“Who can tell? Of course I do not understand,—but it was only the other day when Mr. Mildmay was there, and only the day before that when Lord de Terrier was there, and again only the day before that when Lord Brock was there.” Phineas endeavoured to make her understand that of the four Prime Ministers whom she had named, three were men of the same party as himself, under whom it would have suited him to serve. “I would not serve under any man if I were an English gentleman in Parliament,” said Madame Goesler.
“What is a poor fellow to do?” said Phineas, laughing.
“A poor fellow need not be a poor fellow unless he likes,” said Madame Goesler. Immediately after this Phineas left her, and as he went along the street he began to question himself whether the prospects of his own darling Mary were at all endangered by his visits to Park Lane; and to reflect what sort of a blackguard he would be,—a blackguard of how deep a dye,—were he to desert Mary and marry Madame Max Goesler. Then he also asked himself as to the nature and quality of his own political honesty if he were to abandon Mary in order that he might maintain his parliamentary independence. After all, if it should ever come to pass that his biography should be written, his biographer would say very much more about the manner in which he kept his seat in Parliament than of the manner in which he kept his engagement with Miss Mary Flood Jones. Half a dozen people who knew him and her might think ill of him for his conduct to Mary, but the world would not condemn him! And when he thundered forth his liberal eloquence from below the gangway as an independent member, having the fortune of his charming wife to back him, giving excellent dinners at the same time in Park Lane, would not the world praise him very loudly?
When he got to his office he found a note from Lord Brentford inviting him to dine in Portman Square.
The Joint Attack
The note from Lord Brentford surprised our hero not a little. He had had no communication with the Earl since the day on which he had been so savagely scolded about the duel, when the Earl had plainly told him that his conduct had been as bad as it could be. Phineas had not on that account become at all ashamed of his conduct in reference to the duel, but he had conceived that any reconciliation between him and the Earl had been out of the question. Now there had come a civilly-worded invitation, asking him to dine with the offended nobleman. The note had been written by Lady Laura, but it had purported to come from Lord Brentford himself. He sent back word to say that he should be happy to have the honour of dining with Lord Brentford.