The Macdermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 31.

The Last Witness.

When Mr. O’Malley had finished his address to the jury, it was past seven o’clock, and the judge suggested that as it would be evidently impracticable to finish the case that night, so as to release the jury, they might as well at this point adjourn it till the morrow. To this Mr. Allewinde readily assented; but Mr. O’Malley declared that though he was most unwilling to detain his lordship and the court at that late hour, he must request permission to be allowed to examine one of his witnesses, as otherwise his caution in having had him ordered out of court, would have been in vain. It was most essential, he said, that his examination of Mr. Keegan should take place before that man could have an opportunity of conversing with his servant, Brady; whereupon the judge consented to hearing Keegan’s evidence that evening, and forthwith the name of Hyacinth Keegan was called out in a loud voice by the crier, and was repeated by every policeman in court, till a stranger to the proceedings would have thought that Hyacinth Keegan’s society was the one thing desirable in Carrick-on-Shannon.

It would be drawing this trial out to a weary length to give the whole of his evidence; but Mr. O’Malley’s questions were such as the attorney found it almost impossible to answer. He was asked in the first place whether he at present received the rents from Ballycloran, and then whether he received them on his own behalf; the latter he denied, but when told that if he denied the fact Mr. Flannelly would be brought forward to prove it, he at last owned that Mr. Flannelly had promised to make over that property to him; he then denied that any conversation had passed between him and Brady as to the nature of the evidence the latter was to give at the trial, or that he had expressed any anxiety on any occasion that a verdict might be given against the prisoner; he confessed that he might, in conversation, have attributed the loss of his foot to the influence of the prisoner; but he could not remember that he had ever said that Macdermot should pay for it with his life. In answering the different questions put to him, he hesitated and blundered so much — stammered so often, and spoke so low, that every one in court was convinced that he was perjuring himself; but still he persisted in denying everything. The only good effect Mr. O’Malley could get from his evidence was, that the master frequently contradicted what had been said by the servant. But then Brady had shown so much confidence and self-assurance in his replies, and Keegan so much hesitation and confusion, that it was much more probable that the jury would believe the former, than the latter; and if so, Keegan’s contradicting the statements made by Brady, would not serve to invalidate the material evidence given by that man.

When Mr. Keegan came down from the chair, the court broke up for the night, and the jury were informed that the sheriff would afford them all the accommodation in his power; — and with long faces they were marched away to durance vile.

The court, which, during the trial, had been so densely crowded, again became desolate and silent. Baron Hamilton, with his brother Kilpatrick, retired to their dinner, which they had well earned; and the coffee-rooms at the hotels again became crammed with hungry guests, clamorous for food; and the evening was passed in speculations as to what would be the verdict in the case to which they had all been listening.

In the barristers’ mess-room all the feuds of the day were forgotten, and a most jovial party was assembled. As each bottle of claret succeeded the other, fresh anecdotes were told, and innumerable puns were made. Mr. Allewinde was quite great; his forensic dignity was all laid aside, and he chatted to the juniors with most condescending familiarity.

Mr. O’Laugher became the originator of incessant peals of laughter; all that had taken place during the day he turned into food for merriment; not for one moment did he hold his tongue, nor once did he say a foolish thing. He was the pet of the barroom. The Connaught bar was famous for Mr. O’Laugher; and they knew it, and were proud of him.

Of all of them assembled there but one seemed to have any memory of the sadness of the scene that they had that day witnessed. How should they? Or rather how miserable would be a barrister’s life, were he to be affected by the misery which he is so constantly obliged to witness in a criminal court. On this occasion, however, the anxiety which Mr. O’Malley had expressed when addressing the jury had not been feigned, and the doubt which he felt as to the fate of his client lay heavy on him. He was aware that he had failed in shaking Brady’s testimony, and he feared that in spite of all he had done to prove the depravity of that man’s character, the jury would be too much inclined to believe him.

It had been decided that Feemy was not to be brought into Carrick from Drumsna till such time as Mr. O’Malley sent out word that she would be required; and when he found how late it was before he began his speech, he had told Father John in court that she would not be wanted on that day. She had, therefore, been left tranquilly at Mrs. McKeon’s, who had fetched her to her own house from Ballycloran on the morning of the trial.

