Before Phineas had returned to London his engagement with Mary Flood Jones was known to all his family, was known to Mrs Flood Jones, and was indeed known generally to all Killaloe. That other secret of his, which had reference to the probability of his being obliged to throw up his office, was known only to Mary herself. He thought that he had done all that honour required of him in telling her of his position before he had proposed — so that she might on that ground refuse him if she were so minded. And yet he had known very well that such prudence on her part was not to be expected. If she loved him, of course she would say so when she was asked. And he had known that she loved him. “There may be delay, Mary,” he said to her as he was going; “nay, there must be delay, if I am obliged to resign.”
“I do not care a straw for delay if you will be true to me,” she said.
“Do you doubt my truth, dearest?”
“Not in the least. I will swear by it as the one thing that is truest in the world.”
“You may, dearest. And if this should come to pass I must go to work and put my shoulder to the wheel, and earn an income for you by my old profession before I can make you my wife. With such a motive before me I know that I shall earn an income.” And thus they parted. Mary, though of course she would have preferred that her future husband should remain in his high office, that he should be a member of Parliament and an Under-Secretary of State, admitted no doubt into her mind to disturb her happiness; and Phineas, though he had many misgivings as to the prudence of what he had done, was not the less strong in his resolution of constancy and endurance. He would throw up his position, resign his seat, and go to work at the Bar instantly, if he found that his independence as a man required him to do so. And, above all, let come what might, he would be true to Mary Flood Jones. December was half over before he saw Lord Cantrip. “Yes — yes;” said Lord Cantrip, when the Under-Secretary began to tell his story; “I saw what you were about. I wish I had been at your elbow.”
“If you knew the country as I know it, you would be as eager about it as I am.”
“Then I can only say that I am very glad that I do not know the country as you know it. You see, Finn, it’s my idea that if a man wants to make himself useful he should stick to some special kind of work. With you it’s a thousand pities that you should not do so.”
“You think, then, I ought to resign?”
“I don’t say anything about that. As you wish it, of course I’ll speak to Gresham. Monk, I believe, has resigned already.”
“He has written to me, and told me so,” said Phineas.
“I always felt afraid of him for your sake, Finn. Mr Monk is a clever man, and as honest a man as any in the House, but I always thought that he was a dangerous friend for you. However, we will see. I will speak to Gresham after Christmas. There is no hurry about it.”
When Parliament met the first great subject of interest was the desertion of Mr Monk from the Ministry. He at once took his place below the gangway, sitting as it happened exactly in front of Mr Turnbull, and there he made his explanation. Someone opposite asked a question whether a certain right honourable gentleman had not left the Cabinet. Then Mr Gresham replied that to his infinite regret his right honourable friend who lately presided at the Board of Trade had resigned; and he went on to explain that this resignation had, according to his ideas, been quite unnecessary. His right honourable friend entertained certain ideas about Irish Tenant Right, as to which he himself and his right honourable friend the Secretary for Ireland could not exactly pledge themselves to be in unison with him; but he had thought that the motion might have rested at any rate over this session. Then Mr Monk explained, making his first great speech on Irish Tenant Right. He found himself obliged to advocate some immediate measure for giving security to the Irish farmer; and as he could not do so as a member of the Cabinet, he was forced to resign the honour of that position. He said something also as to the great doubt which had ever weighed on his own mind as to the inexpediency of a man at his time of life submitting himself for the first time to the trammels of office. This called up Mr Turnbull, who took the opportunity of saying that he now agreed cordially with his old friend for the first time since that old friend had listened to the blandishments of the ministerial seducer, and that he welcomed his old friend back to those independent benches with great satisfaction. In this way the debate was very exciting. Nothing was said which made it then necessary for Phineas to get upon his legs or to declare himself; but he perceived that the time would rapidly come in which he must do so. Mr Gresham, though he strove to speak with gentle words, was evidently very angry with the late President of the Board of Trade; and, moreover, it was quite clear that a bill would be introduced by Mr Monk himself, which Mr Gresham was determined to oppose. If all this came to pass and there should be a close division, Phineas felt that his fate would be sealed. When he again spoke to Lord Cantrip on the subject, the Secretary of State shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “I can only advise you,” said Lord Cantrip, to forget all that took place in Ireland. If you will do so, nobody else will remember it.” “As if it were possible to forget such things,” he said in the letter which he wrote to Mary that night. “Of course I shall go now. If it were not for your sake, I should not in the least regret it.”
He had been with Madame Goesler frequently in the winter, and had discussed with her so often the question of his official position that she had declared that she was coming at last to understand the mysteries of an English Cabinet. “I think you are quite right, my friend,” she said — “quite right. What — you are to be in Parliament and say that this black thing is white, or that this white thing is black, because you like to take your salary! That cannot be honest!” Then, when he came to talk to her of money — that he must give up Parliament itself, if he gave up his place — she offered to lend him money. “Why should you not treat me as a friend?” she said. When he pointed out to her that there would never come a time in which he could pay such money back, she stamped her foot and told him that he had better leave her. “You have high principle,” she said, but not principle sufficiently high to understand that this thing could be done between you and me without disgrace to either of us.” Then Phineas assured her with tears in his eyes that such an arrangement was impossible without disgrace to him.
