When the disruption of conjugal relations was commenced, Lady Eustace succeeded in obtaining refuge at Portray Castle without the presence of her husband. She fled from London during a visit he made to Brighton with the object of preaching to a congregation by which his eloquence was held in great esteem. He left London in one direction by the 5 P.M. express train on Saturday, and she in the other by the limited mail at 8.45. A telegram, informing him of what had taken place, reached him the next morning at Brighton while he was at breakfast. He preached his sermon, charming the congregation by the graces of his extempore eloquence,—moving every woman there to tears,—and then was after his wife before the ladies had taken their first glass of sherry at luncheon. But her ladyship had twenty-four hours' start of him,—although he did his best; and when he reached Portray Castle the door was shut in his face. He endeavoured to obtain the aid of blacksmiths to open, as he said, his own hall door,—to obtain the aid of constables to compel the blacksmiths, of magistrates to compel the constables,—and even of a judge to compel the magistrates; but he was met on every side by a statement that the lady of the castle declared that she was not his wife, and that therefore he had no right whatever to demand that the door should be opened. Some other woman,—so he was informed that the lady said,—out in a strange country was really his wife. It was her intention to prove him to be a bigamist, and to have him locked up. In the meantime she chose to lock herself up in her own mansion. Such was the nature of the message that was delivered to him through the bars of the lady's castle.
How poor Lady Eustace was protected, and, at the same time, made miserable by the energy and unrestrained language of one of her own servants, Andrew Gowran by name, it hardly concerns us now to inquire. Mr. Emilius did not succeed in effecting an entrance; but he remained for some time in the neighbourhood, and had notices served on the tenants in regard to the rents, which puzzled the poor folk round Portray Castle very much. After a while Lady Eustace, finding that her peace and comfort imperatively demanded that she should prove the allegations which she had made, fled again from Portray Castle to London, and threw herself into the hands of the Bonteens. This took place just as Mr. Bonteen's hopes in regard to the Chancellorship of the Exchequer were beginning to soar high, and when his hands were very full of business. But with that energy for which he was so conspicuous, Mr. Bonteen had made a visit to Bohemia during his short Christmas holidays, and had there set people to work. When at Prague he had, he thought, very nearly unravelled the secret himself. He had found the woman whom he believed to be Mrs. Emilius, and who was now living somewhat merrily in Prague under another name. She acknowledged that in old days, when they were both young, she had been acquainted with a certain Yosef Mealyus, at a time in which he had been in the employment of a Jewish moneylender in the city; but,—as she declared,—she had never been married to him. Mr. Bonteen learned also that the gentleman now known as Mr. Joseph Emilius of the London Chapel had been known in his own country as Yosef Mealyus, the name which had been borne by the very respectable Jew who was his father. Then Mr. Bonteen had returned home, and, as we all know, had become engaged in matters of deeper import than even the deliverance of Lady Eustace from her thraldom.
Mr. Emilius made no attempt to obtain the person of his wife while she was under Mr. Bonteen's custody, but he did renew his offer to compromise. If the estate could not afford to give him the two thousand a year which he had first demanded, he would take fifteen hundred. He explained all this personally to Mr. Bonteen, who condescended to see him. He was very eager to make Mr. Bonteen understand how bad even then would be his condition. Mr. Bonteen was, of course, aware that he would have to pay very heavily for insuring his wife's life. He was piteous, argumentative, and at first gentle; but when Mr. Bonteen somewhat rashly told him that the evidence of a former marriage and of the present existence of the former wife would certainly be forthcoming, he defied Mr. Bonteen and his evidence,—and swore that if his claims were not satisfied, he would make use of the power which the English law gave him for the recovery of his wife's person. And as to her property,—it was his, not hers. From this time forward if she wanted to separate herself from him she must ask him for an allowance. Now, it certainly was the case that Lady Eustace had married the man without any sufficient precaution as to keeping her money in her own hands, and Mr. Emilius had insisted that the rents of the property which was hers for her life should be paid to him, and on his receipt only. The poor tenants had been noticed this way and noticed that till they had begun to doubt whether their safest course would not be to keep their rents in their own hands. But lately the lawyers of the Eustace family,—who were not, indeed, very fond of Lady Eustace personally,—came forward for the sake of the property, and guaranteed the tenants against all proceedings until the question of the legality of the marriage should be settled. So Mr. Emilius,—or the Reverend Mealyus, as everybody now called him,—went to law; and Lady Eustace went to law; and the Eustace family went to law;—but still, as yet, no evidence was forthcoming sufficient to enable Mr. Bonteen, as the lady's friend, to put the gentleman into prison.
It was said for a while that Mealyus had absconded. After his interview with Mr. Bonteen he certainly did leave England and made a journey to Prague. It was thought that he would not return, and that Lady Eustace would be obliged to carry on the trial, which was to liberate her and her property, in his absence. She was told that the very fact of his absence would go far with a jury, and she was glad to be freed from his presence in England. But he did return, declaring aloud that he would have his rights. His wife should be made to put herself into his hands, and he would obtain possession of the income which was his own. People then began to doubt. It was known that a very clever lawyer's clerk had been sent to Prague to complete the work there which Mr. Bonteen had commenced. But the clerk did not come back as soon as was expected, and news arrived that he had been taken ill. There was a rumour that he had been poisoned at his hotel; but, as the man was not said to be dead, people hardly believed the rumour. It became necessary, however, to send another lawyer's clerk, and the matter was gradually progressing to a very interesting complication.
Mr. Bonteen, to tell the truth, was becoming sick of it. When Emilius, or Mealyus, was supposed to have absconded, Lady Eustace left Mr. Bonteen's house, and located herself at one of the large London hotels; but when the man came back, bolder than ever, she again betook herself to the shelter of Mr. Bonteen's roof. She expressed the most lavish affection for Mrs. Bonteen, and professed to regard Mr. Bonteen as almost a political god, declaring her conviction that he, and he alone, as Prime Minister, could save the country, and became very loud in her wrath when he was robbed of his seat in the Cabinet. Lizzie Eustace, as her ladyship had always been called, was a clever, pretty, coaxing little woman, who knew how to make the most of her advantages. She had not been very wise in her life, having lost the friends who would have been truest to her, and confided in persons who had greatly injured her. She was neither true of heart or tongue, nor affectionate, nor even honest. But she was engaging; she could flatter; and could assume a reverential admiration which was very foreign to her real character. In these days she almost worshipped Mr. Bonteen, and could never be happy except in the presence of her dearest darling friend Mrs. Bonteen. Mr. Bonteen was tired of her, and Mrs. Bonteen was becoming almost sick of the constant kisses with which she was greeted; but Lizzie Eustace had got hold of them, and they could not turn her off.
"You saw The People's Banner, Mrs. Bonteen, on Monday?" Lady Eustace had been reading the paper in her friend's drawing-room. "They seem to think that Mr. Bonteen must be Prime Minister before long."
"I don't think he expects that, my dear."
"Why not? Everybody says The People's Banner is the cleverest paper we have now. I always hated the very name of that Phineas Finn."
"Did you know him?"
"Not exactly. He was gone before my time; but poor Lord Fawn used to talk of him. He was one of those conceited Irish upstarts that are never good for anything."
"Very handsome, you know," said Mrs. Bonteen.
"Was he? I have heard it said that a good many ladies admired him."
"It was quite absurd; with Lady Laura Kennedy it was worse than absurd. And there was Lady Glencora, and Violet Effingham, who married Lady Laura's brother, and that Madame Goesler, whom I hate,—and ever so many others."
"And is it true that it was he who got Mr. Bonteen so shamefully used?"
"It was his faction."
"I do so hate that kind of thing," said Lady Eustace, with righteous indignation; "I used to hear a great deal about Government and all that when the affair was on between me and poor Lord Fawn, and that kind of dishonesty always disgusted me. I don't know that I think so much of Mr. Gresham after all."
"He is a very weak man."
"His conduct to Mr. Bonteen has been outrageous; and if he has done it just because that Duchess of Omnium has told him, I really do think that he is not fit to rule the nation. As for Mr. Phineas Finn, it is dreadful to think that a creature like that should be able to interfere with such a man as Mr. Bonteen."
This was on Wednesday afternoon,—the day on which members of Parliament dine out,—and at that moment Mr. Bonteen entered the drawing-room, having left the House for his half-holiday at six o'clock. Lady Eustace got up, and gave him her hand, and smiled upon him as though he were indeed her god. "You look so tired and so worried, Mr. Bonteen."
"Worried;—I should think so."
"Is there anything fresh?" asked his wife.
