"Yes;—I myself, and Madame Goesler. You look as if it would be very wicked." Mr. Low thought that it would be wicked;—that the Duke would not like it; and that such a visit would occasion ill-natured remarks. "People do visit him, I suppose. He's not locked up like a criminal."
"I visit him," said Mr. Low, "and one or two other friends have done so. Lord Chiltern has been with him, and Mr. Erle."
"Has no lady seen him?" asked the Duchess.
"Not to my knowledge."
"Then it's time some lady should do so. I suppose we could be admitted. If we were his sisters they'd let us in."
"You must excuse me, Duchess, but—"
"Of course I will excuse you. But what?"
"You are not his sisters."
"If I were engaged to him, to be his wife?—" said Madame Goesler, standing up. "I am not so. There is nothing of that kind. You must not misunderstand me. But if I were?"
"On that plea I presume you could be admitted."
"Why not as a friend? Lord Chiltern is admitted as his friend."
"Because of the prudery of a prison," said the Duchess. "All things are wrong to the lookers after wickedness, my dear. If it would comfort him to see us, why should he not have that comfort?"
"Would you have gone to him in his own lodgings?" asked Mr. Low.
"I would,—if he'd been ill," said Madame Goesler.
"Madam," said Mr. Low, speaking with a gravity which for a moment had its effect even upon the Duchess of Omnium, "I think, at any rate, that if you visit Mr. Finn in prison, you should do so through the instrumentality of his Grace, your husband."
"Of course you suspect me of all manner of evil."
"I suspect nothing;—but I am sure that it should be so."
"It shall be so," said the Duchess. "Thank you, sir. We are much obliged to you for your wise counsel."
"I am obliged to you," said Madame Goesler, "because I know that you have his safety at heart."
"And so am I," said the Duchess, relenting, and giving him her hand. "We are really ever so much obliged to you. You don't quite understand about the Duke; and how should you? I never do anything without telling him, but he hasn't time to attend to things."
"I hope I have not offended you."
"Oh dear, no. You can't offend me unless you mean it. Good-bye,—and remember to have a great many lawyers, and all with new wigs; and let them all get in a great rage that anybody should suppose it possible that Mr. Finn is a murderer. I'm sure I am. Good-bye, Mr. Low."
"You'll never be able to get to him," said the Duchess, as soon as they were alone.
"I suppose not."
"And what good could you do? Of course I'd go with you if we could get in;—but what would be the use?"
"To let him know that people do not think him guilty."
"Mr. Low will tell him that. I suppose, too, we can write to him. Would you mind writing?"
"I would rather go."
"You might as well tell the truth when you are about it. You are breaking your heart for him."
"If he were to be condemned, and—executed, I should break my heart. I could never appear bright before the world again."
"That is just what I told Plantagenet. I said I would go into mourning."
"And I should really mourn. And yet were he free to-morrow he would be no more to me than any other friend."
"Do you mean you would not marry him?"
"No;—I would not. Nor would he ask me. I will tell you what will be his lot in life,—if he escapes from the present danger."
"Of course he will escape. They don't really hang innocent men."
"Then he will become the husband of Lady Laura Kennedy."
"Poor fellow! If I believed that, I should think it cruel to help him escape from Newgate."
Phineas in Prison
Phineas Finn himself, during the fortnight in which he was carried backwards and forwards between his prison and the Bow Street Police-office, was able to maintain some outward show of manly dignity,—as though he felt that the terrible accusation and great material inconvenience to which he was subjected were only, and could only be, temporary in their nature, and that the truth would soon prevail. During this period he had friends constantly with him,—either Mr. Low, or Lord Chiltern, or Barrington Erle, or his landlord, Mr. Bunce, who, in these days, was very true to him. And he was very frequently visited by the attorney, Mr. Wickerby, who had been expressly recommended to him for this occasion. If anybody could be counted upon to see him through his difficulty it was Wickerby. But the company of Mr. Wickerby was not pleasant to him, because, as far as he could judge, Mr. Wickerby did not believe in his innocence. Mr. Wickerby was willing to do his best for him; was, so to speak, moving heaven and earth on his behalf; was fully conscious that this case was a great affair, and in no respect similar to those which were constantly placed in his hands; but there never fell from him a sympathetic expression of assurance of his client's absolute freedom from all taint of guilt in the matter. From day to day, and ten times a day, Phineas would express his indignant surprise that any one should think it possible that he had done this deed, but to all these expressions Mr. Wickerby would make no answer whatever. At last Phineas asked him the direct question. "I never suspect anybody of anything," said Mr. Wickerby. "Do you believe in my innocence?" demanded Phineas. "Everybody is entitled to be believed innocent till he has been proved to be guilty," said Mr. Wickerby. Then Phineas appealed to his friend Mr. Low, asking whether he might not be allowed to employ some lawyer whose feelings would be more in unison with his own. But Mr. Low adjured him to make no change. Mr. Wickerby understood the work and was a most zealous man. His client was entitled to his services, but to nothing more than his services. And so Mr. Wickerby carried on the work, fully believing that Phineas Finn had in truth murdered Mr. Bonteen.
But the prisoner was not without sympathy and confidence. Mr. Low, Lord Chiltern, and Lady Chiltern, who, on one occasion, came to visit him with her husband, entertained no doubts prejudicial to his honour. They told him perhaps almost more than was quite true of the feelings of the world in his favour. He heard of the friendship and faith of the Duchess of Omnium, of Madame Goesler, and of Lady Laura Kennedy,—hearing also that Lady Laura was now a widow. And then at length his two sisters came over to him from Ireland, and wept and sobbed, and fell into hysterics in his presence. They were sure that he was innocent, as was every one, they said, throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. And Mrs. Bunce, who came to see Phineas in his prison, swore that she would tear the judge from his bench if he did not at once pronounce a verdict in favour of her darling without waiting for any nonsense of a jury. And Bunce, her husband, having convinced himself that his lodger had not committed the murder, was zealous in another way, taking delight in the case, and proving that no jury could find a verdict of guilty.
During that week Phineas, buoyed up by the sympathy of his friends, and in some measure supported by the excitement of the occasion, carried himself well, and bore bravely the terrible misfortune to which he had been subjected by untoward circumstances. But when the magistrate fully committed him, giving the first public decision on the matter from the bench, declaring to the world at large that on the evidence as given, prima facie, he; Phineas Finn, must be regarded as the murderer of Mr. Bonteen, our hero's courage almost gave way. If such was now the judicial opinion of the magistrate, how could he expect a different verdict from a jury in two months' time, when he would be tried before a final court? As far as he could understand, nothing more could be learned on the matter. All the facts were known that could be known,—as far as he, or rather his friends on his behalf, were able to search for facts. It seemed to him that there was no tittle whatever of evidence against him. He had walked straight home from his club with the life-preserver in his pocket, and had never turned to the right or to the left. Till he found himself committed, he would not believe that any serious and prolonged impediment could be thrown in the way of his liberty. He would not believe that a man altogether innocent could be in danger of the gallows on a false accusation. It had seemed to him that the police had kept their hold on him with a rabid ferocity, straining every point with the view of showing that it was possible that he should have been the murderer. Every policeman who had been near him, carrying him backward and forward from his prison, or giving evidence as to the circumstances of the locality and of his walk home on that fatal night, had seemed to him to be an enemy. But he had looked for impartiality from the magistrate,—and now the magistrate had failed him. He had seen in court the faces of men well known to him,—men known in the world,—with whom he had been on pleasant terms in Parliament, who had sat upon the bench while he was standing as a culprit between two constables; and they who had been his familiar friends had appeared at once to have been removed from him by some unmeasurable distance. But all that he had, as it were, discounted, believing that a few hours,—at the very longest a few days,—would remove the distance; but now he was sent back to his prison, there to await his trial for the murder.
And it seemed to him that his committal startled no one but himself. Could it be that even his dearest friends thought it possible that he had been guilty? When that day came, and he was taken back to Newgate on his last journey there from Bow Street, Lord Chiltern had returned for a while to Harrington Hall, having promised that he would be back in London as soon as his business would permit; but Mr. Low came to him almost immediately to his prison room. "This is a pleasant state of things," said Phineas, with a forced laugh. But as he laughed he also sobbed, with a low, irrepressible, convulsive movement in his throat.
"Phineas, the time has come in which you must show yourself to be a man."
"A man! Oh, yes, I can be a man. A murderer you mean. I shall have to be—hung, I suppose."
"May God, in His mercy, forbid."
"No;—not in His mercy; in His justice. There can be no need for mercy here,—not even from Heaven. When they take my life may He forgive my sins through the merits of my Saviour. But for this there can be no mercy. Why do you not speak? Do you mean to say that I am guilty?"
"I am sure that you are innocent."
"And yet, look here. What more can be done to prove it than has been done? That blundering fool will swear my life away." Then he threw himself on his bed, and gave way to his sobs.
