What had Madame Max Goesler to do with his journey to Blankenberg? thought Phineas, as he sat for a while in silence between Mr Palliser and Mr Grey; and why should she, who was a perfect stranger to him, have dared to ask him such a question? But as the conversation round the table, after the ladies had gone, soon drifted into politics and became general, Phineas, for a while, forgot Madame Max Goesler and the Blankenberg journey, and listened to the eager words of Cabinet Ministers, now and again uttering a word of his own, and showing that he, too, was as eager as others. But the session in Mr Palliser’s dining-room was not long, and Phineas soon found himself making his way amidst a throng of coming guests into the rooms above. His object was to meet Violet Effingham, but, failing that, he would not be unwilling to say a few more words to Madame Max Goesler.
He first encountered Lady Laura, to whom he had not spoken as yet, and, finding himself standing close to her for a while, he asked her after his late neighbour. “Do tell me one thing, Lady Laura — who is Madame Max Goesler, and why have I never met her before?”
“That will be two things, Mr Finn; but I will answer both questions as well as I can. You have not met her before, because she was in Germany last spring and summer, and in the year before that you were not about so much as you have been since. Still you must have seen her, I think. She is the widow of an Austrian banker, and has lived the greater part of her life at Vienna. She is very rich, and has a small house in Park Lane, where she receives people so exclusively that it has come to be thought an honour to be invited by Madame Max Goesler. Her enemies say that her father was a German Jew, living in England, in the employment of the Viennese bankers, and they say also that she has been married a second time to an Austrian Count, to whom she allows ever so much a year to stay away from her. But of all this, nobody, I fancy, knows anything. What they do know is that Madame Max Goesler spends seven or eight thousand a year, and that she will give no man an opportunity of even asking her to marry him. People used to be shy of her, but she goes almost everywhere now.”
“She has not been at Portman Square?”
“Oh no; but then Lady Glencora is so much more advanced than we are! After all, we are but humdrum people, as the world goes now.”
Then Phineas began to roam about the rooms, striving to find an opportunity of engrossing five minutes of Miss Effingham’s attention. During the time that Lady Laura was giving him the history of Madame Max Goesler his eyes had wandered round, and he had perceived that Violet was standing in the further corner of a large lobby on to which the stairs opened — so situated, indeed, that she could hardly escape, because of the increasing crowd, but on that very account almost impossible to be reached. He could see, also, that she was talking to Lord Fawn, an unmarried peer of something over thirty years of age, with an unrivalled pair of whiskers, a small estate, and a rising political reputation. Lord Fawn had been talking to Violet through the whole dinner, and Phineas was beginning to think that he should like to make another journey to Blankenberg, with the object of meeting his lordship on the sands.
When Lady Laura had done speaking, his eyes were turned through a large open doorway towards the spot on which his idol was standing. “It is of no use, my friend,” she said, touching his arm. “I wish I could make you know that it is of no use, because then I think you would be happier.” To this Phineas made no answer, but went and roamed about the rooms. Why should it be of no use? Would Violet Effingham marry any man merely because he was a lord?
Some half-hour after this he had succeeded in making his way up to the place in which Violet was still standing, with Lord Fawn beside her. “I have been making such a struggle to get to you,” he said.
“And now you are here, you will have to stay, for it is impossible to get out,” she answered. “Lord Fawn has made the attempt half a dozen times, but has failed grievously.”
“I have been quite contented,” said Lord Fawn — “more than contented.”
Phineas felt that he ought to give some special reason to Miss Effingham to account for his efforts to reach her, but yet he had nothing special to say. Had Lord Fawn not been there, he would immediately have told her that he was waiting for an answer to the question he had asked her in Saulsby Park, but he could hardly do this in presence of the noble Under-Secretary of State. She received him with her pleasant genial smile, looking exactly as she had looked when he had parted from her on the morning after their ride. She did not show any sign of anger, or even of indifference, at his approach. But still it was almost necessary that he should account for his search of her. “I have so longed to hear from you how you got on at Loughlinter,” he said.
“Yes — yes; and I will tell you something of it some day, perhaps. Why do you not come to Lady Baldock’s?”
“I did not even know that Lady Baldock was in town.”
“You ought to have known. Of course she is in town. Where did you suppose I was living? Lord Fawn was there yesterday, and can tell you that my aunt is quite blooming.”
“Lady Baldock is blooming,” said Lord Fawn; certainly blooming — that is, if evergreens may be said to bloom.
“Evergreens do bloom, as well as spring plants, Lord Fawn. You come and see her, Mr Finn — only you must bring a little money with you for the Female Protestant Unmarried Women’s Emigration Society. That is my aunt’s present hobby, as Lord Fawn knows to his cost.”
“I wish I may never spend half-a-sovereign worse.”.
“But it is a perilous affair for me, as my aunt wants me to go out as a sort of leading Protestant unmarried female emigrant pioneer myself.”
