We passed a few sad hours until eleven o'clock, when the trial was
to commence. My father and the rest of the family being obliged to
attend as witnesses, I accompanied them to the court. During the
whole of this wretched mockery of justice I suffered living torture.
It was to be decided whether the result of my curiosity and
lawless devices would cause the death of two of my fellow beings:
one a smiling babe full of innocence and joy, the other far
more dreadfully murdered, with every aggravation of infamy that
could make the murder memorable in horror. Justine also was a girl
of merit and possessed qualities which promised to render her life
happy; now all was to be obliterated in an ignominious grave,
and I the cause! A thousand times rather would I have confessed
myself guilty of the crime ascribed to Justine, but I was absent
when it was committed, and such a declaration would have been
considered as the ravings of a madman and would not have exculpated
her who suffered through me.
The appearance of Justine was calm. She was dressed in mourning,
and her countenance, always engaging, was rendered, by the solemnity
of her feelings, exquisitely beautiful. Yet she appeared confident
in innocence and did not tremble, although gazed on and execrated
by thousands, for all the kindness which her beauty might otherwise
have excited was obliterated in the minds of the spectators by the
imagination of the enormity she was supposed to have committed.
She was tranquil, yet her tranquillity was evidently constrained;
and as her confusion had before been adduced as a proof of her guilt,
she worked up her mind to an appearance of courage. When she entered
the court she threw her eyes round it and quickly discovered where
we were seated. A tear seemed to dim her eye when she saw us,
but she quickly recovered herself, and a look of sorrowful affection
seemed to attest her utter guiltlessness.
The trial began, and after the advocate against her had stated the charge,
several witnesses were called. Several strange facts combined against her,
which might have staggered anyone who had not such proof of her innocence
as I had. She had been out the whole of the night on which the murder
had been committed and towards morning had been perceived by a market-woman
not far from the spot where the body of the murdered child had been
afterwards found. The woman asked her what she did there, but she looked
very strangely and only returned a confused and unintelligible answer.
She returned to the house about eight o'clock, and when one inquired
where she had passed the night, she replied that she had been
looking for the child and demanded earnestly if anything had
been heard concerning him. When shown the body, she fell into
violent hysterics and kept her bed for several days. The picture
was then produced which the servant had found in her pocket;
and when Elizabeth, in a faltering voice, proved that it was the
same which, an hour before the child had been missed, she had placed
round his neck, a murmur of horror and indignation filled the court.
Justine was called on for her defence. As the trial had proceeded,
her countenance had altered. Surprise, horror, and misery were
strongly expressed. Sometimes she struggled with her tears,
but when she was desired to plead, she collected her powers
and spoke in an audible although variable voice.
"God knows," she said, "how entirely I am innocent. But I do
not pretend that my protestations should acquit me; I rest my
innocence on a plain and simple explanation of the facts which have
been adduced against me, and I hope the character I have always
borne will incline my judges to a favourable interpretation where
any circumstance appears doubtful or suspicious."
She then related that, by the permission of Elizabeth, she had
passed the evening of the night on which the murder had been
committed at the house of an aunt at Chene, a village situated at
about a league from Geneva. On her return, at about nine o'clock,
she met a man who asked her if she had seen anything of the child
who was lost. She was alarmed by this account and passed several
hours in looking for him, when the gates of Geneva were shut,
and she was forced to remain several hours of the night in a
barn belonging to a cottage, being unwilling to call up the
inhabitants, to whom she was well known. Most of the night she
spent here watching; towards morning she believed that she slept
for a few minutes; some steps disturbed her, and she awoke. It was
dawn, and she quitted her asylum, that she might again endeavour to
find my brother. If she had gone near the spot where his body lay,
it was without her knowledge. That she had been bewildered when
questioned by the market-woman was not surprising, since she had
passed a sleepless night and the fate of poor William was yet
uncertain. Concerning the picture she could give no account.
"I know," continued the unhappy victim, "how heavily and fatally
this one circumstance weighs against me, but I have no power of
explaining it; and when I have expressed my utter ignorance, I am
only left to conjecture concerning the probabilities by which it
might have been placed in my pocket. But here also I am checked.
I believe that I have no enemy on earth, and none surely would have
been so wicked as to destroy me wantonly. Did the murderer place
it there? I know of no opportunity afforded him for so doing;
or, if I had, why should he have stolen the jewel, to part with
it again so soon?
"I commit my cause to the justice of my judges, yet I see no room for hope.
I beg permission to have a few witnesses examined concerning my character,
and if their testimony shall not overweigh my supposed guilt, I must
be condemned, although I would pledge my salvation on my innocence."
Several witnesses were called who had known her for many years, and they
spoke well of her; but fear and hatred of the crime of which they supposed
her guilty rendered them timorous and unwilling to come forward. Elizabeth
saw even this last resource, her excellent dispositions and irreproachable
conduct, about to fail the accused, when, although violently agitated,
she desired permission to address the court.
