There was a dull house at Loughlinter during the greater part of this autumn. A few men went down for the grouse shooting late in the season; but they stayed but a short time, and when they went Lady Laura was left alone with her husband. Mr Kennedy had explained to his wife, more than once, that though he understood the duties of hospitality and enjoyed the performance of them, he had not married with the intention of living in a whirlwind. He was disposed to think that the whirlwind had hitherto been too predominant, and had said so very plainly with a good deal of marital authority. This autumn and winter were to be devoted to the cultivation of proper relations between him and his wife. “Does that mean Darby and Joan?” his wife had asked him, when the proposition was made to her. “It means mutual regard and esteem,” replied Mr Kennedy in his most solemn tone, “and I trust that such mutual regard and esteem between us may yet be possible.” When Lady Laura showed him a letter from her brother, received some weeks after this conversation, in which Lord Chiltern expressed his intention of coming to Loughlinter for Christmas, he returned the note to his wife without a word. He suspected that she had made the arrangement without asking him, and was angry; but he would not tell her that her brother would not be welcome at his house. “It is not my doing,” she said, when she saw the frown on his brow.
“I said nothing about anybody’s doing,” he replied.
“I will write to Oswald and bid him not come, if you wish it. Of course you can understand why he is coming.”
“Not to see me, I am sure,” said Mr Kennedy.
“Nor me,” replied Lady Laura. He is coming because my friend Violet Effingham will be here.”
“Miss Effingham! Why was I not told of this? I knew nothing of Miss Effingham’s coming.”
“Robert, it was settled in your own presence last July.”
“I deny it.”
Then Lady Laura rose up, very haughty in her gait and with something of fire in her eye, and silently left the room. Mr Kennedy, when he found himself alone, was very unhappy. Looking back in his mind to the summer weeks in London, he remembered that his wife had told Violet that she was to spend her Christmas at Loughlinter, that he himself had given a muttered assent; and that Violet — as far as he could remember — had made no reply. It had been one of those things which are so often mentioned, but not settled. He felt that he had been strictly right in denying that it had been “settled” in his presence — but yet he felt that he had been wrong in contradicting his wife so peremptorily. He was a just man, and he would apologise for his fault; but he was an austere man, and would take back the value of his apology in additional austerity. He did not see his wife for some hours after the conversation which has been narrated, but when he did meet her his mind was still full of the subject. “Laura”, he said, I am sorry that I contradicted you.”
“I am quite used to it, Robert.”
“No — you are not used to it.” She smiled and bowed her head. “You wrong me by saying that you are used to it.” Then he paused a moment, but she said not a word — only smiled and bowed her head again. “I remember,” he continued, that something was said in my presence to Miss Effingham about her coming here at Christmas. It was so slight, however, that it had passed out of my memory till recalled by an effort. I beg your pardon.”
“That is unnecessary, Robert.”
“It is, dear.”
“And do you wish that I should put her off — or put Oswald off — or both? My brother never yet has seen me in your house.”
“And whose fault has that been?”
“I have said nothing about anybody’s fault, Robert. I merely mentioned a fact. Will you let me know whether I shall bid him stay away?” “He is welcome to come — only I do not like assignations for love-making.”
“Clandestine meetings. Lady Baldock would not wish it.”
“Lady Baldock! Do you think that Violet would exercise any secrecy in the matter — or that she will not tell Lady Baldock that Oswald will be here — as soon as she knows it herself?”
“That has nothing to do with it.”
“Surely, Robert, it must have much to do with it. And why should not these two young people meet? The acknowledged wish of all the family is that they should marry each other. And in this matter, at any rate, my brother has behaved extremely well.” Mr Kennedy said nothing further at the time, and it became an understanding that Violet Effingham was to be a month at Loughlinter, staying from the 20th of December to the 20th of January, and that Lord Chiltern was to come there for Christmas — which with him would probably mean three days.
