|Chapter Number||FIRST PERIOD. VIII.|
|Newspaper Title||South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1881 - 1889)|
|Trove Title||The Legacy of Cain|
THE LEGACY OF CAIN.
Bv WILKIE COLLINS, -Author of 'The Woman in White,' 'The Evil Genius,', &c, &c.
Published by special arrangement with the author. All rights reservel.] FIRST PERIOD : 1858—1859. EVENTS IX TUB PRISON, RELATED BY XHE GOVERNOR. Chapter VIII.
The capital punishment of the prisoner Is In no respect connected with my purpose in writing the present narrative. Neither do I desire to darken these pages by de scribing In detail an act of righteous retri bution which must present by the nature of it a scene of horror. For these reasons 1 ask to be excused if I limit what I must
needs say of the execution within the compass of a few words — and pass on. The one self-possessed person among us -was the miserable woman who Buffered the penalty of death. Not very discreetly, as I think, the chaplain asked her if she had truly re pented. She answered, 'I have con fessed the crime, sir. What more do you want?' To my mind — still hesitating between the view that believes with the minister and the view that doubts with the doctor — thiB reply leaves a way open to a hope of her salvation. Her last words to me, as she mounted the steps of the scaffold, were, ' Remember your pro mise.' It was easy for me to be true to my word. At that bygone time no diffi culties were placed in my way by such precautions as are now observed in the conduct of executions within the walls of the prison. From the time of her death to the time of her burial no living crea ture aaw her face. She rests, veiled, in her prison grave. Let me turn to living interests and to scenes removed from the thunder clouds of crime. On the next day I received a visit from tie Minister. His, first words entreated me not to allnue to the terrible event of the previous day. '1 cannot escape thinking of it,' he said, ' but I may avoid speaking of it.' This seemed to me to be the misplaced confidence of a weak man in the refuge of silence. By way of changing the subject I spoke of the child. There would be aerlons difficulties to contend with (as I ventured to suggest) if he remained in the town, and allowed his new responsibi lities to become the subject of public talk. His reply to this agreeably surprised me. There were no difficulties to be feared. Obligations of duty made it necessary that he should leave the town immediately ; and one of the objects of his visit was to say good-bye. I was not then aware that a minister of the Wesleyan persuasion has the spiritual charge of a place of worship for a period which is not allowed to exceed three yean. The constituted authority under which he acts then removes him to another ' circuit,' as it called ; often situated at a considerable distance from the place in which he has previously ministered to a congregation. These perio dical reparations of the pastor and his dock, frequently productive of affec tionate regret on either side, are justi fied by reasons on which it is not neces sary to dwell in this place. With strong personal motives for regretting his re moval, the minister was nevertheless re conciled to it in the interests of the child. 'The next place I live in,' he said, 'will be more than a hundred miles away from tills town. At that distance I may hope to keep events concealed which must be known only to ourselves. Do you see any risk of discovery bo far ?' 'I see two chances against you,' I answered. '? One of them, in my opinion, requires serious consideration.' 'Are yon thinking,' he asked, 'of the person who introduced herself to me w Miss Elizabeth Chance T 'Yes.' 'Make your mind easy. I saw the danger, in that case, as you see it ; and I caused enquiries to be made. The woman was traced to the railway-station yesterday afternoon. Miss Chance took her ticket for London.' ? Altec congratulating him on this dis covery, I asked If he proposed to let the servants, now in his employment, accompany him on his removal from the town. He at once understood the allusion. ' If yon are speaking of the second of those chances against me,' he said, ' cir cumstances — providential circumstances, as I now think — have done for me what I never thought of doing for myself. My servants (only two in number) have both been born in your town hen, and have both told my wife that they have no wish «o leave their native plaee.' The minister's good fortune had again befriended him. He would be safe from the gossip of those two eervsats fa his
