While looking for Violet Effingham, Phineas encountered Madame Goesler, among a crowd of people who were watching the adventurous embarkation of certain daring spirits in a pleasure-boat. There were watermen there in the Duke’s livery, ready to take such spirits down to Richmond or up to Teddington lock, and many daring spirits did take such trips — to the great peril of muslins, ribbons, and starch, to the peril also of ornamental summer white garments, so that when the thing was over, the boats were voted to have been a bore.
“Are you going to venture?” said Phineas to the lady.
“I should like it of all things if I were not afraid for my clothes. Will you come?”
“I was never good upon the water. I should be seasick to a certainty. They are going down beneath the bridge too, and we should be splashed by the steamers. I don’t think my courage is high enough.” Thus Phineas excused himself, being still intent on prosecuting his search for Violet.
“Then neither will I,” said Madame Goesler. One dash from a peccant oar would destroy the whole symmetry of my dress. Look. That green young lady has already been sprinkled.”
“But the blue young gentleman has been sprinkled also,” said Phineas, “and they will be happy in a joint baptism.” Then they strolled along the river path together, and were soon alone. “You will be leaving town soon, Madame Goesler?”
“And where do you go?”
“Oh — to Vienna. I am there for a couple of months every year, minding my business. I wonder whether you would know me, if you saw me — sometimes sitting on a stool in a counting-house, sometimes going about among old houses, settling what must be done to save them from tumbling down. I dress so differently at such times, and talk so differently, and look so much older, that I almost fancy myself to be another person.”
“Is it a great trouble to you?”
“No — I rather like it. It makes me feel that I do something in the world.”
“Do you go alone?”
“Quite alone. I take a German maid with me, and never speak a word to anyone else on the journey.”
“That must be very bad,” said Phineas.
“Yes; it is the worst of it. But then I am so much accustomed to be alone. You see me in society, and in society only, and therefore naturally look upon me as one of a gregarious herd; but I am in truth an animal that feeds alone and lives alone. Take the hours of the year all through, and I am a solitary during four-fifths of them. And what do you intend to do?”
“I go to Ireland.”
“Home to your own people. How nice! I have no people to go to. I have one sister, who lives with her husband at Riga. She is my only relation, and I never see her.”
“But you have thousands of friends in England.”
“Yes — as you see them,” — and she turned and spread out her hands towards the crowded lawn, which was behind them. “What are such friends worth? What would they do for me?”
“I do not know that the Duke would do much,” said Phineas laughing.
Madame Goesler laughed also. “The Duke is not so bad,” she said. “The Duke would do as much as anyone else. I won’t have the Duke abused.”
“He may be your particular friend, for what I know,” said Phineas.
“Ah — no. I have no particular friend. And were I to wish to choose one, I should think the Duke a little above me.”
“Oh, yes — and too stiff, and too old, and too pompous, and too cold, and too make-believe, and too gingerbread.”
“The Duke is all buckram, you know.”
“Then why do you come to his house?”
“To see you, Madame Goesler.”
“Is that true, Mr Finn?”
“Yes — it is true in its way. One goes about to meet those whom one likes, not always for the pleasure of the host’s society. I hope I am not wrong because I go to houses at which I like neither the host nor the hostess.” Phineas as he said this was thinking of Lady Baldock, to whom of late he had been exceedingly civil — but he certainly did not like Lady Baldock.
“I think you have been too hard upon the Duke of Omnium. Do you know him well?”
“Personally? certainly not. Do you? Does anybody?”
“I think he is a gracious gentleman,” said Madame Goesler, “and though I cannot boast of knowing him well, I do not like to hear him called buckram. I do not think he is buckram. It is not very easy for a man in his position to live so as to please all people. He has to maintain the prestige of the highest aristocracy in Europe.”
“Look at his nephew, who will be the next Duke, and who works as hard as any man in the country. Will he not maintain it better? What good did the present man ever do?”
