Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 37

The Conspiracy

On the morning following the great division Phineas was with his friend, Lord Cantrip, by eleven o’clock; and Lord Cantrip, when he had read the two letters in which were comprised the whole correspondence, made to our unhappy hero the following little speech. “I do not think that you can do anything. Indeed, I am sure that Mr Monk is quite right. I don’t quite see what it is that you wish to do. Privately — between our two selves — I do not hesitate to say that Mr Bonteen has intended to be ill-natured. I fancy that he is an ill-natured — or at any rate a jealous — man; and that he would be willing to run down a competitor in the race who had made his running after a fashion different from his own. Bonteen has been a useful man — a very useful man; and the more so perhaps because he has not entertained any high political theory of his own. You have chosen to do so — and undoubtedly when you and Monk left us, to our very great regret, you did scuttle the ship.”

“We had no intention of that kind.”

“Do not suppose that I blame you. That which was odious to the eyes of Mr Bonteen was to my thinking high and honourable conduct. I have known the same thing done by members of a Government perhaps half-a-dozen times, and the men by whom it has been done have been the best and noblest of our modern statesmen. There has generally been a hard contest in the man’s breast between loyalty to his party and strong personal convictions, the result of which has been an inability on the part of the struggler to give even a silent support to a measure which he has disapproved. That inability is no doubt troublesome at the time to the colleagues of the seceder, and constitutes an offence hardly to be pardoned by such gentlemen as Mr Bonteen.”

“For Mr Bonteen personally I care nothing.”

“But of course you must endure the ill-effects of his influence — be they what they may. When you seceded from our Government you looked for certain adverse consequences. If you did not, where was your self-sacrifice? That such men as Mr Bonteen should feel that you had scuttled the ship, and be unable to forgive you for doing so — that is exactly the evil which you knew you must face. You have to face it now, and surely you can do so without showing your teeth. Hereafter, when men more thoughtful than Mr Bonteen shall have come to acknowledge the high principle by which your conduct has been governed, you will receive your reward. I suppose Mr Daubeny must resign now.”

“Everybody says so.”

“I am by no means sure that he will. Any other Minister since Lord North’s time would have done so, with such a majority against him on a vital measure; but he is a man who delights in striking out some wonderful course for himself.”

“A prime minister so beaten surely can’t go on.”

“Not for long, one would think. And yet how are you to turn him out? It depends very much on a man’s power of endurance.”

“His colleagues will resign, I should think.”

“Probably — and then he must go. I should say that that will be the way in which the matter will settle itself. Good morning, Finn — and take my word for it, you had better not answer Mr Bonteen’s letter.”

Not a word had fallen from Lord Cantrip’s friendly lips as to the probability of Phineas being invited to join the future Government. An attempt had been made to console him with the hazy promise of some future reward — which however was to consist rather of the good opinion of good men than of anything tangible and useful. But even this would never come to him. What would good men know of him and of his self-sacrifice when he should have been driven out of the world by poverty, and forced probably to go to some New Zealand or back Canadian settlement to look for his bread? How easy, thought Phineas, must be the sacrifices of rich men, who can stay their time, and wait in perfect security for their rewards! But for such a one as he, truth to a principle was political annihilation. Two or three years ago he had done what he knew to be a noble thing — and now, because he had done that noble thing, he was to be regarded as unfit for that very employment for which he was peculiarly fitted. But Bonteen and Co. had not been his only enemies. His luck had been against him throughout. Mr Quintus Slide, with his People’s Banner, and the story of that wretched affair in Judd Street, had been as strong against him probably as Mr Bonteen’s ill-word. Then he thought of Lady Laura, and her love for him. His gratitude to Lady Laura was boundless. There was nothing he would not do for Lady Laura — were it in his power to do anything. But no circumstance in his career had been so unfortunate for him as this affection. A wretched charge had been made against him which, though wholly untrue, was as it were so strangely connected with the truth, that slanderers might not improbably be able almost to substantiate their calumnies. She would be in London soon, and he must devote himself to her service. But every act of friendship that he might do for her would be used as proof of the accusation that had been made against him. As he thought of all this he was walking towards Park Lane in order that he might call upon Madame Goesler according to his promise. As he went up to the drawing-room he met old Mr Maule coming down, and the two bowed to each other on the stairs. In the drawing-room, sitting with Madame Goesler, he found Mrs Bonteen. Now Mrs Bonteen was almost as odious to him as was her husband.