When Larry Macdermot saw the car at the door, in which Feemy was to go away, he was dreadfully wrath. He first of all declared that his daughter should not be taken away to Mr. Keegan’s — that his own son had deserted him and tried to sell the estate, and that now they meant to rob him of his daughter! And he wept like a child, when he was told that unless she went of her own accord, the house would be broken open, and she would be taken away by force. It was in vain that Mary McGovery endeavoured to make him understand that Feemy’s presence was necessary in Carrick, and that she had to appear as a witness at her brother’s trial.

Whenever Thady’s trial was spoken of; — and Mary, by continually recurring to the subject, had made the old man at last comprehend that his son was to be tried; — but whenever it was spoken of now, he merely expressed his approbation, and a wish that Thady might be punished, for making friends with such a reptile as Keegan — for deserting his father, and planning to cheat him out of his house and his property. Mary took great pains to set him right, and bellowed into his ear as if he were deaf instead of stupid, twenty times a day, that Thady was to be tried for Ussher’s death; but Larry couldn’t be got to remember that Ussher was dead, and would continually ask his daughter when her lover was coming back to live with them, and defend them and the property against the machinations of Keegan and her brother.

All the Thursday Feemy remained at Drumsna, every moment expecting that she would be immediately called in to go to Carrick. She sat the whole day in the drawing-room, close by the fire, with her friend’s cloak around her, without speaking to any one. The girls had come and spoken kindly to her when she first arrived; but their mother had told them that they had better not attempt to converse with her. Mrs. McKeon herself sat with her the whole day, and spoke to her a gentle word now and again; but she purposely abstained from troubling her, and she made no allusion whatever to the subject on which she had thought so much, and on which her own suspicions had been corroborated by Mary’s information. Necessary as it was that the poor girl should tell some one, this was not the time to press her.

There sat Feemy. Ah! how different from the girl described in the opening of this tale. Her cheek was pale and wan, and the flesh had gone, and the yellow skin fell in from her cheekbone to her mouth, giving her almost a ghastly appearance; her eyes appeared larger than ever, but they were quenched with weeping, and dull with grief; her hair was drawn back carelessly behind her ears, and her lips were thin and bloodless. Two or three times during the day Mrs. McKeon had given her half a glass of wine, which she had drank on being told to do so, and she had once tried to eat a bit of bread. But she had soon put it down again, for it seemed to choke her.

About five o’clock Mrs. McKeon learnt that Feemy would not be called for that day, and the poor girl was then induced to go to bed; but nothing could persuade her to allow any one to assist her. It was wonderful how she could have undressed herself, and dressed herself the next morning, she seemed so weak and powerless!

Tony and Father John got home to dinner about eight. They were both in good spirits, for Mr. O’Malley’s speech had been so convincing to them, that they conceived it could not but be equally so to the jury. They forgot that they had previously assured themselves of Thady’s evidence, and that therefore they were prepared to believe every word said on his behalf; but that this would by no means be the case with the jury. They were very sanguine, and Tony insisted that Counsellor O’Malley’s health should be drunk with all the honours.

On the morning they went early into town; they had obtained from the clerk of the peace permission to make use of a small room within the court, and here Feemy and Mrs. McKeon were to remain undisturbed till the former was called for; then that lady was to bring her into court, and even undertook to go upon the table with her, and repeat to the jury, if she would be allowed to do so, the evidence, which they were all sure Feemy herself would not be able to give in a voice loud enough to be heard by any one. When the car stopped at the court-house in Carrick-on-Shannon, it was found absolutely necessary to carry her into the room, for she had apparently lost all power of action. She neither cried nor sobbed now; but gazed listlessly before her, with her eyes fixed upon vacancy, as the two strong men lifted her from the car, and supported her between them by her arms up the steps into the court-house.

“This will never do,” said Tony to his friend after leaving her in the room; “this will never do; she’ll never be able to say a word on the table; it’s only cruelty, Father John, bringing her here.”

“But O’Malley says she must come,” said Father John; “he says, if she can take the oath, and speak but three or four words to Mrs. McKeon, that will do.”

“She’ll never do it; she’ll never be able to take the oath; she’ll have to be carried on the table, and when there, she’ll faint. Poor Thady! if he’s acquitted, the first thing he’ll have to learn will be her disgrace. You must tell him of that, Father John; no one else can.”

