Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 72

The End of the Story of Mr Emilius and Lady Eustace

The interest in the murder by no means came to an end when Phineas Finn was acquitted. The new facts which served so thoroughly to prove him innocent tended with almost equal weight to prove another man guilty. And the other man was already in custody on a charge which had subjected him to the peculiar ill-will of the British public. He a foreigner and a Jew, by name Yosef Mealyus — as everyone was now very careful to call him — had come to England, had got himself to be ordained as a clergyman, had called himself Emilius, and had married a rich wife with a title, although he had a former wife still living in his own country. Had he called himself Jones it would have been better for him, but there was something in the name of Emilius which added a peculiar sting to his iniquities. It was now known that the bigamy could be certainly proved, and that his last victim, our old friend, poor little Lizzie Eustace — would be rescued from his clutches. She would once more be a free woman, and as she had been strong enough to defend her future income from his grasp, she was perhaps as fortunate as she deserved to be. She was still young and pretty, and there might come another lover more desirable than Yosef Mealyus. That the man would have to undergo the punishment of bigamy in its severest form, there was no doubt — but would law, and justice, and the prevailing desire for revenge, be able to get at him in such a way that he might be hung? There certainly did exist a strong desire to prove Mr Emilius to have been a murderer, so that there might come a fitting termination to his career in Great Britain.

The police seemed to think that they could make but little either of the coat or of the key, unless other evidence, that would be almost sufficient in itself, should be found. Lord Fawn was informed that his testimony would probably be required at another trial — which intimation affected him so grievously that his friends for a week or two thought that he would altogether sink under his miseries. But he would say nothing which would seem to criminate Mealyus. A man hurrying along with a grey coat was all that he could swear to now — professing himself to be altogether ignorant whether the man, as seen by him, had been tall or short. And then the manufacture of the key — though it was that which made everyone feel sure that Mealyus was the murderer — did not, in truth, afford the slightest evidence against him. Even had it been proved that he had certainly used the false key and left Mrs Meager’s house on the night in question, that would not have sufficed at all to prove that therefore he had committed a murder in Berkeley Street. No doubt Mr Bonteen had been his enemy — and Mr Bonteen had been murdered by an enemy. But so great had been the man’s luck that no real evidence seemed to touch him. Nobody doubted — but then but few had doubted before as to the guilt of Phineas Finn.

There was one other fact by which the truth might, it was hoped, still be reached. Mr Bonteen had, of course, been killed by the weapon which had been found in the garden. As to that a general certainty prevailed. Mrs Meager and Miss Meager, and the maid-of-all-work belonging to the Meagers, and even Lady Eustace, were examined as to this bludgeon. Had anything of the kind ever been seen in the possession of the clergyman? The clergyman had been so sly that nothing of the kind had been seen. Of the drawers and cupboards which he used, Mrs Meager had always possessed duplicate keys, and Miss Meager frankly acknowledged that she had a general and fairly accurate acquaintance with the contents of these receptacles; but there had always been a big trunk with an impenetrable lock — a lock which required that even if you had the key you should be acquainted with a certain combination of letters before you could open it — and of that trunk no one had seen the inside. As a matter of course, the weapon, when brought to London, had been kept altogether hidden in the trunk. Nothing could be easier. But a man cannot be hung because he has had a secret hiding place in which a murderous weapon may have been stowed away.

But might it not be possible to trace the weapon? Mealyus, on his return from Prague, had certainly come through Paris. So much was learned — and it was also learned as a certainty that the article was of French — and probably of Parisian manufacture. If it could be proved that the man had bought this weapon, or even such a weapon, in Paris then — so said all the police authorities — it might be worth while to make an attempt to hang him. Men very skilful in unravelling such mysteries were sent to Paris, and the police of that capital entered upon the search with most praiseworthy zeal. But the number of life-preservers which had been sold altogether baffled them. It seemed that nothing was so common as that gentlemen should walk about with bludgeons in their pockets covered with leathern thongs. A young woman and an old man who thought that they could recollect something of a special sale were brought over — and saw the splendour of London under very favourable circumstances — but when confronted with Mr Emilius, neither could venture to identify him. A large sum of money was expended — no doubt justified by the high position which poor Mr Bonteen had filled in the counsels of the nation; but it was expended in vain. Mr Bonteen had been murdered in the streets at the West End of London. The murderer was known to everybody. He had been seen a minute or two before the murder. The motive which had induced the crime was apparent. The weapon with which it had been perpetrated had been found. The murderer’s disguise had been discovered. The cunning with which he had endeavoured to prove that he was in bed at home had been unravelled, and the criminal purpose of his cunning made altogether manifest. Every man’s eye could see the whole thing from the moment in which the murderer crept out of Mrs Meager’s house with Mr Meager’s coat upon his shoulders and the life-preserver in his pocket, till he was seen by Lord Fawn hurrying out of the mews to his prey. The blows from the bludgeon could be counted. The very moment in which they had been struck had been ascertained. His very act in hurling the weapon over the wall was all but seen. And yet nothing could be done. “It is a very dangerous thing hanging a man on circumstantial evidence,” said Sir Gregory Grogram, who, a couple of months since, had felt almost sure that his honourable friend Phineas Finn would have to be hung on circumstantial evidence. The police and magistrates and lawyers all agreed that it would be useless, and indeed wrong, to send the case before a jury. But there had been quite sufficient evidence against Phineas Finn!