"That fellow Finn is spreading all manner of lies about me."
"What lies, Mr. Bonteen?" asked Lady Eustace. "Not new lies, I hope."
"It all comes from Carlton Terrace." The reader may perhaps remember that the young Duchess of Omnium lived in Carlton Terrace. "I can trace it all there. I won't stand it if it goes on like this. A clique of stupid women to take up the cudgels for a coal-heaving sort of fellow like that, and sting one like a lot of hornets! Would you believe it?—the Duke almost refused to speak to me just now—a man for whom I have been working like a slave for the last twelve months!"
"I would not stand it," said Lady Eustace.
"By the bye, Lady Eustace, we have had news from Prague."
"What news?" said she, clasping her hands.
"That fellow Pratt we sent out is dead."
"Not a doubt but what he was poisoned; but they seem to think that nothing can be proved. Coulson is on his way out, and I shouldn't wonder if they served him the same."
"And it might have been you!" said Lady Eustace, taking hold of her friend's arm with almost frantic affection.
Yes, indeed. It might have been the lot of Mr. Bonteen to have died at Prague—to have been poisoned by the machinations of the former Mrs. Mealyus, if such really had been the fortune of the unfortunate Mr. Pratt. For he had been quite as busy at Prague as his successor in the work. He had found out much, though not everything. It certainly had been believed that Yosef Mealyus was a married man, but he had brought the woman with him to Prague, and had certainly not married her in the city. She was believed to have come from Cracow, and Mr. Bonteen's zeal on behalf of his friend had not been sufficient to carry him so far East. But he had learned from various sources that the man and woman had been supposed to be married,—that she had borne the man's name, and that he had taken upon himself authority as her husband. There had been written communications with Cracow, and information was received that a man of the name of Yosef Mealyus had been married to a Jewess in that town. But this had been twenty years ago, and Mr. Emilius professed himself to be only thirty-five years old, and had in his possession a document from his synagogue professing to give a record of his birth, proving such to be his age. It was also ascertained that Mealyus was a name common at Cracow, and that there were very many of the family in Galicia. Altogether the case was full of difficulty, but it was thought that Mr. Bonteen's evidence would be sufficient to save the property from the hands of the cormorant, at any rate till such time as better evidence of the first marriage could be obtained. It had been hoped that when the man went away he would not return; but he had returned, and it was now resolved that no terms should be kept with him and no payment offered to him. The house at Portray was kept barred, and the servants were ordered not to admit him. No money was to be paid to him, and he was to be left to take any proceedings at law which he might please,—while his adversaries were proceeding against him with all the weapons at their disposal. In the meantime his chapel was of course deserted, and the unfortunate man was left penniless in the world.
Various opinions prevailed as to Mr. Bonteen's conduct in the matter. Some people remembered that during the last autumn he and his wife had stayed three months at Portray Castle, and declared that the friendship between them and Lady Eustace had been very useful. Of these malicious people it seemed to be, moreover, the opinion that the connection might become even more useful if Mr. Emilius could be discharged. It was true that Mrs. Bonteen had borrowed a little money from Lady Eustace, but of this her husband knew nothing till the Jew in his wrath made the thing public. After all it had only been a poor L25, and the money had been repaid before Mr. Bonteen took his journey to Prague. Mr. Bonteen was, however, unable to deny that the cost of that journey was defrayed by Lady Eustace, and it was thought mean in a man aspiring to be Chancellor of the Exchequer to have his travelling expenses paid for him by a lady. Many, however, were of opinion that Mr. Bonteen had been almost romantic in his friendship, and that the bright eyes of Lady Eustace had produced upon this dragon of business the wonderful effect that was noticed. Be that as it may, now, in the terrible distress of his mind at the political aspect of the times, he had become almost sick of Lady Eustace, and would gladly have sent her away from his house had he known how to do so without incurring censure.
On that Wednesday evening Phineas Finn was at The Universe. He dined at the house of Madame Goesler, and went from thence to the club in better spirits than he had known for some weeks past. The Duke and Duchess had been at Madame Goesler's, and Lord and Lady Chiltern, who were now up in town, with Barrington Erle, and,—as it had happened,—old Mr. Maule. The dinner had been very pleasant, and two or three words had been spoken which had tended to raise the heart of our hero. In the first place Barrington Erle had expressed a regret that Phineas was not at his old post at the Colonies, and the young Duke had re-echoed it. Phineas thought that the manner of his old friend Erle was more cordial to him than it had been lately, and even that comforted him. Then it was a delight to him to meet the Chilterns, who were always gracious to him. But perhaps his greatest pleasure came from the reception which was accorded by his hostess to Mr. Maule, which was of a nature not easy to describe. It had become evident to Phineas that Mr. Maule was constant in his attentions to Madame Goesler; and, though he had no purpose of his own in reference to the lady,—though he was aware that former circumstances, circumstances of that previous life to which he was accustomed to look back as to another existence, made it impossible that he should have any such purpose,—still he viewed Mr. Maule with dislike. He had once ventured to ask her whether she really liked "that old padded dandy." She had answered that she did like the old dandy. Old dandies, she thought, were preferable to old men who did not care how they looked;—and as for the padding, that was his affair, not hers. She did not know why a man should not have a pad in his coat, as well as a woman one at the back of her head. But Phineas had known that this was her gentle raillery, and now he was delighted to find that she continued it, after a still more gentle fashion, before the man's face. Mr. Maule's manner was certainly peculiar. He was more than ordinarily polite,—and was afterwards declared by the Duchess to have made love like an old gander. But Madame Goesler, who knew exactly how to receive such attentions, turned a glance now and then upon Phineas Finn, which he could now read with absolute precision. "You see how I can dispose of a padded old dandy directly he goes an inch too far." No words could have said that to him more plainly than did these one or two glances;—and, as he had learned to dislike Mr. Maule, he was gratified.
Of course they all talked about Lady Eustace and Mr. Emilius. "Do you remember how intensely interested the dear old Duke used to be when we none of us knew what had become of the diamonds?" said the Duchess.
"And how you took her part," said Madame Goesler.
"So did you,—just as much as I; and why not? She was a most interesting young woman, and I sincerely hope we have not got to the end of her yet. The worst of it is that she has got into such—very bad hands. The Bonteens have taken her up altogether. Do you know her, Mr. Finn?"
"No, Duchess;—and am hardly likely to make her acquaintance while she remains where she is now." The Duchess laughed and nodded her head. All the world knew by this time that she had declared herself to be the sworn enemy of the Bonteens.
And there had been some conversation on that terribly difficult question respecting the foxes in Trumpeton Wood. "The fact is, Lord Chiltern," said the Duke, "I'm as ignorant as a child. I would do right if I knew how. What ought I to do? Shall I import some foxes?"
"I don't suppose, Duke, that in all England there is a spot in which foxes are more prone to breed."
"Indeed. I'm very glad of that. But something goes wrong afterwards, I fear."
"The nurseries are not well managed, perhaps," said the Duchess.
"Gipsy kidnappers are allowed about the place," said Madame Goesler.
"Gipsies!" exclaimed the Duke.
"Poachers!" said Lord Chiltern. "But it isn't that we mind. We could deal with that ourselves if the woods were properly managed. A head of game and foxes can be reared together very well, if—"
"I don't care a straw for a head of game, Lord Chiltern. As far as my own tastes go, I would wish that there was neither a pheasant nor a partridge nor a hare on any property that I own. I think that sheep and barn-door fowls do better for everybody in the long run, and that men who cannot live without shooting should go beyond thickly-populated regions to find it. And, indeed, for myself, I must say the same about foxes. They do not interest me, and I fancy that they will gradually be exterminated."
"God forbid!" exclaimed Lord Chiltern.
"But I do not find myself called upon to exterminate them myself," continued the Duke. "The number of men who amuse themselves by riding after one fox is too great for me to wish to interfere with them. And I know that my neighbours in the country conceive it to be my duty to have foxes for them. I will oblige them, Lord Chiltern, as far as I can without detriment to other duties."
"You leave it to me," said the Duchess to her neighbour, Lord Chiltern. "I'll speak to Mr. Fothergill myself, and have it put right." It unfortunately happened, however, that Lord Chiltern got a letter the very next morning from old Doggett telling him that a litter of young cubs had been destroyed that week in Trumpeton Wood.
Barrington Erle and Phineas went off to The Universe together, and as they went the old terms of intimacy seemed to be re-established between them. "Nobody can be so sorry as I am," said Barrington, "at the manner in which things have gone. When I wrote to you, of course, I thought it certain that, if we came in, you would come with us."
"Do not let that fret you."
