Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 71

Phineas Finn is re-elected

The manner in which Phineas Finn was returned a second time for the borough of Tankerville was memorable among the annals of English elections. When the news reached the town that their member was to be tried for murder no doubt every elector believed that he was guilty. It is the natural assumption when the police and magistrates and lawyers, who have been at work upon the matter carefully, have come to that conclusion, and nothing but private knowledge or personal affection will stand against such evidence. At Tankerville there was nothing of either, and our hero’s guilt was taken as a certainty. There was an interest felt in the whole matter which was full of excitement and not altogether without delight to the Tankervillians. Of course the borough, as a borough, would never again hold up its head. There had never been known such an occurrence in the whole history of this country as the hanging of a member of the House of Commons. And this Member of Parliament was to be hung for murdering another member, which, no doubt, added much to the importance of the transaction. A large party in the borough declared that it was a judgment. Tankerville had degraded itself among boroughs by sending a Roman Catholic to Parliament, and had done so at the very moment in which the Church of England was being brought into danger. This was what had come upon the borough by not sticking to honest Mr Browborough! There was a moment, just before the trial was begun — in which a large proportion of the electors was desirous of proceeding to work at once, and of sending Mr Browborough back to his own place. It was thought that Phineas Finn should be made to resign. And very wise men in Tankerville were much surprised when they were told that a member of Parliament cannot resign his seat — that when once returned he is supposed to be, as long as that Parliament shall endure, the absolute slave of his constituency and his country, and that he can escape from his servitude only by accepting some office under the Crown. Now it was held to be impossible that a man charged with murder should be appointed even to the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds. The House, no doubt, could expel a member, and would, as a matter of course, expel the member for Tankerville — but the House could hardly proceed to expulsion before the member’s guilt could have been absolutely established. So it came to pass that there was no escape for the borough from any part of the disgrace to which it had subjected itself by its unworthy choice, and some Tankervillians of sensitive minds were of opinion that no Tankervillian ever again ought to take part in politics.

Then, quite suddenly, there came into the borough the tidings that Phineas Finn was an innocent man. This happened on the morning on which the three telegrams from Prague reached London. The news conveyed by the telegrams was at Tankerville almost as soon as in the Court at the Old Bailey, and was believed as readily. The name of the lady who had travelled all the way to Bohemia on behalf of their handsome young member was on the tongue of every woman in Tankerville, and a most delightful romance was composed. Some few Protestant spirits regretted the now assured escape of their Roman Catholic enemy, and would not even yet allow themselves to doubt that the whole murder had been arranged by Divine Providence to bring down the scarlet woman. It seemed to them to be so fitting a thing that Providence should interfere directly to punish a town in which the sins of the scarlet woman were not held to be abominable! But the multitude were soon convinced that their member was innocent; and as it was certain that he had been in great peril — as it was known that he was still in durance, and as it was necessary that the trial should proceed, and that he should still stand at least for another day in the dock — he became more than ever a hero. Then came the further delay, and at last the triumphant conclusion of the trial. When acquitted, Phineas Finn was still member for Tankerville and might have walked into the House on that very night. Instead of doing so he had at once asked for the accustomed means of escape from his servitude, and the seat for Tankerville was vacant. The most loving friends of Mr Browborough perceived at once that there was not a chance for him. The borough was all but unanimous in resolving that it would return no one as its member but the man who had been unjustly accused of murder.

Mr Ruddles was at once despatched to London with two other political spirits — so that there might be a real deputation — and waited upon Phineas two days after his release from prison. Ruddles was very anxious to carry his member back with him, assuring Phineas of an entry into the borough so triumphant that nothing like to it had ever been known at Tankerville. But to all this Phineas was quite deaf. At first he declined even to be put in nomination. “You can’t escape from it, Mr Finn, you can’t indeed,” said Ruddles. “You don’t at all understand the enthusiasm of the borough; does he, Mr Gadmire?”

“I never knew anything like it in my life before,” said Gadmire.

“I believe Mr Finn would poll two-thirds of the Church party tomorrow,” said Mr Troddles, a leading dissenter in Tankerville, who on this occasion was the third member of the deputation.

“I needn’t sit for the borough unless I please, I suppose,” pleaded Phineas.

“Well, no — at least I don’t know,” said Ruddles. “It would be throwing us over a good deal, and I’m sure you are not the gentleman to do that. And then, Mr Finn, don’t you see that though you have been knocked about a little lately — ”

“By George, he has — most cruel,” said Troddles.

“You’ll miss the House if you give it up; you will, after a bit, Mr Finn. You’ve got to come round again, Mr Finn — if I may be so bold as to say so, and you shouldn’t put yourself out of the way of coming round comfortably.”

Phineas knew that there was wisdom in the words of Mr Ruddles, and consented. Though at this moment he was low in heart, disgusted with the world, and sick of humanity — though every joint in his body was still sore from the rack on which he had been stretched, yet he knew that it would not be so with him always. As others recovered so would he, and it might be that he would live to “miss the House”, should he now refuse the offer made to him. He accepted the offer, but he did so with a positive assurance that no consideration should at present take him to Tankerville.

“We ain’t going to charge you, not one penny,” said Mr Gadmire, with enthusiasm.

“I feel all that I owe to the borough”, said Phineas, “and to the warm friends there who have espoused my cause; but I am not in a condition at present, either of mind or body, to put myself forward anywhere in public. I have suffered a great deal.”

“Most cruel!” said Troddles.

