About three o’clock in the day the first tidings of what had taken place reached Madame Goesler in the following perturbed note from her friend the Duchess:
Have you heard what took place last night? Good God! Mr Bonteen was murdered as he came home from his club, and they say that it was done by Phineas Finn. Plantagenet has just come in from Downing Street, where everybody is talking about it. I can’t get from him what he believes. One never can get anything from him. But I never will believe it — nor will you, I’m sure. I vote we stick to him to the last. He is to be put in prison and tried. I can hardly believe that Mr Bonteen has been murdered, though I don’t know why he shouldn’t as well as anybody else. Plantagenet talks about the great loss; I know which would be the greatest loss, and so do you. I’m going out now to try and find out something. Barrington Erle was there, and if I can find him he will tell me. I shall be home by half-past five. Do come, there’s a dear woman; there is no one else I can talk to about it. If I’m not back, go in all the same, and tell them to bring you tea.
Only think of Lady Laura — with one mad and the other in Newgate!
G . P .
This letter gave Madame Goesler such a blow that for a few minutes it altogether knocked her down. After reading it once she hardly knew what it contained beyond a statement that Phineas Finn was in Newgate. She sat for a while with it in her hands, almost swooning; and then with an effort she recovered herself, and read the letter again. Mr Bonteen murdered, and Phineas Finn — who had dined with her only yesterday evening, with whom she had been talking of all the sins of the murdered man, who was her special friend, of whom she thought more than of any other human being, of whom she could not bring herself to cease to think — accused of the murder! Believe it! The Duchess had declared with that sort of enthusiasm which was common to her, that she never would believe it. No, indeed! What judge of character would anyone be who could believe that Phineas Finn could be guilty of a midnight murder? “I vote we stick to him.” “Stick to him!” Madame Goesler said, repeating the words to herself. “What is the use of sticking to a man who does not want you?” How can a woman cling to a man who, having said that he did not want her, yet comes again within her influence, but does not unsay what he had said before? Nevertheless, if it should be that the man was in real distress — in absolutely dire sorrow — she would cling to him with a constancy which, as she thought, her friend the Duchess would hardly understand. Though they should hang him, she would bathe his body with her tears, and live as a woman should live who had loved a murderer to the last.
But she swore to herself that she would not believe it. Nay, she did not believe it. Believe it, indeed! It was simply impossible. That he might have killed the wretch in some struggle brought on by the man’s own fault was possible. Had the man attacked Phineas Finn it was only too probable that there might have been such result. But murder, secret midnight murder, could not have been committed by the man she had chosen as her friend. And yet, through it all, there was a resolve that even though he should have committed murder she would be true to him. If it should come to the very worst, then would she declare the intensity of the affection with which she regarded the murderer. As to Mr Bonteen, what the Duchess said was true enough; why should not he be killed as well as another? In her present frame of mind she felt very little pity for Mr Bonteen. After a fashion a verdict of “served him right” crossed her mind, as it had doubtless crossed that of the Duchess when she was writing her letter. The man had made himself so obnoxious that it was well that he should be out of the way. But not on that account would she believe that Phineas Finn had murdered him.
Could it be true that the man after all was dead? Marvellous reports, and reports marvellously false, do spread themselves about the world every day. But this report had come from the Duke, and he was not a man given to absurd rumours. He had heard the story in Downing Street, and if so it must be true. Of course she would go down to the Duchess at the hour fixed. It was now a little after three, and she ordered the carriage to be ready for her at a quarter past five. Then she told the servant, at first to admit no one who might call, and then to come up and let her know, if anyone should come, without sending the visitor away. It might be that someone would come to her expressly from Phineas, or at least with tidings about this affair.
Then she read the letter again, and those few last words in it stuck to her thoughts like a burr. “Think of Lady Laura, with one mad and the other in Newgate.” Was this man — the only man whom she had ever loved — more to Lady Laura Kennedy than to her; or rather, was Lady Laura more to him than was she herself? If so, why should she fret herself for his sake? She was ready enough to own that she could sacrifice everything for him, even though he should be standing as a murderer in the dock, if such sacrifice would be valued by him. He had himself told her that his feelings towards Lady Laura were simply those of an affectionate friend; but how could she believe that statement when all the world were saying the reverse? Lady Laura was a married woman — a woman whose husband was still living — and of course he was bound to make such an assertion when he and she were named together. And then it was certain — Madame Goesler believed it to be certain — that there had been a time in which Phineas had asked for the love of Lady Laura Standish. But he had never asked for her love. It had been tendered to him, and he had rejected it! And now the Duchess — who, with all her inaccuracies, had that sharpness of vision which enables some men and women to see into facts — spoke as though Lady Laura were to be pitied more than all others, because of the evil that had befallen Phineas Finn! Had not Lady Laura chosen her own husband; and was not the man, let him be ever so mad, still her husband? Madame Goesler was sore of heart, as well as broken down with sorrow, till at last, hiding her face on the pillow of the sofa, still holding the Duchess’s letter in her hand, she burst into a fit of hysteric sobs.
