Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 68

Phineas after the Trial

Ten days passed by, and Phineas Finn had not been out of his lodgings till after daylight, and then he only prowled about in the manner described in the last chapter. His sisters had returned to Ireland, and he saw no one, even in his own room, but two or three of his most intimate friends. Among those Mr Low and Lord Chiltern were the most frequently with him, but Fitzgibbon, Barrington Erle, and Mr Monk had also been admitted. People had called by the hundred, till Mrs Bunce was becoming almost tired of her lodger’s popularity; but they came only to inquire — because it had been reported that Mr Finn was not well after his imprisonment. The Duchess of Omnium had written to him various notes, asking when he would come to her, and what she could do for him. Would he dine, would he spend a quiet evening, would he go to Matching? Finally, would he become her guest and the Duke’s next September for the partridge shooting? They would have a few friends with them, and Madame Goesler would be one of the number. Having had this by him for a week, he had not as yet answered the invitation. He had received two or three notes from Lady Laura, who had frankly explained to him that if he were really ill she would of course go to him, but that as matters stood she could not do so without displeasing her brother. He had answered each note by an assurance that his first visit should be made in Portman Square. To Madame Goesler he had written a letter of thanks — a letter which had in truth cost him some pains. “I know”, he said, “for how much I have to thank you, but I do not know in what words to do it. I ought to be with you telling you in person of my gratitude; but I must own to you that for the present what has occurred has so unmanned me that I am unfit for the interview. I should only weep in your presence like a school-girl, and you would despise me.” It was a long letter, containing many references to the circumstances of the trial, and to his own condition of mind throughout its period. Her answer to him, which was very short, was as follows:

“ Park Lane, Sunday — MY DEAR MR FINN

I can well understand that for a while you should be too agitated by what has passed to see your friends. Remember, however, that you owe it to them as well as to yourself not to sink into seclusion. Send me a line when you think that you can come to me that I may be at home. My journey to Prague was nothing. You forget that I am constantly going to Vienna on business connected with my own property there. Prague lies but a few hours out of the route.

Most sincerely yours M . M . G .”

His friends who did see him urged him constantly to bestir himself, and Mr Monk pressed him very much to come down to the House. “Walk in with me tonight, and take your seat as though nothing had happened,” said Mr Monk.

“But so much has happened.”

“Nothing has happened to alter your outward position as a man. No doubt many will flock round you to congratulate you, and your first half-hour will be disagreeable; but then the thing will have been done. You owe it to your constituents to do so.” Then Phineas for the first time expressed an opinion that he would resign his seat — that he would take the Chiltern Hundreds, and retire altogether from public life.

“Pray do nothing of the kind,” said Mr Monk.

“I do not think you quite understand”, said Phineas, “how such an ordeal as this works upon a man, how it may change a man, and knock out of him what little strength there ever was there. I feel that I am broken, past any patching up or mending. Of course it ought not to be so. A man should be made of better stuff — but one is only what one is.”

“We’ll put off the discussion for another week,” said Mr Monk.

“There came a letter to me when I was in prison from one of the leading men in Tankerville, saying that I ought to resign. I know they all thought that I was guilty. I do not care to sit for a place where I was so judged — even if I was fit any longer for a seat in Parliament.” He had never felt convinced that Mr Monk had himself believed with confidence his innocence, and he spoke with soreness, and almost with anger.

“A letter from one individual should never be allowed to create interference between a member and his constituents. It should simply be answered to that effect, and then ignored. As to the belief of the townspeople in your innocence — what is to guide you? I believed you innocent with all my heart.”

“Did you?”

“But there was always sufficient possibility of your guilt to prevent a rational man from committing himself to the expression of an absolute conviction.” The young member’s brow became black as he heard this. “I can see that I offend you by saying so — but if you will think of it, I must be right. You were on your trial; and I as your friend was bound to await the result — with much confidence, because I knew you; but with no conviction, because both you and I are human and fallible. If the electors at Tankerville, or any great proportion of them, express a belief that you are unfit to represent them because of what has occurred, I shall be the last to recommend you to keep your seat — but I shall be surprised indeed if they should do so. If there were a general election tomorrow, I should regard your seat as one of the safest in England.”

