The writer of this chronicle is not allowed to imagine that any of his readers have read the wonderful and vexatious adventures of Lady Eustace, a lady of good birth, of high rank, and of large fortune, who, but a year or two since, became almost a martyr to a diamond necklace which was stolen from her. With her history the present reader has but small concern, but it may be necessary that he should know that the lady in question, who had been a widow with many suitors, at last gave her hand and her fortune to a clergyman whose name was Joseph Emilius. Mr Emilius, though not an Englishman by birth — and, as was supposed, a Bohemian jew in the earlier days of his career — had obtained some reputation as a preacher in London, and had moved — if not in fashionable circles — at any rate in circles so near to fashion as to be brought within the reach of Lady Eustace’s charms. They were married, and for some few months Mr Emilius enjoyed a halcyon existence, the delights of which were, perhaps, not materially marred by the necessity which he felt of subjecting his young wife to marital authority. “My dear,” he would say, “you will know me better soon, and then things will be smooth.” In the meantime he drew more largely upon her money than was pleasing to her and to her friends, and appeared to have requirements for cash which were both secret and unlimited. At the end of twelve months Lady Eustace had run away from him, and Mr Emilius had made overtures, by accepting which his wife would be enabled to purchase his absence at the cost of half her income. The arrangement was not regarded as being in every respect satisfactory, but Lady Eustace declared passionately that any possible sacrifice would be preferable to the company of Mr Emilius. There had, however, been a rumour before her marriage that there was still living in his old country a Mrs Emilius when he married Lady Eustace; and, though it had been supposed by those who were most nearly concerned with Lady Eustace that this report had been unfounded and malicious, nevertheless, when the man’s claims became so exorbitant, reference was again made to the charge of bigamy. If it could be proved that Mr Emilius had a wife living in Bohemia, a cheaper mode of escape would be found for the persecuted lady than that which he himself had suggested.
It had happened that, since her marriage with Mr Emilius, Lady Eustace had become intimate with our Mr Bonteen and his wife. She had been at one time engaged to marry Lord Fawn, one of Mr Bonteen’s colleagues, and during the various circumstances which had led to the disruption of that engagement, this friendship had been formed. It must be understood that Lady Eustace had a most desirable residence of her own in the country — Portray Castle in Scotland — and that it was thought expedient by many to cultivate her acquaintance. She was rich, beautiful, and clever; and, though her marriage with Mr Emilius had never been looked upon as a success, still, in the estimation of some people, it added an interest to her career. The Bonteens had taken her up, and now both Mr and Mrs Bonteen were hot in pursuit of evidence which might prove Mr Emilius to be a bigamist.
When the disruption of conjugal relations was commenced, Lady Eustace succeeded in obtaining refuge at Portray Castle without the presence of her husband. She fled from London during a visit he made to Brighton with the object of preaching to a congregation by which his eloquence was held in great esteem. He left London in one direction by the 5 P . M . express train on Saturday, and she in the other by the limited mail at 8.45. A telegram, informing him of what had taken place, reached him the next morning at Brighton while he was at breakfast. He preached his sermon, charming the congregation by the graces of his extempore eloquence — moving every woman there to tears — and then was after his wife before the ladies had taken their first glass of sherry at luncheon. But her ladyship had twenty-four hours’ start of him — although he did his best; and when he reached Portray Castle the door was shut in his face. He endeavoured — to obtain the aid of blacksmiths to open, as he said, his own hall door — to obtain the aid of constables to compel the blacksmiths, of magistrates to compel the constables — and even of a judge to compel the magistrates; but he was met on every side by a statement that the lady of the castle declared that she was not his wife, and that therefore he had no right whatever to demand that the door should be opened. Some other woman — so he was informed that the lady said — out in a strange country was really his wife. It was her intention to prove him to be a bigamist, and to have him locked up. In the meantime she chose to lock herself up in her own mansion. Such was the nature of the message that was delivered to him through the bars of the lady’s castle.
How poor Lady Eustace was protected, and, at the same time, made miserable by the energy and unrestrained language of one of her own servants, Andrew Gowran by name, it hardly concerns us now to inquire. Mr Emilius did not succeed in effecting an entrance; but he remained for some time in the neighbourhood, and had notices served on the tenants in regard to the rents, which puzzled the poor folk round Portray Castle very much. After a while Lady Eustace, finding that her peace and comfort imperatively demanded that she should prove the allegations which she had made, fled again from Portray Castle to London, and threw herself into the hands of the Bonteens. This took place just as Mr Boteen’s hopes in regard to the Chancellorship of the Exchequer were beginning to soar high, and when his hands were very full of business. But with that energy for which he was so conspicuous, Mr Bonteen had made a visit to Bohemia during his short Christmas holidays, and had there set people to work. When at Prague he had, he thought, very nearly uravelled the secret himself. He had found the woman whom he believed to be Mrs Emilius, and who was now living somewhat merrily in Prague under another name. She acknowledged that in old days, when they were both young, she had been acquainted with a certain Yosef Mealyus, at a time in which he had been in the employment of a Jewish money-lender it the city; but — as she declared — she had never been married to him. Mr Bonteen learned also that the gentleman now known as Mr Joseph Emilius of the London Chapel had been known in his own country as Yosef Mealyus, the name which had been borne by the very respectable Jew who was his father. Then Mr Bonteen had returned home, and, as we all know, had become engaged in matters of deeper import than even the deliverance of Lady Eustace from her thraldom.
