Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 55

Phineas in Prison

Phineas Finn himself, during the fortnight in which he was carried backwards and forwards between his prison and the Bow Street Police office, was able to maintain some outward show of manly dignity — as though he felt that the terrible accusation and great material inconvenience to which he was subjected were only, and could only be, temporary in their nature, and that the truth would soon prevail. During this period he had friends constantly with him — either Mr Low, or Lord Chiltern, or Barrington Erle, or his landlord, Mr Bunce, who, in these days, was very true to him. And he was very frequently visited by the attorney, Mr Wickerby, who had been expressly recommended to him for this occasion. If anybody could be counted upon to see him through his difficulty it was Wickerby. But the company of Mr Wickerby was not pleasant to him, because, as far as he could judge, Mr Wickerby did not believe in his innocence. Mr Wickerby was willing to do his best for him; was, so to speak, moving heaven and earth on his behalf; was fully conscious that this case was a great affair, and in no respect similar to those which were constantly placed in his hands; but there never fell from him a sympathetic expression of assurance of his client’s absolute freedom from all taint of guilt in the matter. From day to day, and ten times a day, Phineas would express his indignant surprise that anyone should think it possible that he had done this deed, but to all these expressions Mr Wickerby would make no answer whatever. At last Phineas asked him the direct question. “I never suspect anybody of anything,” said Mr Wickerby. “Do you believe in my innocence?” demanded Phineas. “Everybody is entitled to be believed innocent till he has been proved to be guilty,” said Mr Wickerby. Then Phineas appealed to his friend Mr Low, asking whether he might not be allowed to employ some lawyer whose feelings would be more in unison with his own. But Mr Low adjured him to make no change. Mr Wickerby understood the work and was a most zealous man. His client was entitled to his services, but to nothing more than his services. And so Mr Wickerby carried on the work, fully believing that Phineas Finn had in truth murdered Mr Bonteen.

But the prisoner was not without sympathy and confidence. Mr Low, Lord Chiltern, and Lady Chiltern, who, on one occasion, came to visit him with her husband, entertained no doubts prejudicial to his honour. They told him perhaps almost more than was quite true of the feelings of the world in his favour. He heard of the friendship and faith of the Duchess of Omnium, of Madame Goesler, and of Lady Laura Kennedy — hearing also that Lady Laura was now a widow. And then at length his two sisters came over to him from Ireland, and wept and sobbed, and fell into hysterics in his presence. They were sure that he was innocent, as was everyone, they said, throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. And Mrs Bunce, who came to see Phineas in his prison, swore that she would tear the judge from his bench if he did not at once pronounce a verdict in favour of her darling without waiting for any nonsense of a jury. And Bunce, her husband, having convinced himself that his lodger had not committed the murder, was zealous in another way, taking delight in the case, and proving that no jury could find a verdict of guilty.

During that week Phineas, buoyed up by the sympathy of his friends, and in some measure supported by the excitement of the occasion, carried himself well, and bore bravely the terrible misfortune to which he had been subjected by untoward circumstances. But when the magistrate fully committed him, giving the first public decision on the matter from the bench, declaring to the world at large that on the evidence as given, prima facie, he, Phineas Finn, must be regarded as the murderer of Mr Bonteen, our hero’s courage almost gave way. If such was now the judicial opinion of the magistrate, how could he expect a different verdict from a jury in two months’ time, when he would be tried before a final court? As far as he could understand, nothing more could be learned on the matter. All the facts were known that could be known — as far as he, or rather his friends on his behalf, were able to search for facts. It seemed to him that there was no tittle whatever of evidence against him. He had walked straight home from his club with the life-preserver in his pocket, and had never turned to the right or to the left. Till he found himself committed, he would not believe that any serious and prolonged impediment could be thrown in the way of his liberty. He would not believe that a man altogether innocent could be in danger of the gallows on a false accusation. It had seemed to him that the police had kept their hold on him with a rabid ferocity, straining every point with the view of showing that it was possible that he should have been the murderer. Every policeman who had been near him, carrying him backward and forward from his prison, or giving evidence as to the circumstances of the locality and of his walk home on that fatal night, had seemed to him to be an enemy. But he had looked for impartiality from the magistrate — and now the magistrate had failed him. He had seen in court the faces of men well known to him — men known in the world — with whom he had been on pleasant terms in Parliament, who had sat upon the bench while he was standing as a culprit between two constables; and they who had been his familiar friends had appeared at once to have been removed from him by some unmeasurable distance. But all that he had, as it were, discounted, believing that a few hours — at the very longest a few days — would remove the distance; but now he was sent back to his prison, there to await his trial for the murder.