“You believe only in motion, Mr Finn — and not at all in quiescence. An express train at full speed is grander to you than a mountain with heaps of snow. I own that to me there is something glorious in the dignity of a man too high to do anything — if only he knows how to carry that dignity with a proper grace. I think that there should be breasts made to carry stars.”
“Stars which they have never earned,” said Phineas.
“Ah — well; we will not fight about it. Go and earn your star, and I will say that it becomes you better than any glitter on the coat of the Duke of Omnium.” This she said with an earnestness which he could not pretend not to notice or not to understand. “I too may be able to see that the express train is really greater than the mountain.”
“Though, for your own life, you would prefer to sit and gaze upon the snowy peaks?”
“No — that is not so. For myself, I would prefer to be of use somewhere — to someone, if it were possible. I strive sometimes.”
“And I am sure successfully.”
“Never mind. I hate to talk about myself. You and the Duke are fair subjects for conversation; you as the express train, who will probably do your sixty miles an hour in safety, but may possibly go down a bank with a crash.”
“Certainly I may,” said Phineas.
“And the Duke, as the mountain, which is fixed in its stateliness, short of the power of some earthquake, which shall be grander and more terrible than any earthquake yet known. Here we are at the house again. I will go in and sit down for a while.”
“If I leave you, Madame Goesler, I will say goodbye till next winter.”
“I shall be in town again before Christmas, you know. You will come and see me?”
“Of course I will.”
“And then this love trouble of course will be over — one way or the other — will it not?”
“Ah! — who can say?”
“Faint heart never won fair lady. But your heart is never faint. Farewell.”
Then he left her. Up to this moment he had not seen Violet, and yet he knew that she was to be there. She had herself told him that she was to accompany Lady Laura, whom he had already met. Lady Baldock had not been invited, and had expressed great animosity against the Duke in consequence. She had gone so far as to say that the Duke was a man at whose house a young lady such as her niece ought not to be seen. But Violet had laughed at this, and declared her intention of accepting the invitation. “Go,” she had said; of course I shall go. I should have broken my heart if I could not have got there.” Phineas therefore was sure that she must be in the place. He had kept his eyes ever on the alert, and yet he had not found her. And now he must keep his appointment with Lady Laura Kennedy. So he went down to the path by the river, and there he found her seated close by the water’s edge. Her cousin Barrington Erle was still with her, but as soon as Phineas joined them, Erle went away. “I had told him,” said Lady Laura, “that I wished to speak to you, and he stayed with me till you came. There are worse men than Barrington a great deal.”
“I am sure of that.”
“Are you and he still friends, Mr Finn?”
“I hope so. I do not see so much of him as I did when I had less to do.”
“He says that you have got into altogether a different set.”
“I don’t know that. I have gone as circumstances have directed me, but I have certainly not intended to throw over so old and good a friend as Barrington Erle.”
“Oh — he does not blame you. He tells me that you have found your way among what he calls the working men of the party, and he thinks you will do very well — if you can only be patient enough. We all expected a different line from you, you know — more of words and less of deeds, if I may say so — more of liberal oratory and less of government action; but I do not doubt that you are right.”
“I think that I have been wrong,” said Phineas. I am becoming heartily sick of officialities.”
“That comes from the fickleness about which papa is so fond of quoting his Latin. The ox desires the saddle. The charger wants to plough.”
“And which am I?”
“Your career may combine the dignity of the one with the utility of the other. At any rate you must not think of changing now. Have you seen Mr Kennedy lately?” She asked the question abruptly, showing that she was anxious to get to the matter respecting which she had summoned him to her side, and that all that she had said hitherto had been uttered as it were in preparation of that subject.
“Seen him? yes; I see him daily. But we hardly do more than speak.”
“Why not?” Phineas stood for a moment in silence, hesitating. “Why is it that he and you do not speak?”
“How can I answer that question, Lady Laura?”
