Lady Laura Kennedy heard two accounts of her friend’s speech — and both from men who had been present. Her husband was in his place, in accordance with his constant practice, and Lord Brentford had been seated, perhaps unfortunately, in the peers’ gallery.
“And you think it was a failure?” Lady Laura said to her husband.
“It certainly was not a success. There was nothing particular about it. There was a good deal of it you could hardly hear.”
After that she got the morning newspapers, and turned with great interest to the report. Phineas Finn had been, as it were, adopted by her as her own political offspring — or at any rate as her political godchild. She had made promises on his behalf to various personages of high political standing — to her father, to Mr Monk, to the Duke of St Bungay, and even to Mr Mildmay himself. She had thoroughly intended that Phineas Finn should be a political success from the first; and since her marriage, she had, I think, been more intent upon it than before. Perhaps there was a feeling on her part that having wronged him in one way, she would repay him in another. She had become so eager for his success — for a while scorning to conceal her feeling — that her husband had unconsciously begun to entertain a dislike to her eagerness. We know how quickly women arrive at an understanding of the feelings of those with whom they live; and now, on that very occasion, Lady Laura perceived that her husband did not take in good part her anxiety on behalf of her friend. She saw that it was so as she turned over the newspaper looking for the report of the speech. It was given in six lines, and at the end of it there was an intimation — expressed in the shape of advice — that the young orator had better speak more slowly if he wished to be efficacious either with the House or with the country.
“He seems to have been cheered a good deal,” said Lady Laura.
“All members are cheered at their first speech,” said Mr Kennedy.
“I’ve no doubt he’ll do well yet,” said Lady Laura.
“Very likely,” said Mr Kennedy. Then he turned to his newspaper, and did not take his eyes off it as long as his wife remained with him.
Later in the day Lady Laura saw her father, and Miss Effingham was with her at the time, Lord Brentford said something which indicated that he had heard the debate on the previous evening, and Lady Laura instantly began to ask him about Phineas.
“The less said the better,” was the Earl’s reply.
“Do you mean that it was so bad as that?” asked Lady Laura.
“It was not very bad at first — though indeed nobody could say it was very good. But he got himself into a mess about the police and the magistrates before he had done, and nothing but the kindly feeling always shown to a first effort saved him from being coughed down.” Lady Laura had not a word more to say about Phineas to her father; but, womanlike, she resolved that she would not abandon him. How many first failures in the world had been the precursors of ultimate success! “Mildmay will lose his bill,” said the Earl, sorrowfully. “There does not seem to be a doubt about that.”
“And what will you all do?” asked Lady Laura.
“We must go to the country, I suppose,” said the Earl.
“What’s the use? You can’t have a more liberal House than you have now,” said Lady Laura.
“We may have one less liberal — or rather less radical — with fewer men to support Mr Turnbull. I do not see what else we can do. They say that there are no less than twenty-seven men on our side of the House who will either vote with Turnbull against us, or will decline to vote at all.”
“Every one of them ought to lose his seat,” said Lady Laura.
“But what can we do? How is the Queen’s Government to be carried on?” We all know the sad earnestness which impressed itself on the Earl’s brow as he asked these momentous questions. “I don’t suppose that Mr Turnbull can form a Ministry.”
“With Mr Daubeny as whipper-in, perhaps he might,” said Lady Laura.
“And will Mr Finn lose his seat?” asked Violet Effingham.
“Most probably,” said the Earl. He only got it by an accident.”
“You must find him a seat somewhere in England,” said Violet.
“That might be difficult,” said the Earl, who then left the room.
The two women remained together for some quarter of an hour before they spoke again. Then Lady Laura said something about her brother. “If there be a dissolution, I hope Oswald will stand for Loughton.” Loughton was a borough close to Saulsby, in which, as regarded its political interests, Lord Brentford was supposed to have considerable influence. To this Violet said nothing. “It is quite time,” continued Lady Laura, “that old Mr Standish should give way. He has had the seat for twenty-five years, and has never done anything, and he seldom goes to the House now.”
“He is not your uncle, is he?”
“No; he is papa’s cousin; but he is ever so much older than papa — nearly eighty, I believe.”
“Would not that be just the place for Mr Finn?” said Violet.
Then Lady Laura became very serious. “Oswald would of course have a better right to it than anybody else.”
“But would Lord Chiltern go into Parliament? I have heard him declare that he would not.”
“If we could get papa to ask him, I think he would change his mind,” said Lady Laura.
There was again silence for a few moments, after which Violet returned to the original subject of their conversation.
“It would be a thousand pities that Mr Finn should be turned out into the cold. Don’t you think so?”
“I, for one, should be very sorry.”
