The Macdermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 21.

The Coroner’s Inquest.

During the short time that elapsed between the heavy blow which had occasioned Ussher’s death, and the departure of Pat Brady with the gig, a great many thoughts had passed through Thady’s mind, although he had been in action the whole time. His first idea had certainly been that Ussher was carrying off Feemy against her will; the last words which Ussher had spoken before his death, and which were the only words of his that Thady had heard — “This is d —— d nonsense; you know you must come now,”— certainly were calculated to make him think so. But he soon reflected that had this been so, Feemy could not have been sitting alone in the place where Ussher found her; besides, her own conduct when she came to herself disproved it. Feemy had therefore evidently been a consenting party. Still, however, he thought that he could not but be justified in doing what he had done in his sister’s defence, even though his interference was in opposition to her wishes. Then he thought of the man himself, whom he had known so long, seen so frequently, and hated so bitterly. There he was now — dead — a cold corpse — entirely harmless, and unable to injure him or his more. But Thady already felt his enemy’s blood heavy on his conscience, and he would have died himself to see him rise on his feet. Thoughts as to his own safety crowded on his mind; he felt that if he intended boldly to justify the deed, he should himself declare what he had done — see that the body was properly taken care of — and give himself up at once to the police. As to the fact of his having killed the man, that he had declared to his sister before he had at all thought what his conduct ought to be, and he had done the same to Brady; it was useless for him therefore to attempt to conceal it, even if he had wished to do so. But he felt afraid to give himself up to the police; he abhorred the idea of what he thought would be the disgrace of being in confinement; and instead of going, as he at first thought to have done, at once to Father John, and telling him all that had happened, he listened to Brady’s traitorous advice, and determined to take himself, at any rate for a time, to the fancied security of Joe Reynolds and his haunts.

After Brady had departed he stood on the road, till he could hear no longer the sound of the retreating wheels, and while standing there determined he would not leave the place, for the last time perhaps, till he had told his father what had happened, and ascertained whether Feemy had recovered. He reflected that it would be a dreadful thing for her to tell her father and the servants, and to be called on to explain why her brother was away; having made this resolution he walked again up to the house.

He pushed the door open, and at once went into his sister’s room. Here she was still lying on the sofa, and Katty was sitting beside her — begging her mistress to tell her what was the matter. But Feemy had not spoken since she had been there; she had recovered her senses, for she held her hands before her eyes, and the tears were falling fast beneath them: but she had not spoken a word to Katty since her brother had placed her on the sofa.

When he entered the room she uncovered her eyes for a moment; but as soon as she saw him she buried her face in the pillow, and it was plain from her sobbing that she was crying more violently than before.

Thady walked up to the sofa, and as he did so the girl got up.

“Go out, Katty,” said he, “I want to spake a word to your misthress, but be in the kitchen; I’ll call you when I’ve done.”

She retreated — not, however, farther than the door, which she closed, and left the brother and sister together. The last time they had been so in that room — the last time the two had conversed alone together before, was when Thady cautioned his sister against the man he just now killed; he thought of this, but he was too generous to let the reflection dwell on his mind at such a moment.

“Feemy,” he said, as he attempted to take his sister’s hand — which, however, she violently drew back from him —“Feemy, I’m going to lave you a long time, and I must spake to you first — perhaps the last words I’ll ever be able to say to you at all. Feemy darling, won’t you listen to me then? — eh, Feemy?”

Feemy, however, only buried her head further in the sofa, and did not answer him a word.

“I must spake a word to you,” continued Thady, “about him that is now — him that was with you on the avenue. I told you, Feemy, he was dead, and what I told you then was only too true. God knows when I struck him I did not wish for that; but how was I to see him with you in his arms — carrying you off through the dark night, and from your own house, without raising my stick to strike him? I don’t say this to be blaming you now, and I don’t ask you to tell me why you were there; but you must know, dearest, that it was for your sake I raised my hand; and though the blow I struck has killed him you loved, you shouldn’t now at such a moment turn from your brother, who has brought all this upon himself only to protect your honer and your name.”

Still Feemy did not turn her face towards him, or answer him.

