Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 77

Phineas Finn’s Success

When Phineas Finn had been about a week at Matching, he received a letter, or rather a very short note, from the Prime Minister, asking him to go up to London; and on the same day the Duke of Omnium spoke to him on the subject of the letter. “You are going up to see Mr Gresham. Mr Gresham has written to me, and I hope that we shall be able to congratulate ourselves in having your assistance next Session.” Phineas declared that he had no idea whatever of Mr Greham’s object in summoning him up to London. “I have his permission to inform you that he wishes you to accept office.” Phineas felt that he was becoming very red in the face, but he did not attempt to make any reply on the spur of the moment. “Mr Gresham thinks it well that so much should be said to you before you see him, in order that you may turn the matter over in your own mind. He would have written to you probably, making the offer at once, had it not been that there must be various changes, and that one man’s place must depend on another. You will go, I suppose.”

“Yes; I shall go, certainly. I shall be in London this evening.”

“I will take care that a carriage is ready for you. I do not presume to advise, Mr Finn, but I hope that there need be no doubt as to your joining us.” Phineas was somewhat confounded, and did not know the Duke well enough to give expression to his thoughts at the moment. “Of course you will return to us, Mr Finn.” Phineas said that he would return and trespass on the Duke’s hospitality for yet a few days. He was quite resolved that something must be said to Madame Goesler before he left the roof under which she was living. In the course of the autumn she purposed, as she had told him, to go to Vienna, and to remain there almost up to Christmas. Whatever there might be to be said should be said at any rate before that.

He did speak a few words to her before his journey to London, but in those words there was no allusion made to the great subject which must be discussed between them. “I am going up to London,” he said.

“So the Duchess tells me.”

“Mr Gresham has sent for me — meaning, I suppose, to offer me the place which he would not give me while that poor man was alive.”

“And you will accept it of course, Mr Finn?”

“I am not at all so sure of that.”

“But you will. You must. You will hardly be so foolish as to let the peevish animosity of an ill-conditioned man prejudice your prospects even after his death.”

“It will not be any remembrance of Mr Bonteen that will induce me to refuse.”

“It will be the same thing — rancour against Mr Gresham because he had allowed the other man’s counsel to prevail with him. The action of no individual man should be to you of sufficient consequence to guide your conduct. If you accept office, you should not take it as a favour conferred by the Prime Minister; nor if you refuse it, should you do so from personal feelings in regard to him. If he selects you, he is presumed to do so because he finds that your services will be valuable to the country.”

“He does so because he thinks that I should be safe to vote for him.”

“That may be so, or not. You can’t read his bosom quite distinctly — but you may read your own. If you go into office you become the servant of the country — not his servant, and should assume his motive in selecting you to be the same as your own in submitting to the selection. Your foot must be on the ladder before you can get to the top of it.”

“The ladder is so crooked.”

“Is it more crooked now than it was three years ago — worse than it was six months ago, when you and all your friends looked upon it as certain that you would be employed? There is nothing, Mr Finn, that a man should fear so much as some twist in his convictions arising from a personal accident to himself. When we heard that the Devil in his sickness wanted to be a monk, we never thought that he would become a saint in glory. When a man who has been rejected by a lady expresses a generally ill opinion of the sex, we are apt to ascribe his opinions to disappointment rather than to judgment. A man falls and breaks his leg at a fence, and cannot be induced to ride again — not because he thinks the amusement to be dangerous, but because he cannot keep his mind from dwelling on the hardship that has befallen himself. In all such cases self-consciousness gets the better of the judgment.”

“You think it will be so with me?”

“I shall think so if you now refuse — because of the misfortune which befell you — that which I know you were most desirous of possessing before that accident. To tell you the truth, Mr Finn, I wish Mr Gresham had delayed his offer till the winter.”

“And why?”

“Because by that time you will have recovered your health. Your mind now is morbid, and out of tune.”

“There was something to make it so, Madame Goesler.”

“God knows there was; and the necessity which lay up on you of bearing a bold front during those long and terrible weeks of course consumed your strength. The wonder is that the fibres of your mind should have retained any of their elasticity after such an ordeal. But as you are so strong, it would be a pity that you should not be strong altogether. This thing that is now to be offered to you is what you have always desired.”

“A man may have always desired that which is worthless.”

“You tried it once, and did not find it worthless. You found yourself able to do good work when you were in office. If I remember right, you did not give it up then because it was irksome to you, or contemptible, or, as you say, worthless; but from difference of opinion on some political question. You can always do that again.”

“A man is not fit for office who is prone to do so.”

