such a one as Phineas Finn, necessarily, a state of discontent. But now he had worked his way up again, and he was determined that no fears for the future should harass him. He would give his heart and soul to the work while his money lasted. It would surely last him for the Session. He was all alone in the world, and would trust to the chapter of accidents for the future.

“I never knew a fellow with such luck as yours,” said Barrington Erle to him, on his return to London. “A seat always drops into your mouth when the circumstances seem to be most forlorn.”

“I have been lucky, certainly.”

“My cousin, Laura Kennedy, has been writing to me about you.”

“I went over to see them, you know.”

“So I heard. She talks some nonsense about the Earl being willing to do anything for you. What could the Earl do? He has no more influence in the Loughton borough than I have, All that kind of thing is clean done for — with one or two exceptions. We got much better men while it lasted than we do now.”

“I should doubt that.”

“We did — much truer men — men who went straighter. By the bye, Phineas, we must have no tricks on this Church matter. We mean to do all we can to throw out the second reading.”

“You know what I said at the hustings.”

“D— the hustings. I know what Browborough said, and Browborough voted like a man with his party. You were against the Church at the hustings, and he was for it. You will vote just the other way. There will be a little confusion, but the people of Tankerville will never remember the particulars.”

“I don’t know that I can do that.”

“By heavens, if you don’t, you shall never more be officer of ours — though Laura Kennedy should cry her eyes out.”

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