But he whispered to this new friend no word of the engagement with his dear Irish Mary. His Irish life, he would tell himself, was a thing quite apart and separate from his life in England. He said not a word about Mary Flood Jones to any of those with whom he lived in London. Why should he, feeling as he did that it would so soon be necessary that he should disappear from among them? About Miss Effingham he had said much to Madame Goesler. She had asked him whether he had abandoned all hope, “That affair, then, is over?” she had said.
“Yes — it is all over now.”
“And she will marry the red-headed, violent lord?”
“Heaven knows. I think she will. But she is exactly the girl to remain unmarried if she takes it into her head that the man she likes is in any way unfitted to her.”
“Does she love this lord?”
“Oh yes — there is no doubt of that.” And Phineas, as he made this acknowledgment, seemed to do so without much inward agony of soul. When he had been last in London he could not speak of Violet and Lord Chiltern together without showing that his misery was almost too much for him.
At this time he received some counsel from two friends. One was Laurence Fitzgibbon, and the other was Barrington Erle. Laurence had always been true to him after a fashion, and had never resented his intrusion at the Colonial Office. “Phineas, me boy,” he said, “if all this is true, you’re about up a tree.”
“It is true that I shall support Monk’s motion.”
“Then, me boy, you’re up a tree as far as office goes. A place like that niver suited me, because, you see, that poker of a young lord expected so much of a man but you don’t mind that kind of thing, and I thought you were as snug as snug.”
“Troubles will come, you see, Laurence.”
“Bedad, yes. It’s all throubles, I think, sometimes. But you’ve a way out of all your throubles.”
“Pop the question to Madame Max. The money’s all thrue, you know.”
“I don’t doubt the money in the least,” said Phineas.
“And it’s my belief she’ll take you without a second word. Anyways, thry it, Phinny, my boy. That’s my advice.” Phineas so far agreed with his friend Laurence that he thought it possible that Madame Goesler might accept him were he to propose marriage to her. He knew, of course, that that mode of escape from his difficulties was out of the question for him, but he could not explain this to Laurence Fitzgibbon.
“I am sorry to hear that you have taken up a bad cause,” said Barrington Erle to him.
“It is a pity — is it not?”
“And the worst of it is that you’ll sacrifice yourself and do no good to the cause. I never knew a man break away in this fashion, and not feel afterwards that he had done it all for nothing.”
“But what is a man to do, Barrington? He can’t smother his convictions.”
“Convictions! There is nothing on earth that I’m so much afraid of in a young member of Parliament as convictions. There are ever so many rocks against which men get broken. One man can’t keep his temper. Another can’t hold his tongue. A third can’t say a word unless he has been priming himself half a session. A fourth is always thinking of himself, and wanting more than he can get. A fifth is idle, and won’t be there when he’s waited. A sixth is always in the way. A seventh lies so that you never can trust him. I’ve had to do with them all, but a fellow with convictions is the worst of all.”
“I don’t see how a fellow is to help himself,” said Phineas. “When a fellow begins to meddle with politics they will come.”
“Why can’t you grow into them gradually as your betters and elders have done before you? It ought to be enough for any man, when he begins, to know that he’s a Liberal. He understands which side of the House he’s to vote, and who is to lead him. What’s the meaning of having a leader to a party, if it’s not that? Do you think that you and Mr Monk can go and make a government between you?”
“Whatever I think, I’m sure he doesn’t.”
“I’m not so sure of that. But look here, Phineas. I don’t care two straws about Monk’s going. I always thought that Mildmay and the Duke were wrong when they asked him to join. I knew he’d go over the traces — unless, indeed, he took his money and did nothing for it, which is the way with some of those Radicals. I look upon him as gone.”
“He has gone.”
“The devil go along with him, as you say in Ireland. But don’t you be such a fool as to ruin yourself for a crotchet of Monk’s. It isn’t too late yet for you to hold back. To tell you the truth, Gresham has said a word to me about it already.”
“He is most anxious that you should stay, but of course you can’t stay and vote against us.”
“Of course I cannot.”
“I look upon you, you know, as in some sort my own child. I’ve tried to bring other fellows forward who seemed to have something in them, but I have never succeeded as I have with you. You’ve hit the thing off, and have got the ball at your foot. Upon my honour, in the whole course of my experience I have never known such good fortune as yours.”
“And I shall always remember how it began, Barrington,” said Phineas, who was greatly moved by the energy and solicitude of his friend.
“But, for God’s sake, don’t go and destroy it all by such mad perversity as this. They mean to do something next session. Morrison is going to take it up.” Sir Walter Morrison was at this time Secretary for Ireland. “But of course we can’t let a fellow like Monk take the matter into his own hands just when he pleases. I call it d — d treachery.”
