Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 25

Mr Turnbull”s carriage stops the way

When Phineas got back to London, a day after his time, he found that there was already a great political commotion in the metropolis. He had known that on Easter Monday and Tuesday there was to be a gathering of the people in favour of the ballot, and that on Wednesday there was to be a procession with a petition which Mr Turnbull was to receive from the hands of the people on Primrose Hill. It had been at first intended that Mr Turnbull should receive the petition at the door of Westminster Hall on the Thursday; but he had been requested by the Home Secretary to put aside this intention, and he had complied with the request made to him. Mr Mildmay was to move the second reading of his Reform Bill on that day, the preliminary steps having been taken without any special notice; but the bill of course included no clause in favour of the ballot; and this petition was the consequence of that omission. Mr Turnbull had predicted evil consequences, both in the House and out of it, and was now doing the best in his power to bring about the verification of his own prophecies. Phineas, who reached his lodgings late on the Thursday, found that the town had been in a state of ferment for three days, that on the Wednesday forty or fifty thousand persons had been collected at Primrose Hill, and that the police had been forced to interfere — and that worse was expected on the Friday. Though Mr Turnbull had yielded to the Government as to receiving the petition, the crowd was resolved that they would see the petition carried into the House. It was argued that the Government would have done better to have refrained from interfering as to the previously intended arrangement. It would have been easier to deal with a procession than with a mob of men gathered together without any semblance of form. Mr Mildmay had been asked to postpone the second reading of his bill; but the request had come from his opponents, and he would not yield to it. He said that it would be a bad expedient to close Parliament from fear of the people, Phineas found at the Reform Club on the Thursday evening that members of the House of Commons were requested to enter on the Friday by the door usually used by the peers, and to make their way thence to their own House. He found that his landlord, Mr Bunce, had been out with the people during the entire three days — and Mrs Bunce, with a flood of tears, begged Phineas to interfere as to the Friday. “He’s that headstrong that he’ll be took if anybody’s took; and they say that all Westminster is to be lined with soldiers.” Phineas on the Friday morning did have some conversation with his landlord; but his first work on reaching London was to see Lord Chiltern’s friends, and tell them of the accident.

The potted peas Committee sat on the Thursday, and he ought to have been there. His absence, however, was unavoidable, as he could not have left his friend’s bedside so soon after the accident. On the Wednesday he had written to Lady Laura, and on the Thursday evening he went first to Portman Square and then to Grosvenor Place.

“Of course he will kill himself some day,” said the Earl — with a tear, however, in each eye.

“I hope not, my lord. He is a magnificent horseman; but accidents of course will happen.”

“How many of his bones are there not broken, I wonder?” said the father. “It is useless to talk, of course. You think he is not in danger?”

“Certainly not.”

“I should fear that he would be so liable to inflammation.”

“The doctor says that there is none. He has been taking an enormous deal of exercise,” said Phineas, “and drinking no wine. All that is in his favour.”

“What does he drink, then?” asked the Earl.

“Nothing. I rather think, my lord, you are mistaken a little about his habits. I don’t fancy he ever drinks unless he is provoked to do it.”

“Provoked! Could anything provoke you to make a brute of yourself? But I am glad that he is in no danger. If you hear of him, let me know how he goes on.”

Lady Laura was of course full of concern. “I wanted to go down to him”, she said, “but Mr Kennedy thought that there was no occasion.”

“Nor is there any — I mean in regard to danger. He is very solitary there.”

“You must go to him again. Mr Kennedy will not let me go unless I can say that there is danger. He seems to think that because Oswald has had accidents before, it is nothing. Of course I cannot leave London without his leave.”

“Your brother makes very little of it, you know.”

“Ah — he would make little of anything. But if I were ill he would be in London by the first train.”

“Kennedy would let you go if you asked him.”

“But he advises me not to go. He says my duty does not require it, unless Oswald be in danger. Don’t you know, Mr Finn, how hard it is for a wife not to take advice when it is so given?” This she said, within six months of her marriage, to the man who had been her husband’s rival!

Phineas asked her whether Violet had heard the news, and learned that she was still ignorant of it. “I got your letter only this morning, and I have not seen her,” said Lady Laura. “Indeed, I am so angry with her that I hardly wish to see her.” Thursday was Lady Baldock’s night, and Phineas went from Grosvenor Place to Berkeley Square. There he saw Violet, and found that she had heard of the accident.

