For about a week in the August heat of a hot summer, Phineas attended Parliament with fair average punctuality, and then prepared for his journey down to Matching Priory. During that week he spoke no word to anyone as to his past tribulation, and answered all allusions to it simply by a smile. He had determined to live exactly as though there had been no such episode in his life as that trial at the Old Bailey, and in most respects he did so. During this week he dined at the club, and called at Madame Goesler’s house in Park Lane — not, however, finding the lady at home. Once, and once only, did he break down. On the Wednesday evening he met Barrington Erle, and was asked by him to go to the Universe. At the moment he became very pale, but he at once said that he would go. Had Erle carried him off in a cab the adventure might have been successful; but as they walked, and as they went together through Clarges Street and Bolton Row and Curzon Street, and as the scenes which had been so frequently and so graphically described in Court appeared before him one after another, his heart gave way, and he couldn’t do it. “I know I’m a fool, Barrington; but if you don’t mind I’ll go home. Don’t mind me, but just go on.” Then he turned and walked home, passing through the passage in which the murder had been committed.
“I brought him as far as the next street,” Barrington Erle said to one of their friends at the club, “but I couldn’t get him in. I doubt if he’ll ever be here again.”
It was past six o’clock in the evening when he reached Matching Priory. The Duchess had especially assured him that a brougham should be waiting for him at the nearest station, and on arriving there he found that he had the brougham to himself. He had thought a great deal about it, and had endeavoured to make his calculations. He knew that Madame Goesler would be at Matching, and it would be necessary that he should say something of his thankfulness at their first meeting. But how should he meet her — and in what way should he greet her when they met? Would any arrangement be made, or would all be left to chance? Should he go at once to his own chamber — so as to show himself first when dressed for dinner, or should he allow himself to be taken into any of the morning rooms in which the other guests would be congregated? He had certainly not sufficiently considered the character of the Duchess when he imagined that she would allow these things to arrange themselves. She was one of those women whose minds were always engaged on such matters, and who are able to see how things will go. It must not be asserted of her that her delicacy was untainted, or her taste perfect; but she was clever — discreet in the midst of indiscretions — thoughtful, and good-natured. She had considered it all, arranged it all, and given her orders with accuracy. When Phineas entered the hall — the brougham with the luggage having been taken round to some back door — he was at once ushered by a silent man in black into the little sitting-room on the ground floor in which the old Duke used to take delight. Here he found two ladies — but only two ladies — waiting to receive him. The Duchess came forward to welcome him, while Madame Goesler remained in the background, with composed face — as though she by no means expected his arrival and he had chanced to come upon them as she was standing by the window. He was thinking of her much more than of her companion, though he knew also how much he owed to the kindness of the Duchess. But what she had done for him had come from caprice, whereas the other had been instigated and guided by affection. He understood all that, and must have shown his feeling on his countenance. “Yes, there she is,” said the Duchess, laughing. She had already told him that he was welcome to Matching, and had spoken some short word of congratulation at his safe deliverance from his troubles. “If ever one friend was grateful to another, you should be grateful to her, Mr Finn.” He did not speak, but walking across the room to the window by which Marie Goesler stood, took her right hand in his, and passing his left arm round her waist, kissed her first on one cheek and then on the other. The blood flew to her face and suffused her forehead, but she did not speak, or resist him or make any effort to escape from his embrace. As for him, he had no thought of it at all. He had made no plan. No idea of kissing her when they should meet had occurred to him till the moment came. “Excellently well done,” said the Duchess, still laughing with silent pleasant laughter. “And now tell us how you are, after all your troubles.”
