Justine Found Innocent

Justine Found Innocent

[Fixing Frankenstein chapters]

[This section starts a ways into the original’s eighth chapter. The monster has murdered William, and by placing William’s locket in the dress of the sleeping Justine, framed that young woman — dependent and friend of the family Frankenstein. The italicized parts are lifted word-for-word from the original section. The regular font parts are the interventions.]

Chapter 8

A murmur of approbation followed Elizabeth’s simple and powerful appeal for Justine, 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 dæmon 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, but I prayed divine support and guidance as I rose slowly up, determined to rescue Justine from the malevolent force which first my vanity and then my cowardice had unleashed upon the world. I trembled, tottered, found not the strength to unhinge my jaws; I beseeched anew the heavens, begging the blessed influences aid not me, undeserving wretch and bungler that I had become, but rather I prayed, “Oh, great God!, Make of me a vessel through which you would defend the unjustly maligned Justine! Destroy what is base in me, mold me to your purposes before it is too late!”

Thus steeled against my lower impulses, I cleared my throat and listened as my voice rang out:

“If it please the court! My name is Victor Frankenstein. William was and always will be my brother. Justine I have always and still now do trust with my life. Her possession of a trinket she might, at any time in the last several years, have easily purloined without risk of violence or suspicion; proves only that the impossible is here at work: Some crazed monster has murdered one innocent child and framed another one. It is true that we have not discovered the identity or motive of the true culprit; but if we pretend that the miniature demonstrates Justine’s guilt rather than the existence of a third participant, we merely exchange one impossibly strange conjecture for another. And, further, can someone satisfy me in this detail, one that I find strangely absent from these proceedings: Can anyone present here today describe to this court the evil wound that ended my brother’s happy, generous, playful existence? If someone could please candidly speak on this difficult matter —”

Slowly my father rose, his eyes red with sad and angry tears and his voice hoarse at my betrayal, “his windpipe was crushed! Closed and flattened like a slip of paper! That’s what happened to your brother! That is why we are here! This is the crime on trial!” Tottering he sank slowly back to his seat.

“Justine, how much do you weigh?”

“Sir?”, she began with large incredulous eyes. But immediately her eyes narrowed and brow furrowed in thoughtful understanding. “I weigh 92 pounds.”

“Justine is a small person, a young woman scarcely larger than my brother William. For her to overpower and kill William would be difficult. And she is not in any case strong enough to effect the fatal injury, which was clearly the work of a big, powerful man with large vice-like hands; not of a tiny girl. The pertinent question here is this: how can we find the man responsible for this crime? We know very little about him save that he wields tremendous physical strength. And that, to all appearances, he is cruelly insane. And, finally, that he was in the hollow when William died and quite likely — for what other supposition is left us? — in the barn when Justine slept.”

The courthouse erupted in a confused whirr of gasps and murmurs. The lead judge banged and called for order, which had little impact on the disorder, but which did cause all the chattering attendees to, for the briefest interval, cock one inquisitive eye towards his honorableness. Chaos reigned. And then occurred a most miraculous and wonderful event. The owner of the barn jumped to his feet, wringing his hat in his hands, bulbous pocked nose twitching, a grimace on his ruddy weatherworn face, “I, I, I ha ha have ss suh some something to s-s-s-say!” he stuttered, eyes shut in concentration and embarrassment. At length, through the heavy impediment for which he was known and because of which his wife generally spoke for the both of them, the shy stutterer gave his testimony.

Until hearing my speech, he’d not considered the matter relevant, as he’d not seen the giant near the barn but rather out in the field, and then not on the day of the murder but the day before, and then again not up close but from afar; but now he realizes that it had of course all along been his solemn civic and religious duty to report the appearance of a stranger so near in time and space to the heinous crime. A man uncommon large, so large and ill-formed that this witness could with conviction maintain that he, for one, had never before laid eyes upon the fellow.

Everyone began talking at once. My father caved forward, hands in his face, bawling. Elizabeth rested her hand lightly on his back. Justine’s shoulders curved inward like a rose closing in upon itself. A pained melancholy creased her soft shining slightly-bowed face, but still she looked towards me and caught my eye with her tearfully grateful ones.

