About the middle of March Lady Baldock came up from Baddingham to London, coerced into doing so, as Violet Effingham declared, in thorough opposition to all her own tastes, by the known wishes of her friends and relatives. Her friends and relatives, so Miss Effingham insinuated, were unanimous in wishing that Lady Baldock should remain at Baddingham Park, and therefore — that wish having been indiscreetly expressed — she had put herself to great inconvenience, and had come to London in March. “Gustavus will go mad,” said Violet to Lady Laura. The Gustavus in question was the Lord Baldock of the present generation, Miss Effingham’s Lady Baldock being the peer’s mother. “Why does not Lord Baldock take a house himself?” asked Lady Laura. “Don’t you know, my dear, Violet answered, “how much we Baddingham people think of money? We don’t like being vexed and driven mad, but even that is better than keeping up two households.” As regarded Violet, the injury arising from Lady Baldock’s early migration was very great, for she was thus compelled to move from Grosvenor Place to Lady Baldock’s house in Berkeley Square. “As you are so fond of being in London, Augusta and I have made up our minds to come up before Easter,” Lady Baldock had written to her.
“I shall go to her now”, Violet had said to her friend, “because I have not quite made up my mind as to what I will do for the future.”
“Marry Oswald, and be your own mistress.”
“I mean to be my own mistress without marrying Oswald, though I don’t see my way quite clearly as yet. I think I shall set up a little house of my own, and let the world say what it pleases. I suppose they couldn’t make me out to be a lunatic.”
“I shouldn’t wonder if they were to try,” said Lady Laura.
“They could not prevent me in any other way. But I am in the dark as yet, and so I shall be obedient and go to my aunt.”
Miss Effingham went to Berkeley Square, and Phineas Finn was introduced to Lady Baldock. He had been often in Grosvenor Place, and had seen Violet frequently. Mr Kennedy gave periodical dinners — once a week — to which everybody went who could get an invitation; and Phineas had been a guest more than once. Indeed, in spite of his miseries he had taken to dining out a good deal, and was popular as an eater of dinners. He could talk when wanted, and did not talk too much, was pleasant in manners and appearance, and had already achieved a certain recognised position in London life. Of those who knew him intimately, not one in twenty were aware from whence he came, what was his parentage, or what his means of living. He was a member of Parliament, a friend of Mr Kennedy’s, was intimate with Mr Monk, though an Irishman did not as a rule herd with other Irishmen, and was the right sort of person to have at your house. Some people said he was a cousin of Lord Brentford’s, and others declared that he was Lord Chiltern’s earliest friend. There he was, however, with a position gained, and even Lady Baldock asked him to her house.
Lady Baldock had evenings. People went to her house, and stood about the room and on the stairs, talked to each other for half an hour, and went away. In these March days there was no crowding, but still there were always enough of people there to show that Lady Baldock was successful. Why people should have gone to Lady Baldock’s I cannot explain — but there are houses to which people go without any reason. Phineas received a little card asking him to go, and he always went.
“I think you like my friend, Mr Finn,” Lady Laura said to Miss Effingham, after the first of these evenings.
“Yes, I do. I like him decidedly.”
“So do I. I should hardly have thought that you would have taken a fancy to him.”
“I hardly know what you call taking a fancy,” said Violet. “I am not quite sure I like to be told that I have taken a fancy for a young man.”
“I mean no offence, my dear.”
“Of course you don’t. But, to speak truth, I think I have rather taken a fancy to him. There is just enough of him, but not too much. I don’t mean materially — in regard to his inches; but as to his mental belongings. I hate a stupid man who can’t talk to me, and I hate a clever man who talks me down. I don’t like a man who is too lazy to make any effort to shine; but I particularly dislike the man who is always striving for effect. I abominate a humble man, but yet I love to perceive that a man acknowledges the superiority of my sex, and youth, and all that kind of thing.”
“You want to be flattered without plain flattery.”
“Of course I do. A man who would tell me that I am pretty, unless he is over seventy, ought to be kicked out of the room. But a man who can’t show me that he thinks me so without saying a word about it, is a lout. Now in all those matters, your friend, Mr Finn, seems to know what he is about. In other words, he makes himself pleasant, and, therefore, one is glad to see him.”
“I suppose you do not mean to fall in love with him?”
“Not that I know of, my dear. But when I do, I’ll be sure to give you notice.”
