Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 6

Phineas and his old Friends

Phineas Finn returned from Tankerville to London in much better spirits than those which had accompanied him on his journey thither. He was not elected; but then, before the election, he had come to believe that it was quite out of the question that he should be elected. And now he did think it probable that he should get the seat on a petition. A scrutiny used to be a very expensive business, but under the existing law, made as the scrutiny would be in the borough itself, it would cost but little; and that little, should he be successful, would fall on the shoulders of Mr Browborough. Should he knock off eight votes and lose none himself, he would be member for Tankerville. He knew that many votes had been given for Browborough which, if the truth were known of them, would be knocked off; and he did not know that the same could be said of anyone of those by which he had been supported. But, unfortunately, the judge by whom all this would be decided might not reach Tankerville in his travels till after Christmas, perhaps not till after Easter; and in the meantime, what should he do with himself?

As for going back to Dublin, that was now out of the question. He had entered upon a feverish state of existence in which it was impossible that he should live in Ireland. Should he ultimately fail in regard to his seat he must — vanish out of the world. While he remained in his present condition he would not even endeavour to think how he might in such case best bestow himself. For the present he would remain within the region of politics, and live as near as he could to the whirl of the wheel of which the sound was so dear to him. Of one club he had always remained a member, and he had already been re-elected a member of the Reform. So he took up his residence once more at the house of a certain Mr and Mrs Bunce, in Great Marlborough Street, with whom he had lodged when he first became a member of Parliament.

“So you’re at the old game, Mr Finn?” said his landlord.

“Yes; at the old game. I suppose it’s the same with you?” Now Mr Bunce had been a very violent politician, and used to rejoice in calling himself a Democrat.

“Pretty much the same, Mr Finn. I don’t see that things are much better than they used to be. They tell me at the People’s Banner office that the lords have had as much to do with this election as with any that ever went before it.”

“Perhaps they don’t know much about it at the People’s Banner office. I thought Mr Slide and the People’s Banner had gone over to the other side, Bunce?”

“Mr Slide is pretty wide-awake whatever side he’s on. Not but what he’s disgraced himself by what he’s been and done now.” Mr Slide in former days had been the editor of the People’s Banner, and circumstances had arisen in consequence of which there had been some acquaintance between him and our hero. “I see you was hammering away at the Church down at Tankerville.”

“I just said a word or two.”

“You was all right, there, Mr Finn. I can’t say as I ever saw very much in your religion; but what a man keeps in the way of religion for his own use is never nothing to me — as what I keeps is nothing to him.”

“I’m afraid you don’t keep much, Mr Bunce.”

“And that’s nothing to you, neither, is it, sir?”

“No, indeed.”

“But when we read of Churches as is called State Churches — Churches as have bishops you and I have to pay for, as never goes into them — “

“But we don’t pay the bishops, Mr Bunce.”

“Oh yes, we do; because, if they wasn’t paid, the money would come to us to do as we pleased with it. We proved all that when we pared them down a bit. What’s an Ecclesiastical Commission? Only another name for a box to put the money into till you want to take it out again. When we hear of Churches such as these, as is not kept up by the people who uses them — just as the theatres are, Mr Finn, or the gin shops — then I know there’s a deal more to be done before honest men can come by their own. You’re right enough, Mr Finn, you are, as far as churches go, and you was right, too, when you cut and run off the Treasury Bench. I hope you ain’t going to sit on that stool again.”

Mr Bunce was a privileged person, and Mrs Bunce made up for his apparent rudeness by her own affectionate cordiality. “Deary me, and isn’t it a thing for sore eyes to have you back again! I never expected this. But I’ll do for you, Mr Finn, just as I ever did in the old days; and it was I that was sorry when I heard of the poor young lady’s death; so I was, Mr Finn; well, then, I won’t mention her name never again. But after all there’s been betwixt you and us it wouldn’t be natural to pass it by without one word; would it, Mr Finn? Well, yes; he’s just the same man as ever, without a ha’porth of difference. He’s gone on paying that shilling to the Union every week of his life, just as he used to do; and never got so much out of it, not as a junketing into the country. That he didn’t. It makes me that sick sometimes when I think of where it’s gone to, that I don’t know how to bear it. Well, yes; that is true, Mr Finn. There never was a man better at bringing home his money to his wife than Bunce, barring that shilling. If he’d drink it, which he never does, I think I’d bear it better than give it to that nasty Union. And young Jack writes as well as his father, pretty nigh, Mr Finn, which is a comfort,” — Mr Bunce was a journeyman scrivener at a law stationer’s — “and keeps his self; but he don’t bring home his money, nor yet it can’t be expected, Mr Finn. I know what the young ‘uns will do, and what they won’t. And Mary Jane is quite handy about the house now — only she do break things, which is an aggravation; and the hot water shall be always up at eight o’clock to a minute, if I bring it with my own hand, Mr Finn.”

