“After all that has come and gone, is it not odd that you and I should find ourselves riding about Broughton Spinnies together?” That was the question which Madame Goesler asked Phineas Finn when they had both agreed that it was impossible to jump over the bank out of the wood, and it was, of course, necessary that some answer should be given to it.
“When I saw you last in London,” said Phineas, with a voice that was gruff and a manner that was abrupt, “I certainly did not think that we should meet again so soon.”
“No — I left you as though I had grounds for quarrelling; but there was no quarrel. I wrote to you, and tried to explain that.”
“You did — and though my answer was necessarily short, I was very grateful.”
“And here you are back among us; and it does seem so odd. Lady Chiltern never told me that I was to meet you.”
“Nor did she tell me.”
“It is better so, for otherwise I should not have come, and then, perhaps, you would have been all alone in your discomfiture at the bank.”
“That would have been very bad.”
“You see I can be quite frank with you, Mr Finn. I am heartily glad to see you, but I should not have come had I been told. And when I did see you, it was quite improbable that we should be thrown together as we are now — was it not? Ah — here is a man, and he can tell us the way back to Copperhouse Cross. But I suppose we had better ask for Harrington Hall at once.”
The man knew nothing at all about Harrington Hall, and very little about Copperhouse; but he did direct them on to the road, and they found that they were about sixteen miles from Lord Chiltern’s house. The hounds had gone away in the direction of Trumpeton Wood, and it was agreed that it would be useless to follow them. The waggonette had been left at an inn about two miles from Copperhouse Cross, but they resolved to abandon that and to ride direct to Harrington Hall. It was now nearly three o’clock, and they would not be subjected to the shame which falls upon sportsmen who are seen riding home very early in the day. To get oneself lost before twelve, and then to come home, is a very degrading thing; but at any time after two you may be supposed to have ridden the run of the season, and to be returning after an excellent day’s work.
Then Madame Goesler began to talk about herself, and to give a short history of her life during the last two-and-a-half years. She did this in a frank natural manner, continuing her tale in a low voice, as though it were almost a matter of course that she should make the recital to so old a friend. And Phineas soon began to feel that it was natural that she should do so. “It was just before you left us,” she said, “that the Duke took to coming to my house.” The duke spoken of was the Duke of Omnium, and Phineas well remembered to have heard some rumours about the Duke and Madame Max. It had been hinted to him that the Duke wanted to marry the lady, but that rumour he had never believed. The reader, if he has duly studied the history of the age, will know that the Duke did make an offer to Madame Goesler, pressing it with all his eloquence, but that Madame Goesler, on mature consideration, thought it best to decline to become a duchess. Of all this, however, the reader who understands Madame Goesler’s character will be quite sure that she did not say a word to Phineas Finn. Since the business had been completed she had spoken of it to no one but to Lady Glencora Palliser, who had forced herself into a knowledge of all the circumstances while they were being acted.
“I met the Duke once at Matching,” said Phineas.
“I remember it well. I was there, and first made the Duke’s acquaintance on that occasion. I don’t know how it was that we became intimate — but we did, and then I formed a sort of friendship with Lady Glencora; and somehow it has come about that we have been a great deal together since.”
“I suppose you like Lady Glencora?”
“Very much indeed — and the Duke, too. The truth is, Mr Finn, that let one boast as one may of one’s independence — and I very often do boast of mine to myself — one is inclined to do more for a Duke of Omnium than for a Mr Jones.”
“The Dukes have more to offer than the Joneses — I don’t mean in the way of wealth only, but of what one enjoys most in society generally.”
“I suppose they have. At any rate, I am glad that you should make some excuse for me. But I do like the man. He is gracious and noble in his bearing. He is now very old, and sinking fast into the grave; but even the wreck is noble.”
“I don’t know that he ever did much,” said Phineas.
“I don’t know that he ever did anything according to your idea of doing. There must be some men who do nothing.”
“But a man with his wealth and rank has opportunities so great! Look at his nephew!”
“No doubt Mr Palliser is a great man. He never has a moment to speak to his wife or to anybody else; and is always thinking so much about the country that I doubt if he knows anything about his own affairs. Of course he is a man of a different stamp — and of a higher stamp, if you will. But I have an idea that such characters as those of the present Duke are necessary to the maintenance of a great aristocracy. He has had the power of making the world believe in him simply because he has been rich and a duke. His nephew, when he comes to the title, will never receive a tithe of the respect that has been paid to this old fainéant .”
“But he will achieve much more than ten times the reputation,” said Phineas.
