Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 23

Macpherson’s Hotel

Phineas, when he was left alone, found himself greatly at a loss as to what he had better do. He had pledged himself to see Mr Kennedy, and was not much afraid of encountering personal violence at the hands of that gentleman. But he could think of nothing which he could with advantage say to Mr Kennedy. He knew that Lady Laura would not return to her husband. Much as she dreaded such exposure as was now threatened, she would not return to Loughlinter to avoid even that. He could not hold out any such hope to Mr Kennedy — and without doing so how could he stop the publication? He thought of getting an injunction from the Vice-Chancellor — but it was now Sunday, and he had understood that the publication would appear on the morrow, unless stopped by some note from himself. He thought of finding some attorney, and taking him to Mr Kennedy; but he knew that Mr Kennedy would be deterred by no attorney. Then he thought of Mr Low. He would see Mr Kennedy first, and then go to Mr Low’s house.

Judd Street runs into the New Road near the great stations of the Midland and Northern Railways, and is a highly respectable street. But it can hardly be called fashionable, as is Piccadilly; or central, as is Charing Cross; or commercial, as is the neighbourhood of St Paul’s. Men seeking the shelter of an hotel in Judd Street most probably prefer decent and respectable obscurity to other advantages. It was some such feeling, no doubt, joined to the fact that the landlord had originally come from the neighbourhood of Loughlinter, which had taken Mr Kennedy to Macpherson’s Hotel. Phineas, when he called at about three o’clock on Sunday afternoon, was at once informed by Mrs Macpherson that Mr Kennedy was “nae doubt at hame, but was nae willing to see folk on the Saaboth.” Phineas pleaded the extreme necessity of his business, alleging that Mr Kennedy himself would regard its nature as a sufficient justification for such Sabbath-breaking — and sent up his card. Then there came down a message to him. Could not Mr Finn postpone his visit to the following morning? But Phineas declared that it could not be postponed. Circumstances, which he would explain to Mr Kennedy, made it impossible. At last he was desired to walk upstairs, though Mrs Macpherson, as she showed him the way, evidently thought that her house was profaned by such wickedness.

Macpherson in preparing his house had not run into that extravagance of architecture which has lately become so common in our hotels. It was simply an ordinary house, with the words “Macpherson’s Hotel” painted on a semi-circular board over the doorway. The front parlour had been converted into a bar, and in the back parlour the Macphersons lived. The staircase was narrow and dirty, and in the front drawing-room — with the chamber behind for his bedroom — Mr Kennedy was installed. Mr Macpherson probably did not expect any customers beyond those friendly Scots who came up to London from his own side of the Highlands. Mrs Macpherson, as she opened the door, was silent and almost mysterious. Such a breach of the law might perhaps be justified by circumstances of which she knew nothing, but should receive no sanction from her which she could avoid. So she did not even whisper the name.

Mr Kennedy, as Phineas entered, slowly rose from his chair, putting down the Bible which had been in his hands. He did not speak at once, but looked at his visitor over the spectacles which he wore. Phineas thought that he was even more haggard in appearance and aged than when they two had met hardly three months since at Loughlinter. There was no shaking of hands, and hardly any pretence at greeting. Mr Kennedy simply bowed his head, and allowed his visitor to begin the conversation.

“I should not have come to you on such a day as this, Mr Kennedy — ”

“It is a day very unfitted for the affairs of the world,” said Mr Kennedy.

“Had not the matter been most pressing in regard both to time and its own importance.”

“So the woman told me, and therefore I have consented to see you.”

“You know a man of the name of — Slide, Mr Kennedy?” Mr Kennedy shook his head. “You know the editor of the People’s Banner?” Again he shook his head. “You have, at any rate, written a letter for publication to that newspaper.”

“Need I consult you as to what I write?”

“But he — the editor — has consulted me.”

“I can have nothing to do with that.”

“This Mr Slide, the editor of the People’s Banner, has just been with me, having in his hand a printed letter from you, which — you will excuse me, Mr Kennedy — is very libellous.”

“I will bear the responsibility of that.”

“But you would not wish to publish falsehood about your wife, or even about me.”

“Falsehood! sir; how dare you use that word to me? Is it false to say that she has left my house? Is it false to say that she is my wife, and cannot desert me, as she has done, without breaking her vows, and disregarding the laws both of God and man? Am I false when I say that I gave her no cause? Am I false when I offer to take her back, let her faults be what they may have been? Am I false when I say that her father acts illegally in detaining her? False! False in your teeth! Falsehood is villainy, and it is not I that am the villain.”

“You have joined my name in the accusation.”

“Because you are her paramour. I know you now — viper that was warmed in my bosom! Will you look me in the face and tell me that, had it not been for you, she would not have strayed from me?” To this Phineas could make no answer. “Is it not true that when she went with me to the altar you had been her lover?”

“I was her lover no longer, when she once told me that she was to be your wife.”

