Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 52

Mr Kennedy’s Will

Mr Kennedy had fired a pistol at Phineas Finn in Macpherson’s Hotel with the manifest intention of blowing out the brains of his presumed enemy, and no public notice had been taken of the occurrence. Phineas himself had been only too willing to pass the thing by as a trifling accident, if he might be allowed to do so, and the Macphersons had been by far too true to their great friend to think of giving him in charge to the police. The affair had been talked about, and had come to the knowledge of reporters and editors. Most of the newspapers had contained paragraphs giving various accounts of the matter; and one or two had followed the example of the People’s Banner in demanding that the police should investigate the matter. But the matter had not been investigated. The police were supposed to know nothing about it — as how should they, no one having seen or heard the shot but they who were determined to be silent? Mr Quintus Slide had been indignant all in vain, so far as Mr Kennedy and his offence had been concerned. As soon as the pistol had been fired and Phineas had escaped from the room, the unfortunate man had sunk back in his chair, conscious of what he had done, knowing that he had made himself subject to the law, and expecting every minute that constables would enter the room to seize him. He had seen his enemy’s hat lying on the floor, and, when nobody would come to fetch it, had thrown it down the stairs. After that he had sat waiting for the police, with the pistol, still loaded in every barrel but one, lying by his side — hardly repenting the attempt, but trembling for the result — till Macpherson, the landlord, who had been brought home from chapel, knocked at his door. There was very little said between them; and no positive allusion was made to the shot that had been fired; but Macpherson succeeded in getting the pistol into his possession — as to which the unfortunate man put no impediment in his way, and he managed to have it understood that Mr Kennedy’s cousin should be summoned on the following morning. “Is anybody else coming?” Robert Kennedy asked, when the landlord was about to leave the room. “Naebody as I ken o’, yet, laird,” said Macpherson, “but likes they will.” Nobody, however, did come, and the “laird” had spent the evening by himself in very wretched solitude.

On the following day the cousin had come, and to him the whole story was told. After that, no difficulty was found in taking the miserable man back to Loughlinter, and there he had been for the last two months in the custody of his more wretched mother and of his cousin. No legal steps had been taken to deprive him of the management either of himself or of his property — so that he was in truth his own master. And he exercised his mastery in acts of petty tyranny about his domain, becoming more and more close-fisted in regard to money, and desirous, as it appeared, of starving all living things about the place — cattle, sheep, and horses, so that the value of their food might be saved. But every member of the establishment knew that the laird was “nae just himself”, and consequently his orders were not obeyed. And the laird knew the same of himself, and, though he would give the orders not only resolutely, but with imperious threats of penalties to follow disobedience, still he did not seem to expect compliance. While he was in this state, letters addressed to him came for a while into his own hands, and thus more than one reached him from Lord Brentford’s lawyer, demanding that restitution should be made of the interest arising from Lady Laura’s fortune. Then he would fly out into bitter wrath, calling his wife foul names, and swearing that she should never have a farthing of his money to spend upon her paramour. Of course it was his money, and his only. All the world knew that. Had she not left his roof, breaking her marriage vows, throwing aside every duty, and bringing him down to his present state of abject misery? Her own fortune! If she wanted the interest of her wretched money, let her come to Loughlinter and receive it there. In spite of all her wickedness, her cruelty, her misconduct, which had brought him — as he now said — to the verge of the grave, he would still give her shelter and room for repentance. He recognised his vows, though she did not. She should still be his wife, though she had utterly disgraced both herself and him. She should still be his wife, though she had so lived as to make it impossible that there should be any happiness in their household.

It was thus he spoke when first one and then another letter came from the Earl’s lawyer, pointing out to him the injustice to which Lady Laura was subjected by the loss of her fortune. No doubt these letters would not have been written in the line assumed had not Mr Kennedy proved himself to be unfit to have the custody of his wife by attempting to shoot the man whom he accused of being his wife’s lover. An act had been done, said the lawyer, which made it quite out of the question that Lady Laura should return to her husband. To this, when speaking of the matter to those around him — which he did with an energy which seemed to be foreign to his character — Mr Kennedy made no direct allusion; but he swore most positively that not a shilling should be given up. The fear of policemen coming down to Loughlinter to take account of that angry shot had passed away; and, though he knew, with an uncertain knowledge, that he was not in all respects obeyed as he used to be — that his orders were disobeyed by stewards and servants, in spite of his threats of dismissal — he still felt that he was sufficiently his own master to defy the Earl’s attorney and to maintain his claim upon his wife’s person. Let her return to him first of all!

