The end of July came, and it was settled that Lady Laura Kennedy should go to Loughlinter. She had been a widow now for nearly three months, and it was thought right that she should go down and see the house, and the lands, and the dependents whom her husband had left in her charge. It was now three years since she had seen Loughlinter, and when last she had left it, she had made up her mind that she would never place her foot upon the place again. Her wretchedness had all come upon her there. It was there that she had first been subjected to the unendurable tedium of Sabbath Day observances. It was there she had been instructed in the unpalatable duties that had been expected from her. It was there that she had been punished with the doctor from Callender whenever she attempted escape under the plea of a headache. And it was there, standing by the waterfall, the noise of which could be heard from the front-door, that Phineas Finn had told her of his love. When she accepted the hand of Robert Kennedy she had known that she had not loved him; but from the moment in which Phineas had spoken to her, she knew well that her heart had gone one way, whereas her hand was to go another. From that moment her whole life had quickly become a blank. She had had no period of married happiness — not a month, not an hour. From the moment in which the thing had been done she had found that the man to whom she had bound herself was odious to her, and that the life before her was distasteful to her which before had seemed worthy to her, and full at any rate of interest, became at once dull and vapid. Her husband was in Parliament, as also had been her father, and many of her friends — and, by weight of his own character and her influence, was himself placed high in office; but in his house politics lost all the flavour which they had possessed for her in Portman Square. She had thought that she could at any rate do her duty as the mistress of a great household, and as the benevolent lady of a great estate; but household duties under the tutelage of Mr Kennedy had been impossible to her, and that part of a Scotch Lady Bountiful which she had intended to play seemed to be denied to her. The whole structure had fallen to the ground, and nothing had been left to her.
But she would not sin. Though she could not bring herself to love her husband, she would at any rate be strong enough to get rid of that other love. Having so resolved, she became as weak as water. She at one time determined to be the guiding genius of the man she loved — a sort of devoted elder sister, intending him to be the intimate friend of her husband; then she had told him not to come to her house, and had been weak enough to let him know why it was that she could not bear his presence. She had failed altogether to keep her secret, and her life during the struggle had become so intolerable to her that she had found herself compelled to desert her husband. He had shown her that he, too, had discovered the truth, and then she had become indignant, and had left him. Every place that she had inhabited with him had become disagreeable to her. The house in London had been so odious, that she had asked her intimate friends to come to her in that occupied by her father. But, of all spots upon earth, Loughlinter had been the most distasteful to her. It was there that the sermons had been the longest, the lessons in accounts the most obstinate, the lectures the most persevering, the dullness the most heavy. It was there that her ears had learned the sound of the wheels of Dr Macnuthrie’s gig. It was there that her spirit had been nearly broken. It was there that, with spirit not broken, she had determined to face all that the world might say of her, and fly from a tyranny which was insupportable. And now the place was her own, and she was told that she must go there as its owner — go there and be potential, and beneficent, and grandly bland with persons, all of whom knew what had been the relations between her and her husband.
And though she had been indignant with her husband when at last she had left him — throwing it in his teeth as an unmanly offence that he had accused her of the truth; though she had felt him to be a tyrant and herself to be a thrall; though the sermons, and the lessons, and the doctor had each, severally, seemed to her to be horrible cruelties; yet she had known through it all that the fault had been hers, and not his. He only did that which she should have expected when she married him — but she had done none of that which he was entitled to expect from her. The real fault, the deceit, the fraud — the sin had been with her — and she knew it. Her life had been destroyed — but not by him. His life had also been destroyed, and she had done it. Now he was gone, and she knew that his people — the old mother who was still left alone, his cousins, and the tenants who were now to be her tenants, all said that had she done her duty by him he would still have been alive. And they must hate her the worse, because she had never sinned after such a fashion as to liberate him from his bond to her. With a husband’s perfect faith in his wife, he had immediately after his marriage, given to her for her life the lordship over his people, should he be without a child and should she survive him. In his hottest anger he had not altered that. His constant demand had been that she should come back to him, and be his real wife. And while making that demand — with a persistency which had driven him mad — he had died; and now the place was hers, and they told her that she must go and live there!
It is a very sad thing for any human being to have to say to himself — with an earnest belief in his own assertion — that all the joy of this world is over for him; and is the sadder because such conviction is apt to exclude the hope of other joy. This woman had said so to herself very often during the last two years, and had certainly been sincere. What was there in store for her? She was banished from the society of all those she liked. She bore a name that was hateful to her. She loved a man whom she could never see. She was troubled about money. Nothing in life had any taste for her. All the joys of the world were over — and had been lost by her own fault. Then Phineas Finn had come to her at Dresden, and now her husband was dead!
