Lady Laura Kennedy had been allowed to take no active part in the manifestations of friendship which at this time were made on behalf of Phineas Finn. She had, indeed, gone to him in his prison, and made daily efforts to administer to his comfort; but she could not go up into the Court and speak for him. And now this other woman, whom she hated, would have the glory of his deliverance! She already began to see a fate before her, which would make even her past misery as nothing to that which was to come. She was a widow — not yet two months a widow; and though she did not and could not mourn the death of a husband as do other widows, though she could not sorrow in her heart for a man whom she had never loved, and from whom she had been separated during half her married life — yet the fact of her widowhood and the circumstances of her weeds were heavy on her. That she loved this man, Phineas Finn, with a passionate devotion of which the other woman could know nothing she was quite sure. Love him! Had she not been true to him and to his interests from the very first day in which he had come among them in London, with almost more than a woman’s truth? She knew and recalled to her memory over and over again her own one great sin — the fault of her life. When she was, as regarded her own means, a poor woman, she had refused to be this poor man’s wife, and had given her hand to a rich suitor. But she had done this with a conviction that she could so best serve the interests of the man in regard to whom she had promised herself that her feeling should henceforth be one of simple and purest friendship. She had made a great effort to carry out that intention, but the effort had been futile. She had striven to do her duty to a husband whom she disliked — but even in that she had failed. At one time she had been persistent in her intercourse with Phineas Finn, and at another had resolved that she would not see him. She had been madly angry with him when he came to her with the story of his love for another woman, and had madly shown her anger; but yet she had striven to get for him the wife he wanted, though in doing so she would have abandoned one of the dearest purposes of her life. She had moved heaven and earth for him — her heaven and earth — when there was danger that he would lose his seat in Parliament. She had encountered the jealousy of her husband with scorn — and had then deserted him because he was jealous. And all this she did with a consciousness of her own virtue which was almost as sublime as it was ill-founded. She had been wrong. She confessed so much to herself with bitter tears. She had marred the happiness of three persons by the mistake she had made in early life. But it had not yet occurred to her that she had sinned. To her thinking the jealousy of her husband had been preposterous and abominable, because she had known — and had therefore felt that he should have known — that she would never disgrace him by that which the world calls falsehood in a wife. She had married him without loving him, but it seemed to her that he was in fault for that. They had become wretched, but she had never pitied his wretchedness. She had left him, and thought herself to be ill-used because he had ventured to reclaim his wife. Through it all she had been true in her regard to the one man she had ever loved, and — though she admitted her own folly and knew her own shipwreck — yet she had always drawn some woman’s consolation from the conviction of her own constancy. He had vanished from her sight for a while with a young wife — never from her mind — and then he had returned a widower. Through silence, absence, and distance she had been true to him. On his return to his old ways she had at once welcomed him and strove to aid him. Everything that was hers should be his — if only he would open his hands to take it. And she would tell it him all — let him know every corner of her heart. She was a married woman, and could not be his wife. She was a woman of virtue, and would not be his mistress. But she would be to him a friend so tender that no wife, no mistress should ever have been fonder! She did tell him everything as they stood together on the ramparts of the old Saxon castle. Then he had kissed her, and pressed her to his heart — not because he loved her, but because he was generous. She had partly understood it all — but yet had not understood it thoroughly. He did not assure her of his love — but then she was a wife, and would have admitted no love that was sinful. When she returned to Dresden that night she stood gazing at herself in the glass and saw that there was nothing there to attract the love of such a man as Phineas Finn — of one who was himself glorious with manly beauty; but yet for her sadness there was some cure, some possibility of consolation in the fact that she was a wife. Why speak of love at all when marriage was so far out of the question? But now she was a widow and as free as he was — a widow endowed with ample wealth; and she was the woman to whom he had sworn his love when they had stood together, both young, by the falls of the Linter! How often might they stand there again if only his constancy would equal hers?