“Has she never spoken to you of love since? Did she not warn you from the house in her faint struggle after virtue? Did she not whistle you back again when she found the struggle too much for her? When I asked you to the house, she bade you not come. When I desired that you might never darken my eyes again, did she not seek you? With whom was she walking on the villa grounds by the river banks when she resolved that she would leave all her duties and desert me? Will you dare to say that you were not then in her confidence? With whom was she talking when she had the effrontery to come and meet me at the house of the Prime Minister, which I was bound to attend? Have you not been with her this very winter in her foreign home?”

“Of course I have — and you sent her a message by me.”

“I sent no message. I deny it. I refused to be an accomplice in your double guilt. I laid my command upon you that you should not visit my wife in my absence, and you disobeyed, and you are an adulterer. Who are you that you are to come for ever between me and my wife?”

“I never injured you in thought or deed. I come to you now because I have seen a printed letter which contains a gross libel upon myself.”

“It is printed then?” he asked, in an eager tone.

“It is printed; but it need not, therefore, be published. It is a libel, and should not be published. I shall be forced to seek redress at law. You cannot hope to regain your wife by publishing false accusations against her.”

“They are true. I can prove every word that I have written. She dare not come here, and submit herself to the laws of her country. She is a renegade from the law, and you abet her in her sin. But it is not vengeance that I seek. ““Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.’’{”

“It looks like vengeance, Mr Kennedy.”

“Is it for you to teach me how I shall bear myself in this time of my great trouble?” Then suddenly he changed; his voice falling from one of haughty defiance to a low, mean, bargaining whisper. “But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you will say that she shall come back again I’ll have it cancelled, and pay all the expenses.”

“I cannot bring her back to you.”

“She’ll come if you tell her. If you’ll let them understand that she must come they’ll give way. You can try it at any rate.”

“I shall do nothing of the kind. Why should I ask her to submit herself to misery?”

“Misery! What misery? Why should she be miserable? Must a woman need be miserable because she lives with her husband? You hear me say that I will forgive everything. Even she will not doubt me when I say so, because I have never lied to her. Let her come back to me, and she shall live in peace and quiet, and hear no word of reproach.”

“I can have nothing to do with it, Mr Kennedy.”

“Then, sir, you shall abide my wrath.” With that he sprang quickly round, grasping at something which lay upon a shelf near him, and Phineas saw that he was armed with a pistol. Phineas, who had hitherto been seated, leaped to his legs; but the pistol in a moment was at his head, and the madman pulled at the trigger. But the mechanism of the instrument required that some bolt should be loosed before the hammer would fall upon the nipple, and the unhandy wretch for an instant fumbled over the work so that Phineas, still facing his enemy, had time to leap backwards towards the door. But Kennedy, though he was awkward, still succeeded in firing before our friend could leave the room. Phineas heard the thud of the bullet, and knew that it must have passed near his head. He was not struck, however; and the man, frightened at his own deed, abstained from the second shot, or loitered long enough in his remorse to enable his prey to escape. With three or four steps Phineas leaped down the stairs, and, finding the front door closed, took shelter within Mrs Macpherson’s bar. “The man is mad,” he said; “did you not hear the shot?” The woman was too frightened to reply, but stood trembling, holding Phineas by the arm. There was nobody in the house, she said, but she and the two lasses. “Nae doobt the Laird’s by — ordinair,” she said at last. She had known of the pistol; but had not dared to have it removed. She and Macpherson had only feared that he would hurt himself — and had at last agreed, as day after day passed without any injury from the weapon, to let the thing remain unnoticed. She had heard the shot, and had been sure that one of the two men above would have been killed.

Phineas was now in great doubt as to what duty was required of him. His first difficulty consisted in this — that his hat was still in Mr Kennedy’s room, and that Mrs Macpherson altogether refused to go and fetch it. While they were still discussing this, and Phineas had not as yet resolved whether he would first get a policeman or go at once to Mr Low, the bell from the room was rung furiously. “It’s the Laird,” said Mrs Macpherson, “and if naebody waits on him he’ll surely be shooting ane of us.” The two girls were now outside the bar shaking in their shoes, and evidently unwilling to face the danger. At last the door of the room above was opened, and our hero’s hat was sent rolling down the stairs.

