Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 32

The World becomes cold

A great deal was said by very many persons in London as to the murderous attack which had been made by Mr Kennedy on Phineas Finn in Judd Street, but the advice given by Mr Slide in the People’s Banner to the police was not taken. No public or official inquiry was made into the circumstance. Mr Kennedy, under the care of his cousin, retreated to Scotland; and, as it seemed, there was to be an end of it. Throughout the month of March various smaller bolts were thrust both at Phineas and at the police by the editor of the above-named newspaper, but they seemed to fall without much effect. No one was put in prison; nor was anyone ever examined. But, nevertheless, these missiles had their effect. Everybody knew that there had been a “row” between Mr Kennedy and Phineas Finn, and that the “row” had been made about Mr Kennedy’s wife. Everybody knew that a pistol had been fired at Finn’s head; and a great many people thought that there had been some cause for the assault. It was alleged at one club that the present member for Tankerville had spent the greater part of the last two years at Dresden, and at another that he had called on Mr Kennedy twice, once down in Scotland, and once at the hotel in Judd Street, with a view of inducing that gentleman to concede to a divorce. There was also a very romantic story afloat as to an engagement which had existed between Lady Laura and Phineas Finn before the lady had been induced by her father to marry the richer suitor. Various details were given in corroboration of these stories. Was it not known that the Earl had purchased the submission of Phineas Finn by a seat for his borough of Loughton? Was it not known that Lord Chiltern, the brother of Lady Laura, had fought a duel with Phineas Finn? Was it not known that Mr Kennedy himself had been as it were coerced into quiescence by the singular fact that he had been saved from garotters in the street by the opportune interference of Phineas Finn? It was even suggested that the scene with the garotters had been cunningly planned by Phineas Finn, that he might in this way be able to restrain the anger of the husband of the lady whom he loved. All these stories were very pretty; but as the reader, it is hoped, knows, they were all untrue. Phineas had made but one short visit to Dresden in his life. Lady Laura had been engaged to Mr Kennedy before Phineas had ever spoken to her of his love. The duel with Lord Chiltern had been about another lady, and the seat at Loughton had been conferred upon Phineas chiefly on account of his prowess in extricating Mr Kennedy from the garotters — respecting which circumstance it may be said that as the meeting in the street was fortuitous, the reward was greater than the occasion seemed to require.

While all these things were being said Phineas became something of a hero. A man who is supposed to have caused a disturbance between two married people, in a certain rank of life, does generally receive a certain need of admiration. A man who was asked out to dinner twice a week before such rumours were afloat, would probably receive double that number of invitations afterwards. And then to have been shot at by a madman in a room, and to be the subject of the venom of a People’s Banner, tends also to Fame. Other ladies besides Madame Goesler were anxious to have the story from the very lips of the hero, and in this way Phineas Finn became a conspicuous man. But Fame begets envy, and there were some who said that the member for Tankerville had injured his prospects with his party. It may be very well to give a dinner to a man who has caused the wife of a late Cabinet Minister to quarrel with her husband; but it can hardly be expected that he should be placed in office by the head of the party to which that late Cabinet Minister belonged. “I never saw such a fellow as you are,” said Barrington Erle to him. “You are always getting into a mess.”

“Nobody ought to know better than you how false all these calumnies are.” This he said because Erle and Lady Laura were cousins.

“Of course they are calumnies; but you had heard them before, and what made you go poking your head into the lion’s mouth?”

Mr Bonteen was very much harder upon him than was Barrington Erle. “I never liked him from the first, and always knew he would not run straight. No Irishman ever does.” This was said to Viscount Fawn, a distinguished member of the Liberal party, who had but lately been married, and was known to have very strict notions as to the bonds of matrimony. He had been heard to say that any man who had interfered with the happiness of a married couple should be held to have committed a capital offence.

“I don’t know whether the story about Lady Laura is true.”

“Of course it’s true. All the world knows it to be true. He was always there; at Loughlinter, and at Saulsby, and in Portman Square after she had left her husband. The mischief he has done is incalculable. There’s a Conservative sitting in poor Kennedy’s seat for Dunross-shire.”

“That might have been the case anyway.”

“Nothing could have turned Kennedy out. Don’t you remember how he behaved about the Irish Land Question? I hate such fellows.”

“If I thought it true about Lady Laura — ”

Lord Fawn was again about to express his opinion in regard to matrimony, but Mr Bonteen was too impetuous to listen to him. “It’s out of the question that he should come in again. At any rate if he does, I won’t. I shall tell Gresham so very plainly. The women will do all that they can for him. They always do for a fellow of that kind.”