“You don’t mean that,” said Lord Fawn, with much anxiety.
“Of course you’ll go,” said Phineas. I should, if I were you.”
“I am in doubt,” said Violet.
“It is such a grand prospect,” said he. Such an opening in life. So much excitement, you know; and such a useful career.”
“As if there were not plenty of opening here for Miss Effingham,” said Lord Fawn, “and plenty of excitement.
“Do you think there is?” said Violet. You are much more civil than Mr Finn, I must say.” Then Phineas began to hope that he need not be afraid of Lord Fawn. “What a happy man you were at dinner!” continued Violet, addressing herself to Phineas.
“I thought Lord Fawn was the happy man.”
“You had Madame Max Goesler all to yourself for nearly two hours, and I suppose there was not a creature in the room who did not envy you. I don’t doubt that ever so much interest was made with Lady Glencora as to taking Madame Max down to dinner. Lord Fawn, I know, intrigued.”
“Miss Effingham, really I must — contradict you.”
“And Barrington Erle begged for it as a particular favour. The Duke, with a sigh, owned that it was impossible, because of his cumbrous rank; and Mr Gresham, when it was offered to him, declared that he was fatigued with the business of the House, and not up to the occasion. How much did she say to you; and what did she talk about?”
“The ballot chiefly — that, and manhood suffrage.”
“Ah! she said something more than that, I am sure. Madame Max Goesler never lets any man go without entrancing him. If you have anything near your heart, Mr Finn, Madame Max Goesler touched it, I am sure.” Now Phineas had two things near his heart — political promotion and Violet Effingham — and Madame Max Goesler had managed to touch them both. She had asked him respecting his journey to Blankenberg, and had touched him very nearly in reference to Miss Effingham. “You know Madame Max Goesler, of course?” said Violet to Lord Fawn.
“Oh yes, I know the lady — that is, as well as other people do. No one, I take it, knows much of her; and it seems to me that the world is becoming tired of her. A mystery is good for nothing if it remains always a mystery.”
“And it is good for nothing at all when it is found out,” said Violet.
“And therefore it is that Madame Max Goesler is a bore,” said Lord Fawn.
“You did not find her a bore?” said Violet. Then Phineas, choosing to oppose Lord Fawn as well as he could on that matter, as on every other, declared that he had found Madame Max Goesler most delightful. “And beautiful — is she not?” said Violet.
“Beautiful!” exclaimed Lord Fawn.
“I think her very beautiful,” said Phineas.
“So do I,” said Violet. And she is a dear ally of mine. We were a week together last winter, and swore an undying friendship. She told me ever so much about Mr Goesler.”
“But she told you nothing of her second husband?” said Lord Fawn.
“Now that you have run into scandal, I shall have done,” said Violet.
Half an hour after this, when Phineas was preparing to fight his way out of the house, he was again close to Madame Max Goesler. He had not found a single moment in which to ask Violet for an answer to his old question, and was retiring from the field discomfited, but not dispirited. Lord Fawn, he thought, was not a serious obstacle in his way. Lady Laura had told him that there was no hope for him; but then Lady Laura’s mind on that subject was, he thought, prejudiced. Violet Effingham certainly knew what were his wishes, and knowing them, smiled on him and was gracious to him. Would she do so if his pretensions were thoroughly objectionable to her?
“I saw that you were successful this evening,” said Madame Max Goesler to him.
“I was not aware of any success.”
“I call it great success to be able to make your way where you will through such a crowd as there is here. You seem to me to be so stout a cavalier that I shall ask you to find my servant, and bid him get my carriage. Will you mind?” Phineas, of course, declared that he would be delighted. “He is a German, and not in livery. But if somebody will call out, he will hear. He is very sharp, and much more attentive than your English footmen. An Englishman hardly ever makes a good servant.”
“Is that a compliment to us Britons?”
“No, certainly not. If a man is a servant, he should be clever enough to be a good one.” Phineas had now given the order for the carriage, and, having returned, was standing with Madame Max Goesler in the cloakroom. “After all, we are surely the most awkward people in the world,” she said. “You know Lord Fawn, who was talking to Miss Effingham just now. You should have heard him trying to pay me a compliment before dinner. It was like a donkey walking a minuet, and yet they say he is a clever man and can make speeches.” Could it be possible that Madame Max Goesler’s ears were so sharp that she had heard the things which Lord Fawn had said of her?
“He is a well-informed man,” said Phineas.
“For a lord, you mean,” said Madame Max Goesler. But he is an oaf, is he not? And yet they say he is to marry that girl.”
“I do not think he will,” said Phineas, stoutly.
“I hope not, with all my heart; and I hope that somebody else may — unless somebody else should change his mind. Thank you; I am so much obliged to you. Mind you come and call on me — 193, Park Lane. I dare say you know the little cottage.” Then he put Madame Max Goesler into her carriage, and walked away to his club.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01