Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 66


Mr Monk”s holiday programme allowed him a week at Killaloe, and from thence he was to go to Limerick, and from Limerick to Dublin, in order that, at both places, he might be entertained at a public dinner and make a speech about tenant-right. Foreseeing that Phineas might commit himself if he attended these meetings, Mr Monk had counselled him to remain at Killaloe. But Phineas had refused to subject himself to such cautious abstinence. Mr Monk had come to Ireland as his friend, and he would see him through his travels. “I shall not, probably, be asked to speak,” said Phineas, “and if I am asked, I need not say more than a few words. And what if I did speak out?”

“You might find it disadvantageous to you in London.”

“I must take my chance of that. I am not going to tie myself down for ever and ever for the sake of being Under-Secretary to the Colonies.” Mr Monk said very much to him on the subject — was constantly saying very much to him about it; but in spite of all that Mr Monk said, Phineas did make the journey to Limerick and Dublin.

He had not, since his arrival at Killaloe, been a moment alone with Mary Flood Jones till the evening before he started with Mr Monk. She had kept out of his way successfully, though she had constantly been with him in company, and was beginning to plume herself on the strength and valour of her conduct. But her self-praise had in it nothing of joy, and her glory was very sad. Of course she would care for him no more — more especially as it was so very evident that he cared not at all for her. But the very fact of her keeping out of his way, made her acknowledge to herself that her position was very miserable. She had declared to her mother that she might certainly go to Killaloe with safety — that it would be better for her to put herself in the way of meeting him as an old friend — that the idea of the necessity of shutting herself up because of his approach, was the one thing that gave her real pain. Therefore her mother had brought her to Killaloe and she had met him; but her fancied security had deserted her, and she found herself to be miserable, hoping for something she did not know what, still dreaming of possibilities, feeling during every moment of his presence with her that some special conduct was necessary on her part. She could not make further confession to her mother and ask to be carried back to Floodborough; but she knew that she was very wretched at Killaloe.

As for Phineas, he had felt that his old friend was very cold to him. He was in that humour with reference to Violet Effingham which seemed especially to require consolation. He knew now that all hope was over there. Violet Effingham could never be his wife. Even were she not to marry Lord Chiltern for the next five years, she would not, during those five years, marry any other man. Such was our hero’s conviction; and, suffering under this conviction, he was in want of the comfort of feminine sympathy. Had Mary known all this, and had it suited her to play such a part, I think she might have had Phineas at her feet before he had been a week at home. But she had kept aloof from him and had heard nothing of his sorrows. As a natural consequence of this, Phineas was more in love with her than ever.

On the evening before he started with Mr Monk for Limerick, he managed to be alone with her for a few minutes. Barbara may probably have assisted in bringing about this arrangement, and had, perhaps, been guilty of some treachery — sisters in such circumstances will sometimes be very treacherous to their friends. I feel sure, however, that Mary herself was quite innocent of any guile in the matter. “Mary,” Phineas said to her suddenly, it seems to me that you have avoided me purposely ever since I have been at home.” She smiled and blushed, and stammered and said nothing. “Has there been any reason for it, Mary?”

“No reason at all that I know of,” she said.

“We used to be such great friends.”

“That was before you were a great man, Phineas. It must necessarily be different now. You know so many people now, and people of such a different sort, that of course I fall a little into the background.”

“When you talk in that way, Mary, I know that you are laughing at me.”

“Indeed, indeed I am not.”

“I believe there is no one in the whole world,” he said, after a pause, “whose friendship is more to me than yours is. I think of it so often, Mary. Say that when we come back it shall be between us as it used to be.” Then he put out his hand for hers, and she could not help giving it to him. “Of course there will be people,” he said, “who talk nonsense, and one cannot help it; but I will not put up with it from you.”

“I did not mean to talk nonsense, Phineas!” Then there came someone across them, and the conversation was ended; but the sound of his voice remained on her ears, and she could not help but remember that he had declared that her friendship was dearer to him than the friendship of anyone else.