That evening he was alone,—as, indeed, most of his evenings had been spent, and the minutes were minutes of agony to him. The external circumstances of his position were as comfortable as circumstances would allow. He had a room to himself looking out through heavy iron bars into one of the courts of the prison. The chamber was carpeted, and was furnished with bed and chairs and two tables. Books were allowed him as he pleased, and pen and ink. It was May, and no fire was necessary. At certain periods of the day he could walk alone in the court below,—the restriction on such liberty being that at other certain hours the place was wanted for other prisoners. As far as he knew no friend who called was denied to him, though he was by no means certain that his privilege in that respect would not be curtailed now that he had been committed for trial. His food had been plentiful and well cooked, and even luxuries, such as fish and wine and fruit, had been supplied to him. That the fruit had come from the hot-houses of the Duchess of Omnium, and the wine from Mr. Low's cellar, and the fish and lamb and spring vegetables, the cream and coffee and fresh butter from the unrestricted orders of another friend, that Lord Chiltern had sent him champagne and cigars, and that Lady Chiltern had given directions about the books and stationery, he did not know. But as far as he could be consoled by such comforts, there had been the consolation. If lamb and salad could make him happy he might have enjoyed his sojourn in Newgate. Now, this evening, he was past all enjoyment. It was impossible that he should read. How could a man fix his attention on any book, with a charge of murder against himself affirmed by the deliberate decision of a judge? And he knew himself to be as innocent as the magistrate himself. Every now and then he would rise from his bed, and almost rush across the room as though he would dash his head against the wall. Murder! They really believed that he had deliberately murdered the man;—he, Phineas Finn, who had served his country with repute, who had sat in Parliament, who had prided himself on living with the best of his fellow-creatures, who had been the friend of Mr. Monk and of Lord Cantrip, the trusted intimate of such women as Lady Laura and Lady Chiltern, who had never put his hand to a mean action, or allowed his tongue to speak a mean word! He laughed in his wrath, and then almost howled in his agony. He thought of the young loving wife who had lived with him little more than for one fleeting year, and wondered whether she was looking down upon him from Heaven, and how her spirit would bear this accusation against the man upon whose bosom she had slept, and in whose arms she had gone to her long rest. "They can't believe it," he said aloud. "It is impossible. Why should I have murdered him?" And then he remembered an example in Latin from some rule of grammar, and repeated it to himself over and over again.—"No one at an instant,—of a sudden,—becomes most base." It seemed to him that there was such a want of knowledge of human nature in the supposition that it was possible that he should have committed such a crime. And yet—there he was, committed to take his trial for the murder of Mr. Bonteen.
The days were long, and it was daylight till nearly nine. Indeed the twilight lingered, even through those iron bars, till after nine. He had once asked for candles, but had been told that they could not be allowed him without an attendant in the room,—and he had dispensed with them. He had been treated doubtless with great respect, but nevertheless he had been treated as a prisoner. They hardly denied him anything that he asked, but when he asked for that which they did not choose to grant they would annex conditions which induced him to withdraw his request. He understood their ways now, and did not rebel against them.
On a sudden he heard the key in the door, and the man who attended him entered the room with a candle in his hand. A lady had come to call, and the governor had given permission for her entrance. He would return for the light,—and for the lady, in half an hour. He had said all this before Phineas could see who the lady was. And when he did see the form of her who followed the gaoler, and who stood with hesitating steps behind him in the doorway, he knew her by her sombre solemn raiment, and not by her countenance. She was dressed from head to foot in the deepest weeds of widowhood, and a heavy veil fell from her bonnet over her face. "Lady Laura, is it you?" said Phineas, putting out his hand. Of course it was Lady Laura. While the Duchess of Omnium and Madame Goesler were talking about such a visit, allowing themselves to be deterred by the wisdom of Mr. Low, she had made her way through bolts and bars, and was now with him in his prison.
"Oh, Phineas!" She slowly raised her veil, and stood gazing at him. "Of all my troubles this,—to see you here,—is the heaviest."
"And of all my consolations to see you here is the greatest." He should not have so spoken. Could he have thought of things as they were, and have restrained himself, he should not have uttered words to her which were pleasant but not true. There came a gleam of sunshine across her face as she listened to him, and then she threw herself into his arms, and wept upon his shoulder. "I did not expect that you would have found me," he said.
She took the chair opposite to that on which he usually sat, and then began her tale. Her cousin, Barrington Erle, had brought her there, and was below, waiting for her in the Governor's house. He had procured an order for her admission that evening, direct from Sir Harry Coldfoot, the Home Secretary,—which, however, as she admitted, had been given under the idea that she and Erle were to see him together. "But I would not let him come with me," she said. "I could not have spoken to you, had he been here;—could I?"
"It would not have been the same, Lady Laura." He had thought much of his mode of addressing her on occasions before this, at Dresden and at Portman Square, and had determined that he would always give her her title. Once or twice he had lacked the courage to be so hard to her. Now as she heard the name the gleam of sunshine passed from her altogether. "We hardly expected that we should ever meet in such a place as this?" he said.
"I cannot understand it. They cannot really think you killed him." He smiled, and shook his head. Then she spoke of her own condition. "You have heard what has happened? You know that I am—a widow?"
"Yes;—I had heard," And then he smiled again. "You will have understood why I could not come to you,—as I should have done but for this little accident."
"He died on the day that they arrested you. Was it not strange that such a double blow should fall together? Oswald, no doubt, told you all."
"He told me of your husband's death."
"But not of his will? Perhaps he has not seen you since he heard it." Lord Chiltern had heard of the will before his last visit to Phineas in Newgate, but had not chosen then to speak of his sister's wealth.
"I have heard nothing of Mr. Kennedy's will."
"It was made immediately after our marriage,—and he never changed it, though he had so much cause of anger against me."
"He has not injured you, then,—as regards money."
"Injured me! No, indeed. I am a rich woman,—very rich. All Loughlinter is my own,—for life. But of what use can it be to me?" He in his present state could tell her of no uses for such a property. "I suppose, Phineas, it cannot be that you are really in danger?"
"In the greatest danger, I fancy."
"Do you mean that they will say—you are guilty?"
"The magistrates have said so already."
"But surely that is nothing. If I thought so, I should die. If I believed it, they should never take me out of the prison while you are here. Barrington says that it cannot be. Oswald and Violet are sure that such a thing can never happen. It was that Jew who did it."
"I cannot say who did it. I did not."
"You! Oh, Phineas! The world must be mad when any can believe it!"
"But they do believe it?" This, he said, meaning to ask a question as to that outside world.
"We do not. Barrington says—"
"What does Barrington say?"
"That there are some who do;—just a few, who were Mr. Bonteen's special friends."
"The police believe it. That is what I cannot understand;—men who ought to be keen-eyed and quick-witted. That magistrate believes it. I saw men in the Court who used to know me well, and I could see that they believed it. Mr. Monk was here yesterday."
"Does he believe it?"
"I asked him, and he told me—no. But I did not quite trust him as he told me. There are two or three who believe me innocent."
"Who are they?"
"Low, and Chiltern, and his wife;—and that man Bunce, and his wife. If I escape from this,—if they do not hang me,—I will remember them. And there are two other women who know me well enough not to think me a murderer."
"Who are they, Phineas?"
"Madame Goesler, and the Duchess of Omnium."
"Have they been here?" she asked, with jealous eagerness.
"Oh, no. But I hear that it is so,—and I know it. One learns to feel even from hearsay what is in the minds of people."
"And what do I believe, Phineas? Can you read my thoughts?"
"I know them of old, without reading them now." Then he put forth his hand and took hers. "Had I murdered him in real truth, you would not have believed it."
"Because I love you, Phineas."
Then the key was again heard in the door, and Barrington Erle appeared with the gaolers. The time was up, he said, and he had come to redeem his promise. He spoke cordially to his old friend, and grasped the prisoner's hand cordially,—but not the less did he believe that there was blood on it, and Phineas knew that such was his belief. It appeared on his arrival that Lady Laura had not at all accomplished the chief object of her visit. She had brought with her various cheques, all drawn by Barrington Erle on his banker,—amounting altogether to many hundreds of pounds,—which it was intended that Phineas should use from time to time for the necessities of his trial. Barrington Erle explained that the money was in fact to be a loan from Lady Laura's father, and was simply passed through his banker's account. But Phineas knew that the loan must come from Lady Laura, and he positively refused to touch it. His friend, Mr. Low, was managing all that for him, and he would not embarrass the matter by a fresh account. He was very obstinate, and at last the cheques were taken away in Barrington Erle's pocket.
"Good-night, old fellow," said Erle, affectionately. "I'll see you again before long. May God send you through it all."
"Good-night, Barrington. It was kind of you to come to me." Then Lady Laura, watching to see whether her cousin would leave her alone for a moment with the object of her idolatry, paused before she gave him her hand. "Good-night, Lady Laura," he said.
"Good-night!" Barrington Erle was now just outside the door.
"I shall not forget your coming here to me."
"How should we, either of us, forget it?"
"Come, Laura," said Barrington Erle, "we had better make an end of it."
"But if I should never see him again!"