"But it does fret me,—very much. There are so many slips that of course no one can answer for anything."
"Of course not. I know who has been my friend."
"The joke of it is, that he himself is at present so utterly friendless. The Duke will hardly speak to him. I know that as a fact. And Gresham has begun to find something is wrong. We all hoped that he would refuse to come in without a seat in the Cabinet;—but that was too good to be true. They say he talks of resigning. I shall believe it when I see it. He'd better not play any tricks, for if he did resign, it would be accepted at once." Phineas, when he heard this, could not help thinking how glorious it would be if Mr. Bonteen were to resign, and if the place so vacated, or some vacancy so occasioned, were to be filled by him!
They reached the club together, and as they went up the stairs, they heard the hum of many voices in the room. "All the world and his wife are here to-night," said Phineas. They overtook a couple of men at the door, so that there was something of the bustle of a crowd as they entered. There was a difficulty in finding places in which to put their coats and hats,—for the accommodation of The Universe is not great. There was a knot of men talking not far from them, and among the voices Phineas could clearly hear that of Mr. Bonteen. Ratler's he had heard before, and also Fitzgibbon's, though he had not distinguished any words from them. But those spoken by Mr. Bonteen he did distinguish very plainly. "Mr. Phineas Finn, or some such fellow as that, would be after her at once," said Mr. Bonteen. Then Phineas walked immediately among the knot of men and showed himself. As soon as he heard his name mentioned, he doubted for a moment what he would do. Mr. Bonteen when speaking had not known of his presence, and it might be his duty not to seem to have listened. But the speech had been made aloud, in the open room,—so that those who chose might listen;—and Phineas could not but have heard it. In that moment he resolved that he was bound to take notice of what he had heard. "What is it, Mr. Bonteen, that Phineas Finn will do?" he asked.
Mr. Bonteen had been—dining. He was not a man by any means habitually intemperate, and now any one saying that he was tipsy would have maligned him. But he was flushed with much wine, and he was a man whose arrogance in that condition was apt to become extreme. "In vino veritas!" The sober devil can hide his cloven hoof; but when the devil drinks he loses his cunning and grows honest. Mr. Bonteen looked Phineas full in the face a second or two before he answered, and then said,—quite aloud—"You have crept upon us unawares, sir."
"What do you mean by that, sir?" said Phineas. "I have come in as any other man comes."
"Listeners at any rate never hear any good of themselves."
Then there were present among those assembled clear indications of disapproval of Bonteen's conduct. In these days,—when no palpable and immediate punishment is at hand for personal insolence from man to man,—personal insolence to one man in a company seems almost to constitute an insult to every one present. When men could fight readily, an arrogant word or two between two known to be hostile to each other was only an invitation to a duel, and the angry man was doing that for which it was known that he could be made to pay. There was, or it was often thought that there was, a real spirit in the angry man's conduct, and they who were his friends before became perhaps more his friends when he had thus shown that he had an enemy. But a different feeling prevails at present;—a feeling so different, that we may almost say that a man in general society cannot speak even roughly to any but his intimate comrades without giving offence to all around him. Men have learned to hate the nuisance of a row, and to feel that their comfort is endangered if a man prone to rows gets among them. Of all candidates at a club a known quarreller is more sure of blackballs now than even in the times when such a one provoked duels. Of all bores he is the worst; and there is always an unexpressed feeling that such a one exacts more from his company than his share of attention. This is so strong, that too often the man quarrelled with, though he be as innocent as was Phineas on the present occasion, is made subject to the general aversion which is felt for men who misbehave themselves.
"I wish to hear no good of myself from you," said Phineas, following him to his seat. "Who is it that you said,—I should be after?" The room was full, and every one there, even they who had come in with Phineas, knew that Lady Eustace was the woman. Everybody at present was talking about Lady Eustace.
"Never mind," said Barrington Erle, taking him by the arm. "What's the use of a row?"
"No use at all;—but if you heard your name mentioned in such a manner you would find it impossible to pass it over. There is Mr. Monk;—ask him."
Mr. Monk was sitting very quietly in a corner of the room with another gentleman of his own age by him,—one devoted to literary pursuits and a constant attendant at The Universe. As he said afterwards, he had never known any unpleasantness of that sort in the club before. There were many men of note in the room. There was a foreign minister, a member of the Cabinet, two ex-members of the Cabinet, a great poet, an exceedingly able editor, two earls, two members of the Royal Academy, the president of a learned society, a celebrated professor,—and it was expected that Royalty might come in at any minute, speak a few benign words, and blow a few clouds of smoke. It was abominable that the harmony of such a meeting should be interrupted by the vinous insolence of Mr. Bonteen, and the useless wrath of Phineas Finn. "Really, Mr. Finn, if I were you I would let it drop," said the gentleman devoted to literary pursuits.
Phineas did not much affect the literary gentleman, but in such a matter would prefer the advice of Mr. Monk to that of any man living. He again appealed to his friend. "You heard what was said?"
"I heard Mr. Bonteen remark that you or somebody like you would in certain circumstances be after a certain lady. I thought it to be an ill-judged speech, and as your particular friend I heard it with great regret."
"What a row about nothing!" said Mr. Bonteen, rising from his seat. "We were speaking of a very pretty woman, and I was saying that some young fellow generally supposed to be fond of pretty women would soon be after her. If that offends your morals you must have become very strict of late."
There was something in the explanation which, though very bad and vulgar, it was almost impossible not to accept. Such at least was the feeling of those who stood around Phineas Finn. He himself knew that Mr. Bonteen had intended to assert that he would be after the woman's money and not her beauty; but he had taste enough to perceive that he could not descend to any such detail as that. "There are reasons, Mr. Bonteen," he said, "why I think you should abstain from mentioning my name in public. Your playful references should be made to your friends, and not to those who, to say the least of it, are not your friends."
When the matter was discussed afterwards it was thought that Phineas Finn should have abstained from making the last speech. It was certainly evidence of great anger on his part. And he was very angry. He knew that he had been insulted,—and insulted by the man whom of all men he would feel most disposed to punish for any offence. He could not allow Mr. Bonteen to have the last word, especially as a certain amount of success had seemed to attend them. Fate at the moment was so far propitious to Phineas that outward circumstances saved him from any immediate reply, and thus left him in some degree triumphant. Expected Royalty arrived, and cast its salutary oil upon the troubled waters. The Prince, with some well-known popular attendant, entered the room, and for a moment every gentleman rose from his chair. It was but for a moment, and then the Prince became as any other gentleman, talking to his friends. One or two there present, who had perhaps peculiarly royal instincts, had crept up towards him so as to make him the centre of a little knot, but, otherwise, conversation went on much as it had done before the unfortunate arrival of Phineas. That quarrel, however, had been very distinctly trodden under foot by the Prince, for Mr. Bonteen had found himself quite incapacitated from throwing back any missile in reply to the last that had been hurled at him.
Phineas took a vacant seat next to Mr. Monk,—who was deficient perhaps in royal instincts,—and asked him in a whisper his opinion of what had taken place. "Do not think any more of it," said Mr. Monk.
"That is so much more easily said than done. How am I not to think of it?"
"Of course I mean that you are to act as though you had forgotten it."
"Did you ever know a more gratuitous insult? Of course he was talking of that Lady Eustace."
"I had not been listening to him before, but no doubt he was. I need not tell you now what I think of Mr. Bonteen. He is not more gracious in my eyes than he is in yours. To-night I fancy he has been drinking, which has not improved him. You may be sure of this, Phineas,—that the less of resentful anger you show in such a wretched affair as took place just now, the more will be the blame attached to him and the less to you."
"Why should any blame be attached to me?"
"I don't say that any will unless you allow yourself to become loud and resentful. The thing is not worth your anger."
"I am angry."
"Then go to bed at once, and sleep it off. Come with me, and we'll walk home together."
"It isn't the proper thing, I fancy, to leave the room while the Prince is here."
"Then I must do the improper thing," said Mr. Monk. "I haven't a key, and I mustn't keep my servant up any longer. A quiet man like me can creep out without notice. Good night, Phineas, and take my advice about this. If you can't forget it, act and speak and look as though you had forgotten it." Then Mr. Monk, without much creeping, left the room.