“And am quite willing to confess that I am therefore unfit in my present position to serve the borough.”

“We can’t admit that,” said Gadmire, raising his left hand. “We mean to have you,” said Troddles.

“There isn’t a doubt about your re-election, Mr Finn,” said Ruddles.

“I am very grateful, but I cannot be there. I must trust to one of you gentlemen to explain to the electors that in my present condition I am unable to visit the borough.”

Messrs Ruddles, Gadmire, and Troddles returned to Tankerville — disappointed no doubt at not bringing with them him whose company would have made their feet glorious on the pavement of their native town — but still with a comparative sense of their own importance in having seen the great sufferer whose woes forbade that he should be beheld by common eyes. They never even expressed an idea that he ought to have come, alluding even to their past convictions as to the futility of hoping for such a blessing; but spoke of him as a personage made almost sacred by the sufferings which he had been made to endure. As to the election, that would be a matter of course. He was proposed by Mr Ruddles himself, and was absolutely seconded by the rector of Tankerville — the staunchest Tory in the place, who on this occasion made a speech in which he declared that as an Englishman, loving justice, he could not allow any political or even any religious consideration to bias his conduct on this occasion. Mr Finn had thrown up his seat under the pressure of a false accusation, and it was, the rector thought, for the honour of the borough that the seat should be restored to him. So Phineas Finn was re-elected for Tankerville without opposition and without expense; and for six weeks after the ceremony parcels were showered upon him by the ladies of the borough who sent him worked slippers, scarlet hunting waistcoats, pocket handkerchiefs, with “P.F.” beautifully embroidered, and chains made of their own hair.

In this conjunction of affairs the editor of the People’s Banner found it somewhat difficult to trim his sails. It was a rule of life with Mr Quintus Slide to persecute an enemy. An enemy might at any time become a friend, but while an enemy was an enemy he should be trodden on and persecuted. Mr Slide had striven more than once to make a friend of Phineas Finn; but Phineas Finn had been conceited and stiff-necked. Phineas had been to Mr Slide an enemy of enemies, and by all his ideas of manliness, by all the rules of his life, by every principle which guided him, he was bound to persecute Phineas to the last. During the trial and the few weeks before the trial he had written various short articles with the view of declaring how improper it would be should a newspaper express any opinion of the guilt or innocence of a suspected person while under trial; and he gave two or three severe blows to contemporaries for having sinned in the matter; but in all these articles he had contrived to insinuate that the member for Tankerville, would, as a matter of course, be dealt with by the hands of justice. He had been very careful to recapitulate all circumstances which had induced Finn to hate the murdered man, and had more than once related the story of the firing of the pistol at Macpherson’s Hotel. Then came the telegram from Prague, and for a day or two Mr Slide was stricken dumb. The acquittal followed, and Quintus Slide had found himself compelled to join in the general satisfaction evinced at the escape of an innocent man. Then came the re-election for Tankerville, and Mr Slide felt that there was opportunity for another reaction. More than enough had been done for Phineas Finn in allowing him to elude the gallows. There could certainly be no need for crowning him with a political chaplet because he had not murdered Mr Bonteen. Among a few other remarks which Mr Slide threw together, the following appeared in the columns of the People’s Banner:

“We must confess that we hardly understand the principle on which Mr Finn has been re-elected for Tankerville with so much enthusiasm — free of expense — and without that usual compliment to the constituency which is implied by the personal appearance of the candidate. We have more than once expressed our belief that he was wrongly accused in the matter of Mr Bonteen’s murder. Indeed our readers will do us the justice to remember that, during the trial and before the trial, we were always anxious to allay the very strong feeling against Mr Finn with which the public mind was then imbued, not only by the facts of the murder, but also by the previous conduct of that gentleman. But we cannot understand why the late member should be thought by the electors of Tankerville to be especially worthy of their confidence because he did not murder Mr Bonteen. He himself, instigated, we hope, by a proper feeling, retired from parliament as soon as he was acquitted. His career during the last twelve months has not enhanced his credit, and cannot, we should think, have increased his comfort. We ventured to suggest after that affair in Judd Street, as to which the police were so benignly inefficient, that it would not be for the welfare of the nation that a gentleman should be employed in the public service whose public life had been marked by the misfortune which had attended Mr Finn. Great efforts were made by various ladies of the old Whig party to obtain official employment for him, but they were made in vain. Mr Gresham was too wise, and our advice — we will not say was followed — but was found to agree with the decision of the Prime Minister. Mr Finn was left out in the cold in spite of his great friends — and then came the murder of Mr Bonteen.

“Can it be that Mr Finn’s fitness for Parliamentary duties has been increased by Mr Bonteen’s unfortunate death, or by the fact that Mr Bonteen was murdered by other hands than his own? We think not. The wretched husband, who, in the madness of jealousy, fired a pistol at this young man’s head, has since died in his madness. Does that incident in the drama give Mr Finn any special claim to consideration? We think not — and we think also that the electors of Tankerville would have done better had they allowed Mr Finn to return to that obscurity which he seems to have desired. The electors of Tankerville, however, are responsible only to their borough, and may do as they please with the seat in parliament which is at their disposal. We may, however, protest against the employment of an unfit person in the service of his country — simply because he has not committed a murder. We say so much now because rumours of an arrangement have reached our ears, which, should it come to pass — would force upon us the extremely disagreeable duty of referring very forcibly to past circumstances, which may otherwise, perhaps, be allowed to be forgotten.”

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