Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 31

Finn for Loughton

By three o’clock in the day after the little accident which was told in the last chapter, all the world knew that Mr Kennedy, the new Cabinet Minister, had been garrotted, or half garrotted, and that that child of fortune, Phineas Finn, had dropped upon the scene out of heaven at the exact moment of time, had taken the two garrotters prisoners, and saved the Cabinet Minister’s neck and valuables — if not his life. “Bedad,” said Laurence Fitzgibbon, when he came to hear this, “that fellow’ll marry an heiress, and be Secretary for Oireland yet.” A good deal was said about it to Phineas at the clubs, but a word or two that was said to him by Violet Effingham was worth all the rest. “Why, what a Paladin you are! But you succour men in distress instead of maidens.” “That’s my bad luck, said Phineas. The other will come no doubt in time,” Violet replied; “and then you’ll get your reward.” He knew that such words from a girl mean nothing — especially from such a girl as Violet Effingham; but nevertheless they were very pleasant to him.

“Of course you will come to us at Loughlinter when Parliament is up?” Lady Laura said the same day.

“I don’t know really. You see I must go over to Ireland about my re-election.”

“What has that to do with it? You are only making out excuses. We go down on the first of July, and the English elections won’t begin till the middle of the month. It will be August before the men of Loughshane are ready for you.”

“To tell you the truth, Lady Laura,” said Phineas, I doubt whether the men of Loughshane — or rather the man of Loughshane, will have anything more to say to me.”

“What man do you mean?”

“Lord Tulla. He was in a passion with his brother before, and I got the advantage of it. Since that he has paid his brother’s debts for the fifteenth time, and of course is ready to fight any battle for the forgiven prodigal. Things are not as they were, and my father tells me that he thinks I shall be beaten.”

“That is bad news.”

“It is what I have a right to expect.”

Every word of information that had come to Phineas about Loughshane since Mr Mildmay had decided upon a dissolution, had gone towards making him feel at first that there was a great doubt as to his re-election, and at last that there was almost a certainty against him. And as these tidings reached him they made him very unhappy. Since he had been in Parliament he had very frequently regretted that he had left the shades of the Inns of Court for the glare of Westminster; and he had more than once made up his mind that he would desert the glare and return to the shade. But now, when the moment came in which such desertion seemed to be compulsory on him, when there would be no longer a choice, the seat in Parliament was dearer to him than ever. If he had gone of his own free will — so he told himself — there would have been something of nobility in such going. Mr Low would have respected him, and even Mrs Low might have taken him back to the friendship of her severe bosom. But he would go back now as a cur with his tail between his legs — kicked out, as it were, from Parliament. Returning to Lincoln’s Inn soiled with failure, having accomplished nothing, having broken down on the only occasion on which he had dared to show himself on his legs, not having opened a single useful book during the two years in which he had sat in Parliament, burdened with Laurence Fitzgibbon’s debt, and not quite free from debt of his own, how could he start himself in any way by which he might even hope to win success? He must, he told himself, give up all thought of practising in London and betake himself to Dublin. He could not dare to face his friends in London as a young briefless barrister.

On this evening, the evening subsequent to that on which Mr Kennedy had been attacked, the House was sitting in Committee of Ways and Means, and there came on a discussion as to a certain vote for the army. It had been known that there would be such discussion; and Mr Monk having heard from Phineas a word or two now and again about the potted peas, had recommended him to be ready with a few remarks if he wished to support the Government in the matter of that vote. Phineas did so wish, having learned quite enough in the committee room upstairs to make him believe that a large importation of the potted peas from Holstein would not be for the advantage of the army or navy — or for that of the country at large. Mr Monk had made his suggestion without the slightest allusion to the former failure — just as though Phineas were a practised speaker accustomed to be on his legs three or four times a week. “If I find a chance, I will,” said Phineas, taking the advice just as it was given.

