Chapter 94727902

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberFIRST PERIOD. V
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1888-06-02
Page Number17
Word Count5377
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleSouth Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1881 - 1889)
Trove TitleThe Legacy of Cain
article text


? By WILKIE COLLINS, .Author of 'The Woman in White,' 'The Evil Genius/. &c, &c

[{Published by special arrangement with the author. All rights reserrei.] FIRST PERIOD : 1858—1859. £VEH3B IN THE PBISON, RELATED BY ZHE GOVERNOR. Chapter V.

The services of our medical officer were required, in order to hasten the recovery ?of the prisoner's senses. When the doctor and I left the cell tor .gether she was composed, and ready (in the performance of her promise) to listen to the exhortations of the minister. The sleeping child was left with them. As we .stepped into the corridor I gave the female -warder her instructions to remain on the -watch, and to return to her post when she .saw the minister come out. In the meantime my. companion had -walked on a little way.

-within the limits of his profession, he was an other respects a man with a crochefcty ?jnind ; bold to the verge of recklessness in the expression of his opinion ; and pos sessed of a command of language that ?carried everything before it. Let me add ' -that he was just and merciful in Jus Inter course with others, and I shall have -summed him up fairly enough. When I joined him he seemed to be absorbed in reflection. - ' Thinkingof the prisoner ?' I said. ' Thinking of what is going on at this unoment in the condemned cell,' he ^answered, 'and wondering if any good -will come of it.' - I was not without hope of a good result, and I said so. The doctor disagreed with me. 'I -don't believe in that woman's penitence,' lie remarked ; ' and I look upon the par don as a poor weak creature. What is to become of the child 2' There was no'reason for concealing from -one of .my colleagues the benevolent deci

sion on the part of the good minister of ^which I had been a witness. The doctor .listened to me with the first appearance of -downright astonishment that I had ever ?observed in bis face. When I had done he anads an extraordinary reply— ' Governor, I retract what I said just now of the Methodist parson. He is one of the boldest men that ever stepped into A pulpit.' Was the doctor in earnest? Strongly in earnest ; there could be no doubt of it. Before I could ask him what he meant he was called away to a patient on the other Aide of the prison. When we parted at the 'door -of my room I made it a request that my medical friend would return to me and explain what he had juBtsaid. 'Considering that you are the gover nor of a prison,' he replied, 'you are a ^singularly rash man. If I come back how ?do you know I shall not bore you ?' ' Myrashness runs the risk of that,' I rejoined. ' Tell me one thing- before I allow you to run your risk,' he said. ' Are you one of those people who think that the tem pers of children are formed by the acci dental influences which happen to be about -them ? Or do you agree with me that the tempers of children are inherited from their parents 2' The doctor (as I concluded) was still strongly impressed by the minister's reso lution to adopt a child whose wicked mother had committed the most atrocious of all crimes. Was some serious foreboding, .suggested by that circumstance,, in secret possession of his mind ? My curiosity .to hear him was now increased tenfold. I 'replied without hesitation, ' I agree with ^you.' He looked at me -with his sense of humor twinkling in his eyes. ' Do you know I rather expected that answer V he said slyly. 'All right. I'll come irack.' Left by myself I took up the day's news, paper. My attention wandered; my thoughts were in the cell with the minister and the prisoner. How would it end ? Sometimes I was inclined to doubt with the doctor. Sometimes I took refuge in my ova more ? hopeful view. These idle reflections were agreeably interrupted by the appearance -of my friend, the chaplain. 'You are always welcome,' I said, ?*' and doubly welcome just now. I am feeling a little worried and anxious.' ' And you, are naturally,' the chaplain added, 'not at all disposed to receive a ?stranger 2' ' Is the stranger a friend of yours ?' I .asked: 'Oh, no ! Having occasion, just now, 4o go into the waiting-room, 1 found a .young woman there, who asked me if she -could see you. She rtiinfai you have forgotten her, and she is tired of waiting. 1 merely undertook, of course, to mention what she had said to me.' The nurse having been hi this way re pealled to my memory, I felt some little interest in seeing her after what had jtasBed in the cell In plainer words, I -was desirous of judging for myself whether ehe deserved the hostile feeling -which the prisoner had shown towards iter. I thanked the chaplain before he left me, and gaye the servant the neces sary instructions. When she entered the room. I looked at the woman attentively for the first time. Youth and a fine complexion* a well made figure and a natural grace of move

