Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 54

The Duchess takes Counsel

Phineas Finn, when he had been thrice remanded before the Bow Street magistrate, and four times examined, was at last committed to be tried for the murder of Mr Bonteen. This took place on Wednesday, 19th May, a fortnight after the murder. But during those fourteen days little was learned, or even surmised, by the police, in addition to the circumstances which had transpired at once. Indeed the delay, slight as it was, had arisen from a desire to find evidence that might affect Mr Emilius, rather than with a view to strengthen that which did affect Phineas Finn. But no circumstance could be found tending in anyway to add to the suspicion to which the converted Jew was made subject by his own character, and by the supposition that he would have been glad to get rid of Mr Bonteen. He did not even attempt to run away — for which attempt certain pseudo-facilities were put in his way by police ingenuity. But Mr Emilius stood his ground and courted inquiry. Mr Bonteen had been to him, he said, a very bitter, unjust, and cruel enemy. Mr Bonteen had endeavoured to rob him of his dearest wife — had charged him with bigamy — had got up false evidence in the hope of ruining him. He had undoubtedly hated Mr Bonteen, and might probably have said so. But, as it happened, through God’s mercy, he was enabled to prove that he could not possibly have been at the scene of the murder when the murder was committed. During that hour of the night he had been in his own bed; and, had he been out, could not have re-entered the house without calling up the inmates. But, independently of his alibi, Mealyus was able to rely on the absolute absence of any evidence against him. No grey coat could be traced to his hands, even for an hour. His height was very much less than that attributed by Lord Fawn to the man whom he had seen hurrying to the spot. No weapon was found in his possession by which the deed could have been done. Inquiry was made as to the purchase of life-preservers, and the reverend gentleman was taken to half a dozen shops at which such instruments had lately been sold. But there had been a run upon life preservers, in consequence of recommendations as to their use given by certain newspapers — and it was found as impossible to trace one particular purchase as it would be that of a loaf of bread. At none of the half-dozen shops to which he was taken was Mr Emilius remembered; and then all further inquiry in that direction was abandoned, and Mr Emilius was set at liberty. “I forgive my persecutors from the bottom of my heart,” he said — “but God will requite it to them.”

In the meantime Phineas was taken to Newgate, and was there confined, almost with the glory and attendance of a State prisoner. This was no common murder, and no common murderer. Nor were they who interested themselves in the matter the ordinary rag, tag, and bobtail of the people — the mere wives and children, or perhaps fathers and mothers, or brothers and sisters of the slayer or the slain. Dukes and Earls, Duchesses and Countesses, Members of the Cabinet, great statesmen, Judges, Bishops, and Queen’s Counsellors, beautiful women, and women of highest fashion, seemed for a while to think of but little else than the fate of Mr Bonteen and the fate of Phineas Finn. People became intimately acquainted with each other through similar sympathies in this matter, who had never before spoken to or seen each other. On the day after the full committal of the man, Mr Low received a most courteous letter from the Duchess of Omnium, begging him to call in Carlton Terrace if his engagements would permit him to do so. The Duchess had heard that Mr Low was devoting all his energies to the protection of Phineas Finn; and, as a certain friend of hers — a lady — was doing the same, she was anxious to bring them together. Indeed, she herself was equally prepared to devote her energies for the present to the same object. She had declared to all her friends — especially to her husband and to the Duke of St Bungay — her absolute conviction of the innocence of the accused man, and had called upon them to defend him. “My dear,” said the elder Duke, “I do not think that in my time any innocent man has ever lost his life upon the scaffold.”

“Is that a reason why our friend should be the first instance?” said the Duchess.

“He must be tried according to the laws of his country,” said the younger Duke.

“Plantagenet, you always speak as if everything were perfect, whereas you know very well that everything is imperfect. If that man is — is hung, I— ”

“Glencora,” said her husband, “do not connect yourself with the fate of a stranger from any misdirected enthusiasm.”

“I do connect myself. If that man be hung — I shall go into mourning for him. You had better look to it.”

Mr Low obeyed the summons, and called on the Duchess. But, in truth, the invitation had been planned by Madame Goesler, who was present when the lawyer, about five o’clock in the afternoon, was shown into the presence of the Duchess. Tea was immediately ordered, and Mr Low was almost embraced. He was introduced to Madame Goesler, of whom he did not before remember that he had heard the name, and was at once given to understand that the fate of Phineas was now in question. “We know so well,” said the Duchess, “how true you are to him.”

“He is an old friend of mine,” said the lawyer, “and I cannot believe him to have been guilty of a murder.”

“Guilty! — he is no more guilty than I am. We are as sure of that as we are of the sun. We know that he is innocent — do we not, Madame Goesler? And we, too, are very dear friends of his — that is, I am.”

“And so am I,” said Madame Goesler, in a voice very low and sweet, but yet so energetic as to make Mr Low almost rivet his attention upon her.

