Phineas liked being told that the pleasures of opposition and the pleasures of office were both open to him, and he liked also to be the chosen receptacle of Mr Monk’s confidence. He had come to understand that he was expected to remain ten days at Loughlinter, and that then there was to be a general movement. Since the first day he had seen but little of Mr Kennedy, but he had found himself very frequently with Lady Laura. And then had come up the question of his projected trip to Paris with Lord Chiltern. He had received a letter from Lord Chiltern.
“ DEAR FINN,
“Are you going to Paris with me?
There had been not a word beyond this, and before he answered it he made up his mind to tell Lady Laura the truth, He could not go to Paris because he had no money.
“I’ve just got that from your brother,” said he.
“How like Oswald. He writes to me perhaps three times in the year, and his letters are just the same. You will go I hope?”
“Well — no.”
“I am sorry for that.”
“I wonder whether I may tell you the real reason, Lady Laura.”
“Nay — I cannot answer that; but unless it be some political secret between you and Mr Monk, I should think you might.”
“I cannot afford to go to Paris this autumn. It seems to be a shocking admission to make — though I don’t know why it should be.”
“Nor I— but Mr Finn, I like you all the better for making it. I am very sorry, for Oswald’s sake. It’s so hard to find any companion for him whom he would like and whom we — that is I— should think altogether — you know what I mean, Mr Finn.”
“Your wish that I should go with him is a great compliment, and I thoroughly wish that I could do it. As it is, I must go to Killaloe and retrieve my finances. I daresay, Lady Laura, you can hardly conceive how very poor a man I am.” There was a melancholy tone about his voice as he said this, which made her think for the moment whether or no he had been right in going into Parliament, and whether she had been right in instigating him to do so. But it was too late to recur to that question now.
“You must climb into office early, and forego those pleasures of opposition which are so dear to Mr Monk,” she said, smiling. “After all, money is an accident which does not count nearly so high as do some other things. You and Mr Kennedy have the same enjoyment of everything around you here.”
“Yes; while it lasts.”
“And Lady Glencora and I stand pretty much on the same footing, in spite of all her wealth — except that she is a married woman. I do not know what she is worth — something not to be counted; and I am worth — just what papa chooses to give me. A ten-pound note at the present moment I should look upon as great riches.” This was the first time she had ever spoken to him of her own position as regards money; but he had heard, or thought that he had heard, that she had been left a fortune altogether independent of her father.
The last of the ten days had now come, and Phineas was discontented and almost unhappy. The more he saw of Lady Laura the more he feared that it was impossible that she should become his wife. And yet from day to day his intimacy with her became more close. He had never made love to her, nor could he discover that it was possible for him to do so. She seemed to be a woman for whom all the ordinary stages of love-making were quite unsuitable. Of course he could declare his love and ask her to be his wife on any occasion on which he might find himself to be alone with her. And on this morning he had made up his mind that he would do so before the day was over. It might be possible that she would never speak to him again — that all the pleasures and ambitious hopes to which she had introduced him might be over as soon as that rash word should have been spoken! But, nevertheless, he would speak it.
On this day there was to be a grouse-shooting party, and the shooters were to be out early. It had been talked of for some day or two past, and Phineas knew that he could not escape it. There had been some rivalry between him and Mr Bonteen, and there was to be a sort of match as to which of the two would kill most birds before lunch. But there had also been some half promise on Lady Laura’s part that she would walk with him up the Linter and come down upon the lake, taking an opposite direction from that by which they had returned with Mr Kennedy.
“But you will be shooting all day,” she said, when he proposed it to her as they were starting for the moor. The waggonet that was to take them was at the door, and she was there to see them start. Her father was one of the shooting party, and Mr Kennedy was another.
“I will undertake to be back in time, if you will not think it too hot. I shall not see you again till we meet in town next year.”
“Then I certainly will go with you — that is to say, if you are here. But you cannot return without the rest of the party, as you are going so far.”
“I’ll get back somehow,” said Phineas, who was resolved that a few miles more or less of mountain should not detain him from the prosecution of a task so vitally important to him. “If we start at five that will be early enough.”
“Quite early enough,” said Lady Laura.
Phineas went off to the mountains, and shot his grouse, and won his match, and ate his luncheon. Mr Bonteen, however, was not beaten by much, and was in consequence somewhat ill-humoured.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said Mr Bonteen, I’ll back myself for the rest of the day for a ten-pound note.”
Now there had been no money staked on the match at all — but it had been simply a trial of skill, as to which would kill the most birds in a given time. And the proposition for that trial had come from Mr Bonteen himself. “I should not think of shooting for money,” said Phineas.
“And why not? A bet is the only way to decide these things.”
