Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 49

Showing what Mrs Bunce said to the Policeman

“We have left Adelaide Palliser down at the Hall. We are up here only for a couple of days to see Laura, and try to find out what had better be done about Kennedy.” This was said to Phineas Finn in his own room in Great Marlborough Street by Lord Chiltern, on the morning after the murder, between ten and eleven o’clock. Phineas had not as yet heard of the death of the man with whom he had quarrelled. Lord Chiltern had now come to him with some proposition which he as yet did not understand, and which Lord Chiltern certainly did not know how to explain. Looked at simply, the proposition was one for providing Phineas Finn with an income out of the wealth belonging, or that would belong, to the Standish family. Lady Laura’s fortune would, it was thought, soon be at her own disposal. They who acted for her husband had assured the Earl that the yearly interest of the money should be at her ladyship’s command as soon as the law would allow them so to plan it. Of Robert Kennedy’s inability to act for himself there was no longer any doubt whatever, and there was, they said, no desire to embarrass the estate with so small a disputed matter as the income derived from oe40,000. There was great pride of purse in the manner in which the information was conveyed — but not the less on that account was it satisfactory to the Earl. Lady Laura’s first thought about it referred to the imminent wants of Phineas Finn. How might it be possible for her to place a portion of her income at the command of the man she loved so that he should not feel disgraced by receiving it from her hand? She conceived some plan as to a loan to be made nominally by her brother — a plan as to which it may at once be said that it could not be made to hold water for a minute. But she did succeed in inducing her brother to undertake the embassy, with the view of explaining to Phineas that there would be money for him when he wanted it. “If I make it over to Papa, Papa can leave it him in his will; and if he wants it at once there can be no harm in your advancing to him what he must have at Papa’s death.” Her brother had frowned angrily and had shaken his head. “Think how he has been thrown over by all the party,” said Lady Laura. Lord Chiltern had disliked the whole affair — had felt with dismay that his sister’s name would become subject to reproach if it should be known that this young man was supported by her bounty. She, however, had persisted, and he had consented to see the young man, feeling sure that Phineas would refuse to bear the burden of the obligation.

But he had not touched the disagreeable subject when they were interrupted. A knocking of the door had been heard, and now Mrs Bunce came upstairs, bringing Mr Low with her. Mrs Bunce had not heard of the tragedy, but she had at once perceived from the barrister’s manner that there was some serious matter forward — some matter that was probably not only serious, but also calamitous. The expression of her countenance announced as much to the two men, and the countenance of Mr Low when he followed her into the room told the same story still more plainly. “Is anything the matter?” said Phineas, jumping up.

“Indeed, yes,” said Mr Low, who then looked at Lord Chiltern and was silent.

“Shall I go?” said Lord Chiltern. Mr Low did not know him, and of course was still silent.

“This is my friend, Mr Low. This is my friend, Lord Chiltern,” said Phineas, aware that each was well acquainted with the other’s name. “I do not know of any reason why you should go. What is it, Low?”

Lord Chiltern had come there about money, and it occurred to him that the impecunious young barrister might already be in some scrape on that head. In nineteen cases out of twenty, when a man is in a scrape, he simply wants money. “Perhaps I can be of help,” he said.

“Have you heard, my Lord, what happened last night?” said Mr Low, with his eyes fixed on Phineas Finn.

“I have heard nothing,” said Lord Chiltern.

“What has happened?” asked Phineas, looking aghast. He knew Mr Low well enough to be sure that the thing referred to was of great and distressing moment.

“You, too, have heard nothing?”

“Not a word — that I know of.”

“You were at the Universe last night?”

“Certainly I was.”

“Did anything occur?”

“The Prince was there.”

“Nothing has happened to the Prince?” said Chiltern.

“His name has not been mentioned to me,” said Mr Low. “Was there not a quarrel?”

“Yes;’ — said Phineas. “I quarrelled with Mr Bonteen.”

“What then?”

“He behaved like a brute — as he always does. Thrashing a brute hardly answers nowadays, but if ever a man deserved a thrashing he does.”

“He has been murdered,” said Mr Low.

The reader need hardly be told that, as regards this great offence, Phineas Finn was as white as snow. The maintenance of any doubt on that matter — were it even desirable to maintain a doubt — would be altogether beyond the power of the present writer. The reader has probably perceived, from the first moment of the discovery of the body on the steps at the end of the passage, that Mr Bonteen had been killed by that ingenious gentleman, the Rev. Mr Emilius, who found it to be worth his while to take the step with the view of suppressing his enemy’s evidence as to his former marriage. But Mr Low, when he entered the room, had been inclined to think that his friend had done the deed. Laurence Fitzgibbon, who had been one of the first to hear the story, and who had summoned Erle to go with him and Major Mackintosh to Downing Street, had, in the first place, gone to the house in Carey Street, in which Bunce was wont to work, and had sent him to Mr Low. He, Fitzgibbon, had not thought it safe that he himself should warn his countryman, but he could not bear to think that the hare should be knocked over on its form, or that his friend should be taken by policemen without notice. So he had sent Bunce to Mr Low, and Mr Low had now come with his tidings.

