Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 75


On the Thursday morning before Phineas went to Mr Monk, a gentleman called upon him at his lodgings. Phineas requested the servant to bring up the gentleman’s name, but tempted perhaps by a shilling the girl brought up the gentleman instead. It was Mr Quintus Slide from the office of the “Banner of the People.”

“Mr Finn,” said Quintus, with his hand extended, I have come to offer you the calumet of peace.” Phineas certainly desired no such calumet. But to refuse a man’s hand is to declare active war after a fashion which men do not like to adopt except on deliberation. He had never cared a straw for the abuse which Mr Slide had poured upon him, and now he gave his hand to the man of letters. But he did not sit down, nor did he offer a seat to Mr Slide. “I know that as a man of sense who knows the world, you will accept the calumet of peace,” continued Mr Slide.

“I don’t know why I should be asked particularly to accept war or peace,” said Phineas.

“Well, Mr Finn — I don’t often quote the Bible; but those who are not for us must be against us. You will agree to that. Now that you’ve freed yourself from the iniquities of that sink of abomination in Downing Street, I look upon you as a man again.”

“Upon my word you are very kind.”

“As a man and also a brother. I suppose you know that I’ve got the Banner into my own ‘ands now.” Phineas was obliged to explain that he had not hitherto been made acquainted with this great literary and political secret. “Oh dear, yes, altogether so. We’ve got rid of old Rusty as I used to call him. He wouldn’t go the pace, and so we stripped him. He’s doing the West of England Art Journal now, and he ‘angs out down at Bristol.”

“I hope he’ll succeed, Mr Slide.”

“He’ll earn his wages. He’s a man who will always earn his wages, but nothing more. Well, now, Mr Finn, I will just offer you one word of apology for our little severities.”

“Pray do nothing of the kind.”

“Indeed I shall. Dooty is dooty. There was some things printed which were a little rough, but if one isn’t a little rough there ain’t no flavour. Of course I wrote ’em. You know my ‘and, I dare say.”

“I only remember that there was some throwing of mud.”

“Just so. But mud don’t break any bones; does it? When you turned against us I had to be down on you, and I was down upon you — that’s just about all of it. Now you’re coming among us again, and so I come to you with a calumet of peace.”

“But I am not coming among you.”

“Yes you are, Finn, and bringing Monk with you.” It was now becoming very disagreeable, and Phineas was beginning to perceive that it would soon be his turn to say something rough. “Now I’ll tell you what my proposition is. If you’ll do us two leaders a week through the session, you shall have a cheque for £16 on the last day of every month. If that’s not honester money than what you got in Downing Street, my name is not Quintus Slide.”

“Mr Slide,” said Phineas — and then he paused.

“If we are to come to business, drop the Mister. It makes things go so much easier.”

“We are not to come to business, and I do not want things to go easy. I believe you said some things of me in your newspaper that were very scurrilous.”

“What of that? If you mind that sort of thing — ”

“I did not regard it in the least. You are quite welcome to continue it. I don’t doubt but you will continue it. But you are not welcome to come here afterwards.”

“Do you mean to turn me out?”

“Just that. You printed a heap of lies — ”

“Lies, Mr Finn! Did you say lies, sir?”

“I said lies — lies — lies!” And Phineas walked over at him as though he were going to pitch him instantly out of the window. “You may go and write as many more as you like. It is your trade, and you must do it or starve. But do not come to me again.” Then he opened the door and stood with it in his hand.

“Very well, sir. I shall know how to punish this.”

“Exactly. But if you please you’ll go and do your punishment at the office of the Banner — unless you like to try it here. You want to kick me and spit at me, but you will prefer to do it in print.”

“Yes, sir,” said Quintus Slide. I shall prefer to do it in print — though I must own that the temptation to adopt the manual violence of a ruffian is great, very great, very great indeed.” But he resisted the temptation and walked down the stairs, concocting his article as he went.