It was clear to Phineas that the man was so mad as to be not even aware of the act he had perpetrated. “He’ll do nothing more with the pistol,” he said, “unless he should attempt to destroy himself.” At last it was determined that one of the girls should be sent to fetch Macpherson home from the Scotch Church, and that no application should be made at once to the police. It seemed that the Macphersons knew the circumstances of their guest’s family, and that there was a cousin of his in London who was the only one with whom he seemed to have any near connection. The thing that had occurred was to be told to this cousin, and Phineas left his address, so that if it should be thought necessary he might be called upon to give his account of the affair. Then, in his perturbation of spirit, he asked for a glass of brandy; and having swallowed it, was about to take his leave. “The brandy wull be saxpence, sir,” said Mrs Macpherson, as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

Having paid for his refreshment, Phineas got into a cab, and had himself driven to Mr Low’s house. He had escaped from his peril, and now again it became his strongest object to stop the publication of the letter which Slide had shown him. But as he sat in the cab he could not hinder himself from shuddering at the danger which had been so near to him. He remembered his sensation as he first saw the glimmer of the barrel of the pistol, and then became aware of the man’s first futile attempt, and afterwards saw the flash and heard the hammer fall at the same moment. He had once stood up to be fired at in a duel, and had been struck by the ball. But nothing in that encounter had made him feel sick and faint through every muscle as he had felt just now. As he sat in the cab he was aware that but for the spirits he had swallowed he would be altogether overcome, and he doubted even now whether he would be able to tell his story to Mr Low. Luckily perhaps for him neither Mr Low nor his wife were at home. They were out together, but were expected in between five and six. Phineas declared his purpose of waiting for them, and requested that Mr Low might be asked to join him in the dining-room immediately on his return. In this way an hour was allowed him, and he endeavoured to compose himself. Still, even at the end of the hour, his heart was beating so violently that he could hardly control the motion of his own limbs. “Low, I have been shot at by a madman,” he said, as soon as his friend entered the room. He had determined to be calm, and to speak much more of the document in the editor’s hands than of the attempt which had been made on his own life; but he had been utterly unable to repress the exclamation.

“Shot at?”

“Yes; by Robert Kennedy; the man who was Chancellor of the Duchy — almost within a yard of my head.” Then he sat down and burst out into a fit of convulsive laughter.

The story about the pistol was soon told, and Mr Low was of opinion that Phineas should not have left the place without calling in policemen and giving an account to them of the transaction. “But I had something else on my mind,” said Phineas, “which made it necessary that I should see you at once — something more important even than this madman’s attack upon me. He has written a most foul-mouthed attack upon his wife, which is already in print, and will I fear be published tomorrow morning.” Then he told the story of the letter. “Slide no doubt will be at the People’s Banner office tonight, and I can see him there. Perhaps when I tell him what has occurred he will consent to drop the publication altogether.”

But in this view of the matter Mr Low did not agree with his visitor. He argued the case with a deliberation which to Phineas in his present state of mind was almost painful. If the whole story of what had occurred were told to Quintus Slide, that worthy protector of morals and caterer for the amusement of the public would, Mr Low thought, at once publish the letter and give a statement of the occurrence at Macpherson’s Hotel. There would be nothing to hinder him from so profitable a proceeding, as he would know that no one would stir on behalf of Lady Laura in the matter of the libel, when the tragedy of Mr Kennedy’s madness should have been made known. The publication would be as safe as attractive. But if Phineas should abstain from going to him at all, the same calculation which had induced him to show the letter would induce him to postpone the publication, at any rate for another twenty-four hours. “He means to make capital out of his virtue; and he won’t give that up for the sake of being a day in advance. In the meantime we will get an injunction from the Vice-Chancellor to stop the publication.”

“Can we do that in one day?”

“I think we can. Chancery isn’t what it used to be,” said Mr Low, with a sigh. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go this very moment to Pickering.” Mr Pickering at this time was one of the three Vice-Chancellors. “It isn’t exactly the proper thing for counsel to call on a judge on a Sunday afternoon with the direct intention of influencing his judgment for the following morning; but this is a case in which a point may be strained. When such a paper as the People’s Banner gets hold of a letter from a madman, which if published would destroy the happiness of a whole family, one shouldn’t stick at a trifle. Pickering is just the man to take a common-sense view of the matter. You’ll have to make an affidavit in the morning, and we can get the injunction served before two or three o’clock. Mr Septimus Slope, or whatever his name is, won’t dare to publish it after that. Of course, if it comes out tomorrow morning, we shall have been too late; but this will be our best chance.” So Mr Low got his hat and umbrella, and started for the Vice-Chancellor’s house. “And I tell you what, Phineas — do you stay and dine here. You are so flurried by all this, that you are not fit to go anywhere else.”

“I am flurried.”

“Of course you are. Never mind about dressing. Do you go up and tell Georgiana all about it — and have dinner put off half an hour. I must hunt Pickering up, if I don’t find him at home.” Then Phineas did go upstairs and tell Georgiana — otherwise Mrs Low — the whole story. Mrs Low was deeply affected, declaring her opinion very strongly as to the horrible condition of things, when madmen could go about with pistols, and without anybody to take care against them. But as to Lady Laura Kennedy, she seemed to think that the poor husband had great cause of complaint, and that Lady Laura ought to be punished. Wives, she thought, should never leave their husbands on any pretext; and, as far as she had heard the story, there had been no pretext at all in the case. Her sympathies were clearly with the madman, though she was quite ready to acknowledge that any and every step should be taken which might be adverse to Mr Quintus Slide.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43