“Murdered!” exclaimed Phineas.

“Who has murdered him?” said Lord Chiltern, looking first at Mr Low and then at Phineas.

“That is what the police are now endeavouring to find out.” Then there was a pause, and Phineas stood up with his hand on his forehead, looking savagely from one to the other. A glimmer of an idea of the truth was beginning to cross his brain. Mr Low was there with the object of asking him whether he had murdered the man! “Mr Fitzgibbon was with you last night,” continued Mr Low.

“Of course he was.”

“It was he who has sent me to you.”

“What does it all mean?” asked Lord Chiltern. “I suppose they do not intend to say that — our friend, here — murdered the man.”

“I begin to suppose that is what they intend to say,” rejoined Phineas, scornfully.

Mr Low had entered the room, doubting indeed, but still inclined to believe — as Bunce had very clearly believed — that the hands of Phineas Finn were red with the blood of this man who had been killed. And, had he been questioned on such a matter, when no special case was before his mind, he would have declared of himself that a few tones from the voice, or a few glances from the eye, of a suspected man would certainly not suffice to eradicate suspicion. But now he was quite sure — almost quite sure — that Phineas was as innocent as himself. To Lord Chiltern, who had heard none of the details, the suspicion was so monstrous as to fill him with wrath. “You don’t mean to tell us, Mr Low, that anyone says that Finn killed the man?”

“I have come as his friend,” said Low, “to put him on his guard. The accusation will be made against him.”

To Phineas, not clearly looking at it, not knowing very accurately what had happened, not being in truth quite sure that Mr Bonteen was actually dead, this seemed to be a continuation of the persecution which he believed himself to have suffered from that man’s hand. “I can believe anything from that quarter,” he said.

“From what quarter?” asked Lord Chiltern. “We had better let Mr Low tell us what really has happened.”

Then Mr Low told the story, as well as he knew it, describing the spot on which the body had been found. “Often as I go to the club,” said Phineas, “I never was through that passage in my life.” Mr Low went on with his tale, telling how the man had been killed with some short bludgeon. “I had that in my pocket,” said Finn, producing the life-preserver. “I have almost always had something of the kind when I have been in London, since that affair of Kennedy’s.” Mr Low cast one glance at it — to see whether it had been washed or scraped, or in anyway cleansed. Phineas saw the glance, and was angry. “There it is, as it is. You can make the most of it. I shall not touch it again till the policeman comes. Don’t put your hand on it, Chiltern. Leave it there.” And the instrument was left lying on the table, untouched. Mr Low went on with his story. He had heard nothing of Yosef Mealyus as connected with the murder, but some indistinct reference to Lord Fawn and the top-coat had been made to him. “There is the coat, too,” said Phineas, taking it from the sofa on which he had flung it when he came home the previous night. It was a very light coat — fitted for May use — lined with silk, and by no means suited for enveloping the face or person. But it had a collar which might be made to stand up. “That at any rate was the coat I wore,” said Finn, in answer to some observation from the barrister. “The man that Lord Fawn saw,” said Mr Low, “was, as I understand, enveloped in a heavy great coat.” “So Fawn has got his finger in the pie!” said Lord Chiltern.

Mr Low had been there an hour, Lord Chiltern remaining also in the room, when there came three men belonging to the police — a superintendent and with him two constables. When the men were shown up into the room neither the bludgeon or the coat had been moved from the small table as Phineas had himself placed them there. Both Phineas and Chiltern had lit cigars, and they were all there sitting in silence. Phineas had entertained the idea that Mr Low believed the charge, and that the barrister was therefore an enemy. Mr Low had perceived this, but had not felt it to be his duty to declare his opinion of his friend’s innocence. What he could do for his friend he would do; but, as he thought, he could serve him better now by silent observation than by protestation. Lord Chiltern, who had been implored by Phineas not to leave him, continued to pour forth unabating execrations on the monstrous malignity of the accusers. “I do not know that there are any accusers,” said Mr Low, “except the circumstances which the police must, of course, investigate.” Then the men came, and the nature of their duty was soon explained. They must request Mr Finn to go with them to Bow Street. They took possession of many articles besides the two which had been prepared for them — the dress coat and shirt which Phineas had worn, and the boots. He had gone out to dinner with a Gibus hat, and they took that. They took his umbrella and his latch-key. They asked, even, as to his purse and money — but abstained from taking the purse when Mr Low suggested that they could have no concern with that. As it happened, Phineas was at the moment wearing the shirt in which he had dined out on the previous day, and the men asked him whether he had any objection to change it in their presence — as it might be necessary, after the examination, that it should be detained as evidence. He did so, in the presence of all the men assembled; but the humiliation of doing it almost broke his heart. Then they searched among his linen, clean and dirty, and asked questions of Mrs Bunce in audible whispers behind the door. Whatever Mrs Bunce could do to injure the cause of her favourite lodger by severity of manner, snubbing the policeman, and determination to give no information, she did do. “Had a shirt washed? How do you suppose a gentleman’s shirts are washed? You were brought up near enough to a washtub yourself to know more than I can tell you!” But the very respectable constable did not seem to be in the least annoyed by the landlady’s amenities.