Mr Quintus Slide did not so much impede the business of his day but what Phineas was with Mr Monk by two, and in his place in the House when prayers were read at four. As he sat in his place, conscious of the work that was before him, listening to the presentation of petitions, and to the formal reading of certain notices of motions, which with the asking of sundry questions occupied over half an hour, he looked back and remembered accurately his own feelings on a certain night on which he had intended to get up and address the House. The ordeal before him had then been so terrible, that it had almost obliterated for the moment his senses of hearing and of sight. He had hardly been able to perceive what had been going on around him, and had vainly endeavoured to occupy himself in recalling to his memory the words which he wished to pronounce. When the time for pronouncing them had come, he had found himself unable to stand upon his legs. He smiled as he recalled all this in his memory, waiting impatiently for the moment in which he might rise. His audience was assured to him now, and he did not fear it. His opportunity for utterance was his own, and even the Speaker could not deprive him of it. During these minutes he thought not at all of the words that he was to say. He had prepared his matter but had prepared no words. He knew that words would come readily enough to him, and that he had learned the task of turning his thoughts quickly into language while standing with a crowd of listeners around him — as a practised writer does when seated in his chair. There was no violent beating at his heart now, no dimness of the eyes, no feeling that the ground was turning round under his feet. If only those weary vain questions would get themselves all asked, so that he might rise and begin the work of the night. Then there came the last thought as the House was hushed for his rising. What was the good of it all, when he would never have an opportunity of speaking there again?

But not on that account would he be slack in his endeavour now. He would be listened to once at least, not as a subaltern of the Government but as the owner of a voice prominent in opposition to the Government. He had been taught by Mr Monk that that was the one place in the House in which a man with a power of speaking could really enjoy pleasure without alloy. He would make the trial — once, if never again. Things had so gone with him that the rostrum was his own, and a House crammed to overflowing was there to listen to him. He had given up his place in order that he might be able to speak his mind, and had become aware that many intended to listen to him while he spoke. He had observed that the rows of strangers were thick in the galleries, that peers were standing in the passages, and that over the reporter’s head, the ribbons of many ladies were to be seen through the bars of their cage. Yes — for this once he would have an audience.

He spoke for about an hour, and while he was speaking he knew nothing about himself, whether he was doing it well or ill. Something of himself he did say soon after he had commenced — not quite beginning with it, as though his mind had been laden with the matter. He had, he said, found himself compelled to renounce his happy allegiance to the First Lord of the Treasury, and to quit the pleasant company in which, humble as had been his place, he had been allowed to sit and act, by his unfortunate conviction in this great subject. He had been told, he said, that it was a misfortune in itself for one so young as he to have convictions. But his Irish birth and Irish connection had brought this misfortune of his country so closely home to him that he had found the task of extricating himself from it to be impossible. Of what further he said, speaking on that terribly unintelligible subject, a tenant-right proposed for Irish farmers, no English reader will desire to know much. Irish subjects in the House of Commons are interesting or are dull, are debated before a crowded audience composed of all who are leaders in the great world of London, or before empty benches, in accordance with the importance of the moment and the character of the debate. For us now it is enough to know that to our hero was accorded that attention which orators love — which will almost make an orator if it can be assured. A full House with a promise of big type on the next morning would wake to eloquence the propounder of a Canadian grievance, or the mover of an Indian budget.

Phineas did not stir out of the House till the division was over, having agreed with Mr Monk that they two would remain through it all and hear everything that was to be said. Mr Gresham had already spoken, and to Mr Palliser was confided the task of winding up the argument for the Government. Mr Robson spoke also, greatly enlivening the tedium of the evening, and to Mr Monk was permitted the privilege of a final reply. At two o’clock the division came, and the Ministry were beaten by a majority of twenty-three. “And now,” said Mr Monk, as he again walked home with Phineas, “the pity is that we are not a bit nearer tenant-right than we were before.”

“But we are nearer to it.”

“In one sense, yes. Such a debate and such a majority will make men think. But no — think is too high a word; as a rule men don’t think. But it will make them believe that there is something in it. Many who before regarded legislation on the subject as chimerical, will now fancy that it is only dangerous, or perhaps not more than difficult. And so in time it will come to be looked on as among the things possible, then among the things probable — and so at last it will be ranged in the list of those few measures which the country requires as being absolutely needed. That is the way in which public opinion is made.”

“It is no loss of time,” said Phineas, to have taken the first great step in making it.”

“The first great step was taken long ago,” said Mr Monk — “taken by men who were looked upon as revolutionary demagogues, almost as traitors, because they took it. But it is a great thing to take any step that leads us onwards.”

