When Phineas Finn left Mr Gresham’s house he had quite resolved what he would do. On the next morning he would tell Lord Cantrip that his resignation was a necessity, and that he would take that nobleman’s advice as to resigning at once, or waiting till the day on which Mr Monk’s Irish Bill would be read for the second time.
“My dear Finn, I can only say that I deeply regret it,” said Lord Cantrip.
“So do I. I regret to leave office, which I like — and which indeed I want. I regret specially to leave this office, as it has been a thorough pleasure to me; and I regret, above all, to leave you. But I am convinced that Monk is right, and I find it impossible not to support him.”
“I wish that Mr Monk was at Bath,” said Lord Cantrip.
Phineas could only smile, and shrug his shoulders, and say that even though Mr Monk were at Bath it would not probably make much difference. When he tendered his letter of resignation, Lord Cantrip begged him to withdraw it for a day or two. He would, he said, speak to Mr Gresham. The debate on the second reading of Mr Monk’s bill would not take place till that day week, and the resignation would be in time if it was tendered before Phineas either spoke or voted against the Government. So Phineas went back to his room, and endeavoured to make himself useful in some work appertaining to his favourite Colonies.
That conversation had taken place on a Friday, and on the following Sunday, early in the day, he left his rooms after a late breakfast — a prolonged breakfast, during which he had been studying tenant-right statistics, preparing his own speech, and endeavouring to look forward into the future which that speech was to do so much to influence — and turned his face towards Park Lane. There had been a certain understanding between him and Madame Goesler that he was to call in Park Lane on this Sunday morning, and then declare to her what was his final resolve as to the office which he held. “It is simply to bid her adieu,” he said to himself, “for I shall hardly see her again.” And yet, as he took off his morning easy coat, and dressed himself for the streets, and stood for a moment before his looking-glass, and saw that his gloves were fresh and that his boots were properly polished, I think there was a care about his person which he would have hardly taken had he been quite assured that he simply intended to say goodbye to the lady whom he was about to visit. But if there were any such conscious feeling, he administered to himself an antidote before he left the house. On returning to the sitting-room he went to a little desk from which he took out the letter from Mary which the reader has seen, and carefully perused every word of it. “She is the best of them all,” he said to himself, as he refolded the letter and put it back into his desk. I am not sure that it is well that a man should have any large number from whom to select a best; as, in such circumstances, he is so very apt to change his judgment from hour to hour. The qualities which are the most attractive before dinner sometimes become the least so in the evening.
The morning was warm, and he took a cab. It would not do that he should speak even his last farewell to such a one as Madame Goesler with all the heat and dust of a long walk upon him. Having been so careful about his boots and gloves he might as well use his care to the end. Madame Goesler was a very pretty woman, who spared herself no trouble in making herself as pretty as Nature would allow, on behalf of those whom she favoured with her smiles; and to such a lady some special attention was due by one who had received so many of her smiles as had Phineas. And he felt, too, that there was something special in this very visit. It was to be made by appointment, and there had come to be an understanding between them that Phineas should tell her on this occasion what was his resolution with reference to his future life. I think that he had been very wise in fortifying himself with a further glance at our dear Mary’s letter, before he trusted himself within Madame Goesler’s door.
Yes — Madame Goesler was at home. The door was opened by Madame Goesler’s own maid, who, smiling, explained that the other servants were all at church. Phineas had become sufficiently intimate at the cottage in Park Lane to be on friendly terms with Madame Goesler’s own maid, and now made some little half-familiar remark as to the propriety of his visit during church time. “Madame will not refuse to see you, I am thinking,” said the girl, who was a German. “And she is alone?” asked Phineas. Alone? Yes — of course she is alone. Who should be with her now?” Then she took him up into the drawing-room; but, when there, he found that Madame Goesler was absent, “She shall be down directly,” said the girl. “I shall tell her who is here, and she will come.”
