The rooms and passages and staircases at Mrs Gresham’s house were very crowded when Phineas arrived there. Men of all shades of politics were there, and the wives and daughters of such men; and there was a streak of royalty in one of the saloons, and a whole rainbow of foreign ministers with their stars, and two blue ribbons were to be seen together on the first landing-place, with a stout lady between them carrying diamonds enough to load a pannier. Everybody was there. Phineas found that even Lord Chiltern was come, as he stumbled across his friend on the first foot-ground that he gained in his ascent towards the rooms. “Halloa — you here?” said Phineas. “Yes, by George!” said the other, but I am going to escape as soon as possible. I’ve been trying to make my way up for the last hour, but could never get round that huge promontory there. Laura was more persevering.” “Is Kennedy here? Phineas whispered. “I do not know,” said Chiltern, but she was determined to run the chance.”
A little higher up — for Phineas was blessed with more patience than Lord Chiltern possessed — he came upon Mr Monk. “So you are still admitted privately,” said Phineas.
“Oh dear yes — and we have just been having a most friendly conversation about you. What a man he is! He knows everything. He is so accurate; so just in the abstract — and in the abstract so generous!”
“He has been very generous to me in detail as well as in abstract,” said Phineas.
“Ah, yes; I am not thinking of individuals exactly. His want of generosity is to large masses — to a party, to classes, to a people; whereas his generosity is for mankind at large. He assumes the god, affects to nod, and seems to shake the spheres. But I have nothing against him. He has asked me here tonight, and has talked to me most familiarly about Ireland.”
“What do you think of your chance of a second reading?” asked Phineas.
“What do you think of it? — you hear more of those things than I do.”
“Everybody says it will be a close division.”
“I never expected it,” said Mr Monk.
“Nor I, till I heard what Daubeny said at the first reading. They will all vote for the bill en masse — hating it in their hearts all the time.”
“Let us hope they are not so bad as that.”
“It is the way with them always. They do all our work for us — sailing either on one tack or the other. That is their use in creation, that when we split among ourselves, as we always do, they come in and finish our job for us. It must be unpleasant for them to be always doing that which they always say should never be done at all.”
“Wherever the gift horse may come from, I shall not look it in the mouth,” said Mr Monk. “There is only one man in the House whom I hope I may not see in the lobby with me, and that is yourself.”
“The question is decided now,” said Phineas.
“And how is it decided?”
Phineas could not tell his friend that a question of so great magnitude to him had been decided by the last sting which he had received from an insect so contemptible as Mr Bonteen, but he expressed the feeling as well as he knew how to express it. “Oh, I shall be with you. I know what you are going to say, and I know how good you are. But I could not stand it. Men are beginning already to say things which almost make me get up and kick them. If I can help it, I will give occasion to no man to hint anything to me which can make me be so wretched as I have been today. Pray do not say anything more. My idea is that I shall resign tomorrow.”
“Then I hope that we may fight the battle side by side,” said Mr Monk, giving him his hand.
“We will fight the battle side by side,” replied Phineas.
After that he pushed his way still higher up the stairs, having no special purpose in view, not dreaming of any such success as that of reaching his host or hostess — merely feeling that it should be a point of honour with him to make a tour through the rooms before he descended the stairs. The thing, he thought, was to be done with courage and patience, and this might, probably, be the last time in his life that he would find himself in the house of a Prime Minister. Just at the turn of the balustrade at the top of the stairs, he found Mr Gresham in the very spot on which Mr Monk had been talking with him. “Very glad to see you,” said Mr Gresham, You, I find, are a persevering man, with a genius for getting upwards.”
“Like the sparks,” said Phineas.
“Not quite so quickly,” said Mr Gresham.
“But with the same assurance of speedy loss of my little light.”
It did not suit Mr Gresham to understand this, so he changed the subject. “Have you seen the news from America?”
“Yes, I have seen it, but do not believe it,” said Phineas.
“Ah, you have such faith in a combination of British colonies, properly backed in Downing Street, as to think them strong against a world in arms. In your place I should hold to the same doctrine — hold to it stoutly.”
“And you do now, I hope, Mr Gresham?”
“Well — yes — I am not downhearted. But I confess to a feeling that the world would go on even though we had nothing to say to a single province in North America. But that is for your private ear. You are not to whisper that in Downing Street.” Then there came up somebody else, and Phineas went on upon his slow course. He had longed for an opportunity to tell Mr Gresham that he could go to Downing Street no more, but such opportunity had not reached him.
For a long time he found himself stuck close by the side of Miss Fitzgibbon — Miss Aspasia Fitzgibbon — who had once relieved him from terrible pecuniary anxiety by paying for him a sum of money which was due by him on her brother’s account. “It’s a very nice thing to be here, but one does get tired of it,” said Miss Fitzgibbon.
“Very tired,” said Phineas.
“Of course it is a part of your duty, Mr Finn. You are on your promotion and are bound to be here. When I asked Laurence to come, he said there was nothing to be got till the cards were shuffled again.”