Phineas went with Mr Monk first to Limerick and then to Dublin, and found himself at both places to be regarded as a hero only second to the great hero. At both places the one subject of debate was tenant-right — could anything be done to make it profitable for men with capital to put their capital into Irish land? The fertility of the soil was questioned by no one — nor the sufficiency of external circumstances, such as railroads and the like — nor the abundance of labour — nor even security for the wealth to be produced. The only difficulty was in this, that the men who were to produce the wealth had no guarantee that it would be theirs when it was created. In England and elsewhere such guarantees were in existence. Might it not be possible to introduce them into Ireland? That was the question which Mr Monk had in hand; and in various speeches which he made both before and after the dinners given to him, he pledged himself to keep it well in hand when Parliament should meet. Of course Phineas spoke also. It was impossible that he should be silent when his friend and leader was pouring out his eloquence. Of course he spoke, and of course he pledged himself. Something like the old pleasures of the debating society returned to him, as standing upon a platform before a listening multitude, he gave full vent to his words. In the House of Commons, of late he had been so cabined, cribbed, and confined by office as to have enjoyed nothing of this. Indeed, from the commencement of his career, he had fallen so thoroughly into the decorum of Government ways, as to have missed altogether the delights of that wild irresponsible oratory of which Mr Monk had spoken to him so often. He had envied men below the gangway, who, though supporting the Government on main questions, could get up on their legs whenever the House was full enough to make it worth their while, and say almost whatever they pleased. There was that Mr Robson, who literally did say just what came uppermost; and the thing that came uppermost was often ill-natured, often unbecoming the gravity of the House, was always startling; but men listened to him and liked him to speak. But Mr Robson had — married a woman with money. Oh, why — why, had not Violet Effingham been kinder to him? He might even yet, perhaps, marry a woman with money. But he could not bring himself to do so unless he loved her.

The upshot of the Dublin meeting was that he also positively pledged himself to support during the next session of Parliament a bill advocating tenant-right. “I am sorry you went so far as that,” Mr Monk said to him almost as soon as the meeting was over. They were standing on the pier at Kingstown, and Mr Monk was preparing to return to England.

“And why not I as far as you?”

“Because I had thought about it, and I do not think that you have. I am prepared to resign my office tomorrow; and directly that I can see Mr Gresham and explain to him what I have done, I shall offer to do so.”

“He won’t accept your resignation.”

“He must accept it, unless he is prepared to instruct the Irish Secretary to bring in such a bill as I can support.”

“I shall be exactly in the same boat.”

“But you ought not to be in the same boat — nor need you. My advice to you is to say nothing about it till you get back to London, and then speak to Lord Cantrip. Tell him that you will not say anything on the subject in the House, but that in the event of there being a division you hope to be allowed to vote as on an open question. It may be that I shall get Gresham’s assent, and if so we shall be all right. If I do not, and if they choose to make it a point with you, you must resign also.”

“Of course I shall,” said Phineas.

“But I do not think they will. You have been too useful, and they will wish to avoid the weakness which comes to a ministry from changing its team. Goodbye, my dear fellow; and remember this — my last word of advice to you is to stick by the ship. I am quite sure it is a career which will suit you. I did not begin it soon enough.”

Phineas was rather melancholy as he returned alone to Killaloe. It was all very well to bid him stick to the ship, and he knew as well as anyone could tell him how material the ship was to him; but there are circumstances in which a man cannot stick to his ship — cannot stick, at least, to this special Government ship. He knew that whither Mr Monk went, in this session, he must follow. He had considerable hope that when Mr Monk explained his purpose to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister would feel himself obliged to give way. In that case Phineas would not only be able to keep his office, but would have such an opportunity of making a speech in Parliament as circumstances had never yet given to him. When he was again at home he said nothing to his father or to the Killaloeians as to the danger of his position. Of what use would it be to make his mother and sisters miserable, or to incur the useless counsels of the doctor? They seemed to think his speech at Dublin very fine, and were never tired of talking of what Mr Monk and Phineas were going to do; but the idea had not come home to them that if Mr Monk or Phineas chose to do anything on their own account, they must give up the places which they held under the Crown.

It was September when Phineas found himself back at Killaloe, and he was due to be at his office in London in November. The excitement of Mr Monk’s company was now over, and he had nothing to do but to receive pouches full of official papers from the Colonial Office, and study all the statistics which came within his reach in reference to the proposed new law for tenant-right. In the meantime Mary was still living with her mother at Killaloe, and still kept herself somewhat aloof from the man she loved. How could it be possible for him not to give way in such circumstances as those?

One day he found himself talking to her about himself, and speaking to her of his own position with more frankness than he ever used with his own family. He had begun by reminding her of that conversation which they had had before he went away with Mr Monk, and by reminding her also that she had promised to return to her old friendly ways with him.

“Nay, Phineas; there was no promise,” she said.

“And are we not to be friends?”

“I only say that I made no particular promise. Of course we are friends. We have always been friends.”

“What would you say if you heard that I had resigned my office and given up my seat?” he asked. Of course she expressed her surprise, almost her horror, at such an idea, and then he told her everything. It took long in the telling, because it was necessary that he should explain to her the working of the system which made it impossible for him, as a member of the Government, to entertain an opinion of his own.