The club was very full, and there was a clatter of voices, and the clatter round the Prince was the noisiest and merriest. Mr. Bonteen was there, of course, and Phineas as he sat alone could hear him as he edged his words in upon the royal ears. Every now and again there was a royal joke, and then Mr. Bonteen's laughter was conspicuous. As far as Phineas could distinguish the sounds no special amount of the royal attention was devoted to Mr. Bonteen. That very able editor, and one of the Academicians, and the poet, seemed to be the most honoured, and when the Prince went,—which he did when his cigar was finished,—Phineas observed with inward satisfaction that the royal hand, which was given to the poet, to the editor, and to the painter, was not extended to the President of the Board of Trade. And then, having taken delight in this, he accused himself of meanness in having even observed a matter so trivial. Soon after this a ruck of men left the club, and then Phineas rose to go. As he went down the stairs Barrington Erle followed him with Laurence Fitzgibbon, and the three stood for a moment at the door in the street talking to each other. Finn's way lay eastward from the club, whereas both Erle and Fitzgibbon would go westwards towards their homes. "How well the Prince behaves at these sort of places!" said Erle.
"Princes ought to behave well," said Phineas.
"Somebody else didn't behave very well,—eh, Finn, my boy?" said Laurence.
"Somebody else, as you call him," replied Phineas, "is very unlike a Prince, and never does behave well. To-night, however, he surpassed himself."
"Don't bother your mind about it, old fellow," said Barrington.
"I tell you what it is, Erle," said Phineas. "I don't think that I'm a vindictive man by nature, but with that man I mean to make it even some of these days. You know as well as I do what it is he has done to me, and you know also whether I have deserved it. Wretched reptile that he is! He has pretty nearly been able to ruin me,—and all from some petty feeling of jealousy."
"Finn, me boy, don't talk like that," said Laurence.
"You shouldn't show your hand," said Barrington.
"I know what you mean, and it's all very well. After your different fashions you two have been true to me, and I don't care how much you see of my hand. That man's insolence angers me to such an extent that I cannot refrain from speaking out. He hasn't spirit enough to go out with me, or I would shoot him."
"Blankenberg, eh!" said Laurence, alluding to the now notorious duel which had once been fought in that place between Phineas and Lord Chiltern.
"I would," continued the angry man. "There are times in which one is driven to regret that there has come an end to duelling, and there is left to one no immediate means of resenting an injury."
As they were speaking Mr. Bonteen came out from the front door alone, and seeing the three men standing, passed on towards the left, eastwards. "Good night, Erle," he said. "Good night, Fitzgibbon." The two men answered him, and Phineas stood back in the gloom. It was about one o'clock and the night was very dark. "By George, I do dislike that man," said Phineas. Then, with a laugh, he took a life-preserver out of his pocket, and made an action with it as though he were striking some enemy over the head. In those days there had been much garotting in the streets, and writers in the Press had advised those who walked about at night to go armed with sticks. Phineas Finn had himself been once engaged with garotters,—as has been told in a former chronicle,—and had since armed himself, thinking more probably of the thing which he had happened to see than men do who had only heard of it. As soon as he had spoken, he followed Mr. Bonteen down the street, at the distance of perhaps a couple of hundred yards.
"They won't have a row,—will they?" said Erle.
"Oh, dear, no; Finn won't think of speaking to him; and you may be sure that Bonteen won't say a word to Finn. Between you and me, Barrington, I wish Master Phineas would give him a thorough good hiding."
What Came of the Quarrel
On the next morning at seven o'clock a superintendent of police called at the house of Mr. Gresham and informed the Prime Minister that Mr. Bonteen, the President of the Board of Trade, had been murdered during the night. There was no doubt of the fact. The body had been recognised, and information had been taken to the unfortunate widow at the house Mr. Bonteen had occupied in St. James's Place. The superintendent had already found out that Mr. Bonteen had been attacked as he was returning from his club late at night,—or rather, early in the morning, and expressed no doubt that he had been murdered close to the spot on which his body was found. There is a dark, uncanny-looking passage running from the end of Bolton Row, in May Fair, between the gardens of two great noblemen, coming out among the mews in Berkeley Street, at the corner of Berkeley Square, just opposite to the bottom of Hay Hill. It was on the steps leading up from the passage to the level of the ground above that the body was found. The passage was almost as near a way as any from the club to Mr. Bonteen's house in St. James's Place; but the superintendent declared that gentlemen but seldom used the passage after dark, and he was disposed to think that the unfortunate man must have been forced down the steps by the ruffian who had attacked him from the level above. The murderer, so thought the superintendent, must have been cognizant of the way usually taken by Mr. Bonteen, and must have lain in wait for him in the darkness of the mouth of the passage. The superintendent had been at work on his inquiries since four in the morning, and had heard from Lady Eustace,—and from Mrs. Bonteen, as far as that poor distracted woman had been able to tell her story,—some account of the cause of quarrel between the respective husbands of those two ladies. The officer, who had not as yet heard a word of the late disturbance between Mr. Bonteen and Phineas Finn, was strongly of opinion that the Reverend Mr. Emilius had been the murderer. Mr. Gresham, of course, coincided in that opinion. What steps had been taken as to the arrest of Mr. Emilius? The superintendent was of opinion that Mr. Emilius was already in custody. He was known to be lodging close to the Marylebone Workhouse, in Northumberland Street, having removed to that somewhat obscure neighbourhood as soon as his house in Lowndes Square had been broken up by the running away of his wife and his consequent want of means. Such was the story as told to the Prime Minister at seven o'clock in the morning.
At eleven o'clock, at his private room at the Treasury Chambers, Mr. Gresham heard much more. At that time there were present with him two officers of the police force, his colleagues in the Cabinet, Lord Cantrip and the Duke of Omnium, three of his junior colleagues in the Government, Lord Fawn, Barrington Erle, and Laurence Fitzgibbon,—and Major Mackintosh, the chief of the London police. It was not exactly part of the duty of Mr. Gresham to investigate the circumstances of this murder; but there was so much in it that brought it closely home to him and his Government, that it became impossible for him not to concern himself in the business. There had been so much talk about Mr. Bonteen lately, his name had been so common in the newspapers, the ill-usage which he had been supposed by some to have suffered had been so freely discussed, and his quarrel, not only with Phineas Finn, but subsequently with the Duke of Omnium, had been so widely known,—that his sudden death created more momentary excitement than might probably have followed that of a greater man. And now, too, the facts of the past night, as they became known, seemed to make the crime more wonderful, more exciting, more momentous than it would have been had it been brought clearly home to such a wretch as the Bohemian Jew, Yosef Mealyus, who had contrived to cheat that wretched Lizzie Eustace into marrying him.
As regarded Yosef Mealyus the story now told respecting him was this. He was already in custody. He had been found in bed at his lodgings between seven and eight, and had, of course, given himself up without difficulty. He had seemed to be horror-struck when he heard of the man's death,—but had openly expressed his joy. "He has endeavoured to ruin me, and has done me a world of harm. Why should I sorrow for him?"—he said to the policeman when rebuked for his inhumanity. But nothing had been found tending to implicate him in the crime. The servant declared that he had gone to bed before eleven o'clock, to her knowledge,—for she had seen him there,—and that he had not left the house afterwards. Was he in possession of a latch-key? It appeared that he did usually carry a latch-key, but that it was often borrowed from him by members of the family when it was known that he would not want it himself,—and that it had been so lent on this night. It was considered certain by those in the house that he had not gone out after he went to bed. Nobody in fact had left the house after ten; but in accordance with his usual custom Mr. Emilius had sent down the key as soon as he had found that he would not want it, and it had been all night in the custody of the mistress of the establishment. Nevertheless his clothes were examined minutely, but without affording any evidence against him. That Mr. Bonteen had been killed with some blunt weapon, such as a life-preserver, was assumed by the police, but no such weapon was in the possession of Mr. Emilius, nor had any such weapon yet been found. He was, however, in custody, with no evidence against him except that which was afforded by his known and acknowledged enmity to Mr. Bonteen.
So far, Major Mackintosh and the two officers had told their story. Then came the united story of the other gentlemen assembled,—from hearing which, however, the two police officers were debarred. The Duke and Barrington Erle had both dined in company with Phineas Finn at Madame Goesler's, and the Duke was undoubtedly aware that ill blood had existed between Finn and Mr. Bonteen. Both Erle and Fitzgibbon described the quarrel at the club, and described also the anger which Finn had expressed against the wretched man as he stood talking at the club door. His gesture of vengeance was remembered and repeated, though both the men who heard it expressed their strongest conviction that the murder had not been committed by him. As Erle remarked, the very expression of such a threat was almost proof that he had not at that moment any intention on his mind of doing such a deed as had been done. But they told also of the life-preserver which Finn had shown them, as he took it from the pocket of his outside coat, and they marvelled at the coincidences of the night. Then Lord Fawn gave further evidence, which seemed to tell very hardly upon Phineas Finn. He also had been at the club, and had left it just before Finn and the two other men had clustered at the door. He had walked very slowly, having turned down to Curzon Street and Bolton Row, from whence he made his way into Piccadilly by Clarges Street. He had seen nothing of Mr. Bonteen; but as he crossed over to Clarges Street he was passed at a very rapid pace by a man muffled in a top coat, who made his way straight along Bolton Row towards the passage which has been described. At the moment he had not connected the person of the man who passed him with any acquaintance of his own; but he now felt sure,—after what he had heard,—that the man was Mr. Finn. As he passed out of the club Finn was putting on his overcoat, and Lord Fawn had observed the peculiarity of the grey colour. It was exactly a similar coat, only with its collar raised, that had passed him in the street. The man, too, was of Mr. Finn's height and build. He had known Mr. Finn well, and the man stepped with Mr. Finn's step. Major Mackintosh thought that Lord Fawn's evidence was—"very unfortunate as regarded Mr. Finn."