new home. Although they had no doubt seen his tittle adopted daughter, there was nothing to fear, so far, unless they knew who she was. They had made no such discovery. This, the minister as - sored me, he had ascertained as a positive fact. 'You win understand how carefully I have provided against being deceived,7' he said, 'when I tell you what my plans are for the future. The persons among whom my future lot is cast — and the child herself, of course — must never suspect that the new member of my family is other th»n my own daughter. This is deceit, 1 admit ; but It is deceit that injures no one. I hope you see the ne ceesity for it as I do.' There cocld be no doubt of the neces sity. If the child was described aa adopted there would be curiosity about the circum stances and enquiries relating to the parents. Prevaricating replies lead to suspicion, aud suspicion to discovery. But for the wise course which the minister had decided on taking, the poor child's life might have been darkened by the horror of the mother's crime, and the infamy of the mother's death. Having quieted my friend's needless scruples by this perfectly sincere expres sion of opinior, 1 ventured to approach the central figure in his domestic circle by means of a question relating to hii wife. How had that lady received the little stranger, for whose appearance on the home scene she must have been entirely unprepared ! The minister's manner showed some embarrassment ; he prefaced what he had to tell me with praises of his wife, equally creditable no doubt to both of them. The beauty of the child, the pretty ways of the child, he said, fascinated that admir able woman at first sight. It was not to be denied that she had felt, and had ex pressed misgivings on hearing the sad story of the little creature's parentage. But her mind was too well-balanced to incline to this state of feeling when her husband had addressed her in defence of his conduct. She then understood that the true merit of an act of mercy con sisted in patiently facing the sacrifices in volved. Her interest in the new daughter being, in this way, ennobled by a sense of Christian duty, there had been no further difference of opinion between the married pair. I listened to this plausible explanation with interest, bot^ at the same time with doubts of the lasting nature of the lady's submission to circumstances, suggested perhaps by the constraint in the minister's manner. It was well for both of us when he changed the subject. He reminded me of the discouraging view which the doctor had taken of the prospect before him. 'I will not attempt to decide whether your friend is right or wrong,' he said. ?' Trusting, as I do, in the mercy of - lod, I look hopefully to a future time when all that Is brightest and best in the nature of my adopted child will be de veloped under my fostering care. If evil tendencies show themselves, my reliance will be confidently placed on pious ex ample, on religious instruction, and, above all, on intercession by prayer. Repeat to your friend,' he concluded, *? what you have just heard me say. Let him ask him self if he could confront the uncer tain future with my cheerful submission and my steadfast hope.' He entrusted me with that message, and gave me his hand. So we parted. I agreed with him, I admired htm ; but my faith seemed to want sustaining power as compared with his faith. On his own showing (as it appeared to me), there would be two forces In a state of conflict in the child's nature as she grew up— in- herited evil against Inculcated good. Try as I might, 1 failed to feel the minister's comforting conviction aa to which of the two would win.
CllAlTER IX. A few dajs after the good man had left our town 1 met with a serious accident, caused by a false step on the stone stairs of the prison. The long illness which followed this misfortune, and my removal afterwards (in the interests of my recovery) to a milder climate than the climate of Eng land, obliged me to confide the duties of governor of the prison to a representative. I was absent from my post for rather more than a year. Daring this interval no news reached me from my reverend friend. Baving returned to the duties of my office, I thought of writing to the minister. While the proposed letter was still in contemplation, I was informed that a lady wished to see me. She sent In her card. My visitor proved to be the minister's wife. I observed, her -with no ordinary atten tion when she entered the room. Her dress was simple ; her scanty light hair, ao far as I could see it under her bonnet, was dressed with taste. The paleness of her lips and the faded color in her face suggested that she was cer tainly not in good health. Two peculiarities struck me in her personal ap pearance. I never remembered having seen any other person with such a singularly narrow and slanting forehead as this lady presented ; and 1 was Im pressed, not at all agreeably, by the dash ing, shifting expression in her eyes. On the other hand, let me own that I was powerfully attracted and interested by the beauty of her voice. Its fine variety of compass and its musical resonance of note fell with such enchantment on the ear that I should have liked to put a book