Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 74

The beginning of the end

The day of the debate had come, and Phineas Finn was still sitting in his room at the Colonial Office. But his resignation had been sent in and accepted, and he was simply awaiting the coming of his successor. About noon his successor came, and he had the gratification of resigning his armchair to Mr Bonteen. It is generally understood that gentlemen leaving offices give up either seals or a portfolio. Phineas had been put in possession of no seal and no portfolio; but there was in the room which he had occupied a special armchair, and this with much regret he surrendered to the use and comfort of Mr Bonteen. There was a glance of triumph in his enemy’s eyes, and an exultation in the tone of his enemy’s voice, which were very bitter to him. “So you are really going?” said Mr Bonteen. “Well; I dare say it is all very proper. I don’t quite understand the thing myself, but I have no doubt you are right.” “It isn’t easy to understand; is it? said Phineas, trying to laugh. But Mr Bonteen did not feel the intended satire, and poor Phineas found it useless to attempt to punish the man he hated. He left him as quickly as he could, and went to say a few words of farewell to his late chief.

“Goodbye, Finn,” said Lord Cantrip, It is a great trouble to me that we should have to part in this way.”

“And to me also, my lord. I wish it could have been avoided.”

“You should not have gone to Ireland with so dangerous a man as Mr Monk. But it is too late to think of that now.”

“The milk is spilt; is it not?”

“But these terrible rendings asunder never last very long,” said Lord Cantrip, “unless a man changes his opinions altogether. How many quarrels and how many reconciliations we have lived to see! I remember when Gresham went out of office, because he could not sit in the same room with Mr Mildmay, and yet they became the fastest of political friends. There was a time when Plinlimmon and the Duke could not stable their horses together at all; and don’t you remember when Palliser was obliged to give up his hopes of office because he had some bee in his bonnet?” I think, however, that the bee in Mr Palliser’s bonnet to which Lord Cantrip was alluding made its buzzing audible on some subject that was not exactly political. “We shall have you back again before long, I don’t doubt. Men who can really do their work are too rare to be left long in the comfort of the benches below the gangway.” This was very kindly said, and Phineas was flattered and comforted. He could not, however, make Lord Cantrip understand the whole truth. For him the dream of a life of politics was over for ever. He had tried it, and had succeeded beyond his utmost hopes; but, in spite of his success, the ground had crumbled to pieces beneath has feet, and he knew that he could never recover the niche in the world’s gallery which he was now leaving.

That same afternoon he met Mr Gresham in one of the passages leading to the House, and the Prime Minister put his arm through that of our hero as they walked together into the lobby. “I am sorry that we are losing you,” said Mr Gresham.

“You may be sure that I am sorry to be so lost,” said Phineas.

“These things will occur in political life,” said the leader; “but I think that they seldom leave rancour behind them when the purpose is declared, and when the subject of disagreement is marked and understood. The defalcation which creates angry feeling is that which has to be endured without previous warning — when a man votes against his party — or a set of men, from private pique or from some cause which is never clear.” Phineas, when he heard this, knew well how terribly this very man had been harassed, and driven nearly wild, by defalcation, exactly of that nature which he was attempting to describe. “No doubt you and Mr Monk think you are right,” continued Mr Gresham.

“We have given strong evidence that we think so,” said Phineas. “We give up our places, and we are, both of us, very poor men.”

“I think you are wrong, you know, not so much in your views on the question itself — which, to tell the truth, I hardly understand as yet.”

“We will endeavour to explain them.”

“And will do so very clearly, no doubt. But I think that Mr Monk was wrong in desiring, as a member of a Government, to force a measure which, whether good or bad, the Government as a body does not desire to initiate — at any rate, just now.”

“And therefore he resigned,” said Phineas.

“Of course. But it seems to me that he failed to comprehend the only way in which a great party can act together, if it is to do any service in this country. Don’t for a moment think that I am blaming him or you.”

“I am nobody in this matter,” said Phineas.

“I can assure you, Mr Finn, that we have not regarded you in that light, and I hope that the time may come when we may be sitting together again on the same bench.”

