"Lord Chiltern would take it at once."
"But the Duke wouldn't really let it, you know. I'll lay awake at night and think about it. And now tell me about Adelaide Palliser. Is she to be married?"
"I hope so,—sooner or later."
"There's a quarrel or something;—isn't there? She's the Duke's first cousin, and we should be so sorry that things shouldn't go pleasantly with her. And she's a very good-looking girl, too. Would she like to come down to Matching?"
"She has some idea of going back to Italy."
"And leaving her lover behind her! Oh, dear, that will be very bad. She'd much better come to Matching, and then I'd ask the man to come too. Mr. Maud, isn't he?"
"Ah, yes; Maule. If it's the kind of thing that ought to be, I'd manage it in a week. If you get a young man down into a country house, and there has been anything at all between them, I don't see how he is to escape. Isn't there some trouble about money?"
"They wouldn't be very rich, Duchess."
"What a blessing for them! But then, perhaps, they'd be very poor."
"They would be rather poor."
"Which is not a blessing. Isn't there some proverb about going safely in the middle? I'm sure it's true about money,—only perhaps you ought to be put a little beyond the middle. I don't know why Plantagenet shouldn't do something for her."
As to this conversation Lady Chiltern said very little to Adelaide, but she did mention the proposed visit to Matching.
"The Duchess said nothing to me," replied Adelaide, proudly.
"No; I don't suppose she had time. And then she is so very odd; sometimes taking no notice of one, and at others so very loving."
"I hate that."
"But with her it is neither impudence nor affectation. She says exactly what she thinks at the time, and she is always as good as her word. There are worse women than the Duchess."
"I am sure I wouldn't like going to Matching," said Adelaide.
Lady Chiltern was right in saying that the Duchess of Omnium was always as good as her word. On the next day, after that interview with Lord Chiltern about Mr. Fothergill and the foxes,—as to which no present further allusion need be made here,—she went to work and did learn a good deal about Gerard Maule and Miss Palliser. Something she learned from Lord Chiltern,—without any consciousness on his lordship's part, something from Madame Goesler, and something from the Baldock people. Before she went to bed on the second night she knew all about the quarrel, and all about the money. "Plantagenet," she said the next morning, "what are you going to do about the Duke's legacy to Marie Goesler?"
"I can do nothing. She must take the things, of course."
"Then the jewels must remain packed up. I suppose they'll be sold at last for the legacy duty, and, when that's paid, the balance will belong to her."
"But what about the money?"
"Of course it belongs to her."
"Couldn't you give it to that girl who was here last night?"
"Give it to a girl!"
"Yes;—to your cousin. She's as poor as Job, and can't get married because she hasn't got any money. It's quite true; and I must say that if the Duke had looked after his own relations instead of leaving money to people who don't want it and won't have it, it would have been much better. Why shouldn't Adelaide Palliser have it?"
"How on earth should I give Adelaide Palliser what doesn't belong to me? If you choose to make her a present, you can, but such a sum as that would, I should say, be out of the question."
The Duchess had achieved quite as much as she had anticipated. She knew her husband well, and was aware that she couldn't carry her point at once. To her mind it was "all nonsense" his saying that the money was not his. If Madame Goesler wouldn't take it, it must be his; and nobody could make a woman take money if she did not choose. Adelaide Palliser was the Duke's first cousin, and it was intolerable that the Duke's first cousin should be unable to marry because she would have nothing to live upon. It became, at least, intolerable as soon as the Duchess had taken it into her head to like the first cousin. No doubt there were other first cousins as badly off, or perhaps worse, as to whom the Duchess would care nothing whether they were rich or poor,—married or single; but then they were first cousins who had not had the advantage of interesting the Duchess.
"My dear," said the Duchess to her friend, Madame Goesler, "you know all about those Maules?"
"What makes you ask?"
"But you do?"
"I know something about one of them," said Madame Goesler. Now, as it happened, Mr. Maule, senior, had on that very day asked Madame Goesler to share her lot with his, and the request had been—almost indignantly, refused. The general theory that the wooing of widows should be quick had, perhaps, misled Mr. Maule. Perhaps he did not think that the wooing had been quick. He had visited Park Lane with the object of making his little proposition once before, and had then been stopped in his course by the consternation occasioned by the arrest of Phineas Finn. He had waited till Phineas had been acquitted, and had then resolved to try his luck. He had heard of the lady's journey to Prague, and was acquainted of course with those rumours which too freely connected the name of our hero with that of the lady. But rumours are often false, and a lady may go to Prague on a gentleman's behalf without intending to marry him. All the women in London were at present more or less in love with the man who had been accused of murder, and the fantasy of Madame Goesler might be only as the fantasy of others. And then, rumour also said that Phineas Finn intended to marry Lady Laura Kennedy. At any rate a man cannot have his head broken for asking a lady to marry him,—unless he is very awkward in the doing of it. So Mr. Maule made his little proposition.
"Mr. Maule," said Madame, smiling, "is not this rather sudden?" Mr. Maule admitted that it was sudden, but still persisted. "I think, if you please, Mr. Maule, we will say no more about it," said the lady, with that wicked smile still on her face. Mr. Maule declared that silence on the subject had become impossible to him. "Then, Mr. Maule, I shall have to leave you to speak to the chairs and tables," said Madame Goesler. No doubt she was used to the thing, and knew how to conduct herself well. He also had been refused before by ladies of wealth, but had never been treated with so little consideration. She had risen from her chair as though about to leave the room, but was slow in her movement, showing him that she thought it was well for him to leave it instead of her. Muttering some words, half of apology and half of self-assertion, he did leave the room; and now she told the Duchess that she knew something of one of the Maules.
"That is, the father?"
"He is one of your tribe, I know. We met him at your house just before the murder. I don't much admire your taste, my dear, because he's a hundred and fifty years old;—and what there is of him comes chiefly from the tailor."
"He's as good as any other old man."
"I dare say,—and I hope Mr. Finn will like his society. But he has got a son."
"So he tells me."
"Who is a charming young man."
"He never told me that, Duchess."
"I dare say not. Men of that sort are always jealous of their sons. But he has. Now I am going to tell you something and ask you to do something."
"What was it the French Minister said. If it is simply difficult it is done. If it is impossible, it shall be done."
"The easiest thing in the world. You saw Plantagenet's first cousin the other night,—Adelaide Palliser. She is engaged to marry young Mr. Maule, and they neither of them have a shilling in the world. I want you to give them five-and-twenty thousand pounds."
"Wouldn't that be peculiar?"
"Not in the least."
"At any rate it would be inconvenient."
"No it wouldn't, my dear. It would be the most convenient thing in the world. Of course I don't mean out of your pocket. There's the Duke's legacy."
"It isn't mine, and never will be."
"But Plantagenet says it never can be anybody else's. If I can get him to agree, will you? Of course there will be ever so many papers to be signed; and the biggest of all robbers, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will put his fingers into the pudding and pull out a plum, and the lawyers will take more plums. But that will be nothing to us. The pudding will be very nice for them let ever so many plums be taken. The lawyers and people will do it all, and then it will be her fortune,—just as though her uncle had left it to her. As it is now, the money will never be of any use to anybody." Madame Goesler said that if the Duke consented she also would consent. It was immaterial to her who had the money. If by signing any receipt she could facilitate the return of the money to any one of the Duke's family, she would willingly sign it. But Miss Palliser must be made to understand that the money did not come to her as a present from Madame Goesler.
"But it will be a present from Madame Goesler," said the Duke.
"Plantagenet, if you go and upset everything by saying that, I shall think it most ill-natured. Bother about true! Somebody must have the money. There's nothing illegal about it." And the Duchess had her own way. Lawyers were consulted, and documents were prepared, and the whole thing was arranged. Only Adelaide Palliser knew nothing about it, nor did Gerard Maule; and the quarrels of lovers had not yet become the renewal of love. Then the Duchess wrote the two following notes:—
MY DEAR ADELAIDE,
We shall hope to see you at Matching on the 15th of August. The Duke, as head of the family, expects implicit obedience. You'll meet fifteen young gentlemen from the Treasury and the Board of Trade, but they won't incommode you, as they are kept at work all day. We hope Mr. Finn will be with us, and there isn't a lady in England who wouldn't give her eyes to meet him. We shall stay ever so many weeks at Matching, so that you can do as you please as to the time of leaving us.
