Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 66

The Foreign Bludgeon

In the meantime Madame Goesler, having accomplished the journey from Prague in considerably less than a week, reached London with the blacksmith, the attorney’s clerk, and the model of the key. The trial had been adjourned on Wednesday, the 24th of June, and it had been suggested that the jury should be again put into their box on that day week. All manner of inconvenience was to be endured by various members of the legal profession, and sundry irregularities were of necessity sanctioned on this great occasion. The sitting of the Court should have been concluded, and everybody concerned should have been somewhere else, but the matter was sufficient to justify almost any departure from routine. A member of the House of Commons was in custody, and it had already been suggested that some action should be taken by the House as to his speedy deliverance. Unless a jury could find him guilty, let him be at once restored to his duties and his privileges. The case was involved in difficulties, but in the meantime the jury, who had been taken down by train every day to have a walk in the country in the company of two sheriff’s officers, and who had been allowed to dine at Greenwich one day and at Richmond on another in the hope that whitebait with lamb and salad might in some degree console them for their loss of liberty, were informed that they would be once again put into their box on Wednesday. But Madame Goesler reached London on the Sunday morning, and on the Monday the whole affair respecting the key was unravelled in the presence of the Attorney-General, and with the personal assistance of our old friend, Major Mackintosh. Without a doubt the man Mealyus had caused to be made for him in Prague a key which would open the door of the house in Northumberland Street. A key was made in London from the model now brought which did open the door. The Attorney-General seemed to think that it would be his duty to ask the judge to call upon the jury to acquit Phineas Finn, and that then the matter must rest for ever, unless further evidence could be obtained against Yosef Mealyus. It would not be possible to hang a man for a murder simply because he had fabricated a key — even though he might possibly have obtained the use of a grey coat for a few hours. There was no tittle of evidence to show that he had ever had the great coat on his shoulders, or that he had been out of the house on that night. Lord Fawn, to his infinite disgust, was taken to the prison in which Mealyus was detained, and was confronted with the man, but he could say nothing. Mealyus, at his own suggestion, put on the coat, and stalked about the room in it. But Lord Fawn would not say a word. The person whom he now saw might have been the man in the street, or Mr Finn might have been the man, or any other man might have been the man. Lord Fawn was very dignified, very reserved, and very unhappy. To his thinking he was the great martyr of this trial. Phineas Finn was becoming a hero. Against the twelve jurymen the finger of scorn would never be pointed. But his sufferings must endure for his life — might probably embitter his life to the very end. Looking into his own future from his present point of view he did not see how he could ever again appear before the eye of the public. And yet with what persistency of conscience had he struggled to be true and honest! On the present occasion he would say nothing. He had seen a man in a grey coat, and for the future would confine himself to that. “You did not see me, my lord,” said Mr Emilius with touching simplicity.

So the matter stood on the Monday afternoon, and the jury had already been told that they might be released on the following Tuesday — might at any rate hear the judge’s charge on that day — when another discovery was made more wonderful than that of the key. And this was made without any journey to Prague, and might, no doubt, have been made on any day since the murder had been committed. And it was a discovery for not having made which the police force generally was subjected to heavy censure. A beautiful little boy was seen playing in one of those gardens through which the passage runs with a short loaded bludgeon in his hand. He came into the house with the weapon, the maid who was with him having asked the little lord no question on the subject. But luckily it attracted attention, and his little lordship took two gardeners and a coachman and all the nurses to the very spot at which he found it. Before an hour was over he was standing at his father’s knee, detailing the fact with great open eyes to two policemen, having by this time become immensely proud of his adventure. This occurred late on the Monday afternoon, when the noble family were at dinner, and the noble family was considerably disturbed, and at the same time very much interested, by the occurrence. But on the Tuesday morning there was the additional fact established that a bludgeon loaded with lead had been found among the thick grass and undergrowth of shrubs in a spot to which it might easily have been thrown by anyone attempting to pitch it over the wall. The news flew about the town like wildfire, and it was now considered certain that the real murderer would be discovered.

But the renewal of the trial was again postponed till the Wednesday, as it was necessary that an entire day should be devoted to the bludgeon. The instrument was submitted to the eyes and hands of persons experienced in such matters, and it was declared on all sides that the thing was not of English manufacture. It was about a foot long, with a leathern thong to the handle, with something of a spring in the shaft, and with the oval loaded knot at the end cased with leathern thongs very minutely and skilfully cut. They who understood modern work in leather gave it as their opinion that the weapon had been made in Paris. It was considered that Mealyus had brought it with him, and concealed it in preparation for this occasion. If the police could succeed in tracing the bludgeon into his hands, or in proving that he had purchased any such instrument, then — so it was thought — there would be evidence to justify a police magistrate in sending Mr Emilius to occupy the place so lately and so long held by poor Phineas Finn. But till that had been done, there could be nothing to connect the preacher with the murder. All who had heard the circumstances of the case were convinced that Mr Bonteen had been murdered by the weapon lately discovered, and not by that which Phineas had carried in his pocket — but no one could adduce proof that it was so. This second bludgeon would no doubt help to remove the difficulty in regard to Phineas, but would not give atonement to the shade of Mr Bonteen.