Soon after prayers, a word was said in the House as to the ill-fortune which had befallen the new Cabinet Minister. Mr Daubeny had asked Mr Mildmay whether violent hands had not been laid in the dead of night on the sacred throat — the throat that should have been sacred — of the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; and had expressed regret that the Ministry — which was, he feared, in other respects somewhat infirm — should now have been further weakened by this injury to that new bulwark with which it had endeavoured to support itself. The Prime Minister, answering his old rival in the same strain, said that the calamity might have been very severe, both to the country and to the Cabinet; but that fortunately for the community at large, a gallant young member of that House — and he was proud to say a supporter of the Government — had appeared upon the spot at the nick of time — “As a god out of a machine,” said Mr Daubeny, interrupting him — “By no means as a god out of a machine,” continued Mr Mildmay, “but as a real help in a very real trouble, and succeeded not only in saving my right honourable friend, the Chancellor of the Duchy, but in arresting the two malefactors who attempted to rob him in the street.” Then there was a cry of “name’; and Mr Mildmay of course named the member for Loughshane. It so happened that Phineas was not in the House, but he heard it all when he came down to attend the Committee of Ways and Means.

Then came on the discussion about provisions in the army, the subject being mooted by one of Mr Turnbull’s close allies. The gentleman on the other side of the House who had moved for the Potted Peas Committee was silent on the occasion, having felt that the result of that committee had not been exactly what he had expected. The evidence respecting such of the Holstein potted peas as had been used in this country was not very favourable to them. But, nevertheless, the rebound from that committee — the very fact that such a committee had been made to sit — gave ground for a hostile attack. To attack is so easy, when a complete refutation barely suffices to save the Minister attacked — does not suffice to save him from future dim memories of something having been wrong — and brings down no disgrace whatsoever on the promoter of the false charge. The promoter of the false charge simply expresses his gratification at finding that he had been misled by erroneous information. It is not customary for him to express gratification at the fact, that out of all the mud which he has thrown, some will probably stick! Phineas, when the time came, did get on his legs, and spoke perhaps two or three dozen words. The doing so seemed to come to him quite naturally. He had thought very little about it beforehand — having resolved not to think of it. And indeed the occasion was one of no great importance. The Speaker was not in the chair, and the House was thin, and he intended to make no speech — merely to say something which he had to say. Till he had finished he hardly remembered that he was doing that, in attempting to do which he had before failed so egregiously. It was not till he sat down that he began to ask himself whether the scene was swimming before his eyes as it had done on former occasions; as it had done even when he had so much as thought of making a speech. Now he was astonished at the easiness of the thing, and as he left the House told himself that he had overcome the difficulty just when the victory could be of no avail to him. Had he been more eager, more constant in his purpose, he might at any rate have shown the world that he was fit for the place which he had presumed to take before he was cast out of it.

On the next morning he received a letter from his father. Dr Finn had seen Lord Tulla, having been sent for to relieve his lordship in a fit of the gout, and had been informed by the Earl that he meant to fight the borough to the last man — had he said to the last shilling he would have spoken with perhaps more accuracy. “You see, doctor, your son has had it for two years, as you may say for nothing, and I think he ought to give way. He can’t expect that he’s to go on there as though it were his own.” And then his lordship, upon whom this touch of the gout had come somewhat sharply, expressed himself with considerable animation. The old doctor behaved with much spirit. “I told the Earl,” he said, that I could not undertake to say what you might do; but that as you had come forward at first with my sanction, I could not withdraw it now. He asked me if I should support you with money; I said that I should to a moderate extent. “By G — ” said the Earl, “a moderate extent will go a very little way, I can tell you.” Since that he has had Duggin with him; so, I suppose, I shall not see him any more. You can do as you please now; but, from what I hear, I fear you will have no chance.” Then with much bitterness of spirit Phineas resolved that he would not interfere with Lord Tulla at Loughshane. He would go at once to the Reform Club and explain his reasons to Barrington Erle and others there who would be interested.

