Phineas Finn, when the session began, was still hard at work upon his Canada bill, and in his work found some relief for his broken back. He went into the matter with all his energy, and before the debate came on, knew much more about the seven thousand inhabitants of some hundreds of thousands of square miles at the back of Canada, than he did of the people of London or of County Clare. And he found some consolation also in the good nature of Madame Goesler, whose drawing-room was always open to him. He could talk freely now to Madame Goesler about Violet, and had even ventured to tell her that once, in old days, he had thought of loving Lady Laura Standish. He spoke of those days as being very old; and then he perhaps said some word to her about dear little Mary Flood Jones. I think that there was not much in his career of which he did not say something to Madame Goesler, and that he received from her a good deal of excellent advice and encouragement in the direction of his political ambition. “A man should work,” she said — “and you do work. A woman can only look on, and admire and long. What is there that I can do? I can learn to care for these Canadians, just because you care for them. If it was the beavers that you told me of, I should have to care for the beavers.” Then Phineas of course told her that such sympathy from her was all and all to him. But the reader must not on this account suppose that he was untrue in his love to Violet Effingham. His back was altogether broken by his fall, and he was quite aware that such was the fact. Not as yet, at least, had come to him any remotest idea that a cure was possible.
Early in March he heard that Lady Laura was up in town, and of course he was bound to go to her. The information was given to him by Mr Kennedy himself, who told him that he had been to Scotland to fetch her. In these days there was an acknowledged friendship between these two, but there was no intimacy. Indeed, Mr Kennedy was a man who was hardly intimate with any other man. With Phineas he now and then exchanged a few words in the lobby of the House, and when they chanced to meet each other, they met as friends. Mr Kennedy had no strong wish to see again in his house the man respecting whom he had ventured to caution his wife; but he was thoughtful; and thinking over it all, he found it better to ask him there. No one must know that there was any reason why Phineas should not come to his house; especially as all the world knew that Phineas had protected him from the garrotters. “Lady Laura is in town now,” he said; you must go and see her before long.” Phineas of course promised that he would go.
In these days Phineas was beginning to be aware that he had enemies — though he could not understand why anybody should be his enemy now that Violet Effingham had decided against him. There was poor Laurence Fitzgibbon, indeed, whom he had superseded at the Colonial Office, but Laurence Fitzgibbon, to give merit where merit was due, felt no animosity against him at all. “You’re welcome, me boy; you’re welcome — as far as yourself goes. But as for the party, bedad, it’s rotten to the core, and won’t stand another session. Mind, it’s I who tell you so.” And the poor idle Irishman, in so speaking, spoke the truth as well as he knew it. But the Ratlers and the Bonteens were Finn’s bitter foes, and did not scruple to let him know that such was the case. Barrington Erle had scruples on the subject, and in a certain mildly apologetic way still spoke well of the young man, whom he had himself first introduced into political life only four years since — but there was no earnestness or cordiality in Barrington Erle’s manner, and Phineas knew that his first staunch friend could no longer be regarded as a pillar of support. But there was a set of men, quite as influential — so Phineas thought — as the busy politicians of the club, who were very friendly to him. These were men, generally of high position, of steady character — hard workers — who thought quite as much of what a man did in his office as what he said in the House. Lords Cantrip, Thrift, and Fawn were of this class — and they were all very courteous to Phineas. Envious men began to say of him that he cared little now for anyone of the party who had not a handle to his name, and that he preferred to live with lords and lordlings. This was hard upon him, as the great political ambition of his life was to call Mr Monk his friend; and he would sooner have acted with Mr Monk than with any other man in the Cabinet. But though Mr Monk had not deserted him, there had come to be little of late in common between the two. His life was becoming that of a parliamentary official rather than that of a politician — whereas, though Mr Monk was in office, his public life was purely political. Mr Monk had great ideas of his own which he intended to hold, whether by holding them he might remain in office or be forced out of office; and he was indifferent as to the direction which things in this respect might take with him. But Phineas, who had achieved his declared object in getting into place, felt that he was almost constrained to adopt the views of others, let them be what they might. Men spoke to him, as though his parliamentary career were wholly at the disposal of the Government — as though he were like a proxy in Mr Gresham’s pocket — with this difference, that when directed to get up and speak on a subject he was bound to do so. This annoyed him, and he complained to Mr Monk; but Mr Monk only shrugged his shoulders and told him that he must make his choice. He soon discovered Mr Monk’s meaning. “If you choose to make Parliament a profession — as you have chosen — you can have no right even to think of independence. If the country finds you out when you are in Parliament, and then invites you to office, of course the thing is different. But the latter is a slow career, and probably would not have suited you.” That was the meaning of what Mr Monk said to him. After all, these official and parliamentary honours were greater when seen at a distance than he found them to be now that he possessed them. Mr Low worked ten hours a day, and could rarely call a day his own; but, after all, with all this work, Mr Low was less of a slave, and more independent, than was he, Phineas Finn, Under-Secretary of State, the friend of Cabinet Ministers, and Member of Parliament since his twenty-fifth year! He began to dislike the House, and to think it a bore to sit on the Treasury bench — he, who a few years since had regarded Parliament as the British heaven on earth, and who, since he had been in Parliament, had looked at that bench with longing envious eyes. Laurence Fitzgibbon, who seemed to have as much to eat and drink as ever, and a bed also to lie on, could come and go in the House as he pleased, since his — resignation.