In the meantime the trial for bigamy proceeded in order that poor little Lizzie Eustace might be freed from the incubus which afflicted her. Before the end of July she was made once more a free woman, and the Rev. Joseph Emilius — under which name it was thought proper that he should be tried — was convicted and sentenced to penal servitude for five years. A very touching appeal was made for him to the jury by a learned serjeant, who declared that his client was to lose his wife and to be punished with extreme severity as a bigamist, because it was found to be impossible to bring home against him a charge of murder. There was, perhaps, some truth in what the learned serjeant said, but the truth had no effect upon the jury. Mr Emilius was found guilty as quickly as Phineas Finn had been acquitted, and was, perhaps, treated with a severity which the single crime would hardly have elicited. But all this happened in the middle of the efforts which were being made to trace the purchase of the bludgeon, and when men hoped two or five or twenty-five years of threatened incarceration might be all the same to Mr Emilius. Could they have succeeded in discovering where he had bought the weapon, his years of penal servitude would have afflicted him but little. They did not succeed; and though it cannot be said that any mystery was attached to the Bonteen murder, it has remained one of those crimes which are unavenged by the flagging law. And so the Rev. Mr Emilius will pass away from our story.

There must be one or two words further respecting poor little Lizzie Eustace. She still had her income almost untouched, having been herself unable to squander it during her late married life, and having succeeded in saving it from the clutches of her pseudo husband. And she had her title, of which no one could rob her, and her castle down in Ayrshire — which, however, as a place of residence she had learned to hate most thoroughly. Nor had she done anything which of itself must necessarily have put her out of the pale of society. As a married woman she had had no lovers; and, when a widow, very little fault in that line had been brought home against her. But the world at large seemed to be sick of her. Mrs Bonteen had been her best friend, and, while it was still thought that Phineas Finn had committed the murder, with Mrs Bonteen she had remained. But it was impossible that the arrangement should be continued when it became known — for it was known — that Mr Bonteen had been murdered by the man who was still Lizzie’s reputed husband. Not that Lizzie perceived this — though she was averse to the idea of her husband having been a murderer. But Mrs Bonteen perceived it, and told her friend that she must — go. It was most unwillingly that the wretched widow changed her faith as to the murderer; but at last she found herself bound to believe as the world believed; and then she hinted to the wife of Mr Emilius that she had better find another home.

“I don’t believe it a bit,” said Lizzie.

“It is not a subject I can discuss,” said the widow.

“And I don’t see that it makes any difference. He isn’t my husband. You have said that yourself very often, Mrs Bonteen.”

“It is better that we shouldn’t be together, Lady Eustace.”

“Oh, I can go, of course, Mrs Bonteen. There needn’t be the slightest trouble about that. I had thought perhaps it might be convenient; but of course you know best.”

She went forth into lodgings in Half Moon Street, close to the scene of the murder, and was once more alone in the world. She had a child indeed, the son of her first husband, as to whom it behoved many to be anxious, who stood high in rank and high in repute; but such had been Lizzie’s manner of life that neither her own relations nor those of her husband could put up with her, or endure her contact. And yet she was conscious of no special sins, and regarded herself as one who with a tender heart of her own, and a too-confiding spirit, had been much injured by the cruelty of those with whom she had been thrown. Now she was alone, weeping in solitude, pitying herself with deepest compassion; but it never occurred to her that there was anything in her conduct that she need alter. She would still continue to play her game as before, would still scheme, would still lie; and might still, at last, land herself in that Elysium of life of which she had been always dreaming. Poor Lizzie Eustace! Was it nature or education which had made it impossible to her to tell the truth, when a lie came to her hand? Lizzie, the liar! Poor Lizzie!

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