But he first went to Grosvenor Place. Here he was shown up into Mr Kennedy’s room. Mr Kennedy was up and seated in an armchair by an open window looking over into the Queen’s garden; but he was in his dressing-gown, and was to be regarded as an invalid. And indeed as he could not turn his neck, or thought that he could not do so, he was not very fit to go out about his work. Let us hope that the affairs of the Duchy of Lancaster did not suffer materially by his absence. We may take it for granted that with a man so sedulous as to all his duties there was no arrear of work when the accident took place. He put out his hand to Phineas, and said some word in a whisper — some word or two among which Phineas caught the sound of “potted peas,” — and then continued to look out of the window. There are men who are utterly prostrated by any bodily ailment, and it seemed that Mr Kennedy was one of them. Phineas, who was full of his own bad news, had intended to tell his sad story at once. But he perceived that the neck of the Chancellor of the Duchy was too stiff to allow of his taking any interest in external matters, and so he refrained. “What does the doctor say about it?” said Phineas, perceiving that just for the present there could be only one possible subject for remark. Mr Kennedy was beginning to describe in a long whisper what the doctor did think about it, when Lady Laura came into the room.

Of course they began at first to talk about Mr Kennedy. It would not have been kind to him not to have done so. And Lady Laura made much of the injury, as it behoves a wife to do in such circumstances for the sake both of the sufferer and of the hero. She declared her conviction that had Phineas been a moment later her husband’s neck would have been irredeemably broken.

“I don’t think they ever do kill the people,” said Phineas. “At any rate they don’t mean to do so.”

“I thought they did,” said Lady Laura.

“I fancy not,” said Phineas, eager in the cause of truth.

“I think this man was very clumsy,” whispered Mr Kennedy.

“Perhaps he was a beginner,” said Phineas, and that may make a difference. If so, I’m afraid we have interfered with his education.”

Then, by degrees, the conversation got away to other things, and Lady Laura asked him after Loughshane. “I’ve made up my mind to give it up,” said he, smiling as he spoke.

“I was afraid there was but a bad chance,” said Lady Laura, smiling also.

“My father has behaved so well!” said Phineas. He has written to say he’ll find the money, if I determine to contest the borough. I mean to write to him by tonight’s post to decline the offer. I have no right to spend the money, and I shouldn’t succeed if I did spend it. Of course it makes me a little down in the mouth.” And then he smiled again.

“I’ve got a plan of my own,” said Lady Laura.

“What plan?”

“Or rather it isn’t mine, but papa’s. Old Mr Standish is going to give up Loughton, and papa wants you to come and try your luck there.”

“Lady Laura!”

“It isn’t quite a certainty, you know, but I suppose it’s as near a certainty as anything left.” And this came from a strong Radical Reformer!

“Lady Laura, I couldn’t accept such a favour from your father.” Then Mr Kennedy nodded his head very slightly and whispered, “Yes, yes.” I couldn’t think of it, said Phineas Finn. “I have no right to such a favour.”

“That is a matter entirely for papa’s consideration,” said Lady Laura, with an affectation of solemnity in her voice. “I think it has always been felt that any politician may accept such an offer as that when it is made to him, but that no politician should ask for it. My father feels that he has to do the best he can with his influence in the borough, and therefore he comes to you.”

“It isn’t that,” said Phineas, somewhat rudely.

“Of course private feelings have their weight,” said Lady Laura. “It is not probable that papa would have gone to a perfect stranger. And perhaps, Mr Finn, I may own that Mr Kennedy and I would both be very sorry that you should not be in the House, and that that feeling on our part has had some weight with my father.”

“Of course you’ll stand?” whispered Mr Kennedy, still looking straight out of the window, as though the slightest attempt to turn his neck would be fraught with danger to himself and the Duchy.