He was taken to Bow Street, going thither in a cab with the two policemen, and the superintendent followed them with Lord Chiltern and Mr Low. “You don’t mean to say that you believe it?” said Lord Chiltern to the officer. “We never believe and we never disbelieve anything, my Lord,” replied the man. Nevertheless, the superintendent did most firmly believe that Phineas Finn had murdered Mr Bonteen.

At the police office Phineas was met by Lord Cantrip and Barrington Erle, and soon became aware that both Lord Fawn and Fitzgibbon were present. It seemed that everything else was made to give way to this inquiry, as he was at once confronted by the magistrate. Everybody was personally very civil to him, and he was asked whether he would not wish to have professional advice while the charge was being made against him. But this he declined. He would tell the magistrate, he said, all he knew, but, at any rate for the present, he would have no need of advice. He was, at last, allowed to tell his own story — after repeated cautions. There had been some words between him and Mr Bonteen in the club; after which, standing at the door of the club with his friends, Mr Erle and Mr Fitzgibbon, who were now in court, he had seen Mr Bonteen walk away towards Berkeley Square. He had soon followed, but had never overtaken Mr Bonteen. When reaching the Square he had crossed over to the fountain standing there on the south side, and from thence had taken the shortest way up Bruton Street. He had seen Mr Bonteen for the last time dimly, by the gaslight, at the corner of the Square. As far as he could remember, he himself had at the moment passed the fountain. He had not heard the sound of any struggle, or of words, round the corner towards Piccadilly. By the time that Mr Bonteen would have reached the head of the steps leading into the passage, he would have been near Bruton Street, with his back completely turned to the scene of the murder. He had walked faster than Mr Bonteen, having gradually drawn near to him; but he had determined in his own mind that he would not pass the man, or get so near him as to attract attention. Nor had he done so. He had certainly worn the grey coat which was now produced. The collar of it had not been turned up. The coat was nearly new, and to the best of his belief the collar had never been turned up. He had carried the life-preserver now produced with him because it had once before been necessary for him to attack garotters in the street. The life-preserver had never been used, and, as it happened, was quite new. It had been bought about a month since — in consequence of some commotion about garotters which had just then taken place. But before the purchase of the life-preserver he had been accustomed to carry some stick or bludgeon at night. Undoubtedly he had quarelled with Mr Bonteen before this occasion, and had bought this instrument since the commencement of the quarrel. He had not seen anyone on his way from the Square to his own house with sufficient observation to enable him to describe such person. He could not remember that he had passed a policeman on his way home.

This took place after the hearing of such evidence as was then given. The statements made both by Erle and Fitzgibbon as to what had taken place in the club, and afterwards at the door, tallied exactly with that afterwards given by Phineas. An accurate measurement of the streets and ways concerned was already furnished. Taking the duration of time as surmised by Erle and Fitzgibbon to have passed after they had turned their back upon Phineas, a constable proved that the prisoner would have had time to hurry back to the corner of the street he had passed, and to be in the place where Lord Fawn saw the man — supposing that Lord Fawn had walked at the rate of three miles an hour, and that Phineas had walked or run at twice that pace. Lord Fawn stated that he was “walking very slow — less he thought than three miles an hour, and that the man was hurrying very fast — not absolutely running, but going as he thought at quite double his own pace. The two coats were shown to his lordship. Finn knew nothing of the other coat — which had, in truth, been taken from the Rev. Mr Emilius — a rough, thick, brown coat, which had belonged to the preacher for the last two years. Finn’s coat was grey in colour. Lord Fawn looked at the coats very attentively, and then said that the man he had seen had certainly not worn the brown coat. The night had been dark, but still he was sure that the coat had been grey. The collar had certainly been turned up. Then a tailor was produced who gave it as his opinion that Finn’s coat had been lately worn with the collar raised.

It was considered that the evidence given was sufficient to make a remand imperative, and Phineas Finn was committed to Newgate. He was assured that every attention should be paid to his comfort, and was treated with great consideration. Lord Cantrip, who still believed in him, discussed the subject both with the magistrate and with Major Mackintosh. Of course the strictest search would be made for a second life-preserver, or any such weapon as might have been used. Search had already been made, and no such weapon had been as yet found. Emilius had never been seen with any such weapon. No one about Curzon Street or Mayfair could be found who had seen the man with the quick step and raised collar, who doubtless had been the murderer, except Lord Fawn — so that no evidence was forthcoming tending to show that Phineas Finn could not have been that man. The evidence adduced to prove that Mr Emilius — or Mealyus, as he was henceforth called — could not have been on the spot was so very strong, that the magistrate told the constables that that man must be released on the next examination unless something could be adduced against him.

The magistrate, with the profoundest regret was unable to agree with Lord Cantrip in his opinion that the evidence adduced was not sufficient to demand the temporary committal of Mr Finn.

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