“Then do not you be prone. It means success or failure in the profession which you have chosen, and I shall greatly regret to see you damage your chance of success by yielding to scruples which have come upon you when you are hardly as yet yourself.”

She had spoken to him very plainly, and he had found it to be impossible to answer her, and yet she had hardly touched the motives by which he believed himself to be actuated. As he made his journey up to London he thought very much of her words. There had been nothing said between them about money. No allusion had been made to the salary of the office which would be offered to him, or to the terrible shortness of his own means of living. He knew well enough himself that he must take some final step in life, or very shortly return into absolute obscurity. This woman who had been so strongly advising him to take a certain course as to his future life, was very rich — and he had fully decided that he would sooner or later ask her to be his wife. He knew well that all her friends regarded their marriage as certain. The Duchess had almost told him so in as many words. Lady Chiltern, who was much more to him than the Duchess, had assured him that if he should have a wife to bring with him to Harrington, the wife would be welcome. Of what other wife could Lady Chiltern have thought? Laurence Fitzgibbon, when congratulated on his own marriage, had returned counter congratulations. Mr Low had said that it would of course come to pass. Even Mrs Bunce had hinted at it, suggesting that she would lose her lodger and be a wretched woman. All the world had heard of the journey to Prague, and all the world expected the marriage. And he had come to love the woman with excessive affection, day by day, ever since the renewal of their intimacy at Broughton Spinnies. His mind was quite made up — but he was by no means sure of her mind as the rest of the world might be. He knew of her, what nobody else in all the world knew — except himself. In that former period of his life, on which he now sometimes looked back as though it had been passed in another world, this woman had offered her hand and fortune to him. She had done so in the enthusiasm of her love, knowing his ambition and knowing his poverty, and believing that her wealth was necessary to the success of his career in life. He had refused the offer — and they had parted without a word. Now they had come together again, and she was certainly among the dearest of his friends. Had she not taken that wondrous journey to Prague in his behalf, and been the first among those who had striven — and had striven at last successfully — to save his neck from the halter? Dear to her! He knew well as he sat with his eyes closed in the railway carriage that he must be dear to her! But might it not well be that she had resolved that friendship should take the place of love? And was it not compatible with her nature — with all human nature — that in spite of her regard for him she should choose to be revenged for the evil which had befallen her, when she offered her hand in vain? She must know by this time that he intended to throw himself at her feet; and would hardly have advised him as she had done as to the necessity of following up that success which had hitherto been so essential to him, had she intended to give him all that she had once offered him before. It might well be that Lady Chiltern, and even the Duchess, should be mistaken. Marie Goesler was not a woman, he thought, to reveal the deeper purposes of her life to any such friend as the Duchess of Omnium.

Of his own feelings in regard to the offer which was about to be made to him he had hardly succeeded in making her understand anything. That a change had come upon himself was certain, but he did not at all believe that it had sprung from any weakness caused by his sufferings in regard to the murder. He rather believed that he had become stronger than weaker from all that he had endured. He had learned when he was younger — some years back — to regard the political service of his country as a profession in which a man possessed of certain gifts might earn his bread with more gratification to himself than in any other. The work would be hard, and the emolument only intermittent; but the service would in itself be pleasant; and the rewards of that service — should he be so successful as to obtain reward — would be dearer to him than anything which could accrue to him from other labours. To sit in the Cabinet for one Session would, he then thought, be more to him than to preside over the Court of Queen’s Bench as long as did Lord Mansfield. But during the last few months a change had crept across his dream — which he recognized but could hardly analyse. He had seen a man whom he despised promoted, and the place to which the man had been exalted had at once become contemptible in his eyes. And there had been quarrels and jangling, and the speaking of evil words between men who should have been quiet and dignified. No doubt Madame Goesler was right in attributing the revulsion in his hopes to Mr Bonteen and Mr Bonteen’s enmity; but Phineas Finn himself did not know that it was so.

He arrived in town in the evening, and his appointment with Mr Gresham was for the following morning. He breakfasted at his club, and there he received the following letter from Lady Laura Kennedy:

Saulsby, 28th August 18 — MY DEAR PHINEAS

I have just received a letter from Barrington in which he tells me that Mr Gresham is going to offer you your old place at the Colonies. He says that Lord Fawn has been so upset by this affair of Lady Eustace’s husband, that he is obliged to resign and go abroad. [This was the first intimation that Phineas had heard of the nature of the office to be offered to him.] But Barrington goes on to say that he thinks you won’t accept Mr Gresham’s offer, and he asks me to write to you. Can this possibly be true? Barrington writes most kindly — with true friendship — and is most anxious for you to join. But he thinks that you are angry with Mr Gresham because he passed you over before, and that you will not forgive him for having yielded to Mr Bonteen. I can hardly believe this possible. Surely you will not allow the shade of that unfortunate man to blight your prospects? And, after all, of what matter to you is the friendship or enmity of Mr Gresham? You have to assert yourself, to make your own way, to use your own opportunities, and to fight your own battle without reference to the feelings of individuals. Men act together in office constantly, and with constancy, who are known to hate each other. When there are so many to get what is going, and so little to be given, of course there will be struggling and trampling. I have no doubt that Lord Cantrip has made a point of this with Mr Gresham — has in point of fact insisted upon it. If so, you are lucky to have such an ally as Lord Cantrip. He and Mr Gresham are, as you know, sworn friends, and if you get on well with the one you certainly may with the other also. Pray do not refuse without asking for time to think about it — and if so, pray come here, that you may consult my father.

I spent two weary weeks at Loughlinter, and then could stand it no longer. I have come here, and here I shall remain for the autumn and winter. If I can sell my interest in the Loughlinter property I shall do so, as I am sure that neither the place nor the occupation is fit for me. Indeed I know not what place or what occupation will suit me! The dreariness of the life before me is hardly preferable to the disappointments I have already endured. There seems to be nothing left for me but to watch my father to the end. The world would say that such a duty in life is fit for a widowed childless daughter; but to you I cannot pretend to say that my bereavements or misfortunes reconcile me to such a fate. I cannot cease to remember my age, my ambition, and I will say, my love. I suppose that everything is over for me — as though I were an old woman, going down into the grave, but at my time of life I find it hard to believe that it must be so. And then the time of waiting may be so long! I suppose I could start a house in London, and get people around me by feeding and flattering them, and by little intrigues — like that woman of whom you are so fond. It is money that is chiefly needed for that work, and of money I have enough now. And people would know at any rate who I am. But I could not flatter them, and I should wish the food to choke them if they did not please me. And you would not come, and if you did — I may as well say it boldly — others would not. An ill-natured sprite has been busy with me, which seems to deny me everything which is so freely granted to others.

As for you, the world is at your feet. I dread two things for you — that you should marry unworthily, and that you should injure your prospects in public life by an uncompromising stiffness. On the former subject I can say nothing to you. As to the latter, let me implore you to come down here before you decided upon anything. Of course you can at once accept Mr Gresham’s offer; and that is what you should do unless the office proposed to you be unworthy of you. No friend of yours will think that your old place at the Colonies should be rejected. But if your mind is still turned towards refusing, ask Mr Gresham to give you three or four days for decision, and then come here. He cannot refuse you — nor after all that is passed can you refuse me.

Yours affectionately L . K .

When he had read this letter he at once acknowledged to himself that he could not refuse her request. He must go to Saulsby, and he must do so at once. He was about to see Mr Gresham immediately — within half an hour; and as he could not expect at the most above twenty-four hours to be allowed to him for consideration, he must go down to Saulsby on the same evening. As he walked to the Prime Minister’s house he called at a telegraph office and sent down his message. “I will be at Saulsby by the train arriving at 7 P . M . Send to meet me.” Then he went on, and in a few minutes found himself in the presence of the great man.

The great man received him with an excellent courtesy. It is the special business of Prime Ministers to be civil in detail, though roughness, and perhaps almost rudeness in the gross, becomes not unfrequently a necessity of their position, To a proposed incoming subordinate a Prime Minister is, of course, very civil, and to a retreating subordinate he is generally more so — unless the retreat be made under unfavourable circumstances. And to give good things is always pleasant, unless there be a suspicion that the good thing will be thought to be not good enough. No such suspicion as that now crossed the mind of Mr Gresham. He had been pressed very much by various colleagues to admit this young man into the paradise of his government, and had been pressed very much also to exclude him; and this had been continued till he had come to dislike the name of the young man. He did believe that the young man had behaved badly to Mr Robert Kennedy, and he knew that the young man on one occasion had taken to kicking in harness, and running a course of his own. He had decided against the young man — very much no doubt at the instance of Mr Bonteen — and he believed that in so doing he closed the Gates of Paradise against a Peri most anxious to enter it. He now stood with the key in his hand and the gate open — and the seat to be allotted to the re-accepted one was that which he believed the Peri would most gratefully fill. He began by making a little speech about Mr Bonteen. That was almost unavoidable. And he praised in glowing words the attitude which Phineas had maintained during the trial. He had been delighted with the re-election at Tankerville, and thought that the borough had done itself much honour. Then came forth his proposition. Lord Fawn had retired, absolutely broken down by repeated examinations respecting the man in the grey coat, and the office which Phineas had before held with so much advantage to the public, and comfort to his immediate chief, Lord Cantrip, was there for his acceptance Mr Gresham went on to express an ardent hope that he might have the benefit of Mr Finn’s services. It was quite manifest from his manner that he did not in the least doubt the nature of the reply which he would receive.