"I'm d—— if that idiot won't hang poor Phinny," said Fitzgibbon afterwards to Erle. "And yet I don't believe a word of it."
"Fawn wouldn't lie for the sake of hanging Phineas Finn," said Erle.
"No;—I don't suppose he's given to lying at all. He believes it all. But he's such a muddle-headed fellow that he can get himself to believe anything. He's one of those men who always unconsciously exaggerate what they have to say for the sake of the importance it gives them." It might be possible that a jury would look at Lord Fawn's evidence in this light; otherwise it would bear very heavily, indeed, against Phineas Finn.
Then a question arose as to the road which Mr. Bonteen usually took from the club. All the members who were there present had walked home with him at various times,—and by various routes, but never by the way through the passage. It was supposed that on this occasion he must have gone by Berkeley Square, because he had certainly not turned down by the first street to the right, which he would have taken had he intended to avoid the square. He had been seen by Barrington Erle and Fitzgibbon to pass that turning. Otherwise they would have made no remark as to the possibility of a renewed quarrel between him and Phineas, should Phineas chance to overtake him;—for Phineas would certainly go by the square unless taken out of his way by some special purpose. The most direct way of all for Mr. Bonteen would have been that followed by Lord Fawn; but as he had not turned down this street, and had not been seen by Lord Fawn, who was known to walk very slowly, and had often been seen to go by Berkeley Square,—it was presumed that he had now taken that road. In this case he would certainly pass the end of the passage towards which Lord Fawn declared that he had seen the man hurrying whom he now supposed to have been Phineas Finn. Finn's direct road home would, as has been already said, have been through the square, cutting off the corner of the square, towards Bruton Street, and thence across Bond Street by Conduit Street to Regent Street, and so to Great Marlborough Street, where he lived. But it had been, no doubt, possible for him to have been on the spot on which Lord Fawn had seen the man; for, although in his natural course thither from the club he would have at once gone down the street to the right,—a course which both Erle and Fitzgibbon were able to say that he did not take, as they had seen him go beyond the turning,—nevertheless there had been ample time for him to have retraced his steps to it in time to have caught Lord Fawn, and thus to have deceived Fitzgibbon and Erle as to the route he had taken.
When they had got thus far Lord Cantrip was standing close to the window of the room at Mr. Gresham's elbow. "Don't allow yourself to be hurried into believing it," said Lord Cantrip.
"I do not know that we need believe it, or the reverse. It is a case for the police."
"Of course it is;—but your belief and mine will have a weight. Nothing that I have heard makes me for a moment think it possible. I know the man."
"He was very angry."
"Had he struck him in the club I should not have been much surprised; but he never attacked his enemy with a bludgeon in a dark alley. I know him well."
"What do you think of Fawn's story?"
"He was mistaken in his man. Remember;—it was a dark night."
"I do not see that you and I can do anything," said Mr. Gresham. "I shall have to say something in the House as to the poor fellow's death, but I certainly shall not express a suspicion. Why should I?"
Up to this moment nothing had been done as to Phineas Finn. It was known that he would in his natural course of business be in his place in Parliament at four, and Major Mackintosh was of opinion that he certainly should be taken before a magistrate in time to prevent the necessity of arresting him in the House. It was decided that Lord Fawn, with Fitzgibbon and Erle, should accompany the police officer to Bow Street, and that a magistrate should be applied to for a warrant if he thought the evidence was sufficient. Major Mackintosh was of opinion that, although by no possibility could the two men suspected have been jointly guilty of the murder, still the circumstances were such as to justify the immediate arrest of both. Were Yosef Mealyus really guilty and to be allowed to slip from their hands, no doubt it might be very difficult to catch him. Facts did not at present seem to prevail against him; but, as the Major observed, facts are apt to alter considerably when they are minutely sifted. His character was half sufficient to condemn him;—and then with him there was an adequate motive, and what Lord Cantrip regarded as "a possibility." It was not to be conceived that from mere rage Phineas Finn would lay a plot for murdering a man in the street. "It is on the cards, my lord," said the Major, "that he may have chosen to attack Mr. Bonteen without intending to murder him. The murder may afterwards have been an accident."
It was impossible after this for even a Prime Minister and two Cabinet Ministers to go about their work calmly. The men concerned had been too well known to them to allow their minds to become clear of the subject. When Major Mackintosh went off to Bow Street with Erle and Laurence, it was certainly the opinion of the majority of those who had been present that the blow had been struck by the hand of Phineas Finn. And perhaps the worst aspect of it all was that there had been not simply a blow,—but blows. The constables had declared that the murdered man had been struck thrice about the head, and that the fatal stroke had been given on the side of his head after the man's hat had been knocked off. That Finn should have followed his enemy through the street, after such words as he had spoken, with the view of having the quarrel out in some shape, did not seem to be very improbable to any of them except Lord Cantrip;—and then had there been a scuffle, out in the open path, at the spot at which the angry man might have overtaken his adversary, it was not incredible to them that he should have drawn even such a weapon as a life-preserver from his pocket. But, in the case as it had occurred, a spot peculiarly traitorous had been selected, and the attack had too probably been made from behind. As yet there was no evidence that the murderer had himself encountered any ill-usage. And Finn, if he was the murderer, must, from the time he was standing at the club door, have contemplated a traitorous, dastardly attack. He must have counted his moments;—have returned slyly in the dark to the corner of the street which he had once passed;—have muffled his face in his coat;—and have then laid wait in a spot to which an honest man at night would hardly trust himself with honest purposes. "I look upon it as quite out of the question," said Lord Cantrip, when the three Ministers were left alone. Now Lord Cantrip had served for many months in the same office as Phineas Finn.
"You are simply putting your own opinion of the man against the facts," said Mr. Gresham. "But facts always convince, and another man's opinion rarely convinces."
"I'm not sure that we know the facts yet," said the Duke.
"Of course we are speaking of them as far as they have been told to us. As far as they go,—unless they can be upset and shown not to be facts,—I fear they would be conclusive to me on a jury."
"Do you mean that you have heard enough to condemn him?" asked Lord Cantrip.
"Remember what we have heard. The murdered man had two enemies."
"He may have had a third."
"Or ten; but we have heard of but two."
"He may have been attacked for his money," said the Duke. "But neither his money nor his watch were touched," continued Mr. Gresham. "Anger, or the desire of putting the man out of the way, has caused the murder. Of the two enemies one,—according to the facts as we now have them,—could not have been there. Nor is it probable that he could have known that his enemy would be on that spot. The other not only could have been there, but was certainly near the place at the moment,—so near that did he not do the deed himself, it is almost wonderful that it should not have been interrupted in its doing by his nearness. He certainly knew that the victim would be there. He was burning with anger against him at the moment. He had just threatened him. He had with him such an instrument as was afterwards used. A man believed to be him is seen hurrying to the spot by a witness whose credibility is beyond doubt. These are the facts such as we have them at present. Unless they can be upset, I fear they would convince a jury,—as they have already convinced those officers of the police."
"Officers of the police always believe men to be guilty," said Lord Cantrip.
"They don't believe the Jew clergyman to be guilty," said Mr. Gresham.
"I fear that there will be enough to send Mr. Finn to a trial," said the Duke.
"Not a doubt of it," said Mr. Gresham.
"And yet I feel as convinced of his innocence as I do of my own," said Lord Cantrip.