“Did you ever know anything more shameful, Mr Finn,” said Mrs Bonteen, “than the attack made upon Mr Bonteen the night before last?” Phineas could see a smile on Madame Goesler’s face as the question was asked — for she knew, and he knew that she knew, how great was the antipathy between him and the Bonteens.

“The attack was upon Mr Gresham, I thought,” said Phineas.

“Oh, yes; nominally. But of course everybody knows what was meant. Upon my word there is twice more jealousy among men than among women. Is there not, Madame Goesler?”

“I don’t think any man could be more jealous than I am myself,” said Madame Goesler.

“Then you’re fit to be a member of a Government, that’s all. I don’t suppose that there is a man in England has worked harder for his party than Mr Bonteen.”

“I don’t think there is,” said Phineas.

“Or made himself more useful in Parliament. As for work, only that his constitution is so strong, he would have killed himself.”

“He should take Thorley’s mixture — twice a day,” said Madame Goesler.

“Take! — he never has time to take anything. He breakfasts in his dressing-room, carries his lunch in his pocket, and dines with the division bell ringing him up between his fish and his mutton chop. Now he has got their decimal coinage in hand, and has not a moment to himself, even on Sundays!”

“He’ll be sure to go to Heaven for it — that’s one comfort.”

“And because they are absolutely obliged to make him Chancellor of the Exchequer — just as if he had not earned it — everybody is so jealous that they are ready to tear him to pieces!”

“Who is everybody?” asked Phineas.

“Oh! I know. It wasn’t only Sir Orlando Drought. Who told Sir Orlando? Never mind, Mr Finn.”

“I don’t in the least, Mrs Bonteen.”

“I should have thought you would have been so triumphant,” said Madame Goesler.

“Not in the least, Madame Goesler. Why should I be triumphant? Of course the position is very high — very high indeed. But it’s no more than what I have always expected. If a man give up his life to a pursuit he ought to succeed. As for ambition, I have less of it than any woman. Only I do hate jealousy, Mr Finn.” Then Mrs Bonteen took her leave, kissing her dear friend, Madame Goesler, and simply bowing to Phineas.

“What a detestable woman!” said Phineas.

“I know of old that you don’t love her.”

“I don’t believe that you love her a bit better than I do, and yet you kiss her.”

“Hardly that, Mr Finn. There has come up a fashion for ladies to pretend to be very loving, and so they put their faces together. Two hundred years ago ladies and gentlemen did the same thing with just as little regard for each other. Fashions change, you know.”

“That was a change for the worse, certainly, Madame Goesler.”

“It wasn’t of my doing. So you’ve had a great victory.”

“Yes — greater than we expected.”

“According to Mrs Bonteen, the chief result to the country will be that the taxes will be so very safe in her husband’s hands! I am sure she believes that all Parliament has been at work in order that he might be made a Cabinet Minister. I rather like her for it.”

“I don’t like her, or her husband.”

“I do like a woman that can thoroughly enjoy her husband’s success. When she is talking if this carrying about his food in his pocket she is completely happy. I don’t think Lady Glencora ever cared in the least about her husband being Chancellor of the Exchequer.”

“Because it added nothing to her own standing.”

“That’s very ill-natured, Mr Finn; and I find that you are becoming generally ill-natured. You used to be the best-humoured of men.”

“I hadn’t so much to try my temper as I have now, and then you must remember, Madame Goesler, that I regard these people as being especially my enemies.”

“Lady Glencora was never your enemy.”

“Nor my friend — especially.”

“Then you wrong her. If I tell you something you must be discreet.”

“Am I not always discreet?”

“She does not love Mr Bonteen. She has had too much of him at Matching. And as for his wife, she is quite as unwilling to be kissed by her as you can be. Her Grace is determined to fight your battle for you.”

