The Legacy of Cain
The Legacy of Cain
Chapter 4 THE MINISTER SAYS YES.
The Prisoner was seated on her bed, quietly talking with the woman appointed to watch her. When she rose to receive us, I saw the Minister start. The face that confronted him would, in my opinion, have taken any man by surprise, if he had first happened to see it within the walls of a prison.
Visitors to the picture-galleries of Italy, growing weary of Holy Families in endless succession, observe that the idea of the Madonna, among the rank and file of Italian Painters, is limited to one changeless and familiar type. I can hardly hope to be believed when I say that the personal appearance of the murderess recalled that type. She presented the delicate light hair, the quiet eyes, the finely-shaped lower features and the correctly oval form of face, repeated in hundreds on hundreds of the conventional works of Art to which I have ventured to allude. To those who doubt me, I can only declare that what I have here written is undisguised and absolute truth. Let me add that daily observation of all classes of criminals, extending over many years, has considerably diminished my faith in physiognomy as a safe guide to the discovery of character. Nervous trepidation looks like guilt. Guilt, firmly sustained by insensibility, looks like innocence. One of the vilest wretches ever placed under my charge won the sympathies (while he was waiting for his trial) of every person who saw him, including even the persons employed in the prison. Only the other day, ladies and gentlemen coming to visit me passed a body of men at work on the road. Judges of physiognomy among them were horrified at the criminal atrocity betrayed in every face that they noticed. They condoled with me on the near neighborhood of so many convicts to my official place of residence. I looked out of the window and saw a group of honest laborers (whose only crime was poverty) employed by the parish!
Having instructed the female warder to leave the room-but to take care that she waited within call-I looked again at the Minister.
Confronted by the serious responsibility that he had undertaken, he justified what he had said to me. Still pale, still distressed, he was now nevertheless master of himself. I turned to the door to leave him alone with the Prisoner. She called me back.
"Before this gentleman tries to convert me," she said, "I want you to wait here and be a witness."
Finding that we were both willing to comply with this request, she addressed herself directly to the Minister. "Suppose I promise to listen to your exhortations," she began, "what do you promise to do for me in return?"
The voice in which she spoke to him was steady and clear; a marked contrast to the tremulous earnestness with which he answered her.
"I promise to urge you to repentance and the confession of your crime. I promise to implore the divine blessing on me in the effort to save your poor guilty soul."
She looked at him, and listened to him, as if he was speaking to her in an unknown tongue, and went on with what she had to say as quietly as ever.
"When I am hanged to-morrow, suppose I die without confessing, without repenting-are you one of those who believe I shall be doomed to eternal punishment in another life?"
"I believe in the mercy of God."
"Answer my question, if you please. Is an impenitent sinner eternally punished? Do you believe that?"
"My Bible leaves me no other alternative."
She paused for a while, evidently considering with special attention what she was about to say next.
"As a religious man," she resumed, "would you be willing to make some sacrifice, rather than let a fellow-creature go-after a disgraceful death-to everlasting torment?"
"I know of no sacrifice in my power," he said, fervently, "to which I would not rather submit than let you die in the present dre