Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 30

Regrets

Madame Goesler remained at Matching till after the return of Mr Pallister — or, as we must now call him, the Duke of Omnium — from Gatherum Castle and was therefore able to fight her own battle with him respecting the gems and the money which had been left her. He brought to her with his own hands the single ring which she had requested, and placed it on her finger. “The goldsmith will soon make that all right,” she said, when it was found to be much too large for the largest finger on which she could wear a ring. “A bit shall be taken out, but I will not have it reset.”

“You got the lawyer’s letter and the inventory, Madame Goesler?”

“Yes, indeed. What surprises me is that the dear old man should never have spoken of so magnificent a collection of gems.”

“Orders have been given that they shall be packed.”

“They may be packed or unpacked, of course, as your Grace pleases, but pray do not connect me with the packing.”

“You must be connected with it.”

“But I wish not to be connected with it, Duke. I have written to the lawyer to renounce the legacy, and, if your Grace persists, I must employ a lawyer of my own to renounce them after some legal form. Pray do not let the case be sent to me, or there will be so much trouble, and we shall have another great jewel robbery. I won’t take it in, and I won’t have the money, and I will have my own way. Lady Glen will tell you that I can be very obstinate when I please.”

Lady Glencora had told him so already. She had been quite sure that her friend would persist in her determination as to the legacy, and had thought that her husband should simply accept Madame Goesler’s assurances to that effect. But a man who had been Chancellor of the Exchequer could not deal with money, or even with jewels, so lightly. He assured his wife that such an arrangement was quite out of the question. He remarked that property was property, by which he meant to intimate that the real owner of substantial wealth could not be allowed to disembarrass himself of his responsibilities or strip himself of his privileges by a few generous but idle words. The late Duke’s will was a very serious thing, and it seemed to the heir that this abandoning of a legacy bequeathed by the Duke was a making light of the Duke’s last act and deed. To refuse money in such circumstances was almost like refusing rain from heaven, or warmth from the sun. It could not be done. The things were her property, and though she might, of course, chuck them into the street, they would no less be hers. “But I won’t have them, Duke,” said Madame Goesler; and the late Chancellor of the Exchequer found that no proposition made by him in the House had ever been received with a firmer opposition. His wife told him that nothing he could say would be of any avail, and rather ridiculed his idea of the solemnity of wills. “You can’t make a person take a thing because you write it down on a thick bit of paper, any more than if you gave it her across a table. I understand it all, of course. She means to show that she didn’t want anything from the Duke. As she refused the name and title, she won’t have the money and jewels. You can’t make her take them, and I’m quite sure you can’t talk her over.” The young Duke was not persuaded, but had to give the battle up — at any rate, for the present.

On the 19th of March Madame Goesler returned to London, having been at Matching Priory for more than three weeks. On her journey back to Park Lane many thoughts crowded on her mind. Had she, upon the whole, done well in reference to the Duke of Omnium? The last three years of her life had been sacrificed to an old man with whom she had not in truth possessed aught in common. She had persuaded herself that there had existed a warm friendship between them — but of what nature could have been a friendship with one whom she had not known till he had been in his dotage? What words of the Duke’s speaking had she ever heard with pleasure, except certain terms of affection which had been half mawkish and half senile? She had told Phineas Finn, while riding home with him from Broughton Spinnies, that she had clung to the Duke because she loved him, but what had there been to produce such love? The Duke had begun his acquaintance with her by insulting her — and had then offered to make her his wife. This — which would have conferred upon her some tangible advantages, such as rank, and wealth, and a great name — she had refused, thinking that the price to be paid for them was too high, and that life might even yet have something better in store for her. After that she had permitted herself to become, after a fashion, head nurse to the old man, and in that pursuit had wasted three years of what remained to her of her youth. People, at any rate, should not say of her that she had accepted payment for the three years’ service by taking a casket of jewels. She would take nothing that should justify any man in saying that she had been enriched by her acquaintance with the Duke of Omnium. It might be that she had been foolish, but she would be more foolish still were she to accept a reward for her folly. As it was there had been something of romance in it — though the romance of friendship at the bedside of a sick and selfish old man had hardly been satisfactory.

Even in her close connection with the present Duchess there was something which was almost hollow. Had there not been a compact between them, never expressed, but not the less understood? Had not her dear friend, Lady Glen, agreed to bestow upon her support, fashion, and all kinds of worldly good things — on condition that she never married the old Duke? She had liked Lady Glencora — had enjoyed her friend’s society, and been happy in her friend’s company — but she had always felt that Lady Glencora’s attraction to herself had been simply on the score of the Duke. It was necessary that the Duke should be pampered and kept in good humour. An old man, let him be ever so old, can do what he likes with himself and his belongings. To keep the Duke out of harm’s way Lady Glencora had opened her arms to Madame Goesler. Such, at least, was the interpretation which Madame Goesler chose to give to the history of the last three years. They had not, she thought, quite understood her. When once she had made up her mind not to marry the Duke, the Duke had been safe from her — as his jewels and money should be safe now that he was dead.

