As he took his ticket Phineas sent his message to the Prime Minister, taking that personage literally at his word. The message was, No. When writing it in the office it seemed to him to be uncourteous, but he found it difficult to add any other words that should make it less so. He supplemented it with a letter on his arrival in London, in which he expressed his regret that certain circumstances of his life which had occurred during the last month or two made him unfit to undertake the duties of the very pleasant office to which Mr Gresham had kindly offered to appoint him. That done, he remained in town but one night, and then set his face again towards Matching. When he reached that place it was already known that he had refused to accept Mr Gresham’s offer, and he was met at once with regrets and condolements. “I am sorry that it must be so,” said the Duke — who was sorry, for he liked the man, but who said not a word more upon the subject. “You are still young, and will have further opportunities,” said Lord Cantrip, “but I wish that you could have consented to come back to your old chair.” “I hope that at any rate we shall not have you against us,” said Sir Harry Coldfoot. Among themselves they declared one to another that he had been so completely upset by his imprisonment and subsequent trial as to be unable to undertake the work proposed to him. “It is not a very nice thing, you know, to be accused of murder,” said Sir Gregory, “and to pass a month or two under the full conviction that you are going to be hung. He’ll come right again some day. I only hope it may not be too late.”
“So you have decided for freedom?” said Madame Goesler to him that evening — the evening of the day on which he had returned.
“I have nothing to say against your decision now. No doubt your feelings have prompted you right.”
“Now that it is done, of course I am full of regrets,” said Phineas.
“That is simple human nature, I suppose.”
“Simple enough; and the worst of it is that I cannot quite explain even to myself why I have done it. Every friend I had in the world told me that I was wrong, and yet I could not help myself. The thing was offered to me, not because I was thought to be fit for it, but because I had become wonderful by being brought near to a violent death! I remember once, when I was a child, having a rocking-horse given to me because I had fallen from the top of the house to the bottom without breaking my neck. The rocking-horse was very well then, but I don’t care now to have one bestowed upon me for any such reason.”
“Still, if the rocking-horse is in itself a good rocking-horse — ”
“But it isn’t.”
“I don’t mean to say a word against your decision.”
“It isn’t good. It is one of those toys which look to be so very desirable in the shop-windows, but which give no satisfaction when they are brought home. I’ll tell you what occurred the other day. The circumstances happen to be known to me, though I cannot tell you my authority. My dear old friend Laurence Fitzgibbon, in the performance of his official duties had to give an opinion on a matter affecting an expenditure of some thirty or forty thousand pounds of public money. I don’t think that Laurence has generally a very strong bias this way or that on such questions, but in the case in question he took upon himself to be very decided. He wrote or got someone to write, a report proving that the service of the country imperatively demanded that the money should be spent, and in doing so was strictly within his duty.”
“I am glad to hear that he can be so energetic.”
“The Chancellor of the Exchequer got hold of the matter, and told Fitzgibbon that the thing couldn’t be done.”
“That was all right and constitutional, I suppose.”
“Quite right and constitutional. But something had to be said about it in the House, and Laurence, with all his usual fluency and beautiful Irish brogue, got up and explained that the money would be absolutely thrown away if expended on a purpose so futile as that proposed. I am assured that the great capacity which he has thus shown for official work and official life will cover a multitude of sins.
“You would hardly have taken Mr Fitzgibbon as your model statesman.”
“Certainly not — and if the story affected him only it would hardly be worth telling. But the point of it lies in this — that he disgusted no one by what he did. The Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks him a very convenient man to have about him, and Mr Gresham feels the comfort of possessing tools so pliable.”
“Do you think that public life then is altogether a mistake, Mr Finn?”
“For a poor man I think that it is, in this country. A man of fortune may be independent; and because he has the power of independence those who are higher than he will not expect him to be subservient. A man who takes to parliamentary office for a living may live by it, but he will have but a dog’s life of it.”
“If I were you, Mr Finn, I certainly would not choose a dog’s life.”
He said not a word to her on that occasion about herself, having made up his mind that a certain period of the following day should be chosen for the purpose, and he had hardly yet arranged in his mind what words he would use on that occasion. It seemed to him that there would be so much to be said that he must settle beforehand some order of saying it. It was not as though he had merely to tell her of his love. There had been talk of love between them before, on which occasion he had been compelled to tell her that he could not accept that which she offered to him. It would be impossible, he knew, not to refer to that former conversation. And then he had to tell her that he, now coming to her as a suitor and knowing her to be a very rich woman, was himself all but penniless. He was sure, or almost sure, that she was as well aware of this fact as he was himself; but, nevertheless, it was necessary that he should tell her of it — and if possible so tell her as to force her to believe him when he assured her that he asked her to be his wife, not because she was rich, but because he loved her. It was impossible that all this should be said as they sat side by side in the drawing-room with a crowd of people almost within hearing, and Madame Goesler had just been called upon to play, which she always did directly she was asked. He was invited to make up a rubber, but he could not bring himself to care for cards at the present moment. So he sat apart and listened to the music.