“You must understand, Mr Low, that Mr Finn is a man horribly hated by certain enemies. That wretched Mr Bonteen hated his very name. But there are other people who think very differently of him. He must be saved.”

“Indeed I hope he may,” said Mr Low.

“We wanted to see you for ever so many reasons. Of course you understand that — that any sum of money can be spent that the case may want.”

“Nothing will be spared on that account certainly,” said the lawyer.

“But money will do a great many things. We would send all round the world if we could get evidence against that other man — Lady Eustace’s husband, you know.”

“Can any good be done by sending all round the world?”

“He went back to his own home not long ago — in Poland, I think,” said Madame Goesler. “Perhaps he got the instrument there, and brought it with him.” Mr Low shook his head. “Of course we are very ignorant — but it would be a pity that everything should not be tried.”

“He might have got in and out of the window, you know,” said the Duchess. Still Mr Low shook his head. “I believe things can always be found out, if only you take trouble enough. And trouble means money — does it not? We wouldn’t mind how many thousand pounds it cost; would we, Marie?”

“I fear that the spending of thousands can do no good,” said Mr Low.

“But something must be done. You don’t mean to say that Mr Finn is to be hung because Lord Fawn says that he saw a man running along the street in a grey coat.”

“Certainly not.”

“There is nothing else against him — nobody else saw him.”

“If there be nothing else against him he will be acquitted.”

“You think then”, said Madame Goesler, “that there will be no use in tracing what the man Mealyus did when he was out of England. He might have bought a grey coat then, and have hidden it till this night, and then have thrown it away.” Mr Low listened to her with close attention, but again shook his head. “If it could be shown that the man had a grey coat at that time it would certainly weaken the effect of Mr Finn’s grey coat.”

“And if he bought a bludgeon there, it would weaken the effect of Mr Finn’s bludgeon. And if he bought rope to make a ladder it would show that he had got out. It was a dark night, you know, and nobody would have seen it. We have been talking it all over, Mr Low, and we really think you ought to send somebody.”

“I will mention what you say to the gentlemen who are employed on Mr Finn’s defence.”

“But will not you be employed?” Then Mr Low explained that the gentlemen to whom he referred were the attorneys who would get up the case on their friend’s behalf, and that as he himself practised in the Courts of Equity only, he could not defend Mr Finn on his trial.

“He must have the very best men,” said the Duchess.

“He must have good men, certainly.”

“And a great many. Couldn’t we get Sir Gregory Grogram?” Mr Low shook his head. “I know very well that if you get men who are really — really swells, for that is what it is, Mr Low — and pay them well enough, and so make it really an important thing, they can browbeat any judge and hoodwink any jury. I dare say it is very dreadful to say so, Mr Low; but, nevertheless, I believe it, and as this man is certainly innocent it ought to be done. I dare say it’s very shocking, but I do think that twenty thousand pounds spent among the lawyers would get him off.”

“I hope we can get him off without expending twenty thousand pounds, Duchess.”

“But you can have the money and welcome — cannot he, Madame Goesler?”

“He could have double that, if double were necessary.”

“I would fill the court with lawyers for him,” continued the Duchess. “I would cross-examine the witnesses off their legs. I would rake up every wicked thing that horrid Jew has done since he was born. I would make witnesses speak. I would give a carriage and pair of horses to everyone of the jurors, wives, if that would do any good. You may shake your head, Mr Low; but I would. And I’d carry Lord Fawn off to the Antipodes, too — and I shouldn’t care if you left him there. I know that this man is innocent, and I’d do anything to save him. A woman, I know, can’t do much — but she has this privilege, that she can speak out what men only think. I’d give them two carriages and two pairs of horses a-piece if I could do it that way.”

Mr Low, did his best to explain to the Duchess that the desired object could hardly be effected after the fashion she proposed, and he endeavoured to persuade her that justice was sure to be done in an English court of law. “Then why are people so very anxious to get this lawyer or that to bamboozle the witnesses?” said the Duchess. Mr Low declared it to be his opinion that the poorest man in England was not more likely to be hung for a murder he had not committed than the richest. “Then why would you, if you were accused, have ever so many lawyers to defend you?” Mr Low went on to explain. “The more money you spend,” said the Duchess, “the more fuss you make. And the longer a trial is about and the greater the interest, the more chance a man has to escape. If a man is tried for three days you always think he’ll get off, but if it lasts ten minutes he is sure to be convicted and hung. I’d have Mr Finn’s trial made so long that they never could convict him. I’d tire out all the judges and juries in London. If you get lawyers enough they may speak for ever.” Mr Low endeavoured to explain that this might prejudice the prisoner. “And I’d examine every member of the House of Commons, and all the Cabinet, and all their wives. I’d ask them all what Mr Bonteen had been saying. I’d do it in such a way as a trial was never done before — and I’d take care that they should know what was coming.”

“And if he were convicted afterwards?”