Before Christmas came, however, there were various other sources of uneasiness at Loughlinter. There had been, as a matter of course, great anxiety as to the elections. With Lady Laura this anxiety had been very strong, and even Mr Kennedy had been warmed with some amount of fire as the announcements reached him of the successes and of the failures. The English returns came first — and then the Scotch, which were quite as interesting to Mr Kennedy as the English. His own seat was quite safe — was not contested; but some neighbouring seats were sources of great solicitude. Then, when this was over, there were the tidings from Ireland to be received; and respecting one special borough in Ireland, Lady Laura evinced more solicitude than her husband approved. There was much danger for the domestic bliss of the house of Loughlinter, when things came to such a pass, and such words were spoken, as the election at Loughshane produced.
“He is in,” said Lady Laura, opening a telegram.
“Who is in?” said Mr Kennedy, with that frown on his brow to which his wife was now well accustomed. Though he asked the question, he knew very well who was the hero to whom the telegram referred.
“Our friend Phineas Finn,” said Lady Laura, speaking still with an excited voice — with a voice that was intended to display excitement. If there was to be a battle on this matter, there should be a battle. She would display all her anxiety for her young friend, and fling it in her husband’s face if he chose to take it as an injury. What — should she endure reproach from her husband because she regarded the interests of the man who had saved his life, of the man respecting whom she had suffered so many heart-struggles, and as to whom she had at last come to the conclusion that he should ever be regarded as a second brother, loved equally with the elder brother? She had done her duty by her husband — so at least she had assured herself — and should he dare to reproach her on this subject, she would be ready for the battle. And now the battle came. “I am glad of this,” she said, with all the eagerness she could throw into her voice. “I am, indeed — and so ought you to be.” The husband’s brow grew blacker and blacker, but still he said nothing. He had long been too proud to be jealous, and was now too proud to express his jealousy — if only he could keep the expression back. But his wife would not leave the subject. “I am so thankful for this,” she said, pressing the telegram between her hands. “I was so afraid he would fail!”
“You overdo your anxiety on such a subject,” at last he said, speaking very slowly.
“What do you mean, Robert? How can I be over-anxious? If it concerned any other dear friend that I have in the world, it would not be an affair of life and death. To him it is almost so, I would have walked from here to London to get him his election.” And as she spoke she held up the clenched fist of her left hand, and shook it, while she still held the telegram in her right hand.
“Laura, I must tell you that it is improper that you should speak of any man in those terms — of any man that is a stranger to your blood.”
“A stranger to my blood! What has that to do with it? This man is my friend, is your friend — saved your life, has been my brother’s best friend, is loved by my father — and is loved by me, very dearly. Tell me what you mean by improper!”
“I will not have you love any man — very dearly.”
“I tell you that I will have no such expressions from you. They are unseemly, and are used only to provoke me.”
“Am I to understand that I am insulted by an accusation? If so, let me beg at once that I may be allowed to go to Saulsby. I would rather accept your apology and retractation there than here.”
“You will not go to Saulsby, and there has been no accusation, and there will be no apology. If you please there will be no more mention of Mr Finn’s name between us, for the present. If you will take my advice you will cease to think of him extravagantly — and I must desire you to hold no further direct communication with him.”
“I have held no communication with him,” said Lady Laura, advancing a step towards him. But Mr Kennedy simply pointed to the telegram in her hand, and left the room. Now in respect to this telegram there had been an unfortunate mistake. I am not prepared to say that there was any reason why Phineas himself should not have sent the news of his success to Lady Laura; but he had not done so. The piece of paper which she still held crushed in her hand was in itself very innocent. “Hurrah for the Loughshanes. Finny has done the trick.” Such were the words written on the slip, and they had been sent to Lady Laura by her young cousin, the clerk in the office who acted as private secretary to the Under-Secretary of State. Lady Laura resolved that her husband should never see those innocent but rather undignified words. The occasion had become one of importance, and such words were unworthy of it. Besides, she would not condescend to defend herself by bringing forward a telegram as evidence in her favour. So she burned the morsel of paper.