Few of those who knew Madame Max Goesler well, as she lived in town and in country, would have believed that such could have been the effect upon her of the news which she had heard. Credit was given to her everywhere for good nature, discretion, affability, and a certain grace of demeanour which always made her charming. She was known to be generous, wise, and of high spirit. Something of her conduct to the old Duke had crept into general notice, and had been told, here and there, to her honour. She had conquered the good opinion of many, and was a popular woman. But there was not one among her friends who supposed her capable of becoming a victim to a strong passion, or would have suspected her of reckless weeping for any sorrow. The Duchess, who thought that she knew Madame Goesler well, would not have believed it to be true, even if she had seen it. “You like people, but I don’t think you ever love anyone,” the Duchess had once said to her. Madame Goesler had smiled, and had seemed to assent. To enjoy the world — and to know that the best enjoyment must come from witnessing the satisfaction of others, had apparently been her philosophy. But now she was prostrate because this man was in trouble, and because she had been told that his trouble was more than another woman could bear!
She was still sobbing and crushing the letter in her hand when the servant came up to tell her that Mr Maule had called. He was below, waiting to know whether she would see him. She remembered at once that Mr Maule had met Phineas at her table on the previous evening, and, thinking that he must have come with tidings respecting this great event, desired that he might be shown up to her. But, as it happened, Mr Maule had not yet heard of the death of Mr Bonteen. He had remained at home till nearly four, having a great object in view, which made him deem it expedient that he should go direct from his own rooms to Madame Goesler’s house, and had not even looked in at his club. The reader will, perhaps, divine the great object. On this day he proposed to ask Madame Goesler to make him the happiest of men — as he certainly would have thought himself for a time, had she consented to put him in possession of her large income. He had therefore padded himself with more than ordinary care — reduced but not obliterated the greyness of his locks — looked carefully to the fitting of his trousers, and spared himself those ordinary labours of the morning which might have robbed him of any remaining spark of his juvenility.
Madame Goesler met him more than half across the room as he entered it. “What have you heard?” said she Mr Maule wore his sweetest smile, but he had heard nothing. He could only press her hand, and look blank — understanding that there was something which he ought to have heard. She thought nothing of the pressure of her hand. Apt as she was to be conscious at an instant of all that was going on around her, she thought of nothing now but that man’s peril, and of the truth or falsehood of the story that had been sent to her. “You have heard nothing of Mr Finn?”
“Not a word,” said Mr Maule, withdrawing his hand. “What has happened to Mr Finn?” Had Mr Finn broken his neck it would have been nothing to Mr Maule. But the lady’s solicitude was something to him.
“Mr Bonteen has been — murdered!”
“So I hear. I thought you had come to tell me of it.”
“Mr Bonteen murdered! No — I have heard nothing. I do not know the gentleman. I thought you said — Mr Finn.
“It is not known about London, then?”
“I cannot say, Madame Goesler. I have just come from home, and have not been out all the morning. Who has — murdered him?”
“Ah! I do not know. That is what I wanted you to tell me.”
“But what of Mr Finn?”
“I also have not been out, Mr Maule, and can give you no information. I thought you had called because you knew that Mr Finn had dined here.”
“Has Mr Finn been murdered?”
“Mr Bonteen! I said that the report was that Mr Bonteen had been murdered.” Madame Goesler was now waxing angry — most unreasonably. “But I know nothing about it, and am just going out to make inquiry. The carriage is ordered.” Then she stood, expecting him to go; and he knew that he was expected to go. It was at any rate clear to him that he could not carry out his great design on the present occasion. “This has so upset me that I can think of nothing else at present, and you must, if you please, excuse me. I would not have let you take the trouble of coming up, had not I thought that you were the bearer of some news.” Then she bowed, and Mr Maule bowed; and as he left the room she forgot to ring the bell.