Tell Lord Chiltern that I have my hopes of making Trumpeton Wood too hot for Mr. Fothergill,—but I have to act with the greatest caution. In the meantime I am sending down dozens of young foxes, all labelled Trumpeton Wood, so that he shall know them.
The other was a card rather than a note. The Duke and Duchess of Omnium presented their compliments to Mr. Gerard Maule, and requested the honour of his company to dinner on,—a certain day named. When Gerard Maule received this card at his club he was rather surprised, as he had never made the acquaintance either of the Duke or the Duchess. But the Duke was the first cousin of Adelaide Palliser, and of course he accepted the invitation.
"I will not go to Loughlinter"
The end of July came, and it was settled that Lady Laura Kennedy should go to Loughlinter. She had been a widow now for nearly three months, and it was thought right that she should go down and see the house, and the lands, and the dependents whom her husband had left in her charge. It was now three years since she had seen Loughlinter, and when last she had left it, she had made up her mind that she would never place her foot upon the place again. Her wretchedness had all come upon her there. It was there that she had first been subjected to the unendurable tedium of Sabbath Day observances. It was there she had been instructed in the unpalatable duties that had been expected from her. It was there that she had been punished with the doctor from Callender whenever she attempted escape under the plea of a headache. And it was there, standing by the waterfall, the noise of which could be heard from the front-door, that Phineas Finn had told her of his love. When she accepted the hand of Robert Kennedy she had known that she had not loved him; but from the moment in which Phineas had spoken to her, she knew well that her heart had gone one way, whereas her hand was to go another. From that moment her whole life had quickly become a blank. She had had no period of married happiness,—not a month, not an hour. From the moment in which the thing had been done she had found that the man to whom she had bound herself was odious to her, and that the life before her was distasteful to her. Things which before had seemed worthy to her, and full at any rate of interest, became at once dull and vapid. Her husband was in Parliament, as also had been her father, and many of her friends,—and, by weight of his own character and her influence, was himself placed high in office; but in his house politics lost all the flavour which they had possessed for her in Portman Square. She had thought that she could at any rate do her duty as the mistress of a great household, and as the benevolent lady of a great estate; but household duties under the tutelage of Mr. Kennedy had been impossible to her, and that part of a Scotch Lady Bountiful which she had intended to play seemed to be denied to her. The whole structure had fallen to the ground, and nothing had been left to her.
But she would not sin. Though she could not bring herself to love her husband, she would at any rate be strong enough to get rid of that other love. Having so resolved, she became as weak as water. She at one time determined to be the guiding genius of the man she loved,—a sort of devoted elder sister, intending him to be the intimate friend of her husband; then she had told him not to come to her house, and had been weak enough to let him know why it was that she could not bear his presence. She had failed altogether to keep her secret, and her life during the struggle had become so intolerable to her that she had found herself compelled to desert her husband. He had shown her that he, too, had discovered the truth, and then she had become indignant, and had left him. Every place that she had inhabited with him had become disagreeable to her. The house in London had been so odious, that she had asked her intimate friends to come to her in that occupied by her father. But, of all spots upon earth, Loughlinter had been the most distasteful to her. It was there that the sermons had been the longest, the lessons in accounts the most obstinate, the lectures the most persevering, the dullness the most heavy. It was there that her ears had learned the sound of the wheels of Dr. Macnuthrie's gig. It was there that her spirit had been nearly broken. It was there that, with spirit not broken, she had determined to face all that the world might say of her, and fly from a tyranny which was insupportable. And now the place was her own, and she was told that she must go there as its owner;—go there and be potential, and beneficent, and grandly bland with persons, all of whom knew what had been the relations between her and her husband.
And though she had been indignant with her husband when at last she had left him,—throwing it in his teeth as an unmanly offence that he had accused her of the truth; though she had felt him to be a tyrant and herself to be a thrall; though the sermons, and the lessons, and the doctor had each, severally, seemed to her to be horrible cruelties; yet she had known through it all that the fault had been hers, and not his. He only did that which she should have expected when she married him;—but she had done none of that which he was entitled to expect from her. The real fault, the deceit, the fraud,—the sin had been with her,—and she knew it. Her life had been destroyed,—but not by him. His life had also been destroyed, and she had done it. Now he was gone, and she knew that his people,—the old mother who was still left alone, his cousins, and the tenants who were now to be her tenants, all said that had she done her duty by him he would still have been alive. And they must hate her the worse, because she had never sinned after such a fashion as to liberate him from his bond to her. With a husband's perfect faith in his wife, he had, immediately after his marriage, given to her for her life the lordship over his people, should he be without a child and should she survive him. In his hottest anger he had not altered that. His constant demand had been that she should come back to him, and be his real wife. And while making that demand,—with a persistency which had driven him mad,—he had died; and now the place was hers, and they told her that she must go and live there!
It is a very sad thing for any human being to have to say to himself,—with an earnest belief in his own assertion,—that all the joy of this world is over for him; and is the sadder because such conviction is apt to exclude the hope of other joy. This woman had said so to herself very often during the last two years, and had certainly been sincere. What was there in store for her? She was banished from the society of all those she liked. She bore a name that was hateful to her. She loved a man whom she could never see. She was troubled about money. Nothing in life had any taste for her. All the joys of the world were over,—and had been lost by her own fault. Then Phineas Finn had come to her at Dresden, and now her husband was dead!
Could it be that she was entitled to hope that the sun might rise again for her once more and another day be reopened for her with a gorgeous morning? She was now rich and still young,—or young enough. She was two and thirty, and had known many women,—women still honoured with the name of girls,—who had commenced the world successfully at that age. And this man had loved her once. He had told her so, and had afterwards kissed her when informed of her own engagement. How well she remembered it all. He, too, had gone through vicissitudes in life, had married and retired out of the world, had returned to it, and had gone through fire and water. But now everybody was saying good things of him, and all he wanted was the splendour which wealth would give him. Why should he not take it at her hands, and why should not the world begin again for both of them?
But though she would dream that it might be so, she was quite sure that there was no such life in store for her. The nature of the man was too well known to her. Fickle he might be;—or rather capable of change than fickle; but he was incapable of pretending to love when he did not love. She felt that in all the moments in which he had been most tender with her. When she had endeavoured to explain to him the state of her feelings at Koenigstein,—meaning to be true in what she said, but not having been even then true throughout,—she had acknowledged to herself that at every word he spoke she was wounded by his coldness. Had he then professed a passion for her she would have rebuked him, and told him that he must go from her,—but it would have warmed the blood in all her veins, and brought back to her a sense of youthful life. It had been the same when she visited him in the prison;—the same again when he came to her after his acquittal. She had been frank enough to him, but he would not even pretend that he loved her. His gratitude, his friendship, his services, were all hers. In every respect he had behaved well to her. All his troubles had come upon him because he would not desert her cause,—but he would never again say he loved her.
She gazed at herself in the glass, putting aside for the moment the hideous widow's cap which she now wore, and told herself that it was natural that it should be so. Though she was young in years her features were hard and worn with care. She had never thought herself to be a beauty, though she had been conscious of a certain aristocratic grace of manner which might stand in the place of beauty. As she examined herself she found that that was not all gone;—but she now lacked that roundness of youth which had been hers when first she knew Phineas Finn. She sat opposite the mirror, and pored over her own features with an almost skilful scrutiny, and told herself at last aloud that she had become an old woman. He was in the prime of life; but for her was left nothing but its dregs.
She was to go to Loughlinter with her brother and her brother's wife, leaving her father at Saulsby on the way. The Chilterns were to remain with her for one week, and no more. His presence was demanded in the Brake country, and it was with difficulty that he had been induced to give her so much of his time. But what was she to do when they should leave her? How could she live alone in that great house, thinking, as she ever must think, of all that had happened to her there? It seemed to her that everybody near to her was cruel in demanding from her such a sacrifice of her comfort. Her father had shuddered when she had proposed to him to accompany her to Loughlinter; but her father was one of those who insisted on the propriety of her going there. Then, in spite of that lesson which she had taught herself while sitting opposite to the glass, she allowed her fancy to revel in the idea of having him with her as she wandered over the braes. She saw him a day or two before her journey, when she told him her plans as she might tell them to any friend. Lady Chiltern and her father had been present, and there had been no special sign in her outward manner of the mingled tenderness and soreness of her heart within. No allusion had been made to any visit from him to the North. She would not have dared to suggest it in the presence of her brother, and was almost as much cowed by her brother's wife. But when she was alone, on the eve of her departure, she wrote to him as follows:—
Sunday, 1st August, ——
I thought that perhaps you might have come in this afternoon, and I have not left the house all day. I was so wretched that I could not go to church in the morning; —and when the afternoon came, I preferred the chance of seeing you to going out with Violet. We two were alone all the evening, and I did not give you up till nearly ten. I dare say you were right not to come. I should only have bored you with my complaints, and have grumbled to you of evils which you cannot cure.