ment — these were her personal attrac tions, so far as I could see. Her defects were, to my mind, equally noticeable, Dnder a heavy forehead, her piercing eyes looked out at persons and things with an expression which was not to my taste. Her large mouth — another defect, in my opinion — would have been recom mended to mercy in the estimation of many men by her magnificent teeth ; white, well shaped, cruelly regular. Be lievers in physiognomy might perhaps have seen the betrayal of an obstinate nature in the lengthy firmness of her chin. While I am trying to describe her let me not forget her dress. A woman's dress is the mirror in which we may see the reflec tion of a woman's nature. Bearing in mind the melancholy and impressive cir cumstances under which she had brought the child to the prison, the gaiety of color in her gown and her bonnet implied either a total want of feeling or a total want of tact. A 8 to her position in life let me confess that I felt after a closer examina tion at a loss to determine it. She was certainly not a lady. The prisoner had spoken of her as if she was a domestic servant who had forfeited her right to consideration and respect. And she had entered the prison as a nurse might have entered it, in charge of a child. I did what we all do when we are not clever enough to find the answer to a riddle — I gave it np. ' What can I do for you 1' I asked. 'Perhaps you can tell tne,': she answered, ' how much longer I am to be kept waiting in this prison.' ' Thedeclsion, ' Ireminded her, ' doesn't depend on me.' ' Then who does it depend on ?' The minister had undoubtedly acquired the sole right of deciding. It was for him to say whether this woman should, or should not, remain in attendance on the child whom he had adopted. In the mean while the feeling of distrust which was gaining on my mind warned me to remem ber the value of reserve in holding inter course with a stranger. She seemed to be irritated by my silence. ' If the decision doesn't rest with you,' she asked, ' why did you tell me to stay in the waiting-room ?' ' Yon brought the little girl into the prison,' I said ; ' was it not natural to suppose that your mistress might want you ? ?' 'Stop, sir.' 1 had evidently given offence ; I stopped directly. 'No person on the face of the earth,' she declared loftily, 'has ever had the tight to call herself my mistress. Of my own free will, sir, I took charge of the child.' 'Because you are fond of her?' I suggested. 'I hate her.' It was unwise on my part, I protested. 'Hate a baby little more than a year old!'I*aid. 'Her baby!' She said it with the air of a woman who had produced an unanswerable reason. ' I am accountable to nobody,' she went on. 'If I consented to trouble myself with the child, it was in remembrance of my friendship — notice, if you please, that I say friendship — with the unhappy father.' Patting together what I had just heard, and what I had seen in the cell, I drew the right conclusion at last. The woman whose position in life had been thuB far an Impenetrable mystery to me now stood revealed as one, among other objects of the prisoner's jealousy, during her disastrous married life. A serious doubt occurred to me as to the authority under which the husband's mistress might be acting after the husband's death. I in stantly put it to the test. ' Do I understand you to assert any claim to the child ?' I asked. 'Claim!' she repeated. '1 know no more of the child than you do. I heard for the first time that such a creature was In existence when her murdered father sent for me in his dying moments. At his entreaty I promised to take care of her while her vile mother was out of the house and in the hands of the law. My promise has been performed. If I am expected (having brought her to the prison) to take her away again, understand this — I am under no obligation, even If I could afford it, to burden myself with that child ; I shall hand her over to the workhouse authorities.' I forgot myself once more — I lost my temper. ' Leave the room,' I said : 'your un