Phineas heard of it — not exactly by any repetition of the words that were spoken, but by chance phrases, and from the looks of men. Lord Cantrip, who was his best friend among those who were certain to hold high office in a Liberal Government, did not talk to him cheerily — did not speak as though he, Phineas, would as a matter of course have some place assigned to him. And he thought that Mr Gresham was hardly as cordial to him as he might be when they met in the closer intercourse of the House. There was always a word or two spoken, and sometimes a shaking of hands. He had no right to complain. But yet he knew that something was wanting. We can generally read a man’s purpose towards us in his manner, if his purposes are of much moment to us.

Phineas had written to Lady Laura, giving her an account of the occurrence in Judd Street on the 1st of March, and had received from her a short answer by return of post. It contained hardly more than a thanksgiving that his life had not been sacrificed, and in a day or two she had written again, letting him know that she had determined to consult her father. Then on the last day of the month he received the following letter:

“ Dresden, 27th March, 18 — MY DEAR FRIEND,

At last we have resolved that we will go back to England — almost at once. Things have gone so rapidly that I hardly know how to explain them all, but that is Papa’s resolution. His lawyer, Mr Forster, tells him that it will be best, and goes so far as to say that it is imperative on my behalf that some steps should be taken to put an end to the present state of things. I will not scruple to tell you that he is actuated chiefly by considerations as to money. It is astonishing to me that a man who has all his life been so liberal should now in his old age think so much about it. It is, however, in no degree for himself. It is all for me. He cannot bear to think that my fortune should be withheld from me by Mr Kennedy while I have done nothing wrong. I was obliged to show him your letter, and what you said about the control of money took hold of his mind at once. He thinks that if my unfortunate husband be insane, there can be no difficulty in my obtaining a separation on terms which would oblige him or his friends to restore this horrid money.

“Of course I could stay if I chose. Papa would not refuse to find a home for me here. But I do agree with Mr Forster that something should be done to stop the tongues of ill-conditioned people. The idea of having my name dragged through the newspapers is dreadful to me; but if this must be done one way or the other, it will be better that it should be done with truth. There is nothing that I need fear — as you know so well.

“I cannot look forward to happiness anywhere. If the question of separation were once settled, I do not know whether I would not prefer returning here to remaining in London. Papa has got tired of the place, and wants, he says, to see Saulsby once again before he dies. What can I say in answer to this, but that I will go? We have sent to have the house in Portman Square got ready for us, and I suppose we shall be there about the 15th of next month. Papa has instructed Mr Forster to tell Mr Kennedy’s lawyer that we are coming, and he is to find out, if he can, whether any interference in the management of the property has been as yet made by the family. Perhaps I ought to tell you that Mr Forster has expressed surprise that you did not call on the police when the shot was fired. Of course I can understand it all. God bless you.

“Your affectionate friend, “L. K.”

Phineas was obliged to console himself by reflecting that if she understood him of course that was everything. His first and great duty in the matter had been to her. If in performing that duty he had sacrificed himself, he must bear his undeserved punishment like a man. That he was to be punished he began to perceive too clearly. The conviction that Mr Daubeny must recede from the Treasury Bench after the coming debate became every day stronger, and within the little inner circles of the Liberal party the usual discussions were made as to the Ministry which Mr Gresham would, as a matter of course, be called upon to form. But in these discussions Phineas Finn did not find himself taking an assured and comfortable part. Laurence Fitzgibbon, his countryman — who in the way of work had never been worth his salt — was eager, happy, and without a doubt. Others of the old stagers, men who had been going in and out ever since they had been able to get seats in Parliament, stood about in clubs, and in lobbies, and chambers of the House, with all that busy, magpie air which is worn only by those who have high hopes of good things to come speedily. Lord Mount Thistle was more sublime and ponderous than ever, though they who best understood the party declared that he would never again be invited to undergo the cares of office. His lordship was one of those terrible political burdens, engendered originally by private friendship or family considerations, which one Minister leaves to another. Sir Gregory Grogram, the great Whig lawyer, showed plainly by his manner that he thought himself at last secure of reaching the reward for which he had been struggling all his life; for it was understood by all men who knew anything that Lord Weazeling was not to be asked again to sit on the Woolsack. No better advocate or effective politician ever lived; but it was supposed that he lacked dignity for the office of first judge in the land. That most of the old lot would come back was a matter of course.