We start at nine to-morrow, and get to Saulsby in the afternoon. Such a family party as we shall be! I did fancy that Oswald would escape it; but, like everybody else, he has changed,—and has become domestic and dutiful. Not but that he is as tyrannous as ever; but his tyranny is now that of the responsible father of a family. Papa cannot understand him at all, and is dreadfully afraid of him. We stay two nights at Saulsby, and then go on to Scotland, leaving papa at home.
Of course it is very good in Violet and Oswald to come with me,—if, as they say, it be necessary for me to go at all. As to living there by myself, it seems to me to be impossible. You know the place well, and can you imagine me there all alone, surrounded by Scotch men and women, who, of course, must hate and despise me, afraid of every face that I see, and reminded even by the chairs and tables of all that is past? I have told papa that I know I shall be back at Saulsby before the middle of the month. He frets, and says nothing; but he tells Violet, and then she lectures me in that wise way of hers which enables her to say such hard things with so much seeming tenderness. She asks me why I do not take a companion with me, as I am so much afraid of solitude. Where on earth should I find a companion who would not be worse than solitude? I do feel now that I have mistaken life in having so little used myself to the small resources of feminine companionship. I love Violet dearly, and I used to be always happy in her society. But even with her now I feel but a half sympathy. That girl that she has with her is more to her than I am, because after the first half-hour I grow tired about her babies. I have never known any other woman with whom I cared to be alone. How then shall I content myself with a companion, hired by the quarter, perhaps from some advertisement in a newspaper?
No companionship of any kind seems possible to me,—and yet never was a human being more weary of herself. I sometimes wonder whether I could go again and sit in that cage in the House of Commons to hear you and other men speak,—as I used to do. I do not believe that any eloquence in the world would make it endurable to me. I hardly care who is in or out, and do not understand the things which my cousin Barrington tells me,—so long does it seem since I was in the midst of them all. Not but that I am intensely anxious that you should be back. They tell me that you will certainly be re-elected this week, and that all the House will receive you with open arms. I should have liked, had it been possible, to be once more in the cage to see that. But I am such a coward that I did not even dare to propose to stay for it. Violet would have told me that such manifestation of interest was unfit for my condition as a widow. But in truth, Phineas, there is nothing else now that does interest me. If, looking on from a distance, I can see you succeed, I shall try once more to care for the questions of the day. When you have succeeded, as I know you will, it will be some consolation to me to think that I also helped a little.
I suppose I must not ask you to come to Loughlinter? But you will know best. If you will do so I shall care nothing for what any one may say. Oswald hardly mentions your name in my hearing, and of course I know of what he is thinking. When I am with him I am afraid of him, because it would add infinitely to my grief were I driven to quarrel with him; but I am my own mistress as much as he is his own master, and I will not regulate my conduct by his wishes. If you please to come you will be welcome as the flowers in May. Ah, how weak are such words in giving any idea of the joy with which I should see you!
God bless you, Phineas.
Your most affectionate friend,
Write to me at Loughlinter. I shall long to hear that you have taken your seat immediately on your re-election. Pray do not lose a day. I am sure that all your friends will advise you as I do.
Throughout her whole letter she was struggling to tell him once again of her love, and yet to do it in some way of which she need not be ashamed. It was not till she had come to the last words that she could force her pen to speak of her affection, and then the words did not come freely as she would have had them. She knew that he would not come to Loughlinter. She felt that were he to do so he could come only as a suitor for her hand, and that such a suit, in these early days of her widowhood, carried on in her late husband's house, would be held to be disgraceful. As regarded herself, she would have faced all that for the sake of the thing to be attained. But she knew that he would not come. He had become wise by experience, and would perceive the result of such coming,—and would avoid it. His answer to her letter reached Loughlinter before she did:—
Great Marlborough Street, Monday night.
DEAR LADY LAURA,—
I should have called in the Square last night, only that I feel that Lady Chiltern must be weary of the woes of so doleful a person as myself. I dined and spent the evening with the Lows, and was quite aware that I disgraced myself with them by being perpetually lachrymose. As a rule I do not think that I am more given than other people to talk of myself, but I am conscious of a certain incapability of getting rid of myself what has grown upon me since those weary weeks in Newgate and those frightful days in the dock; and this makes me unfit for society. Should I again have a seat in the House I shall be afraid to get up upon my legs, lest I should find myself talking of the time in which I stood before the judge with a halter round my neck.
I sympathise with you perfectly in what you say about Loughlinter. It may be right that you should go there and show yourself,—so that those who knew the Kennedys in Scotland should not say that you had not dared to visit the place, but I do not think it possible that you should live there as yet. And why should you do so? I cannot conceive that your presence there should do good, unless you took delight in the place.
I will not go to Loughlinter myself, although I know how warm would be my welcome.
When he had got so far with his letter he found the difficulty of going on with it to be almost insuperable. How could he give her any reasons for his not making the journey to Scotland? "People would say that you and I should not be alone together after all the evil that has been spoken of us;—and would be specially eager in saying so were I now to visit you, so lately made a widow, and to sojourn with you in the house that did belong to your husband. Only think how eloquent would be the indignation of The People's Banner were it known that I was at Loughlinter." Could he have spoken the truth openly, such were the reasons that he would have given; but it was impossible that such truths should be written by him in a letter to herself. And then it was almost equally difficult for him to tell her of a visit which he had resolved to make. But the letter must be completed, and at last the words were written.
I could be of no real service to you there, as will be your brother and your brother's wife, even though their stay with you is to be so short. Were I you I would go out among the people as much as possible, even though they should not receive you cordially at first. Though we hear so much of clanship in the Highlands, I think the Highlanders are prone to cling to any one who has territorial authority among them. They thought a great deal of Mr. Kennedy, but they had never heard his name fifty years ago. I suppose you will return to Saulsby soon, and then, perhaps, I may be able to see you.
In the meantime I am going to Matching. [This difficulty was worse even than the other.] Both the Duke and Duchess have asked me, and I know that I am bound to make an effort to face my fellow-creatures again. The horror I feel at being stared at, as the man that was not hung as a murderer, is stronger than I can describe; and I am well aware that I shall be talked to and made a wonder of on that ground. I am told that I am to be re-elected triumphantly at Tankerville without a penny of cost or the trouble of asking for a vote, simply because I didn't knock poor Mr. Bonteen on the head. This to me is abominable, but I cannot help myself, unless I resolve to go away and hide myself. That I know cannot be right, and therefore I had better go through it and have done with it. Though I am to be stared at, I shall not be stared at very long. Some other monster will come up and take my place, and I shall be the only person who will not forget it all. Therefore I have accepted the Duke's invitation, and shall go to Matching some time in the end of August. All the world is to be there.
This re-election,—and I believe I shall be re-elected to-morrow,—would be altogether distasteful to me were it not that I feel that I should not allow myself to be cut to pieces by what has occurred. I shall hate to go back to the House, and have somehow learned to dislike and distrust all those things that used to be so fine and lively to me. I don't think that I believe any more in the party;—or rather in the men who lead it. I used to have a faith that now seems to me to be marvellous. Even twelve months ago, when I was beginning to think of standing for Tankerville, I believed that on our side the men were patriotic angels, and that Daubeny and his friends were all fiends or idiots,—mostly idiots, but with a strong dash of fiendism to control them. It has all come now to one common level of poor human interests. I doubt whether patriotism can stand the wear and tear and temptation of the front benches in the House of Commons. Men are flying at each other's throats, thrusting and parrying, making false accusations and defences equally false, lying and slandering,—sometimes picking and stealing,—till they themselves become unaware of the magnificence of their own position, and forget that they are expected to be great. Little tricks of sword-play engage all their skill. And the consequence is that there is no reverence now for any man in the House,—none of that feeling which we used to entertain for Mr. Mildmay.