“And do you mean that you would lose your salary?” she asked.

“Certainly I should.”

“Would not that be very dreadful?”

He laughed as he acknowledged that it would be dreadful. “It is very dreadful, Mary, to have nothing to eat and drink. But what is a man to do? Would you recommend me to say that black is white?”

“I am sure you will never do that.”

“You see, Mary, it is very nice to be called by a big name and to have a salary, and it is very comfortable to be envied by one’s friends and enemies — but there are drawbacks. There is this especial drawback.” Then he paused for a moment before he went on.

“What especial drawback, Phineas?”

“A man cannot do what he pleases with himself. How can a man marry, so circumstanced as I am?”

She hesitated for a moment, and then she answered him — “A man may be very happy without marrying, I suppose.”

He also paused for many moments before he spoke again, and she then made a faint attempt to escape from him. But before she succeeded he had asked her a question which arrested her. “I wonder whether you would listen to me if I were to tell you a history?” Of course she listened, and the history he told her was the tale of his love for Violet Effingham.

“And she has money of her own?” Mary asked.

“Yes — she is rich. She has a large fortune.”

“Then, Mr Finn, you must seek someone else who is equally blessed.”

“Mary, that is untrue — that is ill-natured. You do not mean that. Say that you do not mean it. You have not believed that I loved Miss Effingham because she was rich.”

“But you have told me that you could love no one who is not rich.”

“I have said nothing of the kind. Love is involuntary. It does not often run in a yoke with prudence. I have told you my history as far as it is concerned with Violet Effingham. I did love her very dearly.”

“Did love her, Mr Finn?”

“Yes — did love her. Is there any inconstancy in ceasing to love when one is not loved? Is there inconstancy in changing one’s love, and in loving again?”

“I do not know,” said Mary, to whom the occasion was becoming so embarrassing that she no longer was able to reply with words that had a meaning in them.

“If there be, dear, I am inconstant.” He paused, but of course she had not a syllable to say. “I have changed my love. But I could not speak of a new passion till I had told the story of that which has passed away. You have heard it all now, Mary. Can you try to love me, after that?” It had come at last — the thing for which she had been ever wishing. It had come in spite of her imprudence, and in spite of her prudence. When she had heard him to the end she was not a whit angry with him — she was not in the least aggrieved — because he had been lost to her in his love for this Miss Effingham, while she had been so nearly lost by her love for him. For women such episodes in the lives of their lovers have an excitement which is almost pleasurable, whereas each man is anxious to hear his lady swear that until he appeared upon the scene her heart had been fancy free. Mary, upon the whole, had liked the story — had thought that it had been finely told, and was well pleased with the final catastrophe. But, nevertheless, she was not prepared with her reply. “Have you no answer to give me, Mary?” he said, looking up into her eyes. I am afraid that he did not doubt what would be her answer — as it would be good that all lovers should do. “You must vouchsafe me some word, Mary.”

When she essayed to speak she found that she was dumb. She could not get her voice to give her the assistance of a single word. She did not cry, but there was a motion as of sobbing in her throat which impeded all utterance. She was as happy as earth — as heaven could make her; but she did not know how to tell him that she was happy. And yet she longed to tell it, that he might know how thankful she was to him for his goodness. He still sat looking at her, and now by degrees he had got her hand in his. “Mary,” he said, will you be my wife — my own wife?”

When half an hour had passed, they were still together, and now she had found the use of her tongue. “Do whatever you like best,” she said. “I do not care which you do. If you came to me tomorrow and told me you had no income, it would make no difference. Though to love you and to have your love is all the world to me — though it makes all the difference between misery and happiness — I would sooner give up that than be a clog on you.” Then he took her in his arms and kissed her. “Oh, Phineas!” she said, I do love you so entirely!”

“My own one!”

“Yes; your own one. But if you had known it always! Never mind. Now you are my own — are you not?”

“Indeed yes, dearest.”

“Oh, what a thing it is to be victorious at last.”

“What on earth are you two doing here these two hours together?” said Barbara, bursting into the room.

“What are we doing?” said Phineas.

“Yes — what are you doing?”

“Nothing in particular,” said Mary.

“Nothing at all in particular,” said Phineas. Only this — that we have engaged ourselves to marry each other. It is quite a trifle — is it not, Mary?”

“Oh, Barbara!” said the joyful girl, springing forward into her friend’s arms; “I do believe I am the happiest creature on the face of this earth!”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01