“Do you know any reason? Sit down, or, if you please, I will get up and walk with you. He tells me that you have chosen to quarrel with him, and that I have made you do so. He says that you have confessed to him that I have asked you to quarrel with him.”
“He can hardly have said that.”
“But he has said it — in so many words. Do you think that I would tell you such a story falsely?”
“Is he here now?”
“No — he is not here. He would not come. I came alone.”
“Is not Miss Effingham with you?”
“No — she is to come with my father later. She is here no doubt, now. But answer my question, Mr Finn — unless you find that you cannot answer it. What was it that you did say to my husband?”
“Nothing to justify what he has told you.”
“Do you mean to say that he has spoken falsely?”
“I mean to use no harsh word — but I think that Mr Kennedy when troubled in his spirit looks at things gloomily, and puts meaning upon words which they should not bear.”
“And what has troubled his spirit?”
“You must know that better than I can do, Lady Laura. I will tell you all that I can tell you. He invited me to his house and I would not go, because you had forbidden me. Then he asked me some questions about you. Did I refuse because of you — or of anything that you had said? If I remember right, I told him that I did fancy that you would not be glad to see me — and that therefore I would rather stay away. What was I to say?”
“You should have said nothing.”
“Nothing with him would have been worse than what I did say. Remember that he asked me the question point-blank, and that no reply would have been equal to an affirmation. I should have confessed that his suggestion was true.”
“He could not then have twitted me with your words.”
“If I have erred, Lady Laura, and brought any sorrow on you, I am indeed grieved.”
“It is all sorrow. There is nothing but sorrow. I have made up my mind to leave him.”
“Oh, Lady Laura!”
“It is very bad — but not so bad, I think, as the life I am now leading. He has accused me — of what do you think? He says that you are my lover!”
“He did not say that — in those words?”
“He said it in words which made me feel that I must part from him.”
“And how did you answer him?”
“I would not answer him at all. If he had come to me like a man — not accusing me, but asking me — I would have told him everything. And what was there to tell? I should have broken my faith to you, in speaking of that scene at Loughlinter, but women always tell such stories to their husbands when their husbands are good to them, and true, and just. And it is well that they should be told. But to Mr Kennedy I can tell nothing. He does not believe my word.”
“Not believe you, Lady Laura?”
“No! Because I did not blurt out to him all that story about your foolish duel — because I thought it best to keep my brother’s secret, as long as there was a secret to be kept, he told me that I had — lied to him!”
“What! — with that word?”
“Yes — with that very word. He is not particular about his words,when he thinks it necessary to express himself strongly. And he has told me since that because of that he could never believe me again. How is it possible that a woman should live with such a man?” But why did she come to him with this story — to him whom she had been accused of entertaining as a lover — to him who of all her friends was the last whom she should have chosen as the recipient for such a tale? Phineas as he thought how he might best answer her, with what words he might try to comfort her, could not but ask himself this question. “The moment that the word was out of his mouth,” she went on to say, “I resolved that I would tell you. The accusation is against you as it is against me, and is equally false to both. I have written to him, and there is my letter.”
“But you will see him again?”
“No — I will go to my father’s house. I have already arranged it. Mr Kennedy has my letter by this time, and I go from hence home with my father.”
“Do you wish that I should read the letter?”
“Yes — certainly. I wish that you should read it. Should I ever meet him again, I shall tell him that you saw it.”
They were now standing close upon the river’s bank, at a corner of the grounds, and, though the voices of people sounded near to them, they were alone. Phineas had no alternative but to read the letter, which was as follows:
“After what you have said to me it is impossible that I should return to your house. I shall meet my father at the Duke of Omnium’s, and have already asked him to give me an asylum. It is my wish to remain wherever he may be, either in town or in the country. Should I change my purpose in this, and change my residence, I will not fail to let you know where I go and what I propose to do. You I think must have forgotten that I was your wife; but I will never forget it.