I fear that there was more of earnestness in Lady Laura’s last question than Miss Effingham had supposed. She had declared to herself over and over again that she had never been in love with Phineas Finn. She had acknowledged to herself, before Mr Kennedy had asked her hand in marriage, that there had been danger — that she could have learned to love the man if such love would not have been ruinous to her — that the romance of such a passion would have been pleasant to her. She had gone farther than this, and had said to herself that she would have given way to that romance, and would have been ready to accept such love if offered to her, had she not put it out of her own power to marry a poor man by her generosity to her brother. Then she had thrust the thing aside, and had clearly understood — she thought that she had clearly understood — that life for her must be a matter of business. Was it not the case with nine out of every ten among mankind, with nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand, that life must be a matter of business and not of romance? Of course she could not marry Mr Finn, knowing, as she did, that neither of them had a shilling. Of all men in the world she esteemed Mr Kennedy the most, and when these thoughts were passing through her mind, she was well aware that he would ask her to be his wife. Had she not resolved that she would accept the offer, she would not have gone to Loughlinter. Having put aside all romance as unfitted to her life, she could, she thought, do her duty as Mr Kennedy’s wife. She would teach herself to love him. Nay — she had taught herself to love him. She was at any rate so sure of her own heart that she would never give her husband cause to rue the confidence he placed in her. And yet there was something sore within her when she thought that Phineas Finn was fond of Violet Effingham.
It was Lady Baldock’s second evening, and Phineas came to the house at about eleven o’clock. At this time he had encountered a second and a third interview with Mr Clarkson, and had already failed in obtaining any word of comfort from Laurence Fitzgibbon about the bill. It was clear enough now that Laurence felt that they were both made safe by their privilege, and that Mr Clarkson should be treated as you treat the organ-grinders. They are a nuisance and must be endured. But the nuisance is not so great but what you can live in comfort — if only you are not too sore as to the annoyance. “My dear fellow,” Laurence had said to him, I have had Clarkson almost living in my rooms. He used to drink nearly a pint of sherry a day for me. All I looked to was that I didn’t live there at the same time. If you wish it, I’ll send in the sherry.” This was very bad, and Phineas tried to quarrel with his friend; but he found that it was difficult to quarrel with Laurence Fitzgibbon.
But though on this side Phineas was very miserable, on another side he had obtained great comfort. Mr Monk and he were better friends than ever. “As to what Turnbull says about me in the House,” Mr Monk had said, laughing; “he and I understand each other perfectly. I should like to see you on your legs, but it is just as well, perhaps, that you have deferred it. We shall have the real question on immediately after Easter, and then you’ll have plenty of opportunities.” Phineas had explained how he had attempted, how he had failed, and how he had suffered — and Mr Monk had been generous in his sympathy. “I know all about it,” said he, “and have gone through it all myself. The more respect you feel for the House, the more satisfaction you will have in addressing it when you have mastered this difficulty.”
The first person who spoke to Phineas at Lady Baldock’s was Miss Fitzgibbon, Laurence’s sister. Aspasia Fitzgibbon was a warm woman as regarded money, and as she was moreover a most discreet spinster, she was made welcome by Lady Baldock, in spite of the well-known iniquities of her male relatives. “Mr Finn,” said she, “how d’ye do? I want to say a word to ye. Just come here into the corner.” Phineas, not knowing how to escape, did retreat into the corner with Miss Fitzgibbon. “Tell me now, Mr Finn — have ye been lending money to Larrence?”
“No; I have lent him no money,” said Phineas, much astonished by the question.
“Don’t. That’s my advice to ye. Don’t. On any other matter Larrence is the best creature in the world — but he’s bad to lend money to. You ain’t in any hobble with him, then?”
“Well — nothing to speak of. What makes you ask?”
“Then you are in a hobble? Dear, dear! I never saw such a man as Larrence — never. Goodbye. I wouldn’t do it again, if I were you — that’s all.” Then Miss Fitzgibbon came out of the corner and made her way downstairs.
Phineas immediately afterwards came across Miss Effingham. “I did not know”, said she, “that you and the divine Aspasia were such close allies.”
“We are the dearest friends in the world, but she has taken my breath away now.”
“May a body be told how she has done that?” Violet asked.
“Well, no; I’m afraid not, even though the body be Miss Effingham. It was a profound secret — really a secret concerning a third person, and she began about it just as though she were speaking about the weather!”
“How charming! I do so like her. You haven’t heard, have you, that Mr Ratler proposed to her the other day?”
“But he did — at least, so she tells everybody. She said she’d take him if he would promise to get her brother’s salary doubled.”
“Did she tell you?”
“No; not me. And of course I don’t believe a word of it. I suppose Barrington Erle made up the story. Are you going out of town next week, Mr Finn?” The week next to this was Easter Week. “I heard you were going into Northamptonshire.”
“From Lady Laura?”
“Yes — from Lady Laura.”
“I intend to spend three days with Lord Chiltern at Willingford. It is an old promise. I am going to ride his horses — that is, if I am able to ride them.”
“Take care what you are about, Mr Finn — they say his horses are so dangerous!”