“So should I— and the more so from what Lord Brentford says about his not speaking well last night. I don’t think that it is very much of an accomplishment for a gentleman to speak well. Mr Turnbull, I suppose, speaks well; and they say that that horrid man, Mr Bonteen, can talk by the hour together. I don’t think that it shows a man to be clever at all. But I believe Mr Finn would do it, if he set his mind to it, and I shall think it a great shame if they turn him out.”
“It would depend very much, I suppose, on Lord Tulla.”
“I don’t know anything about Lord Tulla”, said Violet; “but I’m quite sure that he might have Loughton, if we manage it properly. Of course Lord Chiltern should have it if he wants it, but I don’t think he will stand in Mr Finn’s way.”
“I’m afraid it’s out of the question,” said Lady Laura, gravely. “Papa thinks so much about the borough.” The reader will remember that both Lord Brentford and his daughter were thorough reformers! The use of a little borough of his own, however, is a convenience to a great peer.
“Those difficult things have always to be talked of for a long while, and then they become easy,” said Violet. “I believe if you were to propose to Mr Kennedy to give all his property to the Church Missionaries and emigrate to New Zealand, he’d begin to consider it seriously after a time.”
“I shall not try, at any rate.”
“Because you don’t want to go to New Zealand — but you might try about Loughton for poor Mr Finn.”
“Violet,” said Lady Laura, after a moment’s pause — and she spoke sharply; “Violet, I believe you are in love with Mr Finn.”
“That’s just like you, Laura.”
“I never made such an accusation against you before, or against anybody else that I can remember. But I do begin to believe that you are in love with Mr Finn.”
“Why shouldn’t I be in love with him, if I like?”
“I say nothing about that — only he has not got a penny.”
“But I have, my dear.”
“And I doubt whether you have any reason for supposing that he is in love with you.”
“That would be my affair, my dear.”
“Then you are in love with him?”
“That is my affair also.”
Lady Laura shrugged her shoulders. “Of course it is; and if you tell me to hold my tongue, of course I will do so. If you ask me whether I think it a good match, of course I must say I do not.”
“I don’t tell you to hold your tongue, and I don’t ask you what you think about the match. You are quite welcome to talk as much about me as you please — but as to Mr Phineas Finn, you have no business to think anything.”
“I shouldn’t talk to anybody but yourself.”
“I am growing to be quite indifferent as to what people say. Lady Baldock asked me the other day whether I was going to throw myself away on Mr Laurence Fitzgibbon.”
“Indeed she did.”
“And what did you answer?”
“I told her that it was not quite settled; but that as I had only spoken to him once during the last two years, and then for not more than half a minute, and as I wasn’t sure whether I knew him by sight, and as I had reason to suppose he didn’t know my name, there might, perhaps, be a delay of a week or two before the thing came off. Then she flounced out of the room.”
“But what made her ask about Mr Fitzgibbon?”
“Somebody had been hoaxing her. I am beginning to think that Augusta does it for her private amusement. If so, I shall think more highly of my dear cousin than I have hitherto done. But, Laura, as you have made a similar accusation against me, and as I cannot get out of it with you as I do with my aunt, I must ask you to hear my protestation. I am not in love with Mr Phineas Finn. Heaven help me — as far as I can tell, I am not in love with anyone, and never shall be.” Lady Laura looked pleased. “Do you know, continued Violet, “that I think I could be in love with Mr Phineas Finn, if I could be in love with anybody?” Then Lady Laura looked displeased. “In the first place, he is a gentleman,” continued Violet. “Then he is a man of spirit. And then he has not too much spirit — not that kind of spirit which makes some men think that they are the finest things going. His manners are perfect — not Chesterfieldian, and yet never offensive. He never browbeats anyone, and never toadies anyone. He knows how to live easily with men of all ranks, without any appearance of claiming a special status for himself. If he were made Archbishop of Canterbury tomorrow, I believe he would settle down into the place of the first subject in the land without arrogance, and without false shame.”
“You are his eulogist with a vengeance.”
“I am his eulogist; but I am not in love with him. If he were to ask me to be his wife tomorrow, I should be distressed, and should refuse him. If he were to marry my dearest friend in the world, I should tell him to kiss me and be my brother. As to Mr Phineas Finn — those are my sentiments.”
“What you say is very odd.”
“Simply because mine are the same.”
“Are they the same? I once thought, Laura, that you did love him — that you meant to be his wife.”
Lady Laura sat for a while without making any reply to this. She sat with her elbow on the table and with her face leaning on her hand — thinking how far it would tend to her comfort if she spoke in true confidence. Violet during the time never took her eyes from her friend’s face, but remained silent as though waiting for an answer. She had been very explicit as to her feelings. Would Laura Kennedy be equally explicit? She was too clever to forget that such plainness of speech would be, must be more difficult to Lady Laura than to herself. Lady Laura was a married woman; but she felt that her friend would have been wrong to search for secrets, unless she were ready to tell her own. It was probably some such feeling which made Lady Laura speak at last.