"Of course you will see him again."
"When! and where! Oh, God,—if they should murder him!" Then she threw herself into his arms, and covered him with kisses, though her cousin had returned into the room and stood over her as she embraced him.
"Laura," said he, "you are doing him an injury. How should he support himself if you behave like this! Come away."
"Oh, my God, if they should kill him!" she exclaimed. But she allowed her cousin to take her in his arms, and Phineas Finn was left alone without having spoken another word to either of them.
The Meager Family
On the day after the committal a lady, who had got out of a cab at the corner of Northumberland Street, in the Marylebone Road, walked up that very uninviting street, and knocked at a door just opposite to the deadest part of the dead wall of the Marylebone Workhouse. Here lived Mrs. and Miss Meager,—and also on occasions Mr. Meager, who, however, was simply a trouble and annoyance in the world, going about to race-courses, and occasionally, perhaps, to worse places, and being of no slightest use to the two poor hard-worked women,—mother and daughter,—who endeavoured to get their living by letting lodgings. The task was difficult, for it is not everybody who likes to look out upon the dead wall of a workhouse, and they who do are disposed to think that their willingness that way should be considered in the rent. But Mr. Emilius, when the cruelty of his wife's friends deprived him of the short-lived luxury of his mansion in Lowndes Square, had found in Northumberland Street a congenial retreat, and had for a while trusted to Mrs. and Miss Meager for all his domestic comforts. Mr. Emilius was always a favourite with new friends, and had not as yet had his Northumberland Street gloss rubbed altogether off him when Mr. Bonteen was murdered. As it happened, on that night, or rather early in the day, for Meager had returned to the bosom of his family after a somewhat prolonged absence in the provinces, and therefore the date had become specially remarkable in the Meager family from the double event,—Mr. Meager had declared that unless his wife could supply him with a five-pound note he must cut his throat instantly. His wife and daughter had regretted the necessity, but had declared the alternative to be out of the question. Whereupon Mr. Meager had endeavoured to force the lock of an old bureau with a carving-knife, and there had been some slight personal encounter,—after which he had had some gin and had gone to bed. Mrs. Meager remembered the day very well indeed, and Miss Meager, when the police came the next morning, had accounted for her black eye by a tragical account of a fall she had had against the bed-post in the dark. Up to that period Mr. Emilius had been everything that was sweet and good,—an excellent, eloquent clergyman, who was being ill-treated by his wife's wealthy relations, who was soft in his manners and civil in his words, and never gave more trouble than was necessary. The period, too, would have been one of comparative prosperity to the Meager ladies,—but for that inopportune return of the head of the family,—as two other lodgers had been inclined to look out upon the dead wall, or else into the cheerful back-yard; which circumstance came to have some bearing upon our story, as Mrs. Meager had been driven by the press of her increased household to let that good-natured Mr. Emilius know that if "he didn't mind it" the latch-key might be an accommodation on occasions. To give him his due, indeed, he had, when first taking the rooms, offered to give up the key when not intending to be out at night.
After the murder Mr. Emilius had been arrested, and had been kept in durance for a week. Miss Meager had been sure that he was innocent; Mrs. Meager had trusted the policemen, who evidently thought that the clergyman was guilty. Of the policemen who were concerned on the occasion, it may be said in a general way that they believed that both the gentlemen had committed the murder,—so anxious were they not to be foiled in the attempts at discovery which their duty called upon them to make. Mr. Meager had left the house on the morning of the arrest, having arranged that little matter of the five-pound note by a compromise. When the policeman came for Mr. Emilius, Mr. Meager was gone. For a day or two the lodger's rooms were kept vacant for the clergyman till Mrs. Meager became quite convinced that he had committed the murder, and then all his things were packed up and placed in the passage. When he was liberated he returned to the house, and expressed unbounded anger at what had been done. He took his two boxes away in a cab, and was seen no more by the ladies of Northumberland Street.
But a further gleam of prosperity fell upon them in consequence of the tragedy which had been so interesting to them. Hitherto the inquiries made at their house had had reference solely to the habits and doings of their lodger during the last few days; but now there came to them a visitor who made a more extended investigation; and this was one of their own sex. It was Madame Goesler who got out of the cab at the workhouse corner, and walked from thence to Mrs. Meager's house. This was her third appearance in Northumberland Street, and at each coming she had spoken kind words, and had left behind her liberal recompense for the trouble which she gave. She had no scruples as to paying for the evidence which she desired to obtain,—no fear of any questions which might afterwards be asked in cross-examination. She dealt out sovereigns—womanfully, and had had Mrs. and Miss Meager at her feet. Before the second visit was completed they were both certain that the Bohemian converted Jew had murdered Mr. Bonteen, and were quite willing to assist in hanging him.
"Yes, Ma'am," said Mrs. Meager, "he did take the key with him. Amelia remembers we were a key short at the time he was away." The absence here alluded to was that occasioned by the journey which Mr. Emilius took to Prague, when he heard that evidence of his former marriage was being sought against him in his own country.
"That he did," said Amelia, "because we were put out ever so. And he had no business, for he was not paying for the room."
"You have only one key."
"There is three, Ma'am. The front attic has one regular because he's on a daily paper, and of course he doesn't get to bed till morning. Meager always takes another, and we can't get it from him ever so."
"And Mr. Emilius took the other away with him?" asked Madame Goesler.
"That he did, Ma'am. When he came back he said it had been in a drawer,—but it wasn't in the drawer. We always knows what's in the drawers."
"The drawer wasn't left locked, then?"
"Yes, it was, Ma'am, and he took that key—unbeknownst to us," said Mrs. Meager. "But there is other keys that open the drawers. We are obliged in our line to know about the lodgers, Ma'am."
This was certainly no time for Madame Goesler to express disapprobation of the practices which were thus divulged. She smiled, and nodded her head, and was quite sympathetic with Mrs. Meager. She had learned that Mr. Emilius had taken the latch-key with him to Bohemia, and was convinced that a dozen other latch-keys might have been made after the pattern without any apparent detection by the London police. "And now about the coat, Mrs. Meager."
"Mr. Meager has not been here since?"
"No, Ma'am. Mr. Meager, Ma'am, isn't what he ought to be. I never do own it up, only when I'm driven. He hasn't been home."
"I suppose he still has the coat."
"Well, Ma'am, no. We sent a young man after him, as you said, and the young man found him at the Newmarket Spring."
"Some water cure?" asked Madame Goesler.
"No, Ma'am. It ain't a water cure, but the races. He hadn't got the coat. He does always manage a tidy great coat when November is coming on, because it covers everything, and is respectable, but he mostly parts with it in April. He gets short, and then he—just pawns it."
"But he had it the night of the murder?"
"Yes, Ma'am, he had. Amelia and I remembered it especial. When we went to bed, which we did soon after ten, it was left in this room, lying there on the sofa." They were now sitting in the little back parlour, in which Mrs. and Miss Meager were accustomed to live.
"And it was there in the morning?"
"Father had it on when he went out," said Amelia.
"If we paid him he would get it out of the pawnshop, and bring it to us, would he not?" asked the lady.
To this Mrs. Meager suggested that it was quite on the cards that Mr. Meager might have been able to do better with his coat by selling it, and if so, it certainly would have been sold, as no prudent idea of redeeming his garment for the next winter's wear would ever enter his mind. And Mrs. Meager seemed to think that such a sale would not have taken place between her husband and any old friend. "He wouldn't know where he sold it," said Mrs. Meager.
"Anyways he'd tell us so," said Amelia.
"But if we paid him to be more accurate?" said Madame Goesler.
"They is so afraid of being took up themselves," said Mrs. Meager. There was, however, ample evidence that Mr. Meager had possessed a grey great coat, which during the night of the murder had been left in the little sitting-room, and which they had supposed to have lain there all night. To this coat Mr. Emilius might have had easy access. "But then it was a big man that was seen, and Emilius isn't no ways a big man. Meager's coat would be too long for him, ever so much."
"Nevertheless we must try and get the coat," said Madame Goesler. "I'll speak to a friend about it. I suppose we can find your husband when we want him?"
"I don't know, Ma'am. We never can find him; but then we never do want him,—not now. The police know him at the races, no doubt. You won't go and get him into trouble, Ma'am, worse than he is? He's always been in trouble, but I wouldn't like to be means of making it worse on him than it is."
Madame Goesler, as she again paid the woman for her services, assured her that she would do no injury to Mr. Meager. All that she wanted of Mr. Meager was his grey coat, and that not with any view that could be detrimental either to his honour or to his safety, and she was willing to pay any reasonable price,—or almost any unreasonable price,—for the coat. But the coat must be made to be forthcoming if it were still in existence, and had not been as yet torn to pieces by the shoddy makers.
"It ain't near come to that yet," said Amelia. "I don't know that I ever see father more respectable,—that is, in the way of a great coat."