“Poor fellow; it will be worse to him than all. But she brought him to this, and she must save him if she can.”

“I tell you,” said Tony, “she’ll never speak a word upon that table; we’d better tell O’Malley at once; ’t would be only cruelty to put her there.”

They both accordingly went to O’Malley, who was now in court, and told him that they thought Feemy Macdermot could not be safely brought there. He, however, still declared that it was imperative for her brother’s safety that she should appear, even if it were utterly impossible to get her to speak; and that as she had been the person in fault, and has he had had all the suffering, the cruelty would be to him, if she were not brought forward.

Father John returned to the private room, and tried to make her speak. He kneeled down before her, and again began explaining to her the purpose for which she was there, and implored her to exert herself to save her brother. She once or twice opened her mouth, as if speaking, but uttered no sound. She understood, however, what the priest said to her, for she gently pressed his hand when he took hold of hers, and nodded her head to him, when he begged her to exert herself.

In the meantime Mr. O’Malley was continuing the examination of his witnesses. The first who appeared on this the second morning of the trial was Corney Dolan, who unfortunately came prepared to swear anything which he thought might benefit the prisoner. He said he remembered the evening of the wedding, he remembered the conversation at which the prisoner had been present, that he was quite sure Ussher’s name wasn’t mentioned — or at any rate that if mentioned, it was not accompanied by any threat — that, the only plan of violence alluded to during the evening was that one or two of the boys said that they would duck Keegan in a bog hole if he came to receive rents at Ballycloran.

This was all very well, as long as the questions were put to him by Mr. O’Malley; but he was forced to tell a somewhat different tale when examined by Mr. Allewinde, by whom he was made to own that there had been projects abroad for murdering Ussher, though he still maintained that none of them had been alluded to by the party at Mrs. Mehan’s. He was also made to give himself so bad a character that it was more than probable that the jury would not believe a word he had said.

Father John was the next; he was only called on to prove that Thady had been intoxicated when he left the party at Mrs. Mehan’s, and to speak as to character. With tears in his eyes he corroborated all that the barrister had said in his speech in praise of his poor young friend; he described him as honest, industrious, and manly — patient under his own wrongs, but unable to endure quietly those inflicted on his family.

Tony McKeon was the next, and with the exception of Feemy, the last; and he too had only to speak as to character.

Just as Father John had been getting into the chair, a policeman had come into court and whispered to Doctor Blake, who was sitting in one of the lower benches; and the Doctor immediately got up from his seat and went away with the man.

Father John had not observed the occurrence; but when he was leaving the table, and as Tony was getting up, the latter whispered to him, “Blake has been called out. Just look to Feemy.”

And at the same moment Mr. O’Malley said out aloud:

“Mr. Magrath, if I might trouble you so far, would you have the kindness to bring Miss Macdermot into court? I do not anticipate that we shall have much delay with Mr. McKeon’s evidence.”

Father John immediately hurried into the room, where Mrs. McKeon had been left with her charge; and his heart trembled within him as he remembered the death-like look the poor girl had when he left her but an hour since, and reflected that it was too probably to her aid that Doctor Blake had been called.

And so it was. When he entered the room, round the door of which a lot of frieze coats had crowded, but which was kept shut, he found Feemy on the ground, with her head supported on Mrs. McKeon’s lap, and Blake kneeling beside her, endeavouring to pour something into her mouth. There was another woman standing in the room, and an apothecary, whom the doctor had sent for; but Father John was soon made to understand that medical skill could avail but little, and that all the aid which Feemy could now receive from her fellow-creatures was to come from him.

To describe the scene which immediately followed would be to treat so sacred a subject much too lightly. The priest, however, found that neither life nor reason was extinct; she acknowledged the symbol of salvation in which she trusted, and received that absolution from her sins which her church considers necessary. Who can say how deeply she had repented of her misdeeds during the many hours of silent agony which she had endured!

Her arm was stretched out from her body, and her hand was clasped tightly in that of Mrs. McKeon’s. The moment before she drew her final breath, she felt and tried to return the pressure; she made one great struggle to speak. “Myles” was the single word which her lips had strength to form; and with that last effort poor Feemy died.

