The reader may remember that a rumour had been conveyed to Phineas — a rumour indeed which reached him from a source which he regarded as very untrustworthy — that Violet Effingham had quarrelled with her lover. He would probably have paid no attention to the rumour, beyond that which necessarily attached itself to any tidings as to a matter so full of interest to him, had it not been repeated to him in another quarter. “A bird has told me that your Violet Effingham has broken with her lover,” Madame Goesler said to him one day. “What bird?” he asked. Ah, that I cannot tell you. But this I will confess to you, that these birds which tell us news are seldom very credible — and are often not very creditable. You must take a bird’s word for what it may be worth. It is said that they have quarrelled. I daresay, if the truth were known, they are billing and cooing in each other’s arms at this moment.”
Phineas did not like to be told of their billing and cooing — did not like to be told even of their quarrelling. Though they were to quarrel, it would do him no good. He would rather that nobody should mention their names to him — so that his back, which had been so utterly broken, might in process of time get itself cured. From what he knew of Violet he thought it very improbable that, even were she to quarrel with one lover, she would at once throw herself into the arms of another. And he did feel, too, that there would be some meanness in taking her, were she willing to be so taken. But, nevertheless, these rumours, coming to him in this way from different sources, almost made it incumbent on him to find out the truth. He began to think that his broken back was not cured — that perhaps, after all, it was not in the way of being cured. And was it not possible that there might be explanations? Then he went to work and built castles in the air, so constructed as to admit of the possibility of Violet Effingham becoming his wife.
This had been in April, and at that time all that he knew of Violet was, that she was not yet in London. And he thought that he knew the same as to Lord Chiltern. The Earl had told him that Chiltern was not in town, nor expected in town as yet; and in saying so had seemed to express displeasure against his son. Phineas had met Lady Baldock at some house which he frequented, and had been quite surprised to find himself graciously received by the old woman. She had said not a word of Violet, but had spoken of Lord Chiltern — mentioning his name in bitter wrath. “But he is a friend of mine,” said Phineas, smiling. “A friend indeed! Mr Finn. I know what sort of a friend. I don’t believe that you are his friend. I am afraid he is not worthy of having any friend.” Phineas did not quite understand from this that Lady Baldock was signifying to him that, badly as she had thought of him as a suitor for her niece, she would have preferred him — especially now when people were beginning to speak well of him — to that terrible young man, who, from his youth upwards, had been to her a cause of fear and trembling. Of course it was desirable that Violet should marry an elder son, and a peer’s heir. All that kind of thing, in Lady Baldock’s eyes, was most desirable. But, nevertheless, anything was better than Lord Chiltern. If Violet would not take Mr Appledom or Lord Fawn, in heaven’s name let her take this young man, who was kind, worthy, and steady, who was civilised in his manners, and would no doubt be amenable in regard to settlements. Lady Baldock had so far fallen in the world that she would have consented to make a bargain with her niece — almost any bargain, so long as Lord Chiltern was excluded. Phineas did not quite understand all this; but when Lady Baldock asked him to come to Berkeley Square, he perceived that help was being proffered to him where he certainly had not looked for help.
He was frequently with Lord Brentford, who talked to him constantly on matters connected with his parliamentary life. After having been the intimate friend of the daughter and of the son, it now seemed to be his lot to be the intimate friend of the father. The Earl had constantly discussed with him his arrangements with his son, and had lately expressed himself as only half satisfied with such reconciliation as had taken place. And Phineas could perceive that from day to day the Earl was less and less satisfied. He would complain bitterly of his son — complain of his silence, complain of his not coming to London, complain of his conduct to Violet, complain of his idle indifference to anything like proper occupation; but he had never as yet said a word to show that there had been any quarrel between Violet and her lover, and Phineas had felt that he could not ask the question. “Mr Finn,” said the Earl to him one morning, as soon as he entered the room, “I have just heard a story which has almost seemed to me to be incredible.” The nobleman’s manner was very stern, and the fact that he called his young friend “Mr Finn”, showed at once that something was wrong.
“What is it you have heard, my lord?” said Phineas.
“That you and Chiltern went over — last year to — Belgium, and fought — a duel there!”
Now it must have been the case that, in the set among which they all lived — Lord Brentford and his son and daughter and Phineas Finn — the old lord was the only man who had not heard of the duel before this. It had even penetrated to the dull ears of Mr Kennedy, reminding him, as it did so, that his wife had — told him a lie! But it was the fact that no rumour of the duel had reached the Earl till this morning.
“It is true,” said Phineas.
“I have never been so much shocked in my life — never. I had no idea that you had any thought of aspiring to the hand of Miss Effingham.” The lord’s voice as he said this was very stern.
“As I aspired in vain, and as Chiltern has been successful, that need not now be made a reproach against me.”