The Beginning of the Search for the Key and the Coat
When Madame Goesler revealed her plans and ideas to Mr. Wickerby, the attorney, who had been employed to bring Phineas Finn through his troubles, that gentleman evidently did not think much of the unprofessional assistance which the lady proposed to give him. "I'm afraid it is far-fetched, Ma'am,—if you understand what I mean," said Mr. Wickerby. Madame Goesler declared that she understood very well what Mr. Wickerby meant, but that she could hardly agree with him. "According to that the gentleman must have plotted the murder more than a month before he committed it," said Mr. Wickerby.
"And why not?"
"Murder plots are generally the work of a few hours at the longest, Madame Goesler. Anger, combined with an indifference to self-sacrifice, does not endure the wear of many days. And the object here was insufficient. I don't think we can ask to have the trial put off in order to find out whether a false key may have been made in Prague."
"And you will not look for the coat?"
"We can look for it, and probably get it, if the woman has not lied to you; but I don't think it will do us any good. The woman probably is lying. You have been paying her very liberally, so that she has been making an excellent livelihood out of the murder. No jury would believe her. And a grey coat is a very common thing. After all, it would prove nothing. It would only let the jury know that Mr. Meager had a grey coat as well as Mr. Finn. That Mr. Finn wore a grey coat on that night is a fact which we can't upset. If you got hold of Meager's coat you wouldn't be a bit nearer to proof that Emilius had worn it."
"There would be the fact that he might have worn it."
"Madame Goesler, indeed it would not help our client. You see what are the difficulties in our way. Mr. Finn was on the spot at the moment, or so near it as to make it certainly possible that he might have been there. There is no such evidence as to Emilius, even if he could be shown to have had a latch-key. The man was killed by such an instrument as Mr. Finn had about him. There is no evidence that Mr. Emilius had such an instrument in his hand. A tall man in a grey coat was seen hurrying to the spot at the exact hour. Mr. Finn is a tall man and wore a grey coat at the time. Emilius is not a tall man, and, even though Meager had a grey coat, there is no evidence to show that Emilius ever wore it. Mr. Finn had quarrelled violently with Mr. Bonteen within the hour. It does not appear that Emilius ever quarrelled with Mr. Bonteen, though Mr. Bonteen had exerted himself in opposition to Emilius."
"Is there to be no defence, then?"
"Certainly there will be a defence, and such a defence as I think will prevent any jury from being unanimous in convicting my client. Though there is a great deal of evidence against him, it is all—what we call circumstantial."
"I understand, Mr. Wickerby."
"Nobody saw him commit the murder."
"Indeed no," said Madame Goesler.
"Although there is personal similarity, there is no personal identity. There is no positive proof of anything illegal on his part, or of anything that would have been suspicious had no murder been committed,—such as the purchase of poison, or carrying of a revolver. The life-preserver, had no such instrument been unfortunately used, might have been regarded as a thing of custom."
"But I am sure that that Bohemian did murder Mr. Bonteen," said Madame Goesler, with enthusiasm.
"Madame," said Mr. Wickerby, holding up both his hands, "I can only wish that you could be upon the jury."
"And you won't try to show that the other man might have done it?"
"I think not. Next to an alibi that breaks down;—you know what an alibi is, Madame Goesler?"
"Yes, Mr. Wickerby; I know what an alibi is."
"Next to an alibi that breaks down, an unsuccessful attempt to affix the fault on another party is the most fatal blow which a prisoner's counsel can inflict upon him. It is always taken by the jury as so much evidence against him. We must depend altogether on a different line of defence."
"What line, Mr. Wickerby?"
"Juries are always unwilling to hang,"—Madame Goesler shuddered as the horrid word was broadly pronounced,—"and are apt to think that simply circumstantial evidence cannot be suffered to demand so disagreeable a duty. They are peculiarly averse to hanging a gentleman, and will hardly be induced to hang a member of Parliament. Then Mr. Finn is very good-looking, and has been popular,—which is all in his favour. And we shall have such evidence on the score of character as was never before brought into one of our courts. We shall have half the Cabinet. There will be two dukes." Madame Goesler, as she listened to the admiring enthusiasm of the attorney while he went on with his list, acknowledged to herself that her dear friend, the Duchess, had not been idle. "There will be three Secretaries of State. The Secretary of State for the Home Department himself will be examined. I am not quite sure that we mayn't get the Lord Chancellor. There will be Mr. Monk,—about the most popular man in England,—who will speak of the prisoner as his particular friend. I don't think any jury would hang a particular friend of Mr. Monk's. And there will be ever so many ladies. That has never been done before, but we mean to try it." Madame Goesler had heard all this, and had herself assisted in the work. "I rather think we shall get four or five leading members of the Opposition, for they all disliked Mr. Bonteen. If we could manage Mr. Daubeny and Mr. Gresham, I think we might reckon ourselves quite safe. I forgot to say that the Bishop of Barchester has promised."
"All that won't prove his innocence, Mr. Wickerby." Mr. Wickerby shrugged his shoulders. "If he be acquitted after that fashion men then will say—that he was guilty."
"We must think of his life first, Madame Goesler," said the attorney.
Madame Goesler when she left the attorney's room was very ill-satisfied with him. She desired some adherent to her cause who would with affectionate zeal resolve upon washing Phineas Finn white as snow in reference to the charge now made against him. But no man would so resolve who did not believe in his innocence,—as Madame Goesler believed herself. She herself knew that her own belief was romantic and unpractical. Nevertheless, the conviction of the guilt of that other man, towards which she still thought that much could be done if that coat were found and the making of a secret key were proved, was so strong upon her that she would not allow herself to drop it. It would not be sufficient for her that Phineas Finn should be acquitted. She desired that the real murderer should be hung for the murder, so that all the world might be sure,—as she was sure,—that her hero had been wrongfully accused.
"Do you mean that you are going to start yourself?" the Duchess said to her that same afternoon.
"Yes, I am."
"Then you must be very far gone in love, indeed."
"You would do as much, Duchess, if you were free as I am. It isn't a matter of love at all. It's womanly enthusiasm for the cause one has taken up."
"I'm quite as enthusiastic,—only I shouldn't like to go to Prague in June."
"I'd go to Siberia in January if I could find out that that horrid man really committed the murder."
"Who are going with you?"
"We shall be quite a company. We have got a detective policeman, and an interpreter who understands Czech and German to go about with the policeman, and a lawyer's clerk, and there will be my own maid."
"Everybody will know all about it before you get there."
"We are not to go quite together. The policeman and the interpreter are to form one party, and I and my maid another. The poor clerk is to be alone. If they get the coat, of course you'll telegraph to me."
"Who is to have the coat?"
"I suppose they'll take it to Mr. Wickerby. He says he doesn't want it,—that it would do no good. But I think that if we could show that the man might very easily have been out of the house,—that he had certainly provided himself with means of getting out of the house secretly,—the coat would be of service. I am going at any rate; and shall be in Paris to-morrow morning."
"I think it very grand of you, my dear; and for your sake I hope he may live to be Prime Minister. Perhaps, after all, he may give Plantagenet his 'Garter.'"
When the old Duke died, a Garter became vacant, and had of course fallen to the gift of Mr. Gresham. The Duchess had expected that it would be continued in the family, as had been the Lieutenancy of Barsetshire, which also had been held by the old Duke. But the Garter had been given to Lord Cantrip, and the Duchess was sore. With all her Radical propensities and inclination to laugh at dukes and marquises, she thought very much of Garters and Lieutenancies;—but her husband would not think of them at all, and hence there were words between them. The Duchess had declared that the Duke should insist on having the Garter. "These are things that men do not ask for," the Duke had said.
"Don't tell me, Plantagenet, about not asking. Everybody asks for everything nowadays."
"Your everybody is not correct, Glencora. I never yet asked for anything,—and never shall. No honour has any value in my eyes unless it comes unasked." Thereupon it was that the Duchess now suggested that Phineas Finn, when Prime Minister, might perhaps bestow a Garter upon her husband.
And so Madame Goesler started for Prague with the determination of being back, if possible, before the trial began. It was to be commenced at the Old Bailey towards the end of June, and people already began to foretell that it would extend over a very long period. The circumstances seemed to be simple; but they who understood such matters declared that the duration of a trial depended a great deal more on the public interest felt in the matter than upon its own nature. Now it was already perceived that no trial of modern days had ever been so interesting as would be this trial. It was already known that the Attorney-General, Sir Gregory Grogram, was to lead the case for the prosecution, and that the Solicitor-General, Sir Simon Slope, was to act with him. It had been thought to be due to the memory and character of Mr. Bonteen, who when he was murdered had held the office of President of the Board of Trade, and who had very nearly been Chancellor of the Exchequer, that so unusual a task should be imposed on these two high legal officers of the Government. No doubt there would be a crowd of juniors with them, but it was understood that Sir Gregory Grogram would himself take the burden of the task upon his own shoulders. It was declared everywhere that Sir Gregory did believe Phineas Finn to be guilty, but it was also declared that Sir Simon Slope was convinced he was innocent. The defence was to be entrusted to the well-practised but now aged hands of that most experienced practitioner Mr. Chaffanbrass, than whom no barrister living or dead ever rescued more culprits from the fangs of the law. With Mr. Chaffanbrass, who quite late in life had consented to take a silk gown, was to be associated Mr. Serjeant Birdbolt,—who was said to be employed in order that the case might be in safe hands should the strength of Mr. Chaffanbrass fail him at the last moment; and Mr. Snow, who was supposed to handle a witness more judiciously than any of the rising men, and that subtle, courageous, eloquent, and painstaking youth, Mr. Golightly, who now, with no more than ten or fifteen years' practice, was already known to be earning his bread and supporting a wife and family.