“Partly because I’m sure I shouldn’t hit a bird,” said Phineas, “and partly because I haven’t got any money to lose.”
“I hate bets,” said Mr Kennedy to him afterwards. I was annoyed when Bonteen offered the wager. I felt sure, however, you would not accept it.”
“I suppose such bets are very common,”
“I don’t think men ought to propose them unless they are quite sure of their company. Maybe I’m wrong, and I often feel that I am strait-laced about such things. It is so odd to me that men cannot amuse themselves without pitting themselves against each other. When a man tells me that he can shoot better than I, I tell him that my keeper can shoot better than he.”
“All the same, it’s a good thing to excel,” said Phineas.
“I’m not so sure of that,” said Mr Kennedy. A man who can kill more salmon than anybody else, can rarely do anything else. Are you going on with your match?”
“No; I’m going to make my way to Loughlinter.”
“It’s over nine miles. You can’t walk it.”
Phineas looked at his watch, and found that it was now two o’clock. It was a broiling day in August, and the way back to Loughlinter, for six or seven out of the nine miles, would be along a high road. “I must do it all the same,” said he, preparing for a start. “I have an engagement with Lady Laura Standish; and as this is the last day that I shall see her, I certainly do not mean to break it.”
“An engagement with Lady Laura,” said Mr Kennedy. Why did you not tell me, that I might have a pony ready? But come along. Donald Bean has a pony. He’s not much bigger than a dog, but he’ll carry you to Loughlinter.”
“I can walk it, Mr Kennedy.”
“Yes; and think of the state in which you’d reach Loughlinter! Come along with me.”
“But I can’t take you off the mountain,” said Phineas.
“Then you must allow me to take you off.”
So Mr Kennedy led the way down to Donald Bean’s cottage, and before three o’clock Phineas found himself mounted on a shaggy steed, which, in sober truth, was not much bigger than a large dog. “If Mr Kennedy is really my rival,” said Phineas to himself, as he trotted along, “I almost think that I am doing an unhandsome thing in taking the pony.”
At five o’clock he was under the portico before the front door, and there he found Lady Laura waiting for him — waiting for him, or at least ready for him. She had on her hat and gloves and light shawl, and her parasol was in her hand. He thought that he had never seen her look so young, so pretty, and so fit to receive a lover’s vows. But at the same moment it occurred to him that she was Lady Laura Standish, the daughter of an Earl, the descendant of a line of Earls — and that he was the son of a simple country doctor in Ireland. Was it fitting that he should ask such a woman to be his wife? But then Mr Kennedy was the son of a man who had walked into Glasgow with half-a-crown in his pocket. Mr Kennedy’s grandfather had been — Phineas thought that he had heard that Mr Kennedy’s grandfather had been a Scotch drover; whereas his own grandfather had been a little squire near Ennistimon, in county Clare, and his own first cousin once removed still held the paternal acres at Finn Grove. His family was supposed to be descended from kings in that part of Ireland. It certainly did not become him to fear Lady Laura on the score of rank, if it was to be allowed to Mr Kennedy to proceed without fear on that head. As to wealth, Lady Laura had already told him that her fortune was no greater than his. Her statement to himself on that head made him feel that he should not hesitate on the score of money. They neither had any, and he was willing to work for both. If she feared the risk, let her say so.
It was thus that he argued with himself; but yet he knew — knew as well as the reader will know — that he was going to do that which he had no right to do. It might be very well for him to wait — presuming him to be successful in his love — for the opening of that oyster with his political sword, that oyster on which he proposed that they should both live; but such waiting could not well be to the taste of Lady Laura Standish. It could hardly be pleasant to her to look forward to his being made a junior lord or an assistant secretary before she could establish herself in her home. So he told himself. And yet he told himself at the same time that it was incumbent on him to persevere.
“I did not expect you in the least,” said Lady Laura.
“And yet I spoke very positively.”
“But there are things as to which a man may be very positive, and yet may be allowed to fail. In the first place, how on earth did you get home?”
“Mr Kennedy got me a pony — Donald Bean’s pony.”
“You told him, then?”
“Yes; I told him why I was coming, and that I must be here. Then he took the trouble to come all the way off the mountain to persuade Donald to lend me his pony. I must acknowledge that Mr Kennedy has conquered me at last.”
“I am so glad of that,” said Lady Laura. I knew he would — unless it were your own fault.”