It was a very pretty room. It may almost be said that there could be no prettier room in all London. It looked out across certain small private gardens — which were as bright and gay as money could make them when brought into competition with London smoke — right on to the park. Outside and inside the window, flowers and green things were so arranged that the room itself almost looked as though it were a bower in a garden. And everything in that bower was rich and rare; and there was nothing there which annoyed by its rarity or was distasteful by its richness. The seats, though they were costly as money could buy, were meant for sitting, and were comfortable as seats. There were books for reading, and the means of reading them. Two or three gems of English art were hung upon the walls, and could be seen backwards and forwards in the mirrors. And there were precious toys lying here and there about the room — toys very precious, but placed there not because of their price, but because of their beauty. Phineas already knew enough of the art of living to be aware that the woman who had made that room what it was had charms to add a beauty to everything she touched. What would such a life as his want, if graced by such a companion — such a life as his might be, if the means which were hers were at his command? It would want one thing, he thought — the self-respect which he would lose if he were false to the girl who was trusting him with such sweet trust at home in Ireland.
In a very few minutes Madame Goesler was with him, and, though he did not think about it, he perceived that she was bright in her apparel, that her hair was as soft as care could make it, and that every charm belonging to her had been brought into use for his gratification. He almost told himself that he was there in order that he might ask to have all those charms bestowed upon himself. He did not know who had lately come to Park Lane and been a suppliant for the possession of those rich endowments; but I wonder whether they would have been more precious in his eyes had he known that they had so moved the heart of the great Duke as to have induced him to lay his coronet at the lady’s feet. I think that had he known that the lady had refused the coronet, that knowledge would have enhanced the value of the prize.
“I am so sorry to have kept you waiting,” she said, as she gave him her hand. “I was an owl not to be ready for you when you told me that you would come.”
“No — but a bird of paradise to come to me so sweetly, and at an hour when all the other birds refuse to show the feather of a single wing.”
“And you — you feel like a naughty boy, do you not, in thus coming out on a Sunday morning?”
“Do you feel like a naughty girl?”
“Yes — just a little so. I do not know that I should care for everybody to hear that I received visitors — or worse still, a visitor — at this hour on this day. But then it is so pleasant to feel oneself to be naughty! There is a Bohemian flavour of picnic about it which, though it does not come up to the rich gusto of real wickedness, makes one fancy that one is on the border of that delightful region in which there is none of the constraint of custom — where men and women say what they like, and do what they like.”
“It is pleasant enough to be on the borders,” said Phineas.
“That is just it. Of course decency, morality, and propriety, all made to suit the eye of the public; are the things which are really delightful. We all know that, and live accordingly — as well as we can. I do at least.”
“And do not I, Madame Goesler?”
“I know nothing about that, Mr Finn, and want to ask no questions. But if you do, I am sure you agree with me that you often envy the improper people — the Bohemians — the people who don’t trouble themselves about keeping any laws except those for breaking which they would be put into nasty, unpleasant prisons. I envy them. Oh, how I envy them!”
“But you are free as air.”
“The most cabined, cribbed, and confined creature in the world! I have been fighting my way up for the last four years, and have not allowed myself the liberty of one flirtation — not often even the recreation of a natural laugh. And now I shouldn’t wonder if I don’t find myself falling back a year or two, just because I have allowed you to come and see me on a Sunday morning. When I told Lotta that you were coming, she shook her head at me in dismay. But now that you are here, tell me what you have done.”
“Nothing as yet, Madame Goesler.”
“I thought it was to have been settled on Friday?”
“It was settled — before Friday. Indeed, as I look back at it all now, I can hardly tell when it was not settled. It is impossible, and has been impossible, that I should do otherwise. I still hold my place, Madame Goesler, but I have declared that I shall give it up before the debate comes on.”
“It is quite fixed?”
“Quite fixed, my friend.”