There would be the Duke — the Duke of St Bungay, who had for years past been “the Duke” when Liberal administrations were discussed, and the same Duke, whom we know so well; and Sir Harry Coldfoot, and Legge Wilson, Lord Cantrip, Lord Thrift, and the rest of them. There would of course be Lord Fawn, Mr Ratler, and Mr Erle. The thing was so thoroughly settled that one was almost tempted to think that the Prime Minister himself would have no voice in the selections to be made. As to one office it was acknowledged on all sides that a doubt existed which would at last be found to be very injurious — as some thought altogether crushing — to the party. To whom would Mr Gresham entrust the financial affairs of the country? Who would be the new Chancellor of the Exchequer? There were not a few who inferred that Mr Bonteen would be promoted to that high office. During the last two years he had devoted himself to decimal coinage with a zeal only second to that displayed by Plantagenet Palliser, and was accustomed to say of himself that he had almost perished under his exertions. It was supposed that he would have the support of the present Duke of Omnium — and that Mr Gresham, who disliked the man, would be coerced by the fact that there was no other competitor. That Mr Bonteen should go into the Cabinet would be gall and wormwood to many brother Liberals; but gall and wormwood such as this have to be swallowed. The rising in life of our familiar friends is, perhaps, the bitterest morsel of the bitter bread which we are called upon to eat in life. But we do eat it; and after a while it becomes food to us — when we find ourselves able to use, on behalf, perhaps, of our children, the influence of those whom we had once hoped to leave behind in the race of life. When a man suddenly shoots up into power few suffer from it very acutely. The rise of a Pitt can have caused no heart-burning. But Mr Bonteen had been a hack among the hacks, had filled the usual half-dozen places, had been a junior Lord, a Vice-President, a Deputy Controller, a Chief Commissioner, and a Joint Secretary. His hopes had been raised or abased among the places of oe1,000, oe1,200, or oe1,500 a year. He had hitherto culminated at oe2,000, and had been supposed with diligence to have worked himself up to the top of the ladder, as far as the ladder was accessible to him. And now he was spoken of in connection with one of the highest offices of the State! Of course this created much uneasiness, and gave rise to many prophecies of failure. But in the midst of it all no office was assigned to Phineas Finn; and there was a general feeling, not expressed, but understood, that his affair with Mr Kennedy stood in his way.

Quintus Slide had undertaken to crush him! Could it be possible that so mean a man should be able to make good so monstrous a threat? The man was very mean, and the threat had been absurd as well as monstrous; and yet it seemed that it might be realised. Phineas was too proud to ask questions, even of Barrington Erle, but he felt that he was being “left out in the cold”, because the editor of the People’s Banner had said that no government could employ him; and at this moment, on the very morning of the day which was to usher in the great debate, which was to be so fatal to Mr Daubeny and his Church Reform, another thunderbolt was hurled. The “we” of the People’s Banner had learned that the very painful matter, to which they had been compelled by a sense of duty to call the public attention in reference to the late member for Dunross-shire and the present member for Tankerville, would be brought before one of the tribunals of the country, in reference to the matrimonial differences between Mr Kennedy and his wife. It would be in the remembrance of their readers that the unfortunate gentleman had been provoked to fire a pistol at the head of the member for Tankerville — a circumstance which, though publicly known, had never been brought under the notice of the police. There was reason to hope that the mystery might now be cleared up, and that the ends of justice would demand that a certain document should be produced, which they — the “we’ — had been vexatiously restrained from giving to their readers, although it had been most carefully prepared for publication in the columns of the People’s Banner . Then the thunderbolt went on to say that there was evidently a great move among the members of the so-called Liberal party, who seemed to think that it was only necessary that they should open their mouths wide enough in order that the sweets of office should fall into them. The “we” were quite of a different opinion. The “we” believed that no Minister for many a long day had been so firmly fixed on the Treasury Bench as was Mr Daubeny at the present moment. But this at any rate might be inferred — that should Mr Gresham by any unhappy combination of circumstances be called upon to form a Ministry, it would be quite impossible for him to include within it the name of the member for Tankerville. This was the second great thunderbolt that fell — and so did the work of crushing our poor friend proceed.

There was a great injustice in all this; at least so Phineas thought — injustice, not only from the hands of Mr Slide, who was unjust as a matter of course, but also from those who ought to have been his staunch friends. He had been enticed over to England almost with a promise of office, and he was sure that he had done nothing which deserved punishment, or even censure. He could not condescend to complain — nor indeed as yet could he say that there was ground for complaint. Nothing had been done to him. Not a word had been spoken — except those lying words in the newspapers which he was too proud to notice. On one matter, however, he was determined to be firm. When Barrington Erle had absolutely insisted that he should vote upon the Church Bill in opposition to all that he had said upon the subject at Tankerville, he had stipulated that he should have an opportunity in the great debate which would certainly take place of explaining his conduct — or, in other words, that the privilege of making a speech should be accorded to him at a time in which very many members would no doubt attempt to speak and would attempt in vain. It may be imagined — probably still is imagined by a great many — that no such pledge as this could be given, that the right to speak depends simply on the Speaker’s eye, and that energy at the moment in attracting attention would alone be of account to an eager orator. But Phineas knew the House too well to trust to such a theory. That some preliminary assistance would be given to the travelling of the Speaker’s eye, in so important a debate, he knew very well; and he knew also that a promise from Barrington Erle or from Mr Ratler would be his best security. “That will be all right, of course,” said Barrington Erle to him on the evening the day before the debate: “We have quite counted on your speaking.” There had been a certain sullenness in the tone with which Phineas had asked his question as though he had been labouring under a grievance, and he felt himself rebuked by the cordiality of the reply. “I suppose we had better fix it for Monday or Tuesday,” said the other. “We hope to get it over by Tuesday, but there is no knowing. At any rate you shan’t be thrown over.” It was almost on his tongue — the entire story of his grievance, the expression of his feeling that he was not being treated as one of the chosen; but he restrained himself. He liked Barrington Erle well enough, but not so well as to justify him in asking for sympathy.