Of course I write—and feel—as a discontented man; and what I say to you I would not say to any other human being. I did long most anxiously for office, having made up my mind a second time to look to it as a profession. But I meant to earn my bread honestly, and give it up, —as I did before, when I could not keep it with a clear conscience. I knew that I was hustled out of the object of my poor ambition by that unfortunate man who has been hurried to his fate. In such a position I ought to distrust, and do, partly, distrust my own feelings. And I am aware that I have been soured by prison indignities. But still the conviction remains with me that parliamentary interests are not those battles of gods and giants which I used to regard them. Our Gyas with the hundred hands is but a Three-fingered Jack, and I sometimes think that we share our great Jove with the Strand Theatre. Nevertheless I shall go back,—and if they will make me a joint lord to-morrow I shall be in heaven!
I do not know why I should write all this to you except that there is no one else to whom I can say it. There is no one else who would give a moment of time to such lamentations. My friends will expect me to talk to them of my experiences in the dock rather than politics, and will want to know what rations I had in Newgate. I went to call on the Governor only yesterday, and visited the old room. "I never could really bring myself to think that you did it, Mr. Finn," he said. I looked at him and smiled, but I should have liked to fly at his throat. Why did he not know that the charge was a monstrous absurdity? Talking of that, not even you were truer to me than your brother. One expects it from a woman;—both the truth and the discernment.
I have written to you a cruelly long letter; but when one's mind is full such relief is sometimes better than talking. Pray answer it before long, and let me know what you intend to do.
Yours most affectionately,
She did read the letter through,—read it probably more than once; but there was only one sentence in it that had for her any enduring interest. "I will not go to Loughlinter myself." Though she had known that he would not come her heart sank within her, as though now, at this moment, the really fatal wound had at last been inflicted. But, in truth, there was another sentence as a complement to the first, which rivetted the dagger in her bosom. "In the meantime I am going to Matching." Throughout his letter the name of that woman was not mentioned, but of course she would be there. The thing had all been arranged in order that they two might be brought together. She told herself that she had always hated that intriguing woman, Lady Glencora. She read the remainder of the letter and understood it; but she read it all in connection with the beauty, and the wealth, and the art,—and the cunning of Madame Max Goesler.
Phineas Finn is Re-elected
The manner in which Phineas Finn was returned a second time for the borough of Tankerville was memorable among the annals of English elections. When the news reached the town that their member was to be tried for murder no doubt every elector believed that he was guilty. It is the natural assumption when the police and magistrates and lawyers, who have been at work upon the matter carefully, have come to that conclusion, and nothing but private knowledge or personal affection will stand against such evidence. At Tankerville there was nothing of either, and our hero's guilt was taken as a certainty. There was an interest felt in the whole matter which was full of excitement, and not altogether without delight to the Tankervillians. Of course the borough, as a borough, would never again hold up its head. There had never been known such an occurrence in the whole history of this country as the hanging of a member of the House of Commons. And this Member of Parliament was to be hung for murdering another member, which, no doubt, added much to the importance of the transaction. A large party in the borough declared that it was a judgment. Tankerville had degraded itself among boroughs by sending a Roman Catholic to Parliament, and had done so at the very moment in which the Church of England was being brought into danger. This was what had come upon the borough by not sticking to honest Mr. Browborough! There was a moment,—just before the trial was begun,—in which a large proportion of the electors was desirous of proceeding to work at once, and of sending Mr. Browborough back to his own place. It was thought that Phineas Finn should be made to resign. And very wise men in Tankerville were much surprised when they were told that a member of Parliament cannot resign his seat,—that when once returned he is supposed to be, as long as that Parliament shall endure, the absolute slave of his constituency and his country, and that he can escape from his servitude only by accepting some office under the Crown. Now it was held to be impossible that a man charged with murder should be appointed even to the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds. The House, no doubt, could expel a member, and would, as a matter of course, expel the member for Tankerville,—but the House could hardly proceed to expulsion before the member's guilt could have been absolutely established. So it came to pass that there was no escape for the borough from any part of the disgrace to which it had subjected itself by its unworthy choice, and some Tankervillians of sensitive minds were of opinion that no Tankervillian ever again ought to take part in politics.
Then, quite suddenly, there came into the borough the tidings that Phineas Finn was an innocent man. This happened on the morning on which the three telegrams from Prague reached London. The news conveyed by the telegrams was at Tankerville almost as soon as in the Court at the Old Bailey, and was believed as readily. The name of the lady who had travelled all the way to Bohemia on behalf of their handsome young member was on the tongue of every woman in Tankerville, and a most delightful romance was composed. Some few Protestant spirits regretted the now assured escape of their Roman Catholic enemy, and would not even yet allow themselves to doubt that the whole murder had been arranged by Divine Providence to bring down the scarlet woman. It seemed to them to be so fitting a thing that Providence should interfere directly to punish a town in which the sins of the scarlet woman were not held to be abominable! But the multitude were soon convinced that their member was innocent; and as it was certain that he had been in great peril,—as it was known that he was still in durance, and as it was necessary that the trial should proceed, and that he should still stand at least for another day in the dock,—he became more than ever a hero. Then came the further delay, and at last the triumphant conclusion of the trial. When acquitted, Phineas Finn was still member for Tankerville and might have walked into the House on that very night. Instead of doing so he had at once asked for the accustomed means of escape from his servitude, and the seat for Tankerville was vacant. The most loving friends of Mr. Browborough perceived at once that there was not a chance for him. The borough was all but unanimous in resolving that it would return no one as its member but the man who had been unjustly accused of murder.
Mr. Ruddles was at once despatched to London with two other political spirits,—so that there might be a real deputation,—and waited upon Phineas two days after his release from prison. Ruddles was very anxious to carry his member back with him, assuring Phineas of an entry into the borough so triumphant that nothing like to it had ever been known at Tankerville. But to all this Phineas was quite deaf. At first he declined even to be put in nomination. "You can't escape from it, Mr. Finn, you can't indeed," said Ruddles. "You don't at all understand the enthusiasm of the borough; does he, Mr. Gadmire?"
"I never knew anything like it in my life before," said Gadmire.
"I believe Mr. Finn would poll two-thirds of the Church party to-morrow," said Mr. Troddles, a leading dissenter in Tankerville, who on this occasion was the third member of the deputation.
"I needn't sit for the borough unless I please, I suppose," pleaded Phineas.
"Well, no;—at least I don't know," said Ruddles. "It would be throwing us over a good deal, and I'm sure you are not the gentleman to do that. And then, Mr. Finn, don't you see that though you have been knocked about a little lately—"
"By George, he has,—most cruel," said Troddles.
"You'll miss the House if you give it up; you will, after a bit, Mr. Finn. You've got to come round again, Mr. Finn,—if I may be so bold as to say so, and you shouldn't put yourself out of the way of coming round comfortably."
Phineas knew that there was wisdom in the words of Mr. Ruddles, and consented. Though at this moment he was low in heart, disgusted with the world, and sick of humanity,—though every joint in his body was still sore from the rack on which he had been stretched, yet he knew that it would not be so with him always. As others recovered so would he, and it might be that he would live to "miss the House," should he now refuse the offer made to him. He accepted the offer, but he did so with a positive assurance that no consideration should at present take him to Tankerville.
"We ain't going to charge you, not one penny," said Mr. Gadmire, with enthusiasm.
"I feel all that I owe to the borough," said Phineas, "and to the warm friends there who have espoused my cause; but I am not in a condition at present, either of mind or body, to put myself forward anywhere in public. I have suffered a great deal."
"Most cruel!" said Troddles.
"And am quite willing to confess that I am therefore unfit in my present position to serve the borough."
"We can't admit that," said Gadmire, raising his left hand.
"We mean to have you," said Troddles.
"There isn't a doubt about your re-election, Mr. Finn," said Ruddles.
"I am very grateful, but I cannot be there. I must trust to one of you gentlemen to explain to the electors that in my present condition I am unable to visit the borough."
Messrs. Ruddles, Gadmire, and Troddles returned to Tankerville, —disappointed no doubt at not bringing with them him whose company would have made their feet glorious on the pavement of their native town,—but still with a comparative sense of their own importance in having seen the great sufferer whose woes forbade that he should be beheld by common eyes. They never even expressed an idea that he ought to have come, alluding even to their past convictions as to the futility of hoping for such a blessing; but spoke of him as a personage made almost sacred by the sufferings which he had been made to endure. As to the election, that would be a matter of course. He was proposed by Mr. Ruddles himself, and was absolutely seconded by the rector of Tankerville,—the staunchest Tory in the place, who on this occasion made a speech in which he declared that as an Englishman, loving justice, he could not allow any political or even any religious consideration to bias his conduct on this occasion. Mr. Finn had thrown up his seat under the pressure of a false accusation, and it was, the rector thought, for the honour of the borough that the seat should be restored to him. So Phineas Finn was re-elected for Tankerville without opposition and without expense; and for six weeks after the ceremony parcels were showered upon him by the ladies of the borough who sent him worked slippers, scarlet hunting waistcoats, pocket handkerchiefs, with "P.F." beautifully embroidered, and chains made of their own hair.