“I am so glad to see you, Mr Finn,” she said. Do tell me — is it much?”

“Much in inconvenience, certainly; but not much in danger.”

“I think Laura was so unkind not to send me word! I only heard it just now. Did you see it?”

“I was close to him, and helped him up. The horse jumped into a river with him, and crushed him up against the bank.”

“How lucky that you should be there! Had you jumped the river?”

“Yes — almost unintentionally, for my horse was rushing so that I could not hold him. Chiltern was riding a brute that no one should have ridden. No one will again.”

“Did he destroy himself?”

“He had to be killed afterwards. He broke his shoulder.”

“How very lucky that you should have been near him — and, again, how lucky that you should not have been hurt yourself!”

“It was not likely that we should both come to grief at the same fence.”

“But it might have been you. And you think there is no danger?”

“None whatever — if I may believe the doctor. His hunting is done for this year, and he will be very desolate. I shall go down again to him in a few days, and try to bring him up to town.”

“Do — do. If he is laid up in his father’s house, his father must see him.” Phineas had not looked at the matter in that light; but he thought that Miss Effingham might probably be right.

Early on the next morning he saw Mr Bunce, and used all his eloquence to keep that respectable member of society at home — but in vain. “What good do you expect to do, Mr Bunce?” he said, with perhaps some little tone of authority in his voice.

“To carry my point,” said Bunce.

“And what is your point?”

“My present point is the ballot, as a part of the Government measure.”

“And you expect to carry that by going out into the streets with all the roughs of London, and putting yourself in direct opposition to the authority of the magistrates? Do you really believe that the ballot will become the law of the land any sooner because you incur this danger and inconvenience?”

“Look here, Mr Finn; I don’t believe the sea will become any fuller because the Piddle runs into it out of the Dorsetshire fields; but I do believe that the waters from all the countries is what makes the ocean. I shall help; and it’s my duty to help.”

“It’s your duty as a respectable citizen, with a wife and family, to stay at home.”

“If everybody with a wife and family was to say so, there’d be none there but roughs, and then where should we be? What would the Government people say to us then? If every man with a wife and family was to show hisself in the streets tonight, we should have the ballot before Parliament breaks up, and if none of ’em don’t do it, we shall never have the ballot. Ain’t that so?” Phineas, who intended to be honest, was not prepared to dispute the assertion on the spur of the moment. “If that’s so,” said Bunce, triumphantly, a man’s duty’s clear enough. He ought to go, though he’d two wives and families.” And he went.

The petition was to be presented at six o’clock, but the crowd, who collected to see it carried into Westminster Hall, began to form itself by noon. It was said afterwards that many of the houses in the neighbourhood of Palace Yard and the Bridge were filled with soldiers; but if so, the men did not show themselves. In the course of the evening three or four companies of the Guards in St James’s Park did show themselves, and had some rough work to do, for many of the people took themselves away from Westminster by that route. The police, who were very numerous in Palace Yard, had a hard time of it all the afternoon, and it was said afterwards that it would have been much better to have allowed the petition to have been brought up by the procession on Wednesday. A procession, let it be who it will that proceeds, has in it, of its own nature, something of order. But now there was no order. The petition, which was said to fill fifteen cabs — though the absolute sheets of signatures were carried into the House by four men — was being dragged about half the day, and it certainly would have been impossible for a member to have made his way into the House through Westminster Hall between the hours of four and six. To effect an entrance at all they were obliged to go round at the back of the Abbey, as all the spaces round St Margaret’s Church and Canning’s monument were filled with the crowd. Parliament Street was quite impassable at five o’clock, and there was no traffic across the bridge from that hour till after eight. As the evening went on, the mob extended itself to Downing Street and the front of the Treasury Chambers, and before the night was over all the hoardings round the new Government offices had been pulled down. The windows also of certain obnoxious members of Parliament were broken, when those obnoxious members lived within reach. One gentleman who unfortunately held a house in Richmond Terrace, and who was said to have said that the ballot was the resort of cowards, fared very badly — for his windows were not only broken, but his furniture and mirrors were destroyed by the stones that were thrown. Mr Mildmay, I say, was much blamed. But after all, it may be a doubt whether the procession on Wednesday might not have ended worse. Mr Turnbull was heard to say afterwards that the number of people collected would have been much greater.