And it seemed to him that his committal startled no one but himself. Could it be that even his dearest friends thought it possible that he had been guilty? When that day came, and he was taken back to Newgate on his last journey there from Bow Street, Lord Chiltern had returned for a while to Harrington Hall, having promised that he would be back in London as soon as his business would permit; but Mr Low came to him almost immediately to his prison room. “This is a pleasant state of things,” said Phineas, with a forced laugh. But as he laughed he also sobbed, with a low, irrepressible, convulsive movement in his throat.

“Phineas, the time has come in which you must show yourself to be a man.”

“A man! Oh, yes, I can be a man. A murderer you mean. I shall have to be — hung, I suppose.”

“May God, in His mercy, forbid.”

“No — not in His mercy; in His justice. There can be no need for mercy here — not even from Heaven. When they take my life may He forgive my sins through the merits of my Saviour. But for this there can be no mercy. Why do you not speak? Do you mean to say that I am guilty?”

“I am sure that you are innocent.”

“And yet, look here. What more can be done to prove it than has been done? That blundering fool will swear my life away.” Then he threw himself on his bed, and gave way to his sobs.

That evening he was alone — as, indeed, most of his evenings had been spent, and the minutes were minutes of agony to him. The external circumstances of his position were as comfortable as circumstances would allow. He had a room to himself looking out through heavy iron bars into one of the courts of the prison. The chamber was carpeted, and was furnished with bed and chairs and two tables. Books were allowed him as he pleased, and pen and ink. It was May, and no fire was necessary. At certain periods of the day he could walk alone in the court below — the restriction on such liberty being that at other certain hours the place was wanted for other prisoners. As far as he knew no friend who called was denied to him, though he was by no means certain that his privilege in that respect would not be curtailed now that he had been committed for trial. His food had been plentiful and well cooked, and even luxuries, such as fish and wine and fruit, had been supplied to him. That the fruit had come from the hot-houses of the Duchess of Omnium, and the wine from Mr Low’s cellar, and the fish and lamb and spring vegetables, the cream and coffee and fresh butter from the unrestricted orders of another friend, that Lord Chiltern had sent him champagne and cigars, and that Lady Chiltern had given directions about the books and stationery, he did not know. But as far as he could be consoled by such comforts, there had been the consolation. If lamb and salad could make him happy he might have enjoyed his sojourn in Newgate. Now, this evening, he was past all enjoyment. It was impossible that he should read. How could a man fix his attention on any book, with a charge of murder against himself affirmed by the deliberate decision of a judge? And he knew himself to be as innocent as the magistrate himself. Every now and then he would rise from his bed, and almost rush across the room as though he would dash his head against the wall. Murder! They really believed that he had deliberately murdered the man — he, Phineas Finn, who had served his country with repute, who had sat in Parliament, who had prided himself on living with the best of his fellow-creatures, who had been the friend of Mr Monk and of Lord Cantrip, the trusted intimate of such women as Lady Laura and Lady Chiltern, who had never put his hand to a mean action, or allowed his tongue to speak a mean word! He laughed in his wrath, and then almost howled in his agony. He thought of the young loving wife who had lived with him little more than for one fleeting year, and wondered whether she was looking down upon him from Heaven, and how her spirit would bear this accusation against the man upon whose bosom she had slept, and in whose arms she had gone to her long rest. “They can’t believe it,” he said aloud. “It is impossible. Why should I have murdered him?” And then he remembered an example in Latin from some rule of grammar, and repeated it to himself over and over again. — “No one at an instant — of a sudden — becomes utterly base.” It seemed to him that there was such a want of knowledge of human nature in the supposition that it was possible that he should have committed such a crime. And yet — there he was, committed to take his trial for the murder of Mr Bonteen.