Phineas had come primed with his answer — so ready with it that it did not even seem to be the result of any hesitation at the moment. “I hope, Mr Gresham, that you will be able to give me a few hours to think of this.” Mr Gresham’s face fell, for, in truth, he wanted an immediate answer; and though he knew from experience that Secretaries of State, and First Lords, and Chancellors, do demand time, and will often drive very hard bargains before they will consent to get into harness, he considered that Under-Secretaries, junior Lords, and the like, should skip about as they were bidden, and take the crumbs offered them without delay. If every underling wanted a few hours to think about it, how could any Government ever be got together? “I am sorry to put you to inconvenience,” continued Phineas, seeing that the great man was but ill-satisfied, “but I am so placed that I cannot avail myself of your flattering kindness without some little time for consideration.”

“I had hoped that the office was one which you would like.”

“So it is, Mr Gresham.”

“And I was told that you are now free from any scruples, political scruples, I mean — which might make it difficult for you to support the Government.”

“Since the Government came to our way of thinking — a year or two ago — about Tenant-right, I mean — I do not know that there is any subject on which I am likely to oppose it. Perhaps I had better tell you the truth, Mr Gresham.”

“Oh, certainly,” said the Prime Minister, who knew very well that on such occasions nothing could be worse than the telling of disagreeable truths.

“When you came into office, after beating Mr Daubeny on the Church question, no man in Parliament was more desirous of place than I was — and I am sure that none of the disappointed ones felt their disappointment so keenly. It was aggravated by various circumstances — by calumnies in newspapers, and by personal bickerings. I need not go into that wretched story of Mr Bonteen, and the absurd accusation which grew out of those calumnies. These things have changed me very much. I have a feeling that I have been ill-used — not by you, Mr Gresham, specially, but by the party; and I look upon the whole question of office with altered eyes.”

“In filling up the places at his disposal, a Prime Minister, Mr Finn, has a most unenviable task.”

“I can well believe it.”

“When circumstances, rather than any selection of his own, indicate the future occupant of any office, this abrogation of his patronage is the greatest blessing in the world to him.”

“I can believe that also.”

“I wish it were so with every office under the Crown. A Minister is rarely thanked, and would as much look for the peace of heaven in his office as for gratitude.”

“I am sorry that I should have made no exception to such thanklessness.”

“We shall neither of us get on by complaining — shall we, Mr Finn? You can let me have an answer perhaps by this time tomorrow.”

“If an answer by telegraph will be sufficient.”

“Quite sufficient. Yes or No. Nothing more will be wanted. You understand your own reasons, no doubt, fully; but if they were stated at length they would perhaps hardly enlighten me. Good-morning.” Then as Phineas was turning his back, the Prime Minister remembered that it behoved him as Prime Minister to repress his temper. “I shall still hope, Mr Finn, for a favourable answer.” Had it not been for that last word Phineas would have turned again, and at once rejected the proposition.

From Mr Gresham’s house he went by appointment to Mr Monk’s, and told him of the interview. Mr Monk’s advice to him had been exactly the same as that given by Madame Goesler and Lady Laura. Phineas, indeed, understood perfectly that no friend could or would give him any other advice. “He has his troubles, too,” said Mr Monk, speaking of the Prime Minister.

“A man can hardly expect to hold such an office without trouble.”

“Labour of course there must be — though I doubt whether it is so great as that of some other persons — and responsibility. The amount of trouble depends on the spirit and nature of the man. Do you remember old Lord Brock? He was never troubled. He had a triple shield — a thick skin, an equable temper, and perfect self-confidence. Mr Mildmay was of a softer temper, and would have suffered had he not been protected by the idolatry of a large class of his followers. Mr Gresham has no such protection. With a finer intellect than either, and a sense of patriotism quite as keen, he has a self-consciousness which makes him sore at every point. He knows the frailty of his temper, and yet cannot control it. And he does not understand men as did these others. Every word from an enemy is a wound to him. Every slight from a friend is a dagger in his side. But I can fancy that self-accusations make the cross on which he is really crucified. He is a man to whom I would extend all my mercy, were it in my power to be merciful.”

“You will hardy tell me that I should accept office under him by way of obliging him.”

“Were I you I should do so — not to oblige him, but because I know him to be an honest man.”

“I care but little for honesty”, said Phineas, “which is at the disposal of those who are dishonest. What am I to think of a Minister who could allow himself to be led by Mr Bonteen?”

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