Lady Baldock’s house in Berkeley Square was very stately — a large house with five front windows in a row, and a big door, and a huge square hall, and a fat porter in a round-topped chair — but it was dingy and dull, and could not have been painted for the last ten years, or furnished for the last twenty. Nevertheless, Lady Baldock had “evenings,” and people went to them — though not such a crowd of people as would go to the evenings of Lady Glencora. Now Mr Phineas Finn had not been asked to the evenings of Lady Baldock for the present season, and the reason was after this wise.
“Yes, Mr Finn,” Lady Baldock had said to her daughter, who, early in the spring, was preparing the cards. “You may send one to Mr Finn, certainly.”
“I don’t know that he is very nice,” said Augusta Boreham, whose eyes at Saulsby had been sharper perhaps than her mother’s, and who had her suspicions.
But Lady Baldock did not like interference from her daughter. “Mr Finn, certainly,” she continued. They tell me that he is a very rising young man, and he sits for Lord Brentford’s borough. Of course he is a Radical, but we cannot help that. All the rising young men are Radicals now. I thought him very civil at Saulsby.”
“But, mamma — ”
“Don’t you think that he is a little free with Violet?”
“What on earth do you mean, Augusta?”
“Have you not fancied that he is — fond of her?”
“Good gracious, no!”
“I think he is. And I have sometimes fancied that she is fond of him, too.”
“I don’t believe a word of it, Augusta — not a word. I should have seen it if it was so. I am very sharp in seeing such things. They never escape me. Even Violet would not be such a fool as that. Send him a card, and if he comes I shall soon see.” Miss Boreham quite understood her mother, though she could never master her — and the card was prepared. Miss Boreham could never master her mother by her own efforts; but it was, I think, by a little intrigue on her part that Lady Baldock was mastered, and, indeed, altogether cowed, in reference to our hero, and that this victory was gained on that very afternoon in time to prevent the sending of the card.
When the mother and daughter were at tea, before dinner, Lord Baldock came into the room, and, after having been patted and petted and praised by his mother, he took up all the cards out of a china bowl and ran his eyes over them. “Lord Fawn!” he said, “the greatest ass in all London! Lady Hartletop! you know she won’t come.”
“I don’t see why she shouldn’t come,” said Lady Baldock — “a mere country clergyman’s daughter!”
“Julius Caesar Conway — a great friend of mine, and therefore he always blackballs my other friends at the club. Lord Chiltern; I thought you were at daggers drawn with Chiltern.”
“They say he is going to be reconciled to his father, Gustavus, and I do it for Lord Brentford’s sake. And he won’t come, so it does not signify. And I do believe that Violet has really refused him.”
“You are quite right about his not coming,” said Lord Baldock, continuing to read the cards; “Chiltern certainly won’t come. Count Sparrowsky — I wonder what you know about Sparrowsky that you should ask him here.”
“He is asked about, Gustavus; he is indeed,” pleaded Lady Baldock.
“I believe that Sparrowsky is a penniless adventurer. Mr Monk; well, he is a Cabinet Minister. Sir Gregory Greeswing; you mix your people nicely at any rate. Sir Gregory Greeswing is the most old-fashioned Tory in England.”
“Of course we are not political, Gustavus.”
“Phineas Finn. They come alternately — one and one.”
“Mr Finn is asked everywhere, Gustavus.”
“I don’t doubt it. They say he is a very good sort of fellow. They say also that Violet has found that out as well as other people.”
“What do you mean, Gustavus?”
“I mean that everybody is saying that this Phineas Finn is going to set himself up in the world by marrying your niece. He is quite right to try it on, if he has a chance.”
“I don’t think he would be right at all,” said Lady Baldock, with much energy. “I think he would be wrong — shamefully wrong. They say he is the son of an Irish doctor, and that he hasn’t a shilling in the world.”
“That is just why he would be right. What is such a man to do, but to marry money? He’s a deuced good-looking fellow, too, and will be sure to do it.”
“He should work for his money in the city, then, or somewhere there. But I don’t believe it, Gustavus; I don’t, indeed.”
“Very well. I only tell you what I hear. The fact is that he and Chiltern have already quarrelled about her. If I were to tell you that they have been over to Holland together and fought a duel about her, you wouldn’t believe that.”
“Fought a duel about Violet! People don’t fight duels now, and I should not believe it.”
“Very well. Then send your card to Mr Finn.” And, so saying, Lord Baldock left the room.
Lady Baldock sat in silence for some time toasting her toes at the fire, and Augusta Boreham sat by, waiting for orders. She felt pretty nearly sure that new orders would be given if she did not herself interfere. “You had better put by that card for the present, my dear,” said Lady Baldock at last. “I will make inquiries. I don’t believe a word of what Gustavus has said. I don’t think that even Violet is such a fool as that. But if rash and ill-natured people have spoken of it, it may be as well to be careful.”
“It is always well to be careful — is it not, mamma?”
“Not but what I think it very improper that these things should be said about a young woman; and as for the story of the duel, I don’t believe a word of it. It is absurd. I dare say that Gustavus invented it at the moment, just to amuse himself.”
