"You'd be hung, Mr. Chaffanbrass."
"No; I don't know that I should," said Mr. Chaffanbrass, slowly. "I don't think I could affront a judge of the present day into hanging me. They've too much of what I call thick-skinned honesty for that. It's the temper of the time to resent nothing,—to be mealy-mouthed and mealy-hearted. Jurymen are afraid of having their own opinion, and almost always shirk a verdict when they can."
"But we do get verdicts."
"Yes; the judge gives them. And they are mealy-mouthed verdicts, tending to equalise crime and innocence, and to make men think that after all it may be a question whether fraud is violence, which, after all, is manly, and to feel that we cannot afford to hate dishonesty. It was a bad day for the commercial world, Mr. Wickerby, when forgery ceased to be capital."
"It was a horrid thing to hang a man for writing another man's name to a receipt for thirty shillings."
"We didn't do it, but the fact that the law held certain frauds to be hanging matters operated on the minds of men in regard to all fraud. What with the joint-stock working of companies, and the confusion between directors who know nothing and managers who know everything, and the dislike of juries to tread upon people's corns, you can't punish dishonest trading. Caveat emptor is the only motto going, and the worst proverb that ever came from dishonest stony-hearted Rome. With such a motto as that to guide us no man dare trust his brother. Caveat lex,—and let the man who cheats cheat at his peril."
"You'd give the law a great deal to do."
"Much less than at present. What does your Caveat emptor come to? That every seller tries to pick the eyes out of the head of the purchaser. Sooner or later the law must interfere, and Caveat emptor falls to the ground. I bought a horse the other day; my daughter wanted something to look pretty, and like an old ass as I am I gave a hundred and fifty pounds for the brute. When he came home he wasn't worth a feed of corn."
"You had a warranty, I suppose?"
"No, indeed! Did you ever hear of such an old fool?"
"I should have thought any dealer would have taken him back for the sake of his character."
"Any dealer would; but—I bought him of a gentleman."
"I ought to have known better, oughtn't I? Caveat emptor."
"It was just giving away your money, you know."
"A great deal worse than that. I could have given the—gentleman—a hundred and fifty pounds, and not have minded it much. I ought to have had the horse killed, and gone to a dealer for another. Instead of that,—I went to an attorney."
"Oh, Mr. Chaffanbrass;—the idea of your going to an attorney."
"I did then. I never had so much honest truth told me in my life."
"By an attorney!"
"He said that he did think I'd been born long enough to have known better than that! I pleaded on my own behalf that the gentleman said the horse was all right. 'Gentleman!' exclaimed my friend. 'You go to a gentleman for a horse; you buy a horse from a gentleman without a warranty; and then you come to me! Didn't you ever hear of Caveat emptor, Mr. Chaffanbrass? What can I do for you?' That's what my friend, the attorney, said to me."
"And what came of it, Mr. Chaffanbrass? Arbitration, I should say?"
"Just that;—with the horse eating his head off every meal at ever so much per week,—till at last I fairly gave in from sheer vexation. So the—gentleman—got my money, and I added something to my stock of experience. Of course, that's only my story, and it may be that the gentleman could tell it another way. But I say that if my story be right the doctrine of Caveat emptor does not encourage trade. I don't know how we got to all this from Mr. Finn. I'm to see him to-morrow."
"Yes;—he is very anxious to speak to you."
"What's the use of it, Wickerby? I hate seeing a client.—What comes of it?"
"Of course he wants to tell his own story."
"But I don't want to hear his own story. What good will his own story do me? He'll tell me either one of two things. He'll swear he didn't murder the man—"
"That's what he'll say."
"Which can have no effect upon me one way or the other; or else he'll say that he did,—which would cripple me altogether."
"He won't say that, Mr. Chaffanbrass."
"There's no knowing what they'll say. A man will go on swearing by his God that he is innocent, till at last, in a moment of emotion, he breaks down, and out comes the truth. In such a case as this I do not in the least want to know the truth about the murder."
"That is what the public wants to know."
"Because the public is ignorant. The public should not wish to know anything of the kind. What we should all wish to get at is the truth of the evidence about the murder. The man is to be hung not because he committed the murder,—as to which no positive knowledge is attainable; but because he has been proved to have committed the murder,—as to which proof, though it be enough for hanging, there must always be attached some shadow of doubt. We were delighted to hang Palmer,—but we don't know that he killed Cook. A learned man who knew more about it than we can know seemed to think that he didn't. Now the last man to give us any useful insight into the evidence is the prisoner himself. In nineteen cases out of twenty a man tried for murder in this country committed the murder for which he is tried."
"There really seems to be a doubt in this case."
"I dare say. If there be only nineteen guilty out of twenty, there must be one innocent; and why not Mr. Phineas Finn? But, if it be so, he, burning with the sense of injustice, thinks that everybody should see it as he sees it. He is to be tried, because, on investigation, everybody sees it just in a different light. In such case he is unfortunate, but he can't assist me in liberating him from his misfortune. He sees what is patent and clear to him,—that he walked home on that night without meddling with any one. But I can't see that, or make others see it, because he sees it."
"His manner of telling you may do something."
"If it do, Mr. Wickerby, it is because I am unfit for my business. If he have the gift of protesting well, I am to think him innocent; and, therefore, to think him guilty, if he be unprovided with such eloquence! I will neither believe or disbelieve anything that a client says to me,—unless he confess his guilt, in which case my services can be but of little avail. Of course I shall see him, as he asks it. We had better meet there,—say at half-past ten." Whereupon Mr. Wickerby wrote to the governor of the prison begging that Phineas Finn might be informed of the visit.
Phineas had now been in gaol between six and seven weeks, and the very fact of his incarceration had nearly broken his spirits. Two of his sisters, who had come from Ireland to be near him, saw him every day, and his two friends, Mr. Low and Lord Chiltern, were very frequently with him; Lady Laura Kennedy had not come to him again; but he heard from her frequently through Barrington Erle. Lord Chiltern rarely spoke of his sister,—alluding to her merely in connection with her father and her late husband. Presents still came to him from various quarters,—as to which he hardly knew whence they came. But the Duchess and Lady Chiltern and Lady Laura all catered for him,—while Mrs. Bunce looked after his wardrobe, and saw that he was not cut down to prison allowance of clean shirts and socks. But the only friend whom he recognised as such was the friend who would freely declare a conviction of his innocence. They allowed him books and pens and paper, and even cards, if he chose to play at Patience with them or build castles. The paper and pens he could use because he could write about himself. From day to day he composed a diary in which he was never tired of expatiating on the terrible injustice of his position. But he could not read. He found it to be impossible to fix his attention on matters outside himself. He assured himself from hour to hour that it was not death he feared,—not even death from the hangman's hand. It was the condemnation of those who had known him that was so terrible to him; the feeling that they with whom he had aspired to work and live, the leading men and women of his day, Ministers of the Government and their wives, statesmen and their daughters, peers and members of the House in which he himself had sat;—that these should think that, after all, he had been a base adventurer unworthy of their society! That was the sorrow that broke him down, and drew him to confess that his whole life had been a failure.
Mr. Low had advised him not to see Mr. Chaffanbrass;—but he had persisted in declaring that there were instructions which no one but himself could give to the counsellor whose duty it would be to defend him at the trial. Mr. Chaffanbrass came at the hour fixed, and with him came Mr. Wickerby. The old barrister bowed courteously as he entered the prison room, and the attorney introduced the two gentlemen with more than all the courtesy of the outer world. "I am sorry to see you here, Mr. Finn," said the barrister.
"It's a bad lodging, Mr. Chaffanbrass, but the term will soon be over. I am thinking a good deal more of my next abode."
"It has to be thought of, certainly," said the barrister. "Let us hope that it may be all that you would wish it to be. My services shall not be wanting to make it so."
"We are doing all we can, Mr. Finn," said Mr. Wickerby.
"Mr. Chaffanbrass," said Phineas, "there is one special thing that I want you to do." The old man, having his own idea as to what was coming, laid one of his hands over the other, bowed his head, and looked meek. "I want you to make men believe that I am innocent of this crime."
This was better than Mr. Chaffanbrass expected. "I trust that we may succeed in making twelve men believe it," said he.
"Comparatively I do not care a straw for the twelve men. It is not to them especially that I am anxious that you should address yourself—"
"But that will be my bounden duty, Mr. Finn."
"I can well believe, sir, that though I have myself been bred a lawyer, I may not altogether understand the nature of an advocate's duty to his client. But I would wish something more to be done than what you intimate."
"The duty of an advocate defending a prisoner is to get a verdict of acquittal if he can, and to use his own discretion in making the attempt."
"But I want something more to be attempted, even if in the struggle something less be achieved. I have known men to be so acquitted that every man in court believed them to be guilty."