worthy hands will not touch the poor baby again. She is provided for.' ' I don't believe you,' the wretch burst out. ' Who has-taken the child ¥' * A quiet voice answered—*' I have taken her.' ' We both looked round and saw the minister standing in the open doorway with the child in his arms. The ordeal that he had gone through in the con demned cell was visible is Ms face ; he looked miserably haggard £nd broken. I was eager to know if his merciful interest in the prisoner had purified her guilty soul, but at the same time I was afraid, after what he had but too plainly suffered, to ask him to enter into details. ' Only one word,' I said. ' Are your anxieties at rest ?' 'God's mercy has helped me,' he answered. ' I have not spoken hi vain. She believes, she sepents, she has con fessed the crime.' After handing the written and signed confeBBion to me he approached the venomous creature, still lingering. in the -room to hear. what passed between us. Before I could stop him he spoke to her, . under a natural impression that he was addressing the prisoner's servant. ?' I am afraid yon will be disappointed,'

he said,' 'when I tell you that your services will no longer be required. I have reasons for placing the child under the care of a nurse of my own choosing.' She listened with an evil smile. ' I know who furnished you with your reasons,' she answered. 'Apologies are quite needless, so far as I am concerned, if you had proposed to me to look after the new member of your family there, I ahonld have felt it my duty to myself to have refused. 1 am not a nurse— I am an independent single lady. I see by your dress that you are a clergyman ; allow me to present myself as a mark of respect to your cloth. I am Miss Elizabeth Chance. May I ask the favor of your name ?' Too weary and too preoccupied to no tice the insolence of her manner, the minister mentioned his name. 'I am anxious,' he added, ' to know if the child has been baptised. Perhaps you can en lighten me?' Still insolent, Miss Elizabeth Chance shook her head carelessly. 'I never heard — and, to tell you the truth, I never cared to hear — whether she was christened or not. Call her by what name you like, I can tell you this — you will find your adopted daughter a heavy handful.' The minister turned to me. 'What does she-mean 1' ' I will try to tell you.1' Miss Chance interposed. 'Being a clergyman, as I gather from your dress, you know who Deborah was ? Very well. I am Debo rah now ; and I prophecy.' She pointed to the child with, a horridly vindictive look. ' Remember what I say, reverend sir. Yon will find the tigress-cub take after its mother.' With those parting words, she favored us with a low curtaey and left the room. Chapter VI. The minister looked at me in an absent manner; hiB attention seemed to have been wandering. 'What was it Miss Chance said?' he asked. Before I could speak a friend's voice at the door interrupted us. The doctor, returning to me as he had promised, answered the minister's question in these words.— 'I must have passed the person you mention, sir, as I was coming inhere and I heard her say, 'You will find the tigress