“I do not know what to think of it, Mr Finn. I am so much surprised that I hardly know what to say. I must declare my opinion at once, that you behaved — very badly.”
“I do not know how much you know, my lord, and how much you do not know; and the circumstances of the little affair do not permit me to be explicit about them; but, as you have expressed your opinion so openly you must allow me to express mine, and to say that, as far as I can judge of my own actions, I did not behave badly at all.”
“Do you intend to defend duelling, sir?”
“No. If you mean to tell me that a duel is of itself sinful, I have nothing to say. I suppose it is. My defence of myself merely goes to the manner in which this duel was fought, and the fact that I fought it with your son.”
“I cannot conceive how you can have come to my house as my guest, and stood upon my interest for my borough, when you at the time were doing your very best to interpose yourself between Chiltern and the lady whom you so well knew I wished to become his wife.” Phineas was aware that the Earl must have been very much moved indeed when he thus permitted himself to speak of “his” borough. He said nothing now, however, though the Earl paused — and then the angry lord went on. “I must say that there was something — something almost approaching to duplicity in such conduct.”
“If I were to defend myself by evidence, Lord Brentford, I should have to go back to exact dates — and dates not of facts which I could verify, but dates as to my feelings which could not be verified — and that would be useless. I can only say that I believe I know what the honour and truth of a gentleman demand — even to the verge of self-sacrifice, and that I have done nothing that ought to place my character as a gentleman in jeopardy. If you will ask your son, I think he will tell you the same.”
“I have asked him. It was he who told me of the duel.”
“When did he tell you, my lord?”
“Just now; this morning.” Thus Phineas learned that Lord Chiltern was at this moment in the house — or at least in London.
“And did he complain of my conduct?”
“I complain of it, sir. I complain of it very bitterly. I placed the greatest confidence in you, especially in regard to my son’s affairs, and you deceived me.” The Earl was very angry, and was more angry from the fact that this young man who had offended him, to whom he had given such vital assistance when assistance was needed, had used that assistance to its utmost before his sin was found out. Had Phineas still been sitting for Loughton, so that the Earl could have said to him, “You are now bound to retreat from this borough because you have offended me, your patron,” I think that he would have forgiven the offender and allowed him to remain in his seat. There would have been a scene, and the Earl would have been pacified. But now the offender was beyond his reach altogether, having used the borough as a most convenient stepping-stone over his difficulties, and having so used it just at the time when he was committing this sin. There was a good fortune about Phineas which added greatly to the lord’s wrath. And then, to tell the truth, he had not that rich consolation for which Phineas gave him credit. Lord Chiltern had told him that morning that the engagement between him and Violet was at an end. “You have so preached to her, my lord, about my duties,” the son had said to his father, “that she finds herself obliged to give me your sermons at second hand, till I can bear them no longer.” But of this Phineas knew nothing as yet. The Earl, however, was so imprudent in his anger that before this interview was over he had told the whole story. “ Yes — you deceived me,” he continued; “and I can never trust you again.”
“Was it for me, my lord, to tell you of that which would have increased your anger against your own son? When he wanted me to fight was I to come, like a sneak at school, and tell you the story? I know what you would have thought of me had I done so. And when it was over was I to come and tell you then? Think what you yourself would have done when you were young, and you may be quite sure that I did the same. What have I gained? He has got all that he wanted; and you have also got all that you wanted — and I have helped you both. Lord Brentford, I can put my hand on my heart and say that I have been honest to you.”
“I have got nothing that I wanted,” said the Earl in his despair.
“Lord Chiltern and Miss Effingham will be man and wife.”
“No — they will not. He has quarrelled with her. He is so obstinate that she will not bear with him.”
Then it was all true, even though the rumours had reached him through Laurence Fitzgibbon and Madame Max Goesler. “At any rate, my lord, that has not been my fault,” he said, after a moment’s hesitation. The Earl was walking up and down the room, angry with himself at his own mistake in having told the story, and not knowing what further to say to his visitor. He had been in the habit of talking so freely to Phineas about his son that he could hardly resist the temptation of doing so still; and yet it was impossible that he could swallow his anger and continue in the same strain. “My lord,” said Phineas, after a while, “I can assure you that I grieve that you should be grieved. I have received so much undeserved favour from your family, that I owe you a debt which I can never pay. I am sorry that you should be angry with me now; but I hope that a time may come when you will think less severely of my conduct.”
He was about to leave the room when the Earl stopped him. “Will you give me your word,” said the Earl, that you will think no more of Miss Effingham?” Phineas stood silent, considering how he might answer this proposal, resolving that nothing should bring him to such a pledge as that suggested while there was yet a ledge for hope to stand on. “Say that, Mr Finn, and I will forgive everything.”