Three years had passed by, and nothing had been done of that which she had intended to do. Three years had passed, which to her, with her desires, were so important. And yet she hardly knew what were her desires, and had never quite defined her intentions. She told herself on this very journey that the time had now gone by, and that in losing these three years she had lost everything. As yet — so she declared to herself now — the world had done but little for her. Two old men had loved her; one had become her husband, and the other had asked to become so — and to both she had done her duty. To both she had been grateful, tender, and self-sacrificing. From the former she had, as his widow, taken wealth which she valued greatly; but the wealth alone had given her no happiness. From the latter, and from his family, she had accepted a certain position. Some persons, high in repute and fashion, had known her before, but everybody knew her now. And yet what had all this done for her? Dukes and duchesses, dinner-parties and drawing-rooms — what did they all amount to? What was it that she wanted?

She was ashamed to tell herself that it was love. But she knew this — that it was necessary for her happiness that she should devote herself to someone. All the elegancies and outward charms of life were delightful, if only they could be used as the means to some end. As an end themselves they were nothing. She had devoted herself to this old man who was now dead, and there had been moments in which she had thought that that sufficed. But it had not sufficed, and instead of being borne down by grief at the loss of her friend, she found herself almost rejoicing at relief from a vexatious burden. Had she been a hypocrite then? Was it her nature to be false? After that she reflected whether it might not be best for her to become a devotee — it did not matter much in what branch of the Christian religion, so that she could assume some form of faith. The sour strictness of the confident Calvinist or the asceticism of St Francis might suit her equally — if she could only believe in Calvin or in St Francis. She had tried to believe in the Duke of Omnium, but there she had failed. There had been a saint at whose shrine she thought she could have worshipped with a constant and happy devotion, but that saint had repulsed her from his altar.

Mr Maule, Senior, not understanding much of all this, but still understanding something, thought that he might perhaps be the saint. He knew well that audacity in asking is a great merit in a middle-aged wooer. He was a good deal older than the lady, who, in spite of all her experiences, was hardly yet thirty. But then he was — he felt sure — very young for his age, whereas she was old. She was a widow; he was a widower. She had a house in town and an income. He had a place in the country and an estate. She knew all the dukes and duchesses, and he was a man of family. She could make him comfortably opulent. He could make her Mrs Maule of Maule Abbey. She, no doubt, was good-looking. Mr Maule, Senior, as he tied on his cravat, thought that even in that respect there was no great disparity between them. Considering his own age, Mr Maule, Senior, thought there was not perhaps a better-looking man than himself about Pall Mall. He was a little stiff in the joints and moved rather slowly, but what was wanting in suppleness was certainly made up in dignity.

He watched his opportunity, and called in Park Lane on the day after Madame Goesler’s return. There was already between them an amount of acquaintance which justified his calling, and, perhaps, there had been on the lady’s part something of that cordiality of manner which is wont to lead to intimate friendship. Mr Maule had made himself agreeable, and Madame Goesler had seemed to be grateful. He was admitted, and on such an occasion it was impossible not to begin the conversation about the “dear Duke’. Mr Maule could afford to talk about the Duke, and to lay aside for a short time his own cause, as he had not suggested to himself the possibility of becoming pressingly tender on his own behalf on this particular occasion. Audacity in wooing is a great virtue, but a man must measure even his virtues. “I heard that you had gone to Matching, as soon as the poor Duke was taken ill,” he said.

She was in mourning, and had never for a moment thought of denying the peculiarity of the position she had held in reference to the old man. She could not have been content to wear her ordinary coloured garments after sitting so long by the side of the dying man. A hired nurse may do so, but she had not been that. If there had been hypocrisy in her friendship the hypocrisy must be maintained to the end.

“Poor old man! I only came back yesterday.”

“I never had the pleasure of knowing His Grace,” said Mr Maule. “But I have always heard him named as a nobleman of whom England might well be proud.”

Madame Goesler was not at the moment inclined to tell lies on the matter, and did not think that England had much cause to be proud of the Duke of Omnium. “He was a man who held a very peculiar position,” she said.

“Most peculiar — a man of infinite wealth, and of that special dignity which I am sorry to say so many men of rank among us are throwing aside as a garment which is too much for them. We can all wear coats, but it is not everyone that can carry a robe. The Duke carried his to the last.” Madame Goesler remembered how he looked with his nightcap on, when he had lost his temper because they would not let him have a glass of curaçoa. “I don’t know that we have anyone left that can be said to be his equal,” continued Mr Maule.