“Monk is no traitor, Barrington.”
“Men will have their own opinions about that. It’s generally understood that when a man is asked to take a seat in the Cabinet he is expected to conform with his colleagues, unless something very special turns up. But I am speaking of you now, and not of Monk. You are not a man of fortune. You cannot afford to make ducks and drakes. You are excellently placed, and you have plenty of time to hark back, if you’ll only listen to reason. All that Irish stump balderdash will never be thrown in your teeth by us, if you will just go on as though it had never been uttered.”
Phineas could only thank his friend for his advice, which was at least disinterested, and was good of its kind, and tell him that he would think of it. He did think of it very much. He almost thought that, were it to do again, he would allow Mr Monk to go upon his tour alone, and keep himself from the utterance of anything that so good a judge as Erle could call stump balderdash. As he sat in his armchair in his room at the Colonial Office, with despatch-boxes around him, and official papers spread before him — feeling himself to be one of those who in truth managed and governed the affairs of this great nation, feeling also that if he relinquished his post now he could never regain it — he did wish that he had been a little less in love with independence, a little quieter in his boastings that no official considerations should ever silence his tongue. But all this was too late now. He knew that his skin was not thick enough to bear the arrows of those archers who would bend their bows against him if he should now dare to vote against Mr Monk’s motion. His own party might be willing to forgive and forget; but there would be others who would read those reports, and would appear in the House with the odious tell-tale newspapers in their hands.
Then he received a letter from his father. Some good-natured person had enlightened the doctor as to the danger in which his son was placing himself. Dr Finn, who in his own profession was a very excellent and well-instructed man, had teen so ignorant of Parliamentary tactics as to have been proud at his son’s success at the Irish meetings. He had thought that Phineas was carrying on his trade as a public speaker with proper energy and continued success. He had cared nothing himself for tenant-right, and had acknowledged to Mr Monk that he could not understand in what it was that the farmers were wronged. But he knew that Mr Monk was a Cabinet Minister, and he thought that Phineas was earning his salary. Then there came someone who undeceived him, and the paternal bosom of the doctor was dismayed. “I don’t mean to interfere,” he said in his letter, but I can hardly believe that you really intend to resign your place. Yet I am told that you must do so if you go on with this matter. My dear boy, pray think about it. I cannot imagine you are disposed to lose all that you have won for nothing.” Mary also wrote to him. Mrs Finn had been talking to her, and Mary had taught herself to believe that after the many sweet conversations she had had with a man so high in office as Phineas, she really did understand something about the British Government. Mrs Finn had interrogated Mary, and Mary had been obliged to own that it was quite possible that Phineas would be called upon to resign.
“But why, my dear? Heaven and earth! Resign two thousand a year!”
“That he may maintain his independence,” said Mary proudly.
“Fiddlestick!” said Mrs Finn. How is he to maintain you, or himself either, if he goes on in that way? I shouldn’t wonder if he didn’t get himself all wrong, even now.” then Mrs Finn began to cry; and Mary could only write to her lover, pointing out to him how very anxious all his friends were that he should do nothing in a hurry. But what if the thing were done already! Phineas in his great discomfort went to seek further counsel from Madame Goesler. Of all his counsellors, Madame Goesler was the only one who applauded him for what he was about to do.
“But, after all, what is it you give up? Mr Gresham may be out tomorrow, and then where will be your place?”
“There does not seem to be much chance of that at present.”
“Who can tell? Of course I do not understand — but it was only the other day when Mr Mildmay was there, and only the day before that when Lord de Terrier was there, and again only the day before that when Lord Brock was there.” Phineas endeavoured to make her understand that of the four Prime Ministers whom she had named three were men of the same party as himself, under whom it would have suited him to serve. “I would not serve under any man if I were an English gentleman in Parliament,” said Madame Goesler.
“What is a poor fellow to do?” said Phineas, laughing.
“A poor fellow need not be a poor fellow unless he likes,” said Madame Goesler. Immediately after this Phineas left her, and as he went along the street he began to question himself whether the prospects of his own darling Mary were at all endangered by his visits to Park Lane; and to reflect what sort of a blackguard he would be — a blackguard of how deep a dye — were he to desert Mary and marry Madame Max Goesler. Then he also asked himself as to the nature and quality of his own political honesty if he were to abandon Mary in order that he might maintain his parliamentary independence. After all, if it should ever come to pass that his biography should be written, his biographer would say very much more about the manner in which he kept his seat in Parliament than of the manner in which he kept his engagement with Miss Mary Flood Jones. Half a dozen people who knew him and her might think ill of him for his conduct to Mary, but the world would not condemn him! And when he thundered forth his liberal eloquence from below the gangway as an independent member, having the fortune of his charming wife to back him, giving excellent dinners at the same time in Park Lane, would not the world praise him very loudly?
When he got to his office he found a note from Lord Brentford inviting him to dine in Portman Square.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55