"No doubt;—and such men have probably owed much to their advocates."
"It is not such a debt that I wish to owe. I know my own innocence."
"Mr. Chaffanbrass takes that for granted," said Mr. Wickerby.
"To me it is a matter of astonishment that any human being should believe me to have committed this murder. I am lost in surprise when I remember that I am here simply because I walked home from my club with a loaded stick in my pocket. The magistrate, I suppose, thought me guilty."
"He did not think about it, Mr. Finn. He went by the evidence;—the quarrel, your position in the streets at the time, the colour of the coat you wore and that of the coat worn by the man whom Lord Fawn saw in the street; the doctor's evidence as to the blows by which the man was killed; and the nature of the weapon which you carried. He put these things together, and they were enough to entitle the public to demand that a jury should decide. He didn't say you were guilty. He only said that the circumstances were sufficient to justify a trial."
"If he thought me innocent he would not have sent me here."
"Yes, he would;—if the evidence required that he should do so."
"We will not argue about that, Mr. Chaffanbrass."
"Certainly not, Mr. Finn."
"Here I am, and to-morrow I shall be tried for my life. My life will be nothing to me unless it can be made clear to all the world that I am innocent. I would be sooner hung for this,—with the certainty at my heart that all England on the next day would ring with the assurance of my innocence, than be acquitted and afterwards be looked upon as a murderer." Phineas, when he was thus speaking, had stepped out into the middle of the room, and stood with his head thrown back, and his right hand forward. Mr. Chaffanbrass, who was himself an ugly, dirty old man, who had always piqued himself on being indifferent to appearance, found himself struck by the beauty and grace of the man whom he now saw for the first time. And he was struck, too, by his client's eloquence, though he had expressly declared to the attorney that it was his duty to be superior to any such influence. "Oh, Mr. Chaffanbrass, for the love of Heaven, let there be no quibbling."
"We never quibble, I hope, Mr. Finn."
"No subterfuges, no escaping by a side wind, no advantage taken of little forms, no objection taken to this and that as though delay would avail us anything."
"Character will go a great way, we hope."
"It should go for nothing. Though no one would speak a word for me, still am I innocent. Of course the truth will be known some day."
"I'm not so sure of that, Mr. Finn."
"It will certainly be known some day. That it should not be known as yet is my misfortune. But in defending me I would have you hurl defiance at my accusers. I had the stick in my pocket,—having heretofore been concerned with ruffians in the street. I did quarrel with the man, having been insulted by him at the club. The coat which I wore was such as they say. But does that make a murderer of me?"
"Somebody did the deed, and that somebody could probably say all that you say."
"No, sir;—he, when he is known, will be found to have been skulking in the streets; he will have thrown away his weapon; he will have been secret in his movements; he will have hidden his face, and have been a murderer in more than the deed. When they came to me in the morning did it seem to them that I was a murderer? Has my life been like that? They who have really known me cannot believe that I have been guilty. They who have not known me, and do believe, will live to learn their error."
He then sat down and listened patiently while the old lawyer described to him the nature of the case,—wherein lay his danger, and wherein what hope there was of safety. There was no evidence against him other than circumstantial evidence, and both judges and jury were wont to be unwilling to accept such, when uncorroborated, as sufficient in cases of life and death. Unfortunately, in this case the circumstantial evidence was very strong against him. But, on the other hand, his character, as to which men of great mark would speak with enthusiasm, would be made to stand very high. "I would not have it made to stand higher than it is," said Phineas. As to the opinion of the world afterwards, Mr. Chaffanbrass went on to say, of that he must take his chance. But surely he himself might fight better for it living than any friend could do for him after his death. "You must believe me in this, Mr. Finn, that a verdict of acquittal from the jury is the one object that we must have before us."
"The one object that I shall have before me is the verdict of the public," said Phineas. "I am treated with so much injustice in being thought a murderer that they can hardly add anything to it by hanging me."
When Mr. Chaffanbrass left the prison he walked back with Mr. Wickerby to the attorney's chambers in Hatton Garden, and he lingered for awhile on the Viaduct expressing his opinion of his client. "He's not a bad fellow, Wickerby."
"A very good sort of fellow, Mr. Chaffanbrass."
"I never did,—and I never will,—express an opinion of my own as to the guilt or innocence of a client till after the trial is over. But I have sometimes felt as though I would give the blood out of my veins to save a man. I never felt in that way more strongly than I do now."
"It'll make me very unhappy, I know, if it goes against him," said Mr. Wickerby.
"People think that the special branch of the profession into which I have chanced to fall is a very low one,—and I do not know whether, if the world were before me again, I would allow myself to drift into an exclusive practice in criminal courts."
"Yours has been a very useful life, Mr. Chaffanbrass."
"But I often feel," continued the barrister, paying no attention to the attorney's last remark, "that my work touches the heart more nearly than does that of gentlemen who have to deal with matters of property and of high social claims. People think I am savage,—savage to witnesses."
"You can frighten a witness, Mr. Chaffanbrass."
"It's just the trick of the trade that you learn, as a girl learns the notes of her piano. There's nothing in it. You forget it all the next hour. But when a man has been hung whom you have striven to save, you do remember that. Good-morning, Mr. Wickerby. I'll be there a little before ten. Perhaps you may have to speak to me."
The Beginning of the Trial
The task of seeing an important trial at the Old Bailey is by no means a pleasant business, unless you be what the denizens of the Court would call "one of the swells,"—so as to enjoy the privilege of being a benchfellow with the judge on the seat of judgment. And even in that case the pleasure is not unalloyed. You have, indeed, the gratification of seeing the man whom all the world has been talking about for the last nine days, face to face; and of being seen in a position which causes you to be acknowledged as a man of mark; but the intolerable stenches of the Court and its horrid heat come up to you there, no doubt, as powerfully as they fall on those below. And then the tedium of a prolonged trial, in which the points of interest are apt to be few and far between, grows upon you till you begin to feel that though the Prime Minister who is out should murder the Prime Minister who is in, and all the members of the two Cabinets were to be called in evidence, you would not attend the trial, though the seat of honour next to the judge were accorded to you. Those be-wigged ones, who are the performers, are so insufferably long in their parts, so arrogant in their bearing,—so it strikes you, though doubtless the fashion of working has been found to be efficient for the purposes they have in hand,—and so uninteresting in their repetition, that you first admire, and then question, and at last execrate the imperturbable patience of the judge, who might, as you think, force the thing through in a quarter of the time without any injury to justice. And it will probably strike you that the length of the trial is proportioned not to the complicity but to the importance, or rather to the public interest, of the case,—so that the trial which has been suggested of a disappointed and bloody-minded ex-Prime Minister would certainly take at least a fortnight, even though the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Chancellor had seen the blow struck, whereas a collier may knock his wife's brains out in the dark and be sent to the gallows with a trial that shall not last three hours. And yet the collier has to be hung,—if found guilty,—and no one thinks that his life is improperly endangered by reckless haste. Whether lives may not be improperly saved by the more lengthened process is another question.
But the honours of such benchfellowship can be accorded but to few, and the task becomes very tiresome when the spectator has to enter the Court as an ordinary mortal. There are two modes open to him, either of which is subject to grievous penalties. If he be the possessor of a decent coat and hat, and can scrape any acquaintance with any one concerned, he may get introduced to that overworked and greatly perplexed official, the under-sheriff, who will stave him off if possible,—knowing that even an under-sheriff cannot make space elastic,—but, if the introduction has been acknowledged as good, will probably find a seat for him if he persevere to the end. But the seat when obtained must be kept in possession from morning to evening, and the fight must be renewed from day to day. And the benches are hard, and the space is narrow, and you feel that the under-sheriff would prod you with his sword if you ventured to sneeze, or to put to your lips the flask which you have in your pocket. And then, when all the benchfellows go out to lunch at half-past one, and you are left to eat your dry sandwich without room for your elbows, a feeling of unsatisfied ambition will pervade you. It is all very well to be the friend of an under-sheriff, but if you could but have known the judge, or have been a cousin of the real sheriff, how different it might have been with you!
But you may be altogether independent, and, as a matter of right, walk into an open English court of law as one of the British public. You will have to stand of course,—and to commence standing very early in the morning if you intend to succeed in witnessing any portion of the performance. And when you have made once good your entrance as one of the British public, you are apt to be a good deal knocked about, not only by your public brethren, but also by those who have to keep the avenues free for witnesses, and who will regard you from first to last as a disagreeable excrescence on the officialities of the work on hand. Upon the whole it may be better for you, perhaps, to stay at home and read the record of the affair as given in the next day's Times. Impartial reporters, judicious readers, and able editors between them will preserve for you all the kernel, and will save you from the necessity of having to deal with the shell.