“And what next?” Madame Goesler, as she thus interrogated him, was leaning across towards him from the sofa on which she was placed, with both her elbows resting on a small table before her. We all know that look of true interest which the countenance of a real friend will bear when the welfare of his friend is in question. There are doubtless some who can assume it without feeling — as there are actors who can personate all the passions. But in ordinary life we think that we can trust such a face, and that we know the true look when we see it. Phineas, as he gazed into Madame Goesler’s eyes, was sure that the lady opposite him was not acting. She at least was anxious for his welfare, and was making his cares her own. “What next?” said she, repeating her words in a tone that was somewhat hurried.
“I do not know that there will be any next. As far as public life is concerned, there will be no next for me, Madame Goesler.”
“That is out of the question,” she said. You are made for public life.”
“Then I shall be untrue to my making, I fear. But to speak plainly — “
“Yes; speak plainly. I want to understand the reality.”
“The reality is this. I shall keep my seat to the end of the session, as I think I may be of use. After that I shall give it up.”
“Resign that too?” she said in a tone of chagrin.
“The chances are, I think, that there will be another dissolution. If they hold their own against Mr Monk’s motion, then they will pass an Irish Reform Bill. After that I think they must dissolve.”
“And you will not come forward again?”
“I cannot afford it.”
“Psha! Some five hundred pounds or so!”
“And, besides that, I am well aware that my only chance at my old profession is to give up all idea of Parliament. The two things are not compatible for a beginner at the law. I know it now, and have bought my knowledge by a bitter experience.”
“And where will you live?”
“In Dublin, probably.”
“And you will do — will do what?”
“Anything honest in a barrister’s way that may be brought to me. I hope that I may never descend below that.”
“You will stand up for all the blackguards, and try to make out that the thieves did not steal?”
“It may be that that sort of work may come in my way.”
“And you will wear a wig and try to look wise?”
“The wig is not universal in Ireland, Madame Goesler.”
“And you will wrangle, as though your very soul were in it, for somebody’s twenty pounds?”
“You have already made a name in the greatest senate in the world, and have governed other countries larger than your own — ”
“No — I have not done that. I have governed no country.
“I tell you, my friend, that you cannot do it. It is out of the question. Men may move forward from little work to big work; but they cannot move back and do little work, when they have had tasks which were really great. I tell you, Mr Finn, that the House of Parliament is the place for you to work in. It is the only place — that and the abodes of Ministers. Am not I your friend who tell you this?”
“I know that you are my friend.”
“And will you not credit me when I tell you this? What do you fear, that you should run away? You have no wife — no children. What is the coming misfortune that you dread?” She paused a moment as though for an answer, and he felt that now had come the time in which it would be well that he should tell her of his engagement with his own Mary. She had received him very playfully; but now within the last few minutes there had come upon her a seriousness of gesture, and almost a solemnity of tone, which made him conscious that he should in no way trifle with her. She was so earnest in her friendship that he owed it to her to tell her everything. But before he could think of the words in which his tale should be told, she had gone on with her quick questions. “Is it solely about money that you fear?” she said.
“It is simply that I have no income on which to live.”
“Have I not offered you money?”
“But, Madame Goesler, you who offer it would yourself despise me if I took it.”
“No — I do deny it.” As she said this — not loudly but with much asis — she came and stood before him where he was sitting. And as he looked at her he could perceive that there was a strength about her of which he had not been aware. She was stronger, larger, more robust physically than he had hitherto conceived. “I do deny it,” she said. “Money is neither god nor devil, that it should make one noble and another vile, It is an accident, and, if honestly possessed, may pass from you to me, or from me to you, without a stain. You may take my dinner from me if I give it you, my flowers, my friendship, my — my — my everything, but my money! Explain to me the cause of the phenomenon. If I give to you a thousand pounds, now this moment, and you take it, you are base — but if I leave it you in my will — and die — you take it, and are not base. Explain to me the cause of that.”