In this conjunction of affairs the editor of The People's Banner found it somewhat difficult to trim his sails. It was a rule of life with Mr. Quintus Slide to persecute an enemy. An enemy might at any time become a friend, but while an enemy was an enemy he should be trodden on and persecuted. Mr. Slide had striven more than once to make a friend of Phineas Finn; but Phineas Finn had been conceited and stiff-necked. Phineas had been to Mr. Slide an enemy of enemies, and by all his ideas of manliness, by all the rules of his life, by every principle which guided him, he was bound to persecute Phineas to the last. During the trial and the few weeks before the trial he had written various short articles with the view of declaring how improper it would be should a newspaper express any opinion of the guilt or innocence of a suspected person while under trial; and he gave two or three severe blows to contemporaries for having sinned in the matter; but in all these articles he had contrived to insinuate that the member for Tankerville would, as a matter of course, be dealt with by the hands of justice. He had been very careful to recapitulate all circumstances which had induced Finn to hate the murdered man, and had more than once related the story of the firing of the pistol at Macpherson's Hotel. Then came the telegram from Prague, and for a day or two Mr. Slide was stricken dumb. The acquittal followed, and Quintus Slide had found himself compelled to join in the general satisfaction evinced at the escape of an innocent man. Then came the re-election for Tankerville, and Mr. Slide felt that there was opportunity for another reaction. More than enough had been done for Phineas Finn in allowing him to elude the gallows. There could certainly be no need for crowning him with a political chaplet because he had not murdered Mr. Bonteen. Among a few other remarks which Mr. Slide threw together, the following appeared in the columns of The People's Banner:—
We must confess that we hardly understand the principle on which Mr. Finn has been re-elected for Tankerville with so much enthusiasm,—free of expense,—and without that usual compliment to the constituency which is implied by the personal appearance of the candidate. We have more than once expressed our belief that he was wrongly accused in the matter of Mr. Bonteen's murder. Indeed our readers will do us the justice to remember that, during the trial and before the trial, we were always anxious to allay the very strong feeling against Mr. Finn with which the public mind was then imbued, not only by the facts of the murder, but also by the previous conduct of that gentleman. But we cannot understand why the late member should be thought by the electors of Tankerville to be especially worthy of their confidence because he did not murder Mr. Bonteen. He himself, instigated, we hope, by a proper feeling, retired from Parliament as soon as he was acquitted. His career during the last twelve months has not enhanced his credit, and cannot, we should think, have increased his comfort. We ventured to suggest after that affair in Judd Street, as to which the police were so benignly inefficient, that it would not be for the welfare of the nation that a gentleman should be employed in the public service whose public life had been marked by the misfortune which had attended Mr. Finn. Great efforts were made by various ladies of the old Whig party to obtain official employment for him, but they were made in vain. Mr. Gresham was too wise, and our advice,—we will not say was followed,—but was found to agree with the decision of the Prime Minister. Mr. Finn was left out in the cold in spite of his great friends,—and then came the murder of Mr. Bonteen.
Can it be that Mr. Finn's fitness for Parliamentary duties has been increased by Mr. Bonteen's unfortunate death, or by the fact that Mr. Bonteen was murdered by other hands than his own? We think not. The wretched husband, who, in the madness of jealousy, fired a pistol at this young man's head, has since died in his madness. Does that incident in the drama give Mr. Finn any special claim to consideration? We think not;—and we think also that the electors of Tankerville would have done better had they allowed Mr. Finn to return to that obscurity which he seems to have desired. The electors of Tankerville, however, are responsible only to their borough, and may do as they please with the seat in Parliament which is at their disposal. We may, however, protest against the employment of an unfit person in the service of his country,—simply because he has not committed a murder. We say so much now because rumours of an arrangement have reached our ears, which, should it come to pass,—would force upon us the extremely disagreeable duty of referring very forcibly to past circumstances, which may otherwise, perhaps, be allowed to be forgotten.
The End of the Story of Mr. Emilius and Lady Eustace
The interest in the murder by no means came to an end when Phineas Finn was acquitted. The new facts which served so thoroughly to prove him innocent tended with almost equal weight to prove another man guilty. And the other man was already in custody on a charge which had subjected him to the peculiar ill-will of the British public. He, a foreigner and a Jew, by name Yosef Mealyus,—as every one was now very careful to call him,—had come to England, had got himself to be ordained as a clergyman, had called himself Emilius, and had married a rich wife with a title, although he had a former wife still living in his own country. Had he called himself Jones it would have been better for him, but there was something in the name of Emilius which added a peculiar sting to his iniquities. It was now known that the bigamy could be certainly proved, and that his last victim,—our old friend, poor little Lizzie Eustace,—would be rescued from his clutches. She would once more be a free woman, and as she had been strong enough to defend her future income from his grasp, she was perhaps as fortunate as she deserved to be. She was still young and pretty, and there might come another lover more desirable than Yosef Mealyus. That the man would have to undergo the punishment of bigamy in its severest form, there was no doubt;—but would law, and justice, and the prevailing desire for revenge, be able to get at him in such a way that he might be hung? There certainly did exist a strong desire to prove Mr. Emilius to have been a murderer, so that there might come a fitting termination to his career in Great Britain.
The police seemed to think that they could make but little either of the coat or of the key, unless other evidence, that would be almost sufficient in itself, should be found. Lord Fawn was informed that his testimony would probably be required at another trial,—which intimation affected him so grievously that his friends for a week or two thought that he would altogether sink under his miseries. But he would say nothing which would seem to criminate Mealyus. A man hurrying along with a grey coat was all that he could swear to now,—professing himself to be altogether ignorant whether the man, as seen by him, had been tall or short. And then the manufacture of the key,—though it was that which made every one feel sure that Mealyus was the murderer,—did not, in truth, afford the slightest evidence against him. Even had it been proved that he had certainly used the false key and left Mrs. Meager's house on the night in question, that would not have sufficed at all to prove that therefore he had committed a murder in Berkeley Street. No doubt Mr. Bonteen had been his enemy,—and Mr. Bonteen had been murdered by an enemy. But so great had been the man's luck that no real evidence seemed to touch him. Nobody doubted;—but then but few had doubted before as to the guilt of Phineas Finn.
There was one other fact by which the truth might, it was hoped, still be reached. Mr. Bonteen had, of course, been killed by the weapon which had been found in the garden. As to that a general certainty prevailed. Mrs. Meager and Miss Meager, and the maid-of-all-work belonging to the Meagers, and even Lady Eustace, were examined as to this bludgeon. Had anything of the kind ever been seen in the possession of the clergyman? The clergyman had been so sly that nothing of the kind had been seen. Of the drawers and cupboards which he used, Mrs. Meager had always possessed duplicate keys, and Miss Meager frankly acknowledged that she had a general and fairly accurate acquaintance with the contents of these receptacles; but there had always been a big trunk with an impenetrable lock,—a lock which required that even if you had the key you should be acquainted with a certain combination of letters before you could open it,—and of that trunk no one had seen the inside. As a matter of course, the weapon, when brought to London, had been kept altogether hidden in the trunk. Nothing could be easier. But a man cannot be hung because he has had a secret hiding place in which a murderous weapon may have been stowed away.