In the meantime McKeon had given his evidence in the court and had left the table — Mr. Allewinde having declined to cross-examine either him or Father John. There was then a pause of some little duration in court, during which Mr. O’Malley, addressing the judge, said that Miss Macdermot, the witness now about to be brought forward, was unfortunately in a very weak state of health, so much so, that had her evidence not been essential to her brother, he should be most unwilling to have troubled her; he then apologised for the delay, and asked for and obtained permission for Mrs. McKeon to be on the table and repeat the answers of the witness to the jury: the judge merely premising that it would be necessary that that lady should be sworn to repeat the true answers.

There was still some further delay after Mr. O’Malley had sat down. Mr. McKeon got up to go and help to bring her into court, but just in the doorway he met a man who whispered to him; he did not return however, but hurried on to the room where he had left his wife, and reached it just as the breath left the poor girl’s body. In spite of their distress it was apparent to all that the truth must be immediately made known in the court, and Mr. McKeon was leaving for the purpose of telling Mr. O’Malley, when Father John laid his hand upon his friend’s shoulder, and said —

“Poor Thady, it will break his heart to hear it. It must be kept from him. But heaven only knows what’s best; he must hear it at last. Go, McKeon, and tell O’Malley; he’ll know what’s best to do.”

McKeon returned into court, and making his way with difficulty close up to the barrister, whispered in his ear that his witness was no more.

Mr. O’Malley, who had been standing, instantly sat down, as if appalled by the suddenness of the event. Every one in the court who had seen McKeon’s face as he entered, felt aware that something had happened to Feemy.

The judge leaned forward over his desk, addressing himself particularly to Mr. O’Malley, and said —

“Is Miss Macdermot too unwell, Mr. O’Malley, to be brought into court?”

“My lord,” said he again, rising from his seat, “she has already gone before another judgment-seat. Macdermot,” and he turned round to the prisoner in the dock, “you have borne your sorrows hitherto like a man; you must try and bear this also — your sister is dead. She has fallen the first victim — God forbid that another should be sacrificed. My lord, my cause is now done; there is now no living witness, but the prisoner, of that scene which I described to you. The case must go to the jury as it is.”

During the time of the whole trial, Thady had stood upright at the bar, with his elbow leaning on the wooden rail, and his face resting on his arm. He had almost constantly kept his eye upon the speakers, occasionally turning his gaze to the place where Father John had sat during the trial, to see that he had not deserted him. During the speech which Mr. O’Malley had made on his behalf, he had brightened up, and looked more cheerful than he had done for many months. When that was finished he had felt more sanguine as to his acquittal than he had done at any time since he had first given himself up as a prisoner. During the short pause which occurred in court immediately after McKeon left the table, he had once or twice looked round to learn if Feemy were coming, though the high woodwork of the dock would effectually prevent him from seeing her till she was at the table.

It will be remembered that Feemy’s extreme illness had never been made known to her brother — much less her lamentable situation. Father John had told him that she was unwell, but he had not thought it necessary to frighten him at the present time by letting him know how very ill she was. The doctor’s departure from court he did not notice at all. Father John was sent for to his sister in a manner which caused him no apprehension — and even when McKeon went out to see whether she was coming, it never occurred to Thady that the delay in his sister’s appearance was occasioned by ill health. It was only when he saw O’Malley sit down, after hearing some whispered tidings from McKeon, that he felt alarmed. When the barrister told the judge that his witness had gone before another judgment-seat, it was still evident from his face that he did not perfectly comprehend what had happened; but there was no misunderstanding the language in which the tidings were immediately afterwards communicated to himself. He seemed to make one attempt as if to say something; but the feeling of his situation, and the paraphernalia of the court awed him into silence, and he sank down within the dock to hide his sorrow from the crowd that were gazing at him.

There was some considerable delay in the court after this, as though all the parties concerned felt unwilling to commence business after the shock which Feemy’s death had occasioned. The judge sat back in his chair, silent and abstracted, as if, valuable as he must know his own and the public time to be, he felt unable to call on any one to proceed with the case immediately after so sad an event.