But the glory of this trial would not depend chiefly on the array of counsel, nor on the fact that the Lord Chief Justice himself would be the judge, so much as on the social position of the murdered man and of the murderer. Noble lords and great statesmen would throng the bench of the court to see Phineas Finn tried, and all the world who could find an entrance would do the same to see the great statesmen and the noble lords. The importance of such an affair increases like a snowball as it is rolled on. Many people talk much, and then very many people talk very much more. The under-sheriffs of the City, praiseworthy gentlemen not hitherto widely known to fame, became suddenly conspicuous and popular, as being the dispensers of admissions to seats in the court. It had been already admitted by judges and counsel that sundry other cases must be postponed, because it was known that the Bonteen murder would occupy at least a week. It was supposed that Mr. Chaffanbrass would consume a whole day at the beginning of the trial in getting a jury to his mind,—a matter on which he was known to be very particular,—and another whole day at the end of the trial in submitting to the jury the particulars of all the great cases on record in which circumstantial evidence was known to have led to improper verdicts. It was therefore understood that the last week in June would be devoted to the trial, to the exclusion of all other matters of interest. When Mr. Gresham, hard pressed by Mr. Turnbull for a convenient day, offered that gentleman Thursday, the 24th of June, for suggesting to the House a little proposition of his own with reference to the English Church establishment, Mr. Turnbull openly repudiated the offer, because on that day the trial of Phineas Finn would be commenced. "I hope," said Mr. Gresham, "that the work of the country will not be impeded by that unfortunate affair." "I am afraid," said Mr. Turnbull, "that the right honourable gentleman will find that the member for Tankerville will on that day monopolise the attention of this House." The remark was thought to have been made in very bad taste, but nobody doubted its truth. Perhaps the interest was enhanced among politicians by the existence very generally of an opinion that though Phineas Finn had murdered Mr. Bonteen, he would certainly be acquitted. Nothing could then prevent the acquitted murderer from resuming his seat in the House, and gentlemen were already beginning to ask themselves after what fashion it would become them to treat him. Would the Speaker catch his eye when he rose to speak? Would he still be "Phineas" to the very large number of men with whom his general popularity had made him intimate? Would he be cold-shouldered at the clubs, and treated as one whose hands were red with blood? or would he become more popular than ever, and receive an ovation after his acquittal?
In the meantime Madame Goesler started on her journey for Prague.
The Two Dukes
It was necessary that the country should be governed, even though Mr. Bonteen had been murdered;—and in order that it should be duly governed it was necessary that Mr. Bonteen's late place at the Board of Trade should be filled. There was some hesitation as to the filling it, and when the arrangement was completed people were very much surprised indeed. Mr. Bonteen had been appointed chiefly because it was thought that he might in that office act as a quasi House of Commons deputy to the Duke of Omnium in carrying out his great scheme of a five-farthinged penny and a ten-pennied shilling. The Duke, in spite of his wealth and rank and honour, was determined to go on with his great task. Life would be nothing to him now unless he could at least hope to arrange the five farthings. When his wife had bullied him about the Garter he had declared to her, and with perfect truth, that he had never asked for anything. He had gone on to say that he never would ask for anything; and he certainly did not think that he was betraying himself with reference to that assurance when he suggested to Mr. Gresham that he would himself take the place left vacant by Mr. Bonteen—of course retaining his seat in the Cabinet.
"I should hardly have ventured to suggest such an arrangement to your Grace," said the Prime Minister.
"Feeling that it might be so, I thought that I would venture to ask," said the Duke. "I am sure you know that I am the last man to interfere as to place or the disposition of power."
"Quite the last man," said Mr. Gresham.
"But it has always been held that the Board of Trade is not incompatible with the Peerage."
"Oh dear, yes."
"And I can feel myself nearer to this affair of mine there than I can elsewhere."
Mr. Gresham of course had no objection to urge. This great nobleman, who was now asking for Mr. Bonteen's shoes, had been Chancellor of the Exchequer, and would have remained Chancellor of the Exchequer had not the mantle of his nobility fallen upon him. At the present moment he held an office in which peers are often temporarily shelved, or put away, perhaps, out of harm's way for the time, so that they may be brought down and used when wanted, without having received crack or detriment from that independent action into which a politician is likely to fall when his party is "in" but he is still "out". He was Lord Privy Seal,—a Lordship of State which does carry with it a status and a seat in the Cabinet, but does not necessarily entail any work. But the present Lord, who cared nothing for status, and who was much more intent on his work than he was even on his seat in the Cabinet, was possessed by what many of his brother politicians regarded as a morbid dislike to pretences. He had not been happy during his few weeks of the Privy Seal, and had almost envied Mr. Bonteen the realities of the Board of Trade. "I think upon the whole it will be best to make the change," he said to Mr. Gresham. And Mr. Gresham was delighted.
But there were one or two men of mark,—one or two who were older than Mr. Gresham probably, and less perfect in their Liberal sympathies,—who thought that the Duke of Omnium was derogating from his proper position in the step which he was now taking. Chief among these was his friend the Duke of St. Bungay, who alone perhaps could venture to argue the matter with him. "I almost wish that you had spoken to me first," said the elder Duke.
"I feared that I should find you so strongly opposed to my resolution."
"If it was a resolution."
"I think it was," said the younger. "It was a great misfortune to me that I should have been obliged to leave the House of Commons."
"You should not feel it so."
"My whole life was there," said he who, as Plantagenet Palliser, had been so good a commoner.
"But your whole life should certainly not be there now,—nor your whole heart. On you the circumstances of your birth have imposed duties quite as high, and I will say quite as useful, as any which a career in the House of Commons can put within the reach of a man."
"Do you think so, Duke?"
"Certainly I do. I do think that the England which we know could not be the England that she is but for the maintenance of a high-minded, proud, and self-denying nobility. And though with us there is no line dividing our very broad aristocracy into two parts, a higher and a lower, or a greater and a smaller, or a richer and a poorer, nevertheless we all feel that the success of our order depends chiefly on the conduct of those whose rank is the highest and whose means are the greatest. To some few, among whom you are conspicuously one, wealth has been given so great and rank so high that much of the welfare of your country depends on the manner in which you bear yourself as the Duke of Omnium."
"I would not wish to think so."
"Your uncle so thought. And, though he was a man very different from you, not inured to work in his early life, with fewer attainments, probably a slower intellect, and whose general conduct was inferior to your own,—I speak freely because the subject is important,—he was a man who understood his position and the requirements of his order very thoroughly. A retinue almost Royal, together with an expenditure which Royalty could not rival, secured for him the respect of the nation."
"Your life has not been as was his, and you have won a higher respect."
"I think not. The greater part of my life was spent in the House of Commons, and my fortune was never much more than the tenth of his. But I wish to make no such comparison."
"I must make it, if I am to judge which I would follow."
"Pray understand me, my friend," said the old man, energetically. "I am not advising you to abandon public life in order that you may live in repose as a great nobleman. It would not be in your nature to do so, nor could the country afford to lose your services. But you need not therefore take your place in the arena of politics as though you were still Plantagenet Palliser, with no other duties than those of a politician,—as you might so well have done had your uncle's titles and wealth descended to a son."
"I wish they had," said the regretful Duke.
"It cannot be so. Your brother perhaps wishes that he were a Duke, but it has been arranged otherwise. It is vain to repine. Your wife is unhappy because your uncle's Garter was not at once given to you."
"Glencora is like other women,—of course."
"I share her feelings. Had Mr. Gresham consulted me, I should not have scrupled to tell him that it would have been for the welfare of his party that the Duke of Omnium should be graced with any and every honour in his power to bestow. Lord Cantrip is my friend, almost as warmly as are you; but the country would not have missed the ribbon from the breast of Lord Cantrip. Had you been more the Duke, and less the slave of your country, it would have been sent to you. Do I make you angry by speaking so?"
"Not in the least. I have but one ambition."
"And that is—?"
"To be the serviceable slave of my country."
"A master is more serviceable than a slave," said the old man.
"No; no; I deny it. I can admit much from you, but I cannot admit that. The politician who becomes the master of his country sinks from the statesman to the tyrant."
"We misunderstand each other, my friend. Pitt, and Peel, and Palmerston, were not tyrants, though each assumed and held for himself to the last the mastery of which I speak. Smaller men who have been slaves, have been as patriotic as they, but less useful. I regret that you should follow Mr. Bonteen in his office."
"Because he was Mr. Bonteen."