Mr. Maule's Attempt
About three o'clock in the day the first tidings of what had taken place reached Madame Goesler in the following perturbed note from her friend the Duchess:—"Have you heard what took place last night? Good God! Mr. Bonteen was murdered as he came home from his club, and they say that it was done by Phineas Finn. Plantagenet has just come in from Downing Street, where everybody is talking about it. I can't get from him what he believes. One never can get anything from him. But I never will believe it;—nor will you, I'm sure. I vote we stick to him to the last. He is to be put in prison and tried. I can hardly believe that Mr. Bonteen has been murdered, though I don't know why he shouldn't as well as anybody else. Plantagenet talks about the great loss; I know which would be the greatest loss, and so do you. I'm going out now to try and find out something. Barrington Erle was there, and if I can find him he will tell me. I shall be home by half-past five. Do come, there's a dear woman; there is no one else I can talk to about it. If I'm not back, go in all the same, and tell them to bring you tea.
"Only think of Lady Laura,—with one mad and the other in Newgate! G.P."
This letter gave Madame Goesler such a blow that for a few minutes it altogether knocked her down. After reading it once she hardly knew what it contained beyond a statement that Phineas Finn was in Newgate. She sat for a while with it in her hands, almost swooning; and then with an effort she recovered herself, and read the letter again. Mr. Bonteen murdered, and Phineas Finn,—who had dined with her only yesterday evening, with whom she had been talking of all the sins of the murdered man, who was her special friend, of whom she thought more than of any other human being, of whom she could not bring herself to cease to think,—accused of the murder! Believe it! The Duchess had declared with that sort of enthusiasm which was common to her, that she never would believe it. No, indeed! What judge of character would any one be who could believe that Phineas Finn could be guilty of a midnight murder? "I vote we stick to him." "Stick to him!" Madame Goesler said, repeating the words to herself. "What is the use of sticking to a man who does not want you?" How can a woman cling to a man who, having said that he did not want her, yet comes again within her influence, but does not unsay what he had said before? Nevertheless, if it should be that the man was in real distress,—in absolutely dire sorrow,—she would cling to him with a constancy which, as she thought, her friend the Duchess would hardly understand. Though they should hang him, she would bathe his body with her tears, and live as a woman should live who had loved a murderer to the last.
But she swore to herself that she would not believe it. Nay, she did not believe it. Believe it, indeed! It was simply impossible. That he might have killed the wretch in some struggle brought on by the man's own fault was possible. Had the man attacked Phineas Finn it was only too probable that there might have been such result. But murder, secret midnight murder, could not have been committed by the man she had chosen as her friend. And yet, through it all, there was a resolve that even though he should have committed murder she would be true to him. If it should come to the very worst, then would she declare the intensity of the affection with which she regarded the murderer. As to Mr. Bonteen, what the Duchess said was true enough; why should not he be killed as well as another? In her present frame of mind she felt very little pity for Mr. Bonteen. After a fashion a verdict of "served him right" crossed her mind, as it had doubtless crossed that of the Duchess when she was writing her letter. The man had made himself so obnoxious that it was well that he should be out of the way. But not on that account would she believe that Phineas Finn had murdered him.
Could it be true that the man after all was dead? Marvellous reports, and reports marvellously false, do spread themselves about the world every day. But this report had come from the Duke, and he was not a man given to absurd rumours. He had heard the story in Downing Street, and if so it must be true. Of course she would go down to the Duchess at the hour fixed. It was now a little after three, and she ordered the carriage to be ready for her at a quarter past five. Then she told the servant, at first to admit no one who might call, and then to come up and let her know, if any one should come, without sending the visitor away. It might be that some one would come to her expressly from Phineas, or at least with tidings about this affair.
Then she read the letter again, and those few last words in it stuck to her thoughts like a burr. "Think of Lady Laura, with one mad and the other in Newgate." Was this man,—the only man whom she had ever loved,—more to Lady Laura Kennedy than to her; or rather, was Lady Laura more to him than was she herself? If so, why should she fret herself for his sake? She was ready enough to own that she could sacrifice everything for him, even though he should be standing as a murderer in the dock, if such sacrifice would be valued by him. He had himself told her that his feelings towards Lady Laura were simply those of an affectionate friend; but how could she believe that statement when all the world were saying the reverse? Lady Laura was a married woman,—a woman whose husband was still living,—and of course he was bound to make such an assertion when he and she were named together. And then it was certain,—Madame Goesler believed it to be certain,—that there had been a time in which Phineas had asked for the love of Lady Laura Standish. But he had never asked for her love. It had been tendered to him, and he had rejected it! And now the Duchess,—who, with all her inaccuracies, had that sharpness of vision which enables some men and women to see into facts,—spoke as though Lady Laura were to be pitied more than all others, because of the evil that had befallen Phineas Finn! Had not Lady Laura chosen her own husband; and was not the man, let him be ever so mad, still her husband? Madame Goesler was sore of heart, as well as broken down with sorrow, till at last, hiding her face on the pillow of the sofa, still holding the Duchess's letter in her hand, she burst into a fit of hysteric sobs.
Few of those who knew Madame Max Goesler well, as she lived in town and in country, would have believed that such could have been the effect upon her of the news which she had heard. Credit was given to her everywhere for good nature, discretion, affability, and a certain grace of demeanour which always made her charming. She was known to be generous, wise, and of high spirit. Something of her conduct to the old Duke had crept into general notice, and had been told, here and there, to her honour. She had conquered the good opinion of many, and was a popular woman. But there was not one among her friends who supposed her capable of becoming a victim to a strong passion, or would have suspected her of reckless weeping for any sorrow. The Duchess, who thought that she knew Madame Goesler well, would not have believed it to be true, even if she had seen it. "You like people, but I don't think you ever love any one," the Duchess had once said to her. Madame Goesler had smiled, and had seemed to assent. To enjoy the world,—and to know that the best enjoyment must come from witnessing the satisfaction of others, had apparently been her philosophy. But now she was prostrate because this man was in trouble, and because she had been told that his trouble was more than another woman could bear!
She was still sobbing and crushing the letter in her hand when the servant came up to tell her that Mr. Maule had called. He was below, waiting to know whether she would see him. She remembered at once that Mr. Maule had met Phineas at her table on the previous evening, and, thinking that he must have come with tidings respecting this great event, desired that he might be shown up to her. But, as it happened, Mr. Maule had not yet heard of the death of Mr. Bonteen. He had remained at home till nearly four, having a great object in view, which made him deem it expedient that he should go direct from his own rooms to Madame Goesler's house, and had not even looked in at his club. The reader will, perhaps, divine the great object. On this day he proposed to ask Madame Goesler to make him the happiest of men,—as he certainly would have thought himself for a time, had she consented to put him in possession of her large income. He had therefore padded himself with more than ordinary care,—reduced but not obliterated the greyness of his locks,—looked carefully to the fitting of his trousers, and spared himself those ordinary labours of the morning which might have robbed him of any remaining spark of his juvenility.
Madame Goesler met him more than half across the room as he entered it. "What have you heard?" said she. Mr. Maule wore his sweetest smile, but he had heard nothing. He could only press her hand, and look blank,—understanding that there was something which he ought to have heard. She thought nothing of the pressure of her hand. Apt as she was to be conscious at an instant of all that was going on around her, she thought of nothing now but that man's peril, and of the truth or falsehood of the story that had been sent to her. "You have heard nothing of Mr. Finn?"
"Not a word," said Mr. Maule, withdrawing his hand. "What has happened to Mr. Finn?" Had Mr. Finn broken his neck it would have been nothing to Mr. Maule. But the lady's solicitude was something to him.
"Mr. Bonteen has been—murdered!"
"So I hear. I thought you had come to tell me of it."
"Mr. Bonteen murdered! No;—I have heard nothing. I do not know the gentleman. I thought you said—Mr. Finn."
"It is not known about London, then?"
"I cannot say, Madame Goesler. I have just come from home, and have not been out all the morning. Who has—murdered him?"
"Ah! I do not know. That is what I wanted you to tell me."
"But what of Mr. Finn?"
"I also have not been out, Mr. Maule, and can give you no information. I thought you had called because you knew that Mr. Finn had dined here."
"Has Mr. Finn been murdered?"
"Mr. Bonteen! I said that the report was that Mr. Bonteen had been murdered." Madame Goesler was now waxing angry,—most unreasonably. "But I know nothing about it, and am just going out to make inquiry. The carriage is ordered." Then she stood, expecting him to go; and he knew that he was expected to go. It was at any rate clear to him that he could not carry out his great design on the present occasion. "This has so upset me that I can think of nothing else at present, and you must, if you please, excuse me. I would not have let you take the trouble of coming up, had not I thought that you were the bearer of some news." Then she bowed, and Mr. Maule bowed; and as he left the room she forgot to ring the bell.
