Phineas Finn and Lady Laura Kennedy sat together discussing the affairs of the past till the servant told them that “My Lord” was in the next room, and ready to receive Mr Finn. “You will find him much altered,” said Lady Laura, “even more than I am.”
“I do not find you altered at all.”
“Yes, you do — in appearance. I am a middle-aged woman, and conscious that I may use my privileges as such. But he has become quite an old man — not in health so much as in manner. But he will be very glad to see you.” So saying she led him into a room, in which he found the Earl seated near the fireplace, and wrapped in furs. He got up to receive his guest, and Phineas saw at once that during the two years of his exile from England Lord Brentford had passed from manhood to senility. He almost tottered as he came forward, and he wrapped his coat around him with that air of studious self-preservation which belongs only to the infirm.
“It is very good of you to come and see me, Mr Finn,” he said.
“Don’t call him Mr Finn, Papa. I call him Phineas.”
“Well, yes; that’s all right, I daresay. It’s a terrible long journey from London, isn’t it, Mr Finn?”
“Too long to be pleasant, my lord.”
“Pleasant! Oh, dear. There’s no pleasantness about it. And so they’ve got an autumn session, have they? That’s always a very stupid thing to do, unless they want money.”
“But there is a money bill which must be passed. That’s Mr Daubeny’s excuse.”
“Ah, if they’ve a money bill of course it’s all right. So you’re in Parliament again?”
“I’m sorry to say I’m not.” Then Lady Laura explained to her father, probably for the third or fourth time, exactly what was their guest’s position. “Oh, a scrutiny. We didn’t use to have any scrutinies at Loughton, did we? Ah, me; well, everything seems to be going to the dogs. I’m told they’re attacking the Church now.” Lady Laura glanced at Phineas; but neither of them said a word. “I don’t quite understand it; but they tell me that the Tories are going to disestablish the Church. I’m very glad I’m out of it all. Things have come to such a pass that I don’t see how a gentleman is to hold office now-a-days. Have you seen Chiltern lately?”
After a while, when Phineas had told the Earl all that there was to tell of his son and his grandson, and all of politics and of Parliament, Lady Laura suddenly interrupted them. “You knew, Papa, that he was to see Mr Kennedy. He has been to Loughlinter, and has seen him.”
“He is quite assured that I could not with wisdom return to live with my husband.”
“It is a very grave decision to make,” said the Earl.
“But he has no doubt about it,” continued Lady Laura.
“Not a shadow of doubt,” said Phineas. “I will not say that Mr Kennedy is mad; but the condition of his mind is such in regard to Lady Laura that I do not think she could live with him in safety. He is crazed about religion.”
“Dear, dear, dear,” exclaimed the Earl.
“The gloom of his house is insupportable. And he does not pretend that he desires her to return that he and she may be happy together.”
“What for then?”
“That we might be unhappy together,” said Lady Laura.
“He repudiates all belief in happiness. He wishes her to return to him chiefly because it is right that a man and wife should live together.
“So it is,” said the Earl.
“But not to the utter wretchedness of both of them,” said Lady Laura. “He says,” and she pointed to Phineas, “that were I there he would renew his accusation against me. He has not told me all. Perhaps he cannot tell me all. But I certainly will not return to Loughlinter.”
“Very well, my dear.”
“It is not very well, Papa; but, nevertheless, I will not return to Loughlinter. What I suffered there neither of you can understand.”
That afternoon Phineas went out alone to the galleries, but the next day she accompanied him, and showed him whatever of glory the town had to offer in its winter dress. They stood together before great masters, and together examined small gems. And then from day to day they were always in each other’s company. He had promised to stay a month, and during that time he was petted and comforted to his heart’s content. Lady Laura would have taken him into the Saxon Switzerland, in spite of the inclemency of the weather and her father’s rebukes, had he not declared vehemently that he was happier remaining in the town. But she did succeed in carrying him off to the fortress of Königstein; and there as they wandered along the fortress constructed on that wonderful rock there occurred between them a conversation which he never forgot, and which it would not have been easy to forget. His own prospects had of course been frequently discussed. He had told her everything, down to the exact amount of money which he had to support him till he should again be enabled to earn an income, and had received assurances from her that everything would be just as it should be after a lapse of a few months. The Liberals would, as a matter of course, come in, and equally as a matter of course, Phineas would be in office. She spoke of this with such certainty that she almost convinced him. Having tempted him away from the safety of permanent income, the party could not do less than provide for him. If he could only secure a seat he would be safe; and it seemed that Tankerville would be a certain seat. This certainty he would not admit; but, nevertheless, he was comforted by his friend. When you have done the rashest thing in the world it is very pleasant to be told that no man of spirit could have acted otherwise. It was a matter of course that he should return to public life — so said Lady Laura — and doubly a matter of course when he found himself a widower without a child. “Whether it be a bad life or a good life,” said Lady Laura, “you and I understand equally well that no other life is worth having after it. We are like the actors, who cannot bear to be away from the gaslights when once they have lived amidst their glare.” As she said this they were leaning together over one of the parapets of the great fortress, and the sadness of the words struck him as they bore upon herself. She also had lived amidst the gaslights, and now she was self-banished into absolute obscurity. “You could not have been content with your life in Dublin,” she said.