cub take after her mother.' If she had known how-to put her meaning into good English Miss Chance— that is the name you mentioned, I think — might have told you that the vices of the parents are in herited by the children. And the one par ticular parent she had in her mind,' the doctor continued, gently patting the child's cheek, ' was no doubt the mother of this unfortunate little creature, who may or may not live to show you that she comes of a bad stock and inherits a wicked . nature. That is what I heard, and there is the interpretation I put on it, entirely at your service.' I was on the point of protesting against my friend's interpretation when the minister stopped me. 'Let me thank yon, sir, for your ex planation,' he said to the doctor. 'As soon aB my mind is free I will reflect on what you have said. Forgive me, Mr. Governor,' he went on, ' if I leave you, now that I have placed the prisoner's con fession in your hands. It has been an effort to me to say the little I have said, since I first entered this room. I can think of nothing but that unhappy crimi nal, and the death that she must die to morrow.' 'Does she wish you to be present 2' I asked. 'She positively forbids It. 'After what you have done for me,' she said, * the least I can do in return is to prevent your being needlessly distressed.' She took leave of me ; she kissed the little girl for the last time — oh, don't ask me to tell you about it ! I shall break down if I try. Come, my darling !' He kissed the child tenderly, and took her away with him. 'That man is a strange compound of strength and weakness,' the doctor re marked. 'Did you notice his face just now ? Nine men out of ten suffering as he suffered would have failed to control themselves. Such resolution as his may conquer the difficulties that are in store for him yet. ' It was a trial of my temper to hear my clever colleague justifying in this way the ignorant prediction of an insolent woman. 'There are exceptions to all rules,' I insisted. 'And. why are the virtues of the parents not just as likely to descend to the children as the vices 1 There was a fund of good I can tell you in that poor baby's father— though I don't deny that he was a profligate man. And even the horrible mother — as you heard just now— has virtue enough left in her to feel grateful to the man who has taken care of her child. These are facts ; you can't dis pute them.' The doctor took out his pipe. 'Do you mind my smoking?' he asked. ' Tobacco helps me to arrange my ideas.' I gave him the means of arranging his ideas, that is to say I gave him the match box. He blew some preliminary clouds of smoke — and then he answered me. ' For 20 years past, my friend* I have been studying the question of hereditary transmission of qualities, and I have found vices and diseases descending more frequently to children than virtues and health. I don't stop to ask why ; there is no end to that sort of curiosity. What I have observed is what I tell you ; no more and no less. You will say this is a horribly discouraging result of expe rience, for it tends to show that children come into the world at a disadvantage on the day of their birth, Of course they do. Children are born deformed ; chil dren are born deaf, dumb, or blind ; children are born with the seeds in them of deadly diseases. Who can account for the cruelties of creation? Why are we endowed with life — only to end in death ? And does it ever strike you when you are cutting your mutton at dinner, and your cat is catching its mouse, and your spider is suffocating its fly, that we are all, big and little together, born to one certain inheritance — the privilege of eating each other ?' ' Very sad,' I admitted. « But it will all be set right in another world.' 'Are yon sure of that?' the doctor asked. ' Quite sure, thank God. 'And it would be better for you if you felt about it as I do.' 'We won't dispute, my dear governor. I don't scoff: at comforting hopes ; I don't deny the existence of occasional compen sations. But I do see, nevertheless, that evil has got the upper hand among us on this curious little planet. Judging by my observation and, experience, that ill-fated baby's chance of inheriting the virtues of her parents is not to be com pared with her chance of inheriting their vices; especially If she happens to take after her mother. There the virtue is not conspicuous, and the vice is one enormous fact. When I think of the growth of ?that poisonous hereditary taint, which may come with time — when I think of passions let loose and temptations lying in ambush — I see the smooth surface of the minister's domestic life with dangers lurking under it which make me Bhake in my Bhoes. God ! what a life I should lead if I happened to be in his place some years hence. Suppose I said or did something (in the just exercise of my parental authority) which offended my adopted daughter. What figure would rise from the dead in my memory when the girl bounced out of the room fn a rage ? The image of her mother would be the image I should see. I should remem ber what her mother did when she was provoked ; I should lock my bed room door in my own house at night. I should come down to breakfast with suspicions of my cup of tea if I dis covered that my adopted daughter had poured it out. Oh, yes ; it's quite true that I might be doing the girl a cruel in justice all the time ; but how am I to be sure of that? I am only sure that her

