The Macdermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 32.

The Verdict.

It was not very late in the day when the jury retired, and it was generally thought that they would come to a verdict in time to escape being immured for a second night; but they did not.

Immediately after hearing the judge’s charge, Father John, McKeon, and Webb agreed among them that it was absolutely necessary that old Macdermot should be acquainted with his daughter’s death; but who was to take upon himself the sad errand! Father John had for the last few days been so harassed, so worn down by anxiety, and was now so depressed by, as he conceived the unfavourable tone of the judge’s charge, that he looked like the ghost of himself; and yet the duty of seeing old Macdermot could fall on no one but himself. Neither Webb nor McKeon knew the ways of the old man, and it was more than probable that neither of them would be admitted into the house. Father John therefore put himself on a car and hurried off to Ballycloran, making his friend promise that he would wait in Carrick for him till his return.

Father John soon found himself in the presence of Larry; but he could with difficulty find words to tell him of his bereavement. The old man was seated on his bed — he always slept now in the parlour — he had his legs thrust into a tattered pair of breeches, and had worn-out slippers on his feet; and an old and ragged coat, into which he had been unable or unwilling to thrust his arms, hung over his shoulder; but he had no stockings on — no cravat round his throat; his long-worn shirt was unbuttoned over his breast; and his face was not only unshorn, but was also, as well as his hands and feet, unwashed and filthy. When Father John entered the room he was seated on his bed, which had not been made since he rose from it. He had a pipe in his mouth, and a glass of grog in his hand. The smell of the room was most offensive, and it seemed from the dreadfully close atmosphere, that no window had been opened in it for weeks past. Mary McGovery followed the priest’s steps into the room, running through numerous apologies as to the state in which the old man was found, and assuring him that Macdermot was so stupid and so obstinate that it was impossible to get him to do or to understand anything; and she forthwith took hold of his shoulders, and began shaking him, and scolding him — bawling into his ear, till the poor idiot shook in her grasp.

Father John at last succeeded in rescuing him from her hands, and, seating himself in a chair immediately opposite to him, he began his sad tale. He told him by degrees that his daughter had been taken very ill — that she had got worse and worse — that Doctor Blake had been sent for — that she was found to be in imminent danger. But it had no effect on Larry; he kept on continually thanking Father John for his friendly visit, saying how kind it was of him, to come and sit with an old man like him — how hard it was to be shut up alone with such a d —— d old jade as Mary; and then he began telling Father John a history of the ill-treatment and cruelty he received from her — which to do Mary justice, was in the main false; for, excepting that she shook him and bawled to him, by way of rousing his dormant intellect, she had always endeavoured to be as kind to him as the nature of her disposition would allow. He begged of Father John to tell him when Ussher and Feemy would come back to take care of him; asked if Feemy hadn’t gone away to marry her lover; and complained that it was cruel in his own dear girl not to let her old father be present at her wedding.

At last the priest saw it was no good trying to break this bad news, by degrees, to such a man as Larry; and he told him that his daughter was dead. The old man remained silent for a few minutes staring him in the face, and Father John continued —

“Yes, Mr. Macdermot, your poor daughter died in Mrs. McKeon’s arms.”

“Is it Feemy?” said Larry. “My own Feemy?”

“It is too true, Mr. Macdermot; and indeed, indeed, I feel for you.”

“But it aint true, Father John,” said the idiot, grinning. “Shure didn’t I see her myself, when she went away on the car to the wedding?” And then the old man paused as if thinking, and the stupid smile passed off from his face, and the saddest cloud one could conceive came over it, and he said, “Ah, they’re gone away from me; they’re gone away to Thady, and now I’ll never see them agin.” He then paused for a moment, but after a while a fire came into his eyes and he began again, “but curse her — curse —”

This was too horrid; Father John got up and held his hand before the father’s face, as if to forbid him to finish the curse which he was about to utter; and the old man trembled like a frightened child upon his seat, and sat silent with his eye fixed on the priest.