“I’d buy up the Home Secretary. It’s very horrid to say so, of course, Mr Low; and I dare say there is nothing wrong ever done in Chancery. But I know what Cabinet Ministers are. If they could get a majority by granting a pardon they’d do it quick enough.”

“You are speaking of a Liberal Government, of course, Duchess.”

“There isn’t twopence to choose between them in that respect. Just at this moment I believe Mr Finn is the most popular member of the House of Commons; and I’d bring all that to bear. You can’t but know that if everything of that kind is done it will have an effect. I believe you could make him so popular that the people would pull down the prison rather than have him hung — so that a jury would not dare to say he was guilty.”

“Would that be justice, ladies?” asked the just man.

“It would be success, Mr Low — which is a great deal the better thing of the two.”

“If Mr Finn were found guilty, I could not in my heart believe that that would be justice,” said Madame Goesler.

Mr Low did his best to make them understand that the plan of pulling down Newgate by the instrumentality of Phineas Finn’s popularity, or of buying up the Home Secretary by threats of Parliamentary defection, would hardly answer their purpose. He would, he assured them, suggest to the attorneys employed the idea of searching for evidence against the man Mealyus in his own country, and would certainly take care that nothing was omitted from want of means. “You had better let us put a cheque in your hands,” said the Duchess. But to this he would not assent. He did admit that it would be well to leave no stone unturned, and that the turning of such stones must cost money — but the money, he said, would be forthcoming. “He’s not a rich man himself,” said the Duchess. Mr Low assured her that if money were really wanting he would ask for it, “And now”, said the Duchess, “there is one other thing that we want. Can we see him?”

“You, yourself?”

“Yes — I myself, and Madame Goesler. You look as if it would be very wicked.” Mr Low thought that it would be wicked — that the Duke would not like it; and that such a visit would occasion ill-natured remarks. “People do visit him, I suppose. He’s not locked up like a criminal.”

“I visit him,” said Mr Low, “and one or two other friends have done so. Lord Chiltern has been with him, and Mr Erle.”

“Has no lady seen him?” asked the Duchess.

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Then it’s time some lady should do so. I suppose we could be admitted. If we were his sisters they’d let us in.”

“You must excuse me, Duchess, but — ”

“Of course I will excuse you. But what?”

“You are not his sisters.”

“If I were engaged to him, to be his wife? — “ said Madame Goesler, standing up. “I am not so. There is nothing of that kind. You must not misunderstand me. But if I were?”

“On that plea I presume you could be admitted.”

“Why not as a friend? Lord Chiltern is admitted as his friend.”

“Because of the prudery of a prison,” said the Duchess, “All things are wrong to the lookers after wickedness, my dear. If it would comfort him to see us, why should he not have that comfort?”

“Would you have gone to him in his own lodgings?” asked Mr Low.

“I would — if he’d been ill,” said Madame Goesler.

“Madam,” said Mr Low, speaking with a gravity which for a moment had its effect even upon the Duchess of Omnium, “I think, at any rate, that if you visit Mr Finn in prison, you should do so through the instrumentality of his Grace, your husband.”

“Of course you suspect me of all manner of evil.”

“I suspect nothing — but I am sure that it should be so.”

“It shall be so,” said the Duchess. “Thank you, sir. We are much obliged to you for your wise counsel.”

“I am obliged to you,” said Madame Goesler, “because I know that you have his safety at heart.”

“And so am I,” said the Duchess, relenting, and giving him her hand. “We are really ever so much obliged to you. You don’t quite understand about the Duke; and how should you? I never do anything without telling him, but he hasn’t time to attend to things.”

“I hope I have not offended you.”

“Oh dear, no, You can’t offend me unless you mean it. Goodbye — and remember to have a great many lawyers, and all with new wigs; and let them all get in a great rage that anybody should suppose it possible that Mr Finn is a murderer. I’m sure I am. Goodbye, Mr Low.”

“You’ll never be able to get to him,” said the Duchess, as soon as they were alone.

“I suppose not.”

“And what good could you do? Of course I’d go with you if we could get in — but what would be the use?”

“To let him know that people do not think him guilty.”

“Mr Low will tell him that. I suppose, too, we can write to him. Would you mind writing?”

“I would rather go.”

“You might as well tell the truth when you are about it. You are breaking your heart for him.”

“If he were to be condemned, and — executed, I should break my heart. I could never appear bright before the world again.”

“That is just what I told Plantagenet. I said I would go into mourning.”

“And I should really mourn. And yet were he free tomorrow he would be no more to me than any other friend.”

“Do you mean you would not marry him?”

“No — I would not. Nor would he ask me. I will tell you what will be his lot in life — if he escapes from the present danger.”

“Of course he will escape. They don’t really hang innocent men.”

“Then he will become the husband of Lady Laura Kennedy.”

“Poor fellow! If I believed that, I should think it cruel to help him escape from Newgate.”

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