“No one like him, perhaps. He was never married, you know.”

“But was once willing to marry,” said Mr Maule, “if all that we hear be true.” Madame Goesler, without a smile and equally without a frown, looked as though the meaning of Mr Maule’s words had escaped her. “A grand old gentleman! I don’t know that anybody will ever say as much for his heir.”

“The men are very different.”

“Very different indeed. I daresay that Mr Palliser, as Mr Palliser, has been a useful man. But so is a coal-heaver a useful man. The grace and beauty of life will be clean gone when we all become useful men.”

“I don’t think we are near that yet.”

“Upon my word, Madame Goesler, I am not so sure about it. Here are sons of noblemen going into trade on every side of us. We have earls dealing in butter, and marquises sending their peaches to market. There was nothing of that kind about the Duke. A great fortune had been entrusted to him, and he knew that it was his duty to spend it. He did spend it, and all the world looked up to him. It must have been a great pleasure to you to know him so well.”

Madame Goesler was saved the necessity of making any answer to this by the announcement of another visitor. The door was opened, and Phineas Finn entered the room. He had not seen Madame Goesler since they had been together at Harrington Hall, and had never before met Mr Maule. When riding home with the lady after their unsuccessful attempt to jump out of the wood, Phineas had promised to call in Park Lane whenever he should learn that Madame Goesler was not at Matching. Since that the Duke had died, and the bond with Matching no longer existed. It seemed but the other day that they were talking about the Duke together, and now the Duke was gone. “I see you are in mourning,” said Phineas, as he still held her hand. “I must say one word to condole with you for your lost friend.”

“Mr Maule and I were now speaking of him,” she said, as she introduced the two gentlemen. “Mr Finn and I had the pleasure of meeting your son at Harrington Hall a few weeks since, Mr Maule.”

“I heard that he had been there. Did you know the Duke, Mr Finn?”

“After the fashion in which such a one as I would know such a one as the Duke, I knew him. He probably had forgotten my existence.”

“He never forgot anyone,” said Madame Goesler.

“I don’t know that I was ever introduced to him,” continued Mr Maule, “and I shall always regret it. I was telling Madame Goesler how profound a reverence I had for the Duke’s character.” Phineas bowed, and Madame Goesler, who was becoming tired of the Duke as a subject of conversation, asked some question as to what had been going on in the House. Mr Maule, finding it to be improbable that he should be able to advance his cause on that occasion, took his leave. The moment he was gone Madame Goesler’s manner changed altogether. She left her former seat and came near to Phineas, sitting on a sofa close to the chair he occupied; and as she did so she pushed her hair back from her face in a manner that he remembered well in former days.

“I am so glad to see you,” she said. “Is it not odd that he should have gone so soon after what we were saying but the other day?”

“You thought then that he would not last long.”

“Long is comparative. I did not think he would be dead within six weeks, or I should not have been riding there. He was a burden to me, Mr Finn.”

“I can understand that.”

“And yet I shall miss him sorely. He had given all the colour to my life which it possessed. It was not very bright, but still it was colour.”

“The house will be open to you just the same.”

“I shall not go there, I shall see Lady Glencora in town, of course; but I shall not go to Matching; and as to Gatherum Castle, I would not spend another week there, if they would give it me. You haven’t heard of his will?”

“No — not a word. I hope he remembered you — to mention your name. You hardly wanted more.”

“Just so. I wanted no more than that.”

“It was made, perhaps, before you knew him.”

“He was always making it, and always altering it. He left me money, and jewels of enormous value.”

“I am so glad to hear it.”

“But I have refused to take anything. Am I not right?”

“I don’t know why you should refuse.”

“There are people who will say that — I was his mistress. If a woman be young, a man’s age never prevents such scandal. I don’t know that I can stop it, but I can perhaps make it seem to be less probable. And after all that has passed, I could not bear that the Pallisers should think that I clung to him for what I could get. I should be easier this way.”

“Whatever is best to be done, you will do it — I know that.”

“Your praise goes beyond the mark, my friend. I can be both generous and discreet — but the difficulty is to be true. I did take one thing — a black diamond that he always wore. I would show it you, but the goldsmith has it to make it fit me. When does the great affair come off at the House?”

“The bill will be read again on Monday, the first.”

“What an unfortunate day! — You remember young Mr Maule? Is he not like his father? And yet in manners they are as unlike as possible.”

“What is the father?” Phineas asked.

“A battered old beau about London, selfish and civil, pleasant and penniless, and I should think utterly without a principle. Come again soon. I am so anxious to hear that you are getting on. And you have got to tell me all about that shooting with the pistol.” Phineas as he walked away thought that Madame Goesler was handsomer even than she used to be.

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