He remained with them for half an hour, till the ladies went to dress, when he was handed over to some groom of the chambers to show him his room. “The Duke ought to be here to welcome you, of course,” said the Duchess; “but you know official matters too well to expect a President of the Board of Trade to do his domestic duties. We dine at eight; five minutes before that time he will begin adding up his last row of figures for the day. You never added up rows of figures, I think. You only managed colonies.” So they parted till dinner, and Phineas remembered how very little had been spoken by Madame Goesler, and how few of the words which he had spoken had been addressed to her. She had sat silent, smiling, radiant, very beautiful as he had thought, but contented to listen to her friend the Duchess. She, the Duchess, had asked questions of all sorts, and made many statements; and he had found that with those two women he could speak without discomfort, almost with pleasure, on subjects which he could not bear to have touched by men. “Of course you knew all along who killed the poor man,” the Duchess had said. “We did — did we not, Marie? — just as well as if we had seen it. She was quite sure that he had got out of the house and back into it, and that he must have had a key. So she started off to Prague to find the key; and she found it. And we were quite sure too about the coat — weren’t we. That poor blundering Lord Fawn couldn’t explain himself, but we knew that the coat he saw was quite different from any coat you would wear in such weather. We discussed it all over so often — every point of it. Poor Lord Fawn! They say it has made quite a old man of him. And as for those policemen who didn’t find the life-preserver; I only think that something ought to be done to them.”
“I hope that nothing will ever be done to anybody, Duchess.”
“Not to the Reverend Mr Emilius — poor dear Lady Eustace’s Mr Emilius? I do think that you ought to desire that an end should be put to his enterprising career! I’m sure I do.” This was said while the attempt was still being made to trace the purchase of the bludgeon in Paris. “We’ve got Sir Gregory Grogram here on purpose to meet you, and you must fraternise with him immediately, to show that you bear no grudge.”
“He only did his duty.”
“Exactly — though I think he was an addle-pated old ass not to see the thing more clearly. As you’ll be coming into the Government before long, we thought that things had better be made straight between you and Sir Gregory. I wonder how it was that nobody but women did see it clearly? Look at that delightful woman, Mrs Bunce. You must bring Mrs Bunce to me some day — or take me to her.”
“Lord Chiltern saw it clearly enough,” said Phineas.
“My dear Mr Finn, Lord Chiltern is the best fellow in the world, but he has only one idea. He was quite sure of your innocence because you ride to hounds. If it had been found possible to accuse poor Mr Fothergill, he would have been as certain that Mr Fothergill committed the murder, because Mr Fothergill thinks more of his shooting. However, Lord Chiltern is to be here in a day or two, and I mean to go absolutely down on my knees to him — and all for your sake. If foxes can be had, he shall have foxes. We must go and dress now, Mr Finn, and I’ll ring for somebody to show you your room.”
Phineas, as soon as he was alone, thought, not of what the Duchess had said, but of the manner in which he had greeted his friend, Madame Goesler. As he remembered what he had done, he also blushed. Had she been angry with him, and intended to show her anger by her silence? And why had he done it? What had he meant? He was quite sure that he would not have given those kisses had he and Madame Goesler been alone in the room together. The Duchess had applauded him — but yet he thought that he regretted it. There had been matters between him and Marie Goesler of which he was quite sure that the Duchess knew nothing.
When he went downstairs he found a crowd in the drawing-room, from among whom the Duke came forward to welcome him. “I am particularly happy to see you at Matching,” said the Duke. “I wish we had shooting to offer you, but we are too far south for the grouse. That was a bitter passage of arms the other day, wasn’t it? I am fond of bitterness in debate myself, but I do regret the roughness of the House of Commons. I must confess that I do.” The Duke did not say a word about the trial, and the Duke’s guests followed their host’s example.
The house was full of people, most of whom had before been known to Phineas, and many of whom had been asked specially to meet him. Lord and Lady Cantrip were there, and Mr Monk, and Sir Gregory his accuser, and the Home Secretary, Sir Harry Coldfoot, with his wife. Sir Harry had at one time been very keen about hanging our hero, and was now of course hot with reactionary zeal. To all those who had been in anyway concerned in the prosecution, the accidents by which Phineas had been enabled to escape had been almost as fortunate as to Phineas himself. Sir Gregory himself quite felt that had he prosecuted an innocent and very popular young Member of Parliament to the death, he could never afterwards have hoped to wear his ermine in comfort. Barrington Erle was there, of course, intending, however, to return to the duties of his office on the following day — and our old friend Laurence Fitzgibbon with a newly-married wife, a lady possessing a reputed fifty thousand pounds, by which it was hoped that the member for Mayo might be placed steadily upon his legs for ever. And Adelaide Palliser was there also — the Duke’s first cousin — on whose behalf the Duchess was anxious to be more than ordinarily good-natured. Mr Maule, Adelaide’s rejected lover, had dined on one occasion with the Duke and Duchess in London. There had been nothing remarkable at the dinner, and he had not at all understood why he had been asked. But when he took his leave the Duchess had told him that she would hope to see him at Matching. “We expect a friend of yours to be with us,” the Duchess had said. He had afterwards received a written invitation and had accepted it; but he was not to reach Matching till the day after that on which Phineas arrived. Adelaide had been told of his coming only on this morning, and had been much flurried by the news.