At this trial there were among the crowd who succeeded in entering the Court three persons of our acquaintance who had resolved to overcome the various difficulties. Mr. Monk, who had formerly been a Cabinet Minister, was seated on the bench,—subject, indeed, to the heat and stenches, but priviledged to eat the lunch. Mr. Quintus Slide, of The People's Banner,—who knew the Court well, for in former days he had worked many an hour in it as a reporter,—had obtained the good graces of the under-sheriff. And Mr. Bunce, with all the energy of the British public, had forced his way in among the crowd, and had managed to wedge himself near to the dock, so that he might be able by a hoist of the neck to see his lodger as he stood at the bar. Of these three men, Bunce was assured that the prisoner was innocent,—led to such assurance partly by belief in the man, and partly by an innate spirit of opposition to all exercise of restrictive power. Mr. Quintus Slide was certain of the prisoner's guilt, and gave himself considerable credit for having assisted in running down the criminal. It seemed to be natural to Mr. Quintus Slide that a man who had openly quarrelled with the Editor of The People's Banner should come to the gallows. Mr. Monk, as Phineas himself well knew, had doubted. He had received the suspected murderer into his warmest friendship, and was made miserable even by his doubts. Since the circumstances of the case had come to his knowledge, they had weighed upon his mind so as to sadden his whole life. But he was a man who could not make his reason subordinate to his feelings. If the evidence against his friend was strong enough to send his friend for trial, how should he dare to discredit the evidence because the man was his friend? He had visited Phineas in prison, and Phineas had accused him of doubting. "You need not answer me," the unhappy man had said, "but do not come unless you are able to tell me from your heart that you are sure of my innocence. There is no person living who could comfort me by such assurance as you could do." Mr. Monk had thought about it very much, but he had not repeated his visit.
At a quarter past ten the Chief Justice was on the bench, with a second judge to help him, and with lords and distinguished commoners and great City magnates crowding the long seat between him and the doorway; the Court was full, so that you would say that another head could not be made to appear; and Phineas Finn, the member for Tankerville, was in the dock. Barrington Erle, who was there to see,—as one of the great ones, of course,—told the Duchess of Omnium that night that Phineas was thin and pale, and in many respects an altered man,—but handsomer than ever.
"He bore himself well?" asked the Duchess.
"Very well,—very well indeed. We were there for six hours, and he maintained the same demeanour throughout. He never spoke but once, and that was when Chaffanbrass began his fight about the jury."
"What did he say?"
"He addressed the judge, interrupting Slope, who was arguing that some man would make a very good juryman, and declared that it was not by his wish that any objection was raised against any gentleman."
"What did the judge say?"
"Told him to abide by his counsel. The Chief Justice was very civil to him,—indeed better than civil."
"We'll have him down to Matching, and make ever so much of him," said the Duchess.
"Don't go too fast, Duchess, for he may have to hang poor Phineas yet."
"Oh dear; I wish you wouldn't use that word. But what did he say?"
"He told Finn that as he had thought fit to employ counsel for his defence,—in doing which he had undoubtedly acted wisely,—he must leave the case to the discretion of his counsel."
"And then poor Phineas was silenced?"
"He spoke another word. 'My lord,' said he, 'I for my part wish that the first twelve men on the list might be taken.' But old Chaffanbrass went on just the same. It took them two hours and a half before they could swear a jury."
"But, Mr. Erle,—taking it altogether,—which way is it going?"
"Nobody can even guess as yet. There was ever so much delay besides that about the jury. It seemed that somebody had called him Phinees instead of Phineas, and that took half an hour. They begin with the quarrel at the club, and are to call the first witness to-morrow morning. They are to examine Ratler about the quarrel, and Fitzgibbon, and Monk, and, I believe, old Bouncer, the man who writes, you know. They all heard what took place."
"So did you?"
"I have managed to escape that. They can't very well examine all the club. But I shall be called afterwards as to what took place at the door. They will begin with Ratler."
"Everybody knows there was a quarrel, and that Mr. Bonteen had been drinking, and that he behaved as badly as a man could behave."
"It must all be proved, Duchess."
"I'll tell you what, Mr. Erle. If,—if,—if this ends badly for Mr. Finn I'll wear mourning to the day of my death. I'll go to the Drawing Room in mourning, to show what I think of it."
Lord Chiltern, who was also on the bench, took his account of the trial home to his wife and sister in Portman Square. At this time Miss Palliser was staying with them, and the three ladies were together when the account was brought to them. In that house it was taken as doctrine that Phineas Finn was innocent. In the presence of her brother, and before her sister-in-law's visitor, Lady Laura had learned to be silent on the subject, and she now contented herself with listening, knowing that she could relieve herself by speech when alone with Lady Chiltern. "I never knew anything so tedious in my life," said the Master of the Brake hounds. "They have not done anything yet."
"I suppose they have made their speeches?" said his wife.
"Sir Gregory Grogram opened the case, as they call it; and a very strong case he made of it. I never believe anything that a lawyer says when he has a wig on his head and a fee in his hand. I prepare myself beforehand to regard it all as mere words, supplied at so much the thousand. I know he'll say whatever he thinks most likely to forward his own views. But upon my word he put it very strongly. He brought it all within so very short a space of time! Bonteen and Finn left the club within a minute of each other. Bonteen must have been at the top of the passage five minutes afterwards, and Phineas at that moment could not have been above two hundred yards from him. There can be no doubt of that."
"Oswald, you don't mean to say that it's going against him!" exclaimed Lady Chiltern.
"It's not going any way at present. The witnesses have not been examined. But so far, I suppose, the Attorney-General was right. He has got to prove it all, but so much no doubt he can prove. He can prove that the man was killed with some blunt weapon, such as Finn had. And he can prove that exactly at the same time a man was running to the spot very like to Finn, and that by a route which would not have been his route, but by using which he could have placed himself at that moment where the man was seen."
"How very dreadful!" said Miss Palliser.
"And yet I feel that I know it was that other man," said Lady Chiltern. Lady Laura sat silent through it all, listening with her eyes intent on her brother's face, with her elbow on the table and her brow on her hand. She did not speak a word till she found herself alone with her sister-in-law, and then it was hardly more than a word. "Violet, they will murder him!" Lady Chiltern endeavoured to comfort her, telling her that as yet they had heard but one side of the case; but the wretched woman only shook her head. "I know they will murder him," she said, "and then when it is too late they will find out what they have done!"
On the following day the crowd in Court was if possible greater, so that the benchfellows were very much squeezed indeed. But it was impossible to exclude from the high seat such men as Mr. Ratler and Lord Fawn when they were required in the Court as witnesses;—and not a man who had obtained a seat on the first day was willing to be excluded on the second. And even then the witnesses were not called at once. Sir Gregory Grogram began the work of the day by saying that he had heard that morning for the first time that one of his witnesses had been,—"tampered with" was the word that he unfortunately used,—by his learned friend on the other side. He alluded, of course, to Lord Fawn, and poor Lord Fawn, sitting up there on the seat of honour, visible to all the world, became very hot and very uncomfortable. Then there arose a vehement dispute between Sir Gregory, assisted by Sir Simon, and old Mr. Chaffanbrass, who rejected with disdain any assistance from the gentler men who were with him. "Tampered with! That word should be recalled by the honourable gentleman who was at the head of the bar, or—or—" Had Mr. Chaffanbrass declared that as an alternative he would pull the Court about their ears, it would have been no more than he meant. Lord Fawn had been invited,—not summoned to attend; and why? In order that no suspicion of guilt might be thrown on another man, unless the knowledge that was in Lord Fawn's bosom, and there alone, would justify such a line of defence. Lord Fawn had been attended by his own solicitor, and might have brought the Attorney-General with him had he so pleased. There was a great deal said on both sides, and something said also by the judge. At last Sir Gregory withdrew the objectionable word, and substituted in lieu of it an assertion that his witness had been "indiscreetly questioned." Mr. Chaffanbrass would not for a moment admit the indiscretion, but bounced about in his place, tearing his wig almost off his head, and defying every one in the Court. The judge submitted to Mr. Chaffanbrass that he had been indiscreet.—"I never contradicted the Bench yet, my lord," said Mr. Chaffanbrass,—at which there was a general titter throughout the bar,—"but I must claim the privilege of conducting my own practice according to my own views. In this Court I am subject to the Bench. In my own chamber I am subject only to the law of the land." The judge looking over his spectacles said a mild word about the profession at large. Mr. Chaffanbrass, twisting his wig quite on one side, so that it nearly fell on Mr. Serjeant Birdbolt's face, muttered something as to having seen more work done in that Court than any other living lawyer, let his rank be what it might. When the little affair was over, everybody felt that Sir Gregory had been vanquished.