Mr Mildmay moved the second reading of his bill, and made his speech. He made his speech with the knowledge that the Houses of Parliament were surrounded by a mob, and I think that the fact added to its efficacy. It certainly gave him an appropriate opportunity for a display which was not difficult. His voice faltered on two or three occasions, and faltered through real feeling; but this sort of feeling, though it be real, is at the command of orators on certain occasions, and does them yeoman’s service. Mr Mildmay was an old man, nearly worn out in the service of his country, who was known to have been true and honest, and to have loved his country well — though there were of course they who declared that his hand had been too weak for power, and that his services had been naught — and on this evening his virtues were remembered. Once when his voice failed him the whole House got up and cheered. The nature of a Whig Prime Minister’s speech on such an occasion will be understood by most of my readers without further indication. The bill itself had been read before, and it was understood that no objection would be made to the extent of the changes provided in it by the liberal side of the House. The opposition coming from liberal members was to be confined to the subject of the ballot. And even as yet it was not known whether Mr Turnbull and his followers would vote against the second reading, or whether they would take what was given, and declare their intention of obtaining the remainder on a separate motion. The opposition of a large party of Conservatives was a matter of certainty; but to this party Mr Mildmay did not conceive himself bound to offer so large an amount of argument as he would have given had there been at the moment no crowd in Palace Yard. And he probably felt that that crowd would assist him with his old Tory enemies. When, in the last words of his speech, he declared that under no circumstances would he disfigure the close of his political career by voting for the ballot — not though the people, on whose behalf he had been fighting battles all his life, should be there in any number to coerce him — there came another round of applause from the opposition benches, and Mr Daubeny began to fear that some young horses in his team might get loose from their traces. With great dignity Mr Daubeny had kept aloof from Mr Turnbull and from Mr Turnbull’s tactics; but he was not the less alive to the fact that Mr Turnbull, with his mob and his big petition, might be of considerable assistance to him in this present duel between himself and Mr Mildmay. I think Mr Daubeny was in the habit of looking at these contests as duels between himself and the leader on the other side of the House — in which assistance from any quarter might be accepted if offered.

Mr Mildmay’s speech did not occupy much over an hour, and at half past seven Mr Turnbull got up to reply. It was presumed that he would do so, and not a member left his place, though that time of the day is an interesting time, and though Mr Turnbull was accustomed to be long. There soon came to be but little ground for doubting what would be the nature of Mr Turnbull’s vote on the second reading. “How may I dare,” said he, “to accept so small a measure of reform as this with such a message from the country as is now conveyed to me through the presence of fifty thousand of my countrymen, who are at this moment demanding their measure of reform just beyond the frail walls of this chamber? The right honourable gentleman has told us that he will never be intimidated by a concourse of people. I do not know that there was any need that he should speak of intimidation. No one has accused the right honourable gentleman of political cowardice. But, as he has so said, I will follow in his footsteps. Neither will I be intimidated by the large majority which this House presented the other night against the wishes of the people. I will support no great measure of reform which does not include the ballot among its clauses.” And so Mr Turnbull threw down the gauntlet.

Mr Turnbull spoke for two hours, and then the debate was adjourned till the Monday. The adjournment was moved by an independent member, who, as was known, would support the Government, and at once received Mr Turnbull’s assent. There was no great hurry with the bill, and it was felt that it would be well to let the ferment subside. Enough had been done for glory when Mr Mildmay moved the second reading, and quite enough in the way of debate — with such an audience almost within hearing — when Mr Turnbull’s speech had been made. Then the House emptied itself at once. The elderly, cautious members made their exit through the peers’ door. The younger men got out into the crowd through Westminster Hall, and were pushed about among the roughs for an hour or so. Phineas, who made his way through the hall with Laurence Fitzgibbon, found Mr Turnbull’s carriage waiting at the entrance with a dozen policemen round it.

“I hope he won’t get home to dinner before midnight,” said Phineas.

“He understands all about it,” said Laurence. He had a good meal at three, before he left home, and you’d find sandwiches and sherry in plenty if you were to search his carriage. He knows how to remedy the costs of mob popularity.”