"I am," said she, "the cousin of the unhappy child who was
murdered, or rather his sister, for I was educated by and have
lived with his parents ever since and even long before his birth.
It may therefore be judged indecent in me to come forward on
this occasion, but when I see a fellow creature about to perish
through the cowardice of her pretended friends, I wish to be
allowed to speak, that I may say what I know of her character.
I am well acquainted with the accused. I have lived in the same house
with her, at one time for five and at another for nearly two years.
During all that period she appeared to me the most amiable and
benevolent of human creatures. She nursed Madame Frankenstein,
my aunt, in her last illness, with the greatest affection and care
and afterwards attended her own mother during a tedious illness,
in a manner that excited the admiration of all who knew her,
after which she again lived in my uncle's house, where she was beloved
by all the family. She was warmly attached to the child who is
now dead and acted towards him like a most affectionate mother.
For my own part, I do not hesitate to say that, notwithstanding
all the evidence produced against her, I believe and rely on her
perfect innocence. She had no temptation for such an action;
as to the bauble on which the chief proof rests, if she had earnestly
desired it, I should have willingly given it to her, so much do I
esteem and value her."
A murmur of approbation followed Elizabeth's simple and powerful appeal,
but it was excited by her generous interference, and not in favour of poor
Justine, on whom the public indignation was turned with renewed violence,
charging her with the blackest ingratitude. She herself wept as Elizabeth
spoke, but she did not answer. My own agitation and anguish was extreme
during the whole trial. I believed in her innocence; I knew it.
Could the demon who had (I did not for a minute doubt) murdered my brother
also in his hellish sport have betrayed the innocent to death and ignominy?
I could not sustain the horror of my situation, and when I perceived
that the popular voice and the countenances of the judges had already
condemned my unhappy victim, I rushed out of the court in agony.
The tortures of the accused did not equal mine; she was sustained
by innocence, but the fangs of remorse tore my bosom and would not
forgo their hold.
I passed a night of unmingled wretchedness. In the morning I went
to the court; my lips and throat were parched. I dared not ask the
fatal question, but I was known, and the officer guessed the cause
of my visit. The ballots had been thrown; they were all black,
and Justine was condemned.
I cannot pretend to describe what I then felt. I had before
experienced sensations of horror, and I have endeavoured to bestow
upon them adequate expressions, but words cannot convey an idea of
the heart-sickening despair that I then endured. The person to
whom I addressed myself added that Justine had already confessed
her guilt. "That evidence," he observed, "was hardly required in
so glaring a case, but I am glad of it, and, indeed, none of our
judges like to condemn a criminal upon circumstantial evidence,
be it ever so decisive."
This was strange and unexpected intelligence; what could it mean?
Had my eyes deceived me? And was I really as mad as the whole
world would believe me to be if I disclosed the object of my
suspicions? I hastened to return home, and Elizabeth eagerly
demanded the result.
"My cousin," replied I, "it is decided as you may have expected;
all judges had rather that ten innocent should suffer than that one
guilty should escape. But she has confessed."
This was a dire blow to poor Elizabeth, who had relied with
firmness upon Justine's innocence. "Alas!" said she. "How shall
I ever again believe in human goodness? Justine, whom I loved and
esteemed as my sister, how could she put on those smiles of
innocence only to betray? Her mild eyes seemed incapable of any
severity or guile, and yet she has committed a murder."
Soon after we heard that the poor victim had expressed a desire
to see my cousin. My father wished her not to go but said that
he left it to her own judgment and feelings to decide. "Yes," said
Elizabeth, "I will go, although she is guilty; and you, Victor,
shall accompany me; I cannot go alone." The idea of this visit was
torture to me, yet I could not refuse. We entered the gloomy
prison chamber and beheld Justine sitting on some straw at the
farther end; her hands were manacled, and her head rested on her knees.
She rose on seeing us enter, and when we were left alone with her,
she threw herself at the feet of Elizabeth, weeping bitterly.
My cousin wept also.
"Oh, Justine!" said she. "Why did you rob me of my last consolation?
I relied on your innocence, and although I was then very wretched,
I was not so miserable as I am now."
"And do you also believe that I am so very, very wicked? Do you
also join with my enemies to crush me, to condemn me as a murderer?"
Her voice was suffocated with sobs.
"Rise, my poor girl," said Elizabeth; "why do you kneel, if you
are innocent? I am not one of your enemies, I believed you guiltless,
notwithstanding every evidence, until I heard that you had yourself
declared your guilt. That report, you say, is false; and be
assured, dear Justine, that nothing can shake my confidence in you
for a moment, but your own confession."