“You have accused me of having a lover. You cannot have expected that I should continue to live with you after such an accusation. For myself I cannot understand how any man can have brought himself to bring such a charge against his wife. Even had it been true the accusation should not have been made by your mouth to my ears.
“That it is untrue I believe you must be as well aware as I am myself. How intimate I was with Mr Finn, and what were the limits of my intimacy with him you knew before I married you. After our marriage I encouraged his friendship till I found that there was something in it that displeased you — and, after learning that, I discouraged it. You have said that he is my lover, but you have probably not defined for yourself that word very clearly. You have felt yourself slighted because his name has been mentioned with praise — and your jealousy has been wounded because you have thought that I have regarded him as in some way superior to yourself. You have never really thought that he was my lover — that he spoke words to me which others might not hear, that he claimed from me aught that a wife may not give, that he received aught which a friend should not receive. The accusation has been a coward’s accusation.
“I shall be at my father’s tonight, and tomorrow I will get you to let my servant bring to me such things as are my own — my clothes, namely, and desk, and a few books. She will know what I want. I trust you may be happier without a wife, than ever you have been with me. I have felt almost daily since we were married that you were a man who would have been happier without a wife than with one.
“ LAURA KENNEDY
“It is at any rate true,” she said, when Phineas had read the letter.
“True! Doubtless it is true,” said Phineas, except that I do not suppose he was ever really angry with me, or jealous, or anything of the sort — because I got on well. It seems absurd even to think it.”
“There is nothing too absurd for some men. I remember your telling me that he was weak, and poor, and unworthy. I remember your saying so when I first thought that he might become my husband. I wish I had believed you when you told me so. I should not have made such a shipwreck of myself as I have done. That is all I had to say to you. After what has passed between us I did not choose that you should hear how I was separated from my husband from any lips but my own. I will go now and find papa. Do not come with me. I prefer being alone.” Then he was left standing by himself, looking down upon the river as it glided by. How would it have been with both of them if Lady Laura had accepted him three years ago, when she consented to join her lot with that of Mr Kennedy, and had rejected him? As he stood he heard the sound of music from the house, and remembered that he had come there with the one sole object of seeing Violet Effingham. He had known that he would meet Lady Laura, and it had been in his mind to break through that law of silence which she had imposed upon him, and once more to ask her to assist him — to implore her for the sake of their old friendship to tell him whether there might yet be for him any chance of success. But in the interview which had just taken place it had been impossible for him to speak a word of himself or of Violet. To her, in her great desolation, he could address himself on no other subject than that of her own misery. But not the less when she was talking to him of her own sorrow, of her regret that she had not listened to him when in years past he had spoken slightingly of Mr Kennedy, was he thinking of Violet Effingham. Mr Kennedy had certainly mistaken the signs of things when he had accused his wife by saying that Phineas was her lover. Phineas had soon got over that early feeling; and as far as he himself was concerned had never regretted Lady Laura’s marriage.
He remained down by the water for a few minutes, giving Lady Laura time to escape, and then he wandered across the grounds towards the house. It was now about nine o’clock, and though there were still many walking about the grounds, the crowd of people were in the rooms. The musicians were ranged out on a verandah, so that their music might have been available for dancing within or without; but the dancers had found the boards pleasanter than the lawn, and the Duke’s garden party was becoming a mere ball, with privilege for the dancers to stroll about the lawn between the dances. And in this respect the fun was better than at a ball — that let the engagements made for partners be what they might, they could always be broken with ease. No lady felt herself bound to dance with a cavalier who was displeasing to her; and some gentlemen were left sadly in the lurch. Phineas felt himself to be very much in the lurch, even after he had discovered Violet Effingham standing up to dance with Lord Fawn.
He bided his time patiently, and at last he found his opportunity. “Would she dance with him?” She declared that she intended to dance no more, and that she had promised to be ready to return home with Lord Brentford before ten o’clock. “I have pledged myself not to be after ten,” she said, laughing. Then she put her hand upon his arm, and they stepped out upon the terrace together. “Have you heard anything?” she asked him, almost in a whisper.