Could it be that she was entitled to hope that the sun might rise again for her once more and another day be reopened for her with a gorgeous morning? She was now rich and still young — or young enough. She was two and thirty, and had known many women — women still honoured with the name of girls — who had commenced the world successfully at that age. And this man had loved her once. He had told her so, and had afterwards kissed her when informed of her own engagement. How well she remembered it all. He, too, had gone through vicissitudes in life, had married and retired out of the world, had returned to it, and had gone through fire and water. But now everybody was saying good things of him, and all he wanted was the splendour which wealth would give him. Why should he not take it at her hands, and why should not the world begin again for both of them?
But though she would dream that it might be so, she was quite sure that there was no such life in store for her. The nature of the man was too well known to her. Fickle he might be — or rather capable of change than fickle; but he was incapable of pretending to love when he did not love. She felt that in all the moments in which he had been most tender with her. When she had endeavoured to explain to him the state of her feelings at Königstein — meaning to be true in what she said, but not having been even then true throughout — she had acknowledged to herself that at every word he spoke she was wounded by his coldness. Had he then professed a passion for her she would have rebuked him, and told him that he must go from her — but it would have warmed the blood in all her veins, and brought back to her a sense of youthful life. It had been the same when she visited him in the prison — the same again when he came to her after his acquittal. She had been frank enough to him, but he would not even pretend that he loved her. His gratitude, his friendship, his services, were all hers. In every respect he had behaved well to her. All his troubles had come upon him because he would not desert her cause — but he would never again say he loved her.
She gazed at herself in the glass, putting aside for the moment the hideous widow’s cap which she now wore, and told herself that it was natural that it should be so. Though she was young in years her features were hard and worn with care. She had never thought herself to be a beauty, though she had been conscious of a certain aristocratic grace of manner which might stand in the place of beauty. As she examined herself she found that that was not all gone — but she now lacked that roundness of youth which had been hers when first she knew Phineas Finn. She sat opposite the mirror, and pored over her own features with an almost skilful scrutiny, and told herself at last aloud that she had become an old woman. He was in the prime of life; but for her was left nothing but its dregs.
She was to go to Loughlinter with her brother and her brother’s wife, leaving her father at Saulsby on the way. The Chilterns were to remain with her for one week, and no more. His presence was demanded in the Brake country, and it was with difficulty that he had been induced to give her so much of his time. But what was she to do when they should leave her? How could she live alone in that great house, thinking, as she ever must think, of all that had happened to her there? It seemed to her that everybody near to her was cruel in demanding from her such a sacrifice of her comfort. Her father had shuddered when she had proposed to him to accompany her to Loughlinter; but her father was one of those who insisted on the propriety of her going there. Then, in spite of that lesson which she had taught herself while sitting opposite to the glass, she allowed her fancy to revel in the idea of having him with her as she wandered over the braes. She saw him a day or two before her journey, when she told him her plans as she might tell them to any friend. Lady Chiltern and her father had been present, and there had been no special sign in her outward manner of the mingled tenderness and soreness of her heart within. No allusion had been made to any visit from him to the North. She would not have dared to suggest it in the presence of her brother, and was almost as much cowed by her brother’s wife. But when she was alone, on the eve of her departure, she wrote to him as follows:
Sunday, 1st August — DEAR FRIEND
I thought that perhaps you might have come in this afternoon, and I have not left the house all day. I was so wretched that I could not go to church in the morning — and when the afternoon came, I preferred the chance of seeing you to going out with Violet. We two were alone all the evening, and I did not give you up till nearly ten. I dare say you were right not to come. I should only have bored you with my complaints, and have grumbled to you of evils which you cannot cure.
We start at nine tomorrow, and get to Saulsby in the afternoon. Such a family party as we shall be! I did fancy that Oswald would escape it; but, like everybody else, he has changed — and has become domestic and dutiful. Not but that he is as tyrannous as ever; but his tyranny is now that of the responsible father of a family. Papa cannot understand him at all, and is dreadfully afraid of him. We stay two nights at Saulsby, and then go on to Scotland, leaving papa at home.