And there was a new trouble coming. The Reform Bill for England had passed; but now there was to be another Reform Bill for Ireland. Let them pass what bill they might, this would not render necessary a new Irish election till the entire House should be dissolved. But he feared that he would be called upon to vote for the abolition of his own borough — and for other points almost equally distasteful to him. He knew that he would not be consulted — but would be called upon to vote, and perhaps to speak; and was certain that if he did so, there would be war between him and his constituents. Lord Tulla had already communicated to him his ideas that, for certain excellent reasons, Loughshane ought to be spared. But this evil was, he hoped, a distant one. It was generally thought that, as the English Reform Bill had been passed last year, and as the Irish bill, if carried, could not be immediately operative, the doing of the thing might probably be postponed to the next session.
When he first saw Lady Laura he was struck by the great change in her look and manner. She seemed to him to be old and worn, and he judged her to be wretched — as she was. She had written to him to say that she would be at her father’s house on such and such a morning, and he had gone to her there. “It is of no use your coming to Grosvenor Place,” she said. “I see nobody there, and the house is like a prison.” Later in the interview she told him not to come and dine there, even though Mr Kennedy should ask him.
“And why not?” he demanded.
“Because everything would be stiff, and cold, and uncomfortable. I suppose you do not wish to make your way into a lady’s house if she asks you not.” There was a sort of smile on her face as she said this, but he could perceive that it was a very bitter smile. “You can easily excuse yourself.”
“Yes, I can excuse myself.”
“Then do so. If you are particularly anxious to dine with Mr Kennedy, you can easily do so at your club.” In the tone of her voice, and the words she used, she hardly attempted to conceal her dislike of her husband.
“And now tell me about Miss Effingham,” he said.
“There is nothing for me to tell.”
“Yes there is — much to tell. You need not spare me. I do not pretend to deny to you that I have been hit hard — so hard, that I have been nearly knocked down; but it will not hurt me now to hear of it all. Did she always love him?”
“I cannot say. I think she did after her own fashion.”
“I sometimes think women would be less cruel,” he said, “if they knew how great is the anguish they can cause.”
“Has she been cruel to you?”
“I have nothing to complain of. But if she loved Chiltern, why did she not tell him so at once? And why — ”
“This is complaining, Mr Finn.”
“I will not complain. I would not even think of it, if I could help it. Are they to be married soon?”
“In July — so they now say.”
“And where will they live?”
“Ah! no one can tell, I do not think that they agree as yet as to that. But if she has a strong wish Oswald will yield to it. He was always generous.”
“I would not even have had a wish — except to have her with me.”
There was a pause for a moment, and then Lady Laura answered him with a touch of scorn in her voice — and with some scorn, too, in her eye: “That is all very well, Mr Finn; but the season will not be over before there is someone else.”
“There you wrong me.”
“They tell me that you are already at Madame Goesler’s feet.”
“What matters who it is as long as she is young and pretty, and has the interest attached to her of something more than ordinary position? When men tell me of the cruelty of women, I think that no woman can be really cruel because no man is capable of suffering. A woman, if she is thrown aside, does suffer.”
“Do you mean to tell me, then, that I am indifferent to Miss Effingham?” When he thus spoke, I wonder whether he had forgotten that he had ever declared to this very woman to whom he was speaking, a passion for herself.
“It suits you, Lady Laura, to be harsh to me, but you are not speaking your thoughts.”