Mr. Ratler, and Laurence Fitzgibbon, and Mr. Monk, and Mr. Bouncer were examined about the quarrel at the club, and proved that the quarrel had been a very bitter quarrel. They all agreed that Mr. Bonteen had been wrong, and that the prisoner had had cause for anger. Of the three distinguished legislators and statesmen above named Mr. Chaffanbrass refused to take the slightest notice. "I have no question to put to you," he said to Mr. Ratler. "Of course there was a quarrel. We all know that." But he did ask a question or two of Mr. Bouncer. "You write books, I think, Mr. Bouncer?"
"I do," said Mr. Bouncer, with dignity. Now there was no peculiarity in a witness to which Mr. Chaffanbrass was so much opposed as an assumption of dignity.
"What sort of books, Mr. Bouncer?"
"I write novels," said Mr. Bouncer, feeling that Mr. Chaffanbrass must have been ignorant indeed of the polite literature of the day to make such a question necessary.
"You mean fiction."
"Well, yes; fiction,—if you like that word better."
"I don't like either, particularly. You have to find plots, haven't you?"
Mr. Bouncer paused a moment. "Yes; yes," he said. "In writing a novel it is necessary to construct a plot."
"Where do you get 'em from?"
"Where do I get 'em from?"
"Yes,—where do you find them? You take them from the French mostly;—don't you?" Mr. Bouncer became very red. "Isn't that the way our English writers get their plots?"
"Your's ain't French then?"
"Well;—no;—that is—I won't undertake to say that—that—"
"You won't undertake to say that they're not French."
"Is this relevant to the case before us, Mr. Chaffanbrass?" asked the judge.
"Quite so, my lud. We have a highly-distinguished novelist before us, my lud, who, as I have reason to believe, is intimately acquainted with the French system of the construction of plots. It is a business which the French carry to perfection. The plot of a novel should, I imagine, be constructed in accordance with human nature?"
"Certainly," said Mr. Bouncer.
"You have murders in novels?"
"Sometimes," said Mr. Bouncer, who had himself done many murders in his time.
"Did you ever know a French novelist have a premeditated murder committed by a man who could not possibly have conceived the murder ten minutes before he committed it;—with whom the cause of the murder anteceded the murder no more than ten minutes?" Mr. Bouncer stood thinking for a while. "We will give you your time, because an answer to the question from you will be important testimony."
"I don't think I do," said Mr. Bouncer, who in his confusion had been quite unable to think of the plot of a single novel.
"And if there were such a French plot that would not be the plot that you would borrow?"
"Certainly not," said Mr. Bouncer.
"Did you ever read poetry, Mr. Bouncer?"
"Oh yes;—I read a great deal of poetry."
"Shakespeare, perhaps?" Mr. Bouncer did not condescend to do more than nod his head. "There is a murder described in Hamlet. Was that supposed by the poet to have been devised suddenly?"
"I should say not."
"So should I, Mr. Bouncer. Do you remember the arrangements for the murder in Macbeth? That took a little time in concocting;—didn't it?"
"No doubt it did."
"And when Othello murdered Desdemona, creeping up to her in her sleep, he had been thinking of it for some time?"
"I suppose he had."
"Do you ever read English novels as well as French, Mr. Bouncer?" The unfortunate author again nodded his head. "When Amy Robsart was lured to her death, there was some time given to the preparation,—eh?"
"Of course there was."
"Of course there was. And Eugene Aram, when he murdered a man in Bulwer's novel, turned the matter over in his mind before he did it?"
"He was thinking a long time about it, I believe."
"Thinking about it a long time! I rather think he was. Those great masters of human nature, those men who knew the human heart, did not venture to describe a secret murder as coming from a man's brain without premeditation?"
"Not that I can remember."
"Such also is my impression. But now, I bethink me of a murder that was almost as sudden as this is supposed to have been. Didn't a Dutch smuggler murder a Scotch lawyer, all in a moment as it were?"
"Dirk Hatteraick did murder Glossop in The Antiquary very suddenly;—but he did it from passion."
"Just so, Mr. Bouncer. There was no plot there, was there? No arrangement; no secret creeping up to his victim; no escape even?"
"He was chained."
"So he was; chained like a dog;—and like a dog he flew at his enemy. If I understand you, then, Mr. Bouncer, you would not dare so to violate probability in a novel, as to produce a murderer to the public who should contrive a secret hidden murder,—contrive it and execute it, all within a quarter of an hour?"
Mr. Bouncer, after another minute's consideration, said that he thought he would not do so. "Mr. Bouncer," said Mr. Chaffanbrass, "I am uncommonly obliged to our excellent friend, Sir Gregory, for having given us the advantage of your evidence."
Lord Fawn's Evidence
A crowd of witnesses were heard on the second day after Mr. Chaffanbrass had done with Mr. Bouncer, but none of them were of much interest to the public. The three doctors were examined as to the state of the dead man's head when he was picked up, and as to the nature of the instrument with which he had probably been killed; and the fact of Phineas Finn's life-preserver was proved,—in the middle of which he begged that the Court would save itself some little trouble, as he was quite ready to acknowledge that he had walked home with the short bludgeon, which was then produced, in his pocket. "We would acknowledge a great deal if they would let us," said Mr. Chaffanbrass. "We acknowledge the quarrel, we acknowledge the walk home at night, we acknowledge the bludgeon, and we acknowledge a grey coat." But that happened towards the close of the second day, and they had not then reached the grey coat. The question of the grey coat was commenced on the third morning,—on the Saturday,—which day, as was well known, would be opened with the examination of Lord Fawn. The anxiety to hear Lord Fawn undergo his penance was intense, and had been greatly increased by the conviction that Mr. Chaffanbrass would resent upon him the charge made by the Attorney-General as to tampering with a witness. "I'll tamper with him by-and-bye," Mr. Chaffanbrass had whispered to Mr. Wickerby, and the whispered threat had been spread abroad. On the table before Mr. Chaffanbrass, when he took his place in the Court on the Saturday, was laid a heavy grey coat, and on the opposite side of the table, just before the Solicitor-General, was laid another grey coat, of much lighter material. When Lord Fawn saw the two coats as he took his seat on the bench his heart failed him.
He was hardly allowed to seat himself before he was called upon to be sworn. Sir Simon Slope, who was to examine him, took it for granted that his lordship could give his evidence from his place on the bench, but to this Mr. Chaffanbrass objected. He was very well aware, he said, that such a practice was usual. He did not doubt but that in his time he had examined some hundreds of witnesses from the bench. In nineteen cases out of twenty there could be no objection to such a practice. But in this case the noble lord would have to give evidence not only as to what he had seen, but as to what he then saw. It would be expedient that he should see colours as nearly as possible in the same light as the jury, which he would do if he stood in the witness-box. And there might arise questions of identity, in speaking of which it would be well that the noble lord should be as near as possible to the thing or person to be identified. He was afraid that he must trouble the noble lord to come down from the Elysium of the bench. Whereupon Lord Fawn descended, and was sworn in at the witness-box.
His treatment from Sir Simon Slope was all that was due from a Solicitor-General to a distinguished peer who was a member of the same Government as himself. Sir Simon put his questions so as almost to reassure the witness and very quickly,—only too quickly,—obtained from him all the information that was needed on the side of the prosecution. Lord Fawn, when he had left the club, had seen both Mr. Bonteen and Mr. Finn preparing to follow him, but he had gone alone, and had never seen Mr. Bonteen since. He walked very slowly down into Curzon Street and Bolton Row, and when there, as he was about to cross the road at the top of Clarges Street,—as he believed, just as he was crossing the street,—he saw a man come at a very fast pace out of the mews which runs into Bolton Row, opposite to Clarges Street, and from thence hurry very quickly towards the passage which separates the gardens of Devonshire and Lansdowne Houses. It had already been proved that had Phineas Finn retraced his steps after Erle and Fitzgibbon had turned their backs upon him, his shortest and certainly most private way to the spot on which Lord Fawn had seen the man would have been by the mews in question. Lord Fawn went on to say that the man wore a grey coat,—as far as he could judge it was such a coat as Sir Simon now showed him; he could not at all identify the prisoner; he could not say whether the man he had seen was as tall as the prisoner; he thought that as far as he could judge, there was not much difference in the height. He had not thought of Mr. Finn when he saw the man hurrying along, nor had he troubled his mind about the man. That was the end of Lord Fawn's evidence-in-chief, which he would gladly have prolonged to the close of the day could he thereby have postponed the coming horrors of his cross-examination. But there he was,—in the clutches of the odious, dirty, little man, hating the little man, despising him because he was dirty, and nothing better than an Old Bailey barrister,—and yet fearing him with so intense a fear!