Mary had not been present at this interview; Father John, however, now found it necessary to call her, and to commission her if possible to make the father understand that he had been bereaved of his daughter. Poor Mary was dreadfully distressed herself, and for a long time sat sobbing and weeping. But by degrees she recovered her tone, and commenced the duty which Father John had enjoined her to perform; but nothing could convince Larry of Feemy’s death; he felt assured that they were all trying to deceive him, and that Feemy and her lover had now deserted him as well as Thady.

When Father John returned to Carrick, anxious, yet fearing to hear the verdict, he found that the jury had not yet agreed. Even this was some comfort, for it made it evident that there was doubt on the subject; and surely, thought he, if a man doubts on such a subject as this, he must ultimately lean to the side of mercy. He remained with Tony McKeon in court till about eight, when they went to the hotel and got their dinner — for they would not leave the town till the jury were locked up for the night.

Soon afterwards Webb joined them, and the three sat together till eleven o’clock, when it was signified to them that the judge would not receive the verdict that night; and that the jury were, therefore, again to be locked up. Webb then went home, and the priest and his friend both returned to Drumsna to sleep.

Thady had remained in the dock that he might be ready to hear the verdict, till the judge left the bench. He was then conducted back into the prison, and it was so late that the prison regulations did not allow him to see any friend or visitor; he was, therefore, debarred from the comfort which a few kind words from Father John would have afforded him. After he had heard the news of his sister’s death he never once raised himself from the position into which he almost fell rather than sunk. During the whole of the long afternoon he remained crouched down in one corner of the benches within the dock. When the judge commenced his charge to the jury, he had once attempted to rise; but he felt that he could no longer endure the gaze of those around him, and he remained on his seat till he was taken back to gaol.

Father John and McKeon agreed that the cause of Feemy’s death should not be told to Thady — at any rate till after the verdict had been given. If he should be condemned it would only be a useless cruelty to increase his sufferings by telling him of his sister’s disgrace. Should he be acquitted, it would then become a question whether or no he might still be suffered to live in ignorance of that which, if known, would so deeply embitter the remainder of his life.

On the Friday morning the two friends again took their seat in court, waiting anxiously till the jury should send in word that they had come to a unanimous decision.

Thady was again in the dock, and Father John was just enabled to say one word to him over the wooden paling; — to bid him still keep up his courage, and to press his hand closely within his own.

Hour after hour passed on, and the dull stupid work of the week went on. Mr. Allewinde’s eloquence, Mr. O’Malley’s energy, and Mr. O’Laugher’s wit, sounded equally monotonous to the anxious priest and his good-natured friend. Though they seemed to listen, and indeed endeavoured to do so, yet at the close of each trivial case that was tried, they had no idea impressed upon them of what had just been going on. One o’clock struck — two — three — four — five — and yet they remained in the same position; and still the jury who had been considering the subject remained undecided.

The business in the Record Court had been closed on the Thursday, and therefore both the judges heard criminal cases during the whole of Friday; and by six o’clock the business of the assizes was finished, and the prisoners are all disposed of with the exception of poor Thady. It was absolutely necessary that the judges should commence their business at Sligo on the following Saturday, and if the jury did not agree to a verdict before eleven on that morning, they would have to be discharged, and the case must stand over for a fresh trial at the summer assizes. This now seemed almost desirable to Father John and McKeon. Immediately after hearing Mr. O’Malley’s defence they had felt sure of success; but the judge’s charge had dreadfully robbed them of their hopes, and they began to fear the arrival of the foreman.

At six Baron Hamilton left the court, saying that either he or his brother would be within call till twelve o’clock to receive the verdict, and that he would remain in town till eleven the next morning, should the jury not have decided before then. Thady was yet once more taken back to prison in doubt, and whilst McKeon went to the inn again to get some dinner ready, Father John went up to the prison to visit the prisoner in his cell.