If all things went right with him tomorrow that music — or the musician who made it — would be his own for the rest of is life. Was he justified in expecting that she would give him so much? Of her great regard for him as a friend he had no doubt. She had shown it in various ways, and after a fashion that had made it known to all the world. But so had Lady Laura regarded him when he first told her of his love at Loughlinter. She had been his dearest friend, but she had declined to become his wife; and it had been partly so with Violet Effingham, whose friendship to him had been so sweet as to make him for a while almost think that there was more than friendship. Marie Goesler had certainly once loved him — but so had he once loved Laura Standish. He had be wretched for a while because Lady Laura had refused him. His feelings now were altogether changed, and why should not the feelings of Madame Goesler have undergone a similar change? There was no doubt of her friendship; but then neither was there any doubt of his for Lady Laura. And in spite of her friendship would not revenge be dear to her — revenge of that nature which a slighted woman must always desire? He had rejected her, and would it not be fair also that he should be rejected? “I suppose you’ll be in your own room before lunch tomorrow,” he said to her as they separated for the night. It had come to pass from the constancy of her visits to Matching in the old Duke’s time, that a certain small morning-room had been devoted to her, and this was still supposed to be her property — so that she was not driven to herd with the public or to remain in her bedroom during all the hours of the morning. “Yes,” she said; “I shall go out immediately after breakfast, but I shall soon be driven in by the heat, and then I shall be there till lunch. The Duchess always comes about half past twelve, to complain generally of the guests.” She answered him quite at her ease, making arrangement for privacy if he should desire it, but doing so as though she thought that he wanted to talk to her about his trial, or about politics, or the place he had just refused. Surely she would hardly have answered him after such a fashion had she suspected that he intended to ask her to be his wife.
At a little before noon the next morning he knocked at her door, and was told to enter. “I didn’t go out after all,” she said. “I hadn’t courage to face the sun.”
“I saw that you were not in the garden.”
“If I could have found you I would have told you that I should be here all the morning. I might have sent you a message, only — only I didn’t.”
“I have come — ”
“I know why you have come.”
“I doubt that. I have come to tell you that I love you.”
“Oh Phineas — at last, at last!” And in a moment she was in his arms.
It seemed to him that from that moment all the explanations, and all the statements, and most of the assurances were made by her and not by him. After this first embrace he found himself seated beside her, holding her hand. “I do not know that I am right,” said he.
“Why not right?”
“Because you are rich and I have nothing.”
“If you ever remind me of that again I will strike you,” she said, raising up her little fist and bringing it down with gentle pressure on his shoulder. “Between you and me there must be nothing more about that. It must be an even partnership. There must be ever so much about money, and you’ll have to go into dreadful details, and make journeys to Vienna to see that the houses don’t tumble down — but there must be no question between you and me of whence it came.”
“You will not think that I have to come to you for that?”
“Have you ever known me to have a low opinion of myself? Is it probable that I shall account myself to be personally so mean and of so little values as to imagine that you cannot love me? I know you love me. But Phineas, I have not been sure till very lately that you would ever tell me so. As for me —! Oh, heavens! when I think of it.”
“Tell me that you love me now.”
“I think I have said so plainly enough. I have never ceased to love you since I first knew you well enough for love. And I’ll tell you more — though perhaps I shall say what you will think condemns me — you are the only man I ever loved. My husband was very good to me — and I was, I think, good to him. But he was many years my senior, and I cannot say I loved him — as I do you.” Then she turned to him, and put her head on his shoulder. “And I loved the old Duke, too, after a fashion. But it was a different thing from this. I will tell you something about him some day that I have never yet told to a human being.”
“Tell me now.”
“No; not till I am your wife. You must trust me. But I will tell you,” she said, “lest you should be miserable. He asked me to be his wife.”
“The old Duke?”
“Yes, indeed, and I refused to be a — duchess. Lady Glecora knew it all, and, just at the time I was breaking my heart — like a fool, for you! Yes, for you! But I got over it, and am not broken-hearted a bit. Oh, Phineas, I am so happy now.”
Exactly at the time she had mentioned on the previous evening, at half past twelve, the door was opened, and the Duchess entered the room. “Oh dear,” she exclaimed, “perhaps I am in the way; perhaps I am interrupting secrets.”
“Shall I retire? I will at once if there be anything confidential going on.
“It has gone on already, and been completed,” said Madame Goesler rising from her seat. “It is only a trifle. Mr Finn has asked me to be his wife.”
“I couldn’t refuse Mr Finn a little thing like that.”
“I should think not, after going all the way to Prague to find a latch-key! I congratulate you, Mr Finn, with all my heart.”
“And when is it to be?”
“We have not thought about that yet, Mr Finn — have we? — said Madame Goesler.
“Adelaide Palliser is going to be married from here some time in the autumn”, said the Duchess, “and you two had better take advantage of the occasion.” This plan however was considered as being too rapid and rash. Marriage is a very serious affair, and many things would require arrangement. A lady with the wealth which belonged to Madame Goesler cannot bestow herself off-hand as may a curate’s daughter, let her be ever so willing to give her money as well as herself. It was impossible that a day should be fixed quite at once; but the Duchess was allowed to understand that the affair might be mentioned. Before dinner on that day everyone of the guests at Matching Priory knew that the man who had refused to be made Under-Secretary of State had been accepted by that possessor of fabulous wealth who was well known to the world as Madame Goesler of Park Lane. “I am very glad that you did not take office under Mr Gresham,” she said to him when they first met each other again in London. “Of course when I was advising you I could not be sure that this would happen. Now you can bide your time, and if the opportunity offers you can go to work under better auspices.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14