Mr. Chaffanbrass smiled at his victim, and for a moment was quite soft with him,—as a cat is soft with a mouse. The reporters could hardly hear his first question,—"I believe you are an Under-Secretary of State?" Lord Fawn acknowledged the fact. Now it was the case that in the palmy days of our hero's former career he had filled the very office which Lord Fawn now occupied, and that Lord Fawn had at the time filled a similar position in another department. These facts Mr. Chaffanbrass extracted from his witness,—not without an appearance of unwillingness, which was produced, however, altogether by the natural antagonism of the victim to his persecutor; for Mr. Chaffanbrass, even when asking the simplest questions, in the simplest words, even when abstaining from that sarcasm of tone under which witnesses were wont to feel that they were being flayed alive, could so look at a man as to create an antagonism which no witness could conceal. In asking a man his name, and age, and calling, he could produce an impression that the man was unwilling to tell anything, and that, therefore, the jury were entitled to regard his evidence with suspicion. "Then," continued Mr. Chaffanbrass, "you must have met him frequently in the intercourse of your business?"
"I suppose I did,—sometimes."
"Sometimes? You belonged to the same party?"
"We didn't sit in the same House."
"I know that, my lord. I know very well what House you sat in. But I suppose you would condescend to be acquainted with even a commoner who held the very office which you hold now. You belonged to the same club with him."
"I don't go much to the clubs," said Lord Fawn.
"But the quarrel of which we have heard so much took place at a club in your presence?" Lord Fawn assented. "In fact you cannot but have been intimately and accurately acquainted with the personal appearance of the gentleman who is now on his trial. Is that so?"
"I never was intimate with him."
Mr. Chaffanbrass looked up at the jury and shook his head sadly. "I am not presuming, Lord Fawn, that you so far derogated as to be intimate with this gentleman,—as to whom, however, I shall be able to show by and by that he was the chosen friend of the very man under whose mastership you now serve. I ask whether his appearance is not familiar to you?" Lord Fawn at last said that it was. "Do you know his height? What should you say was his height?" Lord Fawn altogether refused to give an opinion on such a subject, but acknowledged that he should not be surprised if he were told that Mr. Finn was over six feet high. "In fact you consider him a tall man, my lord? There he is, you can look at him. Is he a tall man?" Lord Fawn did look, but wouldn't give an answer. "I'll undertake to say, my lord, that there isn't a person in the Court at this moment, except yourself, who wouldn't be ready to express an opinion on his oath that Mr. Finn is a tall man. Mr. Chief Constable, just let the prisoner step out from the dock for a moment. He won't run away. I must have his lordship's opinion as to Mr. Finn's height." Poor Phineas, when this was said, clutched hold of the front of the dock, as though determined that nothing but main force should make him exhibit himself to the Court in the manner proposed.
But the need for exhibition passed away. "I know that he is a very tall man," said Lord Fawn.
"You know that he is a very tall man. We all know it. There can be no doubt about it. He is, as you say, a very tall man,—with whose personal appearance you have long been familiar? I ask again, my lord, whether you have not been long familiar with his personal appearance?" After some further agonising delay Lord Fawn at last acknowledged that it had been so. "Now we shall get on like a house on fire," said Mr. Chaffanbrass.
But still the house did not burn very quickly. A string of questions was then asked as to the attitude of the man who had been seen coming out of the mews wearing a grey great coat,—as to his attitude, and as to his general likeness to Phineas Finn. In answer to these Lord Fawn would only say that he had not observed the man's attitude, and had certainly not thought of the prisoner when he saw the man. "My lord," said Mr. Chaffanbrass, very solemnly, "look at your late friend and colleague, and remember that his life depends probably on the accuracy of your memory. The man you saw—murdered Mr. Bonteen. With all my experience in such matters,—which is great; and with all my skill,—which is something, I cannot stand against that fact. It is for me to show that that man and my client were not one and the same person, and I must do so by means of your evidence,—by sifting what you say to-day, and by comparing it with what you have already said on other occasions. I understand you now to say that there is nothing in your remembrance of the man you saw, independently of the colour of the coat, to guide you to an opinion whether that man was or was not one and the same with the prisoner?"
In all the crowd then assembled there was no man more thoroughly under the influence of conscience as to his conduct than was Lord Fawn in reference to the evidence which he was called upon to give. Not only would the idea of endangering the life of a human being have been horrible to him, but the sanctity of an oath was imperative to him. He was essentially a truth-speaking man, if only he knew how to speak the truth. He would have sacrificed much to establish the innocence of Phineas Finn,—not for the love of Phineas, but for the love of innocence;—but not even to do that would he have lied. But he was a bad witness, and by his slowness, and by a certain unsustained pomposity which was natural to him, had already taught the jury to think that he was anxious to convict the prisoner. Two men in the Court, and two only, thoroughly understood his condition. Mr. Chaffanbrass saw it all, and intended without the slightest scruple to take advantage of it. And the Chief Justice saw it all, and was already resolving how he could set the witness right with the jury.
"I didn't think of Mr. Finn at the time," said Lord Fawn in answer to the last question.
"So I understand. The man didn't strike you as being tall."
"I don't think that he did."
"But yet in the evidence you gave before the magistrate in Bow Street I think you expressed a very strong opinion that the man you saw running out of the mews was Mr. Finn?" Lord Fawn was again silent. "I am asking your lordship a question to which I must request an answer. Here is the Times report of the examination, with which you can refresh your memory, and you are of course aware that it was mainly on your evidence as here reported that my client stands there in jeopardy of his life."
"I am not aware of anything of the kind," said the witness.
"Very well. We will drop that then. But such was your evidence, whether important or not important. Of course your lordship can take what time you please for recollection."
Lord Fawn tried very hard to recollect, but would not look at the newspaper which had been handed to him. "I cannot remember what words I used. It seems to me that I thought it must have been Mr. Finn because I had been told that Mr. Finn could have been there by running round."
"Surely, my lord, that would not have sufficed to induce you to give such evidence as is there reported?"
"And the colour of the coat," said Lord Fawn.
"In fact you went by the colour of the coat, and that only?"
"Then there had been the quarrel."
"My lord, is not that begging the question? Mr. Bonteen quarrelled with Mr. Finn. Mr. Bonteen was murdered by a man,—as we all believe,—whom you saw at a certain spot. Therefore you identified the man whom you saw as Mr. Finn. Was that so?"
"I didn't identify him."
"At any rate you do not do so now? Putting aside the grey coat there is nothing to make you now think that that man and Mr. Finn were one and the same? Come, my lord, on behalf of that man's life, which is in great jeopardy,—is in great jeopardy because of the evidence given by you before the magistrate,—do not be ashamed to speak the truth openly, though it be at variance with what you may have said before with ill-advised haste."
"My lord, is it proper that I should be treated in this way?" said the witness, appealing to the Bench.
"Mr. Chaffanbrass," said the judge, again looking at the barrister over his spectacles, "I think you are stretching the privilege of your position too far."
"I shall have to stretch it further yet, my lord. His lordship in his evidence before the magistrate gave on his oath a decided opinion that the man he saw was Mr. Finn;—and on that evidence Mr. Finn was committed for murder. Let him say openly, now, to the jury,—when Mr. Finn is on his trial for his life before the Court, and for all his hopes in life before the country,—whether he thinks as then he thought, and on what grounds he thinks so."
"I think so because of the quarrel, and because of the grey coat."
"For no other reasons?"
"No;—for no other reasons."
"Your only ground for suggesting identity is the grey coat?"
"And the quarrel," said Lord Fawn.
"My lord, in giving evidence as to identity, I fear that you do not understand the meaning of the word." Lord Fawn looked up at the judge, but the judge on this occasion said nothing. "At any rate we have it from you at present that there was nothing in the appearance of the man you saw like to that of Mr. Finn except the colour of the coat."
"I don't think there was," said Lord Fawn, slowly.
Then there occurred a scene in the Court which no doubt was gratifying to the spectators, and may in part have repaid them for the weariness of the whole proceeding. Mr. Chaffanbrass, while Lord Fawn was still in the witness-box, requested permission for a certain man to stand forward, and put on the coat which was lying on the table before him,—this coat being in truth the identical garment which Mr. Meager had brought home with him on the morning of the murder. This man was Mr. Wickerby's clerk, Mr. Scruby, and he put on the coat,—which seemed to fit him well. Mr. Chaffanbrass then asked permission to examine Mr. Scruby, explaining that much time might be saved, and declaring that he had but one question to ask him. After some difficulty this permission was given him, and Mr. Scruby was asked his height. Mr. Scruby was five feet eight inches, and had been accurately measured on the previous day with reference to the question. Then the examination of Lord Fawn was resumed, and Mr. Chaffanbrass referred to that very irregular interview to which he had so improperly enticed the witness in Mr. Wickerby's chambers. For a long time Sir Gregory Grogram declared that he would not permit any allusion to what had taken place at a most improper conference,—a conference which he could not stigmatize in sufficiently strong language. But Mr. Chaffanbrass, smiling blandly,—smiling very blandly for him,—suggested that the impropriety of the conference, let it have been ever so abominable, did not prevent the fact of the conference, and that he was manifestly within his right in alluding to it. "Suppose, my lord, that Lord Fawn had confessed in Mr. Wickerby's chambers that he had murdered Mr. Finn himself, and had since repented of that confession, would Mr. Camperdown and Mr. Wickerby, who were present, and would I, be now debarred from stating that confession in evidence, because, in deference to some fanciful rules of etiquette, Lord Fawn should not have been there?" Mr. Chaffanbrass at last prevailed, and the evidence was resumed.