“I want her to do nothing of the kind, Madame Goesler.”

“You will know nothing about it. We have put our heads to work, and Mr Palliser — that is, the new Duke — is to be made to tell Mr Gresham that you are to have a place. It is no good you being angry, for the thing is done. If you have enemies behind your back, you must have friends behind your back also. Lady Cantrip is to do the same thing.”

“For Heaven’s sake, not.”

“It’s all arranged. You’ll be called the ladies’ pet, but you mustn’t mind that. Lady Laura will be here before it’s arranged, and she will get hold of Mr Erle.”

“You are laughing at me, I know.”

“Let them laugh that win. We thought of besieging Lord Fawn through Lady Chiltern, but we are not sure that anybody cares for Lord Fawn. The man we specially want now is the other Duke. We’re afraid of attacking him through the Duchess because we think that he is inhumanly indifferent to anything that his wife says to him.”

“If that kind of thing is done I shall not accept place even if it is offered me.”

“Why not? Are you going to let a man like Mr Bonteen bowl you over? Did you ever know Lady Glen fail in anything that she attempted? She is preparing a secret with the express object of making Mr Ratler her confidant. Lord Mount Thistle is her slave, but then I fear Lord Mount Thistle is not of much use. She’ll do anything and everything — except flatter Mr Bonteen.”

“Heaven forbid that anybody should do that for my sake.”

“The truth is that he made himself so disagreeable at Matching that Lady Glen is broken-hearted at finding that he is to seem to owe his promotion to her husband’s favour. Now you know all about it.”

“You have been very wrong to tell me.”

“Perhaps I have, Mr Finn. But I thought it better that you should know that you have friends at work for you. We believe — or rather, the Duchess believes — that falsehoods have been used which are as disparaging to Lady Laura Kennedy as they are injurious to you, and she is determined to put it right. Someone has told Mr Gresham that you have been the means of breaking the hearts both of Lord Brentford and Mr Kennedy — two members of the late Cabinet — and he must be made to understand that this is untrue. If only for Lady Laura’s sake you must submit.”

“Lord Brentford and I are the best friends in the world.”

“And Mr Kennedy is a madman — absolutely in custody of his friends, as everybody knows; and yet the story has been made to work.”

“And you do not feel that all this is derogatory to me?”

Madame Goesler was silent for a moment, and then she answered boldly, “Not a whit. Why should it be derogatory? It is not done with the object of obtaining an improper appointment on behalf of an unimportant man. When falsehoods of that kind are told you can’t meet them in a straight-forward way. I suppose I know with fair accuracy the sort of connection there has been between you and Lady Laura.” Phineas very much doubted whether she had any such knowledge; but he said nothing, though the lady paused a few moments for reply. “You can’t go and tell Mr Gresham all that; nor can any friend do so on your behalf. It would be absurd.”

“Most absurd.”

“And yet it is essential to your interests that he should know it. When your enemies are undermining you, you must countermine or you’ll be blown up.”

“I’d rather fight above ground.”

“That’s all very well, but your enemies won’t stay above ground. Is that newspaper man above ground? And for a little job of clever mining, believe me, there is not a better engineer going than Lady Glen — not but what I’ve known her to be very nearly ““hoist with her own petard’”,” — added Madame Goesler, as she remembered a certain circumstance in their joint lives.

All that Madame Goesler said was true. A conspiracy had been formed, in the first place at the instance of Madame Goesler, but altogether by the influence of the young Duchess, for forcing upon the future Premier the necessity of admitting Phineas Finn into his Government. On the Wednesday following the conclusion of the debate — the day on the morning of which the division was to take place — there was no House. On the Thursday, the last day on which the House was to sit before the Easter holidays, Mr Daubeny announced his intention of postponing the declaration of his intentions till after the adjournment. The House would meet, he said, on that day week, and then he would make his official statement. This communication he made very curtly, and in a manner that was thought by some to be almost insolent to the House. It was known that he had been grievously disappointed by the result of the debate — not probably having expected a majority since his adversary’s strategy had been declared, but always hoping that the deserters from his own standard would be very few. The deserters had been very many, and Mr Daubeny was majestic in his wrath.