of poetry into her hand, and to have heard her read it in summer time, accompanied by the music of a rocky stream. The object of her visit — so far as she explained it at the outset — appeared to be to offer her congratulations on my recovery. Even those commonplace words were made Interesting by her de licious voice. But, however sensitive to sweet sounds a man may he, there are limits to his capacity for deceiving him self— especially when he happens to be enlightened by experience of humanity within the walls of a prison. I had, it may be remembered, already doubted the lady a good temper, judging from her hus band's overwrought description of her virtues. Her eyes looked at me furtively ; aud her manner, gracefully self-poBsessed as it waa, suggested that Bhe had scmeihiDg of a delicate or disagreeable nature to say to me, and that she was at a loss how to approach the subject ao ai to produce the right impression on my mind at the outset. There was a momen tary silence between us. For the sake of saying something I asked how she and the minister liked their new place of resi dence. 'Our new place of residence,' she answered, ' has been made interesting by a very unexpected event — an event (how shall I describe It?) which has increased our happiness and enlarged our family circle.' There she stopped ; expecting me, as I fancied, to guess what she meant. A woman, and that woman a mother, might have fulfilled her anticipations. A man, and that man not listening attentively, was simply puzzled. ?'Pray excuse my stupidity,' I said ; ' I don't quite understand you.' The lady's temper looked at me out of the lady's shifting eyes, and hid itself again in a moment. She set herself right in my estimation by taking the whole blame of our little misunderstanding on her own Innocent shoulders. ' I ought to have spoken more plainly,' she said. 'Let me try what I can do now. After many years of disappointment fn my married life it has pleased Prorl decce to bestow on me the happiness — the Inexpressible happiness— of being a mother. My baby is a sweet little girl, and my one regret is that I cannot nurse her mjself.' *' My languid interest La the minister's
wife was not stimulated by the announce ment of this domestic event. I felt no wish to see the ' swoet little girl. ' I was not even reminded of another example of long - deferred maternity, which had occurred within the limits of my own family circle. All my sympathies attached themselves to the sad little figure of the adopted child. I remembered the poor baby on my knee, enchanted by the ticking of my watch— I thought of her, peacefully and prettily asleep under the horrid shelter of the condemned cell — and it is hardly too much to say that my heart was heavy when I compared her prospects with the prospects of her baby rival. Kind as he was, conscientious as he was, could the minister be expected to admit to an equal share in his love the child endeared to him as a father, and the child who merely reminded him of an act of mercy ? As for his wife, it seemed the merest waste of time to put her state of feeling (placed between the two children) to the test of enquiry. I tried the useless experiment nevertheless. ' It is pleasant to think,' I begin, ' that your other daughter ? ' She interrupted me with the utmost gentleness — ?? Do you mean the child that my husband was foolish enough to adopt V 'Say rather fortunate enough to adopt/' I persisted. ' As your own little girl grows up she will want a playfellow. And she will find a playfellow in that other child, whom the good minister has taken for his own.' 'No, my dear sir— not if I can pre vent it.' The contrast between the cruelty of her intention and the musical beauty of the voice which politely expressed it in those words really startled me. 1 was at a loss how to answer her, at the very time when I ought to have been the most ready to speak. 'You must surely understand,' she went od, 'that we don't want another person's child now we have a little darling of our own ?' ' Does your husband agree with you in that view V I asked. ' Oh, dear, no ! He said what you said just now, and, oddly enough, almost in the same words. But I don't at all despair of persuading him to change his mind — and you can help me.' She made that audacious assertion with such an appearance of feeling perfectly sure of me that my politeness gave way under the strain laid on it. ' What do you mean ?' I asked sharply. Not in the least impressed by my change of manner, she took from the pocket of herdress a printed paper. ' Yon will find what I mean there,' she replied — and put the paper into my hand. It was an appeal to the charitable public, occasioned by the enlargement of an orphan asylum with which 1 had been connected for many years. Whit she meaat was plain enough now. I said no thing, I only looked at her. Pleased to find that I was clever enough to guess what she meant on this occasion, the minister's wife informed me that the circumstances were all In our favor. She still persisted in taking me into part nership — the circumstances were in --'.r favor. 