But after a while the cousin interfered still further; and Robert Kennedy, who so short a time since had been a member of the Government, graced by permission to sit in the Cabinet, was not allowed to open his own post-bag. He had written a letter to one person, and then again to another, which had induced those who received them to return answers to the cousin. To Lord Brentford’s lawyer he had used a few very strong words. Mr Forster had replied to the cousin, stating how grieved Lord Brentford would be, how much grieved would be Lady Laura, to find themselves driven to take steps in reference to what they conceived to be the unfortunate condition of Mr Robert Kennedy; but that such steps must be taken unless some arrangement could be made which should be at any rate reasonable. Then Mr Kennedy’s post-bag was taken from him; the letters which he wrote were not sent — and he took to his bed. It was during this condition of affairs that the cousin took upon himself to intimate to Mr Forster that the managers of Mr Kennedy’s estate were by no means anxious of embarrassing their charge by so trumpery an additional matter as the income derived from Lady Laura’s forty thousand pounds.

But things were in a terrible confusion at Loughlinter, Rents were paid as heretofore on receipts given by Robert Kennedy’s agent; but the agent could only pay the money to Robert Kennedy’s credit at his bank. Robert Kennedy’s cheques would, no doubt, have drawn the money out again — but it was almost impossible to induce Robert Kennedy to sign a cheque. Even in bed he inquired daily about his money, and knew accurately the sum lying at his banker’s; but he could be persuaded to disgorge nothing. He postponed from day to day the signing of certain cheques that were brought to him, and alleged very freely that an attempt was being made to rob him. During all his life he had been very generous in subscribing to public charities; but now he stopped all his subscriptions. The cousin had to provide even for the payment of wages, and things went very badly at Loughlinter. Then there arose the question whether legal steps should be taken for placing the management of the estate in other hands, on the ground of the owner’s insanity. But the wretched old mother begged that this might not be done — and Dr Macnuthrie, from Callender, was of opinion that no steps should be taken at present. Mr Kennedy was very ill — very ill indeed; would take no nourishment, and seemed to be sinking under the pressure of his misfortunes. Any steps such as those suggested would probably send their friend out of the world at once.

In fact Robert Kennedy was dying — and in the first week of May, when the beauty of the spring was beginning to show itself on the braes of Loughlinter, he did die. The old woman, his mother, was seated by his bedside, and into her ears he murmured his last wailing complaint. “If she had the fear of God before her eyes, she would come back to me.” “Let us pray that He may soften her heart,” said the old lady. “Eh, nothing can soften the heart Satan has hardened, till it be hard as the nether millstone.” And in that faith he died believing, as he had ever believed, that the spirit of evil was stronger than the spirit of good.

For some time past there had been perturbation in the mind of that cousin, and of all other Kennedys of that ilk, as to the nature of the will of the head of the family. It was feared lest he should have been generous to the wife who was believed by them all to have been so wicked and treacherous to her husband — and so it was found to be when the will was read. During the last few months no one near him had dared to speak to him of his will, for it had been known that his condition of mind rendered him unfit to alter it; nor had he ever alluded to it himself. As a matter of course there had been a settlement, and it was supposed that Lady Laura’s own money would revert to her; but when it was found that in addition to this the Loughlinter estate became hers for life, in the event of Mr Kennedy dying without a child, there was great consternation among the Kennedys generally. There were but two or three of them concerned, and for those there was money enough; but it seemed to them now that the bad wife, who had utterly refused to acclimatise herself to the soil to which she had been transplanted, was to be rewarded for her wicked stubborness. Lady Laura would become mistress of her own fortune and of all Loughlinter, and would be once more a free woman, with all the power that wealth and fashion can give. Alas, alas! it was too late now for the taking of any steps to sever her from her rich inheritance! “And the false harlot will come and play havoc here, in my son’s mansion,” said the old woman with extremest bitterness.

The tidings were conveyed to Lady Laura through her lawyer, but did not reach her in full till some eight or ten days after the news of her husband’s death. The telegram announcing that event had come to her at her father’s house in Portman Square, on the day after that on which Phineas had been arrested, and the Earl had of course known that his great longing for the recovery of his wife’s fortune had been now realised. To him there was no sorrow in the news. He had only known Robert Kennedy as one who had been thoroughly disagreeable to himself, and who had persecuted his daughter throughout their married life. There had come no happiness — not even prosperity — through the marriage. His daughter had been forced to leave the man’s house — and had been forced also to leave her money behind her. Then she had been driven abroad, fearing persecution, and had only dared to return when the man’s madness became so notorious as to annul his power of annoying her. Now by his death, a portion of the injury which he had inflicted on the great family of Standish would be remedied. The money would come back — together with the stipulated jointure — and there could no longer be any question of return. The news delighted the old Lord — and he was almost angry with his daughter because she also would not confess her delight.