And so he was established once more in his old rooms in Great Marlborough Street; and as he sat back in the arm-chair, which he used to know so well, a hundred memories of former days crowded back upon him. Lord Chiltern for a few months had lived with him; and then there had arisen a quarrel, which he had for a time thought would dissolve his old life into ruin. Now Lord Chiltern was again his very intimate friend. And there had used to sit a needy money-lender whom he had been unable to banish. Alas! alas! how soon might he now require that money-lender’s services! And then he recollected how he had left these rooms to go into others, grander and more appropriate to his life when he had filled high office under the State. Would there ever again come to him such cause for migration? And would he again be able to load the frame of the looking-glass over the fire with countless cards from countesses and ministers’ wives? He had opened the oyster for himself once, though it had closed again with so sharp a snap when the point of his knife had been withdrawn. Would he be able to insert the point again between those two difficult shells? Would the countesses once more be kind to him? Would drawing-rooms be opened to him, and sometimes opened to him and to no other? Then he thought of certain special drawing-rooms in which wonderful things had been said to him. Since that he had been a married man, and those special drawing-rooms and those wonderful words had in no degree actuated him in his choice of a wife. He had left all those things of his own free will, as though telling himself that there was a better life than they offered to him. But was he sure that he had found it to be better? He had certainly sighed for the gauds which he had left. While his young wife was living he had kept his sighs down, so that she should not hear them; but he had been forced to acknowledge that his new life had been vapid and flavourless. Now he had been tempted back again to the old haunts. Would the countesses’ cards be showered upon him again?

One card, or rather note, had reached him while he was yet at Tankerville, reminding him of old days. It was from Mrs Low, the wife of the barrister with whom he had worked when he had been a law student in London. She had asked him to come and dine with them after the old fashion in Baker Street, naming a day as to which she presumed that he would by that time have finished his affairs at Tankerville, intimating also that Mr Low would then have finished his at North Broughton. Now Mr Low had sat for North Broughton before Phineas left London, and his wife spoke of the seat as a certainty. Phineas could not keep himself from feeling that Mrs Low intended to triumph over him; but, nevertheless, he accepted the invitation. They were very glad to see him, explaining that, as nobody was supposed to be in town, nobody had been asked to meet him. In former days he had been very intimate in that house, having received from both of them much kindness, mingled, perhaps, with some touch of severity on the part of the lady. But the ground for that was gone, and Mrs Low was no longer painfully severe. A few words were said as to his great loss. Mrs Low once raised her eyebrows in pretended surprise when Phineas explained that he had thrown up his place, and then they settled down on the question of the day. “And so”, said Mrs Low, “you’ve begun to attack the Church?” It must be remembered that at this moment Mr Daubeny had not as yet electrified the minds of East Barsetshire, and that, therefore, Mrs Low was not disturbed. To Mrs Low, Church and State was the very breath of her nostrils; and if her husband could not be said to live by means of the same atmosphere it was because the breath of his nostrils had been drawn chiefly in the Vice-Chancellor’s Court in Lincoln’s Inn. But he, no doubt, would be very much disturbed indeed should he ever be told that he was required, as an expectant member of Mr Daubeny’s party, to vote for the Disestablishment of the Church of England.

“You don’t mean that I am guilty of throwing the first stone?” said Phineas.

“They have been throwing stones at the Temple since first it was built,” said Mrs Low, with energy; “but they have fallen off its polished shafts in dust and fragments.” I am afraid that Mrs Low, when she allowed herself to speak thus energetically, entertained some confused idea that the Church of England and the Christian religion were one and the same thing, or, at least, that they had been brought into the world together.

“You haven’t thrown the first stone,” said Mr Low; “but you have taken up the throwing at the first moment in which stones may be dangerous.”

“No stones can be dangerous,” said Mrs Low.

“The idea of a State Church”, said Phineas, “is opposed to my theory of political progress. What I hope is that my friends will not suppose that I attack the Protestant Church because I am a Roman Catholic. If I were a priest it would be my business to do so; but I am not a priest.”

Mr Low gave his old friend a bottle of his best wine, and in all friendly observances treated him with due affection, But neither did he nor did his wife for a moment abstain from attacking their guest in respect to his speeches at Tankerville. It seemed, indeed, to Phineas that as Mrs Low was buckled up in such triple armour that she feared nothing, she might have been less loud in expressing her abhorrence of the enemies of the Church. If she feared nothing, why should she scream so loudly? Between the two he was a good deal crushed and confounded, and Mrs Low was very triumphant when she allowed him to escape from her hands at ten o’clock. But, at that moment, nothing had as yet been heard in Baker Street of Mr Daubeny’s proposition to the electors of East Barsetshire! Poor Mrs Low! We can foresee that there is much grief in store for her, and some rocks ahead, too, in the political career of her husband.

Phineas was still in London, hanging about the clubs, doing nothing, discussing Mr Daubeny’s wonderful treachery with such men as came up to town, and waiting for the meeting of Parliament, when he received the following letter from Lady Laura Kennedy:

Dresden, 18 November — MY DEAR MR FINN,

“I have heard with great pleasure from my sister-in-law that you have been staying with them at Harrington Hall. It seems so like old days that you and Oswald and Violet should be together — so much more natural than that you should be living in Dublin. I cannot conceive of you as living any other life than that of the House of Commons, Downing Street, and the clubs. Nor do I wish to do so. And when I hear of you at Harrington Hall I know that you are on your way to the other things.