“I’m rather good at falling, I flatter myself.”
“I know that Lord Chiltern rides anything he can sit, so long as it is some animal that nobody else will ride. It was always so with him. He is so odd; is he not?”
Phineas knew, of course, that Lord Chiltern had more than once asked Violet Effingham to be his wife — and he believed that she, from her intimacy with Lady Laura, must know that he knew it. He had also heard Lady Laura express a very strong wish that, in spite of these refusals, Violet might even yet become her brother’s wife. And Phineas also knew that Violet Effingham was becoming, in his own estimation, the most charming woman of his acquaintance. How was he to talk to her about Lord Chiltern?
“He is odd,” said Phineas; but he is an excellent fellow — whom his father altogether misunderstands.”
“Exactly — just so; I am so glad to hear you say that — you who have never had the misfortune to have anything to do with a bad set. Why don’t you tell Lord Brentford? Lord Brentford would listen to you.”
“Yes — of course he would — for you are just the link that is wanting. You are Chiltern’s intimate friend, and you are also the friend of big-wigs and Cabinet Ministers.”
“Lord Brentford would put me down at once if I spoke to him on such a subject.”
“I am sure he would not. You are too big to be put down, and no man can really dislike to hear his son well spoken of by those who are well spoken of themselves. Won’t you try, Mr Finn?” Phineas said that he would think of it — that he would try if any fit opportunity could be found. “Of course you know how intimate I have been with the Standishes,” said Violet; “that Laura is to me a sister, and that Oswald used to be almost a brother.”
“Why do not you speak to Lord Brentford — you who are his favourite?”
“There are reasons, Mr Finn. Besides, how can any girl come forward and say that she knows the disposition of any man? You can live with Lord Chiltern, and see what he is made of, and know his thoughts, and learn what is good in him, and also what is bad. After all, how is any girl really to know anything of a man’s life?”
“If I can do anything, Miss Effingham, I will,” said Phineas.
“And then we shall all of us be so grateful to you,” said Violet, with her sweetest smile.
Phineas, retreating from this conversation, stood for a while alone, thinking of it. Had she spoken thus of Lord Chiltern because she did love him or because she did not? And the sweet commendations which had fallen from her lips upon him — him, Phineas Finn — were they compatible with anything like a growing partiality for himself, or were they incompatible with any such feeling? Had he most reason to be comforted or to be discomfited by what had taken place? It seemed hardly possible to his imagination that Violet Effingham should love such a nobody as he. And yet he had had fair evidence that one standing as high in the world as Violet Effingham would fain have loved him could she have followed the dictates of her heart. He had trembled when he had first resolved to declare his passion to Lady Laura — fearing that she would scorn him as being presumptuous. But there had been no cause for such fear as that. He had declared his love, and she had not thought him to be presumptuous. That now was ages ago — eight months since; and Lady Laura had become a married woman. Since he had become so warmly alive to the charms of Violet Effingham he had determined, with stern propriety, that a passion for a married woman was disgraceful. Such love was in itself a sin, even though it was accompanied by the severest forbearance and the most rigid propriety of conduct. No — Lady Laura had done wisely to check the growing feeling of partiality which she had admitted; and now that she was married, he would be as wise as she. It was clear to him that, as regarded his own heart, the way was open to him for a new enterprise. But what if he were to fail again, and be told by Violet, when he declared his love, that she had just engaged herself to Lord Chiltern!
“What were you and Violet talking about so eagerly?” said Lady Laura to him, with a smile that, in its approach to laughter, almost betrayed its mistress.
“We were talking about your brother.”
“You are going to him, are you not?”
“Yes; I leave London on Sunday night — but only for a day or two.”
“Has he any chance there, do you think?”
“What, with Miss Effingham?”
“Yes — with Violet. Sometimes I think she loves him.”
“How can I say? In such a matter you can judge better than I can do. One woman with reference to another can draw the line between love and friendship. She certainly likes Chiltern.”
“Oh, I believe she loves him. I do indeed. But she fears him. She does not quite understand how much there is of tenderness with that assumed ferocity. And Oswald is so strange, so unwise, so impolitic, that though he loves her better than all the world beside, he will not sacrifice even a turn of a word to win her. When he asks her to marry him, he almost flies at her throat, as an angry debtor who applies for instant payment. Tell him, Mr Finn, never to give it over — and teach him that he should be soft with her. Tell him, also, that in her heart she likes him. One woman, as you say, knows another woman; and I am certain he would win her if he would only be gentle with her.” Then, again, before they parted, Lady Laura told him that this marriage was the dearest wish of her heart, and that there would be no end to her gratitude if Phineas could do anything to promote it. All which again made our hero unhappy.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14