“Well! I know what’s on your heart, and may be it’s as heavy as that which is weighing on my own. I must say a word or two to the owld man, that he may not larn from sthrangers what it is his son has done; and then I must wish good-bye to Ballycloran — I trust for iver! But there’s one thing I’ll ask you, Feemy, before I go. There’ll be men from Carrick here before the night is over, looking for me; and when they come, they’ll be asking you all manner of questions about this deed; tell them it was I that did it — but tell them how, and why I did it; tell them that it was not my purpose to kill the man, but that I could not see him dragging my sister from her house before my eyes, without raising my stick against the man that was doing it; that, Feemy, is all I want of you,”— and he turned to go, but when he reached the door, he returned, and putting his hand on his sister’s shoulder, said —“Sister, my own sister, will you kiss me before I lave you for so long?”

Feemy shuddered horribly as she felt his hand upon her. Thady quickly withdrew it, for he saw it was all covered with blood; Feemy, however, had seen it, for she screamed loudly — she had raised her head to answer, and at last she said —“Kiss you! no; I hate you — you’re a murdherer; you’ve murdhered him because you knew I loved him; go away — go out of that; you’ll kill me too if you stand there with his blood upon your hand!”

Thady, who had fallen on his knees to kiss his sister, now hastily jumped upon his feet, and a dark frown came upon his brow. It was just upon his lips to tell his sister to whose folly it was owing that Myles Ussher was now a corpse; but before the words had left his mouth he checked himself. Even then, at that saddest moment of all, when the horrid word he so dreaded, had been applied to him by the only person whom he really loved, he was able to restrain his passion, and was too high-minded to add to the suffering of his sister, though she was so unjust and cruel to him.

“God forgive you, Feemy,” he said; “but that’s a cruel word to come from you!”— and he left the room. He met the two girls in the passage, for Biddy had returned from Mrs. Mehan’s, whither she had gone after Ussher had passed, and she was now horrified to find that her mistress’s plans had been, as she thought, defeated by her brother, and her departure prevented.

“Good God! Mr. Thady,” said she, with pretended astonishment, “what ails the misthress then?”

“Go in to her, Biddy, she’ll want you; Captain Ussher is dead,” and he went into his father’s room.

Here a still more distressing scene awaited him. He felt that if he meant to escape he should not lose much time, but he could not leave his father in ignorance of what had taken place. Larry was sitting, as usual, over the fire with his pipe in his mouth, and was nearly asleep, when Thady came in. The noise of the closing door roused him, however; but he only put his empty glass to his lips, and when he found there was nothing in it he turned round again dissatisfied to the fire.

“Larry,” said his son, “I’ve bad news for you.”

“You’ve always bad news. I niver knew you have anything else.”

“I’m going to lave you, father, altogether.”

“Faix, then, that’s no such bad news,” said the cross old man. “The door’s open, and you’ve my lave; may be we’ll do as well without you, as we’re like to do with you.”

Thady made no answer to this piece of silly ill-nature, but continued —“Larry, you’ll be sorry to hear what I’ve to tell you, but I’d sooner you should hear it from me than from another. Myles Ussher is dead; it was I, father, that killed him.”

At the first declaration the old man had turned round in his chair, and he sat staring at his son; but when he heard the second and more dreadful part of the story, his jaw dropped, and he sat for some time the picture of an idiot.

“He was bringing disgrace on you, Larry, and on your name; he was disgracing your family and your daughter, and myself; he was dragging Feemy away with him by night. I saw him with her, speechless and fainting in his arms, and I struck him down as he was doing it with my stick. I didn’t think, father, to strike so hard, but his skull was broken, and he died without a struggle.”— The old man still stared at him, and Thady continued,

“And now, father, I am going to lave you; for av I’m found here, when they come to look for me, they’ll take me to prison, and may be when they come to hear the truth of it all — and I suppose they will — they’ll see I didn’t mane to kill him; but if they call it murdher, why then I trust you’ll niver see me agin.”

“Murdher,” at last said the old man, laughing; “who doubts but that it was murdher? in course they’ll call it murdher. Well, he was the only frind you’d left me, and now that you’ve murdhered him, you may go now; you may go now — but mind I tell you, they’ll be sure to hang you.”

This was old Macdermot’s last address to his son. It was very evident that the poor old man had gradually become more and more imbecile during the last few days, and the suddenness of the melancholy news he now heard utterly destroyed his mind. Each, however, of the dreadful words he uttered fell with an awful appearance of intention and sane purpose on the ears of his son. He had hitherto restrained his feeling powerfully, and had shown no outward signs of strong emotion; but when his father said that there was no doubt the deed he’d done was murder, he burst into a flood of tears, and left the room without being able to articulate a word.