They went up the path by the brook, from bridge to bridge, till they found themselves out upon the open mountain at the top. Phineas had resolved that he would not speak out his mind till he found himself on that spot; that then he would ask her to sit down, and that while she was so seated he would tell her everything. At the present moment he had on his head a Scotch cap with a grouse’s feather in it, and he was dressed in a velvet shooting-jacket and dark knickerbockers; and was certainly, in this costume, as handsome a man as any woman would wish to see. And there was, too, a look of breeding about him which had come to him, no doubt, from the royal Finns of old, which ever served him in great stead. He was, indeed, only Phineas Finn, and was known by the world to be no more; but he looked as though he might have been anybody — a royal Finn himself. And then he had that special grace of appearing to be altogether unconscious of his own personal advantages. And I think that in truth he was barely conscious of them; that he depended on them very little, if at all; that there was nothing of personal vanity in his composition. He had never indulged in any hope that Lady Laura would accept him because he was a handsome man.
“After all that climbing,” he said, will you not sit down for a moment?” As he spoke to her she looked at him and told herself that he was as handsome as a god. “Do sit down for one moment,” he said. “I have something that I desire to say to you, and to say it here.”
“I will,” she said; but I also have something to tell you, and will say it while I am yet standing. Yesterday I accepted an offer of marriage from Mr Kennedy.”
“Then I am too late,” said Phineas, and putting his hands into the pockets of his coat, he turned his back upon her, and walked away across the mountain.
What a fool he had been to let her know his secret when her knowledge of it could be of no service to him — when her knowledge of it could only make him appear foolish in her eyes! But for his life he could not have kept his secret to himself. Nor now could he bring himself to utter a word of even decent civility. But he went on walking as though he could thus leave her there, and never see her again. What an ass he had been in supposing that she cared for him! What a fool to imagine that his poverty could stand a chance against the wealth of Loughlinter! But why had she lured him on? How he wished that he were now grinding, hard at work in Mr Low’s chambers, or sitting at home at Killaloe with the hand of that pretty little Irish girl within his own!
Presently he heard a voice behind him — calling him gently. Then he turned and found that she was very near him. He himself had then been standing still for some moments, and she had followed him. “Mr Finn,” she said.
“Well — yes: what is it?” And turning round he made an attempt to smile.
“Will you not wish me joy, or say a word of congratulation? Had I not thought much of your friendship, I should not have been so quick to tell you of my destiny. No one else has been told, except papa.”
“Of course I hope you will be happy. Of course I do. No wonder he lent me the pony!”
“You must forget all that.”
“Well — nothing. You need forget nothing,” said Lady Laura, “for nothing has been said that need be regretted. Only wish me joy, and all will be pleasant.”
“Lady Laura, I do wish you joy, with all my heart — but that will not make all things pleasant. I came up here to ask you to be my wife.”
“No — no, no; do not say it.”
“But I have said it, and will say it again. I, poor, penniless, plain simple fool that I am, have been ass enough to love you, Lady Laura Standish; and I brought you up here today to ask you to share with me — my nothingness. And this I have done on soil that is to be all your own. Tell me that you regard me as a conceited fool — as a bewildered idiot.”
“I wish to regard you as a dear friend — both of my own and of my husband,” said she, offering him her hand.
“Should I have had a chance, I wonder, if I had spoken a week since?”
“How can I answer such a question, Mr Finn? Or, rather, I will answer it fully. It is not a week since we told each other, you to me and I to you, that we were both poor — both without other means than those which come to us from our fathers. You will make your way — will make it surely; but how at present could you marry any woman unless she had money of her own? For me — like so many other girls, it was necessary that I should stay at home or marry someone rich enough to dispense with fortune in a wife. The man whom in all the world I think the best has asked me to share everything with him — and I have thought it wise to accept his offer.”
“And I was fool enough to think that you loved me,” said Phineas. To this she made no immediate answer. “Yes, I was, I feel that I owe it you to tell you what a fool I have been. I did. I thought you loved me. At least I thought that perhaps you loved me. It was like a child wanting the moon — was it not?”
“And why should I not have loved you?” she said slowly, laying her hand gently upon his arm.
“Why not? Because Loughlinter — ”
“Stop, Mr Finn; stop. Do not say to me any unkind word that I have not deserved, and that would make a breach between us. I have accepted the owner of Loughlinter as my husband, because I verily believe that I shall thus do my duty in that sphere of life to which it has pleased God to call me. I have always liked him, and I will love him. For you — may I trust myself to speak openly to you?”
“You may trust me as against all others, except us two ourselves.”
“For you, then, I will say also that I have always liked you since I knew you; that I have loved you as a friend — and could have loved you otherwise had not circumstances showed me so plainly that it would be unwise.”
“Oh, Lady Laura!”
“Listen a moment. And pray remember that what I say to you now must never be repeated to any ears. No one knows it but my father, my brother, and Mr Kennedy. Early in the spring I paid my brother’s debts. His affection to me is more than a return for what I have done for him. But when I did this — when I made up my mind to do it, I made up my mind also that I could not allow myself the same freedom of choice which would otherwise have belonged to me. Will that be sufficient, Mr Finn?”
