CHAPTER IX: The Hero of the Trial. Free audiobook of Wilkie Collins’s “Poor Miss Finch”. Audio courtesy of Librivox.
CHAPTER THE NINTH
The Hero of the Trial
“You have forced it out of me. Now you have had your way, never mind my feelings–Go!”
Those were the first words the Hero of the Trial said to me, when he was able to speak again! He withdrew with a curious sullen resignation to the farther end of the room. There he stood looking at me, as a man might have looked who carried some contagion about him, and who wished to preserve a healthy fellow-creature from the peril of touching him.
“Why should I go?” I asked.
“You are a bold woman,” he said, “to remain in the same room with a man who has been pointed at as a murderer, and who has been tried for his life.”
The same unhealthy state of mind which had brought him to Dimchurch, and which had led him to speak to me as he had spoken on the previous evening, was, as I understood it, now irritating him against me as a person who had made his own quick temper the means of entrapping him into letting out the truth. How was I to deal with a man in this condition? I decided to perform the feat which you call in England, “taking the bull by the horns.”
“I see but one man here,” I said. “A man honorably acquitted of a crime which he was incapable of committing. A man who deserves my interest, and claims my sympathy. Shake hands, Mr. Dubourg.”
I spoke to him in a good hearty voice, and I gave him a good hearty squeeze. The poor, weak, lonely, persecuted young fellow dropped his head on my shoulder like a child, and burst out crying.
“Don’t despise me!” he said, as soon as he had got his breath again. “It breaks a man down to have stood in the dock, and to have had hundreds of hard-hearted people staring at him in horror–without his deserving it. Besides, I have been very lonely, ma’am, since my brother left me.”
We sat down again, side by side. He was the strangest compound of anomalies I had ever met with. Throw him into one of those passions in which he flamed out so easily–and you would have said, This is a tiger. Wait till he had cooled down again to his customary mild temperature–and you would have said with equal truth, This is a lamb.
“One thing rather surprises me, Mr. Dubourg,” I went on. “I can’t quite understand—-”
“Don’t call me Mr. Dubourg,” he interposed. “You remind me of the disgrace which has forced me to change my name. Call me by my Christian name. It’s a foreign name. You are a foreigner by your accent–you will like me all the better for having a foreign name. I was christened ‘Oscar’–after my mother’s brother: my mother was a Jersey woman. Call me ‘Oscar.’–What is it you don’t understand?”
“In your present situation,” I resumed, “I don’t understand your brother leaving you here all by yourself.”
He was on the point of flaming out again at that.
“Not a word against my brother!” he exclaimed fiercely. “My brother is the noblest creature that God ever created! You must own that yourself–you know what he did at the trial. I should have died on the scaffold but for that angel. I insist on it that he is not a man. He is an angel!”
(I admitted that his brother was an angel. The concession instantly pacified him.)