“I cannot acknowledge that I have done anything to be forgiven.”
“Say that,” repeated the Earl, and everything shall be forgotten.”
“There need be no cause for alarm, my lord,” said Phineas. “You may be sure that Miss Effingham will not think of me.”
“Will you give me your word?”
“No, my lord — certainly not. You have no right to ask it, and the pursuit is open to me as to any other man who may choose to follow it. I have hardly a vestige of a hope of success. It is barely possible that I should succeed. But if it be true that Miss Effingham be disengaged, I shall endeavour to find an opportunity of urging my suit. I would give up everything that I have, my seat in Parliament, all the ambition of my life, for the barest chance of success. When she had accepted your son, I desisted — of course. I have now heard, from more sources than one, that she or he or both of them have changed their minds. If this be so, I am free to try again.” The Earl stood opposite to him, scowling at him, but said nothing. “Good morning, my lord.”
“Good morning, sir.”
“I am afraid it must be goodbye, for some long days to come.”
“Good morning, sir.” And the Earl as he spoke rang the bell. Then Phineas took up his hat and departed.
As he walked away his mind filled itself gradually with various ideas, all springing from the words which Lord Brentford had spoken. What account had Lord Chiltern given to his father of the duel? Our hero was a man very sensitive as to the good opinion of others, and in spite of his bold assertion of his own knowledge of what became a gentleman, was beyond measure solicitous that others should acknowledge his claim at any rate to that title. He thought that he had been generous to Lord Chiltern; and as he went back in his memory over almost every word that had been spoken in the interview that had just passed, he fancied that he was able to collect evidence that his antagonist at Blankenberg had not spoken ill of him. As to the charge of deceit which the Earl had made against him, he told himself that the Earl had made it in anger. He would not even think hardly of the Earl who had been so good a friend to him, but he believed in his heart that the Earl had made the accusation out of his wrath and not out of his judgment. “He cannot think that I have been false to him,” Phineas said to himself. But it was very sad to him that he should have to quarrel with all the family of the Standishes, as he could not but feel that it was they who had put him on his feet. It seemed as though he were never to see Lady Laura again except when they chanced to meet in company — on which occasions he simply bowed to her. Now the Earl had almost turned him out of his house. And though there had been to a certain extent a reconciliation between him and Lord Chiltern, he in these days never saw the friend who had once put him upon Bonebreaker; and now — now that Violet Effingham was again free — how was it possible to avoid some renewal of enmity between them? He would, however, endeavour to see Lord Chiltern at once.
And then he thought of Violet — of Violet again free, of Violet as again a possible wife for himself, of Violet to whom he might address himself at any rate without any scruple as to his own unworthiness. Everybody concerned, and many who were not concerned at all, were aware that he had been among her lovers, and he thought that he could perceive that those who interested themselves on the subject, had regarded him as the only horse in the race likely to run with success against Lord Chiltern. She herself had received his offers without scorn, and had always treated him as though he were a favoured friend, though not favoured as a lover. And now even Lady Baldock was smiling upon him, and asking him to her house as though the red-faced porter in the hall in Berkeley Square had never been ordered to refuse him a moment’s admission inside the doors. He had been very humble in speaking of his own hopes to the Earl, but surely there might be a chance. What if after all the little strain which he had had in his back was to be cured after such a fashion as this! When he got to his lodgings, he found a card from Lady Baldock, informing him that Lady Baldock would be at home on a certain night, and that there would be music. He could not go to Lady Baldock’s on the night named, as it would be necessary that he should be in the House — nor did he much care to go there, as Violet Effingham was not in town. But he would call and explain, and endeavour to curry favour in that way.
He at once wrote a note to Lord Chiltern, which he addressed to Portman Square. “As you are in town, can we not meet? Come and dine with me at the — Club on Saturday.” That was the note. After a few days he received the following answer, dated from the Bull at Willingford. Why on earth should Chiltern be staying at the Bull at Willingford in May?
“ The old Shop at W — Friday
“ DEAR PHINEAS,
“I can’t dine with you, because I am down here, looking after the cripples, and writing a sporting novel. They tell me I ought to do something, so I am going to do that. I hope you don’t think I turned informer against you in telling the Earl of our pleasant little meeting on the sands. It had become necessary, and you are too much of a man to care much for any truth being told. He was terribly angry both with me and with you; but the fact is, he is so blindly unreasonable that one cannot regard his anger. I endeavoured to tell the story truly, and, so told, it certainly should not have injured you in his estimation. But it did. Very sorry, old fellow, and I hope you’ll get over it. It is a good deal more important to me than to you.