“Are you content with your life in Dresden?”
“Certainly not. We all like exercise; but the man who has had his leg cut off can’t walk. Some can walk with safety; others only with a certain peril; and others cannot at all. You are in the second position, but I am in the last.”
“I do not see why you should not return.”
“And if I did what would come of it? In place of the seclusion of Dresden, there would be the seclusion of Portman Square or of Saulsby. Who would care to have me at their houses, or to come to mine? You know what a hazardous, chancy, short-lived thing is the fashion of a woman. With wealth, and wit, and social charm, and impudence, she may preserve it for some years, but when she has once lost it she can never recover it. I am as much lost to the people who did know me in London as though I had been buried for a century. A man makes himself really useful, but a woman can never do that.”
“All those general rules mean nothing,” said Phineas. “I should try it.”
“No, Phineas. I know better than that. It would only be disappointment. I hardly think that after all you ever did understand when it was that I broke down utterly and marred my fortunes for ever.”
“I know the day that did it,”
“When I accepted him?”
“Of course it was. I know that, and so do you. There need be no secret between us.”
“There need be no secret between us certainly — and on my part there shall be none. On my part there has been none.”
“Nor on mine.”
“There has been nothing for you to tell — since you blurted out your short story of love that day over the waterfall, when I tried so hard to stop you.”
“How was I to be stopped then?”
“No; you were too simple. You came there with but one idea, and you could not change it on the spur of the moment. When I told you that I was engaged you could not swallow back the words that were not yet spoken. Ah, how well I remember it. But you are wrong, Phineas. It was not my engagement or my marriage that has made the world a blank for me.” A feeling came upon him which half-choked him, so that he could also ask her no further question. “You know that, Phineas.”
“It was your marriage,” he said, gruffly.
“It was, and has been, and still will be my strong, unalterable, unquenchable love for you. How could I behave to that other man with even seeming tenderness when my mind was always thinking of you, when my heart was always fixed upon you? But you have been so simple, so little given to vanity,” — she leaned upon his arm as she spoke — “so pure and so manly, that you have not believed this, even when I told you. Has it not been so?”
“I do not wish to believe it now.”
“But you do believe it? You must and shall believe it. I ask for nothing in return. As my God is my judge, if I thought it possible that your heart should be to me as mine is to you, I could have put a pistol to my ear sooner than speak as I have spoken.” Though she paused for some word from him he could not utter a word. He remembered many things, but even to her in his present mood he could not allude to them — how he had kissed her at the Falls, how she had bade him not come back to the house because his presence to her was insupportable; how she had again encouraged him to come, and had then forbidden him to accept even an invitation to dinner from her husband. And he remembered too the fierceness of her anger to him when he told her of his love for Violet Effingham. “I must insist upon it”, she continued, “that you shall take me now as I really am — as your dearest friend, your sister, your mother, if you will. I know what I am. Were my husband not still living it would be the same. I should never under any circumstances marry again. I have passed the period of a woman’s life when as a woman she is loved; but I have not outlived the power of loving. I shall fret about you, Phineas, like an old hen after her one chick; and though you turn out to be a duck, and get away into waters where I cannot follow you, I shall go cackling round the pond, and always have my eye upon you.” He was holding her now by the hand, but he could not speak for the tears were trickling down his cheeks. “When I was young,” she continued, “I did not credit myself with capacity for so much passion. I told myself that love after all should be a servant and not a master, and I married my husband fully intending to do my duty to him. Now we see what has come of it.”
“It has been his fault; not yours,” said Phineas.
“It was my fault — mine; for I never loved him. Had you not told me what manner of man he was before? And I had believed you, though I denied it. And I knew when I went to Loughlinter that it was you whom I loved. And I knew too — I almost knew that you would ask me to be your wife were not that other thing settled first. And I declared to myself that, in spite of both our hearts, it should not be so. I had no money then — nor had you.”
“I would have worked for you.”