ouuuier wan iiaiigeu. jrasa me matCilDOX. My pipe's out, and my confession of faith has come to an end.' It was useless to dispute with a man who possessed his command of language. At the same time there was a bright side to the poor minister's prospects which the doctor had failed to see. It was barely possible that I might succeed in putting my positive friend in the wrong. I tried the experiment at any rate. 'You seem to have forgotton,' Ire minded him, 'that the child will have every advantage that education can offer to her, and will be accustomed from her earliest years to- restraining and purifying influences in a clergyman's household.'! Now that he was enjoying the fumes of tobacco the doctor was as placid and sweet-tempered as a man could be. ' Quite true,' he said. 'Do you doubt the influence of re ligion 2' I asked sternly. He answered sweetly — ' Not at all.' ' Or the influence of kindnesB ?' 'Oh, dear, no!' ' Or the force of example?' ?*' I wouldn't deny it for the world.' I had not expected this extraordinary docility. The doctor had got the upper - hand of me again — a state of things that I might have found it hard to endure but for a call of duty which put an end to our sitting. One of the female warders ap peared with a message from the con demned cell. ,The prisoner wished to see the governor and the medical-officer. - ' Is she fll ?' the doctor enquired, 'No, sir.' ' Hysterical, or agitated, perhaps 2' 'As easy and composed, sir, as a person can be.' We set forth together f orthe condemned cell. chapieb vn. There was a considerate side t) my friend's character, which showed Itself when the warder had left us. He was especially anxious to be careful of what he said to* a woman In the prisoner's terrible situation ; especially in the event of her having been really sub jected to the influence of religious belief. On the minister's own authority I declared that there%as every reason to adopt this conclusion ; and in support of what I had said I showed him the confession, It only

contained a few lines, acknowledging that she had committed the murder and that she deserved her sentence. 'From the planning of the crime to the commission of the crime I was in my right senses throughout. I knew what I was doing.' With that remarkable disavowal of the defence set up by her advocate the con fession ended. My colleague read the paper and handed it back to me without making any remark. I asked if he suspected the prisoner of feigning conversion to please the minister. 'She shall not discover it,' he answered gravely, ' if I do.' It would not be true to say that the doctor's obstinacy had shaken my belief in the good result of the minister's inter ference. I may, however, acknowledge that I felt some misgivings, which were not dispelled when 1 found myself in the presence of the prisoner. I had expected to see her employed In reading the Bible. The good book was closed, and was not even. placed within her reach. The occupation to which she was devoting herself astonished and re pelled me. Some carelessness on the part of the attendant had left on the table the writing materials that had been needed for her confession. Sbe was using them now — when death on the scaffold was literally within a few hours of her — to sketch a por trait of the female warder who was on the watch. The doctor and I looked at each other ; and now the sincerity of her re pentance was something that 1 began to question, too. She laid down the pen and proceeded quietly to explain herself. ?' Even the little time that is left to me proves to be a weary time to get through,' she said. 'I am making a last use of the talent for drawing and catching a likeness which has been one of my gifts since I was a girl. You look as if you didn't approve of such employment as this for a woman who is going to be hanged. Well, sir, I have no doubt you are right.' She paused, and tore up the portrait. 'If I have misbehaved myself,' she resumed, 'I make amends. To find you in an in dulgent frame of mind Is of importance to me just now. I have a favor to ask you. May the warder leave the cell for a few minutes ?' Giving the woman permission to with draw for awhile I waited with some anxiety to hear what she wanted of me. 'I have something to say to you,' she proceeded, ' on the subjects .of executions. The face of a person who is going to be hanged is hidden, as I have been told, by a white cap drawn over it. Is that true?' How another man might have felt in my place I cannot, of course, say. To my mind such a question — on her lips— was too shocking to be answered in words. I bowed. 'And the body is buried,' she went on, 'in the prison?' I could remain silent no longer. '!Ia there no human feeling left in yon ?' I burst out. 'What do these horrid questions mean ?' 'Don't be angry with me, sir; you shall hear directly. I want to know first if I am to be buried in the prison 2' I replied as before with a bow. 'Now,' she said, 'I may tell you what I mean. In the autumn of last year I was taken to see some waxworks. Por traits of criminals were among them. There was one portrait ? ' She hesi tated ; her infernal self-possession failed her at last. The color left her face ; she was no longer able to look at me firmly. ' There was one portrait,' she resumed, ' that had been taken after the execution. The face was so hideous ; it was swollen to such a size in its frightful deformity — oh, sir, don't let me be seen in that state, even by the strangers who bury me ! Use your influence— forbid them to take the cap off my face when I am dead — order them to bury me in it, and I swear to you I'll meet death to-morrow as coolly as the boldest man that ever mounted the scaffold I' Before I could stop her she seized me by the hand and wrung it with a furious power that left the mark of her grasp on me, in a bruise, for days after wards. 'Will you do it?' she cried. ' You're an honorable man ; you will keep your word. Give me your promise !' I gave her my promise. The relief to her tortured spirit ex pressed itself horribly in a burst of frantic laughter. ' I can't help .it,' she gasped ; ' I'm so happy.' My enemies said of me, when I got my appointment, that I was too excitable a man to be governor of a prison. Perhaps they were not altogether wrong. Anyhow, the quick-witted doctor saw some change in me which I was not aware of myself. He took my arm, and led me out of the cell. ' Leave her to me,' he whispered. ' The fine edge of my nerves was worn off long ago in the hospital.' When we met again I asked what had passed between the prisoner and himself. ' I gave her time to recover/'.he told me; ' and, except that she looked a tittle' . paler than usual, there was no trajse ^effc of the frenzy that you remenjiber. 'I ought to apologise for troubling you,' she said; 'but it is perhaps natural that I should think, how and then, of what Is to happen to me to-morrow morning. As a medical man, you will be able to enlighten me. Is death by hanging a painful death f She had put it so politely that I felt bound to answer her. ' If the neck happens to be broken,' I said, * hanging is a sudden death ; fright and pain (if there is any pain) are both over in an instant. As to the other form of death, which is also possible (I mean death by suffoca tion), I must own as an honest man that I know no more about it than you do.' After considering a little : she made a sensible remark, and followed it by