Lady Laura and Mr Kennedy did not meet again till late that evening. She was ill, she said, and would not come down to dinner. After dinner she wrote him a note. “Dear Robert, I think you must regret what you said to me. If so, pray let me have a line from you to that effect. Yours affectionately, L.” When the servant handed it to him, and he had read it, he smiled and thanked the girl who had brought it, and said he would see her mistress just now. Anything would be better than that the servants should know that there was a quarrel. But every servant in the house had known all about it for the last three hours. When the door was closed and he was alone, he sat fingering the note, thinking deeply how he should answer it, or whether he would answer it at all. No; he would not answer it — not in writing. He would give his wife no written record of his humiliation. He had not acted wrongly. He had said nothing more than now, upon mature consideration, he thought that the circumstances demanded. But yet he felt that he must in some sort withdraw the accusation which he had made. If he did not withdraw it, there was no knowing what his wife might do. About ten in the evening he went up to her and made his little speech. “My dear, I have come to answer your note.”
“I thought you would have written to me a line.”
“I have come instead, Laura. Now, if you will listen to me for one moment, I think everything will be made smooth.”
“Of course I will listen,” said Lady Laura, knowing very well that her husband’s moment would be rather tedious, and resolving that she also would have her moment afterwards.
“I think you will acknowledge that if there be a difference of opinion between you and me as to any question of social intercourse, it will be better that you should consent to adopt my opinion.”
“You have the law on your side.”
“I am not speaking of the law.”
“Well — go on, Robert. I will not interrupt you if I can help it.”
“I am not speaking of the law, I am speaking simply of convenience, and of that which you must feel to be right. If I wish that your intercourse with any person should be of such or such a nature it must be best that you should comply with my wishes.” He paused for her assent, but she neither assented nor dissented. “As far as I can understand the position of a man and wife in this country, there is no other way in which life can be made harmonious.”
“Life will not run in harmonies.”
“I expect that ours shall be made to do so, Laura. I need hardly say to you that I intend to accuse you of no impropriety of feeling in reference to this young man.”
“No, Robert; you need hardly say that. Indeed, to speak my own mind, I think that you need hardly have alluded to it. I might go further, and say that such an allusion is in itself an insult — an insult now repeated after hours of deliberation — an insult which I will not endure to have repeated again. If you say another word in any way suggesting the possibility of improper relations between me and Mr Finn, either as to deeds or thoughts, as God is above me, I will write to both my father and my brother, and desire them to take me from your house. If you wish me to remain here, you had better be careful!” As she was making this speech, her temper seemed to rise, and to become hot, and then hotter, till it glowed with a red heat. She had been cool till the word insult, used by herself, had conveyed back to her a strong impression of her own wrong — or perhaps I should rather say a strong feeling of the necessity of becoming indignant. She was standing as she spoke, and the fire flashed from her eyes, and he quailed before her. The threat which she had held out to him was very dreadful to him. He was a man terribly in fear of the world’s good opinion, who lacked the courage to go through a great and harassing trial in order that something better might come afterwards. His married life had been unhappy. His wife had not submitted either to his will or to his ways. He had that great desire to enjoy his full rights, so strong in the minds of weak, ambitious men, and he had told himself that a wife’s obedience was one of those rights which he could not abandon without injury to his self-esteem. He had thought about the matter, slowly, as was his wont, and had resolved that he would assert himself. He had asserted himself, and his wife told him to his face that she would go away and leave him. He could detain her legally, but he could not do even that without the fact of such forcible detention being known to all the world. How was he to answer her now at this moment, so that she might not write to her father, and so that his self-assertion might still be maintained?
“Passion, Laura, can never be right.”