"All the circumstances of the transfer of office occasioned by your uncle's death seem to me to make it undesirable. I would not have you make yourself too common. This very murder adds to the feeling. Because Mr. Bonteen has been lost to us, the Minister has recourse to you."
"It was my own suggestion."
"But who knows that it was so? You, and I, and Mr. Gresham—and perhaps one or two others."
"It is too late now, Duke; and, to tell the truth of myself, not even you can make me other than I am. My uncle's life to me was always a problem which I could not understand. Were I to attempt to walk in his ways I should fail utterly, and become absurd. I do not feel the disgrace of following Mr. Bonteen."
"I trust you may at least be less unfortunate."
"Well;—yes. I need not expect to be murdered in the streets because I am going to the Board of Trade. I shall have made no enemy by my political success."
"You think that—Mr. Finn—did do that deed?" asked the elder Duke.
"I hardly know what I think. My wife is sure that he is innocent."
"The Duchess is enthusiastic always."
"Many others think the same. Lord and Lady Chiltern are sure of that."
"They were always his best friends."
"I am told that many of the lawyers are sure that it will be impossible to convict him. If he be acquitted I shall strive to think him innocent. He will come back to the House, of course."
"I should think he would apply for the Hundreds," said the Duke of St. Bungay.
"I do not see why he should. I would not in his place. If he be innocent, why should he admit himself unfit for a seat in Parliament? I tell you what he might do;—resign, and then throw himself again upon his constituency." The other Duke shook his head, thereby declaring his opinion that Phineas Finn was in truth the man who had murdered Mr. Bonteen.
When it was publicly known that the Duke of Omnium had stepped into Mr. Bonteen's shoes, the general opinion certainly coincided with that given by the Duke of St. Bungay. It was not only that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer should not have consented to fill so low an office, or that the Duke of Omnium should have better known his own place, or that he should not have succeeded a man so insignificant as Mr. Bonteen. These things, no doubt, were said,—but more was said also. It was thought that he should not have gone to an office which had been rendered vacant by the murder of a man who had been placed there merely to assist himself. If the present arrangement was good, why should it not have been made independently of Mr. Bonteen? Questions were asked about it in both Houses, and the transfer no doubt did have the effect of lowering the man in the estimation of the political world. He himself felt that he did not stand so high with his colleagues as when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer; not even so high as when he held the Privy Seal. In the printed lists of those who attended the Cabinets his name generally was placed last, and an opponent on one occasion thought, or pretended to think, that he was no more than Postmaster-General. He determined to bear all this without wincing,—but he did wince. He would not own to himself that he had been wrong, but he was sore,—as a man is sore who doubts about his own conduct; and he was not the less so because he strove to bear his wife's sarcasms without showing that they pained him.
"They say that poor Lord Fawn is losing his mind," she said to him.
"Lord Fawn! I haven't heard anything about it."
"He was engaged to Lady Eustace once, you remember. They say that he'll be made to declare why he didn't marry her if this bigamy case goes on. And then it's so unfortunate that he should have seen the man in the grey coat; I hope he won't have to resign."
"I hope not, indeed."
"Because, of course, you'd have to take his place as Under-Secretary." This was very awkward;—but the husband only smiled, and expressed a hope that if he did so he might himself be equal to his new duties. "By the bye, Plantagenet, what do you mean to do about the jewels?"
"I haven't thought about them. Madame Goesler had better take them."
"But she won't."
"I suppose they had better be sold."
"That would be the proper way."
"I shouldn't like that at all. Couldn't we buy them ourselves, and let the money stand till she choose to take it? It's an affair of trade, I suppose, and you're at the head of all that now." Then again she asked him some question about the Home Secretary, with reference to Phineas Finn; and when he told her that it would be highly improper for him to speak to that officer on such a subject, she pretended to suppose that the impropriety would consist in the interference of a man holding so low a position as he was. "Of course it is not the same now," she said, "as it used to be when you were at the Exchequer." All which he took without uttering a word of anger, or showing a sign of annoyance. "You only get two thousand a year, do you, at the Board of Trade, Plantagenet?"
"Upon my word, I forget. I think it's two thousand five hundred."
"How nice! It was five at the Exchequer, wasn't it?"
"Yes; five thousand at the Exchequer."
"When you're a Lord of the Treasury it will only be one;—will it?"
"What a goose you are, Glencora. If it suited me to be a Lord of the Treasury, what difference would the salary make?"
"Not the least;—nor yet the rank, or the influence, or the prestige, or the general fitness of things. You are above all such sublunary ideas. You would clean Mr. Gresham's shoes for him, if—the service of your country required it." These last words she added in a tone of voice very similar to that which her husband himself used on occasions.
"I would even allow you to clean them,—if the service of the country required it," said the Duke.
But, though he was magnanimous, he was not happy, and perhaps the intense anxiety which his wife displayed as to the fate of Phineas Finn added to his discomfort. The Duchess, as the Duke of St. Bungay had said, was enthusiastic, and he never for a moment dreamed of teaching her to change her nature; but it would have been as well if her enthusiasm at the present moment could have been brought to display itself on some other subject. He had been brought to feel that Phineas Finn had been treated badly when the good things of Government were being given away, and that this had been caused by the jealous prejudices of the man who had been since murdered. But an expectant Under-Secretary of State, let him have been ever so cruelly left out in the cold, should not murder the man by whom he has been ill-treated. Looking at all the evidence as best he could, and listening to the opinions of others, the Duke did think that Phineas had been guilty. The murder had clearly been committed by a personal enemy, not by a robber. Two men were known to have entertained feelings of enmity against Mr. Bonteen; as to one of whom he was assured that it was impossible that he should have been on the spot. As to the other it seemed equally manifest that he must have been there. If it were so, it would have been much better that his wife should not display her interest publicly in the murderer's favour. But the Duchess, wherever she went, spoke of the trial as a persecution; and seemed to think that the prisoner should already be treated as a hero and a martyr. "Glencora," he said to her, "I wish that you could drop the subject of this trial till it be over."
"But I can't."
"Surely you can avoid speaking of it."
"No more than you can avoid your decimals. Out of the full heart the mouth speaks, and my heart is very full. What harm do I do?"
"You set people talking of you."
"They have been doing that ever since we were married;—but I do not know that they have made out much against me. We must go after our nature, Plantagenet. Your nature is decimals. I run after units." He did not deem it wise to say anything further,—knowing that to this evil also of Phineas Finn the gods would at last vouchsafe an ending.
At the time of the murder, Lady Eustace, whom we must regard as the wife of Mr. Emilius till it be proved that he had another wife when he married her, was living as the guest of Mr. Bonteen. Mr. Bonteen had pledged himself to prove the bigamy, and Mrs. Bonteen had opened her house and her heart to the injured lady. Lizzie Eustace, as she had always been called, was clever, rich, and pretty, and knew well how to ingratiate herself with the friend of the hour. She was a greedy, grasping little woman, but, when she had before her a sufficient object, she could appear to pour all that she had into her friend's lap with all the prodigality of a child. Perhaps Mrs. Bonteen had liked to have things poured into her lap. Perhaps Mr. Bonteen had enjoyed the confidential tears of a pretty woman. It may be that the wrongs of a woman doomed to live with Mr. Emilius as his wife had touched their hearts. Be that as it might, they had become the acknowledged friends and supporters of Lady Eustace, and she was living with them in their little house in St. James's Place on that fatal night.
Lizzie behaved herself very well when the terrible tidings were brought home. Mr. Bonteen was so often late at the House or at his club that his wife rarely sat up for him; and when the servants were disturbed between six and seven o'clock in the morning, no surprise had as yet been felt at his absence. The sergeant of police who had brought the news sent for the maid of the unfortunate lady, and the maid, in her panic, told her story to Lady Eustace before daring to communicate it to her mistress. Lizzie Eustace, who in former days had known something of policemen, saw the man, and learned from him all that there was to learn. Then, while the sergeant remained on the landing place, outside, to support her, if necessary, with the maid by her side to help her, kneeling by the bed, she told the wretched woman what had happened. We need not witness the paroxysms of the widow's misery, but we may understand that Lizzie Eustace was from that moment more strongly fixed than ever in her friendship with Mrs. Bonteen.