“You have not said it quite all,” said Phineas hoarsely.
“What have I left unsaid? If I have left anything unsaid, do you say the rest.”
“It is because you are a woman, and young, and beautiful, that no man may take wealth from your hands.”
“Oh, it is that!”
“It is that partly.”
“If I were a man you might take it, though I were young and beautiful as the morning?”
“No — presents of money are always bad. They stain and load the spirit, and break the heart.”
“And specially when given by a woman’s hand?”
“It seems so to me. But I cannot argue of it. Do not let us talk of it any more.”
“Nor can I argue. I cannot argue, but I can be generous — very generous. I can deny myself for my friend — can even lower myself in my own esteem for my friend. I can do more than a man can do for a friend. You will not take money from my hand?”
“No, Madame Goesler — I cannot do that.”
“Take the hand then first. When it and all that it holds are your own, you can help yourself as you list.” So saying, she stood before him with her right hand stretched out towards him.
What man will say that he would not have been tempted? Or what woman will declare that such temptation should have had no force? The very air of the room in which she dwelt was sweet in his nostrils, and there hovered around her a halo of grace and beauty which greeted all his senses. She invited him to join his lot to hers, in order that she might give to him all that was needed to make his life rich and glorious. How would the Ratlers and the Bonteens envy him when they heard of the prize which had become his! The Cantrips and the Greshams would feel that he was a friend doubly valuable, if he could be won back; and Mr Monk would greet him as a fitting ally — an ally strong with the strength which he had before wanted. With whom would he not be equal? Whom need he fear? Who would not praise him? The story of his poor Mary would be known only in a small village, out beyond the Channel. The temptation certainly was very strong.
But he had not a moment in which to doubt. She was standing there with her face turned from him, but with her hand still stretched towards him. Of course he took it. What man so placed could do other than take a woman’s hand?
“My friend,” he said.
“I will be called friend by you no more,” she said. “You must call me Marie, your own Marie, or you must never call me by any name again. Which shall it be, sir?” He paused a moment, holding her hand, and she let it lie there for an instant while she listened. But still she did not look at him, “Speak to me! Tell me! Which shall it be?” Still he paused. “Speak to me. Tell me!” she said again.
“It cannot be as you have hinted to me,” he said at last. His words did not come louder than a low whisper; but they were plainly heard, and instantly the hand was withdrawn.
“Cannot be!” she exclaimed. Then I have betrayed myself.”
“No — Madame Goesler.”
“Sir; I say yes! If you will allow me I will leave you. You will, I know, excuse me if I am abrupt to you.” Then she strode out of the room, and was no more seen of the eyes of Phineas Finn.
He never afterwards knew how he escaped out of that room and found his way into Park Lane. In after days he had some memory that he remained there, he knew not how long, standing on the very spot on which she had left him; and that at last there grew upon him almost a fear of moving, a dread lest he should be heard, an inordinate desire to escape without the sound of a footfall, without the clicking of a lock. Everything in that house had been offered to him. He had refused it all, and then felt that of all human beings under the sun none had so little right to be standing there as he. His very presence in that drawing-room was an insult to the woman whom he had driven from it.
But at length he was in the street, and had found his way across Piccadilly into the Green Park. Then, as soon as he could find a spot apart from the Sunday world, he threw himself upon the turf, and tried to fix his thoughts upon the thing that he had done. His first feeling, I think, was one of pure and unmixed disappointment — of disappointment so bitter, that even the vision of his own Mary did not tend to comfort him. How great might have been his success, and how terrible was his failure! Had he taken the woman’s hand and her money, had he clenched his grasp on the great prize offered to him, his misery would have been ten times worse the first moment that he would have been away from her. Then, indeed — it being so that he was a man with a heart within his breast — there would have been no comfort for him, in his outlooks on any side. But even now, when he had done right — knowing well that he had done right — he found that comfort did not come readily within his reach.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01