Lady Laura Kennedy’s Headache
Phineas went down to Loughlinter early in July, taking Loughton in his way. He stayed there one night at the inn, and was introduced to sundry influential inhabitants of the borough by Mr. Grating, the ironmonger, who was known by those who knew Loughton to be a very strong supporter of the Earl’s interest. Mr. Grating and about half a dozen others of the tradesmen of the town came to the inn, and met Phineas in the parlour. He told them he was a good sound Liberal and a supporter of Mr. Mildmay’s Government, of which their neighbour the Earl was so conspicuous an ornament. This was almost all that was said about the Earl out loud; but each individual man of Loughton then present took an opportunity during the meeting of whispering into Mr. Finn’s ear a word or two to show that he also was admitted to the secret councils of the borough,—that he too could see the inside of the arrangement. “Of course we must support the Earl,” one said. “Never mind what you hear about a Tory candidate, Mr. Finn,” whispered a second; “the Earl can do what he pleases here.” And it seemed to Phineas that it was thought by them all to be rather a fine thing to be thus held in the hand by an English nobleman. Phineas could not but reflect much upon this as he lay in his bed at the Loughton inn. The great political question on which the political world was engrossed up in London was the enfranchisement of Englishmen,—of Englishmen down to the rank of artisans and labourers;—and yet when he found himself in contact with individual Englishmen, with men even very much above the artisan and the labourer, he found that they rather liked being bound hand and foot, and being kept as tools in the political pocket of a rich man. Every one of those Loughton tradesmen was proud of his own personal subjection to the Earl!
From Loughton he went to Loughlinter, having promised to be back in the borough for the election. Mr. Grating would propose him, and he was to be seconded by Mr. Shortribs, the butcher and grazier. Mention had been made of a Conservative candidate, and Mr. Shortribs had seemed to think that a good stand-up fight upon English principles, with a clear understanding, of course, that victory should prevail on the liberal side, would be a good thing for the borough. But the Earl’s man of business saw Phineas on the morning of his departure, and told him not to regard Mr. Shortribs. “They’d all like it,” said the man of business; “and I daresay they’ll have enough of it when this Reform Bill is passed; but at present no one will be fool enough to come and spend his money here. We have them all in hand too well for that, Mr. Finn!”