"What the deuce can she have meant about that fellow Finn?" he said to himself. "They cannot both have been murdered." He went to his club, and there he soon learned the truth. The information was given to him with clear and undoubting words. Phineas Finn and Mr. Bonteen had quarrelled at The Universe. Mr. Bonteen, as far as words went, had got the best of his adversary. This had taken place in the presence of the Prince, who had expressed himself as greatly annoyed by Mr. Finn's conduct. And afterwards Phineas Finn had waylaid Mr. Bonteen in the passage between Bolton Row and Berkeley Street, and had there—murdered him. As it happened, no one who had been at The Universe was at that moment present; but the whole affair was now quite well known, and was spoken of without a doubt.
"I hope he'll be hung, with all my heart," said Mr. Maule, who thought that he could read the riddle which had been so unintelligible in Park Lane.
When Madame Goesler reached Carlton Terrace, which she did before the time named by the Duchess, her friend had not yet returned. But she went upstairs, as she had been desired, and they brought her tea. But the teapot remained untouched till past six o'clock, and then the Duchess returned. "Oh, my dear, I am so sorry for being late. Why haven't you had tea?"
"What is the truth of it all?" said Madame Goesler, standing up with her fists clenched as they hung by her side.
"I don't seem to know nearly as much as I did when I wrote to you."
"Has the man been—murdered?"
"Oh dear, yes. There's no doubt about that. I was quite sure of that when I sent the letter. I have had such a hunt. But at last I went up to the door of the House of Commons, and got Barrington Erle to come out to me."
"Two men have been arrested."
"Not Phineas Finn?"
"Yes; Mr. Finn is one of them. Is it not awful? So much more dreadful to me than the other poor man's death! One oughtn't to say so, of course."
"And who is the other man? Of course he did it."
"That horrid Jew preaching man that married Lizzie Eustace. Mr. Bonteen had been persecuting him, and making out that he had another wife at home in Hungary, or Bohemia, or somewhere."
"Of course he did it."
"That's what I say. Of course the Jew did it. But then all the evidence goes to show that he didn't do it. He was in bed at the time; and the door of the house was locked up so that he couldn't get out; and the man who did the murder hadn't got on his coat, but had got on Phineas Finn's coat."
"Was there—blood?" asked Madame Goesler, shaking from head to foot.
"Not that I know. I don't suppose they've looked yet. But Lord Fawn saw the man, and swears to the coat."
"Lord Fawn! How I have always hated that man! I wouldn't believe a word he would say."
"Barrington doesn't think so much of the coat. But Phineas had a club in his pocket, and the man was killed by a club. There hasn't been any other club found, but Phineas Finn took his home with him."
"A murderer would not have done that."
"Barrington says that the head policeman says that it is just what a very clever murderer would do."
"Do you believe it, Duchess?"
"Certainly not;—not though Lord Fawn swore that he had seen it. I never will believe what I don't like to believe, and nothing shall ever make me."
"He couldn't have done it."
"Well;—for the matter of that, I suppose he could."
"No, Duchess, he could not have done it."
"He is strong enough,—and brave enough."
"But not enough of a coward. There is nothing cowardly about him. If Phineas Finn could have struck an enemy with a club, in a dark passage, behind his back, I will never care to speak to any man again. Nothing shall make me believe it. If I did, I could never again believe in any one. If they told you that your husband had murdered a man, what would you say?"
"But he isn't your husband, Madame Max."
"No;—certainly not. I cannot fly at them, when they say so, as you would do. But I can be just as sure. If twenty Lord Fawns swore that they had seen it, I would not believe them. Oh, God, what will they do with him!"
The Duchess behaved very well to her friend, saying not a single word to twit her with the love which she betrayed. She seemed to take it as a matter of course that Madame Goesler's interest in Phineas Finn should be as it was. The Duke, she said, could not come home to dinner, and Madame Goesler should stay with her. Both Houses were in such a ferment about the murder, that nobody liked to be away. Everybody had been struck with amazement, not simply,—not chiefly,—by the fact of the murder, but by the double destruction of the two men whose ill-will to each other had been of late so often the subject of conversation. So Madame Goesler remained at Carlton Terrace till late in the evening, and during the whole visit there was nothing mentioned but the murder of Mr. Bonteen and the peril of Phineas Finn. "Some one will go and see him, I suppose," said Madame Goesler.
"Lord Cantrip has been already,—and Mr. Monk."
"Could not I go?"
"Well, it would be rather strong."
"If we both went together?" suggested Madame Goesler. And before she left Carlton Terrace she had almost extracted a promise from the Duchess that they would together proceed to the prison and endeavour to see Phineas Finn.
Showing What Mrs. Bunce Said to the Policeman
"We have left Adelaide Palliser down at the Hall. We are up here only for a couple of days to see Laura, and try to find out what had better be done about Kennedy." This was said to Phineas Finn in his own room in Great Marlborough Street by Lord Chiltern, on the morning after the murder, between ten and eleven o'clock. Phineas had not as yet heard of the death of the man with whom he had quarrelled. Lord Chiltern had now come to him with some proposition which he as yet did not understand, and which Lord Chiltern certainly did not know how to explain. Looked at simply, the proposition was one for providing Phineas Finn with an income out of the wealth belonging, or that would belong, to the Standish family. Lady Laura's fortune would, it was thought, soon be at her own disposal. They who acted for her husband had assured the Earl that the yearly interest of the money should be at her ladyship's command as soon as the law would allow them so to plan it. Of Robert Kennedy's inability to act for himself there was no longer any doubt whatever, and there was, they said, no desire to embarrass the estate with so small a disputed matter as the income derived from L40,000. There was great pride of purse in the manner in which the information was conveyed;—but not the less on that account was it satisfactory to the Earl. Lady Laura's first thought about it referred to the imminent wants of Phineas Finn. How might it be possible for her to place a portion of her income at the command of the man she loved so that he should not feel disgraced by receiving it from her hand? She conceived some plan as to a loan to be made nominally by her brother,—a plan as to which it may at once be said that it could not be made to hold water for a minute. But she did succeed in inducing her brother to undertake the embassy, with the view of explaining to Phineas that there would be money for him when he wanted it. "If I make it over to Papa, Papa can leave it him in his will; and if he wants it at once there can be no harm in your advancing to him what he must have at Papa's death." Her brother had frowned angrily and had shaken his head. "Think how he has been thrown over by all the party," said Lady Laura. Lord Chiltern had disliked the whole affair,—had felt with dismay that his sister's name would become subject to reproach if it should be known that this young man was supported by her bounty. She, however, had persisted, and he had consented to see the young man, feeling sure that Phineas would refuse to bear the burden of the obligation.
But he had not touched the disagreeable subject when they were interrupted. A knocking of the door had been heard, and now Mrs. Bunce came upstairs, bringing Mr. Low with her. Mrs. Bunce had not heard of the tragedy, but she had at once perceived from the barrister's manner that there was some serious matter forward,—some matter that was probably not only serious, but also calamitous. The expression of her countenance announced as much to the two men, and the countenance of Mr. Low when he followed her into the room told the same story still more plainly. "Is anything the matter?" said Phineas, jumping up.
"Indeed, yes," said Mr. Low, who then looked at Lord Chiltern and was silent.
"Shall I go?" said Lord Chiltern. Mr. Low did not know him, and of course was still silent.
"This is my friend, Mr. Low. This is my friend, Lord Chiltern," said Phineas, aware that each was well acquainted with the other's name. "I do not know of any reason why you should go. What is it, Low?"
Lord Chiltern had come there about money, and it occurred to him that the impecunious young barrister might already be in some scrape on that head. In nineteen cases out of twenty, when a man is in a scrape, he simply wants money. "Perhaps I can be of help," he said.
"Have you heard, my Lord, what happened last night?" said Mr. Low, with his eyes fixed on Phineas Finn.
"I have heard nothing," said Lord Chiltern.
"What has happened?" asked Phineas, looking aghast. He knew Mr. Low well enough to be sure that the thing referred to was of great and distressing moment.
"You, too, have heard nothing?"
"Not a word—that I know of."
"You were at The Universe last night?"
"Certainly I was."
"Did anything occur?"
"The Prince was there."
"Nothing has happened to the Prince?" said Chiltern.
"His name has not been mentioned to me," said Mr. Low. "Was there not a quarrel?"
"Yes;"—said Phineas. "I quarrelled with Mr. Bonteen."
"He behaved like a brute;—as he always does. Thrashing a brute hardly answers nowadays, but if ever a man deserved a thrashing he does."
"He has been murdered," said Mr. Low.