'In two years more,' she explained, ' the child of that detestible creature who was hanged — do you know I cannot even look at tile little wretch without thinking of the gallows ?— will be old enough (with your Interest to help us) to be received into the asylum. After the same interval of time, which, you will agree with me, is particularly lucky ? ' ' Pray don't take it for granted,' I In terposed, ' that I agree with you in any thing that you propose to do.' 'After the Bsme interval of time,' she resumed, without taking the slightest notice of what I had said, ' my husband will have served his three years where we are now living, and will be removed to another circuit. We shall be among strangers again, and they will not notice any change that we have made In our family arrangements. What a relief it will be to get rid of that child ! And how hard I shall work at canvassing for sub scribers' votes ! Your name will be a tower of strength when I use it as a reference. Pardon me, you are not looking so pleasantly as usual. Do you see some obstacles fn our way V ' I see two obstacles.' cc What can they possibly be '.'' For the second time my politeness gave way under the strain laid on it. ' You know perfectly well,' I said, ' ' what one of the obstacles is.' ' Am I to understand that you con template any serious resistance on the part of my husband V 'Certainly !' She was unaffectedly amused by my simplicity. ' Are you a single man ?' she asked. ' I am a widower.' 'Then your experience ought to tell you that 1 know every weak point in the minister's character. I can tell him, on your authority, that the hateful child will be placed In competent and kindly hands — and I have my own sweet baby to plead for me. With these advantages In my favor do yon actually suppose I can fail to make n- y way of thinking h is way of think ing ? Yon must have forgotten your own married life. Suppose we go on to the eecond of your two obstacles. 1 hope it ?will be better worth considering than the firBt.' 'The second obstacle will not dis appoint you.' I answered; 'I am the obstacle this time.' *' You refuse to help me T 'Positively.' ' Perhaps reflection may alter your resolution.' ' Reflection will do nothing of the kind.' *' You are rude, air.:l ' In speaking to yon, madam, I have no alternative but to speak plainly.' She rose. Her shifting eyeB, for once, looked at me steadily. ' What sort of enemy have I made of yon T she asked. 'A passive enemy, who is content with refusing to help me I Or an active enemy who will write to my husband ?' ' It depends entirely,' I told her, ' on what your husband does. If he questions me about you, I shall tell him the truth.' 'And If not?' *' In that case, I shall hope to forget that yon ever favored me with a visit.' In making this reply I was guiltless of any malicious intention. What evil in terpretation she placed on my words it is Impossible for me to say ; I can only declare that some Intolerable sense of injury hnrrled her Into an outbreak of rage. Her voice, strained for the tirst time, lost its tuneful beauty of tone. 'Come and see us in two years' time,' ehe burst out, 'and discover the orphan of the gallows in our house if you can. If your asylum won't take her, some other charity will. Ha, Mr. Governor, I deserve my disappointment ! I ought to have remembered that you are only a gaoler after alL And what is a gaoler I Proverbially a brute. Do you hear that ? A brute !' Her strength suddenly failed her. She dropped back into the chair from which she had risen with a faint cry of pain. A lurid palor stole over her face. There was wine on the sideboard ; I filled a glass. She refused to take it. At that time in the day the doctor's duties re quired his attendance in the prison. I Instantly sent for him. After a moment's look at her, he took the wine out of my hand and held the glass to her lips. ' Drink It,' he said. She still refused. 'Drink it,' he reiterated, 'or you will die ' That frightened her ; she drank the wine; The doctor waited for awhile with his fingers on her pulse. ' She will do now,' he said. ?* Can I go '' the asked. ? 'Go wherever you please, madam — so long as you don't go upstairs In a hurry,'
She smiled. ' I understand you, sir— and thank yon for your advice.' * I asked the doctor, when we were alone, what made him tell her not to go upstairs in a hurry. 'What I felt,' he answered, 'when I had my fingers on her pulse. You heard her say that she understood me.' 'Yes; but I don't know what she meant. ' 'She meant, probably, that her own doctor had warned her as I did .' ' Something seriously wrong whh i,cr health ?' 'Yes.'1 'What is it?' 'Heatt.' - JTohc mniinucd. )