“So I did, nearly — “ said Lady Laura; very nearly. You told me just now that you had money, and could therefore do as you pleased. I had no money, and could not do as I pleased.”
“And you told me also that I had no reason for thinking that he cared for me.”
“Did I? Well — I suppose you have no reason. He did care for me. He did love me.”
“He told you so?”
“Yes — he told me so.”
“And how did you answer him?”
“I had that very morning become engaged to Mr Kennedy. That was my answer.”
“And what did he say when you told him?”
“I do not know. I cannot remember. But he behaved very well.”
“And now — if he were to love me, you would grudge me his love?”
“Not for that reason — not if I know myself. On no! I would not be so selfish as that.”
“For what reason then?”
“Because I look upon it as written in heaven that you are to be Oswald’s wife.”
“Heaven’s writings then are false,” said Violet, getting up and walking away.
In the meantime Phineas was very wretched at home. When he reached his lodgings after leaving the House — after his short conversation with Mr Monk — he tried to comfort himself with what that gentleman had said to him. For a while, while he was walking, there had been some comfort in Mr Monk’s words. Mr Monk had much experience, and doubtless knew what he was saying — and there might yet be hope. But all this hope faded away when Phineas was in his own rooms. There came upon him, as he looked round them, an idea that he had no business to be in Parliament, that he was an impostor, that he was going about the world under false pretences, and that he would never set himself aright, even unto himself, till he had gone through some terrible act of humiliation. He had been a cheat even to Mr Quintus Slide of the Banner, in accepting an invitation to come among them. He had been a cheat to Lady Laura, in that he had induced her to think that he was fit to live with her. He was a cheat to Violet Effingham, in assuming that he was capable of making himself agreeable to her. He was a cheat to Lord Chiltern when riding his horses, and pretending to be a proper associate for a man of fortune. Why — what was his income? What his birth? What his proper position? And now he had got the reward which all cheats deserve. Then he went to bed, and as he lay there, he thought of Mary Flood Jones. Had he plighted his troth to Mary, and then worked like a slave under Mr Low’s auspices — he would not have been a cheat.
It seemed to him that he had hardly been asleep when the girl came into his room in the morning. “Sir,” said she, there’s that gentleman there.”
“The old gentleman.”
Then Phineas knew that Mr Clarkson was in his sitting-room, and that he would not leave it till he had seen the owner of the room. Nay — Phineas was pretty sure that Mr Clarkson would come into the bedroom, if he were kept long waiting. “Damn the old gentleman,” said Phineas in his wrath — and the maidservant heard him say so.
In about twenty minutes he went out into the sitting-room, with his slippers on and in his dressing-gown. Suffering under the circumstances of such an emergency, how is any man to go through the work of dressing and washing with proper exactness? As to the prayers which he said on that morning, I think that no question should be asked. He came out with a black cloud on his brow, and with his mind half made up to kick Mr Clarkson out of the room. Mr Clarkson, when he saw him, moved his chin round within his white cravat, as was a custom with him, and put his thumb and forefinger on his lips, and then shook his head.
“Very bad, Mr Finn; very bad indeed; very bad ain’t it?”
“You coming here in this way at all times in the day is very bad,” said Phineas.
“And where would you have me go? Would you like to see me down in the lobby of the House?”
“To tell you the truth, Mr Clarkson, I don’t want to see you anywhere.”
“Ah; yes; I daresay! And that’s what you call honest, being a Parliament gent! You had my money, and then you tell me you don’t want to see me any more!”
“I have not had your money,” said Phineas.
“But let me tell you,” continued Mr Clarkson, that I want to see you — and shall go on seeing you till the money is paid.”
“I’ve not had any of your money,” said Phineas.
Mr Clarkson again twitched his chin about on the top of his cravat and smiled. “Mr Finn,” said he, showing the bill, is that your name?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Then I want my money.”
“I have no money to give you.”
“Do be punctual now. Why ain’t you punctual? I’d do anything for you if you were punctual. I would indeed.” Mr Clarkson, as he said this, sat down in the chair which had been placed for our hero’s breakfast, and cutting a slice off the loaf, began to butter it with great composure.
“Mr Clarkson,” said Phineas, I cannot ask you to breakfast here. I am engaged.”
“I’ll just take a bit of bread and butter all the same,” said Clarkson. “Where do you get your butter? Now I could tell you a woman who’d give it you cheaper and a deal better than this. This is all lard. Shall I send her to you?”
“No,” said Phineas. There was no tea ready, and therefore Mr Clarkson emptied the milk into a cup and drank it. “After this,” said Phineas, “I must beg, Mr Clarkson, that you will never come to my room any more. I shall not be at home to you.”
“The lobby of the House is the same thing to me,” said Mr Clarkson. “They know me there well. I wish you’d be punctual, and then we’d be the best of friends.” After that Mr Clarkson, having finished his bread and butter, took his leave.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14