“What the deuce can she have meant about that fellow Finn?” he said to himself. “They cannot both have been murdered.” He went to his club, and there he soon learned the truth. The information was given to him with clear and undoubting words. Phineas Finn and Mr Bonteen had quarrelled at the Universe. Mr Bonteen, as far as words went, had got the best of his adversary. This had taken place in the presence of the Prince, who had expressed himself as greatly annoyed by Mr Finn’s conduct. And afterwards Phineas Finn had waylaid Mr Bonteen in the passage between Bolton Row and Berkeley Street, and had there — murdered him. As it happened, no one who had been at the Universe was at that moment present; but the whole affair was now quite well known, and was spoken of without a doubt.
“I hope he’ll be hung, with all my heart,” said Mr Maule, who thought that he could read the riddle which had been so unintelligible in Park Lane.
When Madame Goesler reached Carlton Terrace, which she did before the time named by the Duchess, her friend had not yet returned. But she went upstairs, as she had been desired, and they brought her tea. But the teapot remained untouched till past six o’clock, and then the Duchess returned. “Oh, my dear, I am so sorry for being late. Why haven’t you had tea?”
“What is the truth of it all?” said Madame Goesler, standing up with her fists clenched as they hung by her side.
“I don’t seem to know nearly as much as I did when I wrote to you.”
“Has the man been — murdered?”
“Oh dear, yes. There’s no doubt about that. I was quite sure of that when I sent the letter. I have had such a hunt. But at last I went up to the door of the House of Commons, and got Barrington Erle to come out to me.”
“Two men have been arrested.”
“Not Phineas Finn?”
“Yes; Mr Finn is one of them. Is it not awful? So much more dreadful to me than the other poor man’s death! One oughtn’t to say so, of course.”
“And who is the other man? Of course he did it.”
“That horrid Jew preaching man that married Lizzie Eustace. Mr Bonteen had been persecuting him, and making out that he had another wife at home in Hungary, or Bohemia, or somewhere.”
“Of course he did it.”
“That’s what I say. Of course the Jew did it. But then all the evidence goes to show that he didn’t do it. He was in bed at the time; and the door of the house was locked up so that he couldn’t get out; and the man who did the murder hadn’t got on his coat, but had got on Phineas Finn’s coat.”
“Was there — blood?” asked Madame Goesler, shaking from head to foot.
“Not that I know. I don’t suppose they’ve looked yet. But Lord Fawn saw the man, and swears to the coat.”
“Lord Fawn! How I have always hated that man! I wouldn’t believe a word he would say.”
“Barrington doesn’t think so much of the coat. But Phineas had a club in his pocket, and the man was killed by a club. There hasn’t been any other club found, but Phineas Finn took his home with him.”
“A murderer would not have done that.”
“Barrington says that the head policeman says that it is just what a very clever murderer would do.”
“Do you believe it, Duchess?”
“Certainly not — not though Lord Fawn swore that he had seen it. I never will believe what I don’t like to believe, and nothing shall ever make me.”
“He couldn’t have done it.”
“Well — for the matter of that, I suppose he could.”
“No, Duchess, he could not have done it.”
“He is strong enough — and brave enough.”
“But not enough of a coward. There is nothing cowardly about him. If Phineas Finn could have struck an enemy with a club, in a dark passage, behind his back, I will never care to speak to any man again. Nothing shall make me believe it. If I did, I could never again believe in anyone. If they told you that your husband had murdered a man, what would you say?”
“But he isn’t your husband, Madame Max.”
“No — certainly not. I cannot fly at them, when they say so, as you would do. But I can be just as sure. If twenty Lord Fawns swore that they had seen it, I would not believe them. Oh, God, what will they do with him!”
The Duchess behaved very well to her friend, saying not a single word to twit her with the love which she betrayed. She seemed to take it as a matter of course that Madame Goesler’s interest in Phineas Finn should be as it was. The Duke, she said, could not come home to dinner, and Madame Goesler should stay with her. Both Houses were in such a ferment about the murder, that nobody liked to be away. Everybody had been struck with amazement, not simply — not chiefly — by the fact of the murder, but by the double destruction of the two men whose ill-will to each other had been of late so often the subject of conversation. So Madame Goesler remained at Carlton Terrace till late in the evening, and during the whole visit there was nothing mentioned but the murder of Mr Bonteen and the peril of Phineas Finn. “Someone will go and see him, I suppose,” said Madame Goesler.
“Lord Cantrip has been already — and Mr Monk.”
“Could not I go?”
“Well, it would be rather strong.”
“If we both went together?” suggested Madame Goesler. And before she left Carlton Terrace she had almost extracted a promise from the Duchess that they would together proceed to the prison and endeavour to see Phineas Finn.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14