"You saw Mr. Scruby wear that coat in Mr. Wickerby's chambers." Lord Fawn said that he could not identify the coat.
"We'll take care to have it identified. We shall get a great deal out of that coat yet. You saw that man wear a coat like that."
"Yes; I did."
"And you see him now."
"Yes, I do."
"Does he remind you of the figure of the man you saw come out of the mews?" Lord Fawn paused. "We can't make him move about here as we did in Mr. Wickerby's room; but remembering that as you must do, does he look like the man?"
"I don't remember what the man looked like."
"Did you not tell us in Mr. Wickerby's room that Mr. Scruby with the grey coat on was like the figure of the man?"
Questions of this nature were prolonged for near half an hour, during which Sir Gregory made more than one attempt to defend his witness from the weapons of their joint enemies; but Lord Fawn at last admitted that he had acknowledged the resemblance, and did, in some faint ambiguous fashion, acknowledge it in his present evidence.
"My lord," said Mr. Chaffanbrass as he allowed Lord Fawn to go down, "you have no doubt taken a note of Mr. Scruby's height." Whereupon the judge nodded his head.
Mr. Chaffanbrass for the Defence
The case for the prosecution was completed on the Saturday evening, Mrs. Bunce having been examined as the last witness on that side. She was only called upon to say that her lodger had been in the habit of letting himself in and out of her house at all hours with a latch-key;—but she insisted on saying more, and told the judge and the jury and the barristers that if they thought that Mr. Finn had murdered anybody they didn't know anything about the world in general. Whereupon Mr. Chaffanbrass said that he would like to ask her a question or two, and with consummate flattery extracted from her her opinion of her lodger. She had known him for years, and thought that, of all the gentlemen that ever were born, he was the least likely to do such a bloody-minded action. Mr. Chaffanbrass was, perhaps, right in thinking that her evidence might be as serviceable as that of the lords and countesses.
During the Sunday the trial was, as a matter of course, the talk of the town. Poor Lord Fawn shut himself up, and was seen by no one;—but his conduct and evidence were discussed everywhere. At the clubs it was thought that he had escaped as well as could be expected; but he himself felt that he had been disgraced for ever. There was a very common opinion that Mr. Chaffanbrass had admitted too much when he had declared that the man whom Lord Fawn had seen was doubtless the murderer. To the minds of men generally it seemed to be less evident that the man so seen should have done the deed, than that Phineas Finn should have been that man. Was it probable that there should be two men going about in grey coats, in exactly the same vicinity, and at exactly the same hour of the night? And then the evidence which Lord Fawn had given before the magistrates was to the world at large at any rate as convincing as that given in the Court. The jury would, of course, be instructed to regard only the latter; whereas the general public would naturally be guided by the two combined. At the club it was certainly believed that the case was going against the prisoner.
"You have read it all, of course," said the Duchess of Omnium to her husband, as she sat with the Observer in her hand on that Sunday morning. The Sunday papers were full of the report, and were enjoying a very extended circulation.
"I wish you would not think so much about it," said the Duke.
"That's very easily said, but how is one to help thinking about it? Of course I am thinking about it. You know all about the coat. It belonged to the man where Mealyus was lodging."
"I will not talk about the coat, Glencora. If Mr. Finn did commit the murder it is right that he should be convicted."
"But if he didn't?"
"It would be doubly right that he should be acquitted. But the jury will have means of arriving at a conclusion without prejudice, which you and I cannot have; and therefore we should be prepared to take their verdict as correct."
"If they find him guilty, their verdict will be damnable and false," said the Duchess. Whereupon the Duke turned away in anger, and resolved that he would say nothing more about the trial,—which resolution, however, he was compelled to break before the trial was over.
"What do you think about it, Mr. Erle?" asked the other Duke.
"I don't know what to think;—I only hope."
"That he may be acquitted?"
"Whether guilty or innocent?"
"Well;—yes. But if he is acquitted I shall believe him to have been innocent. Your Grace thinks—?"
"I am as unwilling to think as you are, Mr. Erle." It was thus that people spoke of it. With the exception of some very few, all those who had known Phineas were anxious for an acquittal, though they could not bring themselves to believe that an innocent man had been put in peril of his life.
On the Monday morning the trial was recommenced, and the whole day was taken up by the address which Mr. Chaffanbrass made to the jury. He began by telling them the history of the coat which lay before them, promising to prove by evidence all the details which he stated. It was not his intention, he said, to accuse any one of the murder. It was his business to defend the prisoner, not to accuse others. But, as he should prove to them, two persons had been arrested as soon as the murder had been discovered,—two persons totally unknown to each other, and who were never for a moment supposed to have acted together,—and the suspicion of the police had in the first instance pointed, not to his client, but to the other man. That other man had also quarrelled with Mr. Bonteen, and that other man was now in custody on a charge of bigamy chiefly through the instrumentality of Mr. Bonteen, who had been the friend of the victim of the supposed bigamist. With the accusation of bigamy they would have nothing to do, but he must ask them to take cognisance of that quarrel as well as of the quarrel at the club. He then named that formerly popular preacher, the Rev. Mr. Emilius, and explained that he would prove that this man, who had incurred the suspicion of the police in the first instance, had during the night of the murder been so circumstanced as to have been able to use the coat produced. He would prove also that Mr. Emilius was of precisely the same height as the man whom they had seen wearing the coat. God forbid that he should bring an accusation of murder against a man on such slight testimony. But if the evidence, as grounded on the coat, was slight against Emilius, how could it prevail at all against his client? The two coats were as different as chalk from cheese, the one being what would be called a gentleman's fashionable walking coat, and the other the wrap-rascal of such a fellow as was Mr. Meager. And yet Lord Fawn, who attempted to identify the prisoner only by his coat, could give them no opinion as to which was the coat he had seen! But Lord Fawn, who had found himself to be debarred by his conscience from repeating the opinion he had given before the magistrate as to the identity of Phineas Finn with the man he had seen, did tell them that the figure of that man was similar to the figure of him who had worn the coat on Saturday in presence of them all. This man in the street had therefore been like Mr. Emilius, and could not in the least have resembled the prisoner. Mr. Chaffanbrass would not tell the jury that this point bore strongly against Mr. Emilius, but he took upon himself to assert that it was quite sufficient to snap asunder the thin thread of circumstantial evidence by which his client was connected with the murder. A great deal more was said about Lord Fawn, which was not complimentary to that nobleman. "His lordship is an honest, slow man, who has doubtless meant to tell you the truth, but who does not understand the meaning of what he himself says. When he swore before the magistrate that he thought he could identify my client with the man in the street, he really meant that he thought that there must be identity, because he believed from other reasons that Mr. Finn was the man in the street. Mr. Bonteen had been murdered;—according to Lord Fawn's thinking had probably been murdered by Mr. Finn. And it was also probable to him that Mr. Bonteen had been murdered by the man in the street. He came thus to the conclusion that the prisoner was the man in the street. In fact, as far as the process of identifying is concerned, his lordship's evidence is altogether in favour of the prisoner. The figure seen by him we must suppose was the figure of a short man, and not of one tall and commanding in his presence, as is that of the prisoner."