Then she lost all control of herself, and poured out to him the real truth that was in her, “And whose thoughts did you speak when you and I were on the braes of Loughlinter? Am I wrong in saying that change is easy to you, or have I grown to be so old that you can talk to me as though those far-away follies ought to be forgotten? Was it so long ago? Talk of love! I tell you, sir, that your heart is one in which love can have no durable hold. Violet Effingham! There may be a dozen Violets after her, and you will be none the worse.” Then she walked away from him to the window, and he stood still, dumb, on the spot that he had occupied. “You had better go now,” she said, “and forget what has passed between us. I know that you are a gentleman, and that you will forget it.” The strong idea of his mind when he heard all this was the injustice of her attack — of the attack as coming from her, who had all but openly acknowledged that she had married a man whom she had not loved because it suited her to escape from a man whom she did love. She was reproaching him now for his fickleness in having ventured to set his heart upon another woman, when she herself had been so much worse than fickle — so profoundly false! And yet he could not defend himself by accusing her. What would she have had of him? What would she have proposed to him, had he questioned her as to his future, when they were together on the braes of Loughlinter? Would she not have bid him to find someone else whom he could love? Would she then have suggested to him the propriety of nursing his love for herself — for her who was about to become another man’s wife — for her after she should have become another man’s wife? And yet because he had not done so, and because she had made herself wretched by marrying a man whom she did not love, she reproached him!
He could not tell her of all this, so he fell back for his defence on words which had passed between them since the day when they had met on the braes. “Lady Laura,” he said, it is only a month or two since you spoke to me as though you wished that Violet Effingham might be my wife.”
“I never wished it. I never said that I wished it. There are moments in which we try to give a child any brick on the chimney top for which it may whimper.” Then there was another silence which she was the first to break. “You had better go,” she said. “I know that I have committed myself, and of course I would rather be alone.”
“And what would you wish that I should do?”
“Do?” she said. What you do can be nothing to me.
“Must we be strangers, you and I, because there was a time in which we were almost more than friends?”
“I have spoken nothing about myself, sir — only as I have been drawn to do so by your pretence of being lovesick. You can do nothing for me — nothing — nothing. What is it possible that you should do for me? You are not my father, or my brother.” It is not to be supposed that she wanted him to fall at her feet. It is to be supposed that had he done so her reproaches would have been hot and heavy on him; but yet it almost seemed to him as though he had no other alternative. No! — He was not her father or her brother — nor could he be her husband. And at this very moment, as she knew, his heart was sore with love for another woman. And yet he hardly knew how not to throw himself at her feet, and swear, that he would return now and for ever to his old passion, hopeless, sinful, degraded as it would be.
“I wish it were possible for me to do something,” he said, drawing near to her.
“There is nothing to be done,” she said, clasping her hands together. “For me nothing. I have before me no escape, no hope, no prospect of relief, no place of consolation. You have everything before you. You complain of a wound! You have at least shown that such wounds with you are capable of cure. You cannot but feel that when I hear your wailings, I must be impatient. You had better leave me now, if you please.”
“And are we to be no longer friends?” he asked.
“As far as friendship can go without intercourse, I shall always be your friend.”
Then he went, and as he walked down to his office, so intent was he on that which had just passed that he hardly saw the people as he met them, or was aware of the streets through which his way led him. There had been something in the later words which Lady Laura had spoken that had made him feel almost unconsciously that the injustice of her reproaches was not so great as he had at first felt it to be, and that she had some cause for her scorn. If her case was such as she had so plainly described it, what was his plight as compared with hers? He had lost his Violet, and was in pain. There must be much of suffering before him. But though Violet were lost, the world was not all blank before his eyes. He had not told himself, even in his dreariest moments, that there was before him “no escape, no hope, no prospect of relief, no place of consolation.” And then he began to think whether this must in truth be the case with Lady Laura. What if Mr Kennedy were to die? What in such case as that would he do? In ten or perhaps in five years time might it not be possible for him to go through the ceremony of falling upon his knees, with stiffened joints indeed, but still with something left of the ardour of his old love, of his oldest love of all?
As he was thinking of this he was brought up short in his walk as he was entering the Green Park beneath the Duke’s figure, by Laurence Fitzgibbon. “How dare you not be in your office at such an hour as this, Finn, me boy — or, at least, not in the House — or serving your masters after some fashion?” said the late Under-Secretary.
“So I am. I’ve been on a message to Marylebone, to find what the people there think about the Canadas.”
“And what do they think about the Canadas in Marylebone?”
“Not one man in a thousand cares whether the Canadians prosper or fail to prosper. They care that Canada should not go to the States, because — though they don’t love the Canadians, they do hate the Americans. That’s about the feeling in Marylebone — and it’s astonishing how like the Maryleboners are to the rest of the world.”
“Dear me, what a fellow you are for an Under-Secretary! You’ve heard the news about little Violet.”
“She has quarrelled with Chiltern, you know.”
“Who says so?”
“Never mind who says so, but they tell me it’s true. Take an old friend’s advice, and strike while the iron’s hot.”
Phineas did not believe what he had heard, but though he did not believe it, still the tidings set his heart beating. He would have believed it less perhaps had he known that Laurence had just received the news from Mrs Bonteen.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14