“How can I answer you, Lady Laura? Sufficient! And you are not angry with me for what I have said?”
“No, I am not angry. But it is understood, of course, that nothing of this shall ever be repeated — even among ourselves. Is that a bargain?”
“Oh, yes. I shall never speak of it again.”
“And now you will wish me joy?”
“I have wished you joy, Lady Laura. And I will do so again. May you have every blessing which the world can give you. You cannot expect me to be very jovial for a while myself; but there will be nobody to see my melancholy moods. I shall be hiding myself away in Ireland. When is the marriage to be?”
“Nothing has been said of that. I shall be guided by him — but there must, of course, be delay. There will be settlements and I know not what. It may probably be in the spring — or perhaps the summer. I shall do just what my betters tell me to do.”
Phineas had now seated himself on the exact stone on which he had wished her to sit when he proposed to tell his own story, and was looking forth upon the lake. It seemed to him that everything had been changed for him while he had been up there upon the mountain, and that the change had been marvellous in its nature. When he had been coming up, there had been apparently two alternatives before him: the glory of successful love — which, indeed, had seemed to him to be a most improbable result of the coming interview — and the despair and utter banishment attendant on disdainful rejection. But his position was far removed from either of these alternatives, She had almost told him that she would have loved him had she not been poor — that she was beginning to love him and had quenched her love, because it had become impossible to her to marry a poor man. In such circumstances he could not be angry with her — he could not quarrel with her; he could not do other than swear to himself that he would be her friend. And yet he loved her better than ever — and she was the promised wife of his rival! Why had not Donald Bean’s pony broken his neck?
“Shall we go down now?” she said.
“You will not go on by the lake?”
“What is the use? It is all the same now. You will want to be back to receive him in from shooting.”
“Not that, I think. He is above those little cares. But it will be as well we should go the nearest way, as we have spent so much of our time here. I shall tell Mr Kennedy that I have told you — if you do not mind.”
“Tell him what you please,” said Phineas.
“But I won’t have it taken in that way, Mr Finn. Your brusque want of courtesy to me I have forgiven, but I shall expect you to make up for it by the alacrity of your congratulations to him. I will not have you uncourteous to Mr Kennedy.”
“If I have been uncourteous I beg your pardon.”
“You need not do that. We are old friends, and may take the liberty of speaking plainly to each other — but you will owe it to Mr Kennedy to be gracious. Think of the pony.”
They walked back to the house together, and as they went down the path very little was said. Just as they were about to come out upon the open lawn, while they were still under cover of the rocks and shrubs, Phineas stopped his companion by standing before her, and then he made his farewell speech to her.
“I must say goodbye to you. I shall be away early in the morning.”
“Goodbye, and God bless you,” said Lady Laura.
“Give me your hand,” said he. And she gave him her hand. “I don’t suppose you know what it is to love dearly.”
“I hope I do.”
“But to be in love! I believe you do not. And to miss your love! I think — I am bound to think that you have never been so tormented. It is very sore — but I will do my best, like a man, to get over it.”
“Do, my friend, do. So small a trouble will never weigh heavily on shoulders such as yours.”
“It will weigh very heavily, but I will struggle hard that it may not crush me. I have loved you so dearly! As we are parting give me one kiss, that I may think of it and treasure it in my memory!” What murmuring words she spoke to express her refusal of such a request, I will not quote; but the kiss had been taken before the denial was completed, and then they walked on in silence together — and in peace, towards the house.
On the next morning six or seven men were going away, and there was an early breakfast. There were none of the ladies there, but Mr Kennedy, the host, was among his friends. A large drag with four horses was there to take the travellers and their luggage to the station, and there was naturally a good deal of noise at the front door as the preparations for the departure were made. In the middle of them Mr Kennedy took our hero aside. “Laura has told me,” said Mr Kennedy, “that she has acquainted you with my good fortune.”
“And I congratulate you most heartily,” said Phineas, grasping the other’s hand. “You are indeed a lucky fellow.”
“I feel myself to be so,” said Mr Kennedy. Such a wife was all that was wanting to me, and such a wife is very hard to find. Will you remember, Finn, that Loughlinter will never be so full but what there will be a room for you, or so empty but what you will be made welcome? I say this on Lady Laura’s part and on my own.”
Phineas, as he was being carried away to the railway station, could not keep himself from speculating as to how much Kennedy knew of what had taken place during the walk up the Linter. Of one small circumstance that had occurred, he felt quite sure that Mr Kennedy knew nothing.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14