There were many other points on which Mr. Chaffanbrass insisted at great length;—but, chiefly, perhaps, on the improbability, he might say impossibility, that the plot for a murder so contrived should have entered into a man's head, have been completed and executed, all within a few minutes. "But under no hypothesis compatible with the allegations of the prosecution can it be conceived that the murder should have been contemplated by my client before the quarrel at the club. No, gentlemen;—the murderer had been at his work for days. He had examined the spot and measured the distances. He had dogged the steps of his victim on previous nights. In the shade of some dark doorway he had watched him from his club, and had hurried by his secret path to the spot which he had appointed for the deed. Can any man doubt that the murder has thus been committed, let who will have been the murderer? But, if so, then my client could not have done the deed." Much had been made of the words spoken at the club door. Was it probable,—was it possible,—that a man intending to commit a murder should declare how easily he could do it, and display the weapon he intended to use? The evidence given as to that part of the night's work was, he contended, altogether in the prisoner's favour. Then he spoke of the life-preserver, and gave a rather long account of the manner in which Phineas Finn had once taken two garotters prisoner in the street. All this lasted till the great men on the bench trooped out to lunch. And then Mr. Chaffanbrass, who had been speaking for nearly four hours, retired to a small room and there drank a pint of port wine. While he was doing so, Mr. Serjeant Birdbolt spoke a word to him, but he only shook his head and snarled. He was telling himself at the moment how quick may be the resolves of the eager mind,—for he was convinced that the idea of attacking Mr. Bonteen had occurred to Phineas Finn after he had displayed the life-preserver at the club door; and he was telling himself also how impossible it is for a dull conscientious man to give accurate evidence as to what he had himself seen,—for he was convinced that Lord Fawn had seen Phineas Finn in the street. But to no human being had he expressed this opinion; nor would he express it,—unless his client should be hung.
After lunch he occupied nearly three hours in giving to the jury, and of course to the whole assembled Court, the details of about two dozen cases, in which apparently strong circumstantial evidence had been wrong in its tendency. In some of the cases quoted, the persons tried had been acquitted; in some, convicted and afterwards pardoned; in one pardoned after many years of punishment;—and in one the poor victim had been hung. On this he insisted with a pathetic eloquence which certainly would not have been expected from his appearance, and spoke with tears in his eyes,—real unaffected tears,—of the misery of those wretched jurymen who, in the performance of their duty, had been led into so frightful an error. Through the whole of this long recital he seemed to feel no fatigue, and when he had done with his list of judicial mistakes about five o'clock in the afternoon, went on to make what he called the very few remarks necessary as to the evidence which on the next day he proposed to produce as to the prisoner's character. He ventured to think that evidence as to the character of such a nature,—so strong, so convincing, so complete, and so free from all objection, had never yet been given in a criminal court. At six o'clock he completed his speech, and it was computed that the old man had been on his legs very nearly seven hours. It was said of him afterwards that he was taken home speechless by one of his daughters and immediately put to bed, that he roused himself about eight and ate his dinner and drank a bottle of port in his bedroom, that he then slept,—refusing to stir even when he was waked, till half-past nine in the morning, and that then he scrambled into his clothes, breakfasted, and got down to the Court in half an hour. At ten o'clock he was in his place, and nobody knew that he was any the worse for the previous day's exertion.
This was on a Tuesday, the fifth day of the trial, and upon the whole perhaps the most interesting. A long array of distinguished persons,—of women as well as men,—was brought up to give to the jury their opinion as to the character of Mr. Finn. Mr. Low was the first, who having been his tutor when he was studying at the bar, knew him longer than any other Londoner. Then came his countryman Laurence Fitzgibbon, and Barrington Erle, and others of his own party who had been intimate with him. And men, too, from the opposite side of the House were brought up, Sir Orlando Drought among the number, all of whom said that they had known the prisoner well, and from their knowledge would have considered it impossible that he should have become a murderer. The two last called were Lord Cantrip and Mr. Monk, one of whom was, and the other had been, a Cabinet Minister. But before them came Lady Cantrip,—and Lady Chiltern, whom we once knew as Violet Effingham, whom this very prisoner had in early days fondly hoped to make his wife, who was still young and beautiful, and who had never before entered a public Court.
There had of course been much question as to the witnesses to be selected. The Duchess of Omnium had been anxious to be one, but the Duke had forbidden it, telling his wife that she really did not know the man, and that she was carried away by a foolish enthusiasm. Lady Cantrip when asked had at once consented. She had known Phineas Finn when he had served under her husband, and had liked him much. Then what other woman's tongue should be brought to speak of the man's softness and tender bearing! It was out of the question that Lady Laura Kennedy should appear. She did not even propose it when her brother with unnecessary sternness told her it could not be so. Then his wife looked at him. "You shall go," said Lord Chiltern, "if you feel equal to it. It seems to be nonsense, but they say that it is important."
"I will go," said Violet, with her eyes full of tears. Afterwards when her sister-in-law besought her to be generous in her testimony, she only smiled as she assented. Could generosity go beyond hers?
Lord Chiltern preceded his wife. "I have," he said, "known Mr. Finn well, and have loved him dearly. I have eaten with him and drank with him, have ridden with him, have lived with him, and have quarrelled with him; and I know him as I do my own right hand." Then he stretched forth his arm with the palm extended.
"Irrespectively of the evidence in this case you would not have thought him to be a man likely to commit such a crime?" asked Serjeant Birdbolt.
"I am quite sure from my knowledge of the man that he could not commit a murder," said Lord Chiltern; "and I don't care what the evidence is."
Then came his wife, and it certainly was a pretty sight to see as her husband led her up to the box and stood close beside her as she gave her evidence. There were many there who knew much of the history of her life,—who knew that passage in it of her early love,—for the tale had of course been told when it was whispered about that Lady Chiltern was to be examined as a witness. Every ear was at first strained to hear her words;—but they were audible in every corner of the Court without any effort. It need hardly be said that she was treated with the greatest deference on every side. She answered the questions very quietly, but apparently without nervousness. "Yes; she had known Mr. Finn long, and intimately, and had very greatly valued his friendship. She did so still,—as much as ever. Yes; she had known him for some years, and in circumstances which she thought justified her in saying that she understood his character. She regarded him as a man who was brave and tender-hearted, soft in feeling and manly in disposition. To her it was quite incredible that he should have committed a crime such as this. She knew him to be a man prone to forgive offences, and of a sweet nature." And it was pretty too to watch the unwonted gentleness of old Chaffanbrass as he asked the questions, and carefully abstained from putting any one that could pain her. Sir Gregory said that he had heard her evidence with great pleasure, but that he had no question to ask her himself. Then she stepped down, again took her husband's arm, and left the Court amidst a hum of almost affectionate greeting.
And what must he have thought as he stood there within the dock, looking at her and listening to her? There had been months in his life when he had almost trusted that he would succeed in winning that fair, highly-born, and wealthy woman for his wife; and though he had failed, and now knew that he had never really touched her heart, that she had always loved the man whom,—though she had rejected him time after time because of the dangers of his ways,—she had at last married, yet it must have been pleasant to him, even in his peril, to hear from her own lips how well she had esteemed him. She left the Court with her veil down, and he could not catch her eye; but Lord Chiltern nodded to him in his old pleasant familiar way, as though to bid him take courage, and to tell him that all things would even yet be well with him.
The evidence given by Lady Cantrip and her husband and by Mr. Monk was equally favourable. She had always regarded him as a perfect gentleman. Lord Cantrip had found him to be devoted to the service of the country,—modest, intelligent, and high-spirited. Perhaps the few words which fell from Mr. Monk were as strong as any that were spoken. "He is a man whom I have delighted to call my friend, and I have been happy to think that his services have been at the disposal of his country."
Sir Gregory Grogram replied. It seemed to him that the evidence was as he had left it. It would be for the jury to decide, under such directions as his lordship might be pleased to give them, how far that evidence brought the guilt home to the prisoner. He would use no rhetoric in pushing the case against the prisoner; but he must submit to them that his learned friend had not shown that acquaintance with human nature which the gentleman undoubtedly possessed in arguing that there had lacked time for the conception and execution of the crime. Then, at considerable length, he strove to show that Mr. Chaffanbrass had been unjustly severe upon Lord Fawn.
It was late in the afternoon when Sir Gregory had finished his speech, and the judge's charge was reserved for a sixth day.
Confusion in the Court
On the following morning it was observed that before the judges took their seats Mr. Chaffanbrass entered the Court with a manner much more brisk than was expected from him now that his own work was done. As a matter of course he would be there to hear the charge, but, almost equally as a matter of course, he would be languid, silent, cross, and unenergetic. They who knew him were sure, when they saw his bearing on this morning, that he intended to do something more before the charge was given. The judges entered the Court nearly half an hour later than usual, and it was observed with surprise that they were followed by the Duke of Omnium. Mr. Chaffanbrass was on his feet before the Chief Justice had taken his seat, but the judge was the first to speak. It was observed that he held a scrap of paper in his hand, and that the barrister held a similar scrap. Then every man in the Court knew that some message had come suddenly by the wires. "I am informed, Mr. Chaffanbrass, that you wish to address the Court before I begin my charge."
"Yes, my lud; and I am afraid, my lud, that I shall have to ask your ludship to delay your charge for some days, and to subject the jury to the very great inconvenience of prolonged incarceration for another week;—either to do that or to call upon the jury to acquit the prisoner. I venture to assert, on my own peril, that no jury can convict the prisoner after hearing me read that which I hold in my hand." Then Mr. Chaffanbrass paused, as though expecting that the judge would speak;—but the judge said not a word, but sat looking at the old barrister over his spectacles.
