The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Phineas at Bay: A Second Helping

On Tuesday, I provided a free sample of Phineas at Bay as a sort of a teaser. Here's the promised second installment; all you need to know is that the Rev. Joseph Emilius has returned to Great Britain elevated to the rank of Bishop of an American Church in the Southwest, with one end in mind: re-uniting with his former wife, Lizzie Eustace. At a ball in London, he impulsively interposes himself between two quarreling young men, and is inadvertently struck by them both. His high-ranking hostess invites him to stay:
Since he was so cruelly buffeted by the combatants, and then forcefully pressed by the Marchioness of Hartletop to partake of her hospitality, the Right Reverend Joseph Emilius had been conflicted in spirit, a rare occurrence for that man of great talents. Even a man of his social ambition and overweening desire for preeminence and attention could scarcely hope for greater public acceptance then to have the Marchioness expiate the sins of her guests by lionizing him among the bluest blood in England. And yet, the canny streak that had saved him from many vicissitudes warned him now that his place was perilous. Bishop Emilius had, in his youth, been a scholarly lad, and had read the tale of Icarus. The blazing sun, wilting wax-mounted means of ascent, and the headlong fall from dizzy heights were prominent in his mind in these days.

While the bishop was in no way amenable to the claims of English law—absent evidence that would not now, could not now, ever be provided, regarding a certain blow struck on a long-ago night—he was keenly aware that his great project stood upon a precipice. His social antennae were sensitive enough to know that the woman he desired to wed anew was herself accepted but gingerly, on the implicit condition, as it were, that she give no further cause for offense. Hence, his predicament. Those old enough to remember the precise nature of the scandal that had engulfed their marriage could, if given any ground to do so, connect the charming American bishop staying at the Hartletops’ with the disreputable foreigner the mob had branded him back then. Were that to befall—well, he, like Icarus, could tumble from the skies, to the jeers of those who had once persecuted him. Indeed, the fall would be so easy to precipitate! In sum, were his name to be remembered in conjunction with the very woman whom he needed desperately to find and court, the game was up.

Yet the bishop was a man of some mettle, persistent, and not easily turned from his goals. He had, certes, several cards in his hand that might yet see him through.

First, he was ensconced in the most respectable, indeed eminent, of homes, and this by no request of his own. He was the invited guest of the undeniable doyenne of high society, a queen only slightly less eminent than she who wore the actual crown. And then there was his own not inconsiderable title—he was a bishop, and thus by definition a paragon of virtue. Aye, a paragon injured in a vain but valiant effort to maintain the peace in his hostess’ own home.

What on earth had he been thinking when he had thrust himself between those two young fools, Emilius wondered, distracted for a moment as he ticked off these assets. He was a little ashamed to own it, but he rather thought it was the tear-streaked face of that young girl as her night of enchantment was shattered about her. He had, quite simply, pitied her. How ironic that she should belong to Phineas Finn! Ah, well, he had no objection to doing the fellow a good turn; he could even, in his own conscience, acknowledge to owing Finn one, or even two, of them.

So: He was a bishop, a brave man—a gallant bishop, then—and a member of high society, residing in the home of a Marchioness. Who in the world would look for an accused bigamist, suspected of other, darker, acts, in all of these?
The book is available in paperback or Kindle format.

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