The reader need hardly be told that, as regards this great offence, Phineas Finn was as white as snow. The maintenance of any doubt on that matter,—were it even desirable to maintain a doubt,—would be altogether beyond the power of the present writer. The reader has probably perceived, from the first moment of the discovery of the body on the steps at the end of the passage, that Mr. Bonteen had been killed by that ingenious gentleman, the Rev. Mr. Emilius, who found it to be worth his while to take the step with the view of suppressing his enemy's evidence as to his former marriage. But Mr. Low, when he entered the room, had been inclined to think that his friend had done the deed. Laurence Fitzgibbon, who had been one of the first to hear the story, and who had summoned Erle to go with him and Major Mackintosh to Downing Street, had, in the first place, gone to the house in Carey Street, in which Bunce was wont to work, and had sent him to Mr. Low. He, Fitzgibbon, had not thought it safe that he himself should warn his countryman, but he could not bear to think that the hare should be knocked over on its form, or that his friend should be taken by policemen without notice. So he had sent Bunce to Mr. Low, and Mr. Low had now come with his tidings.
"Murdered!" exclaimed Phineas.
"Who has murdered him?" said Lord Chiltern, looking first at Mr. Low and then at Phineas.
"That is what the police are now endeavouring to find out." Then there was a pause, and Phineas stood up with his hand on his forehead, looking savagely from one to the other. A glimmer of an idea of the truth was beginning to cross his brain. Mr. Low was there with the object of asking him whether he had murdered the man! "Mr. Fitzgibbon was with you last night," continued Mr. Low.
"Of course he was."
"It was he who has sent me to you."
"What does it all mean?" asked Lord Chiltern. "I suppose they do not intend to say that—our friend, here—murdered the man."
"I begin to suppose that is what they intend to say," rejoined Phineas, scornfully.
Mr. Low had entered the room, doubting indeed, but still inclined to believe,—as Bunce had very clearly believed,—that the hands of Phineas Finn were red with the blood of this man who had been killed. And, had he been questioned on such a matter, when no special case was before his mind, he would have declared of himself that a few tones from the voice, or a few glances from the eye, of a suspected man would certainly not suffice to eradicate suspicion. But now he was quite sure,—almost quite sure,—that Phineas was as innocent as himself. To Lord Chiltern, who had heard none of the details, the suspicion was so monstrous as to fill him with wrath. "You don't mean to tell us, Mr. Low, that any one says that Finn killed the man?"
"I have come as his friend," said Low, "to put him on his guard. The accusation will be made against him."
To Phineas, not clearly looking at it, not knowing very accurately what had happened, not being in truth quite sure that Mr. Bonteen was actually dead, this seemed to be a continuation of the persecution which he believed himself to have suffered from that man's hand. "I can believe anything from that quarter," he said.
"From what quarter?" asked Lord Chiltern. "We had better let Mr. Low tell us what really has happened."
Then Mr. Low told the story, as well as he knew it, describing the spot on which the body had been found. "Often as I go to the club," said Phineas, "I never was through that passage in my life." Mr. Low went on with his tale, telling how the man had been killed with some short bludgeon. "I had that in my pocket," said Finn, producing the life-preserver. "I have almost always had something of the kind when I have been in London, since that affair of Kennedy's." Mr. Low cast one glance at it,—to see whether it had been washed or scraped, or in any way cleansed. Phineas saw the glance, and was angry. "There it is, as it is. You can make the most of it. I shall not touch it again till the policeman comes. Don't put your hand on it, Chiltern. Leave it there." And the instrument was left lying on the table, untouched. Mr. Low went on with his story. He had heard nothing of Yosef Mealyus as connected with the murder, but some indistinct reference to Lord Fawn and the top-coat had been made to him. "There is the coat, too," said Phineas, taking it from the sofa on which he had flung it when he came home the previous night. It was a very light coat,—fitted for May use,—lined with silk, and by no means suited for enveloping the face or person. But it had a collar which might be made to stand up. "That at any rate was the coat I wore," said Finn, in answer to some observation from the barrister. "The man that Lord Fawn saw," said Mr. Low, "was, as I understand, enveloped in a heavy great coat." "So Fawn has got his finger in the pie!" said Lord Chiltern.
Mr. Low had been there an hour, Lord Chiltern remaining also in the room, when there came three men belonging to the police,—a superintendent and with him two constables. When the men were shown up into the room neither the bludgeon or the coat had been moved from the small table as Phineas had himself placed them there. Both Phineas and Chiltern had lit cigars, and they were all there sitting in silence. Phineas had entertained the idea that Mr. Low believed the charge, and that the barrister was therefore an enemy. Mr. Low had perceived this, but had not felt it to be his duty to declare his opinion of his friend's innocence. What he could do for his friend he would do; but, as he thought, he could serve him better now by silent observation than by protestation. Lord Chiltern, who had been implored by Phineas not to leave him, continued to pour forth unabating execrations on the monstrous malignity of the accusers. "I do not know that there are any accusers," said Mr. Low, "except the circumstances which the police must, of course, investigate." Then the men came, and the nature of their duty was soon explained. They must request Mr. Finn to go with them to Bow Street. They took possession of many articles besides the two which had been prepared for them,—the dress coat and shirt which Phineas had worn, and the boots. He had gone out to dinner with a Gibus hat, and they took that. They took his umbrella and his latch-key. They asked, even, as to his purse and money;—but abstained from taking the purse when Mr. Low suggested that they could have no concern with that. As it happened, Phineas was at the moment wearing the shirt in which he had dined out on the previous day, and the men asked him whether he had any objection to change it in their presence,—as it might be necessary, after the examination, that it should be detained as evidence. He did so, in the presence of all the men assembled; but the humiliation of doing it almost broke his heart. Then they searched among his linen, clean and dirty, and asked questions of Mrs. Bunce in audible whispers behind the door. Whatever Mrs. Bunce could do to injure the cause of her favourite lodger by severity of manner, snubbing the policeman, and determination to give no information, she did do. "Had a shirt washed? How do you suppose a gentleman's shirts are washed? You were brought up near enough to a washtub yourself to know more than I can tell you!" But the very respectable constable did not seem to be in the least annoyed by the landlady's amenities.
He was taken to Bow Street, going thither in a cab with the two policemen, and the superintendent followed them with Lord Chiltern and Mr. Low. "You don't mean to say that you believe it?" said Lord Chiltern to the officer. "We never believe and we never disbelieve anything, my Lord," replied the man. Nevertheless, the superintendent did most firmly believe that Phineas Finn had murdered Mr. Bonteen.
At the police-office Phineas was met by Lord Cantrip and Barrington Erle, and soon became aware that both Lord Fawn and Fitzgibbon were present. It seemed that everything else was made to give way to this inquiry, as he was at once confronted by the magistrate. Everybody was personally very civil to him, and he was asked whether he would not wish to have professional advice while the charge was being made against him. But this he declined. He would tell the magistrate, he said, all he knew, but, at any rate for the present, he would have no need of advice. He was, at last, allowed to tell his own story,—after repeated cautions. There had been some words between him and Mr. Bonteen in the club; after which, standing at the door of the club with his friends, Mr. Erle and Mr. Fitzgibbon, who were now in court, he had seen Mr. Bonteen walk away towards Berkeley Square. He had soon followed, but had never overtaken Mr. Bonteen. When reaching the Square he had crossed over to the fountain standing there on the south side, and from thence had taken the shortest way up Bruton Street. He had seen Mr. Bonteen for the last time dimly, by the gaslight, at the corner of the Square. As far as he could remember, he himself had at the moment passed the fountain. He had not heard the sound of any struggle, or of words, round the corner towards Piccadilly. By the time that Mr. Bonteen would have reached the head of the steps leading into the passage, he would have been near Bruton Street, with his back completely turned to the scene of the murder. He had walked faster than Mr. Bonteen, having gradually drawn near to him; but he had determined in his own mind that he would not pass the man, or get so near him as to attract attention. Nor had he done so. He had certainly worn the grey coat which was now produced. The collar of it had not been turned up. The coat was nearly new, and to the best of his belief the collar had never been turned up. He had carried the life-preserver now produced with him because it had once before been necessary for him to attack garotters in the street. The life-preserver had never been used, and, as it happened, was quite new. It had been bought about a month since,—in consequence of some commotion about garotters which had just then taken place. But before the purchase of the life-preserver he had been accustomed to carry some stick or bludgeon at night. Undoubtedly he had quarrelled with Mr. Bonteen before this occasion, and had bought this instrument since the commencement of the quarrel. He had not seen any one on his way from the Square to his own house with sufficient observation to enable him to describe such person. He could not remember that he had passed a policeman on his way home.