Of course it is very good in Violet and Oswald to come with me — if, as they say, it be necessary for me to go at all. As to living there by myself, it seems to me to be impossible. You know the place well, and can you imagine me there all alone, surrounded by Scotch men and women, who, of course, must hate and despise me, afraid of every face that I see, and reminded even by the chairs and tables of all that is past? I have told papa that I know I shall be back at Saulsby before the middle of the month. He frets, and says nothing; but he tells Violet, and then she lectures me in that wise way of hers which enables her to say such hard things with so much seeming tenderness. She asks me why I do not take a companion with me, as I am so much afraid of solitude. Where on earth should I find a companion who would not be worse than solitude? I do feel now that I have mistaken life in having so little used myself to the small resources of feminine companionship. I love Violet dearly, and I used to be always happy in her society. But even with her now I feel but a half sympathy. That girl that she has with her is more to her than I am, because after the first half-hour I grow tired about her babies. I have never known any other woman with whom I cared to be alone. How then shall I content myself with a companion, hired by the quarter, perhaps from some advertisement in a newspaper?
No companionship of any kind seems possible to me — and yet never was a human being more weary of herself. I sometimes wonder whether I could go again and sit in that cage in the House of Commons to hear you and other men speak — as I used to do. I do not believe that any eloquence in the world would make it endurable to me. I hardly care who is in or out, and do not understand the things which my cousin Barrington tells me — so long does it seem since I was in the midst of them all. Not but that I am intensely anxious that you should be back. They tell me that you will certainly be re-elected this week, and that all the House will receive you with open arms. I should have liked, had it been possible, to be once more in the cage to see that. But I am such a coward that I did not even dare to propose to stay for it. Violet would have told me that such manifestation of interest was unfit for my condition as a widow. But in truth, Phineas, there is nothing else now that does interest me. If, looking on from a distance, I can see you succeed, I shall try once more to care for the questions of the day. When you have succeeded, as I know you will, it will be some consolation to me to think that I also helped a little.
I suppose I must not ask you to come to Loughlinter? But you will know best. If you will do so I shall care nothing for what anyone may say. Oswald hardly mentions your name in my hearing, and of course I know of what he is thinking. When I am with him I am afraid of him, because it would add infinitely to my grief were I driven to quarrel with him; but I am my own mistress as much as he is his own master, and I will not regulate my conduct by his wishes. If you please to come you will be welcome as the flowers in May. Ah, how weak are such words in giving any idea of the joy with which I should see you!
God bless you, Phineas. Your most affectionate friend, LAURA KENNEDY
Write to me at Loughlinter. I shall long to hear that you have taken your seat immediately on your re-election. Pray do not lose a day. I am sure that all your friends will advise you as I do.
Throughout her whole letter she was struggling to tell him once again of her love, and yet to do it in some way of which she need not be ashamed. It was not till she had come to the last words that she could force her pen to speak of her affection, and then the words did not come freely as she would have had them. She knew that he would not come to Loughlinter. She felt that were he to do so he could come only as a suitor for her hand, and that such a suit, in these early days of her widowhood, carried on in her late husband’s house, would be held to be disgraceful. As regarded herself, she would have faced all that for the sake of the thing to be attained. But she knew that he would not come. He had become wise by experience, and would perceive the result of such coming — and would avoid it. His answer to her letter reached Loughlinter before she did:
“ Great Marlborough Street Monday night DEAR LADY LAURA—
I should have called in the Square last night, only that I feel that Lady Chiltern must be weary of the woes of so doleful a person as myself. I dined and spent the evening with the Lows, and was quite aware that I disgraced myself with them by being perpetually lachrymose. As a rule I do not think that I am more given than other people to talk of myself, but I am conscious of a certain incapability of getting rid of myself what has grown upon me since those weary weeks in Newgate and those frightful days in the dock; and this makes me unfit for society. Should I again have a seat in the House I shall be afraid to get up upon my legs, lest I should find myself talking of the time in which I stood before the judge with a halter round my neck.
I sympathise with you perfectly in what you say about Loughlinter. It may be right that you should go there and show yourself — so that those who knew the Kennedys in Scotland should not say that you had not dared to visit the place, but I do not think it possible that you should live there as yet. And why should you do so? I cannot conceive that your presence there should do good, unless you took delight in the place.
I will not go to Loughlinter myself, although I know how warm would be my welcome. [When he had got so far with his letter he found the difficulty of going on with it to be almost insuperable. How could he give her any reasons for his not making the journey to Scotland?] People would say that you and I should not be alone together after all the evil that has been spoken of us — and would be specially eager in saying so were I now to visit you, so lately made a widow, and to sojourn with you in the house that did belong to your husband. Only think how eloquent would be the indignation of the People’s Banner were it known that I was at Louglinter. [Could he have spoken the truth openly, such were the reasons that he would have given; but it was impossible that such truths should be written by him in a letter to herself. And then it was almost equally difficult for him to tell her of a visit which he had resolved to make. But the letter must be completed, and at last the words were written.] I could be of no real service to you there, as will be your brother and your brother’s wife, even though their stay with you is to be so short. Were I you I would go out among the people as much as possible, even though they should not receive you cordially at first. Though we hear so much of clanship in the Highlands, I think the Highlanders are prone to cling to anyone who has territorial authority among them. They thought a great deal of Mr Kennedy, but they had never heard his name fifty years ago. I suppose you will return to Saulsby soon, and then, perhaps, I may be able to see you.