When the police came, which they did before the night was over, in search of Thady, they were unable to make anything of the old man; at first he took them for emissaries of Keegan’s, and swore that they should not have admittance into the house, and when they were in it he endeavoured to hide himself, declaring at the same time, that he understood the law; that the money was not due till November, and that Keegan had no right to send the men there, harassing him, yet. When, however, he was made to understand that it was not about Keegan and the rents, but about the death of Ussher that they had come, he whimpered and whined, declaring that he had not murdered him; that he loved Ussher better than any one in the world — yes, better than his own children — and that for the world he would not hurt him. When at length the men explained to him that they were only there to look for Thady, he was worse than ever; for he began cursing his son dreadfully, swearing that if he had committed the murder, he would neither hide nor screen him, and finally declaring that he hoped they might catch him and hang him.

The next morning he was taken away to give evidence before the Coroner at Carrick-on-Shannon. It was the first day since the summer that he had been above a few yards from his own hall-door, and though the day was fine, he suffered much from the cold. When he got to his destination he could hardly speak; the room was greatly crowded, for the whole neighbourhood had by that time heard of the event; and when the poor old man had warmed himself by the fire, near which a seat had been procured for him, he smiled and nodded to those around, perfectly unconscious of the cause which had brought him there, but evidently thinking it must be holiday occasion.

Brady had stated to the Coroner pretty accurately what he knew, for there was nothing which it could have benefited him to falsify. The two girls proved that after Brady had started with the body, Thady had had interviews with his sister and his father, and it was necessary that both of them should be examined.

When the book, on which he was to be sworn, was handed to Larry Macdermot, he at first refused it, and when it was again tendered to him, he put it in his pocket, and made the man who gave it to him a bow. The Coroner, seeing he was in such a state of mind as rendered him unable to give evidence and unfit to be sworn, asked him some questions on the subject, but Larry instantly began to cry, and protest his own innocence, swearing, as he had done before, that he had loved Ussher better even than his own family.

It was a most melancholy sight — that poor, weak old man, whom so many of those now present had known so long, and who so very few years before had been in the full strength of manhood and health, for even now he was hardly more than fifty.

But sad as all this was, the examination of Feemy was still worse. As she had been actually present at the moment when Ussher had been killed, it was absolutely necessary that her evidence should be taken by the Coroner; and the sergeant of police, who came with a car from Carrick for them in the morning, insisted, in spite of all that she and the maids could say to the contrary, that she must accompany him back. She had got on the same car with her father; Biddy and the other girl were on the same seat with her, one on each side; but before they reached Drumsna, she was in such a state, that they could hardly keep her on the seat.

When they reached that village, the car was stopped by Father John. He had heard of the sad occurrence late on the previous evening, for Pat Brady had spared no exertions in disseminating the news of the catastrophe far and wide as he returned from Carrick. He had stopped at the priest’s gate, and finding Father John absent on a sick visit, had nearly frightened Judy out of her life, by telling her what had happened. Father John had not returned home till two in the morning, and he then heard some garbled version of the story, from which he was led to believe that Thady was in custody at Carrick, for the murder of Ussher.

Early on the morning of the inquest, he went into Carrick, and there learnt from the police the truth, and ascertained the fact that an inquest was held on the body that day, and that both old Macdermot and his daughter were to be examined at it.

Up to this time Father John did not know that Feemy had left Drumsna; and though the police informed him that she had been absolutely present when the fatal blow was struck, he could not believe it, and hurried off to Mrs. McKeon’s, to tell her all that he knew, and learn from her all that she could tell him.

The kind-hearted man hardly knew what he was doing, so shocked was he, and surprised by what he had heard. He could hardly believe that after what Thady had said to him, after the promises he had made, he would deliberately, and with premeditation, plan and execute Ussher’s murder. Such an idea was incompatible with the knowledge that he had of Thady’s disposition, and he concluded that there must have been some quarrel between the two men, in which Ussher had fallen the victim. He little dreamt when he started for Mrs. McKeon’s, how much more justly the blood which had been shed was to be attributed to the sister than to the brother, or he would hardly dared again to solicit her kind offices for his protegée.

When he got to Drumsna, the McKeons were only just rising from breakfast, but Father John saw, on entering the room, from their grave and anxious faces, that they had all heard the news. Tony had been out to his fields before breakfast, and had there been told by one of the men that Ussher’s body had on the previous night been taken through Drumsna to the police station at Carrick, and that it was said that Thady Macdermot, the murderer, had already escaped out of the country.