“Would you have a woman submit to insult without passion? I at any rate am not such a woman.” Then there was a pause for a moment. “If you have nothing else to say to me, you had better leave me. I am far from well, and my head is throbbing.”
He came up and took her hand, but she snatched it away from him. “Laura,” he said, do not let us quarrel.
“I certainly shall quarrel if such insinuations are repeated.”
“I made no insinuation.”
“Do not repeat them. That is all.”
He was cowed and left her, having first attempted to get out of the difficulty of his position by making much of her alleged illness, and by offering to send for Dr Macnuthrie. She positively refused to see Dr Macnuthrie, and at last succeeded in inducing him to quit the room.
This had occurred about the end of November, and on the 20th of December Violet Effingham reached Loughlinter. Life in Mr Kennedy’s house had gone quietly during the intervening three weeks, but not very pleasantly. The name of Phineas Finn had not been mentioned. Lady Laura had triumphed; but she had no desire to acerbate her husband by any unpalatable allusion to her victory. And he was quite willing to let the subject die away, if only it would die. On some other matters he continued to assert himself, taking his wife to church twice every Sunday, using longer family prayers than she approved, reading an additional sermon himself every Sunday evening, calling upon her for weekly attention to elaborate household accounts, asking for her personal assistance in much local visiting, initiating her into his favourite methods of family life in the country, till sometimes she almost longed to talk again about Phineas Finn, so that there might be a rupture, and she might escape. But her husband asserted himself within bounds, and she submitted, longing for the coming of Violet Effingham. She could not write to her father and beg to be taken away, because her husband would read a sermon to her on Sunday evening.
To Violet, very shortly after her arrival, she told her whole story. “This is terrible,” said Violet. This makes me feel that I never will be married.”
“And yet what can a woman become if she remain single? The curse is to be a woman at all.”
“I have always felt so proud of the privileges of my sex,” said Violet.
“I never have found them,” said the other; never. I have tried to make the best of its weaknesses, and this is what I have come to! I suppose I ought to have loved some man.”
“And did you never love any man?”
“No — I think I never did — not as people mean when they speak of love. I have felt that I would consent to be cut in little pieces for my brother — because of my regard for him.”
“Ah, that is nothing.”
“And I have felt something of the same thing for another — a longing for his welfare, a delight to hear him praised, a charm in his presence — so strong a feeling for his interest, that were he to go to wrack and ruin, I too, should, after a fashion, be wracked and ruined. But it has not been love either.”
“Do I know whom you mean? May I name him? It is Phineas Finn.”
“Of course it is Phineas Finn.”
“Did he ever ask you — to love him?”
“I feared he would do so, and therefore accepted Mr Kennedy’s offer almost at the first word.”
“I do not quite understand your reasoning, Laura.”
“I understand it. I could have refused him nothing in my power to give him, but I did not wish to be his wife.”
“And he never asked you?”
Lady Laura paused a moment, thinking what reply she should make — and then she told a fib. “No; he never asked me.” But Violet did not believe the fib. Violet was quite sure that Phineas had asked Lady Laura Standish to be his wife, “As far as I can see,” said Violet, “Madame Max Goesler is his present passion.”
“I do not believe it in the least,” said Lady Laura, firing up.
“It does not much matter,” said Violet.
“It would matter very much. You know, you — you; you know whom he loves. And I do believe that sooner or later you will be his wife.”
“Yes, you will. Had you not loved him you would never have condescended to accuse him about that woman.”
“I have not accused him. Why should he not marry Madame Max Goesler? It would be just the thing for him. She is very rich.”
“Never. You will be his wife.”
“Laura, you are the most capricious of women. You have two dear friends, and you insist that I shall marry them both. Which shall I take first?”
“Oswald will be here in a day or two, and you can take him if you like it. No doubt he will ask you. But I do not think you will.”
“No; I do not think I shall. I shall knock under to Mr Mill; and go in for women’s rights, and look forward to stand for some female borough. Matrimony never seemed to me to be very charming, and upon my word it does not become more alluring by what I find at Loughlinter.”