“Oh, Papa, he was my husband.”

“Yes, yes, no doubt. I was always against it, you will remember.”

“Pray do not talk in that way now, Papa. I know that I was not to him what I should have been.”

“You used to say it was all his fault.”

“We will not talk of it now Papa. He is gone, and I remember his past goodness to me.”

She clothed herself in the deepest of mourning, and made herself a thing of sorrow by the sacrificial uncouthness of her garments. And she tried to think of him — to think of him, and not to think of Phineas Finn. She remembered with real sorrow the words she had spoken to her sister-in-law, in which she had declared, while still the wife of another man, that she would willingly marry Phineas at the foot even of the gallows if she were free. She was free now; but she did not repeat her assertion. It was impossible not to think of Phineas in his present strait, but she abstained from speaking of him as far as she could, and for the present never alluded to her former purpose of visiting him in his prison.

From day to day, for the first few days of her widowhood, she heard what was going on. The evidence against him became stronger and stronger, whereas the other man, Yosef Mealyus, had been already liberated. There were still many who felt sure that Mealyus had been the murderer, among whom were all those who had been ranked among the staunch friends of our hero. The Chilterns so believed, and Lady Laura; the Duchess so believed, and Madame Goesler. Mr Low felt sure of it, and Mr Monk and Lord Cantrip; and nobody was more sure than Mrs Bunce. There were many who professed that they doubted; men such as Barrington Erle, Laurence Fitzgibbon, the two Dukes — though the younger Duke never expressed such doubt at home — and Mr Gresham himself. Indeed, the feeling of Parliament in general was one of great doubt. Mr Daubeny never expressed an opinion one way or the other, feeling that the fate of two second-class Liberals could not be matter of concern to him — but Sir Orlando Drought, and Mr Roby, and Mr Boffin, were as eager as though they had not been Conservatives, and were full of doubt. Surely, if Phineas Finn were not the murderer, he had been more ill-used by Fate than had been any man since Fate first began to be unjust. But there was also a very strong party by whom no doubt whatever was entertained as to his guilt — at the head of which, as in duty bound, was the poor widow, Mrs Bonteen. She had no doubt as to the hand by which her husband had fallen, and clamoured loudly for the vengeance of the law. All the world, she said, knew how bitter against her husband had been this wretch, whose villainy had been exposed by her dear, gracious lord; and now the evidence against him was, to her thinking, complete. She was supported strongly by Lady Eustace, who, much as she wished not to be the wife of the Bohemian Jew, thought even that preferable to being known as the widow of a murderer who had been hung. Mr Ratler, with one or two others in the House, was certain of Finn’s guilt. The People’s Banner, though it prefaced each one of its daily paragraphs on the subject with a statement as to the manifest duty of an influential newspaper to abstain from the expression of any opinion on such a subject till the question had been decided by a jury, nevertheless from day to day recapitulated the evidence against the Member for Tankerville, and showed how strong were the motives which had existed for such a deed. But, among those who were sure of Finn’s guilt, there was no one more sure than Lord Fawn, who had seen the coat and the height of the man — and the step. He declared among his intimate friends that of course he could not swear to the person. He could not venture, when upon his oath, to give an opinion. But the man who had passed him at so quick a pace had been half a foot higher than Mealyus — of that there could be no doubt. Nor could there be any doubt as to the grey coat. Of course there might be other men with grey coats besides Mr Phineas Finn — and other men half a foot taller than Yosef Mealyus. And there might be other men with that peculiarly energetic step. And the man who hurried by him might not have been the man who murdered Mr Bonteen. Of all that Lord Fawn could say nothing. But what he did say — of that he was sure. And all those who knew him were well aware that in his own mind he was convinced of the guilt of Phineas Finn. And there was another man equally convinced. Mr Maule, Senior, remembered well the manner in which Madame Goesler spoke of Phineas Finn in reference to the murder, and was quite sure that Phineas was the murderer.

