The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Phineas at Bay: A Tasting Menu (1)

Without giving any spoilers, I thought it might be fun to share a few moments from Phineas at Bay that might not be in the preview, but might give some of the flavor of the whole. Here's the first, a glimpse of Phineas in court, representing a young Welsh miner accused of riot, in a politically-charged private prosecution at the Old Bailey, funded by Sir William McScuttle, the mine owner and a heavy donor to Phineas's own Liberal Party. Phineas is accompanied by his orphaned niece, Clarissa Riley, her suitor Savrola Vavsor, and his old friend, Oswald, the former Lord Chiltern, now Earl of Brentford:
Phineas moved to his seat casually, spreading a few papers, placing his pen just so, and looking around the courtroom until he saw Brentford’s party. As the judge had not yet entered, the barrister tipped a quick wink to his niece and smiled at Brentford and Savrola both. Phineas extended his hand to the leading barrister appearing for the prosecution, a gaunt, balding man only a little past his own age, but looking older. This barrister, Sir Simon Slope, had once been Solicitor-General, and in that capacity had been the junior barrister for the Crown against Phineas himself. It was thought that this unusual re-encounter was a stratagem on the part of Sir William McScuttle, an effort to rattle Phineas by placing him in the same courtroom in which he had stood trial for his life, against the very man who would have seen him hanged.

Brentford smiled, a trifle grimly. That little stratagem did not appear to be working, if Phineas’s calm good humor in shaking the hand of his adversary, and exchanging some pleasantry with him was any indication. He mentioned the fact to Savrola Vavasor, who let out a soft whistle.

“The cheek of it!” he exclaimed softly. And Clarissa’s white hand gripped his own, and her milky flesh paled even more as she gazed in horror at the man whose energies and skills had been directed at the hanging of her beloved Uncle Phineas for another’s crime.

But now the usher was declaiming “Be upstanding!” and the judge was making his grand entrance: Sir Lemuel Bullfry, large and pouched, with deep-set eyes, resembled an amphibian, a fact that, combined with his name, had earned him the obvious soubriquet. Still, he bore the scarlet and ermine well, and played his part in the medieval mummery that ornaments the process by which years of a man’s life—nay, his very life!—may be deemed forfeit. But to call the pageantry in which the trial is cloaked mummery is to display ignorance of its purpose, the solemnization of one of the great functions of the people acting as a community, the weighing of guilt or innocence, and the meting out of the communal judgment on the accused. For the criminal trial is many things—a search for truth, a drama, a battle in which every technique of rhetoric and wit is brought to bear in the contest for victory. But it is nothing quite so much as it is a crucible testing the characters of all involved, though none so harshly as that of the accused, which must, unless it is of true steel, crack.

Phineas Finn had not cracked. Neither, though, had that other man, Joseph Emilius. If ever they were to meet, each would have the measure of the other in a way that very few could understand, almost none who had not undergone the ordeal they each had survived. While the one man strove to use his days to do good, and the other sought to bend the precepts of good to his own uses, both had faced the extremity of fear and shame—and had come through intact.

Now the test was upon poor Ifor Powlett-Jones, young, and without the friendship, or the education, or the sheer anger that had strengthened the man now defending him in his own hour. Phineas met the lad’s eyes as he was put into the dock, and tried to will some of his own confidence and buoyancy into him. The adrenaline of arriving at the day of hazard had revived poor Powlett-Jones a little, and he stood in the dock, dreadfully pale, but composed, the trembling in his hands suppressed by his grip on the rail of the dock. He looked terribly young, and terribly innocent.
Hope you enjoyed; another sample to follow Thursday.

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