Neither on the Treasury bench nor on any other in that House was he to sit again after this fashion! That was the trouble which was crushing his spirit at this moment, and not the loss of his office! He knew that he could not venture to think of remaining in London as a member of Parliament with no other income than that which his father could allow him, even if he could again secure a seat in Parliament. When he had first been returned for Loughshane he had assured his friends that his duty as a member of the House of Commons would not be a bar to his practice in the Courts. He had now been five years a member, and had never once made an attempt at doing any part of a barrister’s work. He had gone altogether into a different line of life, and had been most successful — so successful that men told him, and women more frequently than men, that his career had been a miracle of success. But there had been, as he had well known from the first, this drawback in the new profession which he had chosen, that nothing in it could be permanent. They who succeed in it may probably succeed again; but then the success is intermittent, and there may be years of hard work in opposition, to which, unfortunately, no pay is assigned. It is almost imperative, as he now found, that they who devote themselves to such a profession should be men of fortune. When he had commenced his work — at the period of his first return for Loughshane — he had had no thought of mending his deficiency in this respect by a rich marriage. Nor had it ever occurred to him that he would seek a marriage for that purpose. Such an idea would have been thoroughly distasteful to him. There had been no stain of premeditated mercenary arrangement upon him at any time. But circumstances had so fallen out with him, that as he won his spurs in Parliament, as he became known, and was placed first in one office and then in another, prospects of love and money together were opened to him, and he ventured on, leaving Mr Low and the law behind him — because these prospects were so alluring. Then had come Mr Monk and Mary Flood Jones — and everything around him had collapsed.

Everything around him had collapsed — with, however, a terrible temptation to him to inflate his sails again, at the cost of his truth and his honour. The temptation would have affected him not at all, had Madame Goesler been ugly, stupid, or personally disagreeable. But she was, he thought, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, the most witty, and in many respects the most charming. She had offered to give him everything that she had, so to place him in the world that opposition would be more pleasant to him than office, to supply every want, and had done so in a manner that had gratified all his vanity. But he had refused it all, because he was bound to the girl at Floodborough. My readers will probably say that he was not a true man unless he could do this without a regret. When Phineas thought of it all, there were many regrets.

But there was at the same time a resolve on his part, that if any man had ever loved the girl he promised to love, he would love Mary Flood Jones. A thousand times he had told himself that she had not the spirit of Lady Laura, or the bright wit of Violet Effingham, or the beauty of Madame Goesler. But Mary had charms of her own that were more valuable than them all. Was there one among the three who had trusted him as she trusted him — or loved him with the same satisfied devotion? There were regrets, regrets that were heavy on his heart — for London, and Parliament, and the clubs, and Downing Street, had become dear to him. He liked to think of himself as he rode in the park, and was greeted by all those whose greeting was the most worth having. There were regrets — sad regrets. But the girl whom he loved better than the parks and the clubs — better even than Westminster and Downing Street, should never know that they had existed.

These thoughts were running through his mind even while he was listening to Mr Monk, as he propounded his theory of doing justice to Ireland. This might probably be the last great debate in which Phineas would be able to take a part, and he was determined that he would do his best in it. He did not intend to speak on this day, if, as was generally supposed, the House would be adjourned before a division could be obtained. But he would remain on the alert and see how the thing went. He had come to understand the forms of the place, and was as well-trained a young member of Parliament as any there. He had been quick at learning a lesson that is not easily learned, and knew how things were going, and what were the proper moments for this question or that form of motion. He could anticipate a count-out, understood the tone of men’s minds, and could read the gestures of the House. It was very little likely that the debate should be over tonight. He knew that; and as the present time was the evening of Tuesday, he resolved at once that he would speak as early as he could on the following Thursday. What a pity it was, that with one who had learned so much, all his learning should be in vain!

At about two o’clock, he himself succeeded in moving the adjournment of the debate. This he did from a seat below the gangway, to which he had removed himself from the Treasury bench. Then the House was up, and he walked home with Mr Monk. Mr Monk, since he had been told positively by Phineas that he had resolved upon resigning his office, had said nothing more of his sorrow at his friend’s resolve, but had used him as one political friend uses another, telling him all his thoughts and all his hopes as to this new measure of his, and taking counsel with him as to the way in which the fight should be fought. Together they had counted over the list of members, marking these men as supporters, those as opponents, and another set, now more important than either, as being doubtful. From day to day those who had been written down as doubtful were struck off that third list, and put in either the one or the other of those who were either supporters or opponents. And their different modes of argument were settled between these two allied orators, how one should take this line and the other that. To Mr Monk this was very pleasant. He was quite assured now that opposition was more congenial to his spirit, and more fitting for him than office. There was no doubt to him as to his future sitting in Parliament, let the result of this contest be what it might. The work which he was now doing, was the work for which he had been training himself all his life. While he had been forced to attend Cabinet Councils from week to week, he had been depressed. Now he was exultant, Phineas seeing and understanding all this, said but little to his friend of his own prospects. As long as this pleasant battle was raging, he could fight in it shoulder to shoulder with the man he loved. After that there would be a blank.