But might it not be possible to trace the weapon? Mealyus, on his return from Prague, had certainly come through Paris. So much was learned,—and it was also learned as a certainty that the article was of French,—and probably of Parisian manufacture. If it could be proved that the man had bought this weapon, or even such a weapon, in Paris then,—so said all the police authorities,—it might be worth while to make an attempt to hang him. Men very skilful in unravelling such mysteries were sent to Paris, and the police of that capital entered upon the search with most praiseworthy zeal. But the number of life-preservers which had been sold altogether baffled them. It seemed that nothing was so common as that gentlemen should walk about with bludgeons in their pockets covered with leathern thongs. A young woman and an old man who thought that they could recollect something of a special sale were brought over,—and saw the splendour of London under very favourable circumstances;—but when confronted with Mr. Emilius, neither could venture to identify him. A large sum of money was expended,—no doubt justified by the high position which poor Mr. Bonteen had filled in the counsels of the nation; but it was expended in vain. Mr. Bonteen had been murdered in the streets at the West End of London. The murderer was known to everybody. He had been seen a minute or two before the murder. The motive which had induced the crime was apparent. The weapon with which it had been perpetrated had been found. The murderer's disguise had been discovered. The cunning with which he had endeavoured to prove that he was in bed at home had been unravelled, and the criminal purpose of his cunning made altogether manifest. Every man's eye could see the whole thing from the moment in which the murderer crept out of Mrs. Meager's house with Mr. Meager's coat upon his shoulders and the life-preserver in his pocket, till he was seen by Lord Fawn hurrying out of the mews to his prey. The blows from the bludgeon could be counted. The very moment in which they had been struck had been ascertained. His very act in hurling the weapon over the wall was all but seen. And yet nothing could be done. "It is a very dangerous thing hanging a man on circumstantial evidence," said Sir Gregory Grogram, who, a couple of months since, had felt almost sure that his honourable friend Phineas Finn would have to be hung on circumstantial evidence. The police and magistrates and lawyers all agreed that it would be useless, and indeed wrong, to send the case before a jury. But there had been quite sufficient evidence against Phineas Finn!
In the meantime the trial for bigamy proceeded in order that poor little Lizzie Eustace might be freed from the incubus which afflicted her. Before the end of July she was made once more a free woman, and the Rev. Joseph Emilius,—under which name it was thought proper that he should be tried,—was convicted and sentenced to penal servitude for five years. A very touching appeal was made for him to the jury by a learned serjeant, who declared that his client was to lose his wife and to be punished with extreme severity as a bigamist, because it was found to be impossible to bring home against him a charge of murder. There was, perhaps, some truth in what the learned serjeant said, but the truth had no effect upon the jury. Mr. Emilius was found guilty as quickly as Phineas Finn had been acquitted, and was, perhaps, treated with a severity which the single crime would hardly have elicited. But all this happened in the middle of the efforts which were being made to trace the purchase of the bludgeon, and when men hoped two or five or twenty-five years of threatened incarceration might be all the same to Mr. Emilius. Could they have succeeded in discovering where he had bought the weapon, his years of penal servitude would have afflicted him but little. They did not succeed; and though it cannot be said that any mystery was attached to the Bonteen murder, it has remained one of those crimes which are unavenged by the flagging law. And so the Rev. Mr. Emilius will pass away from our story.
There must be one or two words further respecting poor little Lizzie Eustace. She still had her income almost untouched, having been herself unable to squander it during her late married life, and having succeeded in saving it from the clutches of her pseudo husband. And she had her title, of which no one could rob her, and her castle down in Ayrshire,—which, however, as a place of residence she had learned to hate most thoroughly. Nor had she done anything which of itself must necessarily have put her out of the pale of society. As a married woman she had had no lovers; and, when a widow, very little fault in that line had been brought home against her. But the world at large seemed to be sick of her. Mrs. Bonteen had been her best friend, and, while it was still thought that Phineas Finn had committed the murder, with Mrs. Bonteen she had remained. But it was impossible that the arrangement should be continued when it became known,—for it was known,—that Mr. Bonteen had been murdered by the man who was still Lizzie's reputed husband. Not that Lizzie perceived this,—though she was averse to the idea of her husband having been a murderer. But Mrs. Bonteen perceived it, and told her friend that she must—go. It was most unwillingly that the wretched widow changed her faith as to the murderer; but at last she found herself bound to believe as the world believed; and then she hinted to the wife of Mr. Emilius that she had better find another home.
"I don't believe it a bit," said Lizzie.
"It is not a subject I can discuss," said the widow.
"And I don't see that it makes any difference. He isn't my husband. You have said that yourself very often, Mrs. Bonteen."
"It is better that we shouldn't be together, Lady Eustace."
"Oh, I can go, of course, Mrs. Bonteen. There needn't be the slightest trouble about that. I had thought perhaps it might be convenient; but of course you know best."
She went forth into lodgings in Half Moon Street, close to the scene of the murder, and was once more alone in the world. She had a child indeed, the son of her first husband, as to whom it behoved many to be anxious, who stood high in rank and high in repute; but such had been Lizzie's manner of life that neither her own relations nor those of her husband could put up with her, or endure her contact. And yet she was conscious of no special sins, and regarded herself as one who with a tender heart of her own, and a too-confiding spirit, had been much injured by the cruelty of those with whom she had been thrown. Now she was alone, weeping in solitude, pitying herself with deepest compassion; but it never occurred to her that there was anything in her conduct that she need alter. She would still continue to play her game as before, would still scheme, would still lie; and might still, at last, land herself in that Elysium of life of which she had been always dreaming. Poor Lizzie Eustace! Was it nature or education which had made it impossible to her to tell the truth, when a lie came to her hand? Lizzie, the liar! Poor Lizzie!
Phineas Finn Returns to His Duties
The election at Tankerville took place during the last week in July; and as Parliament was doomed to sit that year as late as the 10th of August, there was ample time for Phineas to present himself and take the oaths before the Session was finished. He had calculated that this could hardly be so when the matter of re-election was first proposed to him, and had hoped that his reappearance might be deferred till the following year. But there he was, once more member for Tankerville, while yet there was nearly a fortnight's work to be done, pressed by his friends, and told by one or two of those whom he most trusted, that he would neglect his duty and show himself to be a coward, if he abstained from taking his place. "Coward is a hard word," he said to Mr. Low, who had used it.
"So men think when this or that other man is accused of running away in battle or the like. Nobody will charge you with cowardice of that kind. But there is moral cowardice as well as physical."
"As when a man lies. I am telling no lie."
"But you are afraid to meet the eyes of your fellow-creatures."
"Yes, I am. You may call me a coward if you like. What matters the name, if the charge be true? I have been so treated that I am afraid to meet the eyes of my fellow-creatures. I am like a man who has had his knees broken, or his arms cut off. Of course I cannot be the same afterwards as I was before." Mr. Low said a great deal more to him on the subject, and all that Mr. Low said was true; but he was somewhat rough, and did not succeed. Barrington Erle and Lord Cantrip also tried their eloquence upon him; but it was Mr. Monk who at last drew from him a promise that he would go down to the House and be sworn in early on a certain Tuesday afternoon. "I am quite sure of this," Mr. Monk had said, "that the sooner you do it the less will be the annoyance. Indeed there will be no trouble in the doing of it. The trouble is all in the anticipation, and is therefore only increased and prolonged by delay." "Of course it is your duty to go at once," Mr. Monk had said again, when his friend argued that he had never undertaken to sit before the expiration of Parliament. "You did consent to be put in nomination, and you owe your immediate services just as does any other member."
"If a man's grandmother dies he is held to be exempted."
"But your grandmother has not died, and your sorrow is not of the kind that requires or is supposed to require retirement." He gave way at last, and on the Tuesday afternoon Mr. Monk called for him at Mrs. Bunce's house, and went down with him to Westminster. They reached their destination somewhat too soon, and walked the length of Westminster Hall two or three times while Phineas tried to justify himself. "I don't think," said he, "that Low quite understands my position when he calls me a coward."
"I am sure, Phineas, he did not mean to do that."
"Do not suppose that I am angry with him. I owe him a great deal too much for that. He is one of the few friends I have who are entitled to say to me just what they please. But I think he mistakes the matter. When a man becomes crooked from age it is no good telling him to be straight. He'd be straight if he could. A man can't eat his dinner with a diseased liver as he could when he was well."
"But he may follow advice as to getting his liver in order again."
"And so am I following advice. But Low seems to think the disease shouldn't be there. The disease is there, and I can't banish it by simply saying that it is not there. If they had hung me outright it would be almost as reasonable to come and tell me afterwards to shake myself and be again alive. I don't think that Low realises what it is to stand in the dock for a week together, with the eyes of all men fixed on you, and a conviction at your heart that every one there believes you to have been guilty of an abominable crime of which you know yourself to have been innocent. For weeks I lived under the belief that I was to be made away by the hangman, and to leave behind me a name that would make every one who has known me shudder."
"God in His mercy has delivered you from that."