Mealyus was confronted with the weapon in the presence of Major Mackintosh, and was told its story — how it was found in the nobleman’s garden by the little boy. At the first moment, with instant readiness, he took the thing in his hand, and looked at it with feigned curiosity. He must have studied his conduct so as to have it ready for such an occasion, thinking that it might some day occur. But with all his presence of mind he could not keep the tell-tale blood from mounting.

“You don’t know anything about it, Mr Mealyus?” said one of the policemen present, looking closely into his face. “Of course you need not criminate yourself.”

“What should I know about it? No — I know nothing about the stick. I never had such a stick, or, as I believe, saw one before.” He did it very well, but he could not keep the blood from rising to his cheeks. The policemen were sure that he was the murderer — but what could they do?

“You saved his life, certainly,” said the Duchess to her friend on the Sunday afternoon. That had been before the bludgeon was found.

“I do not believe that they could have touched a hair of his head,” said Madame Goesler.

“Would they not? Everybody felt sure that he would be hung. Would it not have been awful? I do not see how you are to help becoming man and wife now, for all the world are talking about you.” Madame Goesler smiled, and said that she was quite indifferent to the world’s talk. On the Tuesday after the bludgeon was found, the two ladies met again, “Now it was known that it was the clergyman,” said the Duchess.

“I never doubted it.”

“He must have been a brave man for a foreigner — to have attacked Mr Bonteen all alone in the street, when anyone might have seen him. I don’t feel to hate him so very much after all. As for that little wife of his, she has got no more than she deserved.”

“Mr Finn will surely be acquitted now.”

“Of course he’ll be acquitted. Nobody doubts about it. That is all settled, and it is a shame that he should be kept in prison even over today. I should think they’ll make him a peer, and give him a pension — or at the very least appoint him secretary to something. I do wish Plantagenet hadn’t been in such a hurry about that nasty Board of Trade, and then he might have gone there. He couldn’t very well be Privy Seal, unless they do make him a peer. You wouldn’t mind — would you, my dear?”

“I think you’ll find that they will console Mr Finn with something less gorgeous than that. You have succeeded in seeing him, of course?”

“Plantagenet wouldn’t let me, but I know who did.”

“Some lady?”

“Oh, yes — a lady. Half the men about the clubs went to him, I believe.”

“Who was she?”

“You won’t be ill-natured?”

“I’ll endeavour at any rate to keep my temper, Duchess.”

“It was Lady Laura.”

“I supposed so.”

“They say she is frantic about him, my dear.”

“I never believe those things. Women do not get frantic about men in these days. They have been very old friends, and have known each other for many years. Her brother, Lord Chiltern, was his particular friend. I do not wonder that she should have seen him.”

“Of course you know that she is a widow.”

“Oh, yes — Mr Kennedy had died long before I left England.”

“And she is very rich. She has got all Loughlinter for her life, and her own fortune back again. I will bet you anything you like that she offers to share it with him.”

“It may be so,” said Madame Goesler, while the slightest blush in the world suffused her cheek.

“And I’ll make you another bet, and give you any odds.”

“What is that?”

“That he refuses her. It is quite a common thing nowadays for ladies to make the offer, and for gentlemen to refuse. Indeed, it was felt to be so inconvenient while it was thought that gentlemen had not the alternative, that some men became afraid of going into society. It is better understood now.”

“Such things have been done, I do not doubt,” said Madame Goesler, who had contrived to avert her face without making the motion apparent to her friend.

“When this is all over we’ll get him down to Matching, and manage better than that. I should think they’ll hardly go on with the Session, as nobody has done anything since the arrest. While Mr Finn has been in prison legislation has come to a standstill altogether. Even Plantagenet doesn’t work above twelve hours a day, and I’m told that poor Lord Fawn hasn’t been near his office for the last fortnight. When the excitement is over they’ll never be able to get back to their business before the grouse. There’ll be a few dinners of course, just as a compliment to the great man — but London will break up after that, I should think. You won’t come in for so much of the glory as you would have done if they hadn’t found the stick. Little Lord Frederick must have his share, you know.”

“It’s the most singular case I ever knew,” said Sir Simon Slope that night to one of his friends. “We certainly should have hanged him but for the two accidents, and yet neither of them brings us a bit nearer to hanging anyone else.”

“What a pity!”

“It shows the danger of circumstantial evidence — and yet without it one never could get at any murder. I’m very glad, you know, that the key and the stick did turn up. I never thought much about the coat.”

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