For a couple of days Lord Chiltern was constantly with the poor prisoner, but after that he was obliged to return to Harrington Hall. This he did a day after the news arrived of the death of his brother-in-law. Both he and Lady Chiltern had promised to return home, having left Adelaide Palliser alone in the house, and already they had overstayed their time. “Of course I will remain with you,” Lady Chiltern had said to her sister-in-law; but the widow had preferred to be left alone. For these first few days — when she must make pretence of sorrow because her husband had died; and had such real cause for sorrow in the miserable condition of the man she loved — she preferred to be alone. Who could sympathise with her now, or with whom could she speak of her grief? Her father was talking to her always of her money — but from him she could endure it. She was used to him, and could remember when he spoke to her of her forty thousand pounds, and of her twelve hundred a year of jointure, that it had not always been with him like that. As yet nothing had been heard of the will, and the Earl did not in the least anticipate any further accession of wealth from the estate of the man whom they had all hated. But his daughter would now be a rich woman; and was yet young, and there might still be splendour. “I suppose you won’t care to buy land,” he said.

“Oh, Papa, do not talk of buying anything yet.”

“But, my dear Laura, you must put your money into something. You can get very nearly 5 per cent from Indian Stock.”

“Not yet, Papa,” she said. But he proceeded to explain to her how very important an affair money is, and that persons who have got money cannot be excused for not considering what they had better do with it. No doubt she could get 4 per cent on her money by buying up certain existing mortgages on the Saulsby property — which would no doubt be very convenient if, hereafter, the money should go to her brother’s child. “Not yet, Papa,” she said again, having, however, already made up her mind that her money should have a different destination.

She could not interest her father at all in the fate of Phineas Finn. When the story of the murder had first been told to him, he had been amazed — and, no doubt, somewhat gratified, as we all are, at tragic occurrences which do not concern ourselves. But he could not be made to tremble for the fate of Phineas Finn. And yet he had known the man during the last few years most intimately, and had had much in common with him. He had trusted Phineas in respect to his son, and had trusted him also in respect to his daughter. Phineas had been his guest at Dresden; and, on his return to London, had been the first friend he had seen, with the exception of his lawyer. And yet he could hardly be induced to express the slightest interest as to the fate of this friend who was to be tried for murder. “Oh — he’s committed, is he? I think I remember that Protheroe once told me that, in thirty-nine cases out of forty, men committed for serious offences have been guilty of them.” The Protheroe here spoken of as an authority in criminal matters was at present Lord Weazeling, the Lord Chancellor.

“But Mr Finn has not been guilty, Papa.”

“There is always the one chance out of forty. But, as I was saying, if you like to take up the Saulsby mortgages, Mr Forster can’t be told too soon.”

“Papa, I shall do nothing of the kind,” said Lady Laura. And then she rose and walked out of the room.

At the end of ten days from the death of Mr Kennedy, there came the tidings of the will. Lady Laura had written to Mrs Kennedy a letter which had taken her much time in composition, expressing her deep sorrow, and condoling with the old woman. And the old woman had answered. “Madam, I am too old now to express either grief or anger. My dear son’s death, caused by domestic wrong, has robbed me of any remaining comfort which the undeserved sorrows of his latter years had not already dispelled. Your obedient servant, Sarah Kennedy.” From which it may be inferred that she had also taken considerable trouble in the composition of her letter. Other communications between Loughlinter and Portman Square there were none, but there came through the lawyers a statement of Mr Kennedy’s will, as far as the interests of Lady Laura were concerned. This reached Mr Forster first, and he brought it personally to Portman Square. He asked for Lady Laura, and saw her alone. “He has bequeathed to you the use of Loughlinter for your life, Lady Laura.”

“To me!”

“Yes, Lady Laura. The will is dated in the first year of his marriage, and has not been altered since.”

“What can I do with Loughlinter? I will give it back to them.” Then Mr Forster explained that the legacy referred not only to the house and immediate grounds — but to the whole estate known as the domain of Loughlinter. There could be no reason why she should give it up, but very many why she should not do so. Circumstanced as Mr Kennedy had been, with no one nearer to him than a first cousin, with a property purchased with money saved by his father — a property to which no cousin could by inheritance have any claim — he could not have done better with it than to leave it to his widow in fault of any issue of his own. Then the lawyer explained that were she to give it up, the world would of course say that she had done so from a feeling of her own unworthiness. “Why should I feel myself to be unworthy?” she asked. The lawyer smiled, and told her that of course she would retain Loughlinter.

Then, at her request, he was taken to the Earl’s room and there repeated the good news. Lady Laura preferred not to hear her father’s first exultations. But while this was being done she also exulted. Might it not still be possible that there should be before her a happy evening to her days; and that she might stand once more beside the falls of Linter, contented, hopeful, nay, almost glorious, with her hand in his to whom she had once refused her own on that very spot?

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01