This tale Tony had communicated in a whisper to his wife, and she had afterwards told the girls. What was the good of keeping it secret? before the evening it would be known to the whole country. When Father John came in, they all crowded round him, to learn what really might be relied on as the truth of the case; but he could only tell them that it was too sure that Ussher had died by Thady’s hand — that that young man was not in custody — and that he had been informed that Feemy herself was present when the blow had been struck.

“Feemy and their poor father,” added Father John, “are to be examined today before the Coroner; it will be a dreadful thing for her, poor girl! to be forced to tell all her secrets, to declare all that she would most wish to conceal before the mob that will be in the room at Carrick.”

“Yes,” added Tony, “and to stand there without any one to support her, and to be asked questions, which if they’re answered correctly, may be will hang her brother.”

“I’ll never believe,” said Father John, “that he killed him in cold blood. Yourself, Mrs. McKeon hasn’t a kinder heart within you than that young man; he never would have committed a wilful, premeditated murder; I don’t think yet it will come to be so bad as what McKeon says. But when did Feemy leave this? I thought she was here, and was to stay here for some time to come.”

Mrs. McKeon then explained how Feemy had insisted on returning home the morning after the ball, with the promise of returning again. After talking over the various unaccountable circumstances of the case, without once suspecting that Feemy had consented to and had actually been in the act of going off with Ussher, Mrs. McKeon agreed, at the instigation of her husband and the priest, to accompany Feemy to the inquest, and after it was over to bring her to her own house, and to allow her to remain there till something should be definitely arranged as to her future residence.

“For,” said Tony, “Ballycloran will be no place for her again, nor the county either for the matter of that; but now that she’s unhappy she shan’t want a roof over her head; we were glad enough to see her when she held her head high, and I wouldn’t advise any one to say much against her now she’s in throuble — unless he wished to quarrel with me.” And Tony McKeon closed his fist as much as to show that if any one did entertain so preposterous a wish he could be little better than a born idiot.

Tony then sent a message into Carrick for a postchaise, that Feemy might not be exposed to the curiosity of every one in the street by sitting on an outside vehicle; and when she arrived in Drumsna from Ballycloran, she was taken off the car on which her father was sitting, and brought into Mrs. McKeon’s house. She would not, however, speak to any one, and could hardly sit on a chair without being supported. She squeezed, however, her kind friend’s hand, when she promised to go to the inquest with her, and seemed grateful when she was told that she should not return to Ballycloran, but should again occupy her old quarters at Drumsna.

At length they got into the hack chaise, and were driven into the yard of the hotel where the inquest was to be held. This was the same house in which McKeon and his party had dined on the evening before the races, and there the cold stiff body of the man was lying on the same table round which he and so many others were carousing but a few hours since. There he lay, at least all that mortal remained of him, who was then so joyous, so reckless, and so triumphant, in the very room in which he had boasted, in his wilful wickedness, of the sad tragedy he was intending to inflict on those who had been so friendly to him at Ballycloran, and of which he was now himself the first victim.

The table on which he was laid out had been hastily removed for the dance, and it had now been as hastily replaced for its present purpose. The laurel wreaths with which the walls had been decorated were yet remaining, and when the Coroner entered the room his foot slipped on a faded flower, which some wearied beauty had dropped when leaving it on the previous morning. Little more than four and twenty hours had elapsed since the fiddles were playing there, and some of those who were now summoned upon their oaths to decide in what manner Ussher had met his death, had on that morning been nearly the last to leave the room in which they were now to exercise so different a vocation.

Biddy and Katty were first examined, and it was from the evidence of the former that Father John first heard that Feemy had agreed to elope with Ussher; and it appeared from what the girl said that her mistress was to have left the house some time previous to the time at which the other girl proved that she had been brought back by her brother. This added greatly to his sorrow; but at the same time, he now instantly perceived under what provocation Thady had struck the fatal blow. Brady proved that his master had confessed to him that it was he who had killed Ussher, and that he had said that when he did so his sister was in Ussher’s arms. The stick was then brought forward, which was proved to be the one usually carried by Thady; and the blood upon the stick, and the nature of the wound upon the dead man’s head, left no doubt that this was the weapon with which he had been killed.

The father was then brought in, and we have already seen the manner in which he conducted himself. It was now necessary to examine Feemy, and at last she came in, almost carried in Mrs. McKeon’s arms, with a thick veil over her face, which, however well it hid her countenance, by no means rendered her sobs inaudible. Two chairs were placed for them by the table, and when they were both seated the book was handed to Feemy; then she had to take her glove from her right hand, and this was so wetted with her tears, and she herself was so weak, that it was long before she could get it off; and when she had taken the oath — when she had sworn to tell not only the truth, but the whole truth — she found it impossible to speak a word, and the Coroner was obliged to ask her questions, to which Mrs. McKeon was allowed to get the answers, spoken below her breath, and in whispers.