"He has;—and I am thankful. But my back is not strong enough to bear the weight without bending under it. Did you see Ratler going in? There is a man I dread. He is intimate enough with me to congratulate me, but not friend enough to abstain, and he will be sure to say something about his murdered colleague. Very well;—I'll follow you. Go up rather quick, and I'll come close after you." Whereupon Mr. Monk entered between the two lamp-posts in the hall, and, hurrying along the passages, soon found himself at the door of the House. Phineas, with an effort at composure, and a smile that was almost ghastly at the door-keeper, who greeted him with some muttered word of recognition, held on his way close behind his friend, and walked up the House hardly conscious that the benches on each side were empty. There were not a dozen members present, and the Speaker had not as yet taken the chair. Mr. Monk stood by him while he took the oath, and in two minutes he was on a back seat below the gangway, with his friend by him, while the members, in slowly increasing numbers, took their seats. Then there were prayers, and as yet not a single man had spoken to him. As soon as the doors were again open gentlemen streamed in, and some few whom Phineas knew well came and sat near him. One or two shook hands with him, but no one said a word to him of the trial. No one at least did so in this early stage of the day's proceedings; and after half an hour he almost ceased to be afraid.
Then came up an irregular debate on the great Church question of the day, as to which there had been no cessation of the badgering with which Mr. Gresham had been attacked since he came into office. He had thrown out Mr. Daubeny by opposing that gentleman's stupendous measure for disestablishing the Church of England altogether, although,—as was almost daily asserted by Mr. Daubeny and his friends,—he was himself in favour of such total disestablishment. Over and over again Mr. Gresham had acknowledged that he was in favour of disestablishment, protesting that he had opposed Mr. Daubeny's Bill without any reference to its merits,—solely on the ground that such a measure should not be accepted from such a quarter. He had been stout enough, and, as his enemies had said, insolent enough, in making these assurances. But still he was accused of keeping his own hand dark, and of omitting to say what bill he would himself propose to bring in respecting the Church in the next Session. It was essentially necessary,—so said Mr. Daubeny and his friends,—that the country should know and discuss the proposed measure during the vacation. There was, of course, a good deal of retaliation. Mr. Daubeny had not given the country, or even his own party, much time to discuss his Church Bill. Mr. Gresham assured Mr. Daubeny that he would not feel himself equal to producing a measure that should change the religious position of every individual in the country, and annihilate the traditions and systems of centuries, altogether complete out of his own unaided brain; and he went on to say that were he to do so, he did not think that he should find himself supported in such an effort by the friends with whom he usually worked. On this occasion he declared that the magnitude of the subject and the immense importance of the interests concerned forbade him to anticipate the passing of any measure of general Church reform in the next Session. He was undoubtedly in favour of Church reform, but was by no means sure that the question was one which required immediate settlement. Of this he was sure,—that nothing in the way of legislative indiscretion could be so injurious to the country, as any attempt at a hasty and ill-considered measure on this most momentous of all questions.
The debate was irregular, as it originated with a question asked by one of Mr. Daubeny's supporters,—but it was allowed to proceed for a while. In answer to Mr. Gresham, Mr. Daubeny himself spoke, accusing Mr. Gresham of almost every known Parliamentary vice in having talked of a measure coming, like Minerva, from his, Mr. Daubeny's, own brain. The plain and simple words by which such an accusation might naturally be refuted would be unparliamentary; but it would not be unparliamentary to say that it was reckless, unfounded, absurd, monstrous, and incredible. Then there were various very spirited references to Church matters, which concern us chiefly because Mr. Daubeny congratulated the House upon seeing a Roman Catholic gentleman with whom they were all well acquainted, and whose presence in the House was desired by each side alike, again take his seat for an English borough. And he hoped that he might at the same time take the liberty of congratulating that gentleman on the courage and manly dignity with which he had endured the unexampled hardships of the cruel position in which he had been placed by an untoward combination of circumstances. It was thought that Mr. Daubeny did the thing very well, and that he was right in doing it;—but during the doing of it poor Phineas winced in agony. Of course every member was looking at him, and every stranger in the galleries. He did not know at the moment whether it behoved him to rise and make some gesture to the House, or to say a word, or to keep his seat and make no sign. There was a general hum of approval, and the Prime Minister turned round and bowed graciously to the newly-sworn member. As he said afterwards, it was just this which he had feared. But there must surely have been something of consolation in the general respect with which he was treated. At the moment he behaved with natural instinctive dignity, though himself doubting the propriety of his own conduct. He said not a word, and made no sign, but sat with his eyes fixed upon the member from whom the compliment had come. Mr. Daubeny went on with his tirade, and was called violently to order. The Speaker declared that the whole debate had been irregular, but had been allowed by him in deference to what seemed to be the general will of the House. Then the two leaders of the two parties composed themselves, throwing off their indignation while they covered themselves well up with their hats,—and, in accordance with the order of the day, an honourable member rose to propose a pet measure of his own for preventing the adulteration of beer by the publicans. He had made a calculation that the annual average mortality of England would be reduced one and a half per cent., or in other words that every English subject born would live seven months longer if the action of the Legislature could provide that the publicans should sell the beer as it came from the brewers. Immediately there was such a rush of members to the door that not a word said by the philanthropic would-be purifier of the national beverage could be heard. The quarrels of rival Ministers were dear to the House, and as long as they could be continued the benches were crowded by gentlemen enthralled by the interest of the occasion. But to sink from that to private legislation about beer was to fall into a bathos which gentlemen could not endure; and so the House was emptied, and at about half-past seven there was a count-out. That gentleman whose statistics had been procured with so much care, and who had been at work for the last twelve months on his effort to prolong the lives of his fellow-countrymen, was almost broken-hearted. But he knew the world too well to complain. He would try again next year, if by dint of energetic perseverance he could procure a day.
Mr. Monk and Phineas Finn, behaving no better than the others, slipped out in the crowd. It had indeed been arranged that they should leave the House early, so that they might dine together at Mr. Monk's house. Though Phineas had been released from his prison now for nearly a month, he had not as yet once dined out of his own rooms. He had not been inside a club, and hardly ventured during the day into the streets about Pall Mall and Piccadilly. He had been frequently to Portman Square, but had not even seen Madame Goesler. Now he was to dine out for the first time; but there was to be no guest but himself.
"It wasn't so bad after all," said Mr. Monk, when they were seated together.
"At any rate it has been done."
"Yes;—and there will be no doing of it over again. I don't like Mr. Daubeny, as you know; but he is happy at that kind of thing."
"I hate men who are what you call happy, but who are never in earnest," said Phineas.
"He was earnest enough, I thought."
"I don't mean about myself, Mr. Monk. I suppose he thought that it was suitable to the occasion that he should say something, and he said it neatly. But I hate men who can make capital out of occasions, who can be neat and appropriate at the spur of the moment,—having, however, probably had the benefit of some forethought,—but whose words never savour of truth. If I had happened to have been hung at this time,—as was so probable,—Mr. Daubeny would have devoted one of his half hours to the composition of a dozen tragic words which also would have been neat and appropriate. I can hear him say them now, warning young members around him to abstain from embittered words against each other, and I feel sure that the funereal grace of such an occasion would have become him even better than the generosity of his congratulations."
"It is rather grim matter for joking, Phineas."
"Grim enough; but the grimness and the jokes are always running through my mind together. I used to spend hours in thinking what my dear friends would say about it when they found that I had been hung in mistake;—how Sir Gregory Grogram would like it, and whether men would think about it as they went home from The Universe at night. I had various questions to ask and answer for myself,—whether they would pull up my poor body, for instance, from what unhallowed ground is used for gallows corpses, and give it decent burial, placing 'M.P. for Tankerville' after my name on some more or less explicit tablet."
"Mr. Daubeny's speech was, perhaps, preferable on the whole."
"Perhaps it was;—though I used to feel assured that the explicit tablet would be as clear to my eyes in purgatory as Mr. Daubeny's words have been to my ears this afternoon. I never for a moment doubted that the truth would be known before long,—but did doubt so very much whether it would be known in time. I'll go home now, Mr. Monk, and endeavour to get the matter off my mind. I will resolve, at any rate, that nothing shall make me talk about it any more."