“I won’t compare them, nor will I argue; but I like the Duke. Nay — I love him. During the last two years I have allowed the whole fashion of my life to be remodelled by this intimacy. You knew what were my habits. I have only been in Vienna for one week since I last saw you, and I have spent months and months at Matching.”
“What do you do there?”
“Read to him — talk to him — give him his food, and do all that in me lies to make his life bearable. Last year, when it was thought necessary that very distinguished people should be entertained at the great family castle — in Barsetshire, you know — ”
“I have heard of the place.”
“A regular treaty or agreement was drawn up. Conditions were sealed and signed. One condition was that both Lady Glencora and I should be there. We put our heads together to try to avoid this; as, of course, the Prince would not want to see me particularly — and it was altogether so grand an affair that things had to be weighed. But the Duke was inexorable. Lady Glencora at such a time would have other things to do, and I must be there, or Gatherum Castle should not be opened. I suggested whether I could not remain in the background and look after the Duke as a kind of upper nurse — but Lady Glencora said it would not do.”
“Why should you subject yourself to such indignity?”
“Simply from love of the man. But you see I was not subjected. For two days I wore my jewels beneath royal eyes — eyes that will sooner or later belong to absolute majesty. It was an awful bore, and I ought to have been at Vienna. You ask me why I did it. The fact is that things sometimes become too strong for one, even when there is no real power of constraint. For years past I have been used to have my own way, but when there came a question of the entertainment of royalty I found myself reduced to blind obedience. I had to go to Gatherum Castle, to the absolute neglect of my business; and I went.”
“Do you still keep it up?”
“Oh, dear, yes. He is at Matching now, and I doubt whether he will ever leave it again. I shall go there from here as a matter of course, and relieve guard with Lady Glencora.”
“I don’t see what you get for it all.”
“Get — what should I get? You don’t believe in friendship, then?”
“Certainly I do — but this friendship is so unequal. I can hardly understand that it should have grown from personal liking on your side.”
“I think it has,” said Madame Goesler, slowly. “You see, Mr Finn, that you as a young man can hardly understand how natural it is that a young woman — if I may call myself young — should minister to an old man.”
“But there should be some bond to the old man.”
“There is a bond.”
“You must not be angry with me,” said Phineas.
“I am not in the least angry.”
“I should not venture to express any opinion, of course — only that you ask me.”
“I do ask you, and you are quite welcome to express your opinion. And were it not expressed, I should know what you thought just the same. I have wondered at it myself sometimes — that I should have become as it were engulfed in this new life, almost without will of my own. And when he dies, how shall I return to the other life? Of course I have the house in Park Lane still, but my very maid talks of Matching as my home.”
“How will it be when he has gone?”
“Ah — how indeed? Lady Glencora and I will have to curtsey to each other, and there will be an end of it. She will be a duchess then, and I shall no longer be wanted.”
“But even if you were wanted —?”
“Oh, of course. It must last the Duke’s time, and last no longer. It would not be a healthy kind of life were it not that I do my very best to make the evening of his days pleasant for him, and in that way to be of some service in the world. It has done me good to think that I have in some small degree sacrificed myself. Let me see — we are to turn here to the left. That goes to Copperhouse Cross, no doubt. Is it not odd that I should have told you all this history?”
“Just because this brute would not jump over the fence.”
“I dare say I should have told you, even if he had jumped over; but certainly this has been a great opportunity. Do you tell your friend Lord Chiltern not to abuse the poor Duke any more before me. I daresay our host is all right in what he says; but I don’t like it. You’ll come and see me in London, Mr Finn?”
“But you’ll be at Matching?”
“I do get a few days at home sometimes. You see I have escaped for the present — or otherwise you and I would not have come to grief together in Broughton Spinnies.”
Soon after this they were overtaken by others who were returning home, and who had been more fortunate than they in getting away with the hounds. The fox had gone straight for Trumpeton Wood, not daring to try the gorse on the way, and then had been run to ground. Chiltern was again in a towering passion, as the earths, he said, had been purposely left open. But on this matter the men who had overtaken our friends were both of opinion that Chiltern was wrong. He had allowed it to be understood that he would not draw Trumpeton Wood, and he had therefore no right to expect that the earths should be stopped. But there were and had been various opinions on this difficult point, as the laws of hunting are complex, recondite, numerous, traditional, and not always perfectly understood. Perhaps the day may arrive in which they shall be codified under the care of some great and laborious master of hounds.
“And they did nothing more?” asked Phineas.
“Yes — they chopped another fox before they left the place — so that in point of fact they have drawn Trumpeton. But they didn’t mean it.”
When Madame Max Goesler and Phineas had reached Harrington Hall they were able to give their own story of the day’s sport to Lady Chiltern, as the remainder of the party had not as yet returned.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14