I was questioned several times immediately after my arrest. But they were all formal examinations, as to my identity and so forth. At the first of these, which took place at the police station, nobody seemed to have much interest in the case. However, when I was brought before the examining magistrate a week later, I noticed that he eyed me with distinct curiosity. Like the others, he began by asking my name, address, and occupation, the date and place of my birth. Then he inquired if I had chosen a lawyer to defend me. I answered, “No,” I hadn’t thought about it, and asked him if it was really necessary for me to have one.
“Why do you ask that?” he said. I replied that I regarded my case as very simple. He smiled. “Well, it may seem so to you. But we’ve got to abide by the law, and, if you don’t engage a lawyer, the court will have to appoint one for you.”
It struck me as an excellent arrangement that the authorities should see to details of this kind, and I told him so. He nodded, and agreed that the Code was all that could be desired.
At first I didn’t take him quite seriously. The room in which he interviewed me was much like an ordinary sitting room, with curtained windows, and a single lamp standing on the desk. Its light fell on the armchair in which he’d had me sit, while his own face stayed in shadow.
I had read descriptions of such scenes in books, and at first it all seemed like a game. After our conversation, however, I had a good look at him. He was a tall man with clean-cut features, deep-set blue eyes, a big gray mustache, and abundant, almost snow-white hair, and he gave me the impression of being highly intelligent and, on the whole, likable enough. There was only one thing that put one off: his mouth had now and then a rather ugly twist; but it seemed to be only a sort of nervous tic. When leaving, I very nearly held out my hand and said, “Good-by”; just in time I remembered that I’d killed a man.
Next day a lawyer came to my cell; a small, plump, youngish man with sleek black hair. In spite of the heat—I was in my shirt sleeves—he was wearing a dark suit, stiff collar, and a rather showy tie, with broad black and white stripes. After depositing his brief case on my bed, he introduced himself, and added that he’d perused the record of my case with the utmost care. His opinion was that it would need cautious handling, but there was every prospect of my getting off, provided I followed his advice. I thanked him, and he said: “Good. Now let’s get down to it.”
Sitting on the bed, he said that they’d been making investigations into my private life. They had learned that my mother died recently in a home. Inquiries had been conducted at Marengo and the police informed that I’d shown “great callousness” at my mother’s funeral.
“You must understand,” the lawyer said, “that I don’t relish having to question you about such a matter. But it has much importance, and, unless I find some way of answering the charge of ‘callousness,’ I shall be handicapped in conducting your defense. And that is where you, and only you, can help me.”
He went on to ask if I had felt grief on that “sad occasion.” The question struck me as an odd one; I’d have been much embarrassed if I’d had to ask anyone a thing like that.
I answered that, of recent years, I’d rather lost the habit of noting my feelings, and hardly knew what to answer. I could truthfully say I’d been quite fond of Mother—but really that didn’t mean much. All normal people, I added as on afterthought, had more or less desired the death of those they loved, at some time or another.
Here the lawyer interrupted me, looking greatly perturbed.
“You must promise me not to say anything of that sort at the trial, or to the examining magistrate.”
I promised, to satisfy him, but I explained that my physical condition at any given moment often influenced my feelings. For instance, on the day I attended Mother’s funeral, I was fagged out and only half awake. So, really, I hardly took stock of what was happening. Anyhow, I could assure him of one thing: that I’d rather Mother hadn’t died.
The lawyer, however, looked displeased. “That’s not enough,” he said curtly.
After considering for a bit he asked me if he could say that on that day I had kept my feelings under control.
“No,” I said. “That wouldn’t be true.”
He gave me a queer look, as if I slightly revolted him; then informed me, in an almost hostile tone, that in any case the head of the Home and some of the staff would be cited as witnesses.
“And that might do you a very nasty turn,” he concluded.
When I suggested that Mother’s death had no connection with the charge against me, he merely replied that this remark showed I’d never had any dealings with the law.
Soon after this he left, looking quite vexed. I wished he had stayed longer and I could have explained that I desired his sympathy, not for him to make a better job of my defense, but, if I might put it so, spontaneously. I could see that I got on his nerves; he couldn’t make me out, and, naturally enough, this irritated him. Once or twice I had a mind to assure him that I was just like everybody else; quite an ordinary person. But really that would have served no great purpose, and I let it go—out of laziness as much as anything else.
Later in the day I was taken again to the examining magistrate’s office. It was two in the afternoon and, this time, the room was flooded with light—there was only a thin curtain on the window—and extremely hot.
After inviting me to sit down, the magistrate informed me in a very polite tone that, “owing to unforeseen circumstances,” my lawyer was unable to be present. I should be quite entitled, he added, to reserve my answers to his questions until my lawyer could attend.
To this I replied that I could answer for myself. He pressed a bell push on his desk and a young clerk came in and seated himself just behind me. Then we—I and the magistrate—settled back in our chairs and the examination began. He led off by remarking that I had the reputation of being a taciturn, rather self-centered person, and he’d like to know what I had to say to that. I answered:
“Well, I rarely have anything much to say. So, naturally I keep my mouth shut.”
He smiled as on the previous occasion, and agreed that that was the best of reasons. “In any case,” he added, “it has little or no importance.”
After a short silence he suddenly leaned forward, looked me in the eyes, and said, raising his voice a little:
“What really interests me is—you!”
I wasn’t quite clear what he meant, so I made no comment.
“There are several things,” he continued, “that puzzle me about your crime. I feel sure that you will help me to understand them.”