“Did she know Captain Ussher was dead?”

“She did.”

“Did she know that it was her brother who had killed him? Was it her brother Thady?”

“Yes, it was.”

“How did she know it was he who had done it? Did she see him do it?”

“No, she didn’t see him.”

“How then did she know it?”

“He had told her so afterwards.”

“Could she say how he killed him?”

“No, she could not.”

“Or why?”

To this question even Mrs. McKeon could get no answer.

“Where was she when Captain Ussher was killed?”

No answer.

“Was she with Captain Ussher?”

“She believed she was.”

“Why, or for what purpose, was she with him?”

To this question, although pressed for some time, she would not answer; and Mrs. McKeon, who was up to this time totally ignorant of the locality in which Ussher had been killed, and was really unaware how it had come to pass that Feemy was present at the time, was quite unable to suggest to her what answer she ought to make; and finding that it was with difficulty she could keep Feemy from falling from her chair, she told the Coroner she was really afraid Miss Macdermot was so ill, that she would be quite incapable of answering any more questions; and she added, that considering all the circumstances of the case — that the young lady had been engaged to the unfortunate man who was dead, and was the sister of the man who had killed him, it was not to be wondered at, if she found her dreadful position too much for her.

The Coroner answered that he was quite prepared to give Miss Macdermot every indulgence in his power, as he felt as strongly as any one could do the distressing situation in which the young lady was placed, but that it was absolutely imperative that the last question he had asked should be answered. And that he was sure when he stated that the result of the inquest very probably depended on what the answer to the question might be — as from that the jurors would probably have to decide whether her brother was to be accused of murder, or merely homicide — he was quite sure, he said, under these circumstances, Miss Macdermot would make an effort to answer it fully and firmly. He was willing, he added, to put the question in a form which might render it more simple for her to answer, though it would oblige him to say that which he feared would be still further distressing to her feelings.

He then told her and Mrs. McKeon, that from the evidence of the servants it had appeared that she, Feemy, had agreed to elope with Captain Ussher; and that, as far as could be judged from circumstantial evidence, she was in fact eloping with him when Thady had killed him; now, it was necessary for her to state whether she was there of her own good will, going away with him; or if not, what she was doing at the moment of the tragical occurrence.

After many fruitless attempts made by Mrs. McKeon to get an answer to this, Feemy said, through her friend, that she was sitting down.

“Does she mean that she was sitting down when the blow was struck?”

“She doesn’t know where she was.”

“When was she sitting down?”

“She was sitting down till Captain Ussher lifted her up.”

“When Captain Ussher lifted her up, was she going away willingly with him?”

“Yes, she was.”

“Did she struggle with him at all?”

“No.”

“Did any of her friends know she was going with him?”

Before, however, the poor girl could be got to answer this question, she had fainted, and it was found impossible to restore her for a long time; and when she had recovered, it was only to give way to the most distressing cries and hysterical shrieks; she threw herself on the floor of the bedroom to which she had been taken, and Mrs. McKeon was afraid that she would have broken a blood-vessel in the violence of her emotions. As it was, she was for a long time spitting blood, and fell from one fit into another, until the medical man who was now with her was afraid that she would become entirely delirious.

It had long been found impossible to proceed with her examination any further. She had, however, unwittingly, and hardly knowing at the time what she was saying, given evidence against her brother which the facts of the case did not warrant.

For when Thady had first seen her, she was not going willingly with Ussher; she had then fainted, and Ussher was dragging her, apparently with violence, along the road.

When it was found in the inquest room that Feemy Macdermot could not possibly attend again, the coroner gave the jury the substance of the evidence on the case. He pointed out to them that though there could be no doubt that young Macdermot was the man by whom Captain Ussher had been killed, still if they thought there was sufficient ground for them to believe that Ussher was ill-treating his sister, and that the brother had interfered on her behalf, they should not come to the decision that murder had been committed.

The jury, after consulting for a short time, brought in a verdict of wilful murder against Thaddeus Macdermot; and, accordingly, a coroner’s warrant was issued for his apprehension and trial, and was handed over to the police, that they might lose no time in endeavouring to take him prisoner.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43