In the meantime I am going to Matching. [This difficulty was worse even than the other.] Both the Duke and Duchess have asked me, and I know that I am bound to make an effort to face my fellow-creatures again. The horror I feel at being stared at, as the man that was not — hung as a murderer, is stronger than I can describe; and I am well aware that I shall be talked to and made a wonder of on that ground. I am told that I am to be re-elected triumphantly at Tankerville without a penny of cost or the trouble of asking for a vote, simply because I didn’t knock poor Mr Bonteen on the head. This to me is abominable, but I cannot help myself, unless I resolve to go away and hide myself. That I know cannot be right, and therefore I had better go through it and have done with it. Though I am to be stared at, I shall not be stared at very long. Some other monster will come up and take my place, and I shall be the only person who will not forget it all. Therefore I have accepted the Duke’s invitation, and shall go to Matching some time in the end of August. All the world is to be there.
This re-election — and I believe I shall be re-elected tomorrow — would be altogether distasteful to me were it not that I feel that I should not allow myself to be cut to pieces by what has occurred. I shall hate to go back to the House, and have somehow learned to dislike and distrust all those things that used to be so fine and lively to me. I don’t think that I believe any more in the party — or rather in the men who lead it. I used to have a faith that now seems to me to be marvellous. Even twelve months ago, when I was beginning to think of standing for Tankerville, I believed that on our side the men were patriotic angels, and that Daubeny and his friends were all fiends or idiots — mostly idiots, but with a strong dash of fiendism to control them. It has all come now to one common level of poor human interests. I doubt whether patriotism can stand the wear and tear and temptation of the front benches in the House of Commons. Men are flying at each other’s throats, thrusting and parrying, making false accusations and defences equally false, lying and slandering — sometimes picking and stealing — till they themselves become unaware of the magnificence of their own position, and forget that they are expected to be great. Little tricks of sword-play engage all their skill. And the consequence is that there is no reverence now for any man in the House — none of that feeling which we used to entertain for Mr Mildmay.
Of course I write — and feel — as a discontented man; and what I say to you I would not say to any other human being. I did long most anxiously for office, having made up my mind a second time to look to it as a profession. But I meant to earn my bread honestly, and give it up — as I did before, when I could not keep it with a clear conscience. I knew that I was hustled out of the object of my poor ambition by that unfortunate man who has been hurried to his fate. In such a position I ought to distrust, and do, partly, distrust my own feelings. And I am aware that I have been soured by prison indignities. But still the conviction remains with me that parliamentary interests are not those battles of gods and giants which I used to regard them. Our Gyas with the hundred hands is but a Three-fingered Jack, and I sometimes think that we share our great Jove with the Strand Theatre. Nevertheless I shall go back — and if they will make me a joint lord tomorrow I shall be in heaven!
I do not know why I should write all this to you except that there is no one else to whom I can say it. There is no one else who would give a moment of time to such lamentations. My friends will expect me to talk to them of my experiences in the dock rather than politics, and will want to know what rations I had in Newgate. I went to call on the Governor only yesterday, and visited the old room. “I never could really bring myself to think that you did it, Mr Finn,” he said. I looked at him and smiled, but I should have liked to fly at his throat. Why did he not know that the charge was a monstrous absurdity? Talking of that, not even you were truer to me than your brother. One expects it from a woman — both the truth and the discernment.
I have written to you a cruelly long letter; but when one’s mind is full such relief is sometimes better than talking. Pray answer it before long, and let me know what you intend to do.
Yours most affectionately PHINEAS FINN
She did read the letter through — read it probably more than once; but there was only one sentence in it that had for her any enduring interest. “I will not go to Loughlinter myself.” Though she had known that he would not come her heart sank within her, as though now, at this moment, the really fatal wound had at last been inflicted. But, in truth, there was another sentence as a complement to the first, which rivetted the dagger in her bosom. “In the meantime I am going to Matching.” Throughout his letter the name of that woman was not mentioned, but of course she would be there. The thing had all been arranged in order that they two might be brought together. She told herself that she had always hated that intriguing woman, Lady Glencora. She read the remainder of the letter and understood it; but she read it all in connection with the beauty, and the wealth, and the art — and the cunning of Madame Max Goesler.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14