“Yes,” he said. I have heard what you mean. I have heard it all.”
“Is it not dreadful?”
“I fear it is the best thing she can do. She has never been happy with him.”
“But to be accused after that fashion — by her husband!” said Violet. “One can hardly believe it in these days. And of all women she is the last to deserve such accusation.”
“The very last,” said Phineas, feeling that the subject was one upon which it was not easy for him to speak.
“I cannot conceive to whom he can have alluded,” said Violet. Then Phineas began to understand that Violet had not heard the whole story; but the difficulty of speaking was still very great.
“It has been the result of ungovernable temper,” he said.
“But a man does not usually strive to dishonour himself because he is in a rage. And this man is incapable of rage. He must be cursed with one of those dark gloomy minds in which love always leads to jealousy. She will never return to him.”
“One cannot say. In many respects it would be better that she should,” said Phineas.
“She will never return to him,” repeated Violet — “never. Would you advise her to do so?”
“How can I say? If one were called upon for advice, one would think so much before one spoke.”
“I would not — not for a minute. What! to be accused of that! How are a man and woman to live together after there have been such words between them? Poor Laura! What a terrible end to all her high hopes! Do you not grieve for her?”
They were now at some distance from the house, and Phineas could not but feel that chance had been very good to him in giving him his opportunity. She was leaning on his arm, and they were alone, and she was speaking to him with all the familiarity of old friendship. “I wonder whether I may change the subject,” said he, “and ask you a word about yourself?”
“What word?” she said sharply.
“I have heard — ”
“What have you heard?”
“Simply this — that you are not now as you were six months ago. Your marriage was then fixed for June.”
“It has been unfixed since then,” she said.
“Yes — it has been unfixed. I know it. Miss Effingham, you will not be angry with me if I say that when I heard it was so, something of a hope — no, I must not call it a hope — something that longed to form itself into hope returned to my breast and from that hour to this has been the only subject on which I have cared to think.”
“Lord Chiltern is your friend, Mr Finn?”
“He is so, and I do not think that I have ever been untrue to my friendship for him.”
“He says that no man has ever had a truer friend. He will swear to that in all companies. And I, when it was allowed to me to swear with him, swore it too. As his friend, let me tell you one thing — one thing which I would never tell to any other man — one thing which I know I may tell you in confidence. You are a gentleman, and will not break my confidence?”
“I think I will not.”
“I know you will not, because you are a gentleman. I told Lord Chiltern in the autumn of last year that I loved him. And I did love him. I shall never have the same confession to make to another man. That he and I are not now — on those loving terms — which once existed, can make no difference in that. A woman cannot transfer her heart. There have been things which have made me feel — that I was perhaps mistaken — in saying that I would be — his wife. But I said so, and cannot now give myself to another. Here is Lord Brentford, and we will join him.” There was Lord Brentford with Lady Laura on his arm, very gloomy — resolving on what way he might be avenged on the man who had insulted his daughter. He took but little notice of Phineas as he resumed his charge of Miss Effingham; but the two ladies wished him goodnight.
“Goodnight, Lady Laura,” said Phineas, standing with his hat in his hand — “goodnight, Miss Effingham.” Then he was alone — quite alone. Would it not be well for him to go down to the bottom of the garden, and fling himself into the quiet river, so that there might be an end of him? Or would it not be better still that he should create for himself some quiet river of life, away from London, away from politics, away from lords, and titled ladies, and fashionable squares, and the parties given by dukes, and the disappointments incident to a small man in attempting to make for himself a career among big men? There had frequently been in the mind of this young man an idea that there was something almost false in his own position — that his life was a pretence, and that he would ultimately be subject to that ruin which always comes, sooner or later, on things which are false; and now as he wandered alone about Lady Glencora’s gardens, this feeling was very strong within his bosom, and robbed him altogether of the honour and glory of having been one of the Duke of Omnium’s guests.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14