Phineas got no card from Lady Baldock, but one morning he received a note from Lord Brentford which was of more importance to him than any card could have been. At this time, bit by bit, the Reform Bill of the day had nearly made its way through the committee, but had been so mutilated as to be almost impossible of recognition by its progenitors. And there was still a clause or two as to the rearrangement of seats, respecting which it was known that there would be a combat — probably combats — carried on after the internecine fashion. There was a certain clipping of counties to be done, as to which it was said that Mr Daubeny had declared that he would not yield till he was made to do so by the brute force of majorities — and there was another clause for the drafting of certain superfluous members from little boroughs, and bestowing them on populous towns at which they were much wanted, respecting which Mr Turnbull had proclaimed that the clause as it now stood was a fainéant clause, capable of doing, and intended to do, no good in the proper direction; a clause put into the bill to gull ignorant folk who had not eyes enough to recognise the fact that it was fainéant; a make-believe clause — so said Mr Turnbull — to be detested on that account by every true reformer worse than the old Philistine bonds and Tory figments of representation, as to which there was at least no hypocritical pretence of popular fitness, Mr Turnbull had been very loud and very angry — had talked much of demonstrations among the people, and had almost threatened the House. The House in its present mood did not fear any demonstrations — but it did fear that Mr Turnbull might help Mr Daubeny, and that Mr Daubeny might help Mr Turnbull. It was now May — the middle of May — and ministers, who had been at work on their Reform Bill ever since the beginning of the session, were becoming weary of it. And then, should these odious clauses escape the threatened Turnbull — Daubeny alliance — then there was the House of Lords! “ What a pity we can’t pass our bills at the Treasury, and have done with them!” said Laurence Fitzgibbon. “Yes, indeed,” replied Mr Ratler. “For myself, I was never so tired of a session in my life. I wouldn’t go through it again to be made — no, not to be made Chancellor of the Exchequer.”
Lord Brentford’s note to Phineas Finn was as follows:
“ House of Lords, 16th May, 186 —
“ MY DEAR MR FINN,”
“You are no doubt aware that Lord Bosanquet’s death has taken Mr Mottram into the Upper House, and that as he was Under-Secretary for the Colonies, and as the Under-Secretary must be in the Lower House, the vacancy must be filled up.” [The heart of Phineas Finn at this moment was almost in his mouth. Not only to be selected for political employment, but to be selected at once for an office so singularly desirable! Under Secretaries, he fancied, were paid two thousand a year. What would Mr Low say now? But his great triumph soon received a check.] “Mr Mildmay has spoken to me on the subject,” continued the letter, “and informs me that he has offered the place at the colonies to his old supporter, Mr Laurence Fitzgibbon.” Laurence Fitzgibbon! “I am inclined to think that he could not have done better, as Mr Fitzgibbon has shown great zeal for his party. This will vacate the Irish seat at the Treasury Board, and I am commissioned by Mr Mildmay to offer it to you. Perhaps you will do me the pleasure of calling on me tomorrow between the hours of eleven and twelve.
“Yours very sincerely,
“ BRENTFORD ”
Phineas was himself surprised to find that his first feeling on reading this letter was one of dissatisfaction. Here were his golden hopes about to be realised — hopes as to the realisation of which he had been quite despondent twelve months ago — and yet he was uncomfortable because he was to be postponed to Laurence Fitzgibbon. Had the new Under-Secretary been a man whom he had not known, whom he had not learned to look down upon as inferior to himself, he would not have minded it — would have been full of joy at the promotion proposed for himself. But Laurence Fitzgibbon was such a poor creature, that the idea of filling a place from which Laurence had risen was distasteful to him. “It seems to be all a matter of favour and convenience,” he said to himself, “without any reference to the service.” His triumph would have been so complete had Mr Mildmay allowed him to go into the higher place at one leap. Other men who had made themselves useful had done so. In the first hour after receiving Lord Brentford’s letter, the idea of becoming a Lord of the Treasury was almost displeasing to him. He had an idea that junior lordships of the Treasury were generally bestowed on young members whom it was convenient to secure, but who were not good at doing anything. There was a moment in which he thought that he would refuse to be made a junior lord.
But during the night cooler reflections told him that he had been very wrong. He had taken up politics with the express desire of getting his foot upon a rung of the ladder of promotion, and now, in his third session, he was about to be successful. Even as a junior lord he would have a thousand a year; and how long might he have sat in chambers, and have wandered about Lincoln’s Inn, and have loitered in the courts striving to look as though he had business, before he would have earned a thousand a year! Even as a junior lord he could make himself useful, and when once he should be known to be a good working man, promotion would come to him. No ladder can be mounted without labour; but this ladder was now open above his head, and he already had his foot upon it.
At half past eleven he was with Lord Brentford, who received him with the blandest smile and a pressure of the hand which was quite cordial. “My dear Finn,” he said, this gives me the most sincere pleasure — the greatest pleasure in the world. Our connection together at Loughton of course makes it doubly agreeable to me.”
“I cannot be too grateful to you, Lord Brentford.”