“Ah, yes; but you must not reproach me now, Phineas. I never deserted you as regarded your interests, though what little love you had for me was short-lived indeed. Nay; you are not accused, and shall not excuse yourself. You were right — always right. When you had failed to win one woman your heart with a true natural spring went to another. And so entire had been the cure, that you went to the first woman with the tale of your love for the second.”
“To whom was I to go but to a friend?”
“You did come to a friend, and though I could not drive out of my heart the demon of jealousy, though I was cut to the very bone, I would have helped you had help been possible. Though it had been the fixed purpose of my life that Violet and Oswald should be man and wife, I would have helped you because that other purpose of serving you in all things had become more fixed. But it was to no good end that I sang your praises. Violet Effingham was not the girl to marry this man or that at the bidding of anyone — was she?”
“It is of no use now talking of it; is it? But I want you to understand me from the beginning — to understand all that was evil, and anything that was good. Since first I found that you were to me the dearest of human beings I have never once been untrue to your interests, though I have been unable not to be angry with you. Then came that wonderful episode in which you saved my husband’s life.”
“Not his life.”
“Was it not singular that it should come from your hand? It seemed like Fate. I tried to use the accident, to make his friendship for you as thorough as my own. And then I was obliged to separate you, because — because, after all I was so mere a woman that I could not bear to have you near me. I can bear it now.”
“Yes; as your sister. I think you cannot but love me a little when you know how entirely I am devoted to you. I can bear to have you near me now and think of you only as the hen thinks of her duckling. For a moment you are out of the pond, and I have gathered you under my wing. You understand?”
“I know that I am unworthy of what you say of me.”
“Worth has nothing to do with it — has no bearing on it. I do not say that you are more worthy than all whom I have known. But when did worth create love? What I want is that you should believe me, and know that there is one bound to you who will never be unbound, one whom you can trust in all things — one to whom you can confess that you have been wrong if you go wrong, and yet be sure that you will not lessen her regard. And with this feeling you must pretend to nothing more than friendship. You will love again, of course.”
“Of course you will. I tried to blaze into power by a marriage, and I failed — because I was a woman. A woman should marry only for love. You will do it yet, and will not fail. You may remember this too — that I shall never be jealous again. You may tell me everything with safety. You will tell me everything?”
“If there be anything to tell, I will.”
“I will never stand between you and your wife — though I would fain hope that she should know how true a friend I am. Now we have walked here till it is dark, and the sentry will think we are taking plans of the place. Are you cold?”
“I have not thought about the cold.”
“Nor have I. We will go down to the inn and warm ourselves before the train comes. I wonder why I should have brought you here to tell you my story. Oh, Phineas.” Then she threw herself into his arms, and he pressed her to his heart, and kissed first her forehead and then her lips. “It shall never be so again,” she said. “I will kill it out of my heart even though I should crucify my body. But it is not my love that I will kill. When you are happy I will be happy. When you prosper I will prosper. When you fail I will fail. When you rise — as you will rise — I will rise with you. But I will never again feel the pressure of your arm round my waist. Here is the gate, and the old guide. So, my friend, you see that we are not lost.” Then they walked down the very steep hill to the little town below the fortress, and there they remained till the evening train came from Prague, and took them back to Dresden.
Two days after this was the day fixed for Finn’s departure. On the intermediate day the Earl begged for a few minutes’ private conversation with him, and the two were closeted together for an hour. The Earl, in truth, had little or nothing to say. Things had so gone with him that he had hardly a will of his own left, and did simply that which his daughter directed him to do. He pretended to consult Phineas as to the expediency of his returning to Saulsby. Did Phineas think that his return would be of any use to the party? Phineas knew very well that the party would not recognise the difference whether the Earl lived at Dresden or in London. When a man has come to the end of his influence as the Earl had done he is as much a nothing in politics as though he had never rise above that quantity. The Earl had never risen very high, and even Phineas, with all his desire to be civil, could not say that the Earl’s presence would materially serve the interests of the Liberal party. He made what most civil excuses he could, and suggested that if Lord Brentford should choose to return, Lady Laura would very willingly remain at Dresden alone. “But why shouldn’t she come too?” asked the Earl. And then, with the tardiness of old age, he proposed his little plan. “Why should she not make an attempt to live once more with her husband?”
“She never will,” said Phineas.
“But think how much she loses,” said the Earl.
“I am quite sure she never will. And I am quite sure that she ought not to do so. The marriage was a misfortune. As it is they are better apart.” After that the Earl did not dare to say another word about his daughter; but discussed his son’s affairs. Did not Phineas think that Chiltern might now be induced to go into Parliament? “Nothing would make him do so,” said Phineas.