“But we have quarrelled,” she said. “Then the best thing you can do is to make it up again, my dear,” said the Duchess. Miss Palliser was undoubtedly of that opinion herself, but she hardly believed that so terrible an evil as a quarrel with her lover could be composed by so rough a remedy as this. The Duchess, who had become used to all the disturbing excitements of life, and who didn’t pay so much respect as some do to the niceties of a young lady’s feelings, thought that it would be only necessary to bring the young people together again. If she could do that, and provide them with an income, of course they would marry. On the present occasion Phineas was told off to take Miss Palliser down to dinner. “You saw the Chilterns before they left town, I know,” she said.
“Oh, yes. I am constantly in Portman Square.”
“Of course. Lady Laura has gone down to Scotland — has she not — and all alone?”
“She is alone now, I believe.”
“How dreadful! I do not know anyone that I pity so much as I do her. I was in the house with her sometime, and she gave me the idea of being the most unhappy woman I had ever met with. Don’t you think that she is very unhappy?”
“She has had very much to make her so,” said Phineas. “She was obliged to leave her husband because of the gloom of his insanity — and now she is a widow.”
“I don’t suppose she ever really — cared for him; did she?” The question was no sooner asked than the poor girl remembered the whole story which she had heard some time back — the rumour of the husband’s jealousy and of the wife’s love, and she became as red as fire, and unable to help herself. She could think of no word to say, and confessed her confusion by her sudden silence.
Phineas saw it all, and did his best for her. “I am sure she cared for him,” he said, “though I do not think it was a well assorted marriage. They had different ideas about religion, I fancy. So you saw the hunting in the Brake country to the end? How is our old friend, Mr Spooner?”
“Don’t talk of him, Mr Finn.”
“I rather like Mr Spooner — and as for hunting the country, I don’t think Chiltern could get on without him. What a capital fellow your cousin the Duke is.”
“I hardly know him.”
“He is such a gentleman — and, at the same time, the most abstract and the most concrete man that I know.”
“Abstract and concrete!”
“You are bound to use adjectives of that sort now, Miss Palliser, if you mean to be anybody in conversation.”
“But how is my cousin concrete? He is always abstracted when I speak to him, I know.”
“No Englishman whom I have met is so broadly and intuitively and unceremoniously imbued with the simplicity of the character of a gentleman. He could no more lie than he could eat grass.”
“Is that abstract or concrete?”
“That’s abstract. And I know no one who is so capable of throwing himself into one matter for the sake of accomplishing that one thing at a time. That’s concrete.” And so the red colour faded away from poor Adelaide’s face, and the unpleasantness was removed.
“What do you think of Laurence’s wife?” Erle said to him late in the evening.
“I have only just seen her. The money is there, I suppose.”
“The money is there, I believe; but then it will have to remain there. He can’t touch it. There’s about 2,000 a-year, which will have to go back to her family unless they have children.”
“I suppose she’s — forty?”
“Well; yes, or perhaps forty-five. You were locked up at the time, poor fellow — and had other things to think of; but all the interest we had for anything beyond you through May and June was devoted to Laurence and his prospects. It was off and on, and on and off, and he was in a most wretched condition. At last she wouldn’t consent unless she was to be asked here.”
“And who managed it?”
“Laurence came and told it all to the Duchess, and she gave him the invitation at once.”
“Who told you?”
