The Legacy of Cain
8. The Minister Says Good-By
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 describing in
detail an act of righteous retribution which must present, by the nature of it, a scene of
horror. For these reasons I 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 suffered the
penalty of death.
Not very discreetly, as I think, the Chaplain asked her if she had truly repented. She
answered: "I have confessed 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--this reply leaves a way open to hope of her salvation. Her last words to me,
as she mounted the steps of the scaffold, were: "Remember your promise." It was easy
for me to be true to my word. At that bygone time, no difficulties 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 creature saw her
face. She rests, veiled in her prison grave.
Let me now turn to living interests, and to scenes removed from the thunder-clouds of
. . . . . . .
On the next day I received a visit from the Minister.
His first words entreated me not to allude to the terrible event of the previous day. "I
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 serious difficulties to contend
with (as I ventured to suggest), if he remained in the town, and allowed his new
responsibilities to become the subject of public talk.
His reply to this agreeably surprised me. There were no difficulties to be feared.
The state of his wife's health had obliged him (acting under medical advice) to try the
influence of her native air. An interval of some months might elapse before the good
effect of the change had sufficiently declared itself; and a return to the peculiar climate of
the town might bring on a relapse. There had consequently been no alternative to but
resign his charge. Only on that day the resignation had been accepted--with expressions
of regret sincerely reciprocated by himself. He proposed to leave the town immediately;
and one of the objects of his visit was to bid me good-by.