"I did confess, but I confessed a lie. I confessed, that I might
obtain absolution; but now that falsehood lies heavier at my heart
than all my other sins. The God of heaven forgive me! Ever since
I was condemned, my confessor has besieged me; he threatened and
menaced, until I almost began to think that I was the monster that
he said I was. He threatened excommunication and hell fire in my
last moments if I continued obdurate. Dear lady, I had none to
support me; all looked on me as a wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition.
What could I do? In an evil hour I subscribed to a lie; and now only
am I truly miserable."
She paused, weeping, and then continued, "I thought with horror,
my sweet lady, that you should believe your Justine, whom your
blessed aunt had so highly honoured, and whom you loved, was a creature
capable of a crime which none but the devil himself could have perpetrated.
Dear William! dearest blessed child! I soon shall see you again in heaven,
where we shall all be happy; and that consoles me, going as I am to suffer
ignominy and death."
"Oh, Justine! Forgive me for having for one moment distrusted you.
Why did you confess? But do not mourn, dear girl. Do not fear.
I will proclaim, I will prove your innocence. I will melt the
stony hearts of your enemies by my tears and prayers. You shall
not die! You, my playfellow, my companion, my sister, perish on the
scaffold! No! No! I never could survive so horrible a misfortune."
Justine shook her head mournfully. "I do not fear to die," she said;
"that pang is past. God raises my weakness and gives me courage
to endure the worst. I leave a sad and bitter world; and if you
remember me and think of me as of one unjustly condemned, I am
resigned to the fate awaiting me. Learn from me, dear lady,
to submit in patience to the will of heaven!"
During this conversation I had retired to a corner of the prison room,
where I could conceal the horrid anguish that possessed me.
Despair! Who dared talk of that? The poor victim, who on the
morrow was to pass the awful boundary between life and death,
felt not, as I did, such deep and bitter agony. I gnashed my teeth and
ground them together, uttering a groan that came from my inmost soul.
Justine started. When she saw who it was, she approached me and said,
"Dear sir, you are very kind to visit me; you, I hope, do not believe
that I am guilty?"
I could not answer. "No, Justine," said Elizabeth; "he is more
convinced of your innocence than I was, for even when he heard
that you had confessed, he did not credit it."
"I truly thank him. In these last moments I feel the sincerest
gratitude towards those who think of me with kindness. How sweet
is the affection of others to such a wretch as I am! It removes
more than half my misfortune, and I feel as if I could die in peace now
that my innocence is acknowledged by you, dear lady, and your cousin."
Thus the poor sufferer tried to comfort others and herself.
She indeed gained the resignation she desired. But I, the true
murderer, felt the never-dying worm alive in my bosom, which allowed
of no hope or consolation. Elizabeth also wept and was unhappy,
but hers also was the misery of innocence, which, like a cloud
that passes over the fair moon, for a while hides but cannot tarnish
its brightness. Anguish and despair had penetrated into the core
of my heart; I bore a hell within me which nothing could extinguish.
We stayed several hours with Justine, and it was with great difficulty
that Elizabeth could tear herself away. "I wish," cried she,
"that I were to die with you; I cannot live in this world of misery."
Justine assumed an air of cheerfulness, while she with difficulty
repressed her bitter tears. She embraced Elizabeth and said in a
voice of half-suppressed emotion, "Farewell, sweet lady, dearest
Elizabeth, my beloved and only friend; may heaven, in its bounty,
bless and preserve you; may this be the last misfortune that you
will ever suffer! Live, and be happy, and make others so."
And on the morrow Justine died. Elizabeth's heart-rending
eloquence failed to move the judges from their settled conviction
in the criminality of the saintly sufferer. My passionate and
indignant appeals were lost upon them. And when I received their
cold answers and heard the harsh, unfeeling reasoning of these men,
my purposed avowal died away on my lips. Thus I might proclaim
myself a madman, but not revoke the sentence passed upon my
wretched victim. She perished on the scaffold as a murderess!
From the tortures of my own heart, I turned to contemplate the
deep and voiceless grief of my Elizabeth. This also was my doing!
And my father's woe, and the desolation of that late so smiling home
all was the work of my thrice-accursed hands! Ye weep, unhappy ones,
but these are not your last tears! Again shall you raise the
funeral wail, and the sound of your lamentations shall again and
again be heard! Frankenstein, your son, your kinsman, your early,
much-loved friend; he who would spend each vital drop of blood for
your sakes, who has no thought nor sense of joy except as it is
mirrored also in your dear countenances, who would fill the air
with blessings and spend his life in serving you--he bids you weep,
to shed countless tears; happy beyond his hopes, if thus inexorable
fate be satisfied, and if the destruction pause before the peace of
the grave have succeeded to your sad torments!
Thus spoke my prophetic soul, as, torn by remorse, horror, and despair,
I beheld those I loved spend vain sorrow upon the graves of William
and Justine, the first hapless victims to my unhallowed arts.