At that time poor Bunce was being hustled about in the crowd in the vicinity of Mr Turnbull’s carriage. Phineas and Fitzgibbon made their way out, and by degrees worked a passage for themselves into Parliament Street. Mr Turnbull had been somewhat behind them in coming down the hall, and had not been without a sense of enjoyment in the ovation which was being given to him. There can be no doubt that he was wrong in what he was doing. That affair of the carriage was altogether wrong, and did Mr Turnbull much harm for many a day afterwards. When he got outside the door, where were the twelve policemen guarding his carriage, a great number of his admirers endeavoured to shake hands with him. Among them was the devoted Bunce. But the policemen seemed to think that Mr Turnbull was to be guarded, even from the affection of his friends, and were as careful that he should be ushered into his carriage untouched, as though he had been the favourite object of political aversion for the moment. Mr Turnbull himself, when he began to perceive that men were crowding close upon the gates, and to hear the noise, and to feel, as it were, the breath of the mob, stepped on quickly into his carriage. He said a word or two in a loud voice. “Thank you, my friends. I trust you may obtain all your just demands.” But he did not pause to speak. Indeed, he could hardly have done so, as the policemen were manifestly in a hurry. The carriage was got away at a snail’s pace — but there remained in the spot where the carriage had stood the makings of a very pretty street row.

Bunce had striven hard to shake hands with his hero — Bunce and some other reformers as ardent and as decent as himself. The police were very determinate that there should be no such interruption to their programme for getting Mr Turnbull off the scene. Mr Bunce, who had his own ideas as to his right to shake hands with any gentleman at Westminster Hall who might choose to shake hands with him, became uneasy under the impediments that were placed in his way, and expressed himself warmly as to his civil rights. Now a London policeman in a political row is, I believe, the most forbearing of men. So long as he meets with no special political opposition, ordinary ill-usage does not even put him out of temper. He is paid for rough work among roughs, and takes his rubs gallantly. But he feels himself to be an instrument for the moment of despotic power as opposed to civil rights, and he won’t stand what he calls “jaw.” Trip up a policeman in such a scramble, and he will take it in good spirit; but mention the words “Habeas Corpus,” and he’ll lock you up if he can. As a rule, his instincts are right; for the man who talks about “Habeas Corpus” in a political crowd will generally do more harm than can be effected by the tripping up of any constable. But these instincts may be the means of individual injustice. I think they were so when Mr Bunce was arrested and kept a fast prisoner. His wife had shown her knowledge of his character when she declared that he’d be “took” if anyone was “took.”

Bunce was taken into custody with some three or four others like himself — decent men, who meant no harm, but who thought that as men they were bound to show their political opinions, perhaps at the expense of a little martyrdom — and was carried into a temporary stronghold, which had been provided for the necessities of the police, under the clock-tower.

“Keep me, at your peril!” said Bunce, indignantly.

“We means it,” said the sergeant who had him in custody.

“I’ve done no ha’porth to break the law,” said Bunce.

“You was breaking the law when you was upsetting my men, as I saw you,” said the sergeant.

“I’ve upset nobody,” said Bunce.

“Very well,” rejoined the sergeant; you can say it all before the magistrate, tomorrow.”

“And am I to be locked up all night?” said Bunce.

“I’m afraid you will,” replied the sergeant.

Bunce, who was not by nature a very talkative man, said no more; but he swore in his heart that there should be vengeance. Between eleven and twelve he was taken to the regular police station, and from thence he was enabled to send word to his wife.

“Bunce has been taken,” said she, with something of the tragic queen, and something also of the injured wife in the tone of her voice, as soon as Phineas let himself in with the latchkey between twelve and one. And then, mingled with, and at last dominant over, those severer tones, came the voice of the loving woman whose beloved one was in trouble. “I knew how it’d be, Mr Finn. Didn’t I? And what must we do? I don’t suppose he’d had a bit to eat from the moment he went out — and as for a drop of beer, he never thinks of it, except what I puts down for him at his meals. Them nasty police always take the best, That’s why I was so afeard.”

Phineas said all that he could to comfort her, and promised to go to the police office early in the morning and look after Bunce. No serious evil would, he thought, probably come of it; but still Bunce had been wrong to go.

“But you might have been took yourself,” argued Mrs Bunce, “just as well as he.” Then Phineas explained that he had gone forth in the execution of a public duty. “You might have been took, all the same,” said Mrs Bunce, “for I’m sure Bunce didn’t do nothing amiss.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01