When the first three or four days of agony and despair had passed by, and the mind of the bereaved woman was able to turn itself from the loss to the cause of the loss, Mrs. Bonteen became fixed in her certainty that Phineas Finn had murdered her husband, and seemed to think that it was the first and paramount duty of the present Government to have the murderer hung,—almost without a trial. When she found that, at the best, the execution of the man she so vehemently hated could not take place for two months after the doing of the deed, even if then, she became almost frantic in her anger. Surely they would not let him escape! What more proof could be needed? Had not the miscreant quarrelled with her husband, and behaved abominably to him but a few minutes before the murder? Had he not been on the spot with the murderous instrument in his pocket? Had he not been seen by Lord Fawn hastening on the steps of her dear and doomed husband? Mrs. Bonteen, as she sat enveloped in her new weeds, thirsting for blood, could not understand that further evidence should be needed, or that a rational doubt should remain in the mind of any one who knew the circumstances. It was to her as though she had seen the dastard blow struck, and with such conviction as this on her mind did she insist on talking of the coming trial to her inmate, Lady Eustace. But Lizzie had her own opinion, though she was forced to leave it unexpressed in the presence of Mrs. Bonteen. She knew the man who claimed her as his wife, and did not think that Phineas Finn was guilty of the murder. Her Emilius,—her Yosef Mealyus, as she had delighted to call him, since she had separated herself from him,—was, as she thought, the very man to commit a murder. He was by no means degraded in her opinion by the feeling. To commit great crimes is the line of life that comes naturally to some men, and was, as she thought, a line less objectionable than that which confines itself to small crimes. She almost felt that the audacity of her husband in doing such a deed redeemed her from some of the ignominy to which she had subjected herself by her marriage with a runaway who had another wife living. There was a dash of adventure about it which was almost gratifying. But these feelings she was obliged, at any rate for the present, to keep to herself. Not only must she acknowledge the undoubted guilt of Phineas Finn for the sake of her friend, Mrs. Bonteen; but she must consider carefully whether she would gain or lose more by having a murderer for her husband. She did not relish the idea of being made a widow by the gallows. She was still urgent as to the charge of bigamy, and should she succeed in proving that the man had never been her husband, then she did not care how soon they might hang him. But for the present it was better for all reasons that she should cling to the Phineas Finn theory,—feeling certain that it was the bold hand of her own Emilius who had struck the blow.
She was by no means free from the solicitations of her husband, who knew well where she was, and who still adhered to his purpose of reclaiming his wife and his wife's property. When he was released by the magistrate's order, and had recovered his goods from Mr. Meager's house, and was once more established in lodgings, humbler, indeed, than those in Northumberland Street, he wrote the following letter to her who had been for one blessed year the partner of his joys, and his bosom's mistress:—
5, Jellybag Street, Edgware Road, May 26, 18—.
You will have heard to what additional sorrow and disgrace I have been subjected through the malice of my enemies. But all in vain! Though princes and potentates have been arrayed against me, [the princes and potentates had no doubt been Lord Chiltern and Mr. Low] innocence has prevailed, and I have come out from the ordeal white as bleached linen or unsullied snow. The murderer is in the hands of justice, and though he be the friend of kings and princes, [Mr. Emilius had probably heard that the Prince had been at the club with Phineas] yet shall justice be done upon him, and the truth of the Lord shall be made to prevail. Mr. Bonteen has been very hostile to me, believing evil things of me, and instigating you, my beloved, to believe evil of me. Nevertheless, I grieve for his death. I lament bitterly that he should have been cut off in his sins, and hurried before the judgment seat of the great Judge without an hour given to him for repentance. Let us pray that the mercy of the Lord may be extended even to him. I beg that you will express my deepest commiseration to his widow, and assure her that she has my prayers.
And now, my dearest wife, let me approach my own affairs. As I have come out unscorched from the last fiery furnace which has been heated for me by my enemies seven times hot, so shall I escape from that other fire with which the poor man who has gone from us endeavoured to envelop me. If they have made you believe that I have any wife but yourself they have made you believe a falsehood. You, and you only, have my hand. You, and you only, have my heart. I know well what attempts are being made to suborn false evidence in my old country, and how the follies of my youth are being pressed against me,—how anxious are proud Englishmen that the poor Bohemian should be robbed of the beauty and wit and wealth which he had won for himself. But the Lord fights on my side, and I shall certainly prevail.
If you will come back to me all shall be forgiven. My heart is as it ever was. Come, and let us leave this cold and ungenial country and go to the sunny south; to the islands of the blest, [Mr. Emilius during his married life had not quite fathomed the depths of his wife's character, though, no doubt, he had caught some points of it with sufficient accuracy] where we may forget these blood- stained sorrows, and mutually forgive each other. What happiness, what joys can you expect in your present mode of life? Even your income,—which in truth is my income, —you cannot obtain, because the tenants will not dare to pay it in opposition to my legal claims. But of what use is gold? What can purple do for us, and fine linen, and rich jewels, without love and a contented heart? Come, dearest, once more to your own one, who will never remember aught of the sad rupture which enemies have made, and we will hurry to the setting sun, and recline on mossy banks, and give up our souls to Elysium.
As Lizzie read this she uttered an exclamation of disgust. Did the man after all know so little of her as to suppose that she, with all her experiences, did not know how to keep her own life and her own pocket separate from her romance? She despised him for this, almost as much as she respected him for the murder.
If you will only say that you will see me, I will be at your feet in a moment. Till the solemnity with which the late tragical event must have filled you shall have left you leisure to think of all this, I will not force myself into your presence, or seek to secure by law rights which will be much dearer to me if they are accorded by your own sweet goodwill. And in the meantime, I will agree that the income shall be drawn, provided that it be equally divided between us. I have been sorely straitened in my circumstances by these last events. My congregation is of course dispersed. Though my innocence has been triumphantly displayed, my name has been tarnished. It is with difficulty that I find a spot where to lay my weary head. I am ahungered and athirst;—and my very garments are parting from me in my need. Can it be that you willingly doom me to such misery because of my love for you? Had I been less true to you, it might have been otherwise.
Let me have an answer at once, and I will instantly take steps about the money if you will agree.
Your truly most loving husband,
To Lady Eustace, wife of the Rev. Joseph Emilius.
When Lizzie had read the letter twice through she resolved that she would show it to her friend. "I know it will reopen the floodgates of your grief," she said; "but unless you see it, how can I ask from you the advice which is so necessary to me?" But Mrs. Bonteen was a woman sincere at any rate in this,—that the loss of her husband had been to her so crushing a calamity that there could be no reopening of the floodgates. The grief that cannot bear allusion to its causes has generally something of affectation in its composition. The floodgates with this widowed one had never yet been for a moment closed. It was not that her tears were ever flowing, but that her heart had never yet for a moment ceased to feel that its misery was incapable of alleviation. No utterances concerning her husband could make her more wretched than she was. She took the letter and read it through. "I daresay he is a bad man," said Mrs. Bonteen.
"Indeed he is," said the bad man's wife.
"But he was not guilty of this crime."
"Oh, no;—I am sure of that," said Lady Eustace, feeling certain at the same time that Mr. Bonteen had fallen by her husband's hands.
"And therefore I am glad they have given him up. There can be no doubt now about it."
"Everybody knows who did it now," said Lady Eustace.
"Infamous ruffian! My poor dear lost one always knew what he was. Oh that such a creature should have been allowed to come among us."
"Of course he'll be hung, Mrs. Bonteen."
"Hung! I should think so! What other end would be fit for him? Oh, yes; they must hang him. But it makes one think that the world is too hard a place to live in, when such a one as he can cause so great a ruin."
"It has been very terrible."
"Think what the country has lost! They tell me that the Duke of Omnium is to take my husband's place; but the Duke cannot do what he did. Every one knows that for real work there was no one like him. Nothing was more certain than that he would have been Prime Minister,—oh, very soon. They ought to pinch him to death with red-hot tweezers."
But Lady Eustace was anxious at the present moment to talk about her own troubles. "Of course, Mr. Emilius did not commit the murder."
"Phineas Finn committed it," said the half-maddened woman, rising from her chair. "And Phineas Finn shall hang by his neck till he is dead."
"But Emilius has certainly got another wife in Prague."
"I suppose you know. He said it was so, and he was always right."
"I am sure of it,—just as you are sure of this horrid Mr. Finn."
"The two things can't be named together, Lady Eustace."
"Certainly not. I wouldn't think of being so unfeeling. But he has written me this letter, and what must I do? It is very dreadful about the money, you know."
"He cannot touch your money. My dear one always said that he could not touch it."
"But he prevents me from touching it. What they give me only comes by a sort of favour from the lawyer. I almost wish that I had compromised."
"You would not be rid of him that way."
"No;—not quite rid of him. You see I never had to take that horrid name because of the title. I suppose I'd better send the letter to the lawyer."
"Send it to the lawyer, of course. That is what he would have done. They tell me that the trial is to be on the 24th of June. Why should they postpone it so long? They know all about it. They always postpone everything. If he had lived, there would be an end of that before long."
Lady Eustace was tired of the virtues of her friend's martyred lord, and was very anxious to talk of her own affairs. She was still holding her husband's letter open in her hand, and was thinking how she could force her friend's dead lion to give place for a while to her own live dog, when a servant announced that Mr. Camperdown, the attorney, was below. In former days there had been an old Mr. Camperdown, who was vehemently hostile to poor Lizzie Eustace; but now, in her new troubles, the firm that had ever been true to her first husband had taken up her case for the sake of the family and her property—and for the sake of the heir, Lizzie Eustace's little boy; and Mr. Camperdown's firm had, next to Mr. Bonteen, been the depository of her trust. He had sent clerks out to Prague,—one who had returned ill,—as some had said poisoned, though the poison had probably been nothing more than the diet natural to Bohemians. And then another had been sent. This, of course, had all been previous to Madame Goesler's self-imposed mission,—which, though it was occasioned altogether by the suspected wickednesses of Mr. Emilius, had no special reference to his matrimonial escapades. And now Mr. Camperdown was down stairs. "Shall I go down to him, dear Mrs. Bonteen?"