There was not a word about Violet. But then it was hardly to be expected that there should be words about Violet. It was not likely that a man should write to his rival of his own failure. But yet there was a flavour of Violet in the letter which would not have been there, so Phineas thought, if the writer had been despondent. The pleasant little meeting on the sands had been convened altogether in respect of Violet. And the telling of the story to the Earl must have arisen from discussions about Violet. Lord Chiltern must have told his father that Phineas was his rival. Could the rejected suitor have written on such a subject in such a strain to such a correspondent if he had believed his own rejection to be certain? But then Lord Chiltern was not like anybody else in the world, and it was impossible to judge of him by one’s experience of the motives of others.
Shortly afterwards Phineas did call in Berkeley Square, and was shown up at once into Lady Baldock’s drawing-room. The whole aspect of the porter’s countenance was changed towards him, and from this, too, he gathered good auguries. This had surprised him; but his surprise was far greater, when, on entering the room, he found Violet Effingham there alone. A little fresh colour came to her face as she greeted him, though it cannot be said that she blushed. She behaved herself admirably, not endeavouring to conceal some little emotion at thus meeting him, but betraying none that was injurious to her composure. “I am so glad to see you, Mr Finn,” she said. My aunt has just left me, and will be back directly.”
He was by no means her equal in his management of himself on the occasion; but perhaps it may be acknowledged that his position was the more difficult of the two. He had not seen her since her engagement had been proclaimed to the world, and now he had heard from a source which was not to be doubted, that it had been broken off. Of course there was nothing to be said on that matter. He could not have congratulated her in the one case, nor could he either congratulate her or condole with her on the other. And yet he did not know how to speak to her as though no such events had occurred. “I did not know that you were in town,” he said.
“I only came yesterday. I have been, you know, at Rome with the Effinghams; and since that I have been — but, indeed, I have been such a vagrant that I cannot tell you of all my comings and goings. And you — you are hard at work!”
“Oh yes — always.”
“That is right. I wish I could be something, if it were only a stick in waiting, or a door-keeper. It is so good to be something.” Was it some such teaching as this that had jarred against Lord Chiltern’s susceptibilities, and had seemed to him to be a repetition of his father’s sermons?
“A man should try to be something,” said Phineas.
“And a woman must be content to be nothing — unless Mr Mill can pull us through! And now, tell me — have you seen Lady Laura?”
“Nor Mr Kennedy?”
“I sometimes see him in the House.” The visit to the Colonial Office of which the reader has been made aware had not at that time as yet been made.
“I am sorry for all that,” she said. Upon which Phineas smiled and shook his head. “I am very sorry that there should be a quarrel between you two.”
“There is no quarrel.”
“I used to think that you and he might do so much for each other — that is, of course, if you could make a friend of him.”
“He is a man of whom it is very hard to make a friend,” said Phineas, feeling that he was dishonest to Mr Kennedy in saying so, but thinking that such dishonesty was justified by what he owed to Lady Laura.
“Yes — he is hard, and what I call ungenial. We won’t say anything about him — will we? Have you seen much of the Earl?” This she asked as though such a question had no reference whatever to Lord Chiltern.
“Oh dear — alas, alas!”
“You have not quarrelled with him too?”
“He has quarrelled with me. He has heard, Miss Effingham, of what happened last year, and he thinks that I was wrong.”
“Of course you were wrong, Mr Finn.”
“Very likely. To him I chose to defend myself, but I certainly shall not do so to you. At any rate, you did not think it necessary to quarrel with me.”
“I ought to have done so. I wonder why my aunt does not come.” Then she rang the bell.
“Now I have told you all about myself,” said he; you should tell me something of yourself.”
“About me? I am like the knife-grinder, who had no story to tell — none at least to be told. We have all, no doubt, got our little stories, interesting enough to ourselves.”
“But your story, Miss Effingham,” he said, is of such intense interest to me.” At that moment, luckily, Lady Baldock came into the room, and Phineas was saved from the necessity of making a declaration at a moment which would have been most inopportune.
Lady Baldock was exceedingly gracious to him, bidding Violet use her influence to persuade him to come to the gathering. “Persuade him to desert his work to come and hear some fiddlers!” said Miss Effingham. “Indeed I shall not, aunt. Who can tell but what the colonies might suffer from it through centuries, and that such a lapse of duty might drive a province or two into the arms of our mortal enemies?”
“Herr Moll is coming,” said Lady Baldock, and so is Signor Scrubi, and Pjinskt who, they say, is the greatest man living on the flageolet. Have you ever heard Pjinskt, Mr Finn?” Phineas never had heard Pjinskt. “And as for Herr Moll, there is nothing equal to him, this year, at least.” Lady Baldock had taken up music this season, but all her enthusiasm was unable to shake the conscientious zeal of the young Under-Secretary of State. At such a gathering he would have been unable to say a word in private to Violet Effingham.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55