Two days after this Mr Gresham declared his intention of dissolving the House because of the adverse division which had been produced by Mr Monk’s motion, but expressed a wish to be allowed to carry an Irish Reform Bill through Parliament before he did so. He explained how expedient this would be, but declared at the same time that if any strong opposition were made, he would abandon the project. His intention simply was to pass with regard to Ireland a measure which must be passed soon, and which ought to be passed before a new election took place. The bill was ready, and should be read for the first time on the next night, if the House were willing. The House was willing, though there were very many recalcitrant Irish members. The Irish members made loud opposition, and then twitted Mr Gresham with his promise that he would not go on with his bill, if opposition were made. But, nevertheless, he did go on, and the measure was hurried through the two Houses in a week. Our hero who still sat for Loughshane, but who was never to sit for Loughshane again, gave what assistance he could to the Government, and voted for the measure which deprived Loughshane for ever of its parliamentary honours.

“And very dirty conduct I think it was,” said Lord Tulla, when he discussed the subject with his agent. “After being put in for the borough twice, almost free of expense, it was very dirty.” It never occurred to Lord Tulla that a member of Parliament might feel himself obliged to vote on such a subject in accordance with his judgment.

This Irish Reform Bill was scrambled through the two Houses, and then the session was over. The session was over, and they who knew anything of the private concerns of Mr Phineas Finn were aware that he was about to return to Ireland, and did not intend to reappear on the scene which had known him so well for the last five years. “I cannot tell you how sad it makes me,” said Mr Monk.

“And it makes me sad too,” said Phineas. I try to shake off the melancholy, and tell myself from day to day that it is unmanly. But it gets the better of me just at present.”

“I feel quite certain that you will come back among us again,” said Mr Monk.

“Everybody tells me so; and yet I feel quite certain that I shall never come back — never come back with a seat in Parliament. As my old tutor, Low, has told me scores of times, I began at the wrong end. Here I am, thirty years of age, and I have not a shilling in the world, and I do not know how to earn one.”

“Only for me you would still be receiving ever so much a year, and all would be pleasant,” said Mr Monk.

“But how long would it have lasted? The first moment that Daubeny got the upper hand I should have fallen lower than I have fallen now. If not this year, it would have been the next. My only comfort is in this — that I have done the thing myself, and have not been turned out.” To the very last, however, Mr Monk continued to express his opinion that Phineas would come back, declaring that he had known no instance of a young man who had made himself useful in Parliament, and then had been allowed to leave it in early life.

Among those of whom he was bound to take a special leave, the members of the family of Lord Brentford were, of course, the foremost. He had already heard of the reconciliation of Miss Effingham and Lord Chiltern, and was anxious to offer his congratulation to both of them. And it was essential to him that he should see Lady Laura. To her he wrote a line, saying how much he hoped that he should be able to bid her adieu, and a time was fixed for his coming at which she knew that she would meet him alone. But, as chance ruled it, he came upon the two lovers together, and then remembered that he had hardly ever before been in the same room with both of them at the same time.

“Oh, Mr Finn, what a beautiful speech you made. I read every word of it,” said Violet.

“And I didn’t even look at it, old fellow,” said Chiltern, getting up and putting his arm on the other’s shoulder in a way that was common with him when he was quite intimate with the friend near him.

“Laura went down and heard it,” said Violet. I could not do that, because I was tied to my aunt. You can’t conceive how dutiful I am during this last month.”

“And is it to be in a month, Chiltern?” said Phineas.

“She says so. She arranges everything — in concert with my father. When I threw up the sponge, I simply asked for a long day. “A long day, my lord,” I said. But my father and Violet between them refused me any mercy.”

“You do not believe him,” said Violet.

“Not a word. If I did he would want to see me on the coast of Flanders again, I don’t doubt. I have come to congratulate you both.”

“Thank you, Mr Finn,” said Violet, taking his hand with hearty kindness. “I should not have been quite happy without one nice word from you.”

“I shall try and make the best of it,” said Chiltern. “But, I say, you’ll come over and ride Bonebreaker again. He’s down there at the Bull, and I’ve taken a little box close by. I can’t stand the governor’s county for hunting.”

“And will your wife go down to Willingford?”

“Of course she will, and ride to hounds a great deal closer than I can ever do. Mind you come, and if there’s anything in the stable fit to carry you, you shall have it.”