Mr Emilius made no attempt to obtain the person of his wife while she was under Mr Bonteen’s custody, but he did renew his offer to compromise. If the estate could not afford to give him the two thousand a year which he had first demanded, he would take fifteen hundred. He explained all this personally to Mr Bonteen, who condescended to see him. He was very eager to make Mr Bonteen understand how bad even then would be his condition. Mr Bonteen was, of course, aware that he would have to pay very heavily for insuring his wife’s life. He was piteous, argumentative, and at first gentle; but when Mr Bonteen somewhat rashly told him that the evidence of a former marriage and of the present existence of the former wife would certainly be forthcoming, he defied Mr Bonteen and his evidence — and swore that if his claims were not satisfied, he would make use of the power which the English law gave him for the recovery of his wife’s person. And as to her property — it was his, not hers. From this time forward if she wanted to separate herself from him she must ask him for an allowance. Now, it certainly was the case that Lady Eustace had married the man without any sufficient precaution as to keeping her money in her own hands, and Mr Emilius had insisted that the rents of the property which was hers for her life should be paid to him, and on his receipt only. The poor tenants had been noticed this way and noticed that till they had begun to doubt whether their safest course would not be to keep their rents in their own hands. But lately the lawyers of the Eustace family — who were not, indeed, very fond of Lady Eustace personally — came forward for the sake of the property, and guaranteed the tenants against all proceedings until the question of the legality of the marriage should be settled. So Mr Emilius — or the Reverend Mealyus, as everybody now called him — went to law; and Lady Eustace went to law; and the Eustace family went to law — but still, as yet, no evidence was forthcoming sufficient to enable Mr Bonteen, as the lady’s friend, to put the gentleman into prison.
It was said for a while that Mealyus had absconded. After his interview with Mr Bonteen he certainly did leave England and made a journey to Prague. It was thought that he would not return, and that Lady Eustace would be obliged to carry on the trial, which was to liberate her and her property, in his absence. She was told that the very fact of his absence would go far with a jury, and she was glad to be freed from his presence in England. But he did return, declaring aloud that he would have his rights. His wife should be made to put herself into his hands, and he would obtain possession of the income which was his own. People then began to doubt. It was known that a very clever lawyer’s clerk had been sent to Prague to complete the work there which Mr Bonteen had commenced. But the clerk did not come back as soon as was expected, and news arrived that he had been taken ill. There was a rumour that he had been poisoned at his hotel; but, as the man was not said to be dead, people hardly believed the rumour. It became necessary, however, to send another lawyer’s clerk, and the matter was gradually progressing to a very interesting complication.
Mr Bonteen, to tell the truth, was becoming sick of it. When Emilius, or Mealyus, was supposed to have absconded, Lady Eustace left Mr Bonteen’s house, and located herself at one of the large London hotels; but when the man came back, bolder than ever, she again betook herself to the shelter of Mr Bonteen’s roof. She expressed the most lavish affection for Mrs Bonteen, and professed to regard Mr Bonteen as almost a political god, declaring her conviction that he, and he alone, as Prime Minister, could save the country, and became very loud in her wrath when he was robbed of his seat in the Cabinet. Lizzie Eustace, as her ladyship had always been called, was a clever, pretty, coaxing little woman, who knew how to make the most of her advantages. She had not been very wise in her life, having lost the friends who would have been truest to her, and confided in persons who had greatly injured her. She was neither true of heart or tongue, nor affectionate, nor even honest. But she was engaging; she could flatter; and could assume a reverential admiration which was very foreign to her real character. In these days she almost worshipped Mr Bonteen, and could never be happy except in the presence of her dearest darling friend Mrs Bonteen. Mr Bonteen was tired of her, and Mrs Bonteen was — becoming almost sick of the constant kisses with which she was greeted; but Lizzie Eustace had got hold of them, and they could not turn her off.
“You saw the People’s Banner, Mrs Bonteen, on Monday?” Lady Eustace had been reading the paper in her friend’s drawing-room. “They seem to think that Mr Bonteen must be Prime Minister before long.”
“I don’t think he expects that, my dear.”
“Why not? Everybody says the People’s Banner is the cleverest paper we have now. I always hated the very name of that Phineas Finn.”
“Did you know him?”
“Not exactly. He was gone before my time; but poor Lord Fawn used to talk of him. He was one of those conceited Irish upstarts that are never good for anything.”
“Very handsome, you know,” said Mrs Bonteen.
“Was he? I have heard it said that a good many ladies admired him.”