A surge of malicious vindictive rage tore through me. Now! Now I had my mob! Now I had my weapon! Now I had my revenge! But as I cleared my throat to condemn the monster, a sudden wariness seized me by the shoulders, telling me that my cause could only be won within the bounds of just law and fair practice. “We do not know whether or not the man witnessed by M. Lemaitre murdered William, but we must do what we can to find and question him. And we should not detain Mme Moritz, for even had no one sighted another suspect near this place of infamy, she lacks the bodily might — to say nothing of her sweet and gentle temperament — of our murderer.”

In light of these new circumstances, the court declared Justine innocent of all charges. Elizabeth embraced her, both sets of tiny shoulders convulsing in the exhausted sobs of one who can endure no more. My father and brother stood perfectly upright, as if lightning struck, heads bent ever so slightly back, giant dazed eyes tending heavenward. Eventually my father, eyes downcast and lips and brow pursed, offered Justine his hand and his apology, intoning three times his shame at his previous conduct.

My head spun like a faltering top. My thoughts were swirling ghost ships of strangely luminescent pastels. Choked nausea scorched my chest and my breath suffocated within itself. I knew that no one in my family or indeed the world would be safe until the monster lay vanquished; but how could we hope to prevail over a superhuman demon?

I know not from what hidden stores of fortitude and willpower my resolve came, but I resisted the temptation to stagger silently home and into my bed; and instead informed my family members that, adverse to further excitements though we all surely were, we must now fly home and convene immediately behind double-bolted doors, from which stronghold I should relate information critical to our safety.

Once safely barricaded in the study, I drew them to the corner furthest from the door. Considering the actual facts too incredible, I explained merely that, though not currently at liberty to reveal all particulars, I had good reason to believe I knew the giant in question, and, further, that he was both deranged and brutally disposed towards myself and any I held dear.

Even this greatly abridged account was met with confused disbelief.

“But Victor!”, began my father, “You were three days’ journey from here when we lost William! Are we to believe this man discovered the whereabouts of your home, journeyed here alone, for days concealed his great bulk from us whilst lurking, awaiting a favorable opportunity; eventually found one and so crushed the windpipe of our dear William, a mere lad innocent of any offense and hitherto unknown to the fiend; and finally, having not yet acquired his fill of evil absurdities and ridiculous improbabilities, located and framed the wandering Justine? It’s all too fantastical!”

I consented that it was indeed impossible and yet at least some portion of that uncanny scenario had indeed transpired; for the behemoth had been seen by both myself and M. Lemaitre, and what other than the monster’s inhuman grip could have robbed William of his life and us our happiness?

After much deliberation, we agreed that the family — each of us at all times armed with pistol, knife, and cudgel — should live exclusively in the back guest house, with armed guards stationed liberally throughout our property. We swore a solemn oath to a simple and straight-forward command: If anyone over seven feet tall attempts to enter the property, shoot him dead.

Then passed the most miserable 40 days of my life. At every rustling, every thud, every creak and groan, my bowels twitched, fingers quivered over my pistol; mouth and throat became a desert, eyes a seastorm. Elizabeth tried to comfort me, but her boundless generosity and matchless beauty only intensified my torments: this angel, this godsend, this gift for which any man would be eternally grateful, this I had ignored, overlooked, as good as scorned that I might more heedlessly pursue my vain, unconsidered, hollow ambitions! She and all the others I now risked. And William I could never bring back. That stain on our happiness was not to be expunged. For no reason worth the name, I’d sacrificed my family’s blissful togetherness, permanently marring our blessed estate. True and just as they were, I fought against such debilitating reflections with all my might; in the future, I promised myself, there’d be time enough for self-reproach; but duty now demanded I concentrate solely upon the immediate security of my remaining family members.