The card of course was not sent, and Lady Baldock at any rate put so much faith in her son’s story as to make her feel it to be her duty to interrogate her niece on the subject. Lady Baldock at this period of her life was certainly not free from fear of Violet Effingham. In the numerous encounters which took place between them, the aunt seldom gained that amount of victory which would have completely satisfied her spirit. She longed to be dominant over her niece as she was dominant over her daughter; and when she found that she missed such supremacy, she longed to tell Violet to depart from out her borders, and be no longer niece of hers. But had she ever done so, Violet would have gone at the instant, and then terrible things would have followed. There is a satisfaction in turning out of doors a nephew or niece who is pecuniarily dependent, but when the youthful relative is richly endowed, the satisfaction is much diminished. It is the duty of a guardian, no doubt, to look after the ward; but if this cannot be done, the ward’s money should at least be held with as close a fist as possible. But Lady Baldock, though she knew that she would be sorely wounded, poked about on her old body with the sharp lances of disobedience, and struck with the cruel swords of satire, if she took upon herself to scold or even to question Violet, nevertheless would not abandon the pleasure of lecturing and teaching. “It is my duty,” she would say to herself, “and though it be taken in a bad spirit, I will always perform my duty.” So she performed her duty, and asked Violet Effingham some few questions respecting Phineas Finn. “My dear,” she said, do you remember meeting a Mr Finn at Saulsby?”
“A Mr Finn, aunt! Why, he is a particular friend of mine. Of course I do, and he was at Saulsby. I have met him there more than once. Don’t you remember that we were riding about together?”
“I remember that he was there, certainly; but I did not know that he was a special — friend.”
“Most especial, aunt. A 1, I may say — among young men, I mean.”
Lady Baldock was certainly the most indiscreet of old women in such a matter as this, and Violet the most provoking of young ladies. Lady Baldock, believing that there was something to fear — as, indeed, there was, much to fear — should have been content to destroy the card, and to keep the young lady away from the young gentleman, if such keeping away was possible to her. But Miss Effingham was certainly very wrong to speak of any young man as being A 1. Fond as I am of Miss Effingham, I cannot justify her, and must acknowledge that she used the most offensive phrase she could find, on purpose to annoy her aunt.
“Violet,” said Lady Baldock, bridling up, I never heard such a word before from the lips of a young lady.”
“Not as A 1? I thought it simply meant very good.”
“A 1 is a nobleman,” said Lady Baldock.
“No, aunt — A 1 is a ship — a ship that is very good,” said Violet.
“And do you mean to say that Mr Finn is — is — is — very good?”
“Yes, indeed. You ask Lord Brentford, and Mr Kennedy. You know he saved poor Mr Kennedy from being throttled in the streets.”
“That has nothing to do with it. A policeman might have done that.”
“Then he would have been A 1 of policemen — though A 1 does not mean a policeman.”
“He would have done his duty, and so perhaps did Mr Finn.”
“Of course he did, aunt. It couldn’t have been his duty to stand by and see Mr Kennedy throttled. And he nearly killed one of the men, and took the other prisoner with his own hands. And he made a beautiful speech the other day. I read every word of it. I am so glad he’s a Liberal. I do like young men to be Liberals.” Now Lord Baldock was a Tory, as had been all the Lord Baldocks — since the first who had been bought over from the Whigs in the time of George III at the cost of a barony.
“You have nothing to do with politics, Violet.”
“Why shouldn’t I have something to do with politics, aunt?”
“And I must tell you that your name is being very unpleasantly mentioned in connection with that of this young man because of your indiscretion.”
“What indiscretion?” Violet, as she made her demand for a more direct accusation, stood quite upright before her aunt, looking the old woman full in the face — almost with her arms akimbo.
“Calling him A 1, Violet.”
“People have been talking about me and Mr Finn, because I just now, at this very moment, called him A 1 to you! If you want to scold me about anything, aunt, do find out something less ridiculous than that.”
“It was most improper language — and if you used it to me, I am sure you would to others.”
“To what others?”
“To Mr Finn — and those sort of people.”
“Call Mr Finn A 1 to his face! Well — upon my honour I don’t know why I should not. Lord Chiltern says he rides beautifully, and if we were talking about riding I might do so.”
“You have no business to talk to Lord Chiltern about Mr Finn at all.”
“Have I not? I thought that perhaps the one sin might palliate the other. You know, aunt, no young lady, let her be ever so ill-disposed, can marry two objectionable young men — at the same time.”
“I said nothing about your marrying Mr Finn.”
“Then, aunt, what did you mean?”
“I meant that you should not allow yourself to be talked of with an adventurer, a young man without a shilling, a person who has come from nobody knows where in the bogs of Ireland.”
“But you used to ask him here.”
“Yes — as long as he knew his place. But I shall not do so again. And I must beg you to be circumspect.”
“My dear aunt, we may as well understand each other. I will not be circumspect as you call it. And if Mr Finn asked me to marry him tomorrow, and if I liked him well enough, I would take him — even though he had been dug right out of a bog. Not only because I liked him — mind! If I were unfortunate enough to like a man who was nothing, I would refuse him in spite of my liking — because he was nothing. But this young man is not nothing. Mr Finn is a fine fellow, and if there were no other reason to prevent my marrying him than his being the son of a doctor, and coming out of the bogs, that would not do so. Now I have made a clean breast to you as regards Mr Finn; and if you do not like what I’ve said, aunt, you must acknowledge that you have brought it on yourself.”
Lady Baldock was left for a time speechless. But no card was sent to Phineas Finn.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55