an embarrassing request). * A great deal,' she said, 'must depend on the execu tioner. I am not afraid of death, doctor. Why should I be ? My anxiety about my little girl is set at rest ; I have nothing left to live for. But I don't like pain. Would you mind telling the executioner to be careful ? Or would it be better if I spoke to him myself ? I said I thought it would come with a better grace from herself. She understood me directly, and we dropped the subject. Are you surprised at her coolness, after your experience of her ?' I confessed that I was surprised. 'Think a little,' the doctor said. ' The one sensitive place hi that woman's nature Is the place occupied by her self esteem.' I objected to this that she had shown fondness for her child. Myfriend disposed of the objection with his customary readiness. ' The maternal instinct,' he said. ' ' A cat is fond of her kittens ; a cow is fond of her calf. No, sir, the one cause of that outbreak of passion which so shocked you —genuine outbreak, beyond all doubt— is to be found in the vanity of a fine feminine creature, overpowered by a horror of looking hideous, even after her death. Do you know I rather like that woman ?' ' Is it possible that you are in earnest ?' I aBked. ' I know aB well as you do,' he an swered, 'that this is neither a, time nor a place for jesting. The fact b, the prisoner carries out an idea of mine. It is my positive conviction that the worst murders — I mean murders deliberately planned — are committed by persons absolutely de ficient in that part of the moral organisa tion which feels. The night before they are hanged they Bleep. On their last morning they eat a breakfast. Incapable of realising the horror of murder, they are Incapable of realising the horror of death. Do you remember the last murderer who was hanged here, a gentleman's coach man who killed his wife? -(He had but two anxieties while he was waiting for execution. One was to get his allowance, of beer doubled, and the other was to be hanged In ; bis coachman's livery. You may object that this ex ample is taken from a man of the lowest order among human beings. What do you say to the clever. American professor

who committed a barbarous murder ? He gave a dinner party in the interval between the crime and the discovery. At dessert tune the room was darkened ; a lurid blue Hght was kindled ; the murderer exhibited himself at the head of the table, with a rope round his neck, and his tongue lolling out of his mouth, in humorous imitation of a hanged man. No ! No ! these wretches are all alike ; they are human creatures born with the temperaments of tigers. Take my word for it, we need feel no anxiety about to-morrow. The prisoner will face the crowd round the scaffold with composure ; and the people will say, * She died game.' ' { To le continued.)