“It was quite absurd; with Lady Laura Kennedy it was worse than absurd. And there was Lady Glencora, and Violet Effingham, who married Lady Laura’s brother, and that Madame Goesler, whom I hate — and ever so many others.”
“And is it true that it was he who got Mr Bonteen so shamefully used?”
“It was his faction.”
“I do so hate that kind of thing,” said Lady Eustace, with righteous indignation; “I used to hear a great deal about Government and all that when the affair was on between me and poor Lord Fawn, and that kind of dishonesty always disgusted me. I don’t know that I think so much of Mr Gresham after all.”
“He is a very weak man.”
“His conduct to Mr Bonteen has been outrageous; and if he has done it just because that Duchess of Omnium has told him, I really do think that he is not fit to rule the nation. As for Mr Phineas Finn, it is dreadful to think that a creature like that should be able to interfere with such a man as Mr Bonteen.”
This was on Wednesday afternoon — the day on which members of Parliament dine out — and at that moment Mr Bonteen entered the drawing-room, having left the House for his half-holiday at six o’clock. Lady Eustace got up, and gave him her hand, and smiled upon him as though he were indeed her god. “You look so tired and so worried, Mr Bonteen.”
“Worried — I should think so.”
“Is there anything fresh?” asked his wife.
“That fellow Finn is spreading all manner of lies about me.”
“What lies, Mr Bonteen?” asked Lady Eustace. “Not new lies, I hope.”
“It all comes from Carlton Terrace.” The reader may perhaps remember that the young Duchess of Omnium lived in Carlton Terrace. “I can trace it all there. I won’t stand it if it goes on like this. A clique of stupid women to take up the cudgels for a coal-heaving sort of fellow like that, and sting one like a lot of hornets! Would you believe it? — the Duke almost refused to speak to me just now — a man for whom I have been working like a slave for the last twelve months!”
“I would not stand it,” said Lady Eustace.
“By the bye, Lady Eustace, we have had news from Prague.”
“What news?” said she, clasping her hands.
“That fellow Pratt we sent out is dead.”
“Not a doubt but what he was poisoned; but they seem to think that nothing can be proved. Coulson is on his way out, and I shouldn’t wonder if they served him the same.”
“And it might have been you!” said Lady Eustace, taking hold of her friend’s arm with almost frantic affection.
Yes, indeed. It might have been the lot of Mr Bonteen to have died at Prague — to have been poisoned by the machinations of the former Mrs Mealyus, if such really had been the fortune of the unfortunate Mr Pratt. For he had been quite as busy at Prague as his successor in the work. He had found out much, though not everything. It certainly had been believed that Yosef Mealyus was a married man, but he had brought the woman with him to Prague, and had certainly not married her in the city. She was believed to have come from Cracow, and Mr Bonteen’s zeal on behalf of his friend had not been sufficient to carry him so far East. But he had learned from various sources that the man and woman had been supposed to be married — that she had borne the man’s name, and that he had taken upon himself authority as her husband. There had been written communications with Cracow, and information was received that a man of the name of Yosef Mealyus had been married to a Jewess in that town. But this had been twenty years ago, and Mr Emilius professed himself to be only thirty-five years old, and had in his possession a document from his synagogue professing to give a record of his birth, proving such to be his age. It was also ascertained that Mealyus was a name common at Cracow, and that there were very many of the family in Galicia. Altogether the case was full of difficulty, but it was thought that Mr Bonteen’s evidence would be sufficient to save the property from the hands of the cormorant, at any rate till such time as better evidence of the first marriage could be obtained. It had been hoped that when the man went away he would not return; but he had returned, and it was now resolved that no terms should be kept with him and no payment offered to him. The house at Portray was kept barred, and the servants were ordered not to admit him. No money was to be paid to him, and he was to be left to take any proceedings at law which he might please — while his adversaries were proceeding against him with all the weapons at their disposal. In the meantime his chapel was of course deserted, and the unfortunate man was left penniless in the world.
Various opinions prevailed as to Mr Bonteen’s conduct in the matter. Some people remembered that during the last autumn he and his wife had stayed three months at Portray Castle, and declared that the friendship between them and Lady Eustace had been very useful. Of these malicious people it seemed to be, moreover, the opinion that the connection might become even more useful if Mr Emilius could be discharged. It was true that Mrs Bonteen had borrowed a little money from Lady Eustace, but of this her husband knew nothing till the Jew in his wrath made the thing public. After all it had only been a poor oe25, and the money had been repaid before Mr Bonteen took his journey to Prague. Mr Bonteen was, however, unable to deny that the cost of that journey was defrayed by Lady Eustace, and it was thought mean in a man aspiring to be Chancellor of the Exchequer to have his travelling expenses paid for him by a lady. Many, however, were of opinion that Mr Bonteen had been almost romantic in his friendship, and that the bright eyes of Lady Eustace had produced upon this dragon of business the wonderful effect that was noticed. Be that as it may, now, in the terrible distress of his mind at the political aspect of the times, he had become almost sick of Lady Eustace, and would gladly have sent her away from his house had he known how to do so without incurring censure.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01