At last Mr. Allewinde rose and said that no one could regret more than himself the dreadfully tragical manner in which the prisoner had lost the benefit of the evidence, which it was expected his sister would have been able to give on his behalf; that he conceived that it would be anything but mercy to the prisoner to delay the proceedings in their present stage on account of what had happened; moreover, he considered that doing so would be illegal. He would suggest to the judge, to his learned friend on the other side, and to the jury, whether any legal and available use could be made of the evidence which had been given by the prisoner’s sister before the coroner.

This, however, Mr. O’Malley declined, alleging that the questions put to Miss Macdermot by the coroner, were merely intended to elicit evidence that Captain Ussher had been killed by her brother, and that the answers she then gave were of course not such as would be favourable to the prisoner; nor were such as could prove those facts which Mr. O’Malley had intended to prove. Mr. O’Malley finished by stating that as far as he was concerned the case was ready to be submitted by his lordship to the jury.

Mr. Allewinde, however, still had the right of reply, and he was not the man to allow any chance circumstance to prevent him making use of it. He accordingly again got up to address the jury. He told them that what he had to say would not keep them long, and considering that he was a lawyer and a barrister, he kept his word with tolerable fidelity. He remarked that the evidence of Brady had in no degree been shaken. That the subjects in which Keegan had been examined had had no reference to the case; and that it was quite plain that Dolan had come forward to swear to anything which he thought might tend to the prisoner’s acquittal. He made no allusion whatever to Father John and Tony McKeon, and then ended by saying, that “the unexpected and melancholy death of Miss Macdermot was an occurrence which could not but fill the breast of every one present with most profound sympathy for the prisoner — that he should abstain from saying a word which might be unnecessarily disagreeable or painful to the feelings of any one — but that the jury must feel that the prisoner would lose nothing from the loss of her evidence. Of course,” he continued, “in a point of law you are bound to look on the case as if Miss Macdermot had died at the same moment with her betrothed husband, for you are aware that you cannot allow anything which my learned friend has told you to be taken into consideration by you in finding your verdict. But it will lessen the pain which more or less you must suffer in this sad case, to reflect what strong grounds you have for supposing that the sister, had she lived, could have proved nothing favourable to the brother; for had she been able to do so, she would have done it when examined before the coroner. I shall now trouble you no further. His lordship in submitting the case to you will give you doubtless the necessary caution against allowing excited feelings to have any influence over the verdict to which you shall come.”

Mr. Allewinde then sat down, and after the lapse of one or two minutes the judge turned to the jury, and spoke his charge to them upon the question. He went deliberately through the whole evidence — dwelt upon various minor points in the prisoner’s favour — told them that the prisoner could not be considered as guilty of murder, if there was ground to believe that he had committed the act whilst the deceased was forcibly carrying off his sister; and that if they believed that the prisoner had never before premeditated the death of the man he killed, he could not be considered to have been guilty of the crime for which he was now tried. He then went at length into all the points; he showed the jury that no evidence whatever had been brought up to prove that the girl was in a senseless state when Ussher was attacked; and that for anything they had heard proved, she might have been walking quietly with him. He then went into the evidence given by Brady, and he stated it as his own opinion, that the man was in the main to be believed; he argued that his whole evidence, both on direct and cross-examination had been given in a manner which seemed to him to show an unwillingness to give more information than he could possibly help on either side — but still with a determination not to forswear himself. But at the same time he told them that this was a question on which each juror should form his own opinion; in fact that it was to judge of the value and credibility of evidence that they were summoned. It was, also, he said, for them to decide whether the death of the revenue officer was premeditated by the party at Mrs. Mehan’s when they talked of ridding the country of him. He passed very slightly over the remaining evidence, merely saying that this was a case in which character could not weigh with them, as, if the prisoner were guilty, his former apparent good character only aggravated his sin. He then concluded by telling the jurors that they were bound by solemn oaths to allow nothing to interfere with the truth of their verdict — that they must all deplore the untimely death of the young woman who was to have appeared before them, and sympathise with the brother for the loss of his sister — but that his misfortune in this respect, could not lighten his guilt if he were guilty, or diminish the sacredness of the duty which each juror owed to his country.

When the judge had finished, the jury retired to consider their verdict; and the other business of the assizes was proceeded with, as if nothing peculiar had happened to check the regular routine duties of the court.

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