The days were long, and it was daylight till nearly nine. Indeed the twilight lingered, even through those iron bars, till after nine. He had once asked for candles, but had been told that they could not be allowed him without an attendant in the room — and he had dispensed with them. He had been treated doubtless with great respect, but nevertheless he had been treated as a prisoner. They hardly denied him anything that he asked, but when he asked for that which they did not choose to grant they would annex conditions which induced him to withdraw his request. He understood their ways now, and did not rebel against them.

On a sudden he heard the key in the door, and the man who attended him entered the room with a candle in his hand. A lady had come to call, and the governor had given permission for her entrance. He would return for the light — and for the lady, in half an hour. He had said all this before Phineas could see who the lady was. And when he did see the form of her who followed the gaoler, and who stood with hesitating steps behind him in the doorway, he knew her by her sombre solemn raiment, and not by her countenance. She was dressed from head to foot in the deepest weeds of widowhood, and a heavy veil fell from her bonnet over her face. “Lady Laura, is it you?” said Phineas, putting out his hand. Of course it was Lady Laura. While the Duchess of Omnium and Madame Goesler were talking about such a visit, allowing themselves to be deterred by the wisdom of Mr Low, she had made her way through bolts and bars, and was now with him in his prison.

“Oh, Phineas!” She slowly raised her veil, and stood gazing at him. “Of all my troubles this — to see you here — is the heaviest.”

“And of all my consolations to see you here is the greatest.” He should not have so spoken. Could he have thought of things as they were, and have restrained himself, he should not have uttered words to her which were pleasant but not true. There came a gleam of sunshine across her face as she listened to him, and then she threw herself into his arms, and wept upon his shoulder. “I did not expect that you would have found me,” he said.

She took the chair opposite to that on which he usually sat, and then began her tale. Her cousin, Barrington Erle, had brought her there, and was below, waiting for her in the Governor’s house. He had procured an order for her admission that evening, direct from Sir Harry Coldfoot, the Home Secretary — which, however, as she admitted, had been given under the idea that she and Erle were to see him together. “But I would not let him come with me,” she said. “I could not have spoken to you, had he been here — could I?”

“It would not have been the same, Lady Laura.” He had thought much of his mode of addressing her on occasions before this, at Dresden and at Portman Square, and had determined that he would always give her her title. Once or twice he had lacked the courage to be so hard to her. Now as she heard the name the gleam of sunshine passed from her altogether. “We hardly expected that we should ever meet in such a place as this?” he said.

“I cannot understand it. They cannot really think you killed him.” He smiled, and shook his head. Then she spoke of her own condition. “You have heard what has happened? You know that I am — a widow?”

“Yes — I had heard,” And then he smiled again. “You will have understood why I could not come to you — as I should have done but for this little accident.”

“He died on the day that they arrested you. Was it not strange that such a double blow should fall together? Oswald, no doubt, told you all.”

“He told me of your husband’s death.”

“But not of his will? Perhaps he has not seen you since he heard it.” Lord Chiltern had heard of the will before his last visit to Phineas in Newgate, but had not chosen then to speak of his sister’s wealth.

“I have heard nothing of Mr Kennedy’s will.”

“It was made immediately after our marriage — and he never changed it, though he had so much cause of anger against me.

“He has not injured you, then — as regards money.”

“Injured me! No, indeed. I am a rich woman — very rich. All Loughlinter is my own — for life. But of what use can it be to me?” He in his present state could tell her of no uses for such a property. “I suppose, Phineas, it cannot be that you are really in danger?”

“In the greatest danger, I fancy.”

“Do you mean that they will say — you are guilty?”

“The magistrates have said so already.”

“But surely that is nothing. If I thought so, I should die. If I believed it, they should never take me out of the prison while you are here. Barrington says that it cannot be. Oswald and Violet are sure that such a thing can never happen. It was that Jew who did it.”

“I cannot say who did it. I did not.”

“You! Oh, Phineas! The world must be mad when any can believe it!”

“But they do believe it?” This, he said, meaning to ask a question as to that outside world.

“We do not. Barrington says — ”

“What does Barrington say?”

“That there are some who do — just a few, who were Mr Bonteen’s special friends.”

“The police believe it. That is what I cannot understand — men who ought to be keen-eyed and quick-witted. That magistrate believes it. I saw men in the Court who used to know me well, and I could see that they believed it. Mr Monk was here yesterday.”

“Does he believe it?”

“I asked him, and he told me — no. But I did not quite trust him as he told me. There are two or three who believe me innocent.”

“Who are they?”

“Low, and Chiltern, and his wife — and that man Bunce, and his wife. If I escape from this — if they do not hang me — I will remember them. And there are two other women who know me well enough not to think me a murderer.”

“Who are they, Phineas?”

“Madame Goesler, and the Duchess of Omnium.”

“Have they been here?” she asked, with jealous eagerness.

“Oh, no. But I hear that it is so — and I know it. One learns to feel even from hearsay what is in the minds of people.”

“And what do I believe, Phineas? Can you read my thoughts?”

“I know them of old, without reading them now.” Then he put forth his hand and took hers. “Had I murdered him in real truth, you would not have believed it.”

“Because I love you, Phineas.”

Then the key was again heard in the door, and Barrington Erle appeared with the gaolers. The time was up, he said, and he had come to redeem his promise. He spoke cordially to his old friend, and grasped the prisoner’s hand cordially — but not the less did be believe that there was blood on it, and Phineas knew that such was his belief. It appeared on his arrival that Lady Laura had not at all accomplished the chief object of her visit. She had brought with her various cheques, all drawn by Barrington Erle on his banker — amounting altogether to many hundreds of pounds — which it was intended that Phineas should use from time to time for the necessities of his trial. Barrington Erle explained that the money was in fact to be a loan from Lady Laura’s father, and was simply passed through his banker’s account. But Phineas knew that the loan must come from Lady Laura, and he positively refused to touch it. His friend, Mr Low, was managing all that for him, and he would not embarrass the matter by a fresh account. He was very obstinate, and at last the cheques were taken away in Barrington Erle’s pocket.

“Goodnight, old fellow,” said Erle, affectionately. “I’ll see you again before long. May God send you through it all.”

“Goodnight, Barrington. It was kind of you to come to me.” Then Lady Laura, watching to see whether her cousin would leave her alone for a moment with the object of her idolatry, paused before she gave him her hand. “Goodnight, Lady Laura,” he said.

“Goodnight!” Barrington Erle was now just outside the door.

“I shall not forget your coming here to me.”

“How should we, either of us, forget it?”

“Come, Laura,” said Barrington Erle, “we had better make an end of it.”

“But if I should never see him again!”

“Of course you will see him again.”

“When! and where! Oh, God — if they should murder him!” Then she threw herself into his arms, and covered him with kisses, though her cousin had returned into the room and stood over her as she embraced him.

“Laura,” said he, “you are doing him an injury. How should he support himself if you behave like this! Come away.”

“Oh, my God, if they should kill him!” she exclaimed. But she allowed her cousin to take her in his arms, and Phineas Finn was left alone without having spoken another word to either of them.

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