It was thus that Violet and Lady Laura discussed these matters together, but Violet had never showed to her friend the cards in her hand, as Lady Laura had shown those which she held. Lady Laura had in fact told almost everything that there was to tell — had spoken either plainly with true words, or equally plainly with words that were not true. Violet Effingham had almost come to love Phineas Finn — but she never told her friend that it was so. At one time she had almost made up her mind to give herself and all her wealth to this adventurer. He was a better man, she thought, than Lord Chiltern; and she had come to persuade herself that it was almost imperative on her to take the one or the other. Though she could talk about remaining unmarried, she knew that that was practically impossible. All those around her — those of the Baldock as well as those of the Brentford faction — would make such a life impossible to her. Besides, in such a case what could she do? It was all very well to talk of disregarding the world and of setting up a house for herself — but she was quite aware that that project could not be used further than for the purpose of scaring her amiable aunt. And if not that — then could she content herself to look forward to a joint life with Lady Baldock and Augusta Boreham? She might, of course, oblige her aunt by taking Lord Fawn, or oblige her aunt equally by taking Mr Appledom; but she was strongly of opinion that either Lord Chiltern or Phineas would be preferable to these. Thinking over it always she had come to feel that it must be either Lord Chiltern or Phineas; but she had never whispered her thought to man or woman. On her journey to Loughlinter, where she then knew that she was to meet Lord Chiltern, she endeavoured to persuade herself that it should be Phineas. But Lady Laura had marred it all by that ill-told fib. There had been a moment before in which Violet had felt that Phineas had sacrificed something of that truth of love for which she gave him credit to the glances of Madame Goesler’s eyes; but she had rebuked herself for the idea, accusing herself not only of a little jealousy, but of foolish vanity. Was he, whom she had rejected, not to speak to another woman? Then came the blow from Lady Laura, and Violet knew that it was a blow. This gallant lover, this young Crichton, this unassuming but ardent lover, had simply taken up with her as soon as he had failed with her friend. Lady Laura had been most enthusiastic in her expressions of friendship. Such platonic regards might be all very well. It was for Mr Kennedy to look to that. But; for herself, she felt that such expressions were hardly compatible with her ideas of having her lover all to herself. And then she again remembered Madame Goesler’s bright blue eyes.
Lord Chiltern came on Christmas Eve, and was received with open arms by his sister, and with that painful, irritating affection which such a girl as Violet can show to such a man as Lord Chiltern, when she will not give him that other affection for which his heart is panting. The two men were civil to each other — but very cold. They called each other Kennedy and Chiltern, but even that was not done without an effort. On the Christmas morning Mr Kennedy asked his brother-in-law to go to church. “It’s a kind of thing I never do,” said Lord Chiltern. Mr Kennedy gave a little start, and looked a look of horror. Lady Laura showed that she was unhappy. Violet Effingham turned away her face, and smiled.
As they walked across the park Violet took Lord Chiltern’s part. “He only means that he does not go to church on Christmas Day.”
“I don’t know what he means,” said Mr Kennedy.
“We need not speak of it,” said Lady Laura.
“Certainly not,” said Mr Kennedy.
“I have been to church with him on Sundays myself,” said Violet, perhaps not reflecting that the practices of early years had little to do with the young man’s life at present.
Christmas Day and the next day passed without any sign from Lord Chiltern, and on the day after that he was to go away. But he was not to leave till one or two in the afternoon. Not a word had been said between the two women, since he had been in the house, on the subject of which both of them were thinking. Very much had been said of the expediency of his going to Saulsby, but on this matter he had declined to make any promise. Sitting in Lady Laura’s room, in the presence of both of them, he had refused to do so. “I am bad to drive,” he said, turning to Violet, “and you had better not try to drive me.”
“Why should not you be driven as well as another?” she answered, laughing.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55