The young man had to a great degree recovered his self-possession. He told Father John that he had given up all hope for himself — that he believed he had made up his mind perfectly to face death like a brave man. He then talked about his sister, and lamented grievously that she, ill as she was, should have been dragged into court with the vain object of saving his life. He asked many questions about the manner of her death — her disease — the state of her feelings towards himself — all which Father John found it most difficult to answer; and he was just beginning to inquire how his father had borne all the griefs which had accumulated themselves upon him, when one of the turnkeys opened the door of the cell, and told him that he was to return immediately into court — that the jury had agreed — and that the judge was now going into court to receive the verdict.

Father John turned deadly pale, and leant against the wall for support. A hectic red partially suffused the prisoner’s face, and his eyes became somewhat brighter than before. A slight shudder passed over his whole frame; in spite of all that he had suffered — all that he made up his mind to suffer — it was evident that there was a fearful degree of anxiety in his bosom, a painful hope still clinging to his heart.

The fetters were again fixed on to his legs, and he was led away in the midst of a body of policemen into court. Father John hurried to the same place, where he found Mr. McKeon already seated on one of the dark benches. There were but very few there, as every one had left it after the business of the day had been concluded; some of those who were in town and had heard that the jury were at last unanimous, had hurried down; but the generality of the strangers who were still remaining in Carrick, preferred the warmth of the hotel fires to paddling down through the rain, dirt, and dark, even to hear the verdict in a case in which every one was so much interested.

The barristers’ and attorneys’ seats were wholly deserted by their customary learned occupants; there was but one lawyer present, and he, probably thinking it unprofessional to appear to take more than a lawyer’s interest in any case, was standing by himself in the dark obscurity between the dock and the bottom of one of the galleries. This was Mr. O’Malley — and though he would not be seen in court after his business there was really over, he felt so truly anxious in the matter that he could not wait to hear the verdict from a third party.

At length the judge took his seat, and the clerk of the crown sat beneath him ready to record the decision of the jury. A few lighted candles were stuck about in different parts of the court; but they were lost in the obscurity of the large, dark, dismal building. The foreman stood ready with a written and signed paper. The judge asked him if they had all come to a unanimous verdict, and he answered in the affirmative; and handed the paper to the clerk of the peace, who glancing his eye upon it, and half turning round to the judge said in his peculiar, sonorous voice —

“My lord, the prisoner has been found guilty.”

“Gentlemen, is that your verdict?” said the judge; and they said it was.

The prisoner stood up at the bar erect without moving. He neither shook nor trembled now. If it were not that his lips were pressed quite close together, he would have appeared to have heard the verdict without emotion. Not so Father John; he had been leaning back, anxiously waiting till the one fatal word met his ear; and then his head fell forward on the desk, and he sobbed like a woman.

Baron Hamilton immediately placed the black cap on his head, and proceeded to pronounce the dreadful sentence of death. As he did so, his voice seemed like some awful, measured tone proceeding from an immovable figure or statue placed beneath the dusky canopy; so dark was it — and so cold and stern; so slow and clear were his words and manner; he must have felt, and felt strongly, as he doomed that young man to a sudden and ignominious death, for he was no heartless man; but so powerfully had he schooled his emotions, so entirely had he learnt to lay aside the man in assuming the judge, that had he been the stone he looked like, he could not have betrayed less of the heart within him.

He dwelt at considerable length on the enormity of the offence of which the prisoner had been found guilty; he stated his own conviction that the verdict was a just and true one; alluded to the irreparable injury such illegal societies as that to which the prisoner too evidently belonged, must do in the country; assured him that he had no hope for mercy to look for in this world, and recommended him to seek it from Him who could always reconcile it with his justice to extend it to the repentant sinner. He concluded by ordering that he should be taken back to the place from whence he came, and be brought from thence to the place of execution on the Monday week following, and then and there be hung by his neck till he should be dead.

The assizes were then finished — the judge immediately left the court — the prisoner was taken back to his cell — the lights were extinguished — and when the servants of the sheriff came to lock the door, they found Mr. McKeon still vainly endeavouring to arouse the broken-hearted priest from his ecstasy of sorrow.

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