Nor had it been his wont in any of the troubles of his life to ask for sympathy from a man. He had always gone to some woman — in old days to Lady Laura, or to Violet Effingham, or to Madame Goesler. By them he could endure to be petted, praised, or upon occasion even pitied. But pity or praise from any man had been distasteful to him. On the morning of the 1st of April he again went to Park Lane, not with any formed plan of telling the lady of his wrongs, but driven by a feeling that he wanted comfort, which might perhaps be found there. The lady received him very kindly, and at once inquired as to the great political tournament which was about to be commenced. “Yes; we begin today,” said Phineas. “Mr Daubeny will speak, I should say, from half-past four till seven. I wonder you don’t go and hear him.”

“What a pleasure! To hear a man speak for two hours and a half about the Church of England. One must be very hard driven for amusement! Will you tell me that you like it?”

“I like to hear a good speech.”

“But you have the excitement before you of making a good speech in answer. You are in the fight. A poor woman, shut up in a cage, feels there more acutely than anywhere else how insignificant a position she fills in the world.”

“You don’t advocate the rights of women, Madame Goesler?”

“Oh, no. Knowing our inferiority I submit without a grumble; but I am not sure that I care to go and listen to the squabbles of my masters. You may arrange it all among you, and I will accept what you do, whether it be good or bad — as I must; but I cannot take so much interest in the proceeding as to spend my time in listening where I cannot speak, and in looking when I cannot be seen. You will speak?”

“Yes; I think so.”

“I shall read your speech, which is more than I shall do for most of the others. And when it is all over, will your turn come?”

“Not mine individually, Madame Goesler.”

“But it will be yours individually — will it not?” she asked with energy. Then gradually, with half-pronounced sentences, he explained to her that even in the event of the formation of a Liberal Government, he did not expect that any place would be offered to him. “And why not? We have been all speaking of it as a certainty.”

He longed to inquire who were the all of whom she spoke, but he could not do it without an egotism which would be distasteful to him. “I can hardly tell — but I don’t think I shall be asked to join them.”

“You would wish it?”

“Yes — talking to you I do not see why I should hesitate to say so.”

“Talking to me, why should you hesitate to say anything about yourself that is true? I can hold my tongue. I do not gossip about my friends. Whose doing is it?”

“I do not know that it is any man’s doing.”

“But it must be. Everybody said that you were to be one of them if you could get the other people out. Is it Mr Bonteen?”

“Likely enough. Not that I know anything of the kind; but as I hate him from the bottom of my heart, it is natural to suppose that he has the same feeling in regard to me.”

“I agree with you there.”

“But I don’t know that it comes from any feeling of that kind.”

“What does it come from?”

“You have heard all the calumny about Lady Laura Kennedy.”

“You do not mean to say that a story such as that has affected your position.”

“I fancy it has. But you must not suppose, Madame Goesler, that I mean to complain. A man must take these things as they come. No one has received more kindness from friends than I have, and few perhaps more favours from fortune. All this about Mr Kennedy has been unlucky — but it cannot be helped.”

“Do you mean to say that the morals of your party will be offended?” said Madame Goesler, almost laughing.

“Lord Fawn, you know, is very particular. In sober earnest one cannot tell how these things operate; but they do operate gradually. One’s friends are sometimes very glad of an excuse for not befriending one.”

“Lady Laura is coming home?”

“Yes.”

“That will put an end to it.”

“There is nothing to put an end to except the foul-mouthed malice of a lying newspaper. Nobody believes anything against Lady Laura.”

“I’m not so sure of that. I believe nothing against her.”

“I’m sure you do not, Madame Goesler. Nor do I think that anybody does. It is too absurd for belief from beginning to end. Goodbye. Perhaps I shall see you when the debate is over.”

“Of course you will. Goodbye, and success to your oratory.” Then Madame Goesler resolved that she would say a few judicious words to her friend, the Duchess, respecting Phineas Finn.

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