“Papa has desired me to ask you to call upon him,” said Lady Laura. “I don’t suppose there is very much to be said, as each of you know so well the other’s way of thinking. But you had better see him today or tomorrow.”

Of course Phineas was persuaded before he left Mr Kennedy’s room. Indeed, when he came to think of it, there appeared to him to be no valid reason why he should not sit for Loughton. The favour was of a kind that had prevailed from time out of mind in England, between the most respectable of the great land magnates, and young rising liberal politicians. Burke, Fox, and Canning had all been placed in Parliament by similar influence. Of course he, Phineas Finn, desired earnestly — longed in his very heart of hearts — to extinguish all such Parliamentary influence, to root out for ever the last vestige of close borough nominations; but while the thing remained it was better that the thing should contribute to the liberal than to the conservative strength of the House — and if to the liberal, how was this to be achieved but by the acceptance of such influence by some liberal candidate? And if it were right that it should be accepted by any liberal candidate — then, why not by him? The logic of this argument seemed to him to be perfect. He felt something like a sting of reproach as he told himself that in truth this great offer was made to him, not on account of the excellence of his politics, but because he had been instrumental in saving Lord Brentford’s son-in-law from the violence of garrotters. But he crushed these qualms of conscience as being over-scrupulous, and, as he told himself, not practical. You must take the world as you find it, with a struggle to be something more honest than those around you. Phineas, as he preached to himself this sermon, declared to himself that they who attempted more than this flew too high in the clouds to be of service to men and women upon earth.

As he did not see Lord Brentford that day he postponed writing to his father for twenty-four hours. On the following morning he found the Earl at home in Portman Square, having first discussed the matter fully with Lord Chiltern. “Do not scruple about me,” said Lord Chiltern; “you are quite welcome to the borough for me.”

“But if I did not stand, would you do so? There are so many reasons which ought to induce you to accept a seat in Parliament!”

“Whether that be true or not, Phineas, I shall not accept my father’s interest at Loughton, unless it be offered to me in a way in which it never will be offered. You know me well enough to be sure that I shall not change my mind. Nor will he. And, therefore, you may go down to Loughton with a pure conscience as far as I am concerned.”

Phineas had his interview with the Earl, and in ten minutes everything was settled. On his way to Portman Square there had come across his mind the idea of a grand effort of friendship. What if he could persuade the father so to conduct himself towards his son, that the son should consent to be a member for the borough? And he did say a word or two to this effect, setting forth that Lord Chiltern would condescend to become a legislator, if only his father would condescend to acknowledge his son’s fitness for such work without any comments on the son’s past life. But the Earl simply waived the subject away with his hand. He could be as obstinate as his son. Lady Laura had been the Mercury between them on this subject, and Lady Laura had failed. He would not now consent to employ another Mercury. Very little — hardly a word indeed — was said between the Earl and Phineas about politics. Phineas was to be the Saulsby candidate at Loughton for the next election, and was to come to Saulsby with the Kennedys from Loughlinter — either with the Kennedys or somewhat in advance of them. “I do not say that there will be no opposition,” said the Earl, “but I expect none. He was very courteous — nay, he was kind, feeling doubtless that his family owed a great debt of gratitude to the young man with whom he was conversing; but, nevertheless, there was not absent on his part a touch of that high condescension which, perhaps, might be thought to become the Earl, the Cabinet Minister, and the great borough patron. Phineas, who was sensitive, felt this and winced. He had never quite liked Lord Brentford, and could not bring himself to do so now in spite of the kindness which the Earl was showing him.

But he was very happy when he sat down to write to his father from the club. His father had told him that the money should be forthcoming for the election at Loughshane, if he resolved to stand, but that the chance of success would be very slight — indeed that, in his opinion, there would be no chance of success. Nevertheless, his father had evidently believed, when writing, that Phineas would not abandon his seat without a useless and expensive contest. He now thanked his father with many expressions of gratitude — declared his conviction that his father was right about Lord Tulla, and then, in the most modest language that he could use, went on to say that he had found another borough open to him in England. He was going to stand for Loughton, with the assistance of Lord Brentford, and thought that the election would probably not cost him above a couple of hundred pounds at the outside. Then he wrote a very pretty note to Lord Tulla, thanking him for his former kindness, and telling the Irish Earl that it was not his intention to interfere with the borough of Loughshane at the next election.