For about a week in the August heat of a hot summer, Phineas attended Parliament with fair average punctuality, and then prepared for his journey down to Matching Priory. During that week he spoke no word to any one as to his past tribulation, and answered all allusions to it simply by a smile. He had determined to live exactly as though there had been no such episode in his life as that trial at the Old Bailey, and in most respects he did so. During this week he dined at the club, and called at Madame Goesler's house in Park Lane,—not, however, finding the lady at home. Once, and once only, did he break down. On the Wednesday evening he met Barrington Erle, and was asked by him to go to The Universe. At the moment he became very pale, but he at once said that he would go. Had Erle carried him off in a cab the adventure might have been successful; but as they walked, and as they went together through Clarges Street and Bolton Row and Curzon Street, and as the scenes which had been so frequently and so graphically described in Court appeared before him one after another, his heart gave way, and he couldn't do it. "I know I'm a fool, Barrington; but if you don't mind I'll go home. Don't mind me, but just go on." Then he turned and walked home, passing through the passage in which the murder had been committed.
"I brought him as far as the next street," Barrington Erle said to one of their friends at the club, "but I couldn't get him in. I doubt if he'll ever be here again."
It was past six o'clock in the evening when he reached Matching Priory. The Duchess had especially assured him that a brougham should be waiting for him at the nearest station, and on arriving there he found that he had the brougham to himself. He had thought a great deal about it, and had endeavoured to make his calculations. He knew that Madame Goesler would be at Matching, and it would be necessary that he should say something of his thankfulness at their first meeting. But how should he meet her,—and in what way should he greet her when they met? Would any arrangement be made, or would all be left to chance? Should he go at once to his own chamber,—so as to show himself first when dressed for dinner, or should he allow himself to be taken into any of the morning rooms in which the other guests would be congregated? He had certainly not sufficiently considered the character of the Duchess when he imagined that she would allow these things to arrange themselves. She was one of those women whose minds were always engaged on such matters, and who are able to see how things will go. It must not be asserted of her that her delicacy was untainted, or her taste perfect; but she was clever,—discreet in the midst of indiscretions,—thoughtful, and good-natured. She had considered it all, arranged it all, and given her orders with accuracy. When Phineas entered the hall,—the brougham with the luggage having been taken round to some back door,—he was at once ushered by a silent man in black into the little sitting-room on the ground floor in which the old Duke used to take delight. Here he found two ladies,—but only two ladies,—waiting to receive him. The Duchess came forward to welcome him, while Madame Goesler remained in the background, with composed face,—as though she by no means expected his arrival and he had chanced to come upon them as she was standing by the window. He was thinking of her much more than of her companion, though he knew also how much he owed to the kindness of the Duchess. But what she had done for him had come from caprice, whereas the other had been instigated and guided by affection. He understood all that, and must have shown his feeling on his countenance. "Yes, there she is," said the Duchess, laughing. She had already told him that he was welcome to Matching, and had spoken some short word of congratulation at his safe deliverance from his troubles. "If ever one friend was grateful to another, you should be grateful to her, Mr. Finn." He did not speak, but walking across the room to the window by which Marie Goesler stood, took her right hand in his, and passing his left arm round her waist, kissed her first on one cheek and then on the other. The blood flew to her face and suffused her forehead, but she did not speak, or resist him or make any effort to escape from his embrace. As for him, he had no thought of it at all. He had made no plan. No idea of kissing her when they should meet had occurred to him till the moment came. "Excellently well done," said the Duchess, still laughing with silent pleasant laughter. "And now tell us how you are, after all your troubles."
He remained with them for half an hour, till the ladies went to dress, when he was handed over to some groom of the chambers to show him his room. "The Duke ought to be here to welcome you, of course," said the Duchess; "but you know official matters too well to expect a President of the Board of Trade to do his domestic duties. We dine at eight; five minutes before that time he will begin adding up his last row of figures for the day. You never added up rows of figures, I think. You only managed colonies." So they parted till dinner, and Phineas remembered how very little had been spoken by Madame Goesler, and how few of the words which he had spoken had been addressed to her. She had sat silent, smiling, radiant, very beautiful as he had thought, but contented to listen to her friend the Duchess. She, the Duchess, had asked questions of all sorts, and made many statements; and he had found that with those two women he could speak without discomfort, almost with pleasure, on subjects which he could not bear to have touched by men. "Of course you knew all along who killed the poor man," the Duchess had said. "We did;—did we not, Marie?—just as well as if we had seen it. She was quite sure that he had got out of the house and back into it, and that he must have had a key. So she started off to Prague to find the key; and she found it. And we were quite sure too about the coat;—weren't we. That poor blundering Lord Fawn couldn't explain himself, but we knew that the coat he saw was quite different from any coat you would wear in such weather. We discussed it all over so often;—every point of it. Poor Lord Fawn! They say it has made quite an old man of him. And as for those policemen who didn't find the life-preserver; I only think that something ought to be done to them."
"I hope that nothing will ever be done to anybody, Duchess."
"Not to the Reverend Mr. Emilius;—poor dear Lady Eustace's Mr. Emilius? I do think that you ought to desire that an end should be put to his enterprising career! I'm sure I do." This was said while the attempt was still being made to trace the purchase of the bludgeon in Paris. "We've got Sir Gregory Grogram here on purpose to meet you, and you must fraternise with him immediately, to show that you bear no grudge."
"He only did his duty."
"Exactly;—though I think he was an addle-pated old ass not to see the thing more clearly. As you'll be coming into the Government before long, we thought that things had better be made straight between you and Sir Gregory. I wonder how it was that nobody but women did see it clearly? Look at that delightful woman, Mrs. Bunce. You must bring Mrs. Bunce to me some day,—or take me to her."
"Lord Chiltern saw it clearly enough," said Phineas.
"My dear Mr. Finn, Lord Chiltern is the best fellow in the world, but he has only one idea. He was quite sure of your innocence because you ride to hounds. If it had been found possible to accuse poor Mr. Fothergill, he would have been as certain that Mr. Fothergill committed the murder, because Mr. Fothergill thinks more of his shooting. However, Lord Chiltern is to be here in a day or two, and I mean to go absolutely down on my knees to him,—and all for your sake. If foxes can be had, he shall have foxes. We must go and dress now, Mr. Finn, and I'll ring for somebody to show you your room."
Phineas, as soon as he was alone, thought, not of what the Duchess had said, but of the manner in which he had greeted his friend, Madame Goesler. As he remembered what he had done, he also blushed. Had she been angry with him, and intended to show her anger by her silence? And why had he done it? What had he meant? He was quite sure that he would not have given those kisses had he and Madame Goesler been alone in the room together. The Duchess had applauded him,—but yet he thought that he regretted it. There had been matters between him and Marie Goesler of which he was quite sure that the Duchess knew nothing.
When he went downstairs he found a crowd in the drawing-room, from among whom the Duke came forward to welcome him. "I am particularly happy to see you at Matching," said the Duke. "I wish we had shooting to offer you, but we are too far south for the grouse. That was a bitter passage of arms the other day, wasn't it? I am fond of bitterness in debate myself, but I do regret the roughness of the House of Commons. I must confess that I do." The Duke did not say a word about the trial, and the Duke's guests followed their host's example.
The house was full of people, most of whom had before been known to Phineas, and many of whom had been asked specially to meet him. Lord and Lady Cantrip were there, and Mr. Monk, and Sir Gregory his accuser, and the Home Secretary, Sir Harry Coldfoot, with his wife. Sir Harry had at one time been very keen about hanging our hero, and was now of course hot with reactionary zeal. To all those who had been in any way concerned in the prosecution, the accidents by which Phineas had been enabled to escape had been almost as fortunate as to Phineas himself. Sir Gregory himself quite felt that had he prosecuted an innocent and very popular young Member of Parliament to the death, he could never afterwards have hoped to wear his ermine in comfort. Barrington Erle was there, of course, intending, however, to return to the duties of his office on the following day,—and our old friend Laurence Fitzgibbon with a newly-married wife, a lady possessing a reputed fifty thousand pounds, by which it was hoped that the member for Mayo might be placed steadily upon his legs for ever. And Adelaide Palliser was there also,—the Duke's first cousin,—on whose behalf the Duchess was anxious to be more than ordinarily good-natured. Mr. Maule, Adelaide's rejected lover, had dined on one occasion with the Duke and Duchess in London. There had been nothing remarkable at the dinner, and he had not at all understood why he had been asked. But when he took his leave the Duchess had told him that she would hope to see him at Matching. "We expect a friend of yours to be with us," the Duchess had said. He had afterwards received a written invitation and had accepted it; but he was not to reach Matching till the day after that on which Phineas arrived. Adelaide had been told of his coming only on this morning, and had been much flurried by the news.