Both Mr Low and Lord Chiltern were equally urgent with him to return to his usual mode of life — using different arguments for their purpose. Lord Chiltern told him plainly that he was weak and womanly — or rather that he would be were he to continue to dread the faces of his fellow-creatures. The Master of the Brake hounds himself was a man less gifted than Phineas Finn, and therefore hardly capable of understanding the exaggerated feelings of the man who had recently been tried for his life. Lord Chiltern was affectionate, tender-hearted, and true — but there were no vacillating fibres in his composition. The balance which regulated his conduct was firmly set, and went well. The clock never stopped, and wanted but little looking after. But the works were somewhat rough, and the seconds were not scored. He had, however, been quite true to Phineas during the dark time, and might now say what he pleased. “I am womanly,” said Phineas. “I begin to feel it. But I can’t alter my nature.”

“I never was so much surprised in my life,” said Lord Chiltern. “When I used to look at you in the dock, by heaven I envied you your pluck and strength.”

“I was burning up the stock of coals, Chiltern.”

“You’ll come all right after a few weeks. You’ve been knocked out of time — that’s the truth of it.”

Mr Low treated his patient with more indulgence; but he also was surprised, and hardly understood the nature of the derangement of the mechanism in the instrument which he was desirous of repairing. “I should go abroad for a few months if I were you,” said Mr Low.

“I should stick at the first inn I got to,” said Phineas. “I think I am better here. By and bye I shall travel, I dare say — all over the world, as far as my money will last. But for the present I am only fit to sit still.”

Mrs Low had seen him more than once, and had been very kind to him; but she also failed to understand. “I always thought that he was such a manly fellow,” she said to her husband.

“If you mean personal courage, there is no doubt that he possesses it — as completely now, probably, as ever.”

“Oh yes — he could go over to Flanders and let that lord shoot at him; and he could ride brutes of horses, and not care about breaking his neck. That’s not what I mean. I thought that he could face the world with dignity — but now it seems that he breaks down.”

“He has been very roughly used, my dear.”

“So he has — and tenderly used too. Nobody has had better friends. I thought he would have been more manly.”

The property of manliness in a man is a great possession, but perhaps there is none that is less understood — which is more generally accorded where it does not exist, or more frequently disallowed where it prevails. There are not many who ever make up their minds as to what constitutes manliness, or even inquire within themselves upon the subject. The woman’s error, occasioned by her natural desire for a master, leads her to look for a certain outward magnificence of demeanour, a pretended indifference to stings and little torments, a would-be superiority to the bread-and-butter side of life, an unreal assumption of personal grandeur. But a robe of State such as this — however well the garment may be worn with practice — can never be the raiment natural to a man; and men, dressing themselves in women’s eyes, have consented to walk about in buckram. A composure of the eye, which has been studied, a reticence as to the little things of life, a certain slowness of speech unless the occasion call for passion, an indifference to small surroundings, these — joined, of course, with personal bravery — are supposed to constitute manliness. That personal bravery is required in the composition of manliness must be conceded, though, of all the ingredients needed, it is the lowest in value. But the first requirement of all must be described by a negative. Manliness is not compatible with affectation. Women’s virtues, all feminine attributes, may be marred by affectation, but the virtues and the vice may co-exist. An affected man, too, may be honest, may be generous, may be pious — but surely he cannot be manly. The self-conscious assumption of any outward manner, the striving to add — even though it be but a tenth of a cubit to the height — is fatal, and will at once banish the all but divine attribute. Before the man can be manly, the gifts which make him so must be there, collected by him slowly, unconsciously, as are his bones, his flesh, and his blood. They cannot be put on like a garment for the nonce — as may a little learning. A man cannot become faithful to his friends, unsuspicious before the world, gentle with women, loving with children, considerate to his inferiors, kindly with servants, tender-hearted with all — and at the same time be frank, of open speech, with springing eager energies — simply because he desires it. These things, which are the attributes of manliness, must come of training on a nature not ignoble. But they are the very opposites, the antipodes, the direct antagonism, of that staring, posed, bewhiskered and bewigged deportment, that nil admirari, self-remembering assumption of manliness, that endeavour of twopence halfpenny to look as high as threepence, which, when you prod it through, has in it nothing deeper than deportment. We see the two things daily, side by side, close to each other. Let a man put his hat down, and you shall say whether he has deposited it with affectation or true nature. The natural man will probably be manly. The affected man cannot be so.

Mrs Low was wrong when she accused our hero of being unmanly. Had his imagination been less alert in looking into the minds of men, and in picturing to himself the thoughts of others in reference to the crime with which he had been charged, he would not now have shrunk from contact with his fellow-creatures as he did. But he could not pretend to be other than he was. During the period of his danger, when men had thought that he would be hung — and when he himself had believed that it would be so — he had borne himself bravely without any conscious effort. When he had confronted the whole Court with that steady courage which had excited Lord Chiltern’s admiration, and had looked the Bench in the face as though he at least had no cause to quail, he had known nothing of what he was doing. His features had answered the helm from his heart, but had not been played upon by his intellect. And it was so with him now. The reaction had overcome him, and he could not bring himself to pretend that it was not so. The tears would come to his eyes, and he would shiver and shake like one struck by palsy.