A few days after this Phineas was very much surprised at a visit that was made to him at his lodgings. Mr Clarkson, after that scene in the lobby of the House, called again in Great Marlborough Street — and was admitted. “You had better let him sit in your armchair for half am hour or so,” Fitzgibbon had said; and Phineas almost believed that it would be better. The man was a terrible nuisance to him, and he was beginning to think that he had better undertake to pay the debt by degrees. It was, he knew, quite on the cards that Mr Clarkson should have him arrested while at Saulsby. Since that scene in the lobby Mr Clarkson had been with him twice, and there had been a preliminary conversation as to real payment. Mr Clarkson wanted a hundred pounds down, and another bill for two hundred and twenty at three months’ date. “Think of my time and trouble in coming here,” Mr Clarkson had urged when Phineas had objected to these terms. “Think of my time and trouble, and do be punctual, Mr Finn.” Phineas had offered him ten pounds a quarter, the payments to be marked on the back of the bill, a tender which Mr Clarkson had not seemed to regard as strong evidence of punctuality. He had not been angry, but had simply expressed his intention of calling again — giving Phineas to understand that business would probably take him to the west of Ireland in the autumn. If only business might not take him down either to Loughlinter or to Saulsby! But the strange visitor who came to Phineas in the midst of these troubles put an end to them all.

The strange visitor was Miss Aspasia Fitzgibbon. “You’ll be very much surprised at my coming to your chambers, no doubt,” she said, as she sat down in the chair which Phineas placed for her. Phineas could only say that he was very proud to be so highly honoured, and that he hoped she was well, “Pretty well, I thank you. I have just come about a little business, Mr Finn, and I hope you’ll excuse me.”

“I’m quite sure that there is no need for excuses,” said Phineas.

“Laurence, when he hears about it, will say that I’ve been an impertinent old fool; but I never care what Laurence says, either this way or that. I’ve been to that Mr Clarkson, Mr Finn, and I’ve paid him the money.”

“No!” said Phineas.

“But I have, Mr Finn. I happened to hear what occurred that night at the door of the House of Commons.”

“Who told you, Miss Fitzgibbon?”

“Never mind who told me. I heard it. I knew before that you had been foolish enough to help Laurence about money, and so I put two and two together. It isn’t the first time I have had to do with Mr Clarkson. So I sent to him, and I’ve bought the bill. There it is.” And Miss Fitzgibbon produced the document which bore the name of Phineas Finn across the front of it.

“And did you pay him two hundred and fifty pounds for it?”

“Not quite. I had a very hard tussle, and got it at last for two hundred and twenty pounds.”

“And did you do it yourself?”

“All myself. If I had employed a lawyer I should have had to pay two hundred and forty pounds and five pounds for costs.

“And now, Mr Finn, I hope you won’t have any more money engagements with my brother Laurence.” Phineas said that he thought he might promise that he would have no more. “Because, if you do, I shan’t interfere. If Laurence began to find that he could get money out of me in that way, there would be no end to it. Mr Clarkson would very soon be spending his spare time in my drawing-room. Goodbye, Mr Finn. If Laurence says anything, just tell him that he’d better come to me.” Then Phineas was left looking at the bill. It was certainly a great relief to him — that he should be thus secured from the domiciliary visits of Mr Clarkson; a great relief to him to be assured that Mr Clarkson would not find him out down at Loughton; but nevertheless, he had to suffer a pang of shame as he felt that Miss Fitzgibbon had become acquainted with his poverty and had found herself obliged to satisfy his pecuniary liabilities.

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