“They’ll be shuffled very soon,” said Phineas.
“Whatever colour comes up, you’ll hold trumps, I know,” said the lady. “Some hands always hold trumps.” He could not explain to Miss Fitzgibbon that it would never again be his fate to hold a single trump in his hand; so he made another fight, and got on a few steps farther.
He said a word as he went to half a dozen friends — as friends went with him. He was detained for five minutes by Lady Baldock, who was very gracious and very disagreeable. She told him that Violet was in the room, but where she did not know. “She is somewhere with Lady Laura, I believe; and really, Mr Finn, I do not like it.” Lady Baldock had heard that Phineas had quarrelled with Lord Brentford, but had not heard of the reconciliation. “Really, I do not like it. I am told that Mr Kennedy is in the house, and nobody knows what may happen.”
“Mr Kennedy is not likely to say anything.”
“One cannot tell. And when I hear that a woman is separated from her husband, I always think that she must have been imprudent. It may be uncharitable, but I think it is most safe so to consider.”
“As far as I have heard the circumstances, Lady Laura was quite right,” said Phineas.
“It may be so. Gentlemen will always take the lady’s part — of course. But I should be very sorry to have a daughter separated from her husband — very sorry.”
Phineas, who had nothing now to gain from Lady Baldock’s favour, left her abruptly, and went on again. He had a great desire to see Lady Laura and Violet together, though he could hardly tell himself why. He had not seen Miss Effingham since his return from Ireland, and he thought that if he met her alone he could hardly have talked to her with comfort; but he knew that if he met her with Lady Laura, she would greet him as a friend, and speak to him as though there were no cause for embarrassment between them. But he was so far disappointed, that he suddenly encountered Violet alone. She had been leaning on the arm of Lord Baldock, and Phineas saw her cousin leave her. But he would not be such a coward as to avoid her, especially as he knew that she had seen him, “Oh, Mr Finn!” she said, do you see that?”
“Look. There is Mr Kennedy. We had heard that it was possible, and Laura made me promise that I would not leave her.” Phineas turned his head, and saw Mr Kennedy standing with his back bolt upright against a door-post, with his brow as black as thunder. “She is just opposite to him, where he can see her,” said Violet. “Pray take me to her. He will think nothing of you, because I know that you are still friends with both of them. I came away because Lord Baldock wanted to introduce me to Lady Mouser. You know he is going to marry Miss Mouser.”
Phineas, not caring much about Lord Baldock and Miss Mouser, took Violet’s hand upon his arm, and very slowly made his way across the room to the spot indicated. There they found Lady Laura alone, sitting under the upas-tree influence of her husband’s gaze. There was a concourse of people between them, and Mr Kennedy did not seem inclined to make any attempt to lessen the distance. But Lady Laura had found it impossible to move while she was under her husband’s eyes.
“Mr Finn,” she said, could you find Oswald? I know he is here.”
“He has gone,” said Phineas. I was speaking to him downstairs.”
“You have not seen my father? He said he would come.”
“I have not seen him, but I will search.”
“No — it will do no good. I cannot stay. His carriage is there, I know — waiting for me.” Phineas immediately started off to have the carriage called, and promised to return with as much celerity as he could use. As he went, making his way much quicker through the crowd than he had done when he had no such object for haste, he purposely avoided the door by which Mr Kennedy had stood. It would have been his nearest way, but his present service, he thought, required that he should keep aloof from the man. But Mr Kennedy passed through the door and intercepted him in his path.
“Is she going?” he asked.
“Well. Yes. I dare say she may before long. I shall look for Lord Brentford’s carriage by and by.”
“Tell her she need not go because of me. I shall not return. I shall not annoy her here. It would have been much better that a woman in such a plight should not have come to such an assembly.”
“You would not wish her to shut herself up.”
“I would wish her to come back to the home that she has left, and, if there be any law in the land, she shall be made to do so. You tell her that I say so.” Then Mr Kennedy fought his way down the stairs, and Phineas Finn followed in his wake.
About half an hour afterwards Phineas returned to the two ladies with tidings that the carriage would be at hand as soon as they could be below. “Did he see you?” said Lady Laura.
“Yes, he followed me.”
“And did he speak to you?”
“Yes — he spoke to me.”
“And what did he say?” And then, in the presence of Violet, Phineas gave the message. He thought it better that it should be given; and were he to decline to deliver it now, it would never be given. “Whether there be law in the land to protect me or whether there be none, I will never live with him,” said Lady Laura. “Is a woman like a head of cattle, that she can be fastened in her crib by force? I will never live with him though all the judges of the land should decide that I must do so.”
Phineas thought much of all this as he went to his solitary lodgings. After all, was not the world much better with him than it was with either of those two wretched married beings? And why? He had not, at any rate as yet, sacrificed for money or social gains any of the instincts of his nature. He had been fickle, foolish, vain, uncertain, and perhaps covetous — but as yet he had not been false. Then he took out Mary’s last letter and read it again.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01