"He may come here if you please."
"Perhaps I had better go down. He will disturb you."
"My darling lost one always thought that there should be two present to hear such matters. He said it was safer." Mr. Camperdown, junior, was therefore shown upstairs to Mrs. Bonteen's drawing-room.
"We have found it all out, Lady Eustace," said Mr. Camperdown.
"Found out what?"
"We've got Madame Mealyus over here."
"No!" said Mrs. Bonteen, with her hands raised. Lady Eustace sat silent, with her mouth open.
"Yes, indeed;—and photographs of the registry of the marriage from the books of the synagogue at Cracow. His signature was Yosef Mealyus, and his handwriting isn't a bit altered. I think we could have proved it without the lady; but of course it was better to bring her if possible."
"Where is she?" asked Lizzie, thinking that she would like to see her own predecessor.
"We have her safe, Lady Eustace. She's not in custody; but as she can't speak a word of English or French, she finds it more comfortable to be kept in private. We're afraid it will cost a little money."
"Will she swear that she is his wife?" asked Mrs. Bonteen.
"Oh, yes; there'll be no difficulty about that. But her swearing alone mightn't be enough."
"Surely that settles it all," said Lady Eustace.
"For the money that we shall have to pay," said Mr. Camperdown, "we might probably have got a dozen Bohemian ladies to come and swear that they were married to Yosef Mealyus at Cracow. The difficulty has been to bring over documentary evidence which will satisfy a jury that this is the woman she says she is. But I think we've got it."
"And I shall be free!" said Lady Eustace, clasping her hands together.
"It will cost a good deal, I fear," said Mr. Camperdown.
"But I shall be free! Oh, Mr. Camperdown, there is not a woman in all the world who cares so little for money as I do. But I shall be free from the power of that horrid man who has entangled me in the meshes of his sinful life." Mr. Camperdown told her that he thought that she would be free, and went on to say that Yosef Mealyus had already been arrested, and was again in prison. The unfortunate man had not therefore long enjoyed that humbler apartment which he had found for himself in Jellybag Street.
When Mr. Camperdown went, Mrs. Bonteen followed him out to the top of the stairs. "You have heard about the trial, Mr. Camperdown?" He said that he knew that it was to take place at the Central Criminal Court in June. "Yes; I don't know why they have put it off so long. People know that he did it—eh?" Mr. Camperdown, with funereal sadness, declared that he had never looked into the matter. "I cannot understand that everybody should not know it," said Mrs. Bonteen.
Two Days Before the Trial
There was a scene in the private room of Mr. Wickerby, the attorney in Hatton Garden, which was very distressing indeed to the feelings of Lord Fawn, and which induced his lordship to think that he was being treated without that respect which was due to him as a peer and a member of the Government. There were present at this scene Mr. Chaffanbrass, the old barrister, Mr. Wickerby himself, Mr. Wickerby's confidential clerk, Lord Fawn, Lord Fawn's solicitor,—that same Mr. Camperdown whom we saw in the last chapter calling upon Lady Eustace,—and a policeman. Lord Fawn had been invited to attend, with many protestations of regret as to the trouble thus imposed upon him, because the very important nature of the evidence about to be given by him at the forthcoming trial seemed to render it expedient that some questions should be asked. This was on Tuesday, the 22nd June, and the trial was to be commenced on the following Thursday. And there was present in the room, very conspicuously, an old heavy grey great coat, as to which Mr. Wickerby had instructed Mr. Chaffanbrass that evidence was forthcoming, if needed, to prove that that coat was lying on the night of the murder in a downstairs room in the house in which Yosef Mealyus was then lodging. The reader will remember the history of the coat. Instigated by Madame Goesler, who was still absent from England, Mr. Wickerby had traced the coat, and had purchased the coat, and was in a position to prove that this very coat was the coat which Mr. Meager had brought home with him to Northumberland Street on that day. But Mr. Wickerby was of opinion that the coat had better not be used. "It does not go far enough," said Mr. Wickerby. "It don't go very far, certainly," said Mr. Chaffanbrass. "And if you try to show that another man has done it, and he hasn't," said Mr. Wickerby, "it always tells against you with a jury." To this Mr. Chaffanbrass made no reply, preferring to form his own opinion, and to keep it to himself when formed. But in obedience to his instructions, Lord Fawn was asked to attend at Mr. Wickerby's chambers, in the cause of truth, and the coat was brought out on the occasion. "Was that the sort of coat the man wore, my lord?" said Mr. Chaffanbrass as Mr. Wickerby held up the coat to view. Lord Fawn walked round and round the coat, and looked at it very carefully before he would vouchsafe a reply. "You see it is a grey coat," said Mr. Chaffanbrass, not speaking at all in the tone which Mr. Wickerby's note had induced Lord Fawn to expect.
"It is grey," said Lord Fawn.
"Perhaps it's not the same shade of grey, Lord Fawn. You see, my lord, we are most anxious not to impute guilt where guilt doesn't lie. You are a witness for the Crown, and, of course, you will tell the Crown lawyers all that passes here. Were it possible, we would make this little preliminary inquiry in their presence;—but we can hardly do that. Mr. Finn's coat was a very much smaller coat."
"I should think it was," said his lordship, who did not like being questioned about coats.
"You don't think the coat the man wore when you saw him was a big coat like that? You think he wore a little coat?"
"He wore a grey coat," said Lord Fawn.
"This is grey;—a coat shouldn't be greyer than that."
"I don't think Lord Fawn should be asked any more questions on the matter till he gives his evidence in court," said Mr. Camperdown.
"A man's life depends on it, Mr. Camperdown," said the barrister. "It isn't a matter of cross-examination. If I bring that coat into court I must make a charge against another man by the very act of doing so. And I will not do so unless I believe that other man to be guilty. It's an inquiry I can't postpone till we are before the jury. It isn't that I want to trump up a case against another man for the sake of extricating my client on a false issue. Lord Fawn doesn't want to hang Mr. Finn if Mr. Finn be not guilty."
"God forbid!" said his lordship.
"Mr. Finn couldn't have worn that coat, or a coat at all like it."
"What is it you do want to learn, Mr. Chaffanbrass?" asked Mr. Camperdown.
"Just put on the coat, Mr. Scruby." Then at the order of the barrister, Mr. Scruby, the attorney's clerk, did put on Mr. Meager's old great coat, and walked about the room in it. "Walk quick," said Mr. Chaffanbrass;—and the clerk did "walk quick." He was a stout, thick-set little man, nearly half a foot shorter than Phineas Finn. "Is that at all like the figure?" asked Mr. Chaffanbrass.
"I think it is like the figure," said Lord Fawn.
"And like the coat?"
"It's the same colour as the coat."
"You wouldn't swear it was not the coat?"
"I am not on my oath at all, Mr. Chaffanbrass."
"No, my lord;—but to me your word is as good as your oath. If you think it possible that was the coat—"
"I don't think anything about it at all. When Mr. Scruby hurries down the room in that way he looks as the man looked when he was hurrying under the lamp-post. I am not disposed to say any more at present."
"It's a matter of regret to me that Lord Fawn should have come here at all," said Mr. Camperdown, who had been summoned to meet his client at the chambers, but had come with him.
"I suppose his lordship wishes us to know all that he knew, seeing that it's a question of hanging the right man or the wrong one. I never heard such trash in my life. Take it off, Mr. Scruby, and let the policeman keep it. I understand Lord Fawn to say that the man's figure was about the same as yours. My client, I believe, stands about twelve inches taller. Thank you, my lord;—we shall get at the truth at last, I don't doubt." It was afterwards said that Mr. Chaffanbrass's conduct had been very improper in enticing Lord Fawn to Mr. Wickerby's chambers; but Mr. Chaffanbrass never cared what any one said. "I don't know that we can make much of it," he said, when he and Mr. Wickerby were alone, "but it may be as well to bring it into court. It would prove nothing against the Jew even if that fellow,"—he meant Lord Fawn,—"could be made to swear that the coat worn was exactly similar to this. I am thinking now about the height."
"I don't doubt but you'll get him off."
"Well;—I may do so. They ought not to hang any man on such evidence as there is against him, even though there were no moral doubt of his guilt. There is nothing really to connect Mr. Phineas Finn with the murder,—nothing tangible. But there is no saying nowadays what a jury will do. Juries depend a great deal more on the judge than they used to do. If I were on trial for my life, I don't think I'd have counsel at all."
"No one could defend you as well as yourself, Mr. Chaffanbrass."
"I didn't mean that. No;—I shouldn't defend myself. I should say to the judge, 'My lord, I don't doubt the jury will do just as you tell them, and you'll form your own opinion quite independent of the arguments'."