Then Phineas had to explain that he had come to bid them farewell, and that it was not at all probable that he should ever be able to see Willingford again in the hunting season. “I don’t suppose that I shall make either of you quite understand it, but I have got to begin again. The chances are that I shall never see another foxhound all my life.”

“Not in Ireland!” exclaimed Lord Chiltern.

“Not unless I should have to examine one as a witness. I have nothing before me but downright hard work; and a great deal of that must be done before I can hope to earn a shilling.”

“But you are so clever,” said Violet. Of course it will come quickly.”

“I do not mean to be impatient about it, nor yet unhappy,” said Phineas. “Only hunting won’t be much in my line.”

“And will you leave London altogether?” Violet asked.

“Altogether. I shall stick to one club — Brooks’s; but I shall take my name off all the others.”

“What a deuce of a nuisance!” said Lord Chiltern.

“I have no doubt you will be very happy,” said Violet; “and you’ll be a Lord Chancellor in no time. But you won’t go quite yet.”

“Next Sunday.”

“You will return. You must be here for our wedding — indeed you must. I will not be married unless you do.”

Even this, however, was impossible. He must go on Sunday, and must return no more. Then he made his little farewell speech, which he could not deliver without some awkward stuttering. He would think of her on the day of her marriage, and pray that she might be happy. And he would send her a little trifle before he went, which he hoped she would wear in remembrance of their old friendship.

“She shall wear it, whatever it is, or I’ll know the reason why,” said Chiltern.

“Hold your tongue, you rough bear!” said Violet. Of course I’ll wear it. And of course I’ll think of the giver. I shall have many presents, but few that I will think of so much.” Then Phineas left the room, with his throat so full that he could not speak another word.

“He is still broken-hearted about you,” said the favoured lover as soon as his rival had left the room.

“It is not that,” said Violet. He is broken-hearted about everything. The whole world is vanishing away from him. I wish he could have made up his mind to marry that German woman with all the money.” It must be understood, however, that Phineas had never spoken a word to anyone as to the offer which the German woman had made to him.

It was on the morning of the Sunday on which he was to leave London that he saw Lady Laura. He had asked that it might be so, in order that he might then have nothing more upon his mind. He found her quite alone, and he could see by her eyes that she had been weeping. As he looked at her, remembering that it was not yet six years since he had first been allowed to enter that room, he could not but perceive how very much she was altered in appearance. Then she had been three-and-twenty, and had not looked to be a day older. Now she might have been taken to be nearly forty, so much had her troubles preyed upon her spirit, and eaten into the vitality of her youth. “So you have come to say goodbye,” she said, smiling as she rose to meet him.

“Yes, Lady Laura — to say goodbye. Not for ever, I hope, but probably for long.”

“No, not for ever. At any rate, we will not think so.” Then she paused; but he was silent, sitting with his hat dangling in his two hands, and his eyes fixed upon the floor. “Do you know, Mr Finn,” she continued, “that sometimes I am very angry with myself about you.”

“Then it must be because you have been too kind to me.”

“It is because I fear that I have done much to injure you. From the first day that I knew you — do you remember, when we were talking here, in this very room, about the beginning of the Reform Bill — from that day I wished that you should come among us and be one of us.”

“I have been with you, to my infinite satisfaction — while it lasted.”

“But it has not lasted, and now I fear that it has done you harm.”

“Who can say whether it has been for good or evil? But of this I am sure you will be certain — that I am very grateful to you for all the goodness you have shown me.” Then again he was silent.

She did not know what it was that she wanted, but she did desire some expression from his lips that should be warmer than an expression of gratitude. An expression of love — of existing love — she would have felt to be an insult, and would have treated it as such. Indeed, she knew that from him no such insult could come. But she was in that morbid, melancholy state of mind which requires the excitement of more than ordinary sympathy, even though that sympathy be all painful; and I think that she would have been pleased had he referred to the passion for herself which he had once expressed. If he would have spoken of his love, and of her mistake, and have made some half-suggestion as to what might have been their lives had things gone differently — though she would have rebuked him even for that — still it would have comforted her. But at this moment, though he remembered much that had passed between them, he was not even thinking of the Braes of Linter. All that had taken place four years ago — and there had been so many other things since which had moved him even more than that! “You have heard what I have arranged for myself?” she said at last.

“Your father has told me that you are going to Dresden.”