She had seen him once since Fate had made her a widow; but then she had been but a few days a widow, and his life had at that moment been in strange jeopardy. There had certainly been no time then for other love than that which the circumstances and the sorrow of the hour demanded from their mutual friendship. From that day, from the first moment in which she had heard of his arrest, every thought, every effort of her mind had been devoted to his affairs. So great was his peril and so strange, that it almost wiped out from her mind the remembrance of her own condition. Should they hang him — undoubtedly she would die. Such a termination to all her aspirations for him whom she had selected as her god upon earth would utterly crush her. She had borne much, but she could never bear that. Should he escape, but escape ingloriously — ah, then he should know what the devotion of a woman could do for a man! But if he should leave his prison with flying colours, and come forth a hero to the world, how would it be with her then? She could foresee and understand of what nature would be the ovation with which he would be greeted. She had already heard what the Duchess was doing and saying. She knew how eager on his behalf were Lord and Lady Cantrip. She discussed the matter daily with her sister-in-law, and knew what her brother thought. If the acquittal were perfect, there would certainly be an ovation — in which, was it not certain to her, she would be forgotten? And she heard much, too, of Madame Goesler. And now there came the news. Madame Goesler had gone to Prague, to Cracow — and where not? — spending her wealth, employing her wits, bearing fatigue, openly before the world on this man’s behalf; and had done so successfully. She had found this evidence of the key, and now because the tracings of a key had been discovered by a woman, people were ready to believe that he was innocent, as to whose innocence she, Laura Kennedy, would have been willing to stake her own life from the beginning of the affair!
Why had it not been her lot to go to Prague? Would not she have drunk up Esil, or swallowed a crocodile against any she-Laertes that would have thought to rival and to parallel her great love? Would not she have piled up new Ossas, had the opportunity been given her? Womanlike she had gone to him in her trouble — had burst through his prison doors, had thrown herself on his breast, and had wept at his feet. But of what avail had been that? This strange female, this Moabitish woman, had gone to Prague, and had found a key — and everybody said that the thing was done! How she hated the strange woman, and remembered all the evil things that had been said of the intruder! She told herself over and over again that had it been anyone else than this half-foreigner, this German Jewess, this intriguing unfeminine upstart, she could have borne it. Did not all the world know that the woman for the last two years had been the mistress of that old doting Duke who was now dead? Had one ever heard who was her father or who was her mother? Had it not always been declared of her that she was a pushing, dangerous, scheming creature? And then she was old enough to be his mother, though by some Medean tricks known to such women, she was able to postpone — not the ravages of age — but the manifestation of them to the eyes of the world. In all of which charges poor Lady Laura wronged her rival foully — in that matter of age especially, for, as it happened, Madame Goesler was by some months the younger of the two. But Lady Laura was a blonde, and trouble had told upon her outwardly, as it is wont to do upon those who are fair-skinned, and, at the same time, high-hearted. But Madame Goesler was a brunette — swarthy, Lady Laura would have called her — with bright eyes and glossy hair and thin cheeks, and now being somewhat over thirty she was at her best. Lady Laura hated her as a fair woman who has lost her beauty can hate the dark woman who keeps it.
“What made her think of the key?” said Lady Chiltern.
“I don’t believe she did think of it. It was an accident.”
“When why did she go?”
“Oh, Violet, do not talk to me about that woman any more, or I shall be mad.”
“She has done him good service.”
“Very well — so be it. Let him have the service. I know they would have acquitted him if she had never stirred from London. Oswald says so. But no matter. Let her have her triumph. Only do not talk to me about her. You know what I have thought about her ever since she first came up in London. Nothing ever surprised me so much as that you should take her by the hand.”
“I do not know that I took her specially by the hand.”
“You had her down at Harrington.”
“Yes; I did. And I do like her. And I know nothing against her. I think you are prejudiced against her, Laura.”
“Very well. Of course you think and can say what you please. I hate her, and that is sufficient.” Then, after a pause, she added, “Of course he will marry her. I know that well enough. It is nothing to me whom he marries — only — only — only, after all that has passed it seems hard upon me that his wife should be the only woman in London that I could not visit.”
“Dear Laura, you should control your thoughts about this young man.”
“Of course I should — but I don’t. You mean that I am disgracing myself.”
“Yes, you do. Oswald is more candid, and tells me so openly. And yet what have I done? The world has been hard upon me, and I have suffered. Do I desire anything except that he shall be happy and respectable? Do I hope for anything? I will go back and linger out my life at Dresden, where my disgrace can hurt no one.” Her sister-in-law with all imaginable tenderness said what she could to console the miserable woman — but there was no consolation possible. They both knew that Phineas Finn would never renew the offer which he had once made.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01