Mr Monk came to him often, and was all but forgiven for the apparent defection in his faith. “I have made up my mind to one thing,” Phineas said to him at the end of the ten days.

“And what is the one thing?”

“I will give up my seat.”

“I do not see a shadow of a reason for it.”

“Nevertheless I will do it. Indeed, I have already written to Mr Ratler for the Hundreds. There may be and probably are men down at Tankerville who still think that I am guilty. There is an offensiveness in murder which degrades a man even by the accusation. I suppose it wouldn’t do for you to move for the new writ.”

“Ratler will do it, as a matter of course. No doubt there will be expressions of great regret, and my belief is that they will return you again.”

“If so, they’ll have to do it without my presence.”

Mr Ratler did move for a new writ for the borough of Tankerville, and within a fortnight of his restoration to liberty Phineas Finn was no longer a Member of Parliament. It cannot be alleged that there was any reason for what he did, and yet the doing of it for the time rather increased than diminished his popularity. Both Mr Gresham and Mr Daubeny expressed their regret in the House, and Mr Monk said a few words respecting his friend, which were very touching. He ended by expressing a hope that they soon might see him there again, and an opinion that he was a man peculiarly fitted by the tone of his mind, and the nature of his intellect, for the duties of Parliament.

Then at last, when all this had been settled, he went to Lord Brentford’s house in Portman Square. He had promised that that should be the first house he would visit, and he was as good as his word. One evening he crept out, and walked slowly along Oxford Street, and knocked timidly at the door. As he did so he longed to be told that Lady Laura was not at home. But Lady Laura was at home — as a matter of course. In those days she never went into society, and had not passed an evening away from her father’s house since Mr Kennedy’s death. He was shown up into the drawing-room in which she sat, and there he found her — alone. “Oh, Phineas, I am so glad you have come.”

“I have done as I said, you see.”

“I could not go to you when they told me that you were ill. You will have understood all that?”

“Yes; I understand.”

“People are so hard, and cold, and stiff, and cruel, that one can never do what one feels, oneself, to be right. So you have given up your seat.”

“Yes — I am no longer a Member of Parliament.”

“Barrington says that they will certainly re-elect you.”

“We shall see. You may be sure at any rate of this — that I shall never ask them to do so. Things seem to be so different now from what they did. I don’t care for the seat. It all seems to be a bore and a trouble. What does it matter who sits in Parliament? The fight goes on just the same. The same falsehoods are acted. The same mock truths are spoken. The same wrong reasons are given. The same personal motives are at work.”

“And yet, of all believers in Parliament, you used to be the most faithful.”

“One has time to think of things, Lady Laura, when one lies in Newgate. It seems to me to be an eternity of time since they locked me up. And as for that trial, which they tell me lasted a week, I look back at it till the beginning is so distant that I can hardly remember it. But I have resolved that I will never talk of it again. Lady Chiltern is out probably.”

“Yes — she and Oswald are dining with the Baldocks.”

“She is well?”

“Yes — and most anxious to see you. Will you go to their place in September?”

He had almost made up his mind that if he went anywhere in September he would go to Matching Priory, accepting the offer of the Duchess of Omnium; but he did not dare to say so to Lady Laura, because she would have known that Madame Goesler also would be there. And he had not as yet accepted the invitation, and was still in doubt whether he would not escape by himself instead of attempting to return into the grooves of society. “I think not — I am hardly as yet sufficiently master of myself to know what I shall do.”

“They will be much disappointed.”

“And you? — what will you do?”

“I shall not go there. I am told that I ought to visit Loughlinter, and I suppose I shall. Oswald has promised to go down with me before the end of the month, but he will not remain above a day or two.”

“And your father?”

“We shall leave him at Saulsby. I cannot look it all in the face yet. It is not possible that I should remain all alone in that great house. The people all around would hate and despise me. I think Violet will come down with me, but of course she cannot remain there. Oswald must go to Harrington because of the hunting. It has become the business of his life. And she must go with him.”

“You will return to Saulsby.”

“I cannot say. They seem to think that I should live at Loughlinter — but I cannot live there alone.”

He soon took leave of her, and did so with no warmer expressions of regard on either side than have here been given. Then he crept back to his lodgings, and she sat weeping alone in her father’s house. When he had come to her during her husband’s lifetime at Dresden, or even when she had visited him at his prison, it had been better than this.

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