“I do not see how we are to fail to have a majority after Daubeny’s speech tonight,” said Mr Monk, as they walked together down Parliament Street through the bright moonlight.

“He expressly said that he only spoke for himself,” said Phineas.

“But we know what that means. He is bidding for office, and of course those who want office with him will vote as he votes. We have already counted those who would go into office, but they will not carry the whole party.”

“It will carry enough of them.”

“There are forty or fifty men on his side of the House, and as many perhaps on ours,” said Mr Monk, “who have no idea of any kind on any bill, and who simply follow the bell, whether into this lobby or that. Argument never touches them. They do not even look to the result of a division on their own interests, as the making of any calculation would be laborious to them. Their party leader is to them a Pope whom they do not dream of doubting. I never can quite make up my mind whether it is good or bad that there should be such men in Parliament.”

“Men who think much want to speak often,” said Phineas.

“Exactly so — and of speaking members, God knows that we have enough. And I suppose that these purblind sheep do have some occult weight that is salutary. They enable a leader to be a leader, and even in that way they are useful. We shall get a division on Thursday.”

“I understand that Gresham has consented to that.”

“So Ratler told me. Palliser is to speak, and Barrington Erle. And they say that Robson is going to make an onslaught specially on me. We shall get it over by one o’clock.”

“And if we beat them?” asked Phineas.

“It will depend on the numbers. Everybody who has spoken to me about it, seems to think that they will dissolve if there be a respectable majority against them.”

“Of course he will dissolve,” said Phineas, speaking of Mr Gresham; “what else can he do?”

“He is very anxious to carry his Irish Reform Bill first, if he can do so. Goodnight, Phineas. I shall not be down tomorrow as there is nothing to be done. Come to me on Thursday, and we will go to the House together.”

On the Wednesday Phineas was engaged to dine with Mr Low. There was a dinner party in Bedford Square, and Phineas met half-a-dozen barristers and their wives — men to whom he had looked up as successful pundits in the law some five or six years ago, but who since that time had almost learned to look up to him. And now they treated him with that courteousness of manner which success in life always begets. There was a judge there who was very civil to him; and the judge’s wife whom he had taken down to dinner was very gracious to him. The judge had got his prize in life, and was therefore personally indifferent to the fate of ministers; but the judge’s wife had a brother who wanted a County Court from Lord de Terrier, and it was known that Phineas was giving valuable assistance towards the attainment of this object. “I do think that you and Mr Monk are so right,” said the judge’s wife. Phineas, who understood how it came to pass that the judge’s wife should so cordially approve his conduct, could not help thinking how grand a thing it would be for him to have a County Court for himself.

When the guests were gone he was left alone with Mr and Mrs Low, and remained awhile with them, there having been an understanding that they should have a last chat together over the affairs of our hero. “Do you really mean that you will not stand again?” asked Mrs Low.

“I do mean it. I may say that I cannot do so. My father is hardly so well able to help me as he was when I began this game, and I certainly shall not ask him for money to support a canvass.”

“It’s a thousand pities,” said Mrs Low.

“I really had begun to think that you would make it answer,” said Mr Low.

“In one way I have made it answer. For the last three years I have lived upon what I have earned, and I am not in debt. But now I must begin the world again. I am afraid I shall find the drudgery very hard.”

“It is hard no doubt,” said the barrister, who had gone through it all, and was now reaping the fruits of it. “But I suppose you have not forgotten what you learned?”

“Who can say? I dare say I have. But I did not mean the drudgery of learning, so much as the drudgery of looking after work — of expecting briefs which perhaps will never come. I am thirty years old now, you know.”

“Are you indeed?” said Mrs Low — who knew his age to a day. “How the time passes. I’m sure I hope you’ll get on, Mr Finn. I do indeed.”

“I am sure he will, if he puts his shoulder to it,” said Mr Low.

Neither the lawyer nor his wife repeated any of those sententious admonitions, which had almost become rebukes, and which had been so common in their mouths. The fall with which they had threatened Phineas Finn had come upon him, and they were too generous to remind him of their wisdom and sagacity. Indeed, when he got up to take his leave, Mrs Low, who probably might not see him again for years, was quite affectionate in her manners to him, and looked as if she were almost minded to kiss him as she pressed his hand. “We will come and see you,” she said, “when you are Master of the Rolls in Dublin.”

“We shall see him before then thundering at us poor Tories in the House,” said Mr Low. “He will be back again sooner or later.” And so they parted.

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