When I replied that really it was quite simple, he asked me to give him an account of what I’d done that day. As a matter of fact, I had already told him at our first interview—in a summary sort of way, of course—about Raymond, the beach, our swim, the fight, then the beach again, and the five shots I’d fired. But I went over it all again, and after each phrase he nodded. “Quite so, quite so.” When I described the body lying on the sand, he nodded more emphatically, and said, “Good!” I was tired of repeating the same story; I felt as if I’d never talked so much in all my life before.
After another silence he stood up and said he’d like to help me; I interested him, and, with God’s help, he would do something for me in my trouble. But, first, he must put a few more questions.
He began by asking bluntly if I’d loved my mother.
“Yes,” I replied, “like everybody else.” The clerk behind me, who had been typing away at a steady pace, must just then have hit the wrong keys, as I heard him pushing the carrier back and crossing something out.
Next, without any apparent logical connection, the magistrate sprang another question.
“Why did you fire five consecutive shots?”
I thought for a bit; then explained that they weren’t quite consecutive. I fired one at first, and the other four after a short interval.
“Why did you pause between the first and second shot?”
I seemed to see it hovering again before my eyes, the red glow of the beach, and to feel that fiery breath on my cheeks—and, this time, I made no answer.
During the silence that followed, the magistrate kept fidgeting, running his fingers through his hair, half rising, then sitting down again. Finally, planting his elbows on the desk, he bent toward me with a queer expression.
“But why, why did you go on firing at a prostrate man?”
Again I found nothing to reply.
The magistrate drew his hand across his forehead and repeated in a slightly different tone:
“I ask you ‘Why?’ I insist on your telling me.” I still kept silent.
Suddenly he rose, walked to a file cabinet standing against the opposite wall, pulled a drawer open, and took from it a silver crucifix, which he was waving as he came back to the desk.
“Do you know who this is?” His voice had changed completely; it was vibrant with emotion.
“Of course I do,” I answered.
That seemed to start him off; he began speaking at a great pace. He told me he believed in God, and that even the worst of sinners could obtain forgiveness of Him. But first he must repent, and become like a little child, with a simple, trustful heart, open to conviction. He was leaning right across the table, brandishing his crucifix before my eyes.
As a matter of fact, I had great difficulty in following his remarks, as, for one thing, the office was so stiflingly hot and big flies were buzzing round and settling on my cheeks; also because he rather alarmed me. Of course, I realized it was absurd to feel like this, considering that, after all, it was I who was the criminal. However, as he continued talking, I did my best to understand, and I gathered that there was only one point in my confession that badly needed clearing up—the fact that I’d waited before firing a second time. All the rest was, so to speak, quite in order; but that completely baffled him.
I started to tell him that he was wrong in insisting on this; the point was of quite minor importance. But, before I could get the words out, he had drawn himself up to his full height and was asking me very earnestly if I believed in God. When I said, “No,” he plumped down into his chair indignantly.
That was unthinkable, he said; all men believe in God, even those who reject Him. Of this he was absolutely sure; if ever he came to doubt it, his life would lose all meaning. “Do you wish,” he asked indignantly, “my life to have no meaning?” Really I couldn’t see how my wishes came into it, and I told him as much.
While I was talking, he thrust the crucifix again just under my nose and shouted: “I, anyhow, am a Christian. And I pray Him to forgive you for your sins. My poor young man, how can you not believe that He suffered for your sake?”
I noticed that his manner seemed genuinely solicitous when he said, “My poor young man”—but I was beginning to have enough of it. The room was growing steadily hotter.
As I usually do when I want to get rid of someone whose conversation bores me, I pretended to agree. At which, rather to my surprise, his face lit up.
“You see! You see! Now won’t you own that you believe and put your trust in Him?”
I must have shaken my head again, for he sank back in his chair, looking limp and dejected.
For some moments there was a silence during which the typewriter, which had been clicking away all the time we talked, caught up with the last remark. Then he looked at me intently and rather sadly.
“Never in all my experience have I known a soul so case-hardened as yours,” he said in a low tone. “All the criminals who have come before me until now wept when they saw this symbol of our Lord’s sufferings.”
I was on the point of replying that was precisely because they were criminals. But then I realized that I, too, came under that description. Somehow it was an idea to which I never could get reconciled.
To indicate, presumably, that the interview was over, the magistrate stood up. In the same weary tone he asked me a last question: Did I regret what I had done?
After thinking a bit, I said that what I felt was less regret than a kind of vexation—I couldn’t find a better word for it. But he didn’t seem to understand. ... This was as far as things went at that day’s interview.
I came before the magistrate many times more, but on these occasions my lawyer always accompanied me. The examinations were confined to asking me to amplify my previous statements. Or else the magistrate and my lawyer discussed technicalities. At such times they took very little notice of me, and, in any case, the tone of the examinations changed as time went on. The magistrate seemed to have lost interest in me, and to have come to some sort-of decision about my case. He never mentioned God again or displayed any of the religious fervor I had found so embarrassing at our first interview. The result was that our relations became more cordial. After a few questions, followed by an exchange of remarks with the lawyer, the magistrate closed the interview. My case was “taking its course,” as he put it. Sometimes, too, the conversation was of a general order, and the magistrate and lawyer encouraged me to join in it. I began to breathe more freely. Neither of the two men, at these times, showed the least hostility toward me, and everything went so smoothly, so amiably, that I had an absurd impression of being “one of the family.” I can honestly say that during the eleven months these examinations lasted I got so used to them that I was almost surprised at having ever enjoyed anything better than those rare moments when the magistrate, after escorting me to the door of the office, would pat my shoulder and say in a friendly tone: “Well, Mr. Antichrist, that’s all for the present!” After which I was made over to my jailers.