Nothing, however, could be done till after Easter. The Ratlers of the Liberal party were very angry at the delay, declaring that it would have been much to the advantage of the country at large that the vacation week should have been used for constructing a Liberal Cabinet. This work of construction always takes time, and delays the business of the country. No one can have known better than did Mr Daubeny how great was the injury of delay, and how advantageously the short holiday might have been used. With a majority of seventy-two against him, there could be no reason why he should not have at once resigned, and advised the Queen to send for Mr Gresham. Nothing could be worse than his conduct. So said the Liberals, thirsting for office. Mr Gresham himself did not open his mouth when the announcement was made — nor did any man, marked for future office, rise to denounce the beaten statesman. But one or two independent Members expressed their great regret at the unnecessary delay which was to take place before they were informed who was to be the Minister of the Crown. But Mr Daubeny, as soon as he had made his statement, stalked out of the House, and no reply whatever was made to the independent Members. Some few sublime and hot-headed gentlemen muttered the word “impeachment.” Others, who were more practical and less dignified, suggested that the Prime Minister “ought to have his head punched.”

It thus happened that all the world went out of town that week — so that the Duchess of Omnium was down at Matching when Phineas called at the Duke’s house in Carlton Terrace on Friday. With what object he had called he hardly knew himself; but he thought that he intended to assure the Duchess that he was not a candidate for office, and that he must deprecate her interference. Luckily — or unluckily — he did not see her, and he felt that it would be impossible to convey his wishes in a letter. The whole subject was one which would have defied him to find words sufficiently discreet for his object.

The Duke and Duchess Of St Bungay were at Matching for the Easter — as also was Barrington Erle, and also that dreadful Mr Bonteen, from whose presence the poor Duchess of Omnium could in these days never altogether deliver herself. “Duke,” she said, “you know Mr Finn?”

“Certainly. It was not very long ago that I was talking to him.”

“He used to be in office, you remember.”

“Oh yes — and a very good beginner he was. Is he a friend of Your Grace’s?”

“A great friend. I’ll tell you what I want you to do. You must have some place found for him.”

“My dear Duchess, I never interfere.”

“Why, Duke, you’ve made more Cabinets than any man living.”

“I fear, indeed, that I have been at the construction of more Governments than most men. It’s forty years ago since Lord Melbourne first did me the honour of consulting me. When asked for advice, my dear, I have very often given it. It has occasionally been my duty to say that I could not myself give my slender assistance to a Ministry unless I were supported by the presence of this or that political friend. But never in my life have I asked for an appointment as a personal favour; and I am sure you won’t be angry with me if I say that I cannot begin to do so now.”

“But Mr Finn ought to be there. He did so well before.”

“If so, let us presume that he will be there. I can only say, from what little I know of him, that I shall be happy to see him in any office to which the future Prime Minister may consider it to be his duty to appoint him.” “To think,” said the Duchess of Omnium afterwards to her friend Madame Goesler — “to think that I should have had that stupid old woman a week in the house, and all for nothing!”

“Upon my word, Duchess,” said Barrington Erle, “I don’t know why it is, but Gresham seems to have taken a dislike to him.”

“It’s Bonteen’s doing.”

“Very probably.”

“Surely you can get the better of that?”

“I look upon Phineas Finn, Duchess, almost as a child of my own. He has come back to Parliament altogether at my instigation.”

“Then you ought to help him.”

“And so I would if I could. Remember I am not the man I used to be when dear old Mr Mildmay reigned. The truth is, I never interfere now unless I’m asked.”

“I believe that everyone of you is afraid of Mr Gresham.”

“Perhaps we are.”

“I’ll tell you what. If he’s passed over I’ll make such a row that some of you shall hear it.”

“How fond all you women are of Phineas Finn.”

“I don’t care that for him,” said the Duchess, snapping her fingers — “more than I do, that is, for any other mere acquaintance. The man is very well, as most men are.”