“Do tell me what life is like with Oswald and Violet. Of course he never writes. He is one of those men who, on marrying, assume that they have at last got a person to do a duty which has always hitherto been neglected. Violet does write, but tells me little or nothing of themselves. Her letters are very nice, full of anecdote, well written — letters that are fit to be kept and printed; but they are never family letters. She is inimitable in discussing the miseries of her own position as the wife of a Master of Hounds; but the miseries are as evidently fictitious as the art is real. She told me how poor dear Lady Baldock communicated to you her unhappiness about her daughter in a manner that made even me laugh; and would make thousands laugh in days to come were it ever to be published. But of her inside life, of her baby, or of her husband as a husband, she never says a word. You will have seen it all, and have enough of the feminine side of a man’s character to be able to tell me how they are living. I am sure they are happy together, because Violet has more common sense than any woman I ever knew.

“And pray tell me about the affair at Tankerville. My cousin Barrington writes me word that you will certainly get the seat. He declares that Mr Browborough is almost disposed not to fight the battle, though a man more disposed to fight never bribed an elector. But Barrington seems to think that you managed as well as you did by getting outside the traces, as he calls it. We certainly did not think that you would come out strong against the Church. Don’t suppose that I complain. For myself I hate to think of the coming severance; but if it must come, why not by your hands as well as by any other? It is hardly possible that you in your heart should love a Protestant ascendant Church. But, as Barrington says, a horse won’t get oats unless he works steady between the traces.

“As to myself, what am I to say to you? I and my father live here a sad, sombre, solitary life, together. We have a large furnished house outside the town, with a pleasant view and a pretty garden. He does — nothing. He reads the English papers, and talks of English parties, is driven out, and eats his dinner, and sleeps. At home, as you know, not only did he take an active part in politics, but he was active also in the management of his own property. Now it seems to him to be almost too great a trouble to write a letter to his steward; and all this has come upon him because of me. He is here because he cannot bear that I should live alone. I have offered to return with him to Saulsby, thinking that Mr Kennedy would trouble me no further — or to remain here by myself; but he will consent to neither. In truth the burden of idleness has now fallen upon him so heavily that he cannot shake it off. He dreads that he may be called upon to do anything.

“To me it is all one tragedy. I cannot but think of things as they were two or three years since. My father and my husband were both in the Cabinet, and you, young as you were, stood but one step below it. Oswald was out in the cold. He was very poor. Papa thought all evil of him. Violet had refused him over and over again. He quarrelled with you, and all the world seemed against him. Then of a sudden you vanished, and we vanished. An ineffable misery fell upon me and upon my wretched husband. All our good things went from us at a blow. I and my poor father became as it were outcasts. But Oswald suddenly retricked his beams, and is flaming in the forehead of the morning sky. He, I believe, has no more than he had deserved. He won his wife honestly — did he not? And he has ever been honest. It is my pride to think I never gave him up. But the bitter part of my cup consists in this — that as he has won what he has deserved, so have we. I complain of no injustice. Our castle was built upon the sand. Why should Mr Kennedy have been a Cabinet Minister — and why should I have been his wife? There is no one else of whom I can ask that question as I can of you, and no one else who can answer it as you can do.

“Of Mr Kennedy it is singular how little I know, and how little I ever hear. There is no one whom I can ask to tell me of him. That he did not attend during the last Session I do know, and we presume that he has now abandoned his seat. I fear that his health is bad — or perhaps, worse still, that his mind is affected by the gloom of his life. I suppose that he lives exclusively at Loughlinter. From time to time I am implored by him to return to my duty beneath his roof. He grounds his demand on no affection of his own, on no presumption that any affection can remain with me. He says no word of happiness. He offers no comfort. He does not attempt to persuade with promises of future care. He makes his claim simply on Holy Writ, and on the feeling of duty which thence ought to weigh upon me. He has never even told me that he loves me; but he is persistent in declaring that those whom God has joined together nothing human should separate. Since I have been here I have written to him once — one sad, long, weary letter. Since that I am constrained to leave his letters unanswered.

“And now, my friend, could you not do for me a great kindness? For a while, till the inquiry be made at Tankerville, your time must be vacant. Cannot you come and see us? I have told Papa that I should ask you, and he would be delighted. I cannot explain to you what it would be to me to be able to talk again to one who knows all the errors and all the efforts of my past life as you do. Dresden is very cold in the winter. I do not know whether you would mind that. We are very particular about the rooms, but my father bears the temperature wonderfully well, though he complains. In March we move down south for a couple of months. Do come if you can.

“Most sincerely yours LAURA KENNEDY

“If you come, of course you will have yourself brought direct to us. If you can learn anything of Mr Kennedy’s life, and of his real condition, pray do. The faint rumours which reach me are painfully distressing.”

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