“But he might farm?”
“You see he has his hands full.”
“But other men keep hounds and farm too,” said the Earl.
“But Chiltern is not like other men. He gives his whole mind to it, and finds full employment. And then he is quite happy, and so is she. What more can you want for him? Everybody respects him.”
“That goes a very great way,” said the Earl. Then he thanked Phineas cordially, and felt that now as ever he had done his duty by his family.
There was no renewal of the passionate conversation which had taken place on the ramparts, but much of tenderness and of sympathy arose from it. Lady Laura took upon herself the tone and manners of an elder sister — of a sister very much older than her brother — and Phineas submitted to them not only gracefully but with delight to himself. He had not thanked her for her love when she expressed it, and he did not do so afterwards. But he accepted it, and bowed to it, and recognised it as constituting one of the future laws of his life. He was to do nothing of importance without her knowledge, and he was to be at her command should she at any time want assistance in England. “I suppose I shall come back some day,” she said, as they were sitting together late on the evening before his departure.
“I cannot understand why you should not do so now. Your father wishes it.”
“He thinks he does; but were he told that he was to go tomorrow, or next summer, it would fret him. I am assured that Mr Kennedy could demand my return — by law.”
“He could not enforce it.”
“He would attempt it. I will not go back until he consents to my living apart from him. And, to tell the truth, I am better here for awhile. They say that the sick animals always creep somewhere under cover. I am a sick animal, and now that I have crept here I will remain till I am stronger. How terribly anxious you must be about Tankerville!”
“I am anxious.”
“You will telegraph to me at once? You will be sure to do that?”
“Of course I will, the moment I know my fate.”
“And if it goes against you?”
“Ah — what then?”
“I shall at once write to Barrington Erle. I don’t suppose he would do much now for his poor cousin, but he can at any rate say what can be done. I should bid you come here — only that stupid people would say that you were my lover. I should not mind, only that he would hear it, and I am bound to save him from annoyance. Would you not go down to Oswald again?”
“With what object?”
“Because anything will be better than returning to Ireland. Why not go down and look after Saulsby? It would be a home, and you need not tie yourself to it. I will speak to Papa about that. But you will get the seat.”
“I think I shall,” said Phineas.
“Do — pray do! If I could only get hold of that judge by the ears! Do you know what time it is? It is twelve, and your train starts at eight.” Then he arose to bid her adieu. “No,” she said; “I shall see you off”
“Indeed you will not. It will be almost night when I leave this, and the frost is like iron.”
“Neither the night nor the frost will kill me. Do you think I will not give you your last breakfast? God bless you, dear.”
And on the following morning she did give him his breakfast by candle-light, and went down with him to the station. The morning was black, and the frost was, as he had said, as hard as iron, but she was thoroughly good-humoured, and apparently happy. “It has been so much to me to have you here, that I might tell you everything,” she said. “You will understand me now.”
“I understand, but I know not how to believe,” he said.
“You do believe. You would be worse than a Jew if you did not believe me. But you understand also. I want you to marry, and you must tell her all the truth. If I can I will love her almost as much as I do you. And if I live to see them, I will love your children as dearly as I do you. Your children shall be my children — or at least one of them shall be mine. You will tell me when it is to be.”
“If I ever intend such a thing, I will tell you.”
“Now, goodbye. I shall stand back there till the train starts, but do not you notice me. God bless you, Phineas.” She held his hand tight within her own for some seconds, and looked into his face with an unutterable love. Then she drew down her veil, and went and stood apart till the train had left the platform.
“He has gone, Papa,” Lady Laura said, as she stood afterwards by her father’s bedside.
“Has he? Yes; I know he was to go, of course. I was very glad to see him, Laura.”
“So was I, Papa — very glad indeed. Whatever happens to him, we must never lose sight of him again.”
“We shall hear of him, of course, if he is in the House.”
“Whether he is in the House or out of it we must hear of him. While we have aught he must never want.” The Earl stared at his daughter. The Earl was a man of large possessions, and did not as yet understand that he was to be called upon to share them with Phineas Finn. “I know, Papa, you will never think ill of me.”
“Never, my dear.”
“I have sworn that I will be a sister to that man, and I will keep my oath.”
“I know you are a very good sister to Chiltern,” said the Earl. Lady Laura had at one time appropriated her whole fortune, which had been large, to the payment of her brother’s debts. The money had been returned, and had gone to her husband. Lord Brentford now supposed that she intended at some future time to pay the debts of Phineas Finn.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55