“Not all.”

“No, not all. Some are as little and jealous as a girl in her tenth season. He is a decently good fellow, and he is to be thrown over, because — ”

“Because of what?”

“I don’t choose to name anyone. You ought to know all about it, and I do not doubt but you do. Lady Laura Kennedy is your own cousin.”

“There is not a spark of truth in all that.”

“Of course there is not; and yet he is to be punished. I know very well, Mr Erle, that if you choose to put your shoulder to the wheel you can manage it; and I shall expect to have it managed.”

“Plantagenet,” she said the next day to her husband, “I want you to do something for me.”

“To do something! What am I to do? It’s very seldom you want anything in my line.”

“This isn’t in your line at all, and yet I want you to do it.”

“Ten to one it’s beyond my means.”

“No, it isn’t. I know you can if you like. I suppose you are all sure to be in office within ten days or a fortnight?”

“I can’t say, my dear. I have promised Mr Gresham to be of use to him if I can.”

“Everybody knows all that. You’re going to be Privy Seal, and to work just the same as ever at those horrible two farthings.”

“And what is it you want, Glencora?”

“I want you to say that you won’t take any office unless you are allowed to bring in one or two friends with you.”

“Why should I do that? I shall not doubt any Cabinet chosen by Mr Gresham.”

“I’m not speaking of the Cabinet; I allude to men in lower offices, lords, and Under-Secretaries, and Vice-people. You know what I mean.”

“I never interfere.”

“But you must. Other men do continually. It’s quite a common thing for a man to insist that one or two others should come in with him.”

“Yes. If a man feels that he cannot sustain his own position without support, he declines to join the Government without it. But that isn’t my case. The friends who are necessary to me in the Cabinet are the very men who will certainly be there. I would join no Government without the Duke; but — ”

“Oh, the Duke — the Duke! I hate dukes — and duchesses too. I’m not talking about a duke. I want you to oblige me by making a point with Mr Gresham that Mr Finn shall have an office.”

“Mr Finn!”

“Yes, Mr Finn. I’ll explain it all if you wish it.”

“My dear Glencora, I never interfere.”

“Who does interfere? Everybody says the same. Somebody interferes, I suppose. Mr Gresham can’t know everybody so well as to be able to fit all the pegs into all the holes without saying a word to anybody.”

“He would probably speak to Mr Bonteen.”

“Then he would speak to a very disagreeable man, and one I’m as sick of as I ever was of any man I ever knew. If you can’t manage this for me, Plantagenet, I shall take it very ill. It’s a little thing, and I’m sure you could have it done. I don’t very often trouble you by asking for anything.”

The Duke in his quiet way was an affectionate man, and an indulgent husband. On the following morning he was closeted with Mr Bonteen, two private secretaries, and a leading clerk from the Treasury for four hours, during which they were endeavouring to ascertain whether the commercial world of Great Britain would be ruined or enriched if twelve pennies were declared to contain fifty farthings. The discussion had been grievously burdensome to the minds of the Duke’s assistants in it, but he himself had remembered his wife through it all. “By the way,” he said, whispering into Mr Bonteen’s private ear as he led that gentleman away to lunch, “if we do come in — ”

“Oh, we must come in.”

“If we do, I suppose something will be done for that Mr Finn. He spoke well the other night.”

Mr Bonteen’s face became very long. “He helped to upset the coach when he was with us before.”

“I don’t think that that is much against him.”

“Is he — a personal friend of Your Grace’s?”

“No — not particularly. I never care about such things for myself; but Lady Glencora — ”

“I think the Duchess can hardly know what has been his conduct to poor Kennedy. There was a most disreputable row at a public-house in London, and I am told that he behaved very badly.”

“I never heard a word about it,” said the Duke.

“I’ll tell you just the truth,” said Mr Bonteen. “I’ve been asked about him, and I’ve been obliged to say that he would weaken any Government that would give him office.”

“Oh, indeed!”

That evening the Duke told the Duchess nearly all that he had heard, and the Duchess swore that she wasn’t going to be beaten by Mr Bonteen.

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