On the 40th night of our vigil I was awoken in the middle of a thunder-split, downpouring night by a terrible clatter on the rooftop. I rang the large bell hanging beside my bedside, threw on my clothes, stuffed a dagger in my boot and two loaded pistols in my belt, picked up a cudgel and went out to the hallway to await the others. With all assembled and accounted for, we dispatched two guards to the roof, four more to secure the perimeter, and the remaining six took their places next to the windows and doors of the parlor, surrounding the family, with Ernst, my father, and myself in turn surrounding Elizabeth and Justine.

An aeon journeyed its semi-eternal course as we waited in hushed, panting, expectant silence. I felt the adventures of my life funneled as if through a whirlpool into this one dread moment within which lay my fate. Succeeding here I might perhaps yet bury my heart in the affections of human society and become again linked to the chain of existence from which my crime and its consequences had divorced me. Failing here, on the contrary, meant certain and irrevocable defeat, my eternal banishment from human faith and joy.

Suddenly with a tremendous crash and clatter the monster exploded through the shattering glass, tossed my father into the chimney, and, with Elizabeth scooped in one arm and Ernst in another, dashed towards the door. Pistols were worse than useless; they were more likely to destroy Elizabeth or Ernst than the monster shielded behind their writhing bodies. I stood in helpless dazed dismay, weapons at my side.

All would’ve been lost, but that Ernst and Elizabeth were yet armed. The former’s dagger found the monster’s side as the latter’s crudgel whacked his kneecap. He stumbled into a sofa and Ernst managed to get free. The fiend, however, still held Elizabeth in his vicelike grasp. With a cruel, twisted smirk he reached for her throat.

And was this how it should end? Would my creation yet wrest my beating heart from out my chest? For was it not my very heart, soul, redemption, and reason whose end he now prepared?

Valiant Elizabeth squirmed to one side and, illumined as if by lightning flash, I saw my opening. I lunged with dagger forward and, finding a small portion of the menace’s lower abdomen momentarily exposed, plunged in my knife with a crazed war-whoop. The monster howled and I struck his jaw with my fist, wherein lay concentrated the fury and desperation of all I’d done and suffered. The combined attacks were enough to momentarily loose the wretch from his intention, and I tumbled with Elizabeth backwards, away from our enemy.

The guards filled the monster with two volleys of pistol fire, and when the smoke had cleared, a great bleeding carcass with screwed-up eyes and twisted mouth sprawled across the beautiful Egyptian rug purchased by my great grandfather, a merchant and adventurer not insensible to the good opinion of the Ottomans.

Our casualties were slight. My father’s dislocated shoulder and broken arm we soon set right. Ernst and Elizabeth were battered and bruised, but only superficially. My fist had turned to iron while bestowing the miraculous blow that subdued our foe; I was unscathed.

For nearly a week silence reigned. Elizabeth and I held each other without exchanging five sentences. My father directed and thanked guards and servants, but greeted his kin with only a thin, gentle but exhausted and retreating smile. Ernst too kept his own counsel. The monster I in my mad ambition and heedless pride had constructed and ensouled our servants buried in a deep unmarked grave beside a weeping willow where I as a youth had spent many a happy hour stretched on my back, dreaming of healing potions and benevolent transmutations.

Five days after our near deaths, my father called me into his study.

“Victor, I do not want to disturb what little peace you’ve regained, but your family has a right and a need to know what stole our easy peace and carefree days.”

All color drained my face. Steadying myself on my father’s ancient mahogany writing desk, I responded with a slow and downcast nod.

. . . .

Was this monster more the product of my careless, arrogant, selfish science; or my stingy, fearful, selfish heart?

What did we kill that night? An enraged, confused beast? A mindless machine? A wounded, outraged man?

I cannot answer these and many other questions. I must wait a lifetime ere I know the full list and extent of my crimes.

Full virtue and happiness belongs only to those wise and/or lucky enough to do no harm. That complete satisfaction of the soul in nature I’ve forfeited. But please, God, take what is left of me and use it to your purpose — always, come what may, amen.

[Return to original Frankenstein: Middle of Chapter 8]

Copyright: Andrew Watson

[Fixing Frankenstein chapters]

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