“No, no; no, no. It is all your own doing. When Mr Mildmay asked me whether I did not think you the most promising of the young members on our side in your House, I certainly did say that I quite concurred. But I should be taking too much on myself, I should be acting dishonestly, if I were to allow you to imagine that it was my proposition. Had he asked me to recommend, I should have named you; that I say frankly. But he did not. He did not. Mr Mildmay named you himself. “Do you think,” he said, “;that your friend Finn would join us at the Treasury?” I told him that I did think so. “And do you not think,” said he, “that it would be a useful appointment?” Then I ventured to say that I had no doubt whatever on that point — that I knew you well enough to feel confident that you would lend a strength to the Liberal Government. Then there were a few words said about your seat, and I was commissioned to write to you. That was all.”
Phineas was grateful, but not too grateful, and bore himself very well in the interview. He explained to Lord Brentford that of course it was his object to serve the country — and to be paid for his services — and that he considered himself to be very fortunate to be selected so early in his career for parliamentary place. He would endeavour to do his duty, and could safely say of himself that he did not wish to eat the bread of idleness. As he made this assertion, he thought of Laurence Fitzgibbon. Laurence Fitzgibbon had eaten the bread of idleness, and yet he was promoted. But Phineas said nothing to Lord Brentford about his idle friend. When he had made his little speech he asked a question about the borough.
“I have already ventured to write a letter to my agent at Loughton, telling him that you have accepted office, and that you will be shortly there again. He will see Shortribs and arrange it. But if I were you I should write to Shortribs and to Grating — after I had seen Mr Mildmay. Of course you will not mention my name.” And the Earl looked very grave as he uttered this caution.
“Of course I will not,” said Phineas.
“I do not think you’ll find any difficulty about the seat,” said the peer. “There never has been any difficulty at Loughton yet. I must say that for them. And if we can scrape through with Clause 72 we shall be all right — shall we not?” This was the clause as to which so violent an opposition was expected from Mr Turnbull — a clause as to which Phineas himself had felt that he would hardly know how to support the Government, in the event of the committee being pressed to a division upon it. Could he, an ardent reformer, a reformer at heart — could he say that such a borough as Loughton should be spared — that the arrangement by which Shortribs and Grating had sent him to Parliament, in obedience to Lord Brentford’s orders, was in due accord with the theory of a representative legislature? In what respect had Gatton and Old Sarum been worse than Loughton? Was he not himself false to his principle in sitting for such a borough as Loughton? He had spoken to Mr Monk, and Mr Monk had told him that Rome was not built in a day — and had told him also that good things were most valued and were more valuable when they came by instalments. But then Mr Monk himself enjoyed the satisfaction of sitting for a popular constituency. He was not personally pricked in the conscience by his own parliamentary position. Now, however — now that Phineas had consented to join the Government, any such considerations as these must be laid aside. He could no longer be a free agent, or even a free thinker. He had been quite aware of this, and had taught himself to understand that members of Parliament in the direct service of the Government were absolved from the necessity of free-thinking. Individual free-thinking was incompatible with the position of a member of the Government, and unless such abnegation were practised, no government would be possible. It was of course a man’s duty to bind himself together with no other men but those with whom, on matters of general policy, he could agree heartily — but having found that he could so agree, he knew that it would be his duty as a subaltern to vote as he was directed. It would trouble his conscience less to sit for Loughton and vote for an objectionable clause as a member of the Government, than it would have done to give such a vote as an independent member. In so resolving, he thought that he was simply acting in accordance with the acknowledged rules of parliamentary government. And therefore, when Lord Brentford spoke of Clause 72, he could answer pleasantly, “I think we shall carry it; and, you see, in getting it through committee, if we can carry it by one, that is as good as a hundred. That’s the comfort of close fighting in committee. In the open House we are almost as much beaten by a narrow majority as by a vote against us.”
“Just so; just so,” said Lord Brentford, delighted to see that his young pupil — as he regarded him — understood so well the system of parliamentary management. “By the bye, Finn, have you seen Chiltern lately?”
“Not quite lately,” said Phineas, blushing up to his eyes.
“Or heard from him?”
“No — nor heard from him. When last I heard of him he was in Brussels.”
“Ah — yes; he is somewhere on the Rhine now. I thought that as you were so intimate, perhaps you corresponded with him. Have you heard that we have arranged about Lady Laura’s money?”
“I have heard. Lady Laura has told me.”
“I wish he would return,” said Lord Brentford sadly — almost solemnly, “As that great difficulty is over, I would receive him willingly, and make my house pleasant to him, if I can do so. I am most anxious that he should settle, and marry. Could you not write to him?” Phineas, not daring to tell Lord Brentford that he had quarrelled with Lord Chiltern — feeling that if he did so everything would go wrong — said that he would write to Lord Chiltern.
As he went away he felt that he was bound to get an answer from Violet Effingham. If it should be necessary, he was willing to break with Lord Brentford on that matter — even though such breaking should lose him his borough and his place — but not on any other matter.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55