“Yes — he will accompany me — coming home of course for Parliament. It is a sad break-up, is it not? But the lawyer says that if I remain here I may be subject to very disagreeable attempts from Mr Kennedy to force me to go back again. It is odd, is it not, that he should not understand how impossible it is?”

“He means to do his duty.”

“I believe so. But he becomes more stern every day to those who are with him. And then, why should I remain here? What is there to tempt me? As a woman separated from her husband I cannot take an interest in those things which used to charm me. I feel that I am crushed and quelled by my position, even though there is no disgrace in it.”

“No disgrace, certainly,” said Phineas.

“But I am nobody — or worse than nobody.”

“And I also am going to be a nobody,” said Phineas, laughing.

“Ah; you are a man and will get over it, and you have many years before you will begin to be growing old. I am growing old already. Yes, I am. I feel it, and know it, and see it. A woman has a fine game to play; but then she is so easily bowled out, and the term allowed to her is so short.”

“A man’s allowance of time may be short too,” said Phineas.

“But he can try his hand again.” Then there was another pause. “I had thought, Mr Finn, that you would have married,” she said in her very lowest voice.

“You knew all my hopes and fears about that.”

“I mean that you would have married Madame Goesler.”

“What made you think that, Lady Laura?”

“Because I saw that she liked you, and because such a marriage would have been so suitable. She has all that you want. You know what they say of her now?”

“What do they say?”

“That the Duke of Omnium offered to make her his wife, and that she refused him for your sake.”

“There is nothing that people won’t say — nothing on earth,” said Phineas. Then he got up and took his leave of her. He also wanted to part from her with some special expression of affection, but he did not know how to choose his words. He had wished that some allusion should be made, not to the Braes of Linter, but to the close confidence which had so long existed between them; but he found that the language to do this properly was wanting to him. Had the opportunity arisen he would have told her now the whole story of Mary Flood Jones; but the opportunity did not come, and he left her, never having mentioned the name of his Mary or having hinted at his engagement to any one of his friends in London. “It is better so,” he said to himself. “My life in Ireland is to be a new life, and why should I mix two things together that will be so different?”

He was to dine at his lodgings, and then leave them for good at eight o’clock. He had packed up everything before he went to Portman Square, and he returned home only just in time to sit down to his solitary mutton chop. But as he sat down he saw a small note addressed to himself lying on the table among the crowd of books, letters, and papers, of which he had still to make disposal. It was a very small note in an envelope of a peculiar tint of pink, and he knew the handwriting well. The blood mounted all over his face as he took it up, and he hesitated for a moment before he opened it. It could not be that the offer should be repeated to him. Slowly, hardly venturing at first to look at the enclosure, he opened it, and the words which it contained were as follows:

“I learn that you are going today, and I write a word which you will receive just as you are departing. It is to say merely this — that when I left you the other day I was angry, not with you, but with myself. Let me wish you all good wishes and that prosperity which I know you will deserve, and which I think you will win.

“Yours very truly,

“M. M. G.”

“ Sunday morning .”

Should he put off his journey and go to her this very evening and claim her as his friend? The question was asked and answered in a moment. Of course he would not go to her. Were he to do so there would be only one possible word for him to say, and that word should certainly never be spoken. But he wrote to her a reply, shorter even than her own short note.

“Thanks, dear friend. I do not doubt but that you and I understand each other thoroughly, and that each trusts the other for good wishes and honest intentions.

“Always yours,

“P. F.”

“I write these as I am starting.

When he had written this, he kept it till the last moment in his hand, thinking that he would not send it. But as he slipped into the cab, he gave the note to his late landlady to post.

At the station Bunce came to him to say a word of farewell, and Mrs Bunce was on his arm.

“Well done, Mr Finn, well done,” said Bunce. I always knew there was a good drop in you.”

“You always told me I should ruin myself in Parliament, and so I have,” said Phineas.

“Not at all. It takes a deal to ruin a man if he’s got the right sperrit. I’ve better hopes of you now than ever I had in the old days when you used to be looking out for Government place — and Mr Monk has tried that too. I thought he would find the iron too heavy for him.” “God bless you, Mr Finn, said Mrs Bunce with her handkerchief up to her eyes. “There’s not one of ’em I ever had as lodgers I’ve cared about half as much as I did for you.” Then they shook hands with him through the window, and the train was off.

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