“Not the Duchess — nor yet Laurence. So it may be untrue, you know — but I believe it. He did ask me whether he’d have to stand another election at his marriage. He has been going in and out of office so often, and always going back to the Co. Mayo at the expense of half a year’s salary, that his mind had got confused, and he didn’t quite know what did and what did not vacate his seat. We must all come to it sooner or later, I suppose, but the question is whether we could do better than an annuity of oe2,000 a year on the life of the lady. Office isn’t very permanent, but one has not to attend the House above six months a year, while you can’t get away from a wife much above a week at a time. It has crippled him in appearance very much, I think.”
“A man always looks changed when he’s married.”
“I hope, Mr Finn, that you owe me no grudge,” said Sir Gregory, the Attorney-General.
“Not in the least; why should I?”
“It was a very painful duty that I had to perform — the most painful that ever befel me. I had no alternative but to do it, of course, and to do it in the hope of reaching the truth. But a counsel for the prosecution must always appear to the accused and his friends like a hound running down his game, and anxious for blood. The habitual and almost necessary acrimony of the defence creates acrimony in the attack. If you were accustomed as I am to criminal courts you would observe this constantly. A gentleman gets up and declares in perfect faith that he is simply anxious to lay before the jury such evidence as has been placed in his hands. And he opens his case in that spirit. Then his witnesses are cross-examined with the affected incredulity and assumed indignation which the defending counsel is almost bound to use on behalf of his client, and he finds himself gradually imbued with pugnacity. He becomes strenuous, energetic, and perhaps eager for what must after all be regarded as success, and at last he fights for a verdict rather than for the truth.”
“The judge, I suppose, ought to put all that right?”
“So he does — and it comes right. Our criminal practice does not sin on the side of severity. But a barrister employed on the prosecution should keep himself free from that personal desire for a verdict which must animate those engaged on the defence.”
“Then I suppose you wanted to — hang me, Sir Gregory.”
“Certainly not. I wanted the truth. But you in your position must have regarded me as a bloodhound.”
“I did not. As far as I can analyse my own feelings, I entertained anger only against those who, though they knew me well, thought that I was guilty.”
“You will allow me, at any rate, to shake hands with you”, said Sir Gregory, “and to assure you that I should have lived a broken-hearted man if the truth had been known too late. As it is I tremble and shake in my shoes as I walk about and think of what might have been done.” Then Phineas gave his hand to Sir Gregory, and from that time forth was inclined to think well of Sir Gregory.
Throughout the whole evening he was unable to speak to Madame Goesler, but to the other people around him he found himself talking quite at his ease, as though nothing peculiar had happened to him. Almost everybody, except the Duke, made some slight allusion to his adventure, and he, in spite of his resolution to the contrary, found himself driven to talk of it. It had seemed quite natural that Sir Gregory — who had in truth been eager for his condemnation, thinking him to have been guilty — should come to him and make peace with him by telling him of the nature of the work that had been imposed upon him — and when Sir Harry Coldfoot assured him that never in his life had his mind been relieved of so heavy a weight as when he received the information about the key — that also was natural. A few days ago he had thought that these allusions would kill him. The prospect of them had kept him a prisoner in his lodgings; but now he smiled and chatted, and was quiet and at ease.
“Goodnight, Mr Finn,” the Duchess said to him, “I know the people have been boring you.”
“Not in the least.”
“I saw Sir Gregory at it, and I can guess what Sir Gregory was talking about.”
“I like Sir Gregory, Duchess.”
“That shows a very Christian disposition on your part. And then there was Sir Harry. I understood it all, but I could not hinder it. But it had to be done, hadn’t it? — And now there will be an end of it.”
“Everybody has treated me very well,” said Phineas, almost in tears. “Some people have been so kind to me that I cannot understand why it should have been so.”
“Because some people are your very excellent good friends. We — that is, Marie and I, you know — thought it would be the best thing for you to come down and get through it all here. We could see that you weren’t driven too hard. By the bye, you have hardly seen her — have you?”
“Hardly, since I was upstairs with Your Grace.”
“My Grace will manage better for you tomorrow. I didn’t like to tell you to take her out to dinner, because it would have looked a little particular after her very remarkable journey to Prague. If you ain’t grateful you must be a wretch.”
“But I am grateful.”
“Well; we shall see. Goodnight. You’ll find a lot of men going to smoke somewhere, I don’t doubt.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01