Every eye was turned upon Phineas Finn, who up to this moment had heard nothing of these new tidings,—who did not in the least know on what was grounded the singularly confident,—almost insolently confident assertion which Mr. Chaffanbrass had made in his favour. On him the effect was altogether distressing. He had borne the trying week with singular fortitude, having stood there in the place of shame hour after hour, and day after day, expecting his doom. It had been to him as a lifetime of torture. He had become almost numb from the weariness of his position and the agonising strain upon his mind. The gaoler had offered him a seat from day to day, but he had always refused it, preferring to lean upon the rail and gaze upon the Court. He had almost ceased to hope for anything except the end of it. He had lost count of the days, and had begun to feel that the trial was an eternity of torture in itself. At nights he could not sleep, but during the Sunday, after Mass, he had slept all day. Then it had begun again, and when the Tuesday came he hardly knew how long it had been since that vacant Sunday. And now he heard the advocate declare, without knowing on what ground the declaration was grounded, that the trial must be postponed, or that the jury must be instructed to acquit him.
"This telegram has reached us only this morning," continued Mr. Chaffanbrass. "'Mealyus had a house door-key made in Prague. We have the mould in our possession, and will bring the man who made the key to England.' Now, my lud, the case in the hands of the police, as against this man Mealyus, or Emilius, as he has chosen to call himself, broke down altogether on the presumption that he could not have let himself in and out of the house in which he had put himself to bed on the night of the murder. We now propose to prove that he had prepared himself with the means of doing so, and had done so after a fashion which is conclusive as to his having required the key for some guilty purpose. We assert that your ludship cannot allow the case to go to the jury without taking cognisance of this telegram; and we go further, and say that those twelve men, as twelve human beings with hearts in their bosoms and ordinary intelligence at their command, cannot ignore the message, even should your ludship insist upon their doing so with all the energy at your disposal."
Then there was a scene in Court, and it appeared that no less than four messages had been received from Prague, all to the same effect. One had been addressed by Madame Goesler to her friend the Duchess,—and that message had caused the Duke's appearance on the scene. He had brought his telegram direct to the Old Bailey, and the Chief Justice now held it in his hand. The lawyer's clerk who had accompanied Madame Goesler had telegraphed to the Governor of the gaol, to Mr. Wickerby, and to the Attorney-General. Sir Gregory, rising with the telegram in his hand, stated that he had received the same information. "I do not see," said he, "that it at all alters the evidence as against the prisoner."
"Let your evidence go to the jury, then," said Mr. Chaffanbrass, "with such observations as his lordship may choose to make on the telegram. I shall be contented. You have already got your other man in prison on a charge of bigamy."
"I could not take notice of the message in charging the jury, Mr. Chaffanbrass," said the judge. "It has come, as far as we know, from the energy of a warm friend,—from that hearty friendship with which it seemed yesterday that this gentleman, the prisoner at the bar, has inspired so many men and women of high character. But it proves nothing. It is an assertion. And where should we all be, Mr. Chaffanbrass, if it should appear hereafter that the assertion is fictitious,—prepared purposely to aid the escape of a criminal?"
"I defy you to ignore it, my lord."
"I can only suggest, Mr. Chaffanbrass," continued the judge, "that you should obtain the consent of the gentlemen on the other side to a postponement of my charge."
Then spoke out the foreman of the jury. Was it proposed that they should be locked up till somebody should come from Prague, and that then the trial should be recommenced? The system, said the foreman, under which Middlesex juries were chosen for service in the City was known to be most horribly cruel;—but cruelty to jurymen such as this had never even been heard of. Then a most irregular word was spoken. One of the jurymen declared that he was quite willing to believe the telegram. "Every one believes it," said Mr. Chaffanbrass. Then the Chief Justice scolded the juryman, and Sir Gregory Grogram scolded Mr. Chaffanbrass. It seemed as though all the rules of the Court were to be set at defiance. "Will my learned friend say that he doesn't believe it?" asked Mr. Chaffanbrass. "I neither believe nor disbelieve it; but it cannot affect the evidence," said Sir Gregory. "Then send the case to the jury," said Mr. Chaffanbrass. It seemed that everybody was talking, and Mr. Wickerby, the attorney, tried to explain it all to the prisoner over the bar of the dock, not in the lowest possible voice. The Chief Justice became angry, and the guardian of the silence of the Court bestirred himself energetically. "My lud," said Mr. Chaffanbrass, "I maintain that it is proper that the prisoner should be informed of the purport of these telegrams. Mercy demands it, and justice as well." Phineas Finn, however, did not understand, as he had known nothing about the latch-key of the house in Northumberland Street.
Something, however, must be done. The Chief Justice was of opinion that, although the preparation of a latch-key in Prague could not really affect the evidence against the prisoner,—although the facts against the prisoner would not be altered, let the manufacture of that special key be ever so clearly proved,—nevertheless the jury were entitled to have before them the facts now tendered in evidence before they could be called upon to give a verdict, and that therefore they should submit themselves, in the service of their country, to the very serious additional inconvenience which they would be called upon to endure. Sundry of the jury altogether disagreed with this, and became loud in their anger. They had already been locked up for a week. "And we are quite prepared to give a verdict," said one. The judge again scolded him very severely; and as the Attorney-General did at last assent, and as the unfortunate jurymen had no power in the matter, so it was at last arranged. The trial should be postponed till time should be given for Madame Goesler and the blacksmith to reach London from Prague.
If the matter was interesting to the public before, it became doubly interesting now. It was of course known to everybody that Madame Goesler had undertaken a journey to Bohemia,—and, as many supposed, a roving tour through all the wilder parts of unknown Europe, Poland, Hungary, and the Principalities for instance,—with the object of looking for evidence to save the life of Phineas Finn; and grandly romantic tales were told of her wit, her wealth, and her beauty. The story was published of the Duke of Omnium's will, only not exactly the true story. The late Duke had left her everything at his disposal, and, it was hinted that they had been privately married just before the Duke's death. Of course Madame Goesler became very popular, and the blacksmith from Prague who had made the key was expected with an enthusiasm which almost led to preparation for a public reception.
And yet, let the blacksmith from Prague be ever so minute in his evidence as to the key, let it be made as clear as running water that Mealyus had caused to be constructed for him in Prague a key that would open the door of the house in Northumberland Street, the facts as proved at the trial would not be at all changed. The lawyers were much at variance with their opinions on the matter, some thinking that the judge had been altogether wrong in delaying his charge. According to them he should not have allowed Mr. Chaffanbrass to have read the telegram in Court. The charge should have been given, and the sentence of the Court should have been pronounced if a verdict of guilty were given. The Home Secretary should then have granted a respite till the coming of the blacksmith, and have extended this respite to a pardon, if advised that the circumstances of the latch-key rendered doubtful the propriety of the verdict. Others, however, maintained that in this way a grievous penalty would be inflicted on a man who, by general consent, was now held to be innocent. Not only would he, by such an arrangement of circumstances, have been left for some prolonged period under the agony of a condemnation, but, by the necessity of the case, he would lose his seat for Tankerville. It would be imperative upon the House to declare vacant by its own action a Seat held by a man condemned to death for murder, and no pardon from the Queen or from the Home Secretary would absolve the House from that duty. The House, as a House of Parliament, could only recognise the verdict of the jury as to the man's guilt. The Queen, of course, might pardon whom she pleased, but no pardon from the Queen would remove the guilt implied by the sentence. Many went much further than this, and were prepared to prove that were he once condemned he could not afterwards sit in the House, even if re-elected.
Now there was unquestionably an intense desire,—since the arrival of these telegrams,—that Phineas Finn should retain his seat. It may be a question whether he would not have been the most popular man in the House could he have sat there on the day after the telegrams arrived. The Attorney-General had declared,—and many others had declared with him,—that this information about the latch-key did not in the least affect the evidence as given against Mr. Finn. Could it have been possible to convict the other man, merely because he had surreptitiously caused a door-key of the house in which he lived to be made for him? And how would this new information have been received had Lord Fawn sworn unreservedly that the man he had seen running out of the mews had been Phineas Finn? It was acknowledged that the latchkey could not be accepted as sufficient evidence against Mealyus. But nevertheless the information conveyed by the telegrams altogether changed the opinion of the public as to the guilt or innocence of Phineas Finn. His life now might have been insured, as against the gallows, at a very low rate. It was felt that no jury could convict him, and he was much more pitied in being subjected to a prolonged incarceration than even those twelve unfortunate men who had felt sure that the Wednesday would have been the last day of their unmerited martyrdom.