Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 59

Mrs Bonteen

At the time of the murder, Lady Eustace, whom we must regard as the wife of Mr Emilius till it be proved that he had another wife when he married her, was living as the guest of Mr Bonteen. Mr Bonteen had pledged himself to prove the bigamy, and Mrs Bonteen had opened her house and her heart to the injured lady. Lizzie Eustace, as she had always been called, was clever, rich, and pretty, and knew well how to ingratiate herself with the friend of the hour. She was a greedy, grasping little woman, but, when she had before her a sufficient object, she could appear to pour all that she had into her friend’s lap with all the prodigality of a child. Perhaps Mrs Bonteen had liked to have things poured into her lap. Perhaps Mr Bonteen had enjoyed the confidential tears of a pretty woman. It may be that the wrongs of a woman doomed to live with Mr Emilius as his wife had touched their hearts. Be that as it might, they had become the acknowledged friends and supporters of Lady Eustace, and she was living with them in their little house in St James’s Place on that fatal night.

Lizzie behaved herself very well when the terrible tidings were brought home. Mr Bonteen was so often late at the House or at his club that his wife rarely sat up for him; and when the servants were disturbed between six and seven o’clock in the morning, no surprise had as yet been felt at his absence. The sergeant of police who had brought the news sent for the maid of the unfortunate lady, and the maid, in her panic, told her story to Lady Eustace before daring to communicate it to her mistress. Lizzie Eustace, who in former days had known something of policemen, saw the man, and learned from him all that there was to learn. Then, while the sergeant remained on the landing place, outside, to support her, if necessary, with the maid by her side to help her, kneeling by the bed, she told the wretched woman what had happened. We need not witness the paroxysms of the widow’s misery, but we may understand that Lizzie Eustace was from that moment more strongly fixed than ever in her friendship with Mrs Bonteen.

When the first three or four days of agony and despair had passed by, and the mind of the bereaved woman was able to turn itself from the loss to the cause of the loss, Mrs Bonteen became fixed in her certainty that Phineas Finn had murdered her husband, and seemed to think that it was the first and paramount duty of the present Government to have the murderer hung — almost without a trial. When she found that, at the best, the execution of the man she so vehemently hated could not take place for two months after the doing of the deed, even if then, she became almost frantic in her anger. Surely they would not let him escape! What more proof could be needed? Had not the miscreant quarrelled with her husband, and behaved abominably to him but a few minutes before the murder? Had he not been on the spot with the murderous instrument in his pocket? Had he not been seen by Lord Fawn hastening on the steps of her dear and doomed husband? Mrs Bonteen, as she sat enveloped in her new weeds, thirsting for blood, could not understand that further evidence should be needed, or that a rational doubt should remain in the mind of anyone who knew the circumstances. It was to her as though she had seen the dastard blow struck, and with such conviction as this on her mind did she insist on talking of the coming trial to her inmate, Lady Eustace. But Lizzie had her own opinion, though she was forced to leave it unexpressed in the presence of Mrs Bonteen. She knew the man who claimed her as his wife, and did not think that Phineas Finn was guilty of the murder. Her Emilius — her Yosef Mealyus, as she had delighted to call him, since she had separated herself from him — was, as she thought, the very man to commit a murder. He was by no means degraded in her opinion by the feeling. To commit great crimes is the line of life that comes naturally to some men, and was, as she thought, a line less objectionable than that which confines itself to small crimes. She almost felt that the audacity of her husband in doing such a deed redeemed her from some of the ignominy to which she had subjected herself by her marriage with a runaway who had another wife living. There was a dash of adventure about it which was almost gratifying. But these feelings she was obliged, at any rate for the present, to keep to herself. Not only must she acknowledge the undoubted guilt of Phineas Finn for the sake of her friend, Mrs Bonteen; but she must consider carefully whether she would gain or lose more by having a murderer for her husband. She did not relish the idea of being made a widow by the gallows. She was still urgent as to the charge of bigamy, and should she succeed in proving that the man had never been her husband, then she did not care how soon they might hang him. But for the present it was better for all reasons that she should cling to the Phineas Finn theory — feeling certain that it was the bold hand of her own Emilius who had struck the blow.

She was by no means free from the solicitations of her husband, who knew well where she was, and who still adhered to his purpose of reclaiming his wife and his wife’s property. When he was released by the magistrate’s order, and had recovered his goods from Mr Meager’s house, and was once more established in lodgings, humbler, indeed, than those in Northumberland Street, he wrote the following letter to her who had been for one blessed year the partner of his joys, and his bosom’s mistress:

3, Jellybag Street, Edgware Road 26th May, 18 — DEAREST WIFE—

You will have heard to what additional sorrow and disgrace I have been subjected through the malice of my enemies. But all in vain! Though princes and potentates have been arrayed against me [the princes and potentates had no doubt been Lord Chiltern and Mr Low] innocence has prevailed, and I have come out from the ordeal white as bleached linen or unsullied snow. The murderer is in the hands of justice, and though he be the friend of kings and princes [Mr Emlius had probably heard that the Prince had been at the club with Phineas] yet shall justice be done upon him, and the truth of the Lord shall be made to prevail. Mr Bonteen has been very hostile to me, believing evil things of me, and instigating you, my beloved, to believe evil of me. Nevertheless, I grieve for his death. I lament bitterly that he should have been cut off in his sins, and hurried before the judgment seat of the great Judge without an hour given to him for repentance. Let us pray that the mercy of the Lord may be extended even to him. I beg that you will express my deepest commiseration to his widow, and assure her that she has my prayers.

And now, my dearest wife, let me approach my own affairs. As I have come out unscorched from the last fiery furnace which has been heated for me by my enemies seven times hot, so shall I escape from that other fire with which the poor man who has gone from us endeavoured to envelop me. If they have made you believe that I have any wife but yourself they have made you believe a falsehood. You, and you only, have my hand. You, and you only, have my heart. I know well what attempts are being made to suborn false evidence in my old country, and how the follies of my youth are being pressed against me — how anxious are proud Englishmen that the poor Bohemian should be robbed of the beauty and wit and wealth which he had won for himself. But the Lord fights on my side, and I shall certainly prevail.

If you will come back to me all shall be forgiven. My heart is as it ever was. Come, and let us leave this cold and ungenial country and go to the sunny south; to the islands of the blest [Mr Emilius during his married life had not quite fathomed the depths of his wife’s character, though, no doubt, he had caught some points of it with sufficient accuracy] where we may forget these blood-stained sorrows, and mutually forgive each other. What happiness, what joys can you expect in your present mode of life? Even your income — which in truth is my income — you cannot obtain, because the tenants will not dare to pay it in opposition to my legal claims. But of what use is gold? What can purple do for us, and fine linen, and rich jewels, without love and a contented heart? Come, dearest, once more to your own one, who will never remember aught of the sad rupture which enemies have made, and we will hurry to the setting sun, and recline on mossy banks, and give up our souls to Elysium. [As Lizzie read this she uttered an exclamation of disgust. Did the man after all know so little of her as to suppose that she, with all her experiences, did not know how to keep her own life and her own pocket separate from her romance? She despised him for this, almost as much as she respected him for the murder.]

If you will only say that you will see me, I will be at your feet in a moment. Till the solemnity with which the late tragical event must have filled you shall have left you leisure to think of all this, I will not force myself into your presence, or seek to secure by law rights which will be much dearer to me if they are accorded by your own sweet goodwill. And in the meantime, I will agree that the income shall be drawn, provided that it be equally divided between us. I have been sorely straitened in my circumstances by these last events. My congregation is of course dispersed. Though my innocence has been triumphantly displayed, my name has been tarnished. It is with difficulty that I find a spot where to lay my weary head. I am ahungered and athirst — and my very garments are parting from me in my need. Can it be that you willingly doom me to such misery because of my love for you? Had I been less true to you, it might have been otherwise.

Let me have an answer at once, and I will instantly take steps about the money if you will agree.

Your truly most loving husband JOSEPH EMILIUS To Lady Eustace, wife of the Rev. Joseph Emilius.

When Lizzie had read the letter twice through she resolved that she would show it to her friend. “I know it will reopen the floodgates of your grief,” she said; “but unless you see it, how can I ask from you the advice which is so necessary to me?” But Mrs Bonteen was a woman sincere at any rate in this — that the loss of her husband had been to her so crushing a calamity that there could be no reopening of the floodgates. The grief that cannot bear allusion to its causes has generally something of affectation in its composition. The floodgates with this widowed one had never yet been for a moment closed. It was not that her tears were ever flowing, but that her heart had never yet for a moment ceased to feel that its misery was incapable of alleviation. No utterances concerning her husband could make her more wretched than she was. She took the letter and read it through. “I dare say he is a bad man,” said Mrs Bonteen.

“Indeed he is,” said the bad man’s wife.

“But he was not guilty of this crime.”

“Oh, no — I am sure of that,” said Lady Eustace, feeling certain at the same time that Mr Bonteen had fallen by her husband’s hands.

“And therefore I am glad they have given him up. There can be no doubt now about it.”

“Everybody knows who did it now,” said Lady Eustace.

“Infamous ruffian! My poor dear lost one always knew what he was. Oh that such a creature should have been allowed to come among us.”

“Of course he’ll be hung, Mrs Bonteen.”

“Hung! I should think so! What other end would be fit for him? Oh, yes; they must hang him. But it makes one think that the world is too hard a place to live in, when such a one such as he can cause so great a ruin.”

“It has been very terrible.”

“Think what the country has lost! They tell me that the Duke of Omnium is to take my husband’s place; but the Duke cannot do what he did. Everyone knows that for real work there was no one like him. Nothing was more certain than that he would have been Prime Minister — oh, very soon. They ought to pinch him to death with red-hot tweezers.”

But Lady Eustace was anxious at the present moment to talk about her own troubles. “Of course, Mr Emilius did not commit the murder.”

“Phineas Finn committed it,” said the half-maddened woman, rising from her chair. “And Phineas Finn shall hang by his neck till he is dead.”

“But Emilius has certainly got another wife in Prague.”

“I suppose you know. He said it was so, and he was always right.”

“I am sure of it — just as you are sure of this horrid Mr Finn.”

“The two things can’t be named together, Lady Eustace.”

“Certainly not. I wouldn’t think of being so unfeeling. But he has written me this letter, and what must I do? It is very dreadful about the money, you know.”

“He cannot touch your money. My dear one always said that he could not touch it.”

“But he prevents me from touching it. What they give me only comes by a sort of favour from the lawyer. I almost wish that I had compromised.”

“You would be rid of him that way.”

“No — not quite rid of him. You see I never had to take that horrid name because of the title. I suppose I’d better send the letter to the lawyer.”

“Send it to the lawyer, of course. That is what he would have done. They tell me that the trial is to be on the 24th of June. Why should they postpone it so long? They know all about it. They always postpone everything. If he had lived, there would be an end of that before long.”

Lady Eustace was tired of the virtues of her friend’s martyred lord, and was very anxious to talk of her own affairs. She was still holding her husband’s letter open in her hand, and was thinking how she could force her friend’s dead lion to give place for a while to her own live dog, when a servant announced that Mr Camperdown, the attorney, was below. In former days there had been an old Mr Camperdown, who was vehemently hostile to poor Lizzie Eustace; but now, in her new troubles, the firm that had ever been true to her first husband had taken up her case for the sake of the family and her property — and for the sake of the heir, Lizzie Eustace’s little boy; and Mr Camperdown’s firm had, next to Mr Bonteen, been the depository of her trust. He had sent clerks out to Prague — one who had returned ill — as some had said poisoned, though the poison had probably been nothing more than the diet natural to Bohemians. And then another had been sent. This, of course, had all been previous to Madame Goesler’s self-imposed mission — which, though it was occasioned altogether by the suspected wickednesses of Mr Emilius, had no special reference to his matrimonial escapades. And now Mr Camperdown was down stairs. “Shall I go down to him, dear Mrs Bonteen?”

“He may come here if you please.”

“Perhaps I had better go down. He will disturb you.”

“My darling lost one always thought that there should be two present to hear such matters. He said it was safer.” Mr Camperdown, junior, was therefore shown upstairs to Mrs Bonteen’s drawing-room.

“We have found it all out, Lady Eustace,” said Mr Camperdown.

“Found out what?”

“We’ve got Madame Mealyus over here.”

“No!” said Mrs Bonteen, with her hands raised. Lady Eustace sat silent, with her mouth open.

“Yes, indeed — and photographs of the registry of the marriage from the books of the synagogue at Cracow. His signature was Yosef Mealyus, and his handwriting isn’t a bit altered. I think we could have proved it without the lady; but of course it was better to bring her if possible.”

“Where is she?” asked Lizzie, thinking that she would like to see her own predecessor.

“We have her safe, Lady Eustace. She’s not in custody; but as she can’t speak a word of English or French, she finds it more comfortable to be kept in private. We’re afraid it will cost a little money.”

“Will she swear that she is his wife?” asked Mrs Bonteen.

“Oh, yes; there’ll be no difficulty about that. But her swearing alone mightn’t be enough.”

“Surely that settles it all,” said Lady Eustace.

“For the money that we shall have to pay,” said Mr Camperdown, “we might probably have got a dozen Bohemian ladies to come and swear that they were married to Yosef Mealyus at Cracow. The difficulty has been to bring over documentary evidence which will satisfy a jury that this is the woman she says she is. But I think we’ve got it.”

“And I shall be free!” said Lady Eustace, clasping her hands together.

“It will cost a good deal, I fear,” said Mr Camperdown.

“But I shall be free! Oh, Mr Camperdown, there is not a woman in all the world who cares so little for money as I do. But I shall be free from the power of that horrid man who has entangled me in the meshes of his sinful life.” Mr Camperdown told her that he thought that she would be free, and went on to say that Yosef Mcalyus had already been arrested, and was again in prison. The unfortunate man had not therefore long enjoyed that humbler apartment which he had found for himself in Jellybag Street.

When Mr Camperdown went, Mrs Bonteen followed him out to the top of the stairs. “You have heard about the trial, Mr Camperdown?” He said that he knew that it was to take place at the Central Criminal Court in June. “Yes; I don’t know why they have put it off so long. People know that he did it — eh?” Mr Camperdown